Like A Fiery Elephant: The Story Of B. S. Johnson

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A Year in Reading: Conversational Reading

As the “A Year in Reading” series continues, I asked Scott, who runs one of my favorite blogs Conversational Reading, to share the best book he read all year. Not his favorite thing to do, but he indulged us nonetheless.I hate picking my favorite of anything. I always feel like it’s so arbitrary, that the reasons I like certain things are so various that it’s difficult to compare and say one’s better than the other. With that huge caveat, I’ll say that my favorite read of the year is Yukio Mishima’s Runaway Horses. It has a killer plot (I read the last 200 pages in one day) and brilliantly drawn characters, and it’s the best examination of passion that I can remember reading. For those reasons, I feel like the book will never feel old, but it also happens to explore a society (Japan in the 1930s) that speaks very much to our own.Runners-Up:River of Shadows by Rebecca SolnitThe Windup Bird Chronicle by Haruki MurakamiLike a Fiery Elephant by Jonathan CoeBoredom by Alberto MoraviaHunger by Knut HamsunFlaubert’s Parrot by Julian BarnesNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

A Year in Reading: Golden Rule Jones

I asked Sam at Golden Rule Jones for the “best” book he read all year, and he came back with a literary biography that many were talking about this year (Scott, Bookish, Moorish)I don’t know about “best,” but the funniest, saddest, most interesting, and most (oddly) inspiring book I read this year was Jonathan Coe’s Like a Fiery Elephant: The Story of B. S. Johnson. Johnson wrote seven extraordinary novels between 1962 and his suicide in 1972. Coe, a novelist himself, tells the story of Johnson’s life through 160 “fragments” from Johnson’s own writings. For all his flaws, Johnson’s energy, humor, and passion come blazing through. I loved this book.

New Book Previews: Philip Caputo, Charles Chadwick, Jonathan Coe

Philip Caputo’s new book Acts of Faith is being favorably compared to The Quiet American. Caputo, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, has traveled extensively in Africa, and this new novel is set in Sudan. According to PW, Caputo “presents a sharply observed, sweeping portrait, capturing the incestuous world of the aid groups, Sudan’s multiethnic mix and the decayed milieu of Kenyan society.” Though the novel has a timely, flashy, “ripped from the headlines” sound to it, Kakutani called it “devastating” before comparing it to the work of Robert Stone, V.S. Naipaul and Joan Didion. Scott noted Kakutani’s “heady praise” a couple of weeks ago. And here’s an excerpt from the book (which weighs in at 688 pages, by the way. Whoa!)Charles Chadwick wrote recently about being a first time novelist at the age of 72 (scroll down): “A first novel of 300,000 words by a 72-year-old sounds like someone trying to be funny. Acceptance by Faber and then by Harper Collins in the US – the recognition that all along one had been some good at it – took a lot of getting used to. Still does.” The book, It’s All Right Now, which also weighs in at 688 pages, oddly enough (not exactly light Summer reading, these books), was panned by Nick Greenslade in The Guardian. Greenslade suggests that its publishers were more enamored by the idea of a 72-year-old debut novelist than by the book itself. I’m curious to see what US reviewers say because the book doesn’t sound all that bad to me.As I recall, Jonathan Coe’s 2002 novel, The Rotters’ Club, was well-received by my coworkers and customers at the bookstore. A sequel, The Closed Circle, comes out soon. Here’s a positive review from The Independent and an excerpt. These are good times for Coe. His recently released biography of British writer B.S. Johnson, Like a Fiery Elephant has been shortlisted for the $56,000 Samuel Johnson Prize.

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