This past month was, surprisingly, very productive. I finished most of my final assignments for uni, ordered my room and read a lot. I enjoyed everything I read this month; there were big books, new authors, nonfiction, adventures, magic and curses.
Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson
“Nothing gives the English more pleasure,
in a quiet but determined sort of way,
than to do things oddly.”
This is my second Bryson. After reading A Walk in the Woods I was left wanting more of Bill Bryson’s humor and chose Notes From a Small Island because it was about England. What is interesting about this one is the contrast between the cultural expectatives Bryson had as a young American writer and the British reality. The book is filled with puns and funny jokes about britishness, but also many heartwarming observations of the British way of living and the unique quirks and habits that ended up defining author’s life. I must say I did not enjoy this book as much as A Walk in the Woods. It is certainly not as funny, but I’m amazed at Bryson’s talent to make any situation into an interesting anecdote. A funny, light read for lovers of England and teatime.
Heart of a Dog, Mikhail Bulgakov
“The whole horror of the situation is that
he now has a human heart, not a dog’s heart.
And about the rottenest heart in all creation!”
Bulgakov is a unique author. Heart of a Dog tells the story of Sharik, a stray dog taken in by a famous surgeon during the Soviet regime in Moscow. Little does Sharik know, he’s the chosen victim of an experiment to turn him into a man. A satire and wit only paralleled by The Master and Margarita, this is a crazy story full of cynicism, dark humor and a heart-breaking insight of humanity and animality. Heart of a Dog is a theatrical, wild ride with the only downside of being too short. One of the most interesting readings of the year.
Wind, Sand and Stars, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
“Behind all seen things lies something vaster;
everything is but a path, a portal or a window
opening on something other than iteself.”
This year I thought I would read more non-fiction. I ended up reading mostly travel books —Krakauer, Strayed, Bryson— and, by a fortunate twist of fate, revisiting a beloved author. It could seem like this book has nothing to do with The Little Prince, yet the same sense of wander and the conflicts between humans and a hostile world run through the pages of both books. Wind, Sand and Stars is a series of writings about de Saint-Exupéry’s experience as a pilot for the airmail carrier Aéropostale. He writes of the planes, the trips, of friendship and love, of death, heroism and of how it feels to be in a plane thousands of feet above the ground, all by yourself. A wonderful book.
The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern
“The circus arrives without warning.
No announcements precede it.
It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”
I read this book because a trusted friend recommended it to me. I am glad I did. At first I was not very convinced because I’m not very into YA, but I don’t even think it is a YA book. Basically, there’s a lot of magic, tarot cards and a circus. I think the best thing about this book are the descriptions of places: Morgenstern’s circus is like nothing I had read before and while I did not like the story or the dialogues that much, it was a very enjoyable read. I specially loved the parts written in the second person.
The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros
“In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means
too many letters. It means sadness, it means waiting.
It is like the number nine. A muddy color. It is the Mexican
records my father plays on Sunday mornings when he
is shaving, songs like sobbing.”
I read this book for a class, kind of. I had heard many good things about it and the author’s parents are Mexican and why the hell not. It’s been one of the cutest books I’ve read this year. This is not really a novel, it’s more a series of vignettes of what life is like in Mango street, in a mostly Chicano neighborhood in Chicago. The narrator, young Esperanza Cordero, is charming, telling of events that go from the funny to the tragic and sad in minutes. I think writing a book from the perspective of a child, as this one is at the beginning, is really hard and can have disastrous results. Cisneros, however, pulls it off and manages to deliver a strong, honest coming-of-age story that touches on complicated topics like feminism, abuse, racism and classism, but that is also heartwarming and endearing. Esperanza is one of my favorite protagonists of the year and I think this is a very relevant book right now.
The Accursed, Joyce Carol Oates
“Our lives can only be interpreted in retrospect,
yet must be lived from day to day, blindly.
What folly, the human condition!”
This was the creepiest thing I’ve read in a while and, also, my first Joyce Carol Oates novel and I can’t wait to read more of her books. It is a very complex story, but basically what you read is this historian’s account of what happened in Princeton at the beginning of the 20th century, when many women disappeared, were found dead, and other strange occurrences took place within the elite of the town. Woodrow Wilson, Upton Sinclair, Jack London and even Sherlock Holmes appear in this crazy book, as well as the devil himself and other creatures (vampires!). When his sister is “abducted” shortly after her wedding, it is up to Josiah Slade, whom we follow through the historian’s doubtful account, to solve the curse that ravages the town. This is a really entertaining, disturbing, scary, funny novel that touches on many social issues like racism and sexism. Also, it is an admirable work of fiction; I am amazed at Oates’ narrative talent and critical insight.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke
“There is nothing else in magic but the wild
thought of the bird as it casts itself into the void.
There is no creature upon the earth with such
potential for magic.”
I actually read this in November but I wanted to read it for Halloween, so. This book is many things: it has the wit, style and satire of a 19th century novel, it creates a kind of magic that is original and different from other fantasy novels, it has very complex characters, it is funny and challenging, it is really long but somehow doesn’t feel like it. It is as if Charles Dickens and JK Rowling had written something together, with some advice from Sir Walter Scott. This book is a delightful read.
I am currently rereading Jane Eyre because, well, no reason needed. Afterwards I’ll be reading Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (excited) and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Club (excited).
What are you reading? Have you read any of these?