Books of July

I am writing this post on a packed train on my way home, on a random Thursday afternoon scarred by yet another London tube strike.

I’ve put down my copy of Sebastian Faulks’ Charlotte Gray, reluctantly, because I absolutely love it and have been pretty much wolfing my way through half of it since yesterday. But I haven’t written a book post in a while, and it so happens that I’ve been reading a lot of great stuff recently, so it’s only fair that I brag about that to you lovely people for a few hundred lines or so.

LATER EDIT: This has proven to be a much longer post than expected, you’ve been warned.

Here we go then.

The Lemon TableJulian Barnes, The Lemon Table

It’s been a while since I last read a short story collection, and to be completely honest I had no idea The Lemon Table would be one, that is, not until I finished what I thought were the first couple of novel chapters.

I’d bought the book a long time ago  (from what I can tell it’s part of yet another used paperback batch I got from Amazon when we were still living in our old place), and it’s been part of my ever growing, menacing nightstand pile since.

I’ve always loved Barnes. As my friend C recently put it, he’s fun. I mean, even when he isn’t. Like in his heartbreaking Levels of Life, which Goodreads insist I read back in 2013, but that can’t be right, can it? Time can’t just fly like that! I can’t be 31!

Oh well.

Back to Barnes and his Lemon Table. It was fun. If I’m ever geeky enough (and I might just be!) to make a list of my all time favourite short story collections, Barnes will surely end up at the very top, way up there with Jhumpa Lahiri and Alice Munro.

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ParadiseToni Morrison, Paradise

Believe it or not, Paradise was my first Toni Morrison read.

And yes, I’ve heard it’s probably not the best introduction to her writing, as people don’t consider it as good as some of her other novels.

Not to mention that it happens  to be the third book in what critics call The Morrison Trilogy, and it would have made a bit more sense to start at the beginning, with Beloved, instead. But hey, beggars can’t be choosers, even more so when there’s this huge paperback pile on and around your nightstand just begging for some serious, focused reading. So Paradise is what I had and Paradise is what I read.

Now, I don’t know about this book.

First thing first, I really wanted to like it. The first couple of chapters were quite exciting, the writing was good, the premise intriguing. And then… I don’t know.

It all just felt a bit pretentious. A bit sketchy. Criptic just for the sake of it. I read that people who really like Paradise, end up re-reading it a few times, and then reading every author interview and article on the subject. I don’t want to have to do that for a book to make a difference for me. I think it should be the other way around.

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24831147Harper Lee, Go Set A Watchman

Harper Lee’s second, long awaited and infinitely debated novel was launched on a Tuesday.

In Picadilly Circus, two blocks away from my office, in what is probably the best known Waterstones shop in the country, they were opening at midnight on Monday for what they advertised as the most exciting literary event of the decade.

I’d walk past the shop a couple of times a day for weeks, windows packed full of bright orange, mockingbird themed posters, and feel a spark of excitement mixed with a mass of other complicated feelings.

I was fourteen when I read To Kill A Mockingbird. My mother’s old copy, a Romanian translation, yellow and white lines on the cover. I was wearing a blue shirt dress and sitting in the grass in our back yard, my dog’s head resting in my lap. I remember these things. I remember a friend popping by, us talking about the book, which she’d read for school a few years back. It was really hot. In the novel, and in our own summer that day, and we walked to the nearby park  for shade. A spot of dark green on the hem of my dress from a freshly painted fence has helped the memory of that day set.

I loved To Kill A Mockingbird.

It’s difficult to read/try/feel something in the shade of such a strong feeling.

I didn’t go to the late-night launch, but I did get a copy a few days later, and read it over a couple of train trips. I didn’t hate it, and it didn’t change my life. I think I was lucky enough to be able to read it as what I think it is. Not a sequel.

A week or two later, V told me he’d read somewhere that bookshops in the US were refunding buyers for it in light of readers’ general disappointment. Then a friend send me a tabloid article about a couple who’d named their baby Atticus in honour of the lead Mockingbird character, and were now renaming him after they’d read Go Set A Watchman.

What I can say is, I’m not going to ask for a refund. And Atticus is a perfectly good name. And I’m sure there’ll be countless people like me who’ll be reading To Kill A Mockingbird and never forgetting it, for many many lives to come.

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5996120Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

I first read Pride and Prejudice many years ago. A super expensive, leatherbound but absolutely lousy Romanian translation which I hated.

But my friend S has been watching BBC’s Pride and Prejudice adaptation on Amazon Prime recently, and she’s grown so enamoured with Mr Darcy (Colin Firth, need I say more?) that it’s all she’s been talking about these last couple of weeks.

She even went and bought a lesson-plans-included paperback copy, and for the first time ever during our several year long friendship, we discussed classic literature over lunch instead of the regular shoe-shopping-office-gossip-fertility-treatments mess of subjects.

It got me thinking. About my relationship with Austen in general, and Pride Prejudice in particular. And since I happen to be the fortunate owner of the most beautiful, clothbound, Penguin Austen collection, I thought I’d give Pride and Prejudice another chance, and read it in original English.

I loved it!

I don’t know if you know this about me by now, but I’m not a romantic.

Not only am I not a romantic, but I’ve always thought that the present portrayal of romance in the media has rather unpleasant consequences for regular, easily affected people like me, and I normally avoid it at all costs.

And while we’re on the subject of life altering, unfounded expectations, I should also add that I’ve never really phantasized about getting/being/staying married to Mr Right, despite all odds and happily ever after.

These being said, why read Pride and Prejudice? Isn’t it, like…, a love story? Don’t they get married in the end or something?

You know what? Who cares!

It’s descriptive, super fun and brilliant. Eliza Bennet might just become one of your favourite female characters of all times. You might, like me, end up running your fingers up and down the stack of brightly clothed Austen hardcovers you’ve so far pretty much used for decorative purposes, and pick Persuasion, or Emma for your next read, and already think it sad that there’s only half a dozen of this lady’s novels in the world.

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Books of July, it’s a wrap!

I’ve already finished one of my August reads (more details in next month’s post!), and I’m filling this week’s commute with Charlotte Gray and Austen’s Persuasion,  so the end of the summer is shaping up as quite exciting reading-wise!

 

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