Books of January

I’ve been reading a lot lately, so much so that it would be quite a challenge to find the time for a Top of the Pile post for every book.

So I figured I’d just put everything in a Goodreads-style list for the time being, stars and everything. Well, stars and little else, really, but who’s got time for rambling about books, when there’s actual reading to be done.

So feast your eyes on my super duper list of January reads, as I now run back to my copy of Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and a cup of camomile tea.

Ta-dah!

Revolutionary Road
Revolutionary Road
Richard Yates
★★★★★

Beware of Pity
Beware of Pity
Stefan Sweig
★★★☆☆

The Arabian Nights
The Arabian Nights, Volume 1
Anonymous
★★★☆☆

The Bluffers Guide to Etiquette
The Bluffer’s Guide to Etiquette
William Hanson
★★★☆☆

The Last Hundred Days
The Last Hundred Days
Patrick McGuinness
★★★★☆

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
Muriel Barbery
★★★★☆

Burning Bright
Burning Bright
Tracy Chevalier
★★★☆☆

Top of the Pile #17: Strangers

I’d never heard of Taichi Yamada. In fact, had I come across the paperback edition of Strangers in my local bookshop, I’m sure I would have taken it for a lovey-dovey Young Adult novel I’m way too cool to openly like. I mean, this cocktail dressed, pearl necklaced, shoes in hand girl walking away from the lens on the cover makes me think of prom nights gone bitter and, you know, feelings.

So yes, I doubt I’d have picked Strangers if it hadn’t been for one of my workmates (the only other person who reads around here, and more than me, go figure!) praising it as one of his absolute favorites. It being what looks like double spaced and less than 300 pages long anyway, I thought I’d give it a try, especially after what felt like a century long, The Book of Disquiet themed reading adventure.

I’ve read about 15 pages on my way to work this morning, and though I can’t quite form an opinion (at least it doesn’t seem like Young Adult material so far), the writing style does remind me of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, a book and writer I’ve always had mixed feelings about.

So anyway, Strangers will be my read for the rest of the week. I’ll squeeze it in between evening runs, back to back laundry sessions and yet another bank holiday weekend (no kidding, it feels like we’ve had one every week this month) which I’m sure will leave me moderately exhausted, hungover and very much aware of my almost-30-so-I-need-my-beauty-sleep status.

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I finally finished The Book of Disquiet the other day, and I’d have definitely drowned my own Pessoa generated disquiet in significant amounts of alcohol, had I not finally accepted that getting tipsy on a week night doesn’t suit my soon to be three decades themed age. So I settled for shutting the book with a bang and shoving it onto the top most shelf, in between other tomes I won’t be rereading any time soon.

It’s not that I didn’t like Pessoa’s poetry like prose, it’s just that it was so very dreary, I’m actually quite proud I’ve managed to survive it without falling into a hopeless, more-serious-than-usual bout of depression.

You know and I know, grownup life tends to suck sometimes. And then sometimes it’s pretty good. Hear that, Pessoa?

The funniest thing I’ve come across while struggling with reading The Book of Disquiet is this little nugget of invaluable information: there’s apparently a bookshop in Norway where they sell this book and only this, which the owner considers the best piece of literature in the world. Here’s a lovely link just in case you don’t trust my disquiet overdosed little brain.

But enough with all this crazy talk. What are you reading these days?

Oh and I know I haven’t been taking your book recommendations too seriously lately, with all this disquiet in the air (see what I did there?), but don’t think I’ve forgotten about them, and please, if you haven’t recommended me anything to read yet, do it here.

Top of the Pile #15: Saturday & #16: The Book of Disquiet

Ian McEwan and I go back a long way.

Our relationship started a dozen years back with Amsterdam, a Man Booker Prize winning novel recommended to me by my best friend, C (I’ve written a bit about him here). Later on, I bought Solar from a second hand book shop in Soho, during my first year in London. It marked, along with a thick, hardcovered edition of William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice, the beginnings of my UK based book collection. I followed that with Atonement a couple years later, while visiting my sister in Romania, after I’d already seen the movie, and twice. It wasn’t entertaining in a Amsterdam and Solar kind of way, but it quickly became my favourite McEwan read. Until now.

Because now, I’m reading Saturday.

I got it from the Vyne’s used book shop on our anniversary weekend this February, and I’ve so far read about one third of it. And you know what, after many many weeks of unsatisfying reading, Saturday is turning out to be just my kind of book. I’ve tried to keep myself away from online reviews and spoilers, so all I know is that it’s about a Saturday in the life of a neurosurgeon living in London.

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[ Later edit, as this post was originally started 9 days ago (!!!), and my reading adventures have since evolved. ]

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I finished Saturday last Friday (now that’s a confusing sentence to read out loud!), on the company shuttle on my way back from the office. What can I say, Mr. McEwan most definitely didn’t let me down and in fact, I think he may just have rekindled my hunger for reading, after a few weeks of lit hiatus. Or it may just be the fact that it’s finally spring here in Thames land, and I’ve found a shortcut (it’s actually about 5 minutes longer, but it’s so worth it) on my way home from work, cutting through this lovely park I didn’t know existed, where you can walk the grass to your heart’s content.

But I digress. My newly finished Saturday paperback tucked in my backpack, I decided I couldn’t face the weekend without something new and exciting to dive into, so I stopped by our local Waterstone’s to stock up on reading material. I even had a book shopping list, humanity! As in, written down on paper with a pencil, like in the old days. It was almost exclusively inspired by Guardian’s Top 10 Overlooked Novels, so it contained Oblomov (Ivan Goncharov), Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (Anne Tyler, loved her Breathing Lessons!), The Book of Disquiet (Fernando Pessoa), and Strangers (Taichi Yamada), the latter recommended by a friend from work.

However, I soon discovered that half the books in my Waterstone’s bookshop are about vampires, teenage witches, this dude who wears grey ties and is into S&M, and the Dukan Diet. Out of the four clearly unusual titles I’d scribbled on my list, I only managed to find The Book of Disquiet, which I would have bought even just for the cover. So I only got that and ended up ordering the other ones from Amazon (Used. I. Am. Cheap.).

I started on The Book of Disquiet this weekend and I’ve got about a third left now, but it hasn’t been the easiest of reads. If you don’t know much about it, it’s Pessoa’s posthumous masterpiece, a journal of one of his several writing selves, Bernardo Soares, an accountant living in Lisbon. Now, this Soares dude is, lacking a better word, complicated. Suffice to say that most words, phrases and ideas throughout this book touch upon tedium, various degrees of pain, isolation, hopelessness, and life simply not being worth the effort of living. It hits close to home as well, as a couple of my friends are battling depression or simply going through a rough time these days, so I’ve been reading it in short, ten pages at a time sessions, obsessively rooting for Soares to come out of it all right throughout.

Next on the list is probably Strangers, but I’ve got yet another couple of days of tech conferences and Friday deadlines ahead, so it’ll probably be a while before I start on it. In the meantime, if you haven’t recommended me anything to read yet, you can do it here.

 

Top of the Pile #14: The Magic Mountain

I’ve been a lousy lousy reader these past couple of weeks, so not only did I manage to finish just one book (Clive Cussler’s Cyclops), but I’m also way behind on my National Geographic reading, with three (THREE!!!) hardly-brand-new-anymore magazines I’ve yet to take out of their plastic sleeves. I guess I could conveniently blame it all on my crazy house hunting habits and the ever growing pile of Ideal Home magazines I’ve been devouring instead, but that really wouldn’t help making me feel any less guilty about it.

So I’ve decided that the best way to tackle this sense of guilt is to take on a substantial, everybody’s-read-it-but-me classic, and finish it in like, half a day. Hence, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain. I’ve been meaning to read it in a long long time but somehow it always lost the race in favour of other, more I don’t know… fashionable?… short?… accessible?… books.

But these weeks, I’ve been hearing a lot about The Magic Mountain. My mother and one of my closest friends are reading it and raving about it every time they get a chance, then there have been references to it in other books I’ve been reading recently (Dear Life comes to mind), and I’m definitely not one to ignore all these miraculous signs and go on with my Ideal Home dominated reading life like nothing’s happened.

So it’s The Magic Mountain time these days! I already know what it’s about and of course I’ve got a million billion unrealistic expectations, which is always fun and games. My Kindle says I’ve managed the incredible performance of reading 3% of it in two days, which really is absolutely shameful, I know, so please send your encouraging, hopeful energies my way if I’m to finish it before I’m forty.

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It’s not that I didn’t like Cyclops, but more like I didn’t like reading, breathing, eating and all other life supporting activities these last couple of weeks. I know, this psycho house hunting madness will very likely end up killing me. Oh well.

It’s taken me a long long time to finish this book (recommended to me via the Recommend Me a Book page by lovely blo), perhaps because I’ve been doing it in two pages a day sessions, in between house hunting centered hysteria episodes. In fact, it’s been an easy, captivating read, and under normal circumstances I definitely would have very much welcomed the change from my recent historical literature pattern. And since I’ve been such a reader from hell throughout my Cyclops experience, I got a couple more books from Cussler’s Dirk Pitt series and am planning to redeem myself in the coming months.

That’s it for now from the geeky reading front. Back to work and a Magic Mountain themed lunch break! Oh and in the meantime, if you haven’t recommended me anything to read yet, you can do it here.

Top of the Pile #13: Cyclops

 

This will be my first read from the list of books you lovely people have recommended me here. I ordered a bunch of them last night, and Cyclops was the first one to arrive to my Kindle so here it is now, at the top of my reading pile for the week.

I know absolutely nothing about Clive Cussler or his writing, and I’ve been super duper strong and managed to not look him up. It was Blo who recommended me Cyclops (which she is actually re-reading these days), and since our tastes in books seem to be similar, I’m thinking it might be really good. From the cover, it looks like a sci-fi-dystopian-adventure affair, which I think I might just be in a mood for these days, after 500 pages of Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

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I finished The Shadow of the Wind on my way back from work yesterday. In fact, I’d just reached the door to our flat and stood there like a weirdo for half a minute, my Kindle lighting up the dim, curry smelling hallway, putting off looking for my keys and unlocking the door, just so I’d finish the last page.

I don’t know whether I really liked it, or at one point I just wanted to be done with it as soon as possible. When I started reading it, I was a bit disappointed. It may have been the translation (I was reluctant to spend more money on the Spanish original), but the writing style felt like it was addressed to the (significantly) younger generation. Then I came across the first sex scene and decided it wasn’t, and that it was, really, simply not my kind of writing.

I sort of grew accustomed to it as the events evolved, and as I became more interested in the storyline and the characters’ development. I really liked Zafon’s Barcelona, a mysterious, crumbling city much different than what I imagine it today (I haven’t been yet. Crazy, I know!). At times the atmosphere was terrifying and at times I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next, but then there were times when characters would fall head over heels in love with each other all of a sudden, with no build up whatsoever and no real connection apart the author stating that they were in love, and relevant characters would just tell all their darkest secrets to strangers in the street, or someone would turn out to be the main character’s evil twin (This doesn’t actually happen in the book, but similar soap-operish stuff does happen. A LOT.), and it all felt just a little bit forced. Towards the end, I was quite able to predict the outcome of the story and I just wanted to finish it already.

I’ve still got a couple of Carlos Ruiz Zafon books on my Kindle, but I don’t think I’ll be attempting another one in the near future. Perhaps I’ll try one as a holiday read later in the year, or once I finish with all your awesome book recommendations.

Meanwhile, I’ve got Cyclops to start on, a bunch of impossible evil deadlines at work, and back to back flat viewings every weekend until the end of time, so who knows when I’ll be posting my next Top of the Pile article. I’ll try my best to have at least another one ready before the end of the month, and in the meantime, if you haven’t recommended me anything yet, you can do it here.