Gift Books


It was my husband’s birthday last week, and as usual some of his presents were books. This might not sound entirely altruistic on my part, except that he and I have radically different tastes in literature and choosing for him is always quite a challenge. I do love picking out books for people, though; when I worked in a bookshop it was quite my favourite part of the job, and when teaching I’d often suggest novels to students not simply because they might be discussed in an exam paper, but because I though they suit the mentality of the students concerned. Knowing that scrutinizing lists of books other people have recently received is one of the great joys of blogging, I thought you might like to know what I got him.


The Giles Wareing Hater’s Club by Tim Dowling. This was a mid-life crisis book about a hack journalist who turns 40 and discovers, by typing his name plus ‘unfunny’ into google search, that the web hosts a site for the aforementioned hate club, where everything he has ever written is held up to ‘excoriating criticism and ridicule’. It’s described on the back as a ‘hilarious and razor-sharp look at the modern male in all his dysfunctional glory’ and I thought it might be appropriate for my own just-turned-40 husband. He’s actually read this one already, and deemed it a frothy concoction for males, entertaining but not what you’d call profound.


The Song Before It Is Sung by Justin Cartwright. I’m a big Cartwright fan, so I might actually be after borrowing this one later on. This is a fiction based on a true historical story: the failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler that ended with the culprits being hunted down, tortured and killed. In this novel, sixty years later on, Conrad Senior is left a legacy of letters that put him on the track of a film that he thinks may still exist of the assassins’ execution. Weaving together the past and the present, Cartwright explores questions of ethics, courage, ideas and friendship.


Ascent by Jed Mercurio. This is another story partly based in fact and concerned this time with the fallout of the Korean War. It’s the tale of a legendary Russian fighter pilot who is removed to a remote arctic base after the war because Russia’s involvement in Korea against the Americans has had to be kept a secret. ‘But in 1964’ the back cover tells me, ‘a man arrives from Moscow, from the space committee, in search of a volunteer prepared to sacrifice everything for his country…’ It’s a man and machine adventure story but with literary pretensions, by the sound of the enthusiastic reviews.


The Echo Maker by Richard Powers. I’ve seen several laudatory reviews of this in the blogworld, and so am once again quite interested in it myself (this is unusual for me to want to read two of my husband’s books). It’s about a man who comes out of a coma suffering from a strange brain disorder where he believes his sister is an imposter. There’s a mystery as to what caused the accident that left him in the coma in the first place and an investigation into Mark’s identity conducted by a renowned psychiatric doctor. I think it sounds most intriguing.


Particularly when one other recent purchase went down well with my husband, V. S. Ramachandran’s Phantoms of the Brain, a popular science book on neurology bringing together case studies and recent research into the deep architecture of the brain. When he was reading it my husband was full of the strange world of phantom limbs, Capgras Syndrome (which is the Echo Maker’s situation of seeing familiar figures as imposters) and the neurology of laughter. Other books he’s enjoyed of late include The Weight of Numbers by Simon Ings which is a novel about three separate individuals whose lives intersect in unexpected ways and which has a particular thematic interest in mathematics, And Then We Came To An End by Joshua Ferris, which he read incredibly slowly (for him) up until about two-thirds of the way through the book, and then, with the arrival in the office of a paintballing clown fixated on revenge, the whole thing seemed to take off, and he finished it in a rush. Apparently he found the sections about the boss with cancer rather bleak. He also enjoyed Curveball by Bob Drogin, ‘curveball’ being the code name given to the defector whose first-hand ‘evidence’ of Sadam Hussein’s chemical weapons programme was a major influence in the decision to go to war – although as it turned out the evidence was nothing but a pack of lies. And finally, another book I am intending to read (and would read sooner if it had anything to do with mothers) is Jonathan Rabin’s Surveillance, which is about the difficulty people now have of assessing risk in a terrorist-threatened society. So having begun this post by saying I never read his books, I’ve now managed to earmark three that I’ll put on my tbr pile. Sigh. It’s just the inevitable effect of blogging, isn’t it?



10 thoughts on “Gift Books

  1. Lots of intriguing stuff here. I’m quite into brain/mind books, although they can be baffling for the non-expert, so thank goodness for the novelists and popularisers. I have read the Richard Powers and although the ideas were fascinating I’m not sure they were well-enough integrated into the story to make that as satisfactory as it might have been. There’s also an ecological strand in the story, both touching on man and nature’e evolutionary future or lack of one. Still lots of others have loved it so it’s no doubt just taste on my behalf.

  2. The inevitable effect of living with someone who also likes books! My husband and I also have different tastes, yet inevitably when I buy him books there are one or two that creep over into my reading pile. And the same goes for him. I mooched Huysmans Against the Grain after you wrote about him and my husband is the one reading it. His assessment thus far is good but weird 🙂

  3. My own tastes seem to run counter to what anyone else I’ve been involved with, or am involved with, likes: one person loved George Eliot and Austen and Trollope and Mrs. Gaskell, while I was reading Gaddis, Balzac, Musil, and Queneau. Not much overlap. Another friend also likes Austen, as well as children’s literature, and I’ve no interest in either, yet. So I’m fairly safe from being tempted by another’s list. For the first person, I did score one nice success by picking up the completely unknown (to me, and to her) Margaret Oliphant’s _Miss Marjoribanks_, which she loved and later used in her Victorian literature class, bringing Oliphant enthusiastic readers from among her students. (No, I’ve not read it.) With the second, no such gold yet.

    Litlove, I wonder if Stanley Bing’s _Lloyd: What Happened_ would appeal to your husband. It’s a business novel, with pie charts, etc., from the early 1990s. You can read about the author on Wikipedia. Joseph Heller’s _Something Happened_ is altogether darker, and not funny in the same way as _Then We Came to the End_. But _J R_ by William Gaddis is _hysterically_ funny, about a sixth-grader (12 years old?) who manipulates the stock market and causes world havoc. Told mostly in dialogue. These are the most recent business novels that come to mind.


  4. What a book bounty! I hope your husband is enjoying all the books. I love to give books as presents but I have such a hard time giving my husband books. We read different types but I’m always afraid I’m going to get him something he already has. I know I could look through his bookshelves, but they are madness (kind of like mine!) 🙂

  5. Ooh, your husband and I have birthdays in the same week (although he’s just a wee lad, having merely just turned 40 to my 44). Bob and I have very similar taste in books, so most of the time, when we buy each other gifts, we’re really buying ourselves gifts. However, we have a rule: the buyer is not allowed to read it until the receiver has read it. Believe it or not, this has meant that on more than one occasion, I’ve actually had to resort to going to the library to get a book we already owned! Of these gifts, the only one that doesn’t sound like it would interest me at all is ASCENT. Oh, and I’ve been wanting to read that PHANTOMS OF THE BRAIN (surprise, surprise).

  6. Bookboxed – I’m always interested when books provoke a range of responses – probably more interested than when opinion is undivided! Thank you for your comments on the Echo Maker. And yes, I really enjoy those kind of neurology books so long as they are accessible. Which reminds me I still haven’t read Oliver Sacks’ The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. Stefanie – your household sounds so like ours! And I think your husband’s assessment of Huysmans is spot on! He is good, but really weird. JB – first of all thank you so much for the excellent list of books. My husband has read it and been very pleased with it. Secondly, no I can’t imagine you being fond of Austen! But I’m with you as far as Balzac and Queneau go. Gaddis and Musil I will get around to as they are on my list. Iliana – I feel just the same about my father who loves books but has more now than I can keep track of! LOL about your husband’s shelves! Emily – I did laugh at the thought of you having to go to the library although it’s nice to be able to indulge oneself when book buying for presents. A very happy birthday to you, dear friend! I hope you had some good book-shaped gifts too!

  7. Litlove, I hope you don’t mind if I borrow some ideas for my own just-turned-40ish husband’s birthday!
    I had my mind already set on the Joshua Ferris (which I will probably buy new, there are no less than 250 moochers waiting for this one, can you believe it?).
    The Echo Maker reminds me of books by Martin Suter, a swiss novelist dealing with neurological mysteries (I have no better word for that, it’s pretty intriguing). Have you heard of him?

  8. This sounds like a great selection! Personally, I’d like to read the Powers novel, and The Weight of Numbers sounds intriguing too. I like math, but I never read about it and that should change!

  9. A friend of mine has just read the Cartwright and loved it. Peter is a rabid Cartwright fan and can be very critical but he says this is one of his best.
    As a primary teacher it is always a tremendous challenge recommending books to children as one false move can put them off reading for ever and you have to know both them and the literature so well, but I always found it one of the best parts of the job. After all, it was the perfect excuse for spending hours and hours reading the books myself.

  10. What a lucky husband to get a nice stack of books like that. I’m curious about The Echo Maker–I’ve been meaning to read it. It’s set in NE where I live (though different city), though I don’t think setting is a very important factor in the book.

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