Some good reads

All my bookshelves are full, there are boxes of books under the eaves of the attic, which I am just hoping will continue to survive the temperature and heat fluctuations throughout the year, and this is one of the piles of books to be read, currently at least taking up only one corner of one room.

Piles of books

My solution to this was to ignore the piles completely and read a few books I had on my Kindle which I had also not got to.

It appears that some people read only one book at a time. I learned this recently. I thought everyone had several on the go at the same time. I think I must average about five at a time, or at least five that I consider I am  conscious that I think I am reading. At the moment, I think that equates to a biography of someone nobody else will have heard of (he ran a part of the East German government), the autobiography of one of the original small group that came back to Germany from the Soviet Union immediately after the war, a book by Joseph Stiglitz on why inequality is such a bad thing for everybody, a novel by Stephen King in audiobook format (I’m about a third of the way into it and I have no idea what it’s even about – strange for him), a superb novel by Elizabeth McGregor (total surprise find on my Kindle, it must have been on offer at some point), and I think I’m trying to read Gone Girl but not very committed to that one after a few chapters. Oh, and then there’s Thomas Piketty’s book… that’s hard going, I don’t think I’m really reading that one.

I think I am slowly winning, though, having got through three novels in about as many weeks. At that rate, I might have started to make a dent in the unread ones by the end of the year. And I’m really trying not to look at the books coming out soon.

Here are some thoughts on the two most recent novels I finished.

All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and about a gazillion other awards. My experience is that this does not necessarily mean they will be a good read, as opposed to of enduring literary merit. For me, literary merit is fine as long as it’s a good read. This book is the story of a French girl and a German boy who grow up in the years before and during the Second World War. The girl, Marie-Laure, is blind and her father makes elaborate models of where they live, by which she learns to navigate the real world outside. Her world is turned upside down when she has to flee Paris and ends up in a small village by the coast in the house of her apparently mad great-uncle. Meanwhile, Werner grows up in the industrial heartland of Nazi Germany. He is far too bright to accept the fate decreed for him of going to work at fifteen in the coal mines which are powering the new empire, but the dream of becoming involved in the technical advances propelling the war forward moves slowly into the nightmare reality of that war.

I was bowled over by the writing of this book. It went at such a pace it was too easy to miss the beauty of the language which was everywhere.

His voice is low and soft, a piece of silk you might keep in a drawer and pull out only on rare occasions, just to feel it between your fingers.

Time is a slippery thing: lose hold of it once, and its string might sail out of your hands forever.

To shut your eyes is to guess nothing of blindness. Beneath your world of skies and faces and buildings exists a rawer and older world, a  place where surface planes disintegrate and sounds ribbon in shoals through the air.

Each chapter is so tightly written that it’s hard to believe he gets through so much so quickly without anything missing. There are multiple themes running throughout the book, and a constant expectation of what is to come, if and how the two characters will ever meet and what will become of them.

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer is a fairly disconcerting read. This might have to do with the fact that there is something decidedly not normal about the narrator (to say any more would give too much away). His interactions with his family, with strangers, with everyone, are very strange. And the writing captures what is going on in the narrator’s head in a way that really has you wondering if you have any idea what is real and what is just in his head.

We are unsure what happened between the narrator and his brother, a mystery which unravels and at times re-ravels (is that even a word?). And we remain unsure about a lot of what is going on, or not going on, throughout.

There is one particular feature of the book which was a first for me. The font changes from time to time depending on when the narrator was writing that particular part. The whole book is a series of scraps of writing from different times, in different places, and from different mental states. It’s very effective, but the overall sense of the book remains – disconcerting. But very clever and convincing.

I think this counts as reading more widely – it took me two attempts to get beyond the first chapter of The Shock of the Fall, but once I got that little bit further, it was compelling.

Seeing how these novels are constructed is incredibly helpful. And I’m now finding that I’m figuring out more of the twists and endings in both novels and films. I have also learned not to mention this at the end of a film when I’ve watched it with the girls and had to wait for half of it to confirm what I suspected.

Meanwhile, I have to get back to that pile at some point.


One Commentto Some good reads

  1. Jenny Allen says:

    I can relate to having piles of book waiting to be read – so many books and not enough hours to read them all as soon as I would like!

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