Spring/Summer Reads

As the months are slowly turning towards summer the need to relax and enjoy the seasons becomes greater. If you’ve found yourself with no plans then there’s no better time to step outside and lounge away an afternoon reading. Even if you’ve not purchased a get away you can settle yourself on the grass and be taken to a far away place in the pages of these books.

 

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Sometimes books are written too late. Normal People is the novel I needed when I was sixteen and will now be the unwanted gift I give to all young adults. The story follows Marianne and Connell in Northern Ireland as they journey out of high school adolescence into university and subsequent adulthood. Rooney depicts these years with the quick pace, freedom of language and emotional intensity they deserve. It’s a must read for any age, even ease to get hold of after the recent paperback release.

 

Twelve Rules for Life by Jordan B Peterson

As the sun gets hotter you become more motivated to become a better person, stride outside and achieve your goals. Peterson shows you how develop as an individual through a combination of psychological, scientific, theological and personal examples. The journey the book provides is sometimes difficult to follow.  As a reader I found myself confronting some of my short comings and considering the negative traits I ignore. But by the twelfth lesson there’s a feeling of motivation and an urge to seize life a little harder. Overall, Peterson has presented the world with a particularly challenging book that will leave your reflection slightly altered.

 

The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco

I first came across Umberto Eco in a literary criticism lecture and had no idea he was a novelist until several years later. His role as an academic initially put me off reading his creative work. I’d developed a prejudice that his fiction would just be a vessel to demonstrate his critical thought, But after reading The Name of the Rose and The Prague Cemetery my opinion was quickly altered.

Prague Cemetery takes place throughout Italy in France from around the mid eighteenth century until the early twentieth. Through a combination of real history and conspiracy, Eco creates a complex and intriguing mystery novel. The most shocking part of the story is despite the Freemasonry, Illuminati, political upheavals, that all the characters (excluding the protagonist) were real and apparently committed the events within the pages. Eco’s vast historical understanding has truly enriched the book, transforming what could have been a seminar into one of my favourite books of the year.

 

Selected Poems by Wendy Cope

The title selected poems is a little misleading. Whilst there are compilations of Cope’s work there are three collections I’d recommend: Serious Concerns; Family Values; and Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis. Each of these books are a great introduction to the poet’s witty and accessible style.  With humour and tear wrenching emotion Cope explores the whole range of the human experience from Love and Loss to buses and motorway service stations. After a few books she’s quickly becoming one of my favourite poets and a perfect way to spend an hour, reclining in the summer sunshine.

 

 

Circe by Madeline Miller Review

Circe is Madeline Miller’s second retelling of ancient Greek legend. The novel introduces us to the title character Circe, an underdog nymph and daughter of the sun Titan, Helios. We follow the minor immortal from her creation to final scenes as she is interjected into the lives of some of Greek mythology’s most prominent players. But even when placed in the path of famous beasts like the Minotaur; heroes such as Odysseus; and the proud Olympians Athena and Hermes, Circe carves her place among the illustrious cast.

The legend of Circe is often forgotten outside of Homer’s Odyssey, however Miller paints fresh layers onto one of the lesser characters in the Greek Pantheon. We are given an imaginative retelling that is overflowing with tragedy, magic and destiny. Such a story allows Circe to steal the pages, upstage the most famous characters and cement her place in legend. A must read for anybody with an interest in mythology.

Books Once Banned in Britain

It’s hard to imagine that the islands that cultivated Shakespeare, JRR Tolkein and JK Rowling have a strong tradition of literary censorship. I’m not referring to old restrictions placed by the church or crown to protect their institutions against opposing propaganda. But a whole back log of banned books leading right into the twenty first century. In fact, 2018 marked the fifteenth anniversary of England’s last book ban being lifted. In honour of this I have compiled a reading list of once unlawful texts that you can proudly display on your bookshelf, rather than hide under a loose floorboard.

 

Last Exit To Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr

Published in 1964 Last Exit to Brooklyn is an unconventional novel. The reader is dragged through an uncompromising set of stories that describes the lives of those residing in the New York districts.  In 1967 Last Exit to Brooklyn was trialed for obscenity by a UK court for its graphic content and depictions of cruelty. The jury consisted solely of men because Selby Jr’s narration of prostitution, homosexuality, violence and drug taking was deemed potentially embarrassing to women. After deliberating on the novel’s content the trial concluded it unfit for public consumption and prohibited sale and publication. Fortunately, this verdict was reconsidered, only to be overturned the following year.

Spycatcher by Peter Wright

Originally published in Australia Spycatcher is the candid autobiography of a British Intelligence Officer. A large portion of the book’s content covers work of MI5 agents during the cold war. Given the sensitive content it became immediately controversial leading the British government to prohibit the publication of the book as well as implement press gag orders in order to restrain reporting on the autobiography.

Unusually, Spycatcher managed to stay publishable in Scotland an copies began to trickle down over the border. Given the ineffective banning of the book the ruling was eventually overturned. After all, national security secrets are not worth safeguarding if the rest of the world has access to the text.

 

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita is probably the most famous and infamous book on this list.  The novel depicts the criminal relationship between a literature professor and a twelve year old girl. Given the dark subject matter it’s not surprising that censorship was the initial response to Nabokov’s work. Britain first declared Lolita an obscene text in 1955 and publication of the book remained criminal for four more years. Following the lead of France and the USA the novel became accessible to the public, however the initial English publisher Nigel Nicolson was forced to resign from his role as a Tory MP.

 

 

Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge

At the start of 2017 I set myself a challenge, through Goodreads, to read a total of forty books. Nine months into the year I have completed the task. I should have probably set the target a little higher but I wanted a goal that would encourage consistent reading as well as open my horizons to fresh authors and ideas. The following list is what I have read since January. Some of these texts were incredibly short (such as the Penguin black classics and books of poetry) which may be why I finished the challenge so early. Other books, like the denser Philosophical texts and anthologies, took weeks to finish. On balance I think my reading list contains a little something for everyone. Hopefully you find a title for you, one of your favourites or are able to leave me a suggestion or two.

Fiction

Never Let Me Go by Kazou Ishiguro (3/5)

The Remains of the Day by Kazou Ishiguro (5/5)

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (3/5)

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury (4/5)

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (5/5)

Madam Bovary by Gustav Flaubert (3/5)

Anasi Boys by Neil Gaiman (4/5)

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh (3/5)

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (5.5/5)

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (4/5)

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster (4/5)

A Cup of Rage by Raduan Nassar (3/5)

The Stranger by Albert Camus (4/5)

Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr (5/5)

Maurice by E.M Forster (4/5)

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (3/5)

The Plague by Albert Camus (4/5)

Candide by Voltaire (5/5)

The History Boys by Alan Bennett (5/5)

Demian by Hermann Hesse (4/5)

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell (5/5)

Poetry

I Knew the Bride by Hugo Williams (4/5)

The Poetic Edda by Anonymous (4/5)

The Complete Poetry by Maya Angelou (5/5)

Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara (3/5)

Complete Poems by Karen Boye (4/5)

Making Cocoa for Kinsley Amis by Wendy Cope (5/5)

Selected Poems and Letters by Arthur Rimbaud (3/5)

Nonfiction

23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang (4/5)

Aphorisms on Love and Hate by Friedrich Nietzsche (4/5)

A Modest Proposal by Johnathan Swift (4/5)

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (2/5)

The Republic by Plato (5/5)

Only Dull People are Brilliant at Breakfast by Oscar Wilde (5/5)

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media by Noam Chomsky (4/5)

Five Dialogues by Plato (4/5)

Beyond the Pleasure Principle by Sigmund Freud (3/5)

The Symposium by Plato (4/5)

The Culture Industry by Theodor W. Ardono (3/5)

Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (4/5)

Last Exit to Brooklyn

In 1967 Last Exit to Brooklyn was trialed for obscenity by a UK court for its graphic content and depictions of cruelty. The jury consisted solely of men because Selby Jr’s narration of prostitution, homosexuality, violence and drug taking was deemed potentially embarrassing to women. After deliberating on the novel’s content the trial concluded it unfit for public consumption and prohibited sale and publication. Fortunately, this verdict was reconsidered, only to be overturned the following year.

Last Exit to Brooklyn is still a challenging book to read. Selby Jr treated his characters with the contempt they treat each other. Every person in the novel is dragged along by their base desire for sex, violence or securing a chemical high, often leading to their demise in a pool of their own blood.
Overall, it is a brilliant but uncomfortable book to read. The character’s lives are fast and you’re pulled through the pages by the sentences missing full stops and chapters lacking paragraphs. The foregoing of traditional punctuation lends a unique style, as if a friend is telling you graphic gossip at a bar.

Two years of Goodreads

I first joined Goodreads in September 2015 and have been using it on & (mostly) off ever since. In the last eight or nine months my activity on the book review site has accelerated. Before opening the first page I immediately update my “book shelf” and after final sentence I award the author my stars. My visits to Goodreads have probably increased due to ‘Reading Challenge” function. This feature allows the user to set a reading goal for the end of the year, so that whenever you complete and update your latest favourite you’re also reaching a goal.

For this year’s reading challenge I set myself an attainable target of 45 books. Now we are roughly half way through the year and I’ve managed a respectable 27 titles (60% apparently). This pile of books has been bolstered this year by being able to update eBooks from my kindle devices. Opening up my Goodreads to electronic texts has been helpful in finding new books as well. Sometimes, one of the worst aspects of being a heavy reader is that you simply run out of books, or rather you can’t see the wood for the trees. Perhaps a more subtitle metaphor for this stage in the paper’s production would be ‘not seeing the pages for the books’? Whichever allusion you choose, it’s handy to have a community of people, across several platforms with varied reading interests that mirror and inspire your own.

The other function I’ve recently discovered (I shall exorbitantly name) is multi-platform reviewing. This allows me to share my recent Goodread reviews on my WordPress blog. Sharing the reviews onto my blog is something I am excited about because it enable me to join two areas of my writing experience together. Now that the reading challenge is slowly rolling downhill towards the goal I intend to focus more intently on the reviews and hope you enjoy them.

Happy Reading

One Hundred Years of Solitude

For New Year’s Eve I attended a dinner party in Stockholm. I donned a new suit, (from the H&M boxing day sale) and not to sound too immodest looked particularly handsome. Whilst we had coffee and dessert conversation turned to books. I mentioned my recent obsession with Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his most highly regarded novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. Only one other person at the table had read the book but she immediately replied, “it’s rare that a book lives up to the hype”. This review (by the most esteemed reader Lina) is exceptionally accurate.

Initially I had bought the text from a second hand book store for £1 and was apprehensive about opening it. There were other books I bought that day I wanted to read first and One Hundred Years of Solitude filtered its way to the bottom of the pile. This was a mistake. I should have devoured Marquez’s words fresh upon purchase because it quickly became the most captivating story I read in 2016.

In 1982 Marquez was correctly awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In the directions of Alfred Nobel’s last will and testament, writers may be awarded the prize for producing, “in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”. It seems verbose to describe my favourite book of the year with Nobel’s words but Marquez managed to do just that. He weaved a story unbound by the normal passage of time and follows a whole family, with their interweaving life and relationships, over the span of a century. So much detail is compacted into a small space. It’s an achievement to fully explore the history of the whole family through the generations. A testament to the number of characters and various relations is the family tree that is printed in my edition.

Not only does the book cover an expanse of characters but manages to do so simultaneously. The chapters are long because whole family’s life is explored at the same time in a fluid manner. There’s no stopping to focus on a particular person for a chapter, despite how pivotal the drama is. This creates a different approach to the passing a time and saves excessive leaps in chronology to catch up on people’s lives, allowing for fuller characters. If you add to this the magical nature of the story, the remote location family reside and the tone of isolation, you’re quickly immersed into the lives of the clan.

The tragedies of the household and rare their joys are easily felt. It swiftly became a book I couldn’t stop reading on the commute, at lunch and before falling asleep. Unfortunately, disaster struck one lunch time after I returned the book to my bag along with an unopened bottle of cola. As I returned my bag to the storeroom, before sitting at the desk, I noticed it felt damp. The liquid had exploded over the book when I had less than twenty pages left. The paper was soaked and no radiator was working for a quick rescue. I started working under the sways of melancholy; the train home was in mourning with nothing to read.

I managed to rescue the text on the bathroom radiator. I paced the tiles all night hoping the words would be legible. Eventually I awoke, slumped against the bathroom sink. The book pages struggled to be separated but the words were fine. In fact, the book smells better than before. The heat curled and splayed the pages into a fan as large as the story they hold. It’s now the most beautiful book on the shelf and possibly the best story as well.