What I’ve Been Reading Lately #6 – My Lockdown Library

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After 13 weeks of holiday, isolation and furlough, I went back to work in the bookshop in the middle of June. It was nice to be back, nice to get out of the house for a bit and to see other people. To have conversations and a small part of normality back. read more

4 New Books to Read this Spring

 

Spring is my absolute favourite time of year. Around the time of my birthday in March I suddenly start to feel I have more energy and that usually also comes with more ideas and more inspiration to work on projects. It also happens to be the time of year, where new and emerging authors are often published, so any reading I do at this time of year always feels fresh compared to Autumn where I tend to reread a lot of my favourite classics.

While I spent most of this winter being creatively inactive, I did spend a majority of my spare time reading and looking through the publishers’ Spring catalogues for books that looked promising and ended up falling in love with the description of these four.

 


Monsieur Ka
– Vesna Goldsworthy*

“The London winter of 1947. As cold as St Petersburg during the Revolution. The Karenins keep their vodka under the layers of snow in their suburban garden, in bottles entombed like their Russian past. But when a young Frenchwoman arrives to work as a companion to the aged ‘Monsieur Ka’ he begins to tell his story…

As she is drawn into Ka’s dramatic past, her own life is shaken to its foundations. For in this family of former princes, there are present temptations which could profoundly affect her future.”

Back in March when the Beast from the East swept over the country, I found myself having the first snow day of my life when I woke up to discover my bus wasn’t running. So I trudged back from my stop, snuggled up with a cup of hot chocolate and started reading.

I liked Goldsworthy’s other book Gorsky when I read it a few years ago, so I was excited to read this one, too because it sounded like just my kind of thing. The novel is inspired by Anna Karenina but even though I’ve owned a copy for many years I’ve never actually gotten around to reading it, so I didn’t have anything to compare it with and don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing.

I wasn’t really sure how I felt about the book at first. I was expecting the book to be very atmospheric and it did have some beautiful descriptions of London and the weather but the characters just felt like felt like actors to me, moving from one scene to the next, only there to push the plot forward. I was disappointed, if I’m being honest but then, about halfway through something happened. I’m still not sure what it was exactly but they suddenly started feeling real, so by the time I reached the end, I found myself genuinely caring about what happened to them.

 


The Gradual Disappearance of Jane Ashland
– Nicolai Houm*

“An American woman wakes up in a tent in the Norwegian mountains. Outside a storm rages and the fog is dense. Her phone is dead. She is completely alone. Her name is Jane Ashland, and her life has spiralled out of control.

Moving between Jane’s past and this extraordinary remote landscape, Nicolai Houm weaves a dramatic trail of suspense through one woman’s life – via love, grief, and a devastating accident that changes everything.”

For some unexplainable reason I was eyeing this book on my shelf for weeks without feeling like reading it but the minute I picked it up, I was hooked from the first page. From the very beginning you get such a strong sense of Jane’s voice and what she is like as a person and for me that is what made me like this book so much.

I loved the switches between past and present and there were times when I completely forgot I was reading a story about a fictional person. When I was reading the two chapters that trace the beginning of Jane’s relationship with Greg, I had to look up and remind myself that it was a story and not an account of someone’s actually lived life.

I’m a slow reader but I read it in just a few days because I couldn’t put it down and even though it deals with heavy questions about loss and survival, it still had this lightness about it from Jane’s morbid self-irony and a subtle humour which runs through it.

 


Tomorrow
– Elisabeth Russell Taylor*

“Every year Elisabeth Danziger travels to the Danish island of Møn to spend one week at The Tamarisks, a lavish hotel which was once, fifteen years ago in 1945, her family’s second home. With each annual visit, Elisabeth stays in the same room and walks familiar paths. She visits the local museum to peer at artefacts that once belonged to her family; she unscrews the panel of an old bath tub to retrieve the crumbling piece of paper on which is written her name and that of Daniel Eberhardt – her beloved cousin.

Elisabeth’s annual pilgrimage is part of a long-standing family promise to meet again in Møn after their separation during the War. A promise that only she has fulfilled. And she has no reason to suspect this year will be any different from all the others.”

It’s not often I come across books about Denmark written by English writers and this post includes two!

Taylor’s novel tells the often forgotten story about the Jews living in Denmark at the time of WW2, a part of Danish history I don’t know much about, except for the few stories my dad have told me. It was interesting to see Denmark described from an “outsider’s perspective” and I felt like I could really see the landscape she is describing. Her descriptions made me want to go and see the island, especially as they reminded me that my dad grew up near there and must be familiar with those places.

The novel is heavier than the other three, both in terms of language and subject but it didn’t stop me from enjoying it and it’s beautifully written at the same time as being sad. Such a quietly heartbreaking story about the meaning of returning and what love can endure.

 


Meet Me at the Museum
– Anne Youngson*

“When Tina Hopgood writes a letter of regret to a man she has never met, she doesn’t expect a reply. When Anders Larsen, a lonely museum curator, answers it, nor does he. They’re both searching for something, they just don’t know it yet. Anders has lost his wife, along with his hopes and dreams for the future. Tina is trapped in a marriage she doesn’t remember choosing.

Slowly their correspondence blossoms as they bare their souls to each other with stories of joy, anguish and discovery. But then Tina’s letters suddenly cease, and Anders is thrown into despair. Can their unexpected friendship survive?”

You know how you sometimes come across a book that feels like it was written just for you? That’s exactly how I felt when I first read about Meet Me at the Museum. I mean, a book about a museum, physical objects and a correspondence between an English woman and a Danish man? It’s like Youngson has gone inside my head, picked out the things I like and decided to write a story about them.

Sometimes it’s dangerous to be so excited about a book because it can easily end up disappointing you but it definitely lived up to my expectations. I have always loved the letter writing format and I liked how the relationship between Tina and Anders slowly developed in them. I’ve been really excited to tell people about the book and sent my mum home with my copy when she was visiting last weekend because I believe it was written for someone like her too.

I still can’t quite believe this is Youngson’s first book because it’s absolutely fantastic. Read it if you have ever had a pen pal, fallen in love from a distance, had a quarter- or midlife crisis, wondered what your place in history is or questioned if you are living the life you were meant to. Like Youngson herself, it’s never too late to get started on living it.

 

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Since I started reading the books and began working on this post, Spring has gone through a snowstorm, freezing rains, a heatwave, more rain and now another heatwave. It’s been an odd one this year and right now at the beginning of the last month of Spring it feels more like summer but after the freezing cold we’ve had for so long, I’ll happily take it.

 

*All four books were kindly sent to me from the publishers at my own request in exchange for an honest review.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately #4

 

It’s been too long since I wrote one of these posts. The software on my computer even tells me that the last time I worked on this post was back in November. November! What with my new job, Christmas and a small promotion after New Year, it already feels like a life time ago.

So why I haven’t I finished it before now? It’s not because I have fallen out of love with books, it’s more the opposite. Ever since I swapped my job at the castle for the one in the bookshop, I have had so much more time to read. And read I have. So much and so frequently that my boyfriend exclaimed the other day “Are you nearly done with that one too? I can’t keep up with you anymore, every time I turn around you are reading a new one!”

So that, ladies and gentlemen, is why this post with books that I read last autumn is only being published now. But it is here now and that’s all that matters. Good books don’t suddenly go out of fashion anyway.

 


Brave New World
– Aldous Huxley

“Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his distress…

Huxley’s ingenious fantasy of the future sheds a blazing light on the present and is considered to be his most enduring masterpiece.”

After I read The Handmaid’s Tale last summer I felt a bit lost about what to read next. I was looking through the unread books on my shelf, not really feeling any of them, when I found my boyfriend’s copy of Brave New World with an introduction by Atwood herself and saw it as a sign to continue reading in the dystopian genre. I have read a lot of Dystopian and Speculative fiction classics and because it’s a genre I like a lot, especially when they critique capitalist societies, I was expecting to love the book.

I don’t know if it was the timing but something just felt off to me. Maybe it felt flat after the amazing voice of the narrator in The Handmaid’s Tale or maybe it was because I didn’t warm to any of the characters, as none of them developed or changed with their (incredibly selfish) actions. I know it’s been described as shocking but to me it felt a bit outdated or maybe even too realistic. It made me feel depressed about the way the characters end up leading their lives. Its best quality was that the old copy I was reading smelled amazing, of library books and yellowed pages but even for a booklover that feels quite a sad thing to say about a book.

 


Bleaker Island
– Nell Stevens
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What I’ve Been Reading Lately #3

 

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.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately #2

 

I really enjoyed writing the last “Books I’ve Been Reading Lately” post and have decided to make it a recurrent feature on the blog where I can gather together all the best books I end up reading over a few months. I’ve been a little late with this post, as I read most of these books in autumn and winter last year but I’ve just had so many other things to write about, too.