Monday, 11 January 2010

Five Books for Kareem

Kareem Shaheen is a journalist with Abu Dhabi based newspaper The National. Try not to hold that against him, he's a decent fellow for all that.

Kareem's New Year's resolution is slightly unusual but highly laudable. He's setting out to read a book a week for the year. Yup. 52 of 'em. Rather wonderfully, he's also reviewing them on this blog linked right here.

I gave myself the unenviable task of listing the five books I would recommend to him above all else. It nearly killed me, but here they are: five books for Kareem. Feel free to add your five penny'orth.

A quick note for those of you reading this on FaceBook, which includes many of my literarily inclinated pals, please pop over to the blog if you would like to add your recommendations. Cheers!

The Alexandria Quartet
Lawrence Durrell
I think I can say this is my favourite book of all time, although it's really a four-in-one recommendation. Durrell's Alexandria Quartet is a winner on all fronts: set in '30s and '40s Alexandria it's lush, evocative and rich, its vivid characters occupy settings described with a sumptuary's eye, everything touched by notes of the mystical and imbued with a smoky sexuality. The Quartet is just that, a tetralogy - four books that describe the same sequence of events, forming an interlinear which sees its events unfold from four narrative perspectives: Justine, Mountolive, Balthazar and Clea. Structurally, imaginatively, intellectually and lyrically brilliant, it's a book I have re-read many times with joy at every encounter. If I had an ounce of Durrell's genius, I would be a giant. He was, incidentally, an alcoholic who liked to beat women, but I suppose you can't have everything...

Seven Pillars of Wisdom
TE Lawrence
Thomas Edward Chapman has been something of a hobby for me: I have every book written by him or about him during his lifetime, each one a first edition. I don't have the famous 'subsriber's edition', sadly, but then I'd be sitting on tens of thousands of pounds worth of book if I did. Lawrence's account of the Arab Revolt and his role in it makes for fascinating reading, let alone that it reveals old TE to be an author of considerable power and style. It's classical stuff written wonderfully and stands as truly a great work of literature - regardless of how you view it as history.

The Honourable Schoolboy
John Le Carré
John 'call me David Cornwell' Le Carré has to be one of my favourite contemporary reads. Often shrugged off by snotty, superior types as 'just spy stories', Le Carré's books are a good deal more literary than many suppose - he's a master stylist whose bleak landscapes are peppered with tragedy and human failure, increasingly so as he's grown older. The Honourable Schoolboy is set in Hong Kong during the fall of the British secret service following the uncovering of its head as a Soviet 'mole'. Using back-tracking techniques, basically going where the mole didn't want them to go when he was in place, Le Carré's famous Smiley and company start to buy their way back into viability by pulling off a major intelligence coup. It's unputdownable stuff at every level.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Hunter S Thompson
He hardly needs any introduction, but journalist Hunter Stockton Thompson invented 'gonzo', a school (if it can be elevated to that!) of journalism that celebrates the journalist as participant in the events being covered. And Hunter's idea of immersion is a Mach-speed plunge into the depths of drug-addled frenzy. Brilliantly played by Johnny Depp in the film of the same name, Thompson trod a constant tightrope of alcohol abusing, gun-toting, high speed drugged-up insanity in his quest to cover the Mint 400 desert race in Las Vegas. If Fear and Loathing doesn't make you laugh with manic glee and want to go out and commit a crime, you're not human.

The Name of the Rose
Umberto Eco
When he's not writing books, Umberto Eco is a professor of semiotics (at Bologna University, as you ask), the study of signs and symbols, and his books reflect his intellectual engagement with the ideas of the dawning of human comprehension that took place as Europe emeged from the dark ages. The Name of the Rose is set in a monastery in Italy, where an English monk and his Italian apprentice attempt to solve a series of murders. Set against a backdrop of Albigensian heresy and the Inquisition, their quest for truth takes place among the mysteries of the massive library-maze and the scriptorium that the Monastery is famed for - and where truth is by practice kept hidden. It's a brilliant whodunnit peppered with ideas and explorations of human thought and symbology. Oddly, I also liked the film but then I'm a sucker for Sean Connery...

So there they are. My five favourite books of all time. I know in my heart of hearts that I'm going to regret this, that the others jostling just under will make me regret this - let alone those that didn't come to mind this morning. I could so easily make it 50 or probably even more. But it's set in stone now...

What are your Five Books for Kareem?


Ahsan said...

I've only read Name of the Rose, but what a book it is... Kareem, lots of luck trying to finish it in a week!!

@highandwild on twitter

DXBluey said...

I know you're a big Hunter fan - have you got the spoken word version of Fear by Harry Dean Stanton and Jim Jarmusch? It is quirky and rather brilliant in places... "and the sky was filled with what appeared to be giant bats!" is a particular high light...

Have you got it? I may be able to *supply* this to you if you don't.

Rupert Neil Bumfrey said...

Of your five Hunter would get close to tipping into my favourite five!

alexander... said...

Hey, Bluey!

No, I'd not heard of that one!

So what would you and Rupert's top fives be? HmMMMM?

DXBluey said...

Oh that’s so difficult. Not being next to my library hinders this choice too, but here goes, not 5 and in no particular order:-

Haruki Murakami - “The Wind Up Bird Chronicles”
Hunter S Thompson – “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas”
Ken Kesey – “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”
Tom Wolfe – “The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test”
Will Self – “Great Apes” or “How The Dead Live”
Douglas Coupland – “Microserfs” or “Girlfriend In A Coma”
Mark Z. Danielewski – “House Of Leaves”
Katherine Dunn – “Geek Love”
Edgar Allan Poe – several short stories inc. “The Tell Tale Heart” / “The Black Cat” / "The Murders in the Rue Morgue"

Interested to hear your thoughts on this selection… Any you’ve read / not read?

alexander... said...

That's nine not five, you'll have to be more rigorous than that!

Kesey/Wolfe/Poe genius. Don't like Will Self. Will add others to my own 'to do'list! :)

Rupert Neil Bumfrey said...

1. Slaughterhouse 5 Kurt Vonnegut
2. All Quiet on the Western Front Erich Maria Remarque
3. The Stand Stephen King
4. Vanity Fair William Makepeace Thackeray
5. The Well-Beloved Tommy Hardy
(In no real order, all equally interchangeable.)

Mockingbird said...

May 1812, Harbour, Whom Must I Kill to get Published and Pistols for Two, Breakfast for One.

Coming very soon, Tulagi Hotel and Die A Dry Death....

PS, can I interest you in a Yoga DVD with a Manual also coming soon?

alexander... said...

Oh wow. Can't believe I didn't think of Rupert's No. 2. Loved 1. and 5. BTW.

SJ, you know I'm a big fan. But yoga would be stretching it... :)

Mich said...

Soooo many books. But if I had to pick one, it would be My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk. It felt like looking at a painting, reading a book and listening to music all at the same time.... :-))

Dubai Jazz said...

Ok, I'm going to sound like a braggart; I already read 52 books a year :)

(been doing that for two years)

Dubai Jazz said...

As for recommendation, I mostly read thrillers, for entertainment. Not sure that what Kareem's looking for (judging by the first book he'd read)

the real nick said...

I enjoyed the Name of the Rose but I preferred Eco's 'Foucault's Pendulum'.
In a similar vein is
Roberto Bolano's '2666'
It's weird and wonderful in this Latin American Borges kind of way but it kept me gagging for more from that author.
Robert Musil's 'Man without Qualities' !! That'll keep Kareem busy for a few weeks.
John Irving's "The world according to Garp'
Philip Roth's 'Portnoy's complaints'

Media Junkie said...

id suggest the five books of 'Percy Jackson and the Olympians' series.

Phillipa said...

Crikey, Alexander! How's he going to get through your top five in five weeks?

I'll nominate lighter fare, I think.

Cloudstreet - Tim Winton
Gorky Park - Martin Cruz Smith
The Voyage of the Narwhal - Andrea Barrett
Portnoy's Complaint - Phillip Roth
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

All great reads, Kareem

the real nick said...

Alexander, isn't it ironic that your post about books got more comments than most of your writings about new online media...

Rupert Neil Bumfrey said...

@The Real Nick 12 January 2010 09:11

I think this proves that reading is a great leveller and we can all contribute, whereas Alexander remains "the expert" of online media!

Hopefully interested UAE readers will come to this: The Shelter on Jan 16th. RSVP at

If you are not on Twitter do not worry, just come along. Coffee and Tea supplied by More Cafe gratis!

Phillipa said...

@Nick, I know so little about new tehnology - I bumble through picking up scraps here and there and wing it most of the time. I rarely know what to say to Alexander's posts on technology other than 'oh'. In fact I dare not speak lest I reveal my ignorance.

But a list of good reads? I can do that.

the real nick said...

OK, it's not ironic then. It's an indictment of Alexander's Luddite readers...

Pam said...

I have been reading this blog for a while and am braving a first comment with these recommendations of Five Books for Kareem. These are all fiction classics that have stood the test of time, with the added advantage of not being too long! (More picks would be needed for me to include contemporary fiction or nonfiction.)

Willa Cather: My Antonia
Charles Dickens: Bleak House
Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Idiot
Ford Madox Ford: The Good Soldier
Gabriel Garcia Marquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude

Anonymous said...

Dear Kareem,

now that I have finally scrolled down the page, let me bring a bit more of a continental choice to the recommendations....

1. Heinrich Harrer - Seven years in Tibet

2. Frank Schaetzing - The Swarm

3. Sten Nadolny - Die Entdeckung der Langsamkeit (will look for English title)

4. Dava Sobel - Longitude

5. Dietrich Schwanitz - Bildung (all you need to know)

These are only some of may favs. A bit off the beaten track :-)

@fanofamd on Twitter

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