Lately, I have been reading an array of books from different genres. There’s nothing more that I love than to spice up my reading -- I can’t get tired of reading if I’m always reading something new and different. Speaking of, I read Hecate and her Dogs by Paul Morand, published by Pushkin Press, which follows an unreliable narrator as he retells the darkest years of his life: loving and pursuing a woman he believed to be a pedophile. The short chapters show a brevity and urgency that leaves you wanting and needing more. On the flipside of Morand’s work, I read Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney, written in second-person narration, which I can’t recall if I’ve read a book with the same narration style. It was jarring at first, but past the first few pages, it was easy to get settled as our main character in the everyday banality of life, working for a newspaper, in the facts department, which worked perfectly for this type of narration. Facts… truth… reality. Is this what the narrator is living? I found it compelling, filled with beautiful writing that only I could aspire to one day achieve.
I read another obscure book, The Cathedral of Mist by Paul Willems, which was a short story collection, which we read for The Literati Book Club on Goodreads. Although beautifully composed, I would recommend this one to those who are already familiar with Willems’ work. I will be reading more of Willems in the future to understand his prose in longer formats. Lastly, I read No Easy Answers by Brooks Brown, about the Columbine tragedy in 1999. This book has been on my radar since I began my fascination with this mass shooting years ago. Written simply, this book can be read in an afternoon, but the content is heavy, to say the least. Brown, friends with both Klebold and Harris, shares his point-of-view by humanizing the two who were demonized by the press for years. With the 20 year anniversary coming up next year, I believe this account and Sue Klebold’s book, A Mother’s Reckoning must be read to give context and history behind Harris and Klebold.
Lastly, as it is the beginning of the year I have decided to make a simple reading goal for myself, which is to read 50 books. Although a small number to be sure, I don’t want to stress myself to reach higher reading goals. I secretly want to read 100 books this year, but thinking about that number gets my heart racing pretty damn fast. Instead, my main goal and the one I don’t mind getting stressed about is to read more Russian literature and philosophy. I used to read a copious amount of philosophy in high school and university, but since 2014 I haven’t read much and it’s a shame. Beginning with Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life, and hopefully incorporating my all-time favourite, Albert Camus in the mix, it is sure to be a fantastic year for reading.
My end of 2017 reading was a bit of a mixed bag; a combination of some end-of-year requirements, such as book club books and pure escapism. One of the book club books was The Choke by Sofie Laguna, a much talked about Australian novel that everyone seems to enjoy. Like other hyped books, I thought this felt too flat. It read like a piece of children’s literature with a sexual assault storyline. Child narrators are so difficult to get right and for me this book suffered from not knowing which age group to appeal to. Things looked better when I picked up Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash by Eka Kurniawan, a spectacular piece of Indonesian literature about erections. I am told Kurniawan’s books differ from each other greatly and I look forward to trying Beauty Is a Wound and Man Tiger.
I love a book about books, so had to try two recent releases, The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell and Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence. Bythell’s book is exactly as the title suggests, a diary of the antics happening around him in his bookstore, while Dear Fahrenheit 451 is a collection of letters written to literature by Spence. In the future I might write an article on some of my favourite bibliomemoirs but I have some more reading to do beforehand.
The hundred-year celebration of the October revolution happened in 2017 and I thought I should read some more non-fiction on Russia, which lead to me reading Ten Days that Shook the World by John Reed, a fascination but dry look at the revolution and the wonderful Stalin and the Scientists by Simon Ings, which explored science in the Soviet era. I was particularly drawn to the concept of Marxist psychology and plan to do some further reading on the topic. I ended the year with two equally interesting novels, Portrait of a Man by Georges Perec and Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney.
For 2018, I decided to have no reading goals, I just wanted to enjoy my reading. Which started with finishing of my escapism books I started in December, including The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino and Suburra by Carlo Bonini & Giancarlo De Cataldo. Following that I had a few book club books, Man Booker prize winner Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders and Miles Franklin winner Extincitions by Josephine Wilson. Following that, Hecate and Her Dogs by Paul Morand made me question how I could enjoy such beauty while hating so much about the author. Finally I started reading book eight in Émile Zola’s Les Rougon-Macquart series, A Love Story, despite the fact I have not read any of the others.
I’ve tried to get in as much reading as I can amongst essay research and writing, but most of the things I read ended up being pretty short. At the end of 2017, it unnerved me that there was still a long list of popular books I hadn’t managed to get to. One of the novels on there was Slaughterhouse Five that I’d had on my shelf for too long to mention, and I finally managed to complete it in the New Year. It’s fragmented structure, along with its absolutely incredible writing, meant I loved this novel. It would be great to do a trauma reading of this text, taking into account the war and the way it is recalled through various points in the story.
The book I’m reading at the moment is the latest release from Stephen King, Sleeping Beauties, which was co-written with his son, Owen King. It tells the story of a town in which all of the women begin to fall victim to a virus where they fall asleep and grow cocoon-like growth’s across their faces. The sheer abundance of characters intimidated me at first, but King is in his element when he writes about the collective trauma of large spaces, and this is what I’m noticing. The breadth of personalities, stories, motives and actions have already engrossed me, and I’m very excited to see where this will lead.
Lastly, my studies have led me to re-read the letters and fiction of Flannery O’Connor who is a writer of the Southern Gothic. Her short stories play on the idea of the drifter, and the uncanniness of everyday life in the American South. She is probably one of my favourite short story writers, mostly because of the tone with which she delivers them, and if you are a person who hasn’t come across her work yet I highly recommend you seek her out.