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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

My favourite reads: Alex Belman

I have opted for a more diverse selection of books that I have rather enjoyed reading over the years and that have stayed with me

Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche by Haruki Murakami (2001)
Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche by Haruki Murakami (2001)

When anyone asks me what my favourite books are, the answer is easy: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams. I love them! But it would be silly of me to even attempt a recommendation that does them justice, so I have opted for a more diverse selection of books that I have rather enjoyed reading over the years and that have stayed with me. Resistance is useless.

Alex Belman is a designer for The National

'Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche' by Haruki Murakami (2001)

Just one trip to Japan is all it took for me to become fascinated by its inhabitants. Upon entering a packed subway station in Tokyo for the first time, I recalled the images of the sarin gas attack of the 1990s that made their way to my desk at the newspaper I worked at in Mexico at the time. The reasons the cult group Aum Shinrikyio gave for the attack are as foreign to me now as they were then. In this book Haruki Murakami interviews survivors, their relatives and the attackers themselves. It touches on the events that led to the attack and its aftermath. The detail is heartbreaking as it tries to make sense of the magnitude of that attack on the beating heart of an enigmatic metropolis.

'The Painter of Battles' by Arturo Pérez Reverte (2009)

This short novel can be as inscrutable as its main character — a famous retired war photographer who lives in an abandoned lighthouse. He is painting a mural on the interior wall that features the nightmares of a war, or of all the wars he has witnessed. He weaves in the geometry that exists between the Croatian soldier who comes to visit with the intention of killing him; an old award-winning photo; the woman he loved; the miserable nature of human beings and his own passivity while witnessing. as a photographer. those acts in which he could not, or did not want to, intervene. A strange yet interesting read.

'Algorithms to live by' by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths (2016)

A definite page-turner, when reading this I had to force myself to read just a few pages a day, and only at lunchtime – which in itself was a kind of algorithm to divide my time between enjoyment and necessity. I always came back from lunch overjoyed and puzzled by what I had just read, the simplest mathematical logic told intelligently and in easily digestible bites and chapters. Here’s one example: “No choice recurs. We may get similar choices again, but never that exact one. Hesitation – inaction – is just as irrevocable as action. What the motorist, locked on the one-way road, is to space, we are to the fourth dimension: we truly pass this way but once.” That’s something I can apply to my daily life.

'Ocean Sea' by Alessandro Barico (2008)

Beautiful, poetic, existential and filled with profound and evocative images. Perhaps my favourite part of this book – a haunting tale of love and punishment – is the part where the artist who is seated on a remote shoreline is dipping his brush in a cup of ocean water to paint a portrait of the sea. A simply magical book that invites you to feel adrift in that ocean. “Troppo fragile per vivere e troppo viva per morire.”

'Diablo Guardian' (Guardian Devil) by Xavier Velazco (2016)

This novel tells the story of Violetta, who is just 15 when she crosses the US-Mexico border on her way to New York with the $100,000 she has stolen from her parents. She lives on the money for four years in an expensive, outlandish manner. A beautiful woman who does not know or care about limits, Violetta decides to throw the dice and close her eyes, as if wanting everything to be taken away. This book is narrated by her guardian devil – an Average Joe she meets in Mexico at the ad agency where he works as a creative and where she was at times a secretary and an assistant for the rich clients and corrupt politicians that Nefastofeles, the agency owner, was trying to woo and keep as clients. An engaging, gripping read.

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Read more:

Book review: Finely crafted characters and curiosities define Jim Crace’s 'The Melody'

Book review: Turning for Home by Barney Norris filled with tender and plangent observation

Book review: Writing as catharsis, how Amy Tan untangled the knots of her past

Book review: 'Milkshakes and Morphine' is a compelling and intimate portrayal of an excruciating illness

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