Author Archives: Paul Kerins

Naples ’44 – Norman Lewis – A Review

Naples '44 - Norman LewisThe other day, I found a first edition hardback of Norman Lewis’ Naples ’44 for £2 in a charity shop. I thought I’d write a wee review just so I’d have an excuse to tell everyone.

I first read this book when I was in Naples earlier in the year and of all the Neapolitan books I read, I think this is the one I enjoyed the most.

Norman Lewis served as an intelligence officer during the war and during this time he kept a diary. Naples ’44 begins as Lewis and his unit land on a beach in Paestum, just south of Salerno. After a pretty hectic game of cat and mouse with the enemy, he eventually reaches his destination and finds a city in extreme poverty. The descriptions evoke images of a war-beaten people shivering in empty rooms as they try to think of something else to sell.

The Neapolitan people were (and still are) a very closed community surviving on their own wiles and placing as little trust in the authorities as possible. Since time immemorial the ownership of Naples has been in constant flux and the ‘ordinary people’ have always been subject to whatever ills the ruling classes could dream up, be they Spaniard, Bourbon or Fascist. It’s for this reason that the common folk always turn inwards in times of crisis.

One can hardly think of a more difficult state of affairs for an intelligence officer to find themselves in. One of his main duties is to uncover information relating to black-market trading – a task made impossible by the simple fact that the citizens rely on these goods to survive. Being Naples, there’s also a tendency to keep quiet for fear of accidentally incriminating the Camorra and inviting certain death.

Lewis doesn’t spend the whole time chasing fruitless leads and we can see several friendships blossoming between himself and some of the locals. It’s a pity that his stay happens to coincide with a war because there is one aspect of Neapolitan culture that is glaringly absent – they have very little food to go around. Of course they make the best of a bad situation and at one point they resort to feasting on the attractions of the local aquarium.

Among the many treasures in this book is the description of an occurrence for which the area is synonymous but that few have witnessed. Norman Lewis becomes one of the privileged few to have seen the last eruption of the Vesuvius and he illustrates the awe and panic brilliantly.

Lewis’ tone is wry and witty throughout and he observes his situation from a typically British angle. The book is now published by Eland who take time and effort to make their books beautiful. At £10.99 it might be more expensive than your average paperback but for the story alone, it’s definitely money well spent.

A Bright Moon for Fools – Jasper Gibson: A Review

A Bright Moon for Fools - Jasper GibsonMeet Harry Christmas – an impatient, curmudgeonly Englishman with a drinking problem and a huge chip on his shoulder. After stealing some money from his girlfriend and incurring the wrath of William Slade, her psychotic stepson, Harry flees to the Venezuela – the ancestral home of his dead wife. Slade would never follow him there, would he?

Of course he would – you need some kind of unreasonable antagonist in a story such as this and they don’t get much more unreasonable than William Slade. Slade is a predatory oddball with a knife fetish and a very loose understanding of what constitutes consensual sex. When he isn’t raping or torturing, he is obsessively focussed on a single goal – killing Harry Christmas.

This spells trouble but Harry Christmas is one of those unpredictable drunks who needs no help in wreaking a havoc all of his own creation. He’s not without faults but, as the book progressed, I couldn’t help feeling a warped respect for Harry Christmas. Every now and then, he rails against ‘The Rot’ – the umbrella term for all that is wrong with the modern world and in the assault, it’s easy to find yourself agreeing with him.

But then you remember that he’s a compulsive liar and a dishonest criminal with a dark core of bitterness. We slowly discover the source of his hatred and soon realize that Harry has plenty of reasons to scorn the fates. After all, how can anyone else dare to be happy in his presence when life has dealt him such a cruel hand?

The story itself is great fun – it’s a farcical chase around Venezuela that falls somewhere between No Country for Old Men and A Confederacy of Dunces, having all of the terror of the hunt with the comedy of a despicable protagonist.

It’s not all laughs though. There are a few moments in the book that are so shockingly horrific as to leave no space for humour. I suppose this is Jasper Gibson’s way of emphasising Slade’s threat. He is a destructive sadist and the author treats us to a few scenes of his perversion. These scenes are in alarming contrast with the rest of the story and it can take a while to readjust to the humour after such a jolt.

That said, it’s still a great read with a visually-striking cover and, at £14.99, it’s a reasonably-priced hardback. It is, so far, the only offering from independent publisher, Inside the Dog Press, which is great news for all of you with anti-corporate agendas.

Jasper Gibson is the co-founder of The Poke which is a great way to waste a bit of time that would be better spent reading all of those books you have stacked up. Check out their review of A Bright Moon for Fools below…

The Liars’ Gospel – Naomi Alderman: A Review

the liars gospel - naomi aldermanYesterday morning, I picked up Naomi Alderman’s The Liars’ Gospel just to see what it was like. I had no real intention of reading it until the end but that’s exactly what I ended up doing.

Now, don’t be put off when I tell you that this is a book about Jesus. The reaction is to summon in your mind the image of some pious reflection of the life and works of God’s only son. That’s exactly what The Liars’ Gospel isn’t.

True, Jesus, or Yehoshuah, does form the epicentre around which the story unfolds but this is really the tale of the Roman occupation of Jerusalem and its brutal and bloody consequences.

The book is separated into four parts, each one a ‘gospel’ of a particular character. First, we hear the story of Miryam – you’d probably know her better as Mary. Here, the grieving mother harbours Gidon of Yaffo, a fugitive from a nearby village where a rebellion (one of many) has broken out. This rebel, little more than a teenage boy, is a follower of her son and brings news of his resurrection. As much as her heart wants to believe it, this is something she cannot accept as true.

Gidon is hungry for stories of his saviour but Miryam has none to give. However, we are treated to the tale of a strange boy who, much to his father’s (his biological father, at least) disgust, will not take a wife or otherwise behave as a man of the time should. He asks endless questions and wastes his time marvelling at nature.

Later, we feel Miryam’s sense of rejection as the adult Yehoshuah chooses a new family – his followers – and will scarcely acknowledge the one into which he was born. Despite her best efforts, Miryam cannot convince her son to return to the relative safety of his hometown and, even before he is crucified, she resigns herself to his loss.

Next up, we hear the tale of Judas, known here as Iehuda of Qeriot. One of Yehoshuah’s first followers, Iehuda watches helplessly as his old friend becomes intoxicated by the myth that has grown up around him. He can see that Yehoshuah has, willingly or otherwise, been used as a convenient tool for rebellion – a figurehead for a movement dedicated to removing the Romans from Jerusalem. The godly cause in which Iehuda once believed has become a ridiculous folly and little more than another cult.

He tries to make Yehoshuah see reason but is met with the same cryptic questions that he has come to expect. Caught in a crisis of faith and fearful for his life, Iehuda does the only thing he can and thus cements his name in history as the great betrayer. He reluctantly accepts his reward, changes his identity and allows the lie of his suicide to spread.

The third part concerns Caiaphas, the High Priest of the great Temple of Jerusalem – a figure the bible would have us believe as heartless and cynically concerned with the Temple’s financial interests. In this version, Caiaphas is a victim of circumstance. He is under pressure from Pilate to provide money for an aqueduct.

Again and again he refuses, rightly stating that the gold in the Temple’s coffers has been donated by the people for the upkeep of the Temple alone. He finally crumbles and in a risky attempt to point the finger of blame at his cruel Roman master, inadvertently instigates a riot in which hundreds of civilians are killed.

For me, the fourth and final story was the most interesting. This is the story of Bar-Avo (Barabbas), the thief, the rebel and the murderer of Roman soldiers. We hear of his rise through the ranks of the rebellion through acts of defiance and, of course, great remorseless violence. Through his bravery, he becomes notorious as a freedom fighter. He only wants to rid his land of these Roman scum an keeps the favour of the people by action, not empty rhetoric and preaching.

His fight becomes a counterweight to that of Yehoshuah’s followers. Much like Yehoshuah, we see him travelling the land recruiting men, one at a time, to the cause. Following an act of betrayal, Bar-Avo finds himself in a cell with the man proclaimed to be King of the Jews – a man he finds puzzling and disturbing. In a great scene, he uses Pilate’s vanity against him and surreptitiously negotiates his freedom.

I found this book fascinating as a piece of historical fiction. Naomi Alderman has stripped away the supernatural elements of the man we know as Jesus and portrays him as merely a man. Sure, he seems to be a man with more than his fair share of mental illness but what man is without such faults?

I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone but, having looked at some of the less-than-favourable reviews on Goodreads, it probably won’t go down too well with devout Christians. If you’re a Christian who expects their image of Christ the Lord to be reinforced by this book, I’d advise you to steer clear. If, on the other hand, you’ve got an open-mind and even a fleeting interest in Middle-Eastern history, you’ll probably be swept away.

The Crocodile – Maurizio Di Giovanni: A Review

the crocodile maurizio de giovanni“So what exactly do you do here at the San Gaetano police station?”

Lojacono decided to give the woman another chance and sat back down.

“I’m in the Crime Reporting Office. But that’s a front. I’m actually spending my days fighting a bloody poker duel with my computer. My weapon of choice is a five-card stud.”

New translated crime, that’s what you need – and I’m only too happy to oblige. I’ve just read The Crocodile (Il Metodo del Coccodrillo), a Neapolitan crime thriller from Maurizio Di Giovanni and it’s quite something.

Detective Inspector Giuseppe Lojocano is a Sicilian cop who finds himself in the purgatory that is the San Gaetano police station in the historic centre of Naples. Caught in a scandal back home, it is decided that it would be best for everyone if he disappeared for a while.

He sits at his desk all day and plays poker on the computer and he is under strict instruction to do nothing but serve his time and stay out of the way.

It should be an easy task but the long, idle hours only give him time to mull over his predicament and consider the shame he has brought upon himself, not to mention his wife and teenage daughter to whom he has become an embarrassment and a stronzo (look it up).

By some administrative fluke, he happens to be the only person on duty one night when the call comes through – there’s been a murder – a sixteen year old boy has been found in a courtyard with a bullet hole in his head.

Lojacono is the first at the scene which irritates his chief no end and he is ordered to return to his desk. Before he leaves, he makes sure to point out a piece of evidence – a pile of used tissues.

As is the habit of the local constabulary, the murder is brushed off as the work of the Camorra – an excuse that works very well until more murdered children are found. The crimes are identical – a single shot to the head at close range from a small calibre pistol and there is one more similarity – at every scene, the killer has left behind tissues soaked in tears.

The press learn of this curiosity and the murderer is soon dubbed The Crocodile – the beast who weeps before claiming his victims. His M.O. is obviously not that of your typical camorrista and soon, the efficacy of the police investigation is called into question. Although his superiors don’t want to listen, Lojacono is the only one with a different theory and he finds himself in a race against time to find the perpetrator before more children are killed.

As Andrea Camilleri did for Sicily and Michele Giuttari did for Florence, Maurizio Di Giovanni evokes the atmosphere of Naples. A Neapolitan himself, it’s perhaps strange that he has chosen an outsider for his protagonist. Lojacono is not only a stranger, but one who sees only the dark side of Naples. He omits the vibrancy and energy of the city and emphasises the ancient air of mistrust. The city mistrusts the sea, the sea mistrusts the city, the citizens mistrust the police and pretty much everyone walks around mistrustfully avoiding each other’s gaze. Everywhere there is anger and guarded hatred and the only joyous element Di Giovanni has thought to include is the quick-fire Neapolitan wit of the characters, caught in a constant battle of playful insults.

It’s a very dark read all-in-all but an enjoyable one and although it isn’t exactly filled with surprises, the strength of the characters keeps the pages turning. I’ve personally found in Lojocano a great creation and I’ll look forward to reading more.

Stoner – John Williams: a review

stoner - john williamsA couple of months ago, I opened a tote from our supplier and, mixed in with all of the familiar titles, was a Vintage classic I’d never seen before. Reading the title, my first assumption was that it was a biography of some feckless marijuana addict. After a quick glance at the blurb, I realised that it was an old American novel about the life of a college professor in the first half of the twentieth century.

“Oh.” I thought and promptly shelved it.

I forgot about it, categorising it in my head as a stuffy relic of little interest to anyone who isn’t a college professor.

Weeks passed until suddenly it exploded onto my Twitter feed. The reception was overwhelmingly positive and, for a good couple of weeks, I couldn’t check Twitter without seeing the hash-tag #weareallstonersnow accompanied by some evangelical recommendation. It seemed there was more to Stoner than I’d originally thought.

First published in 1965, John Williams’ Stoner charts the exploits and disappointments of William Stoner, farmer’s son and born-again literary enthusiast. When the opportunity arises to attend agricultural college, he reluctantly takes leave of his work on the land to learn better techniques for tending the soil turned and turned again by his forefathers.

It’s in the university that this green country-boy discovers literature and a new calling in life. At first, this world is elusive and almost impenetrable but he works hard, harder than his fellow students, to make up for a childhood without any literary influence outside of the Bible.

Soon, he meets Edith and unwittingly makes the biggest mistake of his life by falling in love and quickly marrying her.  Too late, he realises his folly but, ever the stoic, he accepts his lot and tries to make the most of a bad situation.

As the years wear on and wars come and go, William Stoner rises through the hierarchy of the college as a teacher eventually meeting adversity in the form of Hollis Lomax, Stoner’s colleague and nemesis.

Though his life is unremarkable, William Stoner can be included among the great literary heroes. He doesn’t fight in any war or solve any mysteries or rescue any damsels in distress but his triumph comes from his dogged forbearance of a less-than-kind life. He believes in the university as a sanctuary and continues to protect his principles even when his stubbornness proves detrimental to his career.

Though his life is riddled with failures, it’s Stoner’s minor victories that give us cause for celebration, not least because these are the successes we come to expect in our own mundane lives. After all, most of us will never be soldiers on a battlefield or historical figures of note. William Stoner is just a guy trying to do his job as best he can without inviting undue hassle. He isn’t a bust in a museum or the subject of a documentary – he’s one of us. With this fact in mind, it isn’t too bold to say that William Stoner may just be one of the most human protagonists you’re ever likely to encounter.

In conclusion, I’m delighted to admit that I was wrong in my prior assumptions about the book. It’s no stuffy relic but a forgotten treasure which deserves to be read by everyone and I look forward to the day when we can agree that we are all, indeed, Stoners now.

Finches of Mars – Brian Aldiss: A Review

finches of marsRight, so I read some reviews of Finches of Mars. Glowing reviews they were, full of praise. It sounded good, so I read it. But now I’m confused. I’m confused because I think I’ve missed something…

Brian Aldiss, science fiction giant, has stated that Finches of Mars will be his final book. It’s set in a future in which overpopulation, extreme weather and war have made life on Earth pretty unbearable. Since the political leaders seem to have abandoned all reason, the Universities of the world unite and pool their resources to fund a project to colonise Mars. They find some water, build a few towers and fill them with Earth’s best and brightest.

Pets are banned due to the diseases they carry and religion is banned because it tends to destroy civilisations. Other than that, the colony is a liberal, pacifist paradise which is just as well because once you’re there, you can’t return to earth.

There’s a problem though. No healthy babies have been born on Mars and if they survive past birth at all, it’s never for very long. To make matters worse, things back home on Earth are spiralling out of control. Since the colony appears pretty doomed anyway, it slips off of the priority-list. All they can do is hope to find some proof that life on Mars is possible.

“Without children, no future, no permanence…”

The story itself is quite interesting and it’s easy to identify with such a desperate situation. In this respect at least, my will to see humanity survive kept me going. In places, Aldiss raises some very interesting questions and I found myself stopping for a wee think every now and then.

So what was my problem with it?

I’ve never read Brian Aldiss before but, given his reputation, I can only assume that there are better titles in his backlist. My main gripe is with the dialogue, which I found a little unconvincing, but maybe that’s just a thing with the genre. People perhaps expect that in the future, conversation will have evolved into something we, in 2013, find flowery and unrealistic.

The ending, about which I’ll reveal little, is intended to give us hope, to restore our faith in humanity’s ability to overcome adversity. To me, it felt like something improbable had been dumped into the story with little warning just to bring it to an end.

All that said it did indeed get excellent reviews, so maybe I just didn’t get it. Maybe it’s because I read it on my phone and couldn’t give it the same level of attention as I might an actual book.

Maybe I’m just not that clever.

I can’t help wondering, however, if his last book would have received the same praise if it had been his first book.

We’ll never know.

Whatever the case, I haven’t given up on Brian and I’ll try one of his earlier titles some time. If you have any recommendations yourself, you know what to do.

Why you should read Flann O’Brien

Flann O'Brien Books

My Flann O’Brien Collection…so far.

Last week, Rome had the honour of holding the second International Flann O’Brien conference. It was a great opportunity for Brian O’Nolan fans to come along and talk about Myles Na Gopaleen. If you’re a little confused, don’t worry – you’re meant to be.

Perhaps it’s his Catholic upbringing which led Brian O’Nolan to embody a holy trinity all of his own. We have Brian, the civil servant – Flann, the novelist – and Myles the columnist and I’m here to tell you why you should get familiar with at least two of the three.

joyceHe’s the other James Joyce

He practically invented post-modernism with At Swim-Two-Birds. It’s a book about a student who spends his days drinking in Dublin’s bars when he really should be studying. That’s the short description. The book is comprised of several parallel narratives – each one crazier than the last – ranging from retellings of Irish legends to pioneering experiments in meta-fiction.

Though they were mutual admirers of each other’s work, O’Nolan wasn’t above poking fun at his literary counterpart. In the Dalkey Archive, Joyce is cast as a disgruntled barman furious that some imposter has been using his identity to publish sacrilegious filth.  The filth in question is, of course, Ulysses.

peigHe isn’t Peig Sayers

For Irish people of a certain generation, the very utterance of the name ‘Peig’ can still provoke horrific flashbacks of compulsory Gaelige lessons. It was indeed a torture with no equal, but at least it gave us the skills needed to get Flann O’Brien’s jokes.

There are lots of jokes in Flann’s work that rely on knowledge of the Irish language. One example that springs to mind comes from the pages of the Dalkey Archive. Teague McGettigan is commissioned by DeSelby to paint a sign for his gate. DeSelby wants him to convey the enormity of his lawn, but in the old tongue. Now, the Irish word for ‘big’ is ‘mór’, pronounced ‘more’. In his attempt to translate his employer’s intentions, Teague gets it a bit wrong and DeSelby returns home to find a sign on his gate that says ‘lawnmower’.

Another linguistic pun of his was to spell English word as though they were Irish words, so instead of writing a piece for his column, he’d occasionally raight a píos fomhair higheas colm. I’ll move on before I completely alienate the English speaking world.

He’s hilarious!

Above all reasons to recommend Flann O’Brien, I’d cite his humour. For him, the English language was a plaything and his mastery is evident in the wealth of puns and double-entendres within his work.

Reading Flann O’Brien in public should be done with caution. I’ve had to excuse myself on more than one occasion for disturbing the peace of various alehouses. As an illustration of the Flann Effect, here’s Tommy Tiernan reading a passage concerning the invention of anti-alcohol.

“A cliché is a phrase that has become fossilized, its component words deprived of their intrinsic light and meaning by incessant usage…”

For a bite-size taste of what Flann is about, his Catechism of Cliché makes for a great snack.

I’ll leave you with a few appetisers:

When things are few, what also are they?
Far between.

What are stocks of fuel doing when they are low?
Running.

How low are they running?
Dangerously.

What does one do with a suggestion?
One throws it out.

For what does one throw a suggestion out?
For what it may be worth.

What else can be thrown out?
A hint.

In addition to hurling a hint on such lateral trajectory, what other not unviolent action can be taken with it?
It can be dropped.

What else is sometimes dropped?
The subject.

My favourite underground shelter

Wool - Hugh HoweyI’ve just finished Hugh Howey’s Wool, which is excellent, by the way. The story revolves around the inhabitants of the Silo, an underground bunker comprising over a hundred floors of cramped accommodation and dystopian paranoia. It sounds a bit claustrophobic and uncomfortable but certainly a lot better than asphyxiating in the toxic winds outside.

It’s a really good read but it isn’t very realistic. I mean, come on – an underground complex designed to house a population of thousands in the event of a global catastrophe.

“Don’t be silly!” I thought.

I suppose any loon can bury a corrugated iron pipe in the ground, stick a sofa and a bucket inside, and then call it a survival shelter. That’s hardly the same thing as a sprawling underground network containing all of the amenities necessary for outliving the rapture.

On the other hand, there are a number of contractors who will build you a home ten feet underground complete with air filtration systems to get rid of that musty last-man-on-earth smell. But I doubt these projects are anything more special than an episode of Grand Designs.

As much as one might like to believe otherwise, enormous subterranean complexes just don’t exist outside of science fiction books.

Then I discovered Vivos.

Vivos LogoVivos was founded in California (where else?!) by Robert Vicino, a man who is certainly more interested in making a lot of money before the apocalypse than preserving the human race afterwards. The Vivos website is peppered with doom-laden phrases and promises of incoming horsemen designed to scare you into parting with your cash. They have a risk-assessment page which contains an exhaustive shopping list of potential catastrophes ranging from meteorites to terrorist attacks.

“Which side of the door do you want to be on?”

You see, certain people – certain Americans, in particular – are very serious when it comes to survival. You may be able to think of a galaxy of terms to describe them, but they prefer to be called ‘preppers’. At one end of the scale, you have the mountain-dwelling firearms enthusiast with enough tins of beans to last him until Judgement Day and beyond. At the other end, you have a whole different breed of prepper.

These people are not short of a few dollars and they think nothing of forking them over for place in one of Vivos’ underground cities.

And these cities are impressive indeed.

The Kansas site consists of a massive underground trailer-park 150 feet under a mountain. The rates are calculated depending on the size of your vehicle which can be anything from a modest caravan ($16000) to an eight-person coach ($45000). On top of this, residents are expected to pay $1500 per person for a year’s food ration. The website isn’t very clear about what happens once that year is up but we can only assume that dollars would be obsolete at that stage.

So what do you get for your money, besides the obvious luxury of surviving the end of the world? All of their sites are equipped with hydroponic farms, emergency services, and entertainment facilities. Needless to say they also have a rifle range and I’ll leave it to your own imagination to conjure up all the things that might go wrong there.

Gladly, you don’t even have to wait for the inevitable to benefit from the inclusion fee. In the meantime, the Kansas facility serves as a members-only resort. At least you no longer need to think about that survival-themed family vacation.

God knows there’s enough to worry about.

HHhH – Laurent Binet: A Review

hhhh-by-laurent-binetSometimes a book comes along which changes the way you think about books. In HHhH, Laurent Binet redefines historical fiction and injects some much-needed life into an arguably tired genre.

The book charts the fates of paratroopers Jozef Gabcík and Jan Kubiš and the blighted Operation Anthropoid. Their mission is to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich, the Butcher of Prague and the man dubbed by Hitler to be “the most dangerous man in the Third Reich”.

And he is a right bastard.

The book’s title refers to the famous Nazi in-joke, “Himmler’s Hirn heisst Heydrich” – Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich – marking Heydrich as a chief architect of the Final Solution. Binet had originally planned to call it Operation Anthropoide but his publishers dissuaded him on the grounds that it sounded too much like science fiction. Now booksellers across the world are faced with another problem – HHhH is a title that’s almost impossible to pronounce without hyperventilating.

But it’s not just about killing Nazis. HHhH is a book for writers and in it, Binet wrestles with the dilemma of writing a historically accurate account without letting his own imagination fill in the gaps. He constantly refers to other accounts of the period, scorning their inaccuracy and implicitly highlighting the superiority of his own book.

The author’s real triumph is his ability to maintain the excitement and suspense even when we know that our heroes are embarking on a suicide mission. As their hour of judgement approaches, Binet stalls, withholding a climax which he himself cannot bear to confront. This makes for genuine edge-of-the-seat reading that rivals any mass-market thriller.

A measure of the book’s success is its universal appeal. Almost all of my fellow booksellers have read it and loved it. That’s quite a feat when you consider that we rarely all agree on anything. From a marketing standpoint, HHhH looks like a “man’s book” and that has been the main stumbling block whenever we try to recommend it. But, so enamoured are we that none of us will take no for an answer, stopping just short of holding customers hostage until they agree to buy it.

For me, HHhH is the best book I’ve read all year. That’s something that I would usually have great difficulty saying but in this case, I’ll gladly run up a mountain just to shout it out. It’s different, it’s exciting, it’s educational and it’s funny and it has landed right at the top of my ‘essential recommendations’ list.

If you haven’t read it yet then I’m not talking to you again until you do. That’s how passionately I feel about it.

If you have read it, and now feel a gaping void in your life, then worry not, because you probably haven’t read it all. Binet was so scathing about Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones that the publishers decided to omit a whole section of the book. Thanks to themillions.com, that section can be read in full here.

Enjoy!

A Challenge Overcome

earthDid you know how many countries there are in the world?

Lots – and some of them have authors living in them. Ann Morgan knows all about that. In 2012, she set herself the challenge of reading a book from every independent country, all 196 of them, to celebrate the Olympics. Writers do mad things, don’t they? You can read the whole story over on her blog – it’s quite inspiring, especially if, like me, you’re somebody who mindlessly sets themselves challenges for no apparent reason.

Today was a typical case in point. In Ann’s latest blog post, she asks her readers to pop along to their local bookshop and count how many countries are represented on the shelves.

“I can do that”, I thought. But then I thought I could do so much more. I decided to find out how well represented each country was within the fiction section, create an Excel spread sheet, and make a pie chart.

piechart3

It got a little out of control and, between helping my beloved customers and chatting to my colleagues, it took all day. Now that it’s done, I have to wonder what I’ve gained from the experience…other than a pretty rubbish-looking pie chart.

I suppose the joy of a job thoroughly completed is reward enough. I’m better equipped to do my job as well. Let’s say somebody comes in looking for a book from Kyrgyzstan. Can you name one? Did you even know there was such a thing as Kyrgyzstan? I can’t say I did, but today I discovered Jamilia by Chingiz Aytmatov…a guy from Kyrgyzstan!

I learned something and you can’t put a price on that.

In closing, here’s the list for all of you anoraks out there.

table

 

Have fun!