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We love books. Tell us about your favourite books and authors, and why they are so good. And while you're at it - having dined out for years on the time I threw Dan Brown out of a train window - tell us who to avoid.

(, Thu 5 Jan 2012, 13:40)
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James Joyce's Ulysses
The Modern Library considers Ulysses to be the greatest English language novel of the 20th century. A bold claim for a book that’s always had a whiff of the emperor’s new clothes about it. It’s the sort of book you’ll find used as a doorstop in hipster flats, as though to say “I’m so intellectually above this book that I’m contemptuous of it.”

It’s not hard to see why so many people hold this opinion. For those who get past the first chapter, this review echoes a common experience:


One can emphasise with Doug’s anger at the intellectual snobbery of it all, the idea that if you don’t “get” Ulysses then you’re clearly a dolt.

Believing that to read Ulysses was to confirm one’s intellectual superiority, I gamefully ploughed through it, usually getting to the end of a chapter before having any idea what was going on then, frustrated, returning to the chapter’s start to re-read it in a newly enlightened state. This was not fun.

But there were glimpses of brilliance within those chapters, the feeling that if only I could get under the surface of the text I was going to be treated to something glorious. So I embraced my inner dolt, cast away my shame and started again using a study guide. You see, the problem with Ulysses is that James Joyce made it deliberately impenetrable. He puts you inside a character’s head without giving you any prior knowledge of the character, as though you are an Irish Sam Beckett, Quantum Leaping back to the plot. James Joyce wanted his book to be argued over, he wanted it to be read more than once, he wanted the humour to be stumbled upon by chance.

So, if I was Sam Beckett, a study guide was my Ziggy. Once I understood the context, how the plot beautifully and wittily mirrored Homer’s Odessey, I actually gasped at its brilliance. The word “genius” is bandied around very commonly these days but it truly applies to this piece of work. Yes, you have to work at it but the pleasure you’ll get from this book is overwhelming.

There’s no excuse not to give it a try. It’s free via the Gutenberg project and there’s a study guide on sparknotes. Go on.
(, Wed 11 Jan 2012, 15:17, 12 replies)
Stephen King has popped up often this week.
I think that Desperation deserves a mention.

Not the book, the book is a Scooby Doo episode retold but sadly bereft of extra large sandwiches and the evil janitor.
(, Wed 11 Jan 2012, 14:56, 1 reply)
Word Freak
Stefan Fatsis.

It really is just a book about Scrabble. And it really is brilliant.

Fasten A Fista
(, Wed 11 Jan 2012, 14:19, 1 reply)
I spend a lot of my spare time thinking about, and cooking, food which unsurprisingly extends itself onto my bookshelves.
Some of my picks would include:

Fergus Henderson ‘Nose to Tail’ and ‘Beyond Nose to Tail’. These are the cookbooks from St John. Some splendid baking and ice creams in the latter text with some brilliant British dishes comprised of the more grisly cuts of meat.

Giorgio Locatelli ‘Made in Italy’. A good primer on Italian cuisine for the home cook.

Julia Child ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ (1 & 2). Essential books for anyone wanting to try their hand with French cuisine. After purchasing these and inevitably becoming a Francophile, splash out on ‘Larousse Gastronomic’.

For larger, coffee table cook/food books I've acquired quite a number focusing on some of the finest (or ponciest dependant on view) restaurants and chefs in the world. The books within this category which stand head and shoulders above their peers are those by Thomas Keller. The ‘French Laundry Cookbook’, ‘Bouchon’ and ‘Ad Hoc at Home’ (the last being complete opposite of the former two in content but matches the production values) are splendid works with beautiful photography and quality printing. Give ‘Under Pressure’ a miss though unless you have a sous-vide setup or are seriously interested in the process. Most importantly with Keller, and something which I've found not to be the case in others of their ilk, the recipes are achievable and they work. Others I have found to not always give good enough detail on small intricate step or complete omissions which result in not giving the perfect finish which the chefs are famed for. Perhaps ruses to protect their secrets or maybe carelessness but either way not fulfilling a cookbook’s role.

George Orwell ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’. My favourite work by Orwell. Included herein for his experiences in hellish Parisian kitchens with characters as distinct as Dickens could conjure. The later half recounting Orwell's time as a tramp in London is equally as illuminating and thoroughly recommended.

John Lanchester ‘A Debt to Pleasure’. Possibly one of my favourite novels and some of the best food writing in fiction I’ve ever enjoyed. Don’t be fooled if you have found his Guardian restaurant reviews are lacking; this is well worth a punt.

Anthony Bourdain ‘Kitchen Confidential’. I don't particularly like Bourdain although everyone else I speak with seems to. I found one or two moments of value in a smattering of anecdotes which don’t revolve around him telling you how brilliant he is. He also gives some good practical tips (want to make a dish better? Consider adding a shitload of butter and shallots) but I just can't get over quite how much he likes himself, how his self-serving tall tales smarm off the page. He is the grandfather of the archetypal QOTWer. We should all sit up and take note. (If you get his Les Halles cookbook, which in fairness isn’t too bad, beware of the weight conversions which are wrong and stick with metric or convert it yourself).

Michael Ruhlman ‘Ratio’. Excellent work examining the building blocks of cooking and the ratios which go into the ingredients creating them. I felt it rethought our mainstream approach to food prep and gave me fresh perspective, providing me with a working toolkit to use in any kitchen, anywhere.

Jeff Potter ‘Cooking for Geeks’. This is one which should appeal to any loyal B3tan and sits happily alongside Harold McGee's much more hefty ‘On Food and Cooking’. Potter gets more of an airing than McGee with much more accessible science/geekery for the layperson. It’s full of fun projects to fill up an afternoon which has seen me making hot marshmallows and fat washing some bourbon with bacon fat, that one led to the creation of the BLTini (tastes far better than it sounds).

Bon appétit.
(, Wed 11 Jan 2012, 14:01, 4 replies)
Have a re-post from the 'Performance' QOTW
Just to re-iterate how much of an idiot I am and it's the only book related story I can think of right now that involves me in some way.

I'm certain
I've mentioned this before but, once, when Terry Pratchett was doing a Q&A thing at a signing for 'The Last Continent' (At Liverpool's, then named Lomax 2 if you're interested) there were about 50-100 people present. There was time for one more question, I raised my hand. "You, with the glasses at the back." said Sir Terry. "Fuck", thinks I, "I didn't expect to have a question answerd and all the good ones pertinant to the book/his previous writings have been asked...ah I know, he keeps carnivorous plants, I'll ask him how they're doing."

Ssilence greeted the question. Followed by "...They're doing well, thanks."

And that's why I asked him to sign my copy "To the idiot with the question about plants." As a constant reminder that I shouldn't talk, ever.
(, Wed 11 Jan 2012, 13:48, 1 reply)
A Brief History of Drugs
A great read, it had me hooked from start to finish.
(, Wed 11 Jan 2012, 13:41, 1 reply)
Go the Fuck to sleep
You can hear Samuel L Jackson reading it on You Tube. Anybody with kids will empathize

ninja edited
(, Wed 11 Jan 2012, 12:12, 5 replies)
Information is beautiful by David McCandless
He's visualised all sorts of information in beautiful ways and put them in a book , and there's an interweb site as well.

Here's one about drugs
(, Wed 11 Jan 2012, 11:50, 1 reply)
I really get annoyed at people that number their books.
Calling something 'Part 1' implies you are so arrogant that you take it for granted that people will be excited to read part 2.

(, Wed 11 Jan 2012, 11:10, 7 replies)
Roger Moore - My word is my Bond
I'm half way through at the moment and so far it's averaging 15 massive name drops per page and the word 'cunt' every 50 or so.
(, Wed 11 Jan 2012, 10:58, 2 replies)
Hands up, if
a. You read Lord of the Rings when you were about 15 and loved it, and:
b. You tried to re-read it after watching the films and found it a load of long-winded, borderline right-wing sludge, occasionally interspersed with exciting bits.

I mean, Tom Bombadil? WTF!
(, Wed 11 Jan 2012, 10:57, 22 replies)
Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies
18th Century smut, from which I swiped the phenomenally useful phrase "Pimpmaster General of all England" for my business cards.

(, Wed 11 Jan 2012, 10:52, 4 replies)
The Best Book In The World Evah....
... is "Brewer's Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics" by William Donaldson. The index alone is funnier than just about anything I have ever read. For example:

bomb, blowing up one's father with a. See BROWN, ERIC
bomb, suspecting one's guest's suitcase contains a. See SINCLAIR, DONALD
bomb down a pensioner's chimney pot, threatening to throw a. See FORSTER, JAMES
bomb inadvertently detonated by pet Rottweiller. See ARISTEDES, SUSAN MARY

and so on and so gloriously on. Truly a wonderful book.
(, Wed 11 Jan 2012, 10:36, Reply)
Catch 22.
If you don't like it, you don't understand it.
(, Wed 11 Jan 2012, 10:35, 19 replies)
Stephen King's 'Insomnia'. Should be called 'A CURE for Insomnia'.
What a boring book. Tried it several times, given up in despair.

I've read Lord knows how many books, of every genre, but only that one's beaten me.
(, Wed 11 Jan 2012, 8:22, 16 replies)
Evil Cult Toture Manual
The last live-in girlfriend, had had a turnover of flats and flatmates that soon became very explainable. I had to give her her marching orders before I broke. This is one of the lesser random behaviours

It began when things started moving around and I just thought it was overwork and I was becoming forgetful. Then wholesale reorganisation on impractical grounds of most bits of my house. It was a bloody obsession and it made no sense whatsoever.

Where`s the cutlery? BOTTOM DRAWER? WTF?

Not being a nasty person she left a load of stuff which is bagged and lofted, and still awaiting collection. Every so often something else of hers turns up in a bizarre place.

Months after she moved out and the poultergeist had stopped operations, I was having a spring clean and found this:

The practical encyclopedia of Feng-Shui by Gill Hale.

Ban this!
(, Wed 11 Jan 2012, 7:45, 21 replies)
Biography and Autobiography
Part 10

Carl Este- Patton a Genius For War

Enormous. Worth it. All that stuff in the George C Scott portrayal which you may have presumed to be exaggerated or poetic license. Nope, if anything the truth was stranger.

Graham Mc Cain- Bounder

The biography of Terry-Thomas. Hugely entertaining account of everyone's favourite cad (and cousin of Richard Briers surprisingly)

Harpo Marx with Roland Barber- Harpo Speaks

The most entertaining of any Marx brothers writing. Harpo really got to hang out with some fascinating people and seems also to have been a tremendously nice guy

Ian Hunter- Diary of a Rock and Roll Star

Autobiographical if not actually an autobiography and one of the best books on music by the Mott the Hoople front man.

T.E Lawrence- Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Passing time and revisionists have compromised the reputation of Lawrence but this is still a fascinating self-portrait of a singular man
(, Wed 11 Jan 2012, 7:06, 2 replies)
ultimate crime writter - James Ellroy
His four books under the collective name LA Quartet. Proper hard hitting grim American crime novels. They span a few decades and are centered around the LA police department. Nail hitting stuff! The characters and plots are woven throughout the four books however each book also stands alone with its own storyline. Got to be some of the best crime books around.
(, Wed 11 Jan 2012, 1:39, 8 replies)
Kids mostly like them...
Well I am a kid. The mortal engine series and it's sequels. Set far into the future*, we inevitably cock up and ruin the earth with nuclear weapons, and in the future they have airships and towns that run on wheels. Sounds crazy, but the writer spent ages thinking up this future, and with a gripping storyline, it's a pretty good read. My dad liked it and he's 51. Nuff said :)

EDIT: Terry pratchett, you are a god. Anyone who hasn't read at least one of his books should be shot. End of.

* a good 40'000 years from now, maybe more.
(, Wed 11 Jan 2012, 1:04, 8 replies)
part 9

Conan-Doyle- Sherlock Holmes

Read any of them. Feeling lazy, just watch Jeremy Brett instead. Perfection

Raymond Chandler- Read any of them

Like reading a film noir."When things slow down, bring in a man with a gun" enough said.

Loads more but getting a little flak for sesquipedelianism and procrastination so Hammett, Elmore Leonard, Walter Mosely, Sara Paretsky etc ad infinitum
(, Wed 11 Jan 2012, 0:51, 6 replies)
The Laughing Sutra
by Mark Salzman. Amazing book about a poor Chinese boy who takes a long trip to America, accompanied by the Monkey King. Sounds lame, but it's an easy read and fantastically good.
(, Wed 11 Jan 2012, 0:15, Reply)
A few people on here have mentioned
Glamorama by Brett Easton Ellis. This is such a great book, Im inspired to read it again and I recommend it to most (Its a bit on the dark side).
Havnt read his new one yet though.
(, Tue 10 Jan 2012, 23:55, 2 replies)
The Warlock of Firetop Mountain
You encounter a BALROG (skill 6, power 9).

Do you want to fight it? If yes, turn to p356. If no, turn to p249.
(, Tue 10 Jan 2012, 23:34, 9 replies)
I hate books
my flat is full of the fuckers, and despite buying kindles, there are yet more.
(, Tue 10 Jan 2012, 22:59, 2 replies)
My favourite book is
"The Pedant's Revolt' by Which Tyler
(, Tue 10 Jan 2012, 22:19, 16 replies)
I like these books..
I like
Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol first published in 1842 he was a Ukrainian-born Russian dramatist and novelist. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_Souls Tells you more about it

The Surgeon of Crowthorne - History of the Oxford English Dictionary - a certain majority of the words submitted to the creation of the OED were from a mad man in an asylum, who believed the Irish were out to kill him due to an incident in his past. In the end he chopped his penis off. If I meet someone who always reads quotes from the dictionary to make them sound like a clever boots (e.g. my step dad), I remind them that its mostly created by a penis chopping madman. - its really good book

Le Morte D' Arthur - By Mallory, complied from texts when he was in prison in 1450's.

Duel - James Landale - True story of his family and a historic duel in 1826
He died with a Felafel in his hand - John Birmingham, a book about his life and true stories of his flat/house shares in Brisbane (just found out its a film now)

Most books by Terry Pratchett

My all time favorite - Smith the lonely hedgehog www.lulu.com/product/paperback/smith-the-lonely-hedgehog/1941606

I hate with a passion

Anything and everything by Jane Austin - Oh Im a women who needs to marry for money and status ohh he is dashing swoon.. etc
(i studied that crap too much at school and uni)
Most of Shakespeare's work
(, Tue 10 Jan 2012, 22:08, 1 reply)
Austin Allegro Repair Manual - a scream.
(, Tue 10 Jan 2012, 21:41, 5 replies)
Ones to avoid and one useful one
At school, I was forced to read "The Good Earth" which is about some miserable Chinese bloke. I can remember it went on for a good four pages describing the wrinkles in some bloke's face. Zzzz.

A couple of years later, I was reading "Snuf the dog" (not a line from a Tarantino film, but a riveting tale of a boy and his Alsatian doing daring things against the Nazis in occupied Holland) and it was getting quite exciting until I found that some arse had ripped a load of pages out.

These two experiences have put me off reading fiction ever again, so now it's Windows 2008 R2 Server Resource Kit and so on.

One book which will save your life, however, is Debrett's New Guide to Etiquette and Modern Manners.
(, Tue 10 Jan 2012, 21:35, Reply)
I like these
you might not.

Geek Love- By Katherine Dunn.

This is probably my favourite book of all time that I have read so far.
It’s about a traveling carnival and the couple who run it. They decide to create their own ‘acts’ by experimenting with drugs while ‘lily’ is pregnant, and as such have an assortment of children with their own special talents. It also has a cult that involves cutting off body parts, a woman with a tail, and well... I won’t spoil any more.

It’s weird and dark and funny, and when I have given it to people they have looked less than pleased but then thank me later…It’s great.

Enduring Love-Ian McEwan

Wonderful book, although the opening is something I used to have nightmares about as a child after seeing some grainy silent movie footage of a similar thing on TV. If you have read it you will know what I mean. It’s still one of the best openings to a book I have ever read. The film adaptation was good too. All of his books up to ‘Saturday’ I think are brilliant.

The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman-Bruce Robinson

I picked this up one day because of the author, and I am so glad I did. It’s a bloody funny rites of passage story. The teenage Thomas lives with his pornography obsessed granddad and his right wing father and bonkers mother, and gains attention by leaving his poo around the place. Don’t expect a classic novel, but do expect to laugh.

Where the Wild Things Are-Maurice Sendak

What a book! I vividly remember sitting in the library as a wee one and reading their hardback edition again and again and again. It’s always my gift whenever anyone has a baby. All children should have this book.

I also really enjoy anything by Jon Ronson as I can always hear his voice as I am reading it, and it seems to make it even funnier.
(, Tue 10 Jan 2012, 21:31, 10 replies)

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