Where shall I read now?


llibreria - bookstore - Amsterdam - HDR by MorBCN.

llibreria - bookstore - Amsterdam - HDR by MorBCN.

Although I tend to scatter about a bit and read several things at once (one in the bathroom, one on the train), I can trace back a list of what I’ve read recently. It’s a bit skew-whiff.


  • Last Exit to Brooklyn, Hubert Selby Jr
  • Trains & Buttered Toast, John Betjeman
  • The Master & Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
  • Post Office, Charles Bukowski
  • The Crossing, Cormac McCarthy
  • In Patagonia, Bruce Chatwin
  • All The Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy
  • In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
  • If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller, Italo Calvino
  • The Old Gringo, Carlos Fuentes

That’s all I can remember now, and it’s probably not exhaustive. I was going to comment on the absolutely horrific Last Exit To Brooklyn and how it’s actually completely beautiful in many ways, but I got to thinking typing out that list, I wonder if there’s anything that ties these things together, anything that could suggest what kind of book I favoured.

People often ask me (or at least used to, having withdrawn from most society now) what kind of music I am ‘into’. “All sorts,” I invariably reply with both scrupulous honesty and a frustrating lack of an answer to the question. No-one tends to ask what sort of books one reads: if a conversation gets flowing, it’s usually around authors (Bukowski vs. Brautigan?), or styles (C19 Russian vs. C20 American), not ‘types’. 

So I’m not sure if a theme presents itself. I’d suggest, with the exception of Calvino’s postmodern oddity, or possibly even Post Office, these are books with a highly defined, and well expressed sense of place. Not their place in the world or the grand scheme of humanity but – as it’s I talking – geographical place. This doesn’t surprise me, given that around half the books I read as a child were atlases, but it’s interesting nonetheless. They’re all very strong depictions of the atmosphere of a location: I suppose including Chatwin (or Jonathan Raban, or Eric Selby) is cheating really, but nevertheless Chatwin is a particular kind of travel writer, and his description of the feel of a place, and what makes it up is unique.

Within that observation, these are all books about a place or a world of which I have no conception, no sense other than what I see in pictures, on TV; in books. I’ve been to Brooklyn, briefly, to eat Mexican food, but I can hardly claim to have known a world like Willies and the Greeks from Last Exit… I’ve been to America, but I’ve not been to the America of Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy. I have no idea what Bulgakov’s Moscow, or Gogol’s provincial Russia (I’m on Dead Souls now), or Fuentes desolate Mexico, or even what Betjeman’s England of 70 years ago are like. I can try to find these little towns and little architectural signifiers (and I do, on Charity Shop Tourism), but it’s an unrecoverable world that JB speaks of.

So, my reading takes me out of my little world into an unknown beyond. How about yours?


One Response

  1. […] way we read it Posted on May 6, 2009 by ohsimone Having gone and analysed how I read books just recently, it’s surely not coincidental that I picked up Nick Hornby’s The Complete […]

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