Tuesday, 7 March 2017

A year in reading - part 2

Shall we pick up where we left off in A year in reading - part 1, my blog entry where I commented on books from my last year's reading lists? As stated in that entry, I don't comment on books that I have already talked about or on those I was rereading. My reading lists are based on my mood when I put them together and consist of books that have been on my to-read list for a long or short time (that list gets longer and longer!). Unsurprisingly, there were a few disappointments. Below are my thoughts on some books on my № 4, 5 and 6 reading lists:

№ 4 reading list (4 of 10):
· Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. This classic is probably more interesting for beginners on a spiritual path or for those unfamiliar with Buddhism and Eastern philosophy. It did very little for me and I only finished it to cross it off my list. (Interested in Buddhism? Choose a non-fiction by a leading Buddhist teacher. To give you an idea, here are some that I read at a certain point in my life: Thich Nhat Hanh, Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, and Pema Chödrön.)
· The Summer Book and A Winter Book by Tove Jansson. When I shared the list I had read about two stories in the latter and was well into the former, which I loved. In The Summer Book you will find a stronger collection of stories, more coherent, mainly because they have the same memorable characters.
· In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin. Felt like a gem when I picked it up but at some point the plot of these loosely interconnected stories became predictable. There is so much corruption and injustice on the pages that I was beginning to long for something a bit more uplifting. I was hoping this book would teach me more about Pakistani culture, and given the good reviews I was expecting it to be richer.
[Another from the list: The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking (see separate blog entry).]

№ 5 reading list (4 of 7):
· A Time for Everything by Karl Ove Knausgård. Nothing wrong with the writing but I decided to not finish it because I simply wasn't in the mood. This is a book about angels and he changes the setting of biblical stories; takes us from the desert to a Norwegian landscape. Maybe I will pick it up again later but I think I will first revisit the originals.
· White Teeth by Zadie Smith. The book I so wanted to like and recommend to you. I still haven't finished it. I like the writing style but the characters don't interest me at all. Occasionally I pick it up - reluctantly, I admit - and after a few pages I give up. I found the characters in her book NW much more interesting. In that one Smith experiments with the form of the novel, which may not be everyone's cup of tea. I struggled a bit through the first part of NW, but as soon as I reached the second I was hooked.
· Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Loved the prose and characterisation in her family drama that sometimes left me shocked - the father is a religious fanatic who uses domestic violence. For sensitive readers I have to add that there is also beauty and hope. The quality of Adichie's writing is such that following horrific descriptions, her beautiful sentences seem to subsequently soothe and heal. This story has not left my mind since I finished it. Adichie is one of my favourite living authors.
[Another from the list: Avid Reader by Robert Gottlieb (see separate blog entry).]

№ 6 reading list (4 of 8):
· The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes. I liked the first two parts but I think this is one of the novels I will forget having read. In this one Barnes has reimagined the life of composer Dmitri Shostakovich under Stalin. It just didn't leave me with anything; I finished it and moved on to the next.
· All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan. I mentioned in my entry that I liked his writing style. Parts of this book are very dark; I think I even held my breath sometimes. For me, the character of Mary stole the show; I found her much more interesting than Melody, the main character. The fault of this book is the ending; everything is possible in fiction but it didn't work (I cannot say more without revealing it). However, Ryan is an author who has made it to my list and I intend to read his previous works.
· Boyhood Island: My Struggle 3 by Karl Ove Knausgård. Of the three My Struggle books I have read, this one was my least favourite. Its strengths are the picture he paints of the father he hated (understandably) and the family dynamics. Its weaknesses are the too many repetitive descriptions of him playing with the neighbouring kids or schoolmates. This book could have been 100 pages shorter and better.
· The Return by Hisham Matar. One of those books I was really looking forward to reading but except for the first five chapters, I was rather disappointed. The first five chapters have a different writing style, which I loved, and it wasn't until after I had finished the book that I learned that part of them appeared in an article in The New Yorker called 'The Return', which Matar wrote in 2013, before the publication of the book. To be frank, just read the article.
[Another from the list: The Makioka Sisters by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki (see separate blog entry).]

That's it, I'm done with the 2016 lists.

This year I intend to do things differently and share my thoughts sooner, but I will let some time pass between sharing a reading list and my opinion on the books on it.

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