It’s been a while since I last posted anything. I have been trying to take things more slowly, to plan less, to cram less things into my days and to take time to just sit and read in my favourite chair, occassionally putting my books down to watch a bit of Line of Duty, Mad Men and Downton Abbey. I got so many books for Christmas and all of the presents I got for my birthday in March were books except for two. I have also been treating myself to some books from my wish list and my parents have been spoiling me with “just because” book gifts to make me happy. So I have had plenty of books to choose from lately and have read some amazing stories in the past few months. Hence, having been a bit too busy reading to write anything new for the blog.
Homesick – Eshkol Nevo
“It is 1995 and Noa and Amir have decided to move in together. Noa is studying photography in Jerusalem and Amir is a psychology student in Tel Aviv, so they choose a tiny flat in a village in the hills, between the two cities. Their flat is separated from that of their landlords, Sima and Moshe Zakian, by a thin wall, but on each side we find a different home – and a different world.
Homesick is a beautiful, clever and moving story about history, love, family and the true meaning of home.”
Daniel got me this book for Christmas after seeing it in our local bookshop. I hadn’t heard of it before but the description of Noa and Amir’s story of living both literally and symbolically between two places made me want to read it. I am always looking for other people’s stories about place attachment and home, and the fact that Noa is a photography student caught my interest too.
While I do read a lot of translated literature, I have been trying to read more diversely and I was curious to read a book from a language and a part of the world that I don’t know much about. It’s not a heavily political book but it does – very subtly and eloquently I thought – touch upon the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It does not take sides so much as show the effect the conflict has had upon people on both sides. What really struck me and surprised me was how much I had in common with the characters and how much I could relate to Noa and Amir, as they live in a country and a reality that feels very far away from my own. But time and time again both life and literature is showing me that we are not that different from another. We all want the same things, like wanting to belong somewhere and to someone.
The Reader on the 6.27 – Jean-Paul Didierlaurent
“Guylain Vignolles lives on the edge of existence. Working at a book pulping factory in a job he hates, he has but one pleasure in life . . .
Sitting on the 6.27 train each day, Guylain recites aloud from pages he has saved from the jaws of his monstrous pulping machine. But it is when he discovers the diary of a lonely young woman, Julie – a woman who feels as lost in the world as he does – that his journey will truly begin.”
As much as I have liked to complain about my daily train commutes for years I still love train travel and I love reading about other people’s journeys on trains. I also like reading about books and reading, and about people who love them, too. So it probably doesn’t come to anyone’s surprise that I was really excited about this book. You might even have seen it in my Christmas post in the Christmas edition but I ended up returning it when Daniel got me this copy as I preferred the standard cover.
This could so easily have been a heavy book to read, it is after all a book about lonely people. Unnoticed people. But it is also about people who do seemingly small but nevertheless brave everyday acts to be happy and more fulfilled, like writing a witty diary, reading aloud on a train or going on a quiet quest to find someone, even when it seems impossible that you ever will. This was a really sweet and light book but I also thought it was less predictable and had more to say than some of the other lighter books I have read this past year. It had more character than I had expected.
The Bookshop – Penelope Fitzgerald
“In the small East Anglian town of Hardborough Florence Green decides, against polite but ruthless local opposition, to open a bookshop.
Hardborough becomes a battleground. Florence has tried to change the way things have always been done and, as a result, she has to take on not only the people who have made themselves important, but natural and even supernatural forces too. Her fate will strike a chord with anyone who knows that life has treated them with less than justice.”
Daniel got me this book back in February when I was going through some stuff and I don’t know if it was because of this or because of the story itself but it became a really comforting book to snuggle up with on slow morning, where I stayed in bed to give myself some time. I’d never read anything by Fitzgerald before but after reading this I will definitely be reading more. It was a little sad at times but it was also strangely and quietly comforting to read about someone who tries to do something for themselves, who goes for something in life, even when other people are trying to discourage them. It’s a quiet kind of rebellion that I really admire.
Milk and Honey – Rupi Kaur
“Milk and Honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. About the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. The book is divided into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose. Deals with a different pain. Heals a different heartache. Milk and Honey takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look.”
I don’t read a lot of poetry as I find it difficult to understand poems, even after taking a module at university that was supposed to teach me how. I also find myself avoiding reading anything too heavy these days, as I have enough heaviness in my own life without reading about someone else’s. So if it hadn’t been for my friend Claudia, who lend me her copy along with her recommendation I probably wouldn’t have read it but I am so glad I did!
I guess one of the reasons Kaur’s collection have become so popular is the fact that it’s easy to read and understand, it’s incredibly relatable and although I was struggling to read some of the poems that mention abuse and suffering, I also found her poems incredibly empowering, and I was surprised how much reading them affected me. They reminded me that we can take painful experiences and grow from them, like the poem dedicated to the reader on p. 158, which I think is my favourite. So thank you Claudia, for making me read outside my comfort zone and for empowering me that way by lending me someone else’s empowerment.
All Passion Spent– Vita Sackwille-West
“When the great statesmen Lord Slane dies, everyone assumes his dutiful wife will slowly fade away, the paying guest of each of her six children. But Lady Slane surprises everyone by escaping to a rented house in Hampstead where she revels in her new freedom, revives youthful ambitions and gathers some very unsuitable companions. Irreverent, entertaining and insightful, this is a tale of the unexpected joys of growing older.”
On my Birthday back in March we went to my favourite second-hand bookshop Skoob where I found this pristine, seemingly untouched copy of this book, which Daniel bought for me as an extra present. I knew that Sackwille-West had been part of the Bloomsbury group and that she was a gardener but I had never realised she was also a writer.
I loved how rebellious this novella felt, how much it celebrated autonomy and the life of the artist! There are so many expectations in life about what we are meant to do, both those imposed by others and those we impose ourselves, so it was absolutely wonderful to read about a woman, who after a long life of servitude to her husband and family finally chooses a life of her own and in her own image. To me, it became a testament to the way I have chosen to spend my own life surrounded by art and literature, which I know have made other people raise their eyebrows, the same way Lady Slane’s decisions do. I hope it will be a reminder that it is never too late to start living the life you really wanted.
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
“The Republic of Gilead offers Offred only one function: to breed. If she deviates, she will, like dissenters, be hanged at the wall or sent out to die slowly of radiation sickness. But even a repressive state cannot obliterate desire – neither Offred’s nor that of the two men on which her future hangs.
Brilliantly conceived and executed, this powerful vision of the future gives full rein to Margaret Atwood’s irony, wit and astute perception.”
I normally only write about 5 books in each post but I am making an exception to my own rule because I just finished Atwood’s novel the other day and I couldn’t wait to write about it. It’s the first Atwood book I’ve read and now that I have finished it, I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to discover her work. I remember coming across it laid out on tables in bookshops but I don’t remember ever knowing what it was about. It took the recent release of the TV series to make me discover it and to make me realise that it was something I wanted to read.
It’s been a long time since I have read a book not only of such a high literary quality but which has made me stay up late and get up early, only to cram in as many chapters as possible between work and other responsibilities. I loved everything about it, from the dystopian theme and short descriptive sentences, which came more and more to life as the story unfolded to it’s feminist angle and what it had to say about society. It is a novel that is so many things at the same time but it just works. It’s political, feminist, a grim fairy tale allegory and surprisingly, a reflection of the time we live in now. It never stops to amaze me how close science fiction writers come to the truth when they predict what the future will look like, even years before such a reality would seem plausible. It made me appreciative my own situation, my own freedom, so much more. It’s a story that will be haunting me for some time.