books of summer 2015.

I have had an unusual good reading summer. I read nine books in July, and two on my four day long Glaswegian holiday. I had planned to write a post for each book, but I have been struggling with one post for weeks; so I’m going to sum up my summer reading quickly, which is somewhat a shame as some of these books has deserved a post of its own. Oh well.

Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin (2012)

Tags: young adult fiction, usa, queer, love, state of the nation, historical novels,
What is it about: A young girl spends the summer at a lake resort in Minnesota to escape a possible polio outbreak and her father’s ptsd. Away from her mother’s watchful eyes she is able to do birdwatching the way she wants, and then she finds love – forbidden love.

What’s the verdict:  As a book for teenagers, it’s probably good. For me, it was either too many things put into one book or not detailed enough. And all the birdlike observation became too much.

Alamut by Vladimir Bartol (1936)
 Tags: slovenia, historical novels, 1001 books, war and travel, not impressed, state of the nation,

What is it about: Sayyiduna is the religious leader for the Ismailis in the fortress of Alamut. In order to make his soldiers obey him, he decides to give them a taste of paradise with the help of drugs and a garden filled with beautiful girls, food and drinks.

What’s the verdict: I was really into the book for the first few chapter, then it downhill from there. Too much religious philosophy for my liking. Maybe I would have paid more attention if I had known that Alamut and Sayyiduna were real.  I think I’ll blame the reader and not the book.

the Crossing (1994) and Cities of the Plain (1996) by Cormac McCarthy
 Tags: usa, war and travel, state of the nation, books you should read

What is it about: The second and third books in the Border trilogy. Cowboys and horses crossing the Mexican border in the early 1940s.

What’s the verdict: As in all previous McCarthy books I’ve read, violence is ever present and I always feel covered in at least one layer of dirt while I read his novels. The Border trilogy is a great read.

Morvern Callar by Alan Warner (1995)
 Tags: uk, sex drugs and rock’nroll, books you should read, war and travel, family and self, crime and mystery, books into films, 1001 books

What is it about: When Morvern comes home from work and finds her boyfriend dead on the floor, what does she do? Call the police? Nope, she goes out, gets drunk and have a threesome (possible a foursome).

What’s the verdict: I loved it! Morvern is a real quirky character and although her actions aren’t really explained, it is interesting to follow her around in the small Scottish village and on crazy package holidays. The only thing I really didn’t really like was the ending, so I was happy to discover that there’s a sequel, which has of course entered my wish list.

the Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota (2015)
Tags: man booker prize, uk, war and travel, family and self, books you should read, state of the nation

What is it about: Illegal and legal Sikh immigrants to United Kingdom. The reasons why they decided to leave India and how they make a living in the UK.

What’s the verdict: Another great novel set in India. If you like Indian writers, this is right up your ally. And the topic is really important right now. Another author I’m glad to have discovered.

Summer’s over and I’m glad I got to read as much as I did, but I’m still 3 books behind schedule on my 50 books a year challenge at Goodreads.  Right now I’m reading 3 heavy books at the same time (Moby Dick, A Brief History of Seven Killings and Jazz) and it feels like I’ll never finish any of them. Still I don’t want to give up on them as they are all good, they are just heavy and slow. I guess I have to be patient and take the time.

the saddest book I ever read.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (2015)
  “They all—Malcolm with his houses, Willem with his girlfriends, JB with his paints, he with his razors—sought comfort, something that was theirs alone, something to hold off the terrifying largeness, the impossibility, of the world, of the relentlessness of its minutes, its hours, its days.” 

Four young men became friends at college and then move to New York to pursuit different careers, but staying friends. While JB, Malcolm and Willem are sharing everything about their past and present lives, dreams and failures, Jude is a closed book. They know very little of Jude’s childhood and inner life, the only things they know are the things they are able to witness themselves.

Jude was left in the trash as a baby, picked up by a monastery where he was punished for every little thing. And then sexually abused. Things go from bad to much worse as one of the brothers runs off with him. A couple of years later he barely survives something which he himself describes as a car accident to his friends, and his body is severely damaged after it. Once he starts college, things really improve, but yet he feels the need to punish himself almost every night.

 This book is incredibly sad. I cried, cried and cried. And despite the descriptions of all the terrible things Jude went through I couldn’t put it down. Luckily, it’s not all bad, it’s really about the strength of friendship and love. And that’s what makes it so beautiful. It is definitely the best book I have read in years, and it’s a long time since I have been so involved in a book. I had to keep reminding myself that it’s just fiction, and not real. I’m hoping that it will win this year’s Man Booker Prize.

(So much unsaid about this book, so many emotions running wild.)

 “You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.” 

murderess?

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (1996)
Grace Marks was just 16 in 1843 when she was first sentenced to death, then life for the murders of her employer, Thomas Kinnear and a housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery. James McDermott, who also worked on the estate, was hanged for the murders. Grace is placed in an asylum, where she does work for the family who runs it. There she is having conversations with a young doctor, Simon Jordan, who wants to examine her psyche.  Did Grace really partake in the murders?

Based on real events, Atwood has given life to Grace and painted a picture of her life before and in the asylum. And it is definitely interesting, I enjoyed the story and all the details. There are so many fascinating minor characters like Jeremiah the Peddler, Jordan’s landlady and her servant. I also got really interested in Susanna Moodie, so I need to read her account of migrating to Canada.

Despite being so good, it took two months to read this one. I have no idea why. Maybe it was because the book is so rich in details and prose. Atwood is still my favourite to win the Nobel prize and I’m glad I still have many books yet to read by her.

I’m left with some questions after finishing the book. Was she really guilty or not? If you have read it, what do you think?  And what really happened after she finally was released from the asylum? There’s a historic mystery waiting to be solved.

This was December’s read in Line’s 1001 books reading circle. 

on not reading nor writing.

the books I haven’t blogged about
I cannot remember the last time I have spent so little time on books. I just don’t seem to have the time nor energy to read. And I read so slow, it took over a month to finish the Lives of Others. And that would have been okay if I had read other books at the same time, but I haven’t.  My main concern is that I won’t be able to complete my main reading goal of reading 50 books this year. Nine books to go and less than two months left of the year. The most frustrating thing is that I don’t seem able to write about the books I have read. I’m not going to care about the rest of my reading goals as long as I complete my main goal. Which means giving up on all the awesome reading circles, although I really want to read those awesome books, and I will try to read them as fast as I can (and link of course).  What went wrong? I have absolutely no idea. Anyway, here’s a short summary of what I have actually read in the last few months:

36. All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (1996)
Tags: 1001 books, books into films, state of the nation, war and travel, books you should read, family and self, love, sex drugs and rock’n’roll

Two teenagers ride from their homes in Texas into Mexico where they find jobs at a horse ranch. The first book in the Border trilogy and it is as amazing and awful as all of McCarthy’s works. I’ll write more once I have finished the trilogy. Read it!

38. Encircling 1 by Carl Frode Tiller (2007)
Tags: family and self, sex drugs and rock’n’roll

David has lost his memory, and his friends, ex-lovers and family write him letters to help him get his memory back. This is the first book in the Encircling trilogy and I will write more once I have finished it. It will be published in English next year, and I hope it will be as well received worldwide as it has been in Norway, despite the fact that I’m not entirely convinced this is brilliant. That is probably why I’m still only a few chapters in in book 2 and haven’t picked it up in a month or so.


40. Våke over dem som sover by Sigbjørn Skåden (2014)
Tags: books not yet translated into english, books about the arctic, books you should read, family and self, books that made me cry, from the library, sex drugs and rock’n’roll

Amund is a young Sami artist who travels to Kautokeino to work on his new project and with the kids at the local lower secondary school. When he is there, he learns about the extended abuse of under age girls while he himself forms a relationship with one of the pupils he got to know in the lower secondary school. The ending is disturbing, and the underlying theme of Sami identity in the flashbacks is thought-provoking. This is high on my list of best books read in 2014. Cross your fingers that it will be translated into English or another language you understand!



41. the Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee (2014)
Tags: man book prize, family and self, state of the nation, sex drugs and rock’n’roll

The extended Ghosh family lives in a big house in Calcutta. It is 1967 and India is seeing the start of the Naxalite movement. Supratik Ghosh suddenly disappears from the house to join the movement, and through his letters we learn how they work, while we follow the rest of the family’s everyday drama and also get an insight in the family history. Why do I feel that I have read this before? Could it be because I have read both the Lowland and the God of Small Things this year? My conclusion is that writing about the Naxalite movement will get you nominated for the Booker Prize. My favourite parts of the book are the prologue, the final epilogue and the letters. The family saga was way too confusing and I don’t think I have ever used the family tree as much as in this book (well, perhaps when I read Tolstoy). A lot of it could have been cut as it was just too much and not related to the plot. The book has a lot of strong points, and it was a lot of things; funny, gruesome, compelling, boring and thought-provoking. Mukherjee is on my list of the many authors I want to read more of.  I’m curious about how it will compare to the rest of the Booker shortlist, and the book was October’s read in Clementine’s Booker readalong.

I’m currently reading the Blindness of the Heart and it is really dark and beautiful. What am I going to read next? I have no idea, but I have 980 books to choose from + a library card.

three.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (2013)
 “Hi!
My name is Nao, and I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you.

A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be. As for me, right now I am sitting in a French maid cafe in Akiba Electricity Town, listening to a sad Chanson that is playing sometime in your past, which is also my present, writing this and wondering about you, somewhere in my future. And if you’re reading this, then maybe by now you’re wondering about me, too.

You wonder about me.
I Wonder about you.
Who are you and what are you doing?” 

Ruth finds a box containing a diary in English, a notebook in French and some letters in Japanese washed ashore on an island in British Columbia. The diary is written by a young Japanese girl, Nao, who is getting bullied and wants to talk about her 104 year old Zen Buddhist nun great-grandmother. The book alters between Nao’s diary and Ruth reading it. As Nao’s story progresses, Ruth gets more worried about her and tries to find her on the Internet.

Once I started this, I couldn’t put it down. I was fascinated, both by Nao’s diary and by Ruth’s island life. But the end was such a let down. I mean, so much potential, and then you end it with a conversation about quantum physics? And the other thing which annoyed me was that she chose to put herself and her husband in it. Especially when Ruth turned out to be my least favourite character. Oliver was more likeable. And although I read this great interview, I worry that I will always link the author Ruth to the Ruth in the book, and I fear that this will make it harder to read her other books.

But, yes to everything else! I loved the mesmerising and sad tale of Nao, her awesome great-grandmother and the island community. I also like how the nature on the island is a character, and that there are so much to learn from this book; both of Japanese culture and how the environment works.

fifty.

the Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985)
“I almost gasp: he’s said a forbidden word. Sterile. There is no such thing as a sterile man anymore, not officially. There are only women who are fruitful and women who are barren, that’s the law.”
The republic of Gilead is a strict religious society where the women are divided into groups. The Wives, dressed in blue, are on top of the chain, while the Daughters dress in white. The Econowives are married to men of lower statuses, and wear multicoloured dresses. The Handmaids dress in red and are surrogates for the infertile Wives. Then you have the Aunts in brown dresses who teach the Handmaids how to behave and the domestic servants, Marthas dressed in green.
Offred is the narrator who tells her tale while living in a house of a Commander and his wife, Serena Joy. Her daily life is a routine, and the only joy is the shopping round with an other Handmaid. But although she has been taught this new life, how can she forget her old life, when she was free, and had a man and a child? She doesn’t know if they are dead or alive at this point. 
I think this is one of the most provoking books I’ve read. The society is so anti-women that it made me quite mad. And of course it made me feel grateful for my freedom. It is brilliantly written, but to be honest, the end really disappointed me; I wanted more answers. I never seem to get enough answers when I read dystopian novels, I’m really fascinated with the societies and histories. 
I think this is the best Atwood book I’ve read. And it has placed her very high up on my list of favourite authors. Read it! This was also October’s read in Line’s 1001 books reading challenge.

thirty-five.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (1995)
 “…there was another, gorier parturition, when two nations incarnated out of one. A foreigner drew a magic line on a map and called it the new border; it became a river of blood upon the earth. And the orchards, fields, factories, businesses, all on the wrong side of that line, vanished with a wave of the pale conjuror’s wand.” 
Dina Dalal’s life hasn’t been easy after her husband died after just three years of marriage. Refusing her brother’s pleas for her to get remarried, she has to support herself. When her eyes are failing her, she hires two tailors to do her job, Ishvar and Omprakash and takes in a boarder, Maneck, as well. And she hopes that the landlord won’t notice the three extra people in her flat.
A mesmerising read from the first page to the last. The story takes you through the history of India from its independence through the eyes of its people. It mainly focuses on the four people in Dina’s flat, but also the people they meet. There are many wonderful stories within the story. There are so many tragic stories, but it is written in a dry witty style. 
The only thing I didn’t like with the story was the ending. Why did it have to end that way? But I guess it’s one of those books that just don’t work with a happy ending.
 
“You see, we cannot draw lines and compartments and refuse to budge beyond them. Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping-stones to success. You have to maintain a fine balance between hope and despair.’ He paused, considering what he had just said. ‘Yes’, he repeated. ‘In the end, it’s all a question of balance.”

one.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2001)
 
“Japanese-owned cargo ship Tsimtsum, flying Panamanian flag, sank July 2nd, 1977, in Pacific, four days out of Manila. Am in lifeboat. Pi Patel my name. Have some food, some water, but Bengal tiger a serious problem. Please advise family in Winnipeg, Canada. Any help very much appreciated. Thank you.

Pi grew up in a zoo as his father was the director and he spent the days learning about animals. He was also very interested in faith and shocked his family and teachers by practising Islam, Hinduism and Christianity at the same time. His family decides to migrate to Canada when the situation in India became troubled and they sell off the animals to various zoos. Some of the animals are going to zoos in America and they are therefore on the same cargo ship which the Patel family set out for Canada with. But the cargo ship sinks and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat with a hyena, zebra, monkey and Richard Parker, the enormous tiger.

Seeing the film trailer every where at Christmas, I decided that it was time to reread the book. I remember that I really enjoyed the book the first time around, and although I remember the setting, there were lots I had forgotten.

It is certainly still a good tale, but I found the days on the sea rather repeating and boring. But then I guess that’s what it’s like on the sea. I still haven’t decided which of the two versions of the story in the end that I believe is the true one.

one.

the Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
It’s 1983 and Nick Guest is invited to stay with his Oxford friend, Toby, and his family in their fancy house in Kensington Gardens. The Feddens are wealthy and the father, Gerald, has just become a new Tory MP and has huge ambitions, including meeting the Iron Lady. The daughter, Catherine, suffers from manic depressions and Nick has a special duty of taking care of her when the rest of the family is not present.

Nick has always had a crush on Toby and he hopes that by living in the same house would lead to a chance. Meanwhile, he is responding to the lonely hearts column in gay magazines and he meets up with Leo, a black older man and they instantly hit it off.

Fast forward to 1986 and Leo is no longer in Nick’s life. Instead he is the secret lover to a boy of multimillionaire Lebanese immigrants with an addiction to cocaine and threesomes. Nick is having his time of his life partying with all the Lords, Sirs, MPs, Counts and whatnots while working on his thesis about Henry James and spending his lover’s money. And AIDS is killing many of the gays they know.

1987 and boom! All hell breaks loose in the circle of posh upper class people.

This book had me right from the beginning with Nick’s struggle to fit in with the Feddens and their circle. And it is not for a second boring, although little happens until the last 100 pages or so. The language is amazing and how it all unfolds in the end was nothing like I expected. Sure, I was waiting for some kind of disaster, but the plot just blew me away. I wish I had the proper time to sit down with this book instead of just reading a couple of pages before bed time because this book really deserves your undivided attention.

twenty-seven.

Paradise by Abdulrazak Gurnah (1994)
“The boy first. His name was Yusuf, and he left his home suddenly during his twelfth year. He remembered it was the season of the drought, when every day was the same as the last. Unexpected flowers bloomed and died. Strange insects scuttled from under rocks and writhed to their deaths in the burning light. The sun made distant trees tremble in the air and made the houses shudder and heave for breath. Clouds of dust puffed up at every tramping footfall and a hard-edged stillness lay over the daylight hours. Precise moments like that came back of the season.”

Yusuf grew up on the East African coast. The man who Yusuf has
called his uncle lets him travel with him on his next journey. What Yusuf doesn’t know is that the man is a rich merchant and Yusuf is taken to settle his father debts. Yusuf starts working in a small shop somewhere by the sea, and then he gets to travel with the merchant to the interior regions to trade with the savages.

The story is set right before World War I or World War II, I’m guessing because of the increasing activity of German settlers. I’m also guessing that the story is set in Tanzania or Kenya because of the vague geographical clues. It is rich with details about the complex mix of people and culture in Africa, the traders are descendants of Arabic and Indian settlers and they bring with them Islam to the noble savages. The savages have their superstitions and traditions, and the book is full of stories about jinns and other strange creatures. And then there is the strange myths about the Europeans.

This book is great and beautiful. Some parts of it reminded me of A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul, but that is probably because it somewhat has the same setting. I recommend both. And I’m looking forward to read By the Sea by Gurnah.