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Beauty, violence, and saudade... I picked up Senor Vivo and the Coca Lord sort of by accident, and read it quickly... as with the best any kinda of magical realism, the text is loaded with information - not necessarily fact. I learned a lot about South America, it's sensuality and violence, it's beauty and tragedy, thanks De Bernieres. The novel concerns Dionisio Vivo, an impetuous and playful young philosophy lecturer, and the letters which he publishes in the national press. These missives are a little like the boy in the The Emperors New Clothes. They articulate the truths that everyone knows, but no one realises. Vivo's letters concern the state of the (unnamed) country, and how it is in the hold of the drugs trade. Vivo's truths awaken people, and revolutionise the government, bringing on mythical worship of young Vivo by the masses, and the hatred of the Drugs Lords....

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Storms, high seas, and lost lives at sea. This book was hell of a surprise... I picked up The Perfect Storm in a marine-fueled frenzy of book buying. I hadn't seen the movie, and while I actually like George Clooney (especially in Out of Sight and O Brother Where Art Thou), I I didn't fancy the literally equivalent of a Hollywood heroic back-slapper. The Perfect Storm was a surprise. Junger has successfully created a semi-speculative journalistic account of the last hours of the Andrea Gail, a swordfishing boat operating out Gloucester, Maine. The ship was caught in what meteorologists termed The Perfect Storm - in that it characterised exactly the components of a textbook weather phenomenon. Junger begins with biographical accounts of the crew, and their lives in drink-fueled Gloucester, followed by accounts of their farewells as they head off in their final voyage. From there, we learn about the...

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The forgotten woman of Irish history... Grace O'Malley was a formidable woman - an early (16th century) feminist from the west of Ireland. The only child of a Co. Mayo chieftan and corsair, she carried on the family 'business' of piracy and trading, and was constantly at odds with the British establishment, which by then was starting to reach across Ireland from within The Pale. She lived till more than 60 years old (an ancient age in those days), and somehow found the time and energy to lead her men into battle, have two husbands, at least one lover (a Wexfordman, of course) have three children, smuggle Gallowglass mercenaries in from Scotland on her fleet of gallies and get jailed. She even got round to meeting up with Queen Elizabeth in London. Anne Chamber's book is the definitive source for anyone interested in Granuaille. That said, I did find the...

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A biography of the genius and tragedy of a writer ahead of his time... I tore through this book last week, while travelling around Europe, by train and plane. In a way, this biography has the best possible author - it's by contemporary, someone who drank with the writer Brian O'Nolan (Flann O'Brien/Myles na Gopaleen). This has its pitfalls, however... despite Cronin's deep regard for 'Myles' as we'll call him, he eventually has to conclude that Myles was a chronic alcoholic, and very frustrated writer, who perhaps never reached his full potential. After his father died, Myles had to use his Civil Service job to provide for his 11 siblings and mother - scant freedom for a budding novelist. Cronin, himself, is apparently regarded (in some quarters) as something of a frustrated poet, who rankles at his failure to be regarded alongside Seamus Heaney or Brendan Kennelly... and throughout the...

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An uproarious, delightful series of confessions from a book addict... Brimming with Nick Hornby nerdness, John Baxter's book concerns his rampant addiction to buying, collecting and hoarding rare books. Tracing his nascent interests in bibliophilia as a teenager, to orgies with porn produers and learning the trade of rare book collecting from drug-addicted, booze-swilling, international criminal runners and failed rock stars, Baxter provides the reader with a superb insight into the bizzare, fetishistic world of book mania. In turn funny, touching and bizzare, this book is a must for anyone who suffers from the addiction of collecting. A must. Click here to buy the book on Amazon.co.uk Click here to buy the book on Amazon.com

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What an audacious little book. I was suspicious from the outset... no author biography, no index, and no bibliography. This had to be the ravings of a madman. However, it's really a tight little essay, and rather than revealing any new 'factual' material, instead manages to convincingly confront the accepted mythologies of the origins of British peoples and their languages.The History of Britain Revealed provokes more questions than it provides answers. The reader is thrown straight into chapter 1. 'An Englishman's Home', a rant about the prevailing myths about the Anglo-Saxons, and how they managed to completely 'replace' the language of England with their own. Alarm bells went on... it's a rant, I thought, albeit an amusing one. It will endure for a chapter or two, then probably peter out into vague claims and unsubstantiated evidence. I was wrong. The author, for all their sniping at academia and unexpected vague...

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A quick dash through some of the works of a travel writer with a difference. Benedict Allen... been meaning to read his works for years, then I stumbled across a Hunting the Gugu and Mad White Giant while rummaging through secondhand bookshops in Galway. Then I got my hands on Into the Crocodiles Nest... In Mad White Giant, at the age of 22, Allen set off for Venezuela, after saving by packing boxes in a warehouse in England. Within days, he was sliding naked around the mudflats, being taught how to hunt Pelicans with bow and arrow by a bunch of six-year-olds. He had been taken in by their village, a collection of hunts on stilts, above the mouth of the Orinoco. From there, he tramped the whole way to the mouth of the Amazon, a perilous journey. He escapes death at the hands of Indians and gold miners, and...

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The Third Policeman (Amazon.com) The Third Policeman (Amazon.co.uk) The Third Policeman (Powell's Books - new or secondhand) 'Within the boundaries of this novel the reader will find: a murder thriller; a comic satire about an archetypal village police force; a surrealistic vision of eternity; the story of a tender, brief unrequited love affair between a man and his bicycle; and a chilling fable of unending guilt.' When I was in my mid-teens, I discovered a copy of *The Third Policeman* in my local library. Nothing was *ever* the same again. Written in 1939, but not published until after the author's death, it's a book that threatens to defy the dimensions of it's own pages. Sub plots and wild theories run through almost independent footnotes, introducing De Selby, the scientist who believed that night was but an accumulation of 'black sooty substances' in the atmosphere, and that travel was an illusion....

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John Lydon Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs (Amazon.com) Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs (Amazon.co.uk) Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs (Powell's Books - new or secondhand) This is John Lydon's autobiography, although only from his childhood to the end of the Sex Pistols/punk era. It also includes contributions from Paul Cook, Steve Jones, Chrissie Hynde, Don Letts, Steve Severin, Julien Temple and many others, some quite famous, as well as Lydon's friends, his wife and his father. This creates both a subjective and objective picture of the times. The book's title comes from Lydon's moniker during his time as singer in the Sex Pistols, i.e. Johnny Rotten and the subtitle comes from the signs common at one time in the windows of English hotels and places for rent. The reference is to *outsiders* within British culture - Lydon's parents were Irish immigrants. Those interested in...