Kevin Powers

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How many books is too many?

TassieLibraryphotoCan you ever read too many books? Author and Poet Michael Bourne raised the question this week writing in The Millions when he revealed he had read 56 books in 2012, slightly down from the average of 60 books per year he had set himself when he entered a new millenium. To achieve his target he had to read five books a month or just over one book per week. 
“For years now, reading has been something like training for a marathon,” he writes.  “I keep mental tallies of how many pages I’ve read per night, and how many more pages I need to read in the next few days to keep to my average. In 2011, after years of hovering in the mid-50s, when my annual average hit precisely 60 — that is, 720 books read over 12 years — I did a private victory lap.”
Bourne keeps track of  his reading habits by listing every book he has read dating back over the past 12 years so he can quickly tell how he is tracking, month by month,  to ensure that he fulfills his target. Unfortunately the result wasn’t just  a considerable amount of  great reading but also a compulsion to stick to his timetable and achieve his quota and that took over from pure reading pleasure as motivation.  No More.

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

At 17, Kevin Powers joined the army and found himself in Iraq serving as a machine gunner in Mosul and Tal Afar. On his return to America, he was constantly asked What was it like? Powers’ extraordinary debut novel, The Yellow Bird, is one man’s answer to what even he does not fully understand.

As Powers explains in the preface: “What I’ve written is not meant to report or document, nor is it meant to argue or advocate. Instead I’ve tried with what little skill I have to create the cartography of one man’s consciousness, to let it stand, however briefly, as my reminder.”

The Yellow Birds centres on the lives of three soldiers as their platoon prepares for an assault on a nearby Iraqi community.

There is Bartle who joined the army in his teens and at 21 is a combat veteran. He is torn between putting on the uniform of callous bravado just to survive and being mentally eaten away by the agonising awfulness of his existence.

Guardian prize for a first book

 Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding is probably the best known of the 11 books just announced as the long list for the Guardian first book award. But he’ll have a fight on his hands. The list, which gathers together examples of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, has some proven book shop…


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