Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Reading journal 2017: Baldwin, Bandi, Bellow ...

Reading Journal 2017: Bellow, Baldwin, Bandi · Lisa Hjalt

My Reading journal posts, remember those? I have fallen behind with the blog (which gave me the idea to use my Instagram photos for this category). I'm just going to play my moving-to-Germany card. We are still navigating our new surroundings and getting used to the language. There have been good moments, but also frustrating ones and the occasional setbacks. Oh well, we will get there. Shortly after the move, our oldest returned to Scotland for school and I may have left part of my heart behind at the airport. Not that it was a dramatic scene, it simply hit me that one day the nest will be empty. (I could pull a Faust and make a pact with the devil, exchanging my soul for the kids choosing to go to university in the area when the time comes. The problem is I don't believe in its existence.) At Christmas the family will be reunited; ahead is leisure and good food (during a recent Skype moment I mentioned the presents and two of the kids responded: 'Mom, we don't care about the presents, we just want the food!'). Before the holidays I intend to share a reading list, a short one. Just have to find the time to take a photo.

№ 8 reading list (5 of 8):

· The Accusation by Bandi. I gave this collection of stories, smuggled out of North Korea, a special mention when sharing the reading list. They still haunt me, especially one called 'City of Specters', which is the second story in the book. Every time North Korea is on the news - that would be every day - I'm reminded of these stories, of the injustice, the hopelessness, and inhuman conditions of its people.

· Another Country by James Baldwin. I knew he would become my new favourite author when I reached this character description on page 18: '[H]e had discovered that he could say it with a saxophone. He had a lot to say.' The moment one starts reading this book one picks up its rhythm. I read somewhere online that it was jazz and thought to myself, Jazz, that's it! The novel is set in the late 1950s, in Greenwich Village, NY. It's not for everyone (if you're a prude don't even think about reading it; I have to add you're missing out on a superb writing style), as it deals with daring themes such as affairs, homesexuality, bisexuality, and interracial relationships. Keep in mind it was published in 1962! I am ashamed to say that this was my first work by Baldwin. I had only read old interviews with him and magazine features citing his works and now I intend to read everything he has written, his fiction and essays.

· Seize the Day by Saul Bellow. My first Bellow, a memorable novella set in NY, which, honestly, didn't quite grab me from the start (I say this with the greatest respect for all his fans: during the reading Bellow may perhaps have slightly paled by comparison to Baldwin, who had consumed my inner bookworm). It wasn't until after I had finished that the story kept popping up in my mind and I'm eager to read it again.

· The Blue Touch Paper by David Hare. A memoir I enjoyed reading, though some parts were more interesting than others. Often when reading memoirs the childhood part bores me (sometimes it's a lack of honesty on the author's part; sometimes an author paints a too rosy picture), which was not the case with Hare. Before reading the book, I knew nothing about his upbringing and he kept me reading with an entertaining and honest, or so I believe, account. There is plenty of politics in this book, which may not appeal to everyone, but the London theatre scene becomes alive on its pages and the reader gets to share in Hare's triumphs, and failures.

· Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov. I didn't finish this one. Not my cup of tea. Here we have a fictional poet, Shade, who has written a long poem before his death. A neighbour and colleague, Kinbote, writes a long commentary on it and very soon the reader realises that Kinbote is way off. I lost my patience with Kinbote's commentary, with his delusion (it had nothing to do with the writing of Nabokov).

As I have said before, in my 'Reading Journal' posts I don't comment on my rereads or on books already featured on the blog. Please visit separate blog entries for these two from the list: A World Gone Mad: The Diaries of Astrid Lindgren, 1939-45 and the novel Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

image by me, appeared on Instagram, 29/07/2017


  1. Dear Lisa, I hope you had wonderful Christmas! My comment has been lost somewhere again, so I'll try to remember what I wrote when I saw your post. I read Bandi's stories some months ago, and they really resonated with me as someone who was born in then-Soviet Latvia. Thank you for this recommendation and for the very appealing-sounding "Another Country" which I've now bought and hope to read soon. Happy new Year!

    1. How wonderful to hear from you, Inga! I'm glad your comment got through this time, and to hear that you read Bandi's stories (during the reading I was grateful for having been born in Iceland!). I do hope 'Another Country' won't disappoint (I'm currently reading 'Giovanni's Room' which many consider his best novel).


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