Thursday, 13 September 2018

Reading journal 2017: Roy, Mahfouz, Athill ...

Reading journal 2017: Roy, Mahfouz, Athill · Lisa Hjalt

I had almost forgotten how much I enjoy September, mainly stolen moments on the patio with books and coffee. Reading under the awning, viewing new books online or listening to books podcasts, hours can pass without me even noticing it. As long as no one interrupts. Yesterday, two longlists for the 2018 National Book Awards were announced. I was excited about the translated literature, which is a new category. In my notebook I had already written down two books on the list: Disoriental by the French-Iranian Négar Djavadi and Flights by the Polish author Olga Tokarczuk (her book won The Man Booker International Prize). Today they announce the longlists for poetry and non-fiction, and tomorrow for fiction. If you are looking for reading ideas you may want to take a look. A few words about my 'Reading journal': If I don't like a book that appeared on one of my reading lists don't let it discourage you from reading it. I have my own opinions and tastes, but I'm not interested in telling you what to read and not to read. As long as people are reading and books are being published, I'm content.

№ 11 reading list (6 of 9):

· The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy. I wish I could tell you that I liked this novel, her first in twenty years, but I didn't even finish it, gave up around page 200. It's political, which doesn't surprise when the author is a known activist. However, it felt as if she were trying to cast a light on every single social problem in India, as if I were encountering a new one on every page. Perhaps readers who have kept up with Roy's non-fiction and activism are better equipped with understanding what she's trying to convey in this novel. In my opinion, the style felt overloaded and chaotic. From what I read I cannot recommend this novel but I liked her first, The God of Small Things, which won the 1997 Man Booker Prize.

· Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz. Unfortunately, because of our move from the UK, I had to return the book to the library before I could finish it (I have about 150 pages left). Nobel Laureate Mahfouz is a wonderful storyteller and this book is the first in his Cairo trilogy. It starts in the city in 1917, where we follow the life of the Al Jawad family. The father is a tyrant who goes from one extreme to the other: at home he uses the teachings of the Koran to control and oppress his family, while at night he abandons his 'beliefs' to discover the pleasures of the city. This book isn't always a fun read and it has its share of Muslim stereotypes. It has pushed many of my buttons and taken me through the entire emotional scale, but I'm definitely going to finish the reading. And then I intend to read the other two books, Palace of Desire and Sugar Street.

· The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch. I also had to return this one to the library and I hadn't read that much to be able to talk about it in detail. I will pick up another copy later and perhaps comment on it.

· Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. The prose of this epistolary novel is beautiful. To tell you more about it I think it's best to quote President Obama in conversation with the author back in 2015:
I first picked up Gilead, one of your most wonderful books, here in Iowa. ... And I’ve told you this—one of my favorite characters in fiction is a pastor in Gilead, Iowa, named John Ames, who is gracious and courtly and a little bit confused about how to reconcile his faith with all the various travails that his family goes through. And I was just—I just fell in love with the character, fell in love with the book.
For the entire conversation, please follow this link: The New York Review of Books. I highly recommend Gilead for readers who are not always looking for a plot or action.

· Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen. I have already told you about the setting of this second novel of the Israeli writer and how it came to me. If it weren't for its introspective passages, which slow things down, it would read like a typical thriller: A doctor driving home from his shift accidentally kills a man with his SUV and flees the scene. When the dead man's wife shows up at his door you know that his life is about to change drastically. I won't say more. (Translated by Sondra Silverston.)

· Instead of a Letter by Diana Athill. This was a rather disappointing memoir, mainly for its uninteresting content, not the writing itself. She spends the first hundred pages or so talking about her childhood and then she goes to Oxford. There are so many pages wasted on an engagement that ended - I failed to sympathise with it - and her sex life in her 20s, which probably shocked some readers in 1962 when the book was published originally. It hardly raises eyebrows for modern readers. For me, it wasn't until towards the end, in chapter 14 which starts on page 168 (of 224), that the book became interesting, when she stepped into the world of publishing. The final pages of the memoir turn into some kind of a travelogue and the writing feels slightly scattered. I have already started reading her second memoir Stet. It focuses on her life as editor at André Deutsch (a publishing company no longer operating) and has received much praise. You will find it on my next reading list.

image by me, appeared on Instagram, 04/09/2018

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