The year 2019 has brought me back to reading after a period when I neglected it. The work that had the most impact on me in recent time was Fahrenheit 451 and its original version, the Fireman. It was THE book that made me realise that I should read as much as I can. The photo on top, the quote is how I feel about books and reading. I want to share what I read via blog and via Instagram, – trying to make photo sessions for books has become something of an engaging activity for me. I like it, it’s fun. There is much to be said against social media, but I believe in their good sides. They enable sharing.
So, below are some highlights from my 52 books challenge. I am looking for new reading challenges for 2020. Reading 52 books can get tricky. Sometimes, you get too busy, sometimes too tired…I do find that I Iose focus. Also, I think I need to reread a lot of my older faves and some classics. I already can’t wait until I reread some books in the list below! But there also still so many new. exciting, lovely books to read.
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. Agatha Christie – Why haven’t I read it earlier? It’s an excellent crime story. I am not interested much in the Poirot series, but this one had a great concept: 10 people gathered on one island, and the choice was not accidental. The strongest part was both the conceit and delving into the guilty conscience of all characters present. It’s not so much about the whodunnit for me (though it was a part of the appeal), but more about how the characters have been selected and how they deal with it. This is short (around 250 pages) but riveting, the ending is great; the simultaneity fascinating.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Harper Lee – an important novel. Important topics and I also love the sense of unease lurking and tension (related to the case) in what otherwise seems an idyllic small town. I love that Scout’s perspective was employed, she is sharp and observant. I liked the part when she pointed out: so you hate Hitler and sympathise with Jews but not with the African American community on your own turf? In this book, she has a lot of charm too. She idealises Atticus but no matter what happens to him in any other version of the story (I have not read Go Set a Watchman yet), He is a strong lawyer and the wisdom he imparts as a father is great and applicable. I kept seeing Gregory Peck while reading, no doubt the movie has affected me a lot. Though I really don’t understand the first name thing. It doesn’t feel all that right for me. Great book.
MY SWEET ORANGE TREE. Jose Mauro de Vasconcelos – A fantastic read, from the pov of a child, young Zeze, who living in a poor family is abused and misunderstood but has a powerful imagination and finds a friend in an orange tree, then another character. Beautiful translation, interesting misadventures, a character you feel for. Father (Portuga)-son story. This one makes a great set with The Little Prince. They are very different, but I feel like they could be good friends and both are books I will treasure always: wise, sensitive, imaginative.
THE SNOW GOOSE, Paul Gallico – The inspiration for my favourite Camel album is a lovely, atmospheric read. It’s short and bittersweet, but beautifully written. A wounded, disfigured man helps animals and makes friends with one special goose and a girl.
FRANKENSTEIN, Mary Shelley – There has never been a time when I did not know at least the barebones of the story. It was not part of my lit course at uni though and I have never read it so far. I loved the concepts, especially the debate between the creator and the created, the sense of wantonness of haphazardly playing God and innocence lost story for the Creature.. I dislike Victor – he is selfish, coward and irresponsible, his monologues got utterly weepy and annoying. I liked the Creature especially in the innocent part. I sympathised strongly with him. I liked Henry and Victor’s father. I think this works as a father-son story. Good story, good concepts, could be better, but I think it was an accomplishment for young Mary. This is also a fairly short read.
GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY, Mary Ann Shaffer– first was the Netflix flick. I enjoyed it but enjoyed the novel a lot more, it’s told in letters. I liked seeing the protagonist gather bits and pieces about what happened on guernsey and what happened specifically to one of the residents. in the process, she meets the love of her life, a charming character called Dawsey- I like him, that’s the sort of character I like in my love stories and rarely find in novels. Most romance novels are vulgar or just too crude and go for quick gratification. Not my thing, quite unlike Guernsey. Aside from that, there is a strong sense of community and group bonds and the impact of war on that group. I’ve found it to be a lovely read.
THE LAST DAYS OF THE NIGHT, Graham Moore– a fictionalised account of an interesting moment in history, the battle of the currents and the competition between Edison and Westinghouse. I was really into it.
THE GREATEST GIFT – Philip Van Doren Stern. It’s good to know the story that started Frank Capra’s Christmas classic. A timeless story about a man who does not believe his life has any worth but is given a chance to see that he is wrong, that he in fact is the richest man. It’s a short read – the story alone takes only 15-20 minutes but it’s rewarding to see that the core was preserved in the movie, and also to appreciate the changes made. Thel illustrated edition is more of a collector’s item to accompany the movie. The story is followed by an afterword by the author’s daughter. The story behind the story that inspired the movie is fascinating…Philip wrote it after having dreamt it, then revised it several times, failed to get it accepted to magazines and then he sent it out as Christmas card. Here’s a story that shows that definitely stories find their way to their perfect readers and that perhaps a writer should just keep pushing for it. The illustrated edition of the book that has the insights into Capra’s interest in the story has also changed the protagonist’s name – from the original Pratt to the movie version of Bailey. I’ll get a physical copy when I can afford it. It’s a lovely title to reread on Christmas (along with Dickens’ Christmas Carol for sure!), and the whole story behind the story is inspiring and interesting.
THE ENCHANTED SONATA, Heather Dixon Wallwork- a fairy tale- like Christmas read, a retelling of the Nutcracker and Pied Piper. I found the prose rather magical and it’s very musical as well. Creative execution and likeable characters.
Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales – I have to say, I love his lush descriptions that have that fairy tale feel to it. Fisherman and his soul works as a love story and philosophical tale about the battle for the soul. Which is better, love or sense of wonder/wisdom? Star child is a gorgeously woven tale about the consequences of cruelty and pride and about the rewards of kindness. Happy prince is about a statue of a prince and a swallow – the happy prince statue tries to help people. The nightingale and the rose is about a sorrowful sacrifice made in the name of love. This nightingale was such a beautiful, romantic soul.
MAYBE IN ANOTHER LIFE Taylor Jenkins Reid- A pleasant romcom, feel good, comfort read. Kieslowski once made a movie called Blind Chance. Much later, there was the romantic comedy sliding doors. Maybe in another life is a more likeable (for me) version of sliding Doors, w explore two different routes the life of the protagonist might have taken. I liked the Henry universe. I really liked that the writer used echoing phrases to highlight universes may be different, but character is still the same. They were a nice touch, some nie touches here and there when certain characters appeared in a certain way in anoyther universe. It’s a really nice, pleasant read.
SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL, Patricia MacLachlan – I do so love this prairie life series of stories. They felt heartfelt. They are very short stories. Hallmark made a movie series but only covered the first three. There are two more. I primarily loved skylark, Caleb’s story and Grandfather’s dance.
Ted Chiang’s and Ken Liu’s stories Ted Chiang is a lot more brainy and a little dry whereas Ken Liu’s Stories appeal to emotions. I like them both. The story that inspired arrived and the Babylon Tower are so far my favourites of Chiang’s, whereas paper Menagerie (about a mother’s love and living origami figures), Mono no Aware and the Book making habits of selected species of Liu’s. I will one day make a definite list of my favorite short stories and novellas.
THE SHADOW OF THE WIND, Carlos Ruiz Zafon – read it back in January. I was into the overall atmosphere, some very lush descriptions of places and books and book cemetery. I think I had some issues with characters. But the atmosphere alone was very compelling.
MIRACULUM – Steph Post – It was like reading a retelling of a myth. This one had its distinct flavour that I enjoyed very much. It’s a page-turner and unputdownable. It’s just the right amout of dark and right amount of myth, with some intriguing events to keep the interest, and likeable supporting characters, with a touch of romantic feel to it on top of everything. The story is set in an early 20th century wandering circus. There are many distinct and colourful characters, and their presence, their little side stories really bring out the character of the place, add vividness and life. It’s like outside the world, a liminal place, and they have their own. Circus and carnival are, in my experience places accepting and welcoming to strangeness, difference, you can just be yourself. It’s a perfect setting for all sorts of wonder. This story was the right blend of noir, magic and myth and the setting was really vivid, characters very likeable and colorful.
miraculum, miraculi, n.
amazement, freak, miracle, an amazing act/event/object/sight, wonder, marvel
And I found all that, in the best senses, in Miraculum, an engaging, imaginative story.
THE ROSIE PROJECT, Graeme Simsion– a very interesting, fresh protagonist, very likeable and his various misadventures.
THE SPARROW – Mary Doria Russell – wow, that was pretty strong. In August 2019 the Jesuit linguist Emilio Sandoz and his friends are getting ready for a life-altering expedition that leads them to question faith and morality. The prose is elaborate, detailed, shows a lot. The characters jump out at you. They feel complete; the stories are properly explored and fleshed out. I cared for them, cheered for them. I miss them. I wanted to stay with them a little longer. Emilio is at the heart of this story but I really loved Anne and George, Jimmy and Sofia and the Jesuits and the girl Emilio taught English on Rakhnat. Faith means different things to different characters. The question it. The priests in this book are also treated like humans. At the heart of it all is Emilio who searches for God and for the meaning of his vocation – is it even a vocation for him? He is sorely tested, shattered, destroyed. This is a memorable book with big questions, lots of great cultural and linguistic details and great characters. It’s a wise and shattering read. Not easy but one that provokes thinking and makes me really attached to characters. The ending drove home Emilio’s struggles. I never felt it went overboard, with this pacing all was revealed in the right way, with the right time and mood. The narration shifting between the present and the last both stirred curiosity and prepared me for the final blows. The build-up and repercussions went very well together. The suspense kept up my curiosity to read it all as soon as possible. In short: great prose, good theme, memorable characters you care for.
Ursula Le Guin Lathe of Heaven – interesting novel, a bit trippy but thought-provoking. What if your dreams could affect reality? You thought of something and reality changed to fit that…There were a few interesting examples in the narrative and it was thoughtful. Overall, I think her style might not be my thing, it’s a bit dry, but it was good to read at least one of her titles. and I think I picked up a good one.
The housekeeper and the professor, Yoko Ogawa – a very interesting and beautifully translated story about a housekeeper and her son and a mathematician who due to an accident only retains 80 mins of memory every day. The book deals with experiences and memories, are those more important since memories fade? Mathematical formulas become poetic metaphors for themes of the story. A really lovely read. Beautiful English translation
The ordinary is so lyrical here. I will definitely read more Ogawa soon.
Lover’s dictionary, David Levithan – interesting form, a look at a relationship with its difficulties. We all have our love vocabularies, but can we make them understood to one another?
Multiple choice, Alejandro Zambra – another original experiment with form, a story in the form of a standardised test. story rich, it ridicules, among others, the form of the multiple-choice test. I didn’t find it pretentious, for me it was an interesting way to tell a story. Or two. And leave room to read it as you want.
There were a few titles I didn’t like but I don’t like to dwell on them, also I have some non-fiction titles to finish.