Top of the Pile #31, #32, #33: The Grand Design, Breakfast of Champions, The Luminaries

I know it’s been rather quiet around here on the Book Pile front these days, but don’t you think I’ve put my reading on hold or anything.

In fact, I’ve been taking full advantage of my new commuting pattern and have been doing quite a bit of reading in between running through the rain to and from train stations twice a day.

Now, as a somewhat new train commuter, after years of mornings stuck exclusively on the London Tube, I’m discovering life as a train traveling reader a lot more challenging.

People are loud on trains. I mean, really loud.

On the tube, what with no cell signal in tunnels and everybody being so badly cramped there’s hardly any room for proper, oxygenating breathing, never mind yelling chatting, I’d read and read like there was no tomorrow.

It’s a whole different story these days. Loud as I can bare music in my headphones, and still I can hear each and every one of the six different conversations loudly drilling through the few breaths of air around me. And while we’re on it: Care to know what people like to talk about most on their way to work?

Buying property in London!

Here I was, feeling rather guilty about how this blog had turned into a why-can’t-I-have-a-freaking-place-of-my-own moaning ground, when not a day goes by now that I’m not involuntarily eaves-dropping on my fellow commuters’ home hunting struggles. Guilt no more, at least I’m not alone in my insanity!

But I digress.

You’ll be surprised to know that, against all odds, I’ve actually read not one, not two, but THREE books these past couple of weeks.

Bleak House, Charles DickensWell, maybe only two and a half, since I was already halfway through Bleak House by the time my train traveling adventure commenced. But still, it’s no short of miraculous, all things considered.

Now, first things first, I finished Bleak House. I really really liked it, though I must admit at one point I had to take a break from it for a few days, because, I don’t know, I think I’d become a little bored with it. Or maybe I’d just had a couple of bad days, because as soon as I got back into it, I ended up finishing it in just one more, very determined sitting.

OK, I’ll admit I found some of Bleak House a little predictable. Things like who ends up with whom, and the conclusion of the Jarndyce vs Jarndyce litigation (I’d figured that one out within the first couple of chapters, talk about genius!). But then everything else was absolutely mesmerizing.

I find it extraordinary that Dickens managed to create so many characters (and there’s a flock of them in Bleak House, more than in all his other books I’ve read put together!), in such a way that each and every one of them appeared to me like a perfectly formed individual, driven by genuine, if at times wicked purposes.

I think I’ve secretly always graded books by whether I felt I could write something of the same caliber myself.

I know it must sound oh so very smug. I mean, I’ve never and most likely never will write anything. I’ve never really entertained the idea of attempting real writing. I know where I’m standing, OK? But. Sometimes I come across books that, I can’t help thinking, with a sabbatical, a lot of luck and a really good dictionary, I could probably write myself.

I must say, Bleak House is NOT that kind of book. I could never, not in a million years, write something like that. It’s miraculous enough that it exists and that I’ve read it.

*

The Grand DesignAfter watching the much talked about Interstellar last weekend (mixed feelings, thank God I’ve never been much of a film critic) it felt only natural for my next read to ponder on the origins of the Universe.

Clearly I’d been wondering about black holes and relativity before, as The Grand Design is my second Stephen Hawking book on the subject. After A Brief History of Time, of course, a book one of my friends likes to call “the most famous bestseller no one really understands”.

Now, it’s been a while since I read that one, so I don’t particularly remember how much of it, if any, I understood, but, older and clearly wiser now, I found The Grand Design quite accessible, and finished it in two days.

I later read that upon its release, it got a lot of publicity for supposedly tackling the question of God. This took me by surprise, as throughout the book I hadn’t noticed any anti-God feel whatsoever. Which I guess says things about me, or about us, or who knows.

It’s most and foremost, a book about physics. It asks a lot of interesting questions, some of which it answers in surprising ways. Well, that’s what I think, anyway. There’s always a chance there’s a million other versions of me in a million other parallel universes who very much disagree.

*

Breakfast of ChampionsMy previous encounters with Kurt Vonnegut include Cat’s Cradle and A Man Without a Country, both of which I very much enjoyed.

I picked Breakfast of Champions on a whim, which is how I seem to make most of my reading selections these days, randomly making my way through the pile of still unread books I’ve got stacked on the floor by my nightstand. I’m determined not to put them on shelves until I’m done with them, in an effort to take control of my book hoarding issues and not buy anything new until, well, until I’ve got nothing else to read in sight.

So yeah. Breakfast of Champions. Such an easy read, filled with fun drawings, at times hilarious and then at times very much disturbing, in true Vonnegut character I guess. I’ve got my eye on Slaughterhouse-Five now, but I’d have to buy it first and that’s a NO-NO for the foreseeable future at least.

*

The LuminariesI must say, I was a bit reluctant to embark upon another 800+ pages book after just finishing Bleak House. And especially now that it’s coming close to the end of the year, and I’m 15 or so books behind on my 2014 Goodreads Reading Challenge. But it just felt right.

I’ve had The Luminaries for ever now. V got it for me the moment it won the Booker Prize last year, and I’ve been putting it off since, intimidated by the sheer size of it, or who knows, perhaps just waiting for the right time.

It turned out that time was this morning.

I’ve only read about half a chapter on my way to work, and I’m happy to report there’s promise of a really good story here. It could be that this is the book I’ll be ending 2014 with, so I’ll make it special and pace myself with it. It’s getting colder, raining 24/7, and I’ll soon be having a bit more free time on my hands than I’m used to. A big book fits the story perfectly, doesn’t it.

Happy reading everyone!

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