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.

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.

Thirty-one. Not old. Not young. But a viable die-able age.

the God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1997)
“As Estha stirred the thick jam he thought Two Thoughts and the Two Thoughts he thought were these:
a) Anything can happen to anyone.
and
b) It is best to be prepared.” 
Rahel and Estha are twins that have returned to their childhood home. Estha hasn’t been there since he was sent to his father after the terrible event of their cousin Sophie Mol’s death, while Rahel stayed with her grandparents as her mother was sent away as well for loving the wrong man.

The story moves between the now at the twins’ return and the then with the death of Sophie Mol as the main event with a couple of twists and turns. But what really makes this book is the beautiful prose. Sometimes a mere sentence could make me laugh out loud or just sigh. It’s definitely a slow-reading book. Although it’s beautifully written and I enjoyed the story, I felt that there was something missing, but I cannot put my finger on exactly what. It is also a hard book to write about. But it is definitely worth a read!

The book won the Man Booker Prize in 1997 and is also August’s read in Line’s 1001 books reading circle.

“And the air was full of Thoughts and Things to Say. But at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. Big Things lurk unsaid inside.”

Poets on the run.

the Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño (1998)

“There is a time for reciting poems and a time for fists.” 
Juan Gárcia is a 17 year old, who through his diary tells the story about his meeting with the Visceral Realists, a gang of poets living in Mexico City. They usually hang around in bars, drinking and discussing books. He also falls in love with one of them, María Font, and stops attending classes at the university. Two of the most famous Visceral Realists, Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, along with a prostitute, Lupe, and Juan Gárcia,  have to leave Mexico City on New Year’s Eve 1975 because Lupe’s pimp has found them.

The second part of the book are eyewitness accounts from around the world, spanning from 1976 to 1996. Here we learn what Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano are up to in Mexico, Europe, Israel, USA and Africa and all the interesting characters they meet on their way.  It took some time to get used to the jumping from one eyewitness to another and piecing together the story, but once I got used to it, it became addictive.

The story is interesting, but I think you have to be really into poetry, and especially Mexican, to get everything out of this book. I usually skimmed the very detailed poetry part of the book. The rest of the book was right up my alley. Arturo Belano is the alter ego of Roberto Bolaño, and most of the characters are based on real persons (Wikipedia has a nice who’s who).

I read the book as a part of a book originally written in Spanish in Bjørg’s off the shelf challenge, temporarily being supervised by Hedda. I’m about a month late for the challenge as I have been a super slow reader this summer. the Savage Detectives has been on my shelf since 2011, so about time.

“Everything that begins as a comedy ends as tragedy.”

seventeen.

Dirty Havana Trilogy by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez (1998)
 Pedro Juan is content as long as he has some money, rum and a woman. Rum and women are easy to find, money is harder as Cuba in the 90s is a rough place. Pedro Juan goes from woman to woman, job to job and also spends some time in jail. The book is more like a collection of many short stories, some with Pedro Juan as the main character and some are stories about others.

I’m guessing this isn’t the Cuba that tourists get to explore. It is the life within those crumbled buildings that they are taking pictures of. The life of whores, the unemployed, the crazies and poorest of the poor. It’s about the ups and downs and those random life altering events. And of course sex, drugs and rock’n’roll.

Dirty is definitely the right word for this book. Not only because of the sexual content, but also because of the conditions Pedro Juan finds himself living and working in. A work that manages to combine both sex, drugs and rock’n’roll and state of the nation is easily one of my instant favourites. The genre is apparently called dirty realism and Charles Bukowski was of course the king of it. 

Read it for the social commentary, or the sex, or both. 

four.

Fear and Trembling by Amélie Nothomb (1999)
 “Ancient Japanese protocol stipulated that the Emperor be addressed with “fear and trembling”. I’ve always loved the expression, which so perfectly describes the way actors in Samurai films speak to their leader, their voices tremulous with almost superhuman reverence. 
So I put on the mask of terror and started to tremble.”
Amélie is excited about spending a year in a Japanese firm. She was born and lived in Japan until she was 5, but her parents were Belgian. The big Japanese corporation turns out to be a culture shock for Amélie, with its hierarchy and secret codes of conduct.

The book makes an attempt at being funny, but it didn’t make me laugh. I also found it to be shallow and too many things and words were repeated for a novel of just 130 pages. How about finding some synonyms for beautiful and blunder? But this may be the translator’s fault. I also wished the author would take a look at Japan outside the workplace as well, as I think that would maybe make it more interesting. I found the section about how Japanese women should behave to be the most interesting in the book. How this book got to be on the list of 1001 books you should read before you die is beyond me.

But I have high hopes for the film, as I think there is so much potential which can be played out on the big screen.

fifty-three.

the Hours by Michael Cunningham (1998)
“We throw our parties; we abandon our families to live alone in Canada; we struggle to write books that do not change the world, despite our gifts and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hopes. We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep. It’s as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out windows, or drown themselves, or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us are slowly devoured by some disease, or, if we’re very fortunate, by time itself. There’s just this for consolation: an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we’ve ever imagined, though everyone but children (and perhaps even they) know these hours will inevitably be followed by others, far darker and more difficult. Still, we cherish the city, the morning; we hope, more than anything, for more. Heaven only knows why we love it so…” 

In 1923, Virginia Woolf is working on a new novel, later to be named Mrs Dalloway, while trying to pull herself together. In 1949 in Los Angeles, Mrs Brown is pregnant with her second child and it’s her husband’s birthday, but all she wants to do is lay in bed and read Mrs Dalloway. In present day New York, Clarissa, who is called Mrs Dalloway by her former lover, Richard, is holding a party for him as he’s dying from AIDS.

The book starts with the suicide of Virginia Woolf, and that really sets the mood for the rest of the book. I kept wondering whether both Clarissa and Mrs Brown would kill themselves as well. It is beautifully written, and I really like how Cunningham has included passages from Mrs Dalloway. It was a perfect read for my current mood, and it really hit home. Save it for your blue periods.

Another thing I discovered while reading this, is that I totally didn’t understand Mrs Dalloway at all. I definitely need to read it again, but it needs to mature for a couple of years first. I also need to watch the film again.

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

fifty-one.

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan (1997)
Joe and Clarissa are on a picnic, celebrating Clarissa’s return. Suddenly they see a hot air balloon in trouble, and they, along with some other men, rush to the rescue. The accident ends tragically with the death of one of the rescuers as he didn’t let go of the rope and was carried upwards.

Although the accident is very unsettling for the couple, the affairs which take place in the following months are worse. Shortly after the accident, Joe receives a phone call from one of the other rescuers, Jed. Jed claims to be in love with Joe, and stalks him. For unknown reasons Joe hides the fact for a while from Clarissa, and when he finally tells her, she believes that he is imagining it as she never she or hears Jed and his handwriting is awfully like Joe’s.

What drives this beautifully written slow story forward is the madness, and the fact that it’s unclear who the mad one is. I, as always, am never right. Joe is the perfect narrator, and I really like how a lot of the story is left untold. The only thing I disliked about the story is that it felt too rushed towards the end.

I have been holding off for years reading a new McEwan book after I read Atonement in 2008, as I loved that book and I have heard that McEwan can be a hit or miss. But I know he must be a great author as no less than 8 of his books are on the 1001 books list. I’m glad I picked Enduring Love as it didn’t disappoint. Read it if you are in the mood for a passionate story with a crazy stalker.

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.”