This week Julian, one of our Editorial Assistants, looks at the books that have made it to the top of his teeteringly large TBR pile.
The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers
I’m trying to find fantasy books that take the genre away from the normal array of dwarves, elves, and wizards, and The City of Dreaming Books certainly promises to do that. The book was originally recommended to me by a German friend on the strength of its plot and its (German) language. Hopefully the translation will meet expectations!
In this new Zamonian adventure, Optimus Yarnspinner, a young writer, inherits from his beloved godfather an unpublished short story by an unknown author.
The search for the author’s identity takes Yarnspinner to Bookholm—the so-called City of Dreaming Books. On entering its streets, our hero feels as if he has opened the door of a gigantic second-hand bookshop. His nostrils are assailed by clouds of book dust, the stimulating scent of ancient leather, and the tang of printer’s ink. Soon, though, Yarnspinner falls into the clutches of the city’s evil genius, Pfistomel Smyke, who treacherously maroons him in the labyrinthine catacombs underneath the city, where reading books can be genuinely dangerous.
Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
Having taken a Dickens module as part of my degree, it’s been quite a while since I’ve got stuck in to one of his novels. I love Dickens’s characters and the unique mixture of humour and gravity that he put into his writing; I can’t wait to go on another Dickensian adventure.
Following the success of Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby was hailed as a comic triumph and firmly established Dickens as a ‘literary gentleman’. It has a full supporting cast of delectable characters that range from the iniquitous Wackford Squeers and his family, to the delightful Mrs Nickleby, taking in the eccentric Crummles and his travelling players, the Mantalinis, the Kenwigs and many more.
Combining these with typically Dickensian elements of burlesque and farce, the novel is eminently suited to dramatic adaptation. So great was the impact as it left Dickens’ pen that many pirated versions appeared in print before the original was even finished.
Letters to a Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchens
As a big Hitchens fan, I’m slowly making my way through his writings, and Letters to a Young Contrarian is the next stop on the journey. Although he disliked the term ‘contrarian’ when it was applied to himself, Hitchens’s penchant for regularly defying the political, social, and religious mainstream made him the perfect man to write this book.
In the book that he was born to write, provocateur and best-selling author Christopher Hitchens inspires future generations of radicals, gadflies, mavericks, rebels, angry young (wo)men, and dissidents. Who better to speak to that person who finds him or herself in a contrarian position than Hitchens, who has made a career of disagreeing in profound and entertaining ways.
This book explores the entire range of “contrary positions”-from noble dissident to gratuitous pain in the butt. In an age of overly polite debate bending over backward to reach a happy consensus within an increasingly centrist political dialogue, Hitchens pointedly pitches himself in contrast. He bemoans the loss of the skills of dialectical thinking evident in contemporary society. He understands the importance of disagreement-to personal integrity, to informed discussion, to true progress-heck, to democracy itself. Epigrammatic, spunky, witty, in your face, timeless and timely, this book is everything you would expect from a mentoring contrarian.
We, The Drowned by Carsten Jensen
When I came across We, The Drowned in a bookshop, the blurb immediately grabbed me. Flicking through the pages, I found the writing style to be powerfully descriptive and instantly engaging. It’s been too long since I read some historical fiction, so I’m looking forward to this one.
In 1848 a motley crew of Danish sailors sets sail from the small island town of Marstal to fight the Germans. Not all of them return – and those who do will never be the same. Among them is the daredevil Laurids Madsen, who promptly escapes again into the anonymity of the high seas.
Spanning four generations, two world wars and a hundred years, We, The Drowned is an epic tale of adventure, ruthlessness and passion.
Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda
Alongside other ‘old’ comedies that I was brought up on, M*A*S*H has always been a favourite. I’d like to learn more about the man who wrote and directed across the eleven series of the programme, as well as starring as the unforgettable Hawkeye Pierce. From what I’ve seen of him, Alda seems to have had a rich and fascinating life.
He’s one of America’s most recognisable and acclaimed actors-a star on Broadway, an Oscar nominee for The Aviator, and the only person to ever win Emmys for acting, writing, and directing during his eleven years on M*A*S*H. Now Alan Alda has written a memoir as elegant, funny, and affecting as his greatest performances. ‘My mother didn’t try to stab my father until I was six,’ begins Alan Alda’s irresistible story. The son of a popular actor and a loving, but mentally ill mother, he spent his early childhood backstage in the erotic and comic world of burlesque and went on after early struggles to achieve extraordinary success in his profession.
Yet Never Have Your Dog Stuffed is not a memoir of show business ups and downs. It is a moving and funny story of a boy growing into a man who then realizes he has only begun to grow. It is the story of turning points in his life, events that would make him what he is – if only he could survive them.