Friday, May 5, 2023

Travels Through the Bookshelves (2)

Here is the second part of my list of books read, taken from an old exercise book that I found recently.

Do people find this interesting? This is the kind of thing I find interesting. A YouTuber I like once uploaded a long-playing video in which he was simply going through his DVD shelves, commenting on each. I found this fascinating. I imagine other people might find this kind of thing stupid and boring. I don't want to keep going with it if people find it stupid and boring, obviously,

Anyway, here I go for now. I've dispensed with the running number.

Out of Our Skins by Liam Hayes (I read this memoir by a Meath GAA player in my mid-teens, when I was trying to get interested in GAA. I've always felt guilty for not taking an interest in GAA, I just can't somehow. It was fairly good but a bit pretentious. It was an eye-opener to learn how intimidated Meath players were by Dublin players, who apparently curse with more conviction. I remember in one of my childhood trips to Limerick, the father of some local kids I befriended told them humorously: "Be careful now, he's from Dublin, he'll knock the stuffing out of you." I was a bit worried they might test the theory.)

The Many-Coloured Land by Julian May (a science-fiction saga about a one-way time portal to the Pleistocene age, which also involved aliens. I remember reading it one night when John Major survived a vote of confidence. I've learned subsequently that Julian May is female and a Catholic convert. The book included a good bit of homosexuality presented in a morally neutral way. Also had an Irish, Celtic angle; the tune of Londonderry Air was crucial to the plot but I forget how.)

The Golden Torc by Julian May

Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny (I loved loved loved this book and read it over and over in my teens. I still have a book review of it from school. It has a great opening, the protagonist doesn't remember who he is but knows that the name "Amber" sets his heart racing. It turns out that Amber is a city which is the heart of what what we would today call the multiverse, and that every other place is a reflection of some aspect of it. The protagonist is a member of its royal family and wants to become king. A great book. I want to read it again, just writing this.)

The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny (the sequels to the original. I read them much later, when I started in UCD, and rfound them hugely disappointing).

Quarantine by Greg Egan (I remember nothing about this)

Pollyanna by Eleanor H Porter (I very much liked this book. I read a lot of girl's books as a boy. I would probably be transitioned today.)

The Coat-Hanger Christmas Tree by Eleanor Estees (This is another wonderful book. Here's my review of it.)

The Luck of Ginger Coffey by Brian Moore (a memorable book about an Irish emigrant to America trying to get by)

Danny, The Champion of the World by Roald Dahl (a great ending, a hymn to fatherhood)

The Twits by Roald Dahl

Roam the Wild Country by Ella T. Ellis (this is a funny one. I don't really remember it-- it's a book from my childhood-- but it was bought as a gift for me by a relative who wasn't at all into books, and somehow the thought of it is very poignant to me-- the poetry of the title, and the circumstances of getting it)

Memories, Dreams, Reflections
by C.G. Jung (very interesting)

The Tailor of Panama by John Le Carré (worth reading if you think "fake news" is something new. My father was the big Le Carré fan in my family, I read them because they were there)

Our Game by John Le Carré (a book in which the Ingusheti feature heavily. I'd never heard of them before.)

Great Hull Stories by Len Markham (I bought this in Hull, it mentioned something I've often read elsewhere: that fishermen generally didn't learn to swim, either because it was considered unlucky or because non-swimmers were favoured when it came to rescues. It also reassured me when I read that Maureen Lipman ("you've got an -ology!"), born in Hull, was terrible at EVERYTHING except acting, including waitressing. I was feeling useless at everything at the time I read it)

The Trial by Frank Kafka (some very funny moments in this, including the great first line: "Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K...")

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Torrents of Spring by Ernest Hemingway (a short, funny book in which Hemingway sends up his own style)

A Farwell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (dull)

The Pearl by John Steinbeck (dull)

Of Mice and Men
by John Steinbeck (dull)

A History of Psychiatry by Edward Shorter (don't remember much of it)

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Shorter (a really good and moving book. I understand it's well known in America. Nobody has heard of it here.)

Collected Short Stories of Arthur Conan Doyle (a thumping big book which took me ages to read. Conan Doyle wrote the first example of MANY types of short story scenario. "The Pot of Caviare" is probably the most memorable").

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (The only fictional detective I ever want to read. I wish he had been the first and last.)

The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle (Very good and exciting novel, with a wonderfully elegant little poem as an epigraph:

I have wrought my simple plan
If I give one hour of joy
To the boy who's half a man
Or the man who's half a boy.")

Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster (very interesting, especially Forster's memorable formulation: "Yes, oh dear yes, the novel tells a story." I completely agree with Forster that suspense is the most primitive tool of the storyteller, even if it's necessary. I think thrillers and mystery stories, stories which trade mostly on suspense, are the worst examples of the story form, most of the time. Also memorable for the passage about food, in which he points out the strangeness of the fact that "every day we push a succession of differently-shaped objects through a hole in our face", or something like that.)

The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheatley

Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche (I was besotted with this book in my twenties, reading it over and over, and almost knowing parts by heart. I still cherish it. Nietzsche was a great thinker and a great stylist. He was also a very sad figure. I admired him most as an enemy of utilitarianism. This is one of the richest books ever written, I think. Also interesting for his influence on Yeats.)

The Birth of Tragedy by Friedrich Nietzsche (the first Nietzsche book I read. I found it photocopied in an empty college classroom and became absorbed by it.)

Human, All-Too-Human by Friedrich Nietzsche

The Open Society and Its Enemies by Karl Popper (I read this in college, off my own steam, and was very impressed by it. It made me a lifelong convert to pluralism.)

Lazarus by Morris West (mediocre)

Manwatching by Desmond Morris (fascinating analysis of how human beings behave in little way you'd never noticed)

The Human Zoo by Desmond Morris

Confessions of a Philosopher by Bryan Magee (Magee was a disciple of Popper and an interesting figure in his own right. Very interesting.)

Angry White Pyjamas by Robert Twigger (written by an Englishman in Japan who spent a year doing an intensive martial arts course, one which is taken by the Tokyo riot police. Sounds utterly gruelling. I was very struck by one passage at the beginning, which leads him to take the course. He is passing through an airport (or some similar building), looking at the masses passing through, and realizes: "This is my life. I don't get another shot at it. What am I doing with it?" I have the same reaction to such places.)

The Glory Game by Hunter Davies (I was very into soccer in my teens, this is an account of a season in the life of Tottenham Hotspur, quite litherary)

To Build a New Jerusalem by Andrew Davies (a history of the British Labour Party)

Collected Poems by A.E. Housman (Housman wrote fewer duds than almost any other poet)

Goodnight Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian (studied at school, excellent)

Emma by Jane Austen (I'm afraid I could never enjoy Jane Austen, and I'm sure the fault is with me)

Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen

William Wordsworth by Hunter Davies

To Sir, With Love by E.R. Braithwaite

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (is the fence-painting scene the most profound scene in all literature?)

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit by P.G. Wodehouse (pretty much all of Wodehouse's books are entertaining, but I can rarely remember which is which)

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Much Obliged, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Psmith, Journalist by P.G. Wodehouse

Hot Water by P.G. Wodehouse

Riotous Assembly by Tom Sharpe (Tom Sharpe is wonderful; high farce combined with elegant prose, all of it imbued with an essential Englishness. And a right-winger, to boot!)
Porterhouse Blue by Tom Sharpe (I got into Tom Sharpe because I'd encountered the title "Porterhouse Blue" and really liked it. I imagined it was some reflective novel of ideas full of long conversations. I couldn't have been more wrong. "Porterhouse Blue" is the name given to the heart-attacks frequently experienced by the sybaritic academic staff of Porterhouse College.)

The Great Pursuit by Tom Sharpe

Grantchester Grind by Tom Sharpe

The Midden by Tom Sharpe

Wilt on High by Tom Sharpe

Found, Lost, Found by J.B. Priestley (very poor)

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (I read this in my teens and it bored me-- Victor Frankenstein never stops moaning, from beginning to end. The Monster is far more likeable, and his story is quite touching.)

Dracula by Bram Stoker (dare I suggest this is a great story, rather than a great novel? Overwritten and melodramatic., in my view)

Sugar and Rum by Barry Unsworth (a book about a writer who gives writing classes, among other things. Some very funny moments.)

Titmuss Regained
by John Mortimer

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (I don't like Waugh but I've read this book two or three times. The scene set aboard a cruise ship inspired to start keeping a diary, which I've been keeping on and off, but mostly on, since 2015. I wanted to capture the texture of days and passages of time, as this sequence does.)

Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West (remember nothing about this)

The Children of Dynmouth by William Trevor (this is a very effective and chilling story, which I read in my teens. The antagonist is a boy who seems pitiful at first, then deeply sinister, then pitiful again.)

History of the Jews by Paul Johnson (a wonderful book, which I read over and over again in my twenties, and taught me more about Jewish history than any other volume)

Intellectuals by Paul Johnson (worth reading if you're inclined to look up to intellectuals; pen pictures of famous intellectuals, showing just how fallible and untrustworthy they can be)

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (best closing lines ever?)

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (I remember almost nothing of every Virginia Woolf book I've read, and regret reading them)

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

The Waves by Virginia Woolf

The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler (dull, spiteful book whose only point seems to be to attack religion and respectability)

The Magus by John Fowles (a pretty poor book, but memorable because I was reading it when 9/11 happened)

Son of Rosemary by Ira Levin (dreadful beyond all words)

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson (quite an epic, and an example of "hard" science fiction, if you want to test your intellectual muscles. Pretty good.)

Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence (like all Lawrence's books, I enjoyed it while reading, but found myself wondering a little what it was all about at the end; I think I will revisit Lawrence some day)

The Moon and Sixpence by Somerset Maugham (brilliant novel, based on the life of Paul Gauguin)

The Razor's Edge by Somerset Maugham (truly excellent, the story of a young man seeking after truth, and a host of other characters seeking after lesser goals)

The Magician by Somerset Maugham (based on the life of Aleister Crowley, a dreadful book)

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett

Mort by Terry Pratchett

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

Eric by Terry Pratchett

Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett

Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett

Soul Music by Terry Pratchett

Maskerade by Terry Pratchett (I seem to remember this was one of the better ones)

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett (ditto, I seem to remember a scene in which one of the Unseen University wizards found a hidden bathroom which was sumptuous and elaborate)

Carpe Jugulum (another one I remember as being particularly good; especially the gentleman's agreement between peasants and vampires, that obtains before the start of the novel, that they would only interfere with each other to a limited degree)

Uncle Fred in the Springtime by P.G. Wodehouse (like all Wodehouse's non-Jeeves books, decidedly inferior)

Galahad at Blandings by P.G. Wodehouse

Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Very Good, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Thank You, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (includes the celebrated school prize awards scene, one of the funniest things written by Wodehouse or anybody else)

The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse

Joy in the Morning by P.G. Wodehouse

Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence (like all Lawrence's books, I enjoyed it while reading, but found myself wondering a little what it was all about at the end; I think I will revisit Lawrence some day)

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (I started reading this the night the 1991 Gulf War broke out; a cruel adult had told me it would be the prelude to World War Three, and I didn't sleep that night. Wonderful book in so many ways.)

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens (very long but lots of laugh-out-loud moments, not sure I ever finished it)

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (I found this a dull book, between its famous opening and closing passages. Is it REALLY the best-selling novel of all time?)

Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens

The Liar by Stephen Fry (entertaining, but I forget what it was about)

Making History by Stephen Fry (as above)

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster (I remember nothing of this)

The Trumpet Major by Thomas Hardy (as above)

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (as above)

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby (a first-person account of football fandom, a phenomenon in the early nineties, when I read it; it very much belongs to the era)

Apocalypse by D.H. Lawrence (the last book Lawrence wrote, when he was dying; a reflection on the Book of Revelation. I bought it in Darlington and read it various cities and towns in Yorkshire. I was increasingly in sympathy with Lawrence's reaction against modern society but, though still an agnostic, I didn't see how he could blame Christianity for it, or why he didn't see Christianity as an ally)


  1. 'Do people find this interesting?'

    Yes. I'm always fascinated by people's choice of books and what it may hint about that person. Whenever I see a bookshelf, or even a picture of a bookshelf, I find myself examining the titles and pondering about the person who owns it. What does it say about them? What are their beliefs? Why are they drawn to these particular books?

    1. Thanks so much for that, Anastase. It's great encouragement. And I have exactly the same curiosity as you describe in yourself, and for the same reasons!