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!

 

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
★★★☆☆

Five Things Today

1.

We’ve had no hot water in our shower for three weeks.

Get a plumber look at it, you say? Well, you’re probably not up to date with the latest developments in London’s flourishing plumbing industry.

There. Are. No. Plumbers. Not one.

Sure, you’ll find plenty online, or recommended by friends, and believe it or not a handful of them will even return your calls and/or emails. But getting one to actually come and LOOK at your shower, now that’s a different story. They are busy, these people. Doing… not sure what really, but definitely not shower tinkering.

The last person we spoke to was quite funny. Too busy to come over, obviously, but kind enough to suggest we take our shower apart ourselves and keep the pieces in lemon juice overnight. And you know what? After nearly a month of freezing cold showers in the middle of winter, lemon juice sounds like it might just work. So yeah. Fancy joining me in a lemon squeezing marathon tonight, anyone? Anyone?

2.

Several of my friends have quit or are on the verge of quitting their jobs, with little to no future career plans in mind.

No, they’re not all Romanian.

Yes, it might be mid-life-crisis early-thirties-crisis.

And yes, I do worry about it being contagious. But then I just turn off my alarm clock and jump out of bed, dragging myself towards a keyboard yet again.

3.

I am, if somewhat reluctantly, making friends with people at work these days.

After a year marked by one or two social disappointments, I’m testing the waters again. I guess it’s true what they say, that we’re social animals above all else, even the most self-proclaimed antisocial of us.

So I’m hitting the pubs for the now compulsory after work pint, catching up with former colleagues for lunch, mingling at office parties. It still feels a bit like I’m walking around wrapped in an unfamiliar skin, but it’s not an uncomfortable one.

I was chatting to an old friend the other day, and he said something that made me think.

Growing older, he’d realised he could no longer judge his friendships like he’d used to. He couldn’t just walk away from people who’d disappointed him at one time or another anymore. He couldn’t dismiss people based on one or two incompatibilities with the perfect friend image he’d built for himself. His best friends now weren’t people who finished his sentences or got all his jokes. His best friends were the few people who’d stuck around. Imperfect in their friendship, but still there.

4.

Do NOT give me Amazon vouchers.

I’ll just buy ELEVEN books in one go and then you’ll find me feverishly browsing for another bookshelf, because there’s only so many paperbacks you can stack on your windowsill before they’re blocking the light. Who knew light and reading go hand in hand anyway?

For what it’s worth, I’ve so far read seven books this year, which is a miracle considering how much of my time I’ve been spending glued to a pint. Alcohol and books is the way to go, people! That is, if you want to make it out alive of this forsaken, snowed-three-times-this-month London winter!

5.

In other news, V and I are very busy these days.

We’ve just thrown a belated New Year’s Eve party for a friend who had emergency surgery during the real celebrations, we’re taking another friend on a post-breakup seaside trip this weekend, joining a bunch of people for a clubbing night out (Don’t. Ask.) for Valentine’s, and leaving London for our yearly anniversary trip the following week. Then guess what, it’s spring! Season of concerts, bank holidays and tennis tournaments!

So yeah, I’m excited to say the least. There’s something absolutely delicious in browsing your Google Calendar to see brightly coloured squares marking the end of each and every one of the coming weeks. I’ll try and document our this and that as much as I can, especially now that it seems I’ve finally kicked the January blues away, and I’m feeling more like a living, breathing, and only occasionally moaning human being.

Wishing you all a lovely, brightly coloured weekend!

Poem to Start the Week #22: Book Passion

I dreamed I was eating
a book.
It was made from 8” by 12” slabs
one inch deep.
It tasted like cheese
but cut like watercress.
as I chewed I understood.

As I looked around
others were reading
the same title
but in the regular way
I couldn’t determine
which was best,
eyes only
or digesting it my way.

Others began to notice me
and stare.
Made me feel queer.

I was in a restaurant though,
a fitting place to eat
and drink
so I ordered bourbon
and I kept on chewing.

I realized
their eyes
would never make them full.

 

 

Belinda Subraman

Top of the Pile #26: Reading Like a Writer

Read Like a WriterReading Like a Writer will be my second Creative Writing themed read in a couple of weeks, after finishing Stephen King’s On Writing this weekend. A subject I’ve hardly read anything about altogether, but which I turned to after stumbling upon a bunch of literature podcasts which I now listen to almost on a daily basis at work.

So following another podcast session, I bookmarked King’s On Writing and Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer; then a few days later, while on an impromptu used book shopping spree in Soho, I also got a Cambridge Creative Writing companion, so I’ve got my work cut out for me in terms of writing techniques and I’ll-never-ever-be-the-new-J.-K.-Rowling epiphanies for at least a couple of weeks or so.

For now though, Reading Like a Writer begins by advising me to slow down my reading and pay attention. That’ll surely be a challenge, as I’ve always been a fast reader and, especially now, when I’m fighting my way through never ending Infinite Jest and trying to catch up on my 2014 Goodreads reading challenge (still 12 books behind, grrr!) I’m in more of a rush than ever.  I’ll try to calm down a bit and hopefully enjoy it more, so I probably won’t be posting another Top of the Pile entry too soon.

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I finished Hatching Twitter yesterday, in between sessions of laundry and babysitting a dish of potatoes au gratin. It advertised itself as a saga of Twitter’s invention and evolution, but I found it more an account of how a bunch of nerdy guys repeatedly stabbed each other in the back for money.

The geek inside me would have been more interested in reading about the technical side of getting Twitter to its current super-duper-online-monster status, about what went wrong and how they fixed it and how certain ideas and concepts came about, but instead I found myself drawn into these soap-opera-ish scenarios culminating in bursts of “The CEO is dead, long live the CEO!”.

It was an OK and very quick read (2 sittings), but not entirely what I expected really, so maybe 3 stars out of 5?

That’s it for today, back to my podcasts and some startup unrelated coding. Happy reading everyone!