Friday, February 11, 2011

Indie Bookstore... What I've Been Reading...


Damn you funky independent bookstore up the road from me... I walked in just wanting to wander around your neatly stacked shelves, to breathe in the new books and the coffee, and I walked out with two non-PhD related books. Sigh. I purchased Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines, a book about Chatwin's travels in Australia and his fascination with indigenous songs and stories, and Love Letters of Great Men and Women, edited by Ursula Doyle. It is, a the title suggests, a collection of love letters from a dispirit collection of historical figures and authors, from men such as King Henry VIII, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Charles Darwin; and women including Mary Wollstonecraft, Queen Victoria and Katherine Mansfield.

I have also finished reading A.S Byatt's The Children's Book, Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About Whenn I Talk About Running, and Simone de Beauvior's She Came to Stay, all excellent reads actually. I posted heavily about The Children's Book while I was reading it, as I was entranced by the Edwardian period, which is almost a character in this novel. I do however agree with other reviewers that Byatt can do too much historical contextualisation and the immense detail can leave you a little frustrated, waiting to return to the characters and the plot, but overall the combination of the historical elements and the lives of the families in this book is intertwined and compelling. Especially when you are transported to wonderful events like the world expo in Paris at the turn of the century, or find yourself in a prewar Cabaret in Berlin.  At times it feels as if there are too many central characters, and you find yourself having to remember if this character is that characters second cousin, step brother or love interest (it gets confusing), but the diversity of the characters is wonderful and Byatt is not afraid of killing them off either. I didn't like that two of the characters died in the same way, I felt a bit cheated by that, but you do grieve for them and their complex interwoven lives. I was sad when I finished reading this book and considered starting it again, it was that good overall.

So completely different was Murakami's autobiographical What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, as the title suggests, the book is ostensibly about running. Murakami, aside from being an incredible writer of magical realism, fiction and non-fiction, is also a marathon runner. The book reflects on his running and his building up to a marathon, but it is also a charming insight into his more personal life. His adulthood, his wife, his world view, writing philosophy etc etc. He mixes information about how many kilometers he has run in a month, with reflections on how he started writing, details of his running shoes, with how he approaches public speaking and his work ethic. A great read for any fan of Murakami, even if like me, you have never run for more than a bus.

And lastly, the spine tingling She Came To Stay, wow. de Beauvoir draws upon her open relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre to break your heart with the frustrations of watching your lover openly falling in love with another (younger, beautiful) woman. She captures the anxiety and the curiosity of the situation with such detail, that it has me inspecting people's facial expressions more closely now. She records not just the significant, meaningful looks, but the hard to interpret looks of ones lover and close associates as a kind of attempt at mind reading. She decodes their faces, interpreting their thoughts, distilling their own anxieties and fears. It must be said that the two central characters love is presented as being above and beyond flirtation and minor affairs, and we understand that the couple have been together for years with this open understanding. But from the start of the novel, this new woman is different and neither of them ever imagined what his pursuing her would do to their relationship. This book captures the fragility of love and commitment, the pain of great affection and the open wounds that people carry inside them everyday. The prewar Parisian backdrop is wonderful, as is the cafe lifestyle of the couple and it made me want to revisit both Paris and Jean-Sartre's The Road to Freedom Trilogy that I read in high school. Another book I was sad to put down.

What have you read lately that you would read again?

3 comments:

  1. It is such a dilemma, isn't it, risk a new book or reread a loved book? I have an urge to reread Sartre's trilogy and the de Beauvoir-Sartre letters. The de Beauvoir fiction is calling me, as is the next volume of her memoirs.

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  2. You may have to read for the both of us for awhile, if Cohen does indeed give up his nap times I will have so much less reading time. I've nearly finished your Fry autobiography though and am flicking through crafty books too.

    xx

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  3. Thanks for these great reviews, Fiona. I read The Children's Book a couple of years ago now but as I read your review it all came back to me! So funny as I usually can't remember what happened last week ;)
    My favourite book last year was Danish writer Peter Hoeg's "The Quiet Girl" - just exquisite. I'm currently reading his first novel "The History of Danish Dreams" which I still don't feel connected to. I think it's trying to be a bit too clever in a first-novel kind of way (If you know what I mean?) Anyway, "The Quiet Girl" is just magnificent. Kx

    p.s. Feeling for Christina... It is a sad day when the nap times cease! Thankfully, they're also old enough to distract for longer periods ;)

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