All I read in July…


IMG_20170723_165031_646A monthly round-up of the stuff I’ve been reading over the past month. As always, big link dump at the bottom to check out anything I mention.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been working on a pretty expansive to-read list. The list is a mixture of things recommended to me*, things I’ve had my eye on for a while and recommendations by Goodreads. If you want to, you can be my friend on Goodreads, and see what I’ve read and what I thought. I don’t really write reviews, but I use the star ratings system. I’m a pretty lenient star giver though; giving something 3/5 stars feels just too damning to me. It’s like a literary shrug. Basically, I like almost everything I read. (Apart from Life of Pi, which was just so dull I had to bail.)

*I have a little circle of people whose book recommendations I *know* will hit the spot. It’s a tricky business recommending art to someone else and there is NOTHING WORSE than recommending something you love to someone who doesn’t get it. That’s awful for both parties.

This month’s reading:

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Michael Chabon)

The first Chabon I’ve read, recommended to me by two great friends, Jeff and Heather Hewer. Absolutely loved it and Yiddish Policeman’s Union is on my to-read list now. It’s a gorgeous picture of two men’s lives, set against the backdrop of America during WWII and beyond.

Americana (Don DeLillo)

Don DeLillo is one of my all-time favourite authors and White Noise is one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life. I picked up Americana not really knowing much about it but it’s full of DeLillo’s incisive reflections of America in the 20th century. Based on a 28 year TV exec who, surrounded by money and falseness, takes off on a roadtrip across America to find some authenticity.

Everything Is Illuminated (Jonathan Safran-Foer)

I think it was about 10 years ago that I read Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. I picked it up because I was drawn to the beautiful cover art and just loved it; a beautiful story of a young boy’s grieving process for his father who was killed in the Twin Towers on 9/11. It’s handled so delicately and so respectfully. He goes in search for the lock that matches a key he finds in his father’s closet. It reminds me of The Fisher King; the use of a search for a physical object as a metaphor for the journey through grief and a search for peace.

(I have to veer off on a brief tangent at the mention of the Fisher King. It’s my favourite film. There’s a scene at the end – no spoilers – as he lies in bed and his friend brings something very special to his bedside in an attempt to rouse him from a catatonic state. His friend falls asleep with his head on the hospital bed and he awakes to find him and the object. He whispers very softly, referring to his late wife, “can I miss her now?”. It’s the most moving piece of cinema I’ve ever come across and the imagery in that film has never been surpassed for me.)

Everything Is Illuminated was actually Safran-Foer’s first novel and I’ve never really read anything like it. Often told from the perspective of a Ukrainian translator, Alexi, recounting the tale of his journey with Jonathan Safran-Foer to find the woman who had saved his grandfather from the Nazis. The way he uses English language to paint a picture of a young man whose grasp of English is good but not great is so well done.

The Sweetest Dream (Doris Lessing)

I read The Golden Notebook a few years ago and it blew my head off. It felt like such a privilege to have shared the same Earth as a woman like Doris Lessing. The scope of that novel is astounding.

“We spend our lives fighting to get people very slightly more stupid than ourselves to accept truths that the great men have always known. They have known for thousands of years that to lock a sick person into solitary confinement makes him worse. They have known for thousands of years that a poor man who is frightened of his landlord and of the police is a slave. They have known it. We know it. But do the great enlightened mass of the British people know it? No. It is our task, Ella, yours and mine, to tell them. Because the great men are too great to be bothered. They are already discovering how to colonise Venus and to irrigate the moon. That is what is important for our time. You and I are the boulder-pushers. All our lives, you and I, we’ll put all our energies, all our talents into pushing a great boulder up a mountain. The boulder is the truth that the great men know by instinct, and the mountain is the stupidity of mankind.”     

The Sweetest Dream felt like coming home, being wrapped in warm blankets and smelling familiar smells. Like the Golden Notebook, it focuses on brilliant, human, flawed, complicated women and their relationships with each other and the world, this tie set in London in the 1960s onward. Lessing never uses fiction to create characters that can be put on a pedestal and has this extraordinary ability to allow you to know them as well as you’d know a close friend. It’s the type of book that leaves in an ache when you finish, as you realise that you miss these people, these fictional but completely real people.

Oblivion (David Foster Wallace)

Off all the people I’ve never met, it’s David Foster Wallace I miss the most. I’ll refrain from going into DFW too much and save it for another post – there’s too much to cover here. But right now, I’m reading a collection of his short stories entitled Oblivion. I’m not the biggest fan of short stories, though there are exceptions like the wonderful What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Oblivion is another exception. The stories are devastating in their impact, this air of rawness and humanity and starkness running through them. In particular, Incarnations of Burned Children and The Soul is Not A Smithy left me stunned.


My goodreads profile 

Oblivion (David Foster Wallace)

The Sweetest Dream and The Golden Notebook (Doris Lessing)

The Fisher King

Americana and White Noise (Don DeLillo)

Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Jonathan Safran-Foer)

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Michael Chabon)

Jeff Hewer (jazz guitarist) and Heather Hewer (proofreader and copy editor and she also has a great blog, Champagne Minimalist)