What I read this month – Jan 2020

Usually I try to post a blog near the beginning of the month with a look at what I’m reading or planning to read over the month. It’s been an unusual month, however, in that post-Christmas and winding up space, with plenty of projects on the go and marking to be done. So here we are, Burns Night (or St Dwynwyn’s Day, as some of the Welsh luvvies have it… plus Chinese New Year, so gung hay fat choy for your Year of the Rat), and I just finished Olga Tokarczuk’s remarkable book Flights, so I thought I’d briefly write about it here.

cover image of Olga Tokarczuk's Flights Savvy readers (there must be one or two of you out there) will recall that I put this on my to-read list for October, conveniently timed after her Nobel Prize win. We happened to be going to the bookshop anyway so the kids could spend their Granny-gifted book tokens, and there it was. The news so fresh, it didn’t yet have a sticker which the clever Fitzcarraldo people have since added to it – a transparent sticker identifying her Nobel win. It’s a shame, because the gorgeous simplicity of the cover is what drove me to Tokarczuk in the first place, when I spotted Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead last year. This edition did have a sticker on it helpfully telling me it won the Man Booker International Prize for 2018, but I pulled it off and stuck it on an inside page. Why let the prizes that support book sales get in the way of aesthetics?

I did not, however, get to it then. Instead, it’s been my bedside table companion through most of January. And it’s been productive – the general motif of flight and human motion helped me with some other writing I’ve been doing this week, whilst the final narrative we get in the book has me kicking myself for not becoming an expert on ancient Greece instead of contemporary media engagement with Muslims… I doubt anyone will invite me to give lectures on an island-hopping cruise through the Dodecanese when I’m retired, and all I can do now is feel bad about my decisions. Continue reading

What I’m reading this month – Oct 2019

I’m starting this blog with what I will be reading rather than what I’m currently reading, really  just for the visual imprint of the book cover. I am still working my way through the final of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, about which more in a moment, but the first picture I attach to the post is, typically, the one that gets to show itself on the social media previews. (I suppose I could learn how to control that element better, but I am not that motivated to learn how. I could do many things to amplify the visibility of this blog, like writing about Pizza Express on the day it’s trending on Twitter. But generally, I’m happier letting it find its own audience and then bitterly cursing the medium and the general public when it doesn’t.)

I digress.

My mother in law is visiting, and we took a drive up to the very just-so town of Hay-on-Wye last weekend.  Yes, there were pleasant coffee shops and charity shops and antique shops, but the real reason anyone goes there is the bookshops. We made our pilgrimage, and everybody got something interesting. It was really hard for the elder two children to choose, because of course saying yes to something means saying no to (many) other things. My choice was a bit easier: a very attractively covered copy of On Patagonia by Bruce Chatwin was on the newly arrived shelf, and that seemed the right sort of purchase. I even took its picture to get ready for writing this blog.

Cover of Olga Tokarczuk’s FlightsBut then the Nobel Prize for Literature happened. My wife and I had wondered a little bit ago whether this would be Margaret Atwood’s year. She’s been tipped before – around the time of the publication of The Blind Assassin, I believe – and now there’s all this renewed buzz. I also thought, though, that she shares some features with Kazuo Ishiguro and Alice Munro – not their love-child or anything, but exhibiting qualities from both camps in a way that might make a panel of jurists think “we’ve had that recently”. Continue reading