Hello! We started our Book of da Week feature back on 3rd December 2014. Six years later and we’ve done over 300 book reviews!
But now we’re kind of running out of stuff we’ve read over the last 17 years. We started reading heavily from 2003 onward when at uni, upping our literary intake with nary a backward glance.
But we’re pretty methodical with our reading. No skim reading or blasting through books, we pour over them slowly. Maybe we’re just dumb.
Anyway, for 2021 we’re turning this into Book of da Month to shore up our reading reserves and catch up with more literature. For 2022, we’ll then possibly return to the weekly format.
In its place each Saturday, we’re introducing a curiosities from the world feature. Exciting times!
The Very Best of Book of da Week
But before then, let’s celebrate some of our favourite book reviews since those heady days of 2014. 10 of our finest. Drum roll, please! 🥁
The Book of Tea
This is all about the tea. And Teaism. Okakura Kakuzō’s 1906 essay is a brilliant thing, deliberately written for westerners to help them understand eastern tea drinking habits.
The Book of Tea delves into philosophy and life attitudes. As the writer put it:
“Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, and romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.”
Whilst having lovely asides like the above, the work is also an ode to history and how generations pass pleasant habits to the next.
The Beauty of Everyday Things
Having read a lot of Japanese literature over the last five years, this work from Yanagi Sōetsu sums up our world philosophy.
Limit excess. Embrace the simplistic things around you in the form of mingei (民芸).
We’re alarmed by the way modern capitalism promotes wildly extravagant behaviour (and celebrates it).
This book is a reminder you don’t need a superyacht or a giant mansion in your life. The reality is about the simplistic Beauty of Everyday Things.
The Illustrated History of Apples in the United States and Canada
How’d you like them apples? Well, this book details every variety out there in the whole of North America.
And that includes a lot of fantastic illustrations from 100 years back.
The Illustrated History of Apples was a decades long project for Daniel J. Bussey. He began the project in 1989. But we think it paid off brilliantly.
Mind you, the book is quite pricey. But if you’re infatuated with apples, then this one is for you.
The Hearing Trumpet
A very quirky, fun tale by Leonora Carrington, this is about a 92 year old woman fighting back against her family.
The Hearing Trumpet is somewhat similar in vein to Roald Dahl’s fantastic books.
And here the OAP uses her experiences and wiles to escape her life in an institution. This one is weird, wild, and carries a lot of dramatic themes with it about ageing.
A Romance of Many Dimensions! Edwin A. Abott’s deeply scientific concept imagines a world where everything is in 2D.
What would life be like? In his work, written in the Victorian era, it doubles up as a satire of life back then. Particularly with society’s sexism towards women.
The novella is, above everything, simply about the wonders of reality and how new concepts can alter our world. Whilst baffling and outraging others.
A Very Easy Death
The brilliant Simone de Beauvoir’s very moving and intelligent book about the death of her mother.
A Very Easy Death may make for difficult reading, but it takes on a topic so many in society often shy away from discussing (or even thinking about).
Whereas de Beauvoir challenges this issue head on in candid detail, showing the typical bravery and high intelligence to push boundaries forward.
A novella that’s rapidly come back into the limelight in recent years, Address Unknown is a short but powerful account of a friendship collapsing.
Kathrine Kressman Taylor’s book explores the relationship between two men in the build-up to WWII, with one losing his mind to Nazi propaganda.
So, again, we find human history repeating as politics brainwashes one sect into increasingly bigoted opinions.
The book is very important as a result—a reminder to remain respectful of different cultures and support each other.
In Praise of Shadows
Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s superb essay on the joys of aesthetics—particularly those from Japan.
It explores how to use lighting in your home to elevate mood. Such as using candles over electric lights in the evening.
And to revel in your home, no matter how big or small it may be. Reduce clutter and enjoy foods such as miso soup, which soaks appealing in lacquer bowls.
In Praise of Shadows also features one of our all time favourite literary lines:
“If light is scarce then light is scarce; we will immerse ourselves in the darkness and there discover its own particular beauty.”
The Heart of a Dog
A very amusing and crazy account of communism, anti-communism, medical experimentation, and socialism.
Mikhail Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog follows a pompous, overprivileged doctor as he attempts to create a human/dog hybrid.
He succeeds, but soon finds his creation starts to match his intellect, whilst also exhibiting erratic and difficult to control behaviour.
For example, the dog/man begins explaining the importance of fair wealth distribution, but also resorts to eating toothpaste.
We love the mismatch of the dog/man’s rapidly expanding intellect set alongside rather basic canine desires.
Great one to read. But there was also a film adaptation in Russia (included above), where the book was banned for many decades by Stalin.
The Ascent of Rum Doodle
Definitely the funniest book we’ve ever read. William Ernest Bowman’s 1956 novella is the story of a group of Englishmen attempting to scale a fictional mountain.
The Ascent of Rum Doodle was written to satirise the chest thumping patriotism of some Brits from the 1930s onward. Empire gone? Climb mountains to show you’re the best!
This actually quite lovable troop make a constant mess of the situation.
And the writer’s inventiveness for the situations they find themselves in is remarkable. The book is just consistently hilarious.
It’s very fresh and feels like it was written in recent years, showing off Bowman’s sharp mind and love for the absurd. Highly recommended.