What We're Reading

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Neil

The Ascent of Rum Doodle, by W. E. Bowman (Vintage 2019, first published Max Parrish 1956)

This hilarious satirical classic was published a couple of years after the first successful summitting of Everest, and relates a fictional version of the conquest of the world's highest peak. The madcap collection of eccentrically named, pompous Brits are absurdly incompetent, mostly ill, drunk or lost, but have a ripping adventure. Quite brilliant, it's one of only two published books by W E Bowman - the other was a spoof of the Kon Tiki expedition. Deservedly a classic!

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Neil

Night Boat to Tangier, by Kevin Barry (Canongate August 2019)

A tough, gritty novel, set in the ferry terminal at Algeciras in Spain, from where boats come and go from Tangier in Morocco. 2 men wait for a girl, Dilly, the daughter of one of the men, who has run away. The story unfolds with flashbacks telling the story of what has come before. The men are Irish, malevolent gangsters, semi retired and past their best, but still able and willing to offer menace. The prose and dialogue is snappy, expressed in short sentences, with long passages of just dialogue.

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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.