Saturday, 13 May 2017

reading journal 2017 | Lessing, Athill, Borges ...



The other day I came across a fantastic word you won't find in a dictionary: readlief. It means when you finally get around to start a book you have been meaning to read for years. My reading lists have led to many readliefs. It's rewarding to cross a book off the list, more so when it's a good read. My to-read list doesn't get any shorter, though, as I'm constantly coming across books to add to it. The book lover's dilemma. Below I'm sharing some thoughts on books from my № 7 reading list, which I posted in February. I have created a new category for these kinds of blog entries that I call Reading Journal (the year in the title indicates when that particular list appeared on the blog).

№ 7 reading list (6 of 9):

· Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges. This short story collection, described as original, is literary and philosophical, and not for everyone. I have never read anything like it. The first two stories didn't quite grab me but as soon I started the third one, I was hooked. That one is called 'Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote' (appeared in the Argentine literary journal Sur in May 1939), about a man who rewrites Don Quixote by Cervantes, line-for-line. The idea is brilliant.

· The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing. When I finished the book my first thought was: powerful. Since then I have heard other people use that same word about the book, which was Lessing's first novel, published in 1950. It starts with the murder of the main character Mary Turner and as you read on you learn about her background and what led to the tragedy, basically the disintegration of her life on a farm in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Lessing grew up there and masterfully describes the African landscape. It's been months since I finished the book and I'm still thinking about it. A good psychology study.

· The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. This one has become a classic but it's not for everyone. There were parts that I struggled with, parts that I found either repetitive or too long, and it took me quite some time to finish it. However, one cannot argue with the fact that this is an influential literary work. Its good parts have really stuck and I'm glad I finally took the plunge and turned it into a readlief.

· Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis De Bernières. I read somewhere that this was a novel with heart and that is exactly how I would describe it. The only thing that bothered me just slightly during the first 100 pages or so were the character introductions (each gets a chapter), which were unavoidable because the novel has so many. Bernières made up for them with delightful, and often comic, details, especially descriptions of life in the village (it takes place on a Greek island during WWII).

· Instead of a Book: Letters to a Friend by Diana Athill. I'm fond of reading letters but towards the end of this collection I was growing a bit weary. Athill and her friend were getting old and the later letters had too much talk about health issues, which is perfectly normal between close friends but isn't a fun read. She comments on this in the postscript and it's the reason she didn't include more letters in the book. Her work Stet is on my to-read list and I have heard nothing but praises, so perhaps you should consider starting with that one if you would like to read something by Athill.

· Local Souls by Allan Gurganus. I decided to postpone the reading. In my blog entry I wrote that I wanted to read his book Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All  before reading this one, and that is what I decided to do.

· In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and Modernism in Paris, 1900-1910 by Sue Roe. I'm not an art historian but I think this book was well researched. I found it interesting but I would have preferred more photos of the art pieces (I was constantly looking up the works in the text online to make sure I had the right ones in mind or to see the ones I didn't recognise). I enjoyed reading about Picasso, Matisse and other artists but sometimes there were stories about people related to them that, in my opinion, were of no importance. Each time I came across these stories, more like snippets, I felt the book could have benefitted from another round of editing.

Have you experienced any recent readliefs?

Currently I'm finishing the books on my № 8 reading list and will be writing two reviews, about Astrid Lindgren's war diaries, A World Gone Mad, and the novel Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.