What We're Reading

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Neil

Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande (Profile 2014)

This precious, vital book spawned a genre of medical memoirs with something powerful to say about life and death. It's a book about the modern experience of mortality, of what it means to get old and die, and how that experience could be made better. A wise and moving book, which everybody should read.

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Neil

Calypso, by David Sedaris (Little Brown 2018)

This is about the tenth collection that David Sedaris has written. He specialises in humorous, brilliantly observed true stories about his and his family's life and behaviour. This collection is perhaps darker than his previous books, but it is still extremely funny. He's now middle aged, and has a glimpse of mortality. Death has never seemed so funny, but he does also have an emotional touch.

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Neil

Transcription, by Kate Atkinson (Doubleday 2018)

The Second World War continues to provide inspiration to novelists, who can often reveal information that historians can't, especially when imagining espionage activities which clearly took place. Michael Ondaatje's recent novel Warlight explores similar territory to this novel, and also William Boyd's Restless. Those who took part in espionage during the war find that their activities come back to haunt them years later.

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Neil

Dead People I Have Known, by Shayne Carter (VUP 2019)

Shayne Carter, of Straightjacket Fits and Dimmer fame, grew up in very tough circumstances in Dunedin. Drinking, drugs and violence were prevalent. A very young Shayne Carter sought escape through music, first pop, and after an almost religious experience seeing Chris Knox, punk. He writes with great power and humour, about making music, being let down by other musicians and record companies, drinking, sex etc. This is a no holds barred music memoir, extremely honest, passionate and confronting. He's also very funny. A quite brilliant book.

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Neil

Let's Go (So We Can Get Back), by Jeff Tweedy (Faber 2018)

I've never been all that much of a Wilco fan, but this book came with a big reputation, and I do like music memoirs. I wasn't disappointed, in fact, this is one of the best music memoirs I've read, and you don't need to know anything about Wilco (or Uncle Tupelo, his previous band) to enjoy it. He grew up in Illinois, and still lives in Chicago. He was, by some years, the youngest in his family, so he grew up almost an only child. It was a tough, gritty, working class life, and he soon found music was a way out of that kind of life.

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Neil

Last Train to Zona Verde, by Paul Theroux (Penguin 2013)

This is a kind of companion book to his Dark Star Safari (2002) in which he travels from Cairo to Cape Town, overland, down the right side of Africa. In this book, he attempts to travel south to north on the other side: 'until I find the end of the line, either on the road or in my mind'. He travels north from Cape Town, across Namibia, and into the terrifying, relentlessly dysfunctional Angola.