What We're Reading

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Neil

The Silence, by Don DeLillo ( Picador 2020)

At less than 120 pages of widely spaced, typewriter-style print, this is an incredibly unsettling little book. It is 2022, and in an unexplained event, all power goes off instantly, everywhere. 5 people are gathered in an apartment in New York when this happens, and they discuss recent events, and speculate about what may have happened, while mayhem begins on the streets outside. That's it. It's a dazzling and bewildering piece of fiction, taking place obliquely to the main events. It was written just prior to Covid.

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Neil

The Death of Francis Bacon, by Max Porter (Faber 2021)

Max Porter is the author of two previous and much loved novels Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, and Lanny. This is an eccentric oddity, an imagined stream of consciousness of the great painter Bacon on his deathbed. It's a remarkable if unusual short piece of imagining, more a prose poem than novella.

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Neil

Calcutta: Stories From the Street, by Bob Blatchford (self published 2020)

I met Bob in Namibia in 2018. He's a wee bit older than me, and he and his wife Paula have spent most of their lives travelling, mostly in the developing world, mostly helping people where they can. Bob loves India, particularly Calcutta, and he has been going there almost every year since 1986, staying for a few months, walking the streets and alleys, helping and exchanging stories with the street dwellers. He keeps an occasional blog, and this book is a collection 10 pieces written over the past 6 years or so.

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Neil

Three Ways to Capsize a Boat, by Chris Stewart (Broadway Books, 2010)

Chris Stewart is the hilarious author of Driving Over Lemons and its sequels, which have become classics of the Brit-Living-Abroad genre of travel writing. This is a bit different, but perhaps even funnier, as Stewart, who has never sailed before, agrees to captain a sailboat in the Greek Islands. After a few misadventures, he gets the sailing bug, and goes on to retrace the voyage of Viking Leif Ericsson across the North Atlantic where the misadventures continue. Always the optimist, Chris Stewart writes with great good humour and is a very likeable narrator.

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Neil

Arabia Through The Looking Glass, by Jonathan Raban (Picador 1987, first published 1979)

Jonathan Raban is one of the world's most prominent travel writers, and Arabia is his first travel book. He is unable to get a visa to enter Saudi Arabia, but he does travel to Bahrain, Doha, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Yemen, Egypt and Jordan, which gives him an insight into the changing lives of the people of those countries early in the oil boom. He has learned a bit of Arabic prior to leaving London, both spoken and written, so is able to hold limited conversations with people he meets.

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Neil

Arabian Sands, by Wilfred Thesiger (Penguin 1991, first published 1959)

This is justifiably seen as a classic of travel literature. Thesiger was one of the greatest of the British travellers amongst the Arabs, and was one of the first Europeans to cross the Empty Quarter of Arabia, which he did a number of times with the Bedu. Those journeys are described in this book, which is a powerful insight into the lives of the Bedu in the middle art of the Twentieth Century, as the outside world began to intrude.