Top of the Pile #27, #28: David and Goliath, The Country Doctor

I know I haven’t done one of these posts in a while now, but I’ve been busy. And sad. And busy some more. Not to mention that all of my books are packed in boxes and have been for weeks now, so they haven’t been laying around to remind me how I’ve been neglecting them lately.

But that doesn’t mean I’ve ignored reading altogether. On the contrary, I’ve managed the impossible.

Infinite Jest CoverI’ve finished Infinite Jest and lived to tell the story.

You probably think I saw it coming, and made sure I was in a public place where I could immediately start bragging about my accomplishment and have people cheering and asking for my autograph on their bare muscular chests (yes, all my imagined fans are bare chested male models who have the deepest respect for Infinite Jest survivors!).

But to be honest, finishing the book caught me completely off guard. Faced with such lengthy a novel, my lovely Kindle got so utterly confused that it never indicated the right reading progress throughout. Some days it said I’d read 85%, then days later it reconsidered and decided it was more like 73%, and this went on and on for weeks driving me completely crazy, until one day, ONE DAY, I tapped to get to the next page and there it was, the final paragraph of Infinite Jest and my most wondrous reading victory thus far.

Now, what an extraordinary book!

I was talking to a friend and fellow “Infinite Jest survivor” (yes, we’re starting a club!), and she said that the moment she finished it she turned back to the first page and started reading it a second time. Now, I really don’t think I’m in a place right now where I could possibly handle that, my brain being complete mush after all the homeless-flat-hunting insanity these days, but I totally get what my friend was about. Infinite Jest is a book to be read more than once. That may sound off putting, it being 1000+ pages of Foster Wallace often crazy lingo, but I have a feeling one reading couldn’t possibly do it justice.

And yes, it’s a complicated, difficult read. It’s most certainly not for everyone. But, throughout the long love-hate relationship I’ve developed with it, I never once could deny its brilliance. So yes, there you have it. I’m an Infinite Jest groupie. There’s a chance I’ll give it a second try some time in the future, and I’ve already bookmarked some Foster Wallace essays and short stories for when I get part of my sanity back and I’m ready to dive into reading again. So take of that what you will, and if you’d like my autograph (even if it’s not on your pecks, sigh), I’ve got six dozen rainbow coloured sharpies to pick from, after all these weeks of packing and labeling. Just say the word.

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Read Like a WriterI finished Reading Like a Writer last night, and it’s the very last book I packed for our move to God knows where. I really wanted to finish it before we left, so that I’d be left only with my Kindle during our homeless-and-certain-to-be-shelf-less phase. So this will be the last hardcover I touch in a while, and I’m glad it was this and no other, because I happened to really enjoy it.

I expected it to be about writing and how to become better writers, but it turned out to focus more on reading and how to become better readers, which is unlike any other creative writing book I’ve read. It’s full of examples of brilliant writing from authors I’ve loved all throughout my reading life, and new ones I’ve only thus discovered and added to my to read list.

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David and GoliathSo here’s a fun story.

A few weeks back V and I took a long weekend trip to Bristol, to get away from the cardboard box invasion taking over our flat, and the clouds of hopelessness and homelessness gathering on the horizon.

And during that trip, which I haven’t written about because, well, I’ve been battling lots of lovely shades of flat related despair and frustration since, well, during that lovely trip I have been super duper strong and managed NOT to buy any books, not even one.

It’s incredible what having to pack and store 300+ paperbacks in half a day does to your book shopaholic compulsions.

But anyway. Halfway through our Bristol adventure, we stopped to rest for a few minutes on a park bench, and there it was. A paperback copy of David and Goliath, slightly dogeared but in pretty good shape altogether, just waiting for someone to save it from the coming rain. V, who had previously voiced his admiration at me not buying a single book during our weekend away, threw up his hands in despair but resigned to his fate, and minutes later we were leaving the park, David and Goliath safely resting in my handbag.

Now, this isn’t the first book I’ve found on UK streets since we moved here (it’s the fourth, actually, an average of a book a year, believe it or not!), but it’s the first one I’ve actually read, and not just took home, stacked on a shelf and forgot about it. I finished David and Goliath in a couple of sittings, and it was an interesting enough little book, if a little lacking in the conclusion drawing department. Gladwell’s stories and examples are intriguing, easy reads, but to me they lacked closure, and I was left feeling that I needed to read more on the subject before I’d be able to form an opinion on it.

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The Country Doctor

And finally we reach my current reading affair, Balzac’s The Country Doctor. I wish there was an extraordinary reason behind me picking it, but I’ll be reading exclusively on Kindle until we’ve finally settled somewhere, and since I already had a few of Balzac’s novels on it, The Country Doctor being the shortest one, I just went for it. I know, talk about superficial!

Anyway, I started reading it last night and my Kindle says I’m about 10% through. To quote one of my picky reading friends, “Nothing’s happened yet. No one died..”, so there’s not much I can say about it for the time being.  I’ll definitely keep you posted though!

That’s it for now, happy reading everyone!

Top of the Pile #9: The Lowland

V. got me this one as part of a surprise Amazon gift a couple of weeks back and of course it quickly jumped to the top of my reading pile. I’m no stranger to Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing, having read both Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake. And while I very much enjoyed the latter, Interpreter of Maladies happens to be my favorite short stories collection ever. To think I got it for what would be half a pound, on a book sale day in Romania!

I have high expectations of The Lowland, of course. I’ll be reading part of it during our anniversary trip this weekend, and as it always happens with me and books read on the road, I’ll forever associate it with this trip and this time of our life together. So it’d better be good!

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Life After Life was absolutely beautiful. I hadn’t read any of Atkinson’s writing before, and I had my silly misconceptions about the book based on the design of the cover (crazy, I know!) and the few insubstantial reviews I’d read online, but guess what, it was spectacular in many many ways. Originally I’d thought that this telling and retelling of the same story, slightly altered each time, would turn out quite, well, boring. When in fact, I found it very original and satisfying to unravel. I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about Life After Life. Some less than perfect details might come to me at some point later on, but for now I’m still drunk on WWII London atmosphere and beautiful beautiful writing.

Top of the Pile #7: Dear Life

Yesterday, super duper V. surprised me with 3 books from my Amazon Wish List. I know, he’s pretty amazing. The timing was just right too, as I’d only just finished The Poisonwood Bible, and was reluctantly going back and forth the unread books I already had on my Kindle, unimpressed by any of them.

So this unexpected lovely gift containing The Lowland ( Jhumpa Lahiri ), The Luminaries ( Eleanor Catton ), and Dear Life ( Alice Munro ) came as a little miracle at a time when I’m surrounded by somewhat uninteresting literature and I’m too cheap to pay for interesting one.

So this week I’m reading Dear Life. I haven’t read anything of Munro’s before, and also no short stories in months, so it will be a nice change from my recent pattern.

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I really really really liked The Poisonwood Bible (4 stars!).

The different narrator styles took a while getting used to, and at 600+ pages it’s a substantial read, but my oh my is Kingsolver making her way onto my favourite authors list. It’s been a very different experience than my previous contact with her writing ( The Lacuna ), but really I’ve always preferred this kind of versatility to a more consistent writing style. Especially when it’s oh so versatile and oh so very good every time, as Kingsolver is turning out to be.

It’s taken me forever to finish The Poisonwood Bible though. I do most of my reading on my commuting route to and from work, and these days the weather’s been so cold and wet, 24 hours downpours and freezing gales, that even in the warm stuffy safety of a tube car all you can think of is to keep yourself at a safe distance from everybody’s dripping umbrellas, and hope for less of a downpour by the time you reach your stop. I rarely ever got my Kindle out of my backpack. There’s also been a lovely 48 hour tube strike this week ( and plans for another one next week, yay ) so I guess most commuters had a chance to catch up on their reading during their now 3 hours longer trips to work. Not me though, as my route was largely unaffected. So I’ve only been reading a little bit before bedtime every day, and it definitely showed.

It doesn’t look like the weather’s getting any better any time soon so these Top of the Pile posts might not come as often as I’d like them to, but I’m definitely not giving them up.

Book Readers Are People Too

OK, so there’s something I haven’t yet mentioned about myself. It’s kind of embarrassing, actually, but here it goes.

I am not the image of perfection.

I don’t just spend my days sipping lattes, painting my fingernails and watching The Vampire Diaries marathons. In fact, I sometimes read. Books. Lots of.

Yes, I admit it, I’m a reader. I own a Kindle. And about a million or so paperbacks, crowding our already crammed flat, until one day, V says, we’ll be using books for pillows and we’ll see how I like it then!

This reading thing isn’t new. I’ve been doing it since childhood. And yes, we did have television in Romania. In fact, by the time I was in my early teens, my family even had a dial up internet connection. Who would have thought!

But books were always in the house as well. Exciting stories of explorers traveling the Earth and witches throwing spells at little children. I read them all, though back then, we all did. Or at least we all knew the stories, so I wasn’t too much of a geek among my playmates. As the years went by, I definitely became one. A proper loser this time, who still read books in spite of computer games, roller blades and MTV. Somehow, I found the time.

Weirdly enough, I still do.

When I was attending Uni back in Romania, I used to travel a lot by bus. I always had a paperback in my bag and most times spent my bus trips reading. I was alone. People would sometimes be leafing through newspapers or magazines, never books. More than once, fellow commuters interrupted me and asked me if I was reading the Bible or a book of prayers. Romania is becoming less religious these days, but still people assume someone reading on a crowded bus can only be a Bible Studies expert or some hopeless girl praying for a marriage proposal. I definitely didn’t look the part of the Bible Studies expert, I’ll tell you that!

I later moved to London and found that other people read on buses and tubes as well, and not just the Bible. Finally, I belonged.

But then, there’s my office. Not a reader friendly place, that’s for sure. In fact, if I occasionally forget to hide my book/Kindle in my drawer/bag as I walk in, I end up stuck in super-duper-why-on-Earth-would-someone-read conversations. Lines vary from “Oh, I get so bored/sleepy when I read!” to “If only I had more time, I’d be reading books myself! Facebooks! Facebooks, get it?”. Then, as I’m leaving the office at the end of the day, I can almost hear them: “Don’t forget your book!” “Hurry up, you’ve got six chapters to finish by tomorrow morning! There’ll be a quiz!”

Insert exasperated geek face expression.

This is where we stand. In a world where books are better used as doorstops, I am the epitome of loser. I should be pointed at and ridiculed into changing my ways. Breaking my back carrying that Kindle around all day. Ruining my already screen damaged eyes. Who will ever marry me like this? For my own good, I should stop.

Today in the office, my native English speaking manager asked how accommodate is spelled. Three different equally native English speakers shrugged. One suggested g-o-o-g-l-e, and people smiled. 

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Some book reading dudes broke into our flat and stole our laptops, cameras, and my Kindle. Serves me right for succumbing to peer pressure and leaving it behind for the first time in years. If only. I forgot it like a complete IDIOT! I even realized it as I was walking out, but was in a hurry and thought I could survive without it for one day. Now I’ve got no choice but to not be a complete loser until the new one arrives. Yup, I’m riding with the cool, can-only-spell-google kids these days. Yay.