“The poet shouted that freedom was poetry’s duty, and that even a metaphor was worth fighting for.” — Milan Kundera, Life is Elsewhere
Almost surprisingly for a Kundera novel, I can actually summarise this one quite neatly. It’s the story of Jaromil, a boy growing up in Czechoslovakia (true fact: I had to check my history dates in order to know whether to say Czechoslovakia or the Czech Republic), his parents, especially his mother and the influence of social change, love, and family on our lives. Jaromil is from the very beginning announced by Kundera as a poet, before he is born, before we have gained an impression of him, before we are allowed to decide for ourselves whether he is fit to hold the title of poet. This means that even while he is going through a painting phase, you are waiting for him to put down his brush and pick up his pen, you want to read his poetry, you want to know what makes how he sees the world so different from everyone else.
The book is split into seven sections that flow into each quite well, and I enjoyed it immensely from the very beginning, although when Xaiver was first introduced I went through the pages in a state of confusion (which was cleared up later). Kundera gives us a first-hand account of how someone could so fully support a doctrine, even when it is clearly creating causalities, and that is both disturbing (when you like the character) and enlightening. That said, though, the political aspect of the book did not drown out the emotional and human aspect of it, which was by far the more dominant. I enjoyed reading through Jaromil’s life, even when I completely disagreed with him, even when I thought he should get his head checked, even when I found myself liking him.
I remain a faithful fan of Milan Kundera, and I can’t wait to pick up another of his books.
This was actually more difficult that I expected it to be. I’m going to give suggestions I think you’ll enjoy if you enjoyed those, though they may not match up perfectly, writing-style wise.
Jon McGregor (start with If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things), Tom McCarthy (Remainder), Dave Eggers (pretty much anything), Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Carlos Ruiz Zafon (The Shadow of the Wind). Possibly Jeffrey Eugenides, Milan Kundera and Colum McCann as well, although I may be projecting because they’re some of my favourite authors.
I’m getting really tired of concert tickets being so damn expensive. For you US$ folk, that’s 85 bucks. That’s the cheapest available! I’m sorry, that’s mental.
Over the years, I’ve learnt never to say never, but it’s a pretty safe bet that I would not buy an e-book reader. I would consider it if textbooks and encyclopedias were released on it, because it would make life so much easier, but not for anything else.
As to whether I’d reread any of the books I read this year — absolutely! I’ve read some pretty amazing things this year. I’d happily reread Murakami, Eggers, Milton’s incomparable Paradise Lost, Hesse, Nabokov, Kundera, Krauss (which was already a reread), Vonnegut, Orwell, Diaz and Woolf.
Kiss Kiss is a collection of short stories. Roald Dahl actually wrote quite a lot of them, although they tend to be overshadowed by his children’s novels. I am one of the biggest Dahl fans there is, the man was one of the best children’s writers the world has ever seen. The only thing I’ve read by him (apart from his entire catalogue of children’s books) is his autobiography, Boy and Going Solo, both of which I absolutely loved.
I bought this a couple of years ago, and I’m not sure why, but it remained on my shelf for a while. I’ve recently been on a huge short story kick. I’d never really read many, apart from in magazines (The New Yorker etc) and online zines, and this year woken me up to the amazing talent there is. Credit where credit is due: this was largely thanks to Eugenides’ astounding collection, My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead, followed very shortly after by Dave Eggers. Since, I have read various masters of the craft and when I saw this on my shelf, I knew I had to read it.
The stories are disturbing. There’s a short about a man who, after he died, got his brain taken out and hooked onto a machine to continue pumping blood through it, so that he would remain ‘alive’. All that was left was a brain and two eyeballs that would float in a basin. Please visualise that, and then continue. There’s a short about Hitler’s parents. There’s a couple I didn’t prefer, that bored me slightly, but for the most part, I really liked the collection. They’re all well written, of course, but the combination of a very British sensibility combined with utterly bizarre, disturbing stories does make you pause.
But when you resume, you realise: Roald Dahl was not only a master of children’s literature. He was a master.
Interviewer: Who else do you like right now?
Brandon Flowers: I love the National. I don’t get bored of [new album High Violet]. I would have killed to write “Bloodbuzz Ohio”. It’s amazing.
Isn’t it great when one of your favourite artist loves another one of your favourite artists?
This week I’m recommending the very lovely Philippa. She doesn’t post half as much as you wish she would, but she reads good books and reviews them, and is a wonderful person to boot. So go forth and follow her!
And, as always, if you like what I do at all, you can recommend me. I’ll appreciate it and I will say things like you are the apple of my eye.
Both! I’m a neat freak, so even when I indulge in marginalia I’m neat about it. I didn’t used to like writing in my books — in fact, I used to freak when the spine would crease. But now I want to be able to reread my books in the future and know what I thought the first time I read it, I want to be able to find favourite quotes easily, I want to engage in the writing more.
So I’m very neat about it. I underline with a ruler, I write neatly in the margins and only when I have something I actually want to write down. But all of my books are kept in perfect condition.
“It’s never the changes we want that change everything,” — Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
This is one of the books where I feel like leaving you all with a two-word review: Read it. I won’t, I’ll elaborate, but just know — those two words are sufficient.
For a book that is so widely acclaimed, I actually managed to remain totally unspoiled, to the point where I didn’t even know what the book was about. I knew it was about an overweight nerd who wanted to be the next Tolkien, but if you’ve read the book, you know that’s not really an accurate summary of it at all.
I also wasn’t aware of Diaz’s style. He unapologetically mixes Spanish with English, to the point where got my Spanish dictionary out for a couple of words. For the most part, though, a dictionary is unnecessary, as the story line and sentence structure inform you of the meaning pretty quickly. I did wish, repeatedly, that my Spanish was better, though. I think it would’ve heightened my enjoyment of the book, although I can scarcely imagine loving it more than I did.
Finally, I thought the story would focus on Oscar the entire way through, but it went back and forth through different generations and characters, although it retained the same narrator (this helped retain a sense of consistency). I love every single part.
My ignorance of the terrible situation the Dominican Republic went through came to light. Obviously I knew they went through a tremulous time, but I had no idea of the actual events and I was a little ashamed of my ignorance. I looked it up afterwards and read up on it, but it actually made the book even more obscure — I didn’t know where fact stopped and fiction began, and that made it kind of poetic.
It is so beautifully written. My only qualm with Diaz is that he doesn’t have a bigger catalogue for me to work through while I wait for his next novel. Drown is already in my Amazon wishlist and will purchased very soon, I’m sure.
I’m pretty open about all aspects of my life on tumblr, so forgive me if I don’t want to pinpoint my actual location. I will say that I live close to Edinburgh.
I don’t know that many tumblrs from Scotland, either, though! Dia duit, my friend.
The reason I buy Penguin Classics is simple: they’re the ones most readily available to someone living in the UK. Barnes & Noble Classics are more available in the US, I believe. That said, I’d chose Penguin Classics over almost any other version. I love the covers, I like the introductions, I like how they are generally very faithful to original texts.
I don’t know what you mean by “they use different words”, though. If it’s the same book, they would have to publish the same words.
Edit: If, as happyfrappy suggests, Anon is referring to translations, then it all depends. Penguin regularly publishes some of the best translations, but occasionally a great translator will work with another publishing company. It’s subjective. For the most part, though, even if they don’t have the ‘best’ translator for a specific book (though they often do), they’re pretty great anyway.
Since I won’t have a book review up for awhile, I’ll just suggest some other book/writing related Tumblrs:
Laala - She’s 20 years old and lives in Scotland. She reviews books and takes photographs. She has her own personality and embraces it. Laala reads more than anyone I know and willing to answer most of your questions and recommend books. I greatly admire how driven and intelligent she is.
Oh, Elphie, this is really sweet. Thank you. Thanks also to: quicksoup, plumfield and ricktimus, all of whom have personally recommended me/talked about me on their blogs. You are all very very lovely.
[PS- quicksoup, I would happily peruse a bookstore with you.]
The full size version is my background, but I’ve posted it before. Click on the link :)
No, I haven’t, although I’ve picked up The Little Stranger several times this year. She’s definitely on my list of someday-reads.
I buy almost all of my books. I love love libraries, but unfortunately in Bahrain (where I am from), libraries with extensive collections (with books in English) simply don’t exist. Books here are sold at inflated prices, because they have to be shipped over, so reading is an expensive pass-time.
When I moved to the UK for university (two years ago), I continued buying books because that’s what I know. The books are cheaper, even when bought at full cover price, and I use Amazon often. I do borrow books from the library, but my town is a small one that is filled withe secondhand bookshops, and people generally use secondhand bookshops like most people use libraries.
I sincerely hope the future for libraries is sound, but I’m not so sure. With governments cutting everyone’s budgets, libraries are one of the first to suffer, which is absolutely ridiculous. I think for libraries to successfully survive they will have to diversify, although I have no idea in what ways. That said, though, people will always want to read (hopefully!) and some people will always be unable to afford books/have the space to store an endless amount.
I thought of becoming a librarian once, but to be honest, never very seriously. It’s definitely a job that I respect, but I have always been completely enamored with writing, and with psychology, and I want to become a psychologist in order to help people.
I own 800 books, give or take a couple. Considering I’ve bought every book I own (save for a maximum of about thirty that were given to me as gifts), I’m proud of my little collection.