Tips, links and suggestions: what are you reading this week?

Your space to discuss the books you are reading and what you think of them

Welcome to this week’s blogpost. Here’s our roundup of your comments and photos from last week.

Let’s start with some searching questions from Larts, who has been enjoying Warlight by Michael Ondaatje:

Ondaatje has the ability to draw me into the events of the novel but at the same time imbue scenes with mystery by leaving information out. As I read I have the sense of confusion and puzzlement – I am trying to piece events and characters together. It seems to be fragmentary and yet detailed, thoughtful yet careless.

The novel has also made me realise, yet again, that I do not know the significance of certain people or events in my life. I dig around for that one moment, the moment in the rose garden. Perhaps it doesn’t exist. People walk into and out of my life and I miss them, wonder what they’re doing. Do they remember the things I remember? Do they think of me? That elusive meaning … what is it? I don’t often personalise the things I read – or do I?

I’m in love with David Livesey. He’s a pipe smoking contemplative magistrate. He’s a hands on medic true to his oath but also quick to show his swashybuckle side. His powdered wig is his emotional barometer, on and off like nobody’s business … when he is het up or in a pickle. If that wasn’t enough he carries a chunk of parmesan in his snuff box. I mean, come on.

It was not an easy read due to the subject material, but all the same, I’m glad I did. The recent TV programme of the same name deviated somewhat from the book. Such a tragedy was the culmination of political pressure to exceed power output, operator error (inexperienced staff conducting a safety test which deviated from procedure, which was driven by a career climbing senior staff member) and withholding of pertinent safety issues surrounding the use of cheaper RBMK reactors (government level). When I finished the book, I came away with the feeling that human history has a tendency to repeat itself – economic/political success trumps the human cost of delivering such success.

Some of it I could have done without, I don’t really need a romantic plot to illustrate what is obvious. But it was fascinating to read about the importance of water, the corruption associated with providing it in those days, & how the people in the bay just did not recognise what was happening with the mountain. The central character for me was Pliny who literally died because he could not stop being curious. He was also rather stupid at the same time. A great read.

I thought that Homegoing was very good indeed; it surpassed my expectations. The novel tracks two branches of a family, ranging in setting from the Gold Coast as the slave trade is beginning to present day US. Each chapter is narrated by a new character, each a generation later than the last. I worried that this might be frustrating and stop me bonding with the characters but, in general, they were well-drawn and interesting enough for this not be a problem … It’s a first novel by a young author, so it’s not all perfect, but I thought it was an excellent read and recommend it.

Staying with racism infecting society (it’s been a cheerful reading fortnight), I then read The Nowhere Man by Kamala Markandaya … it’s a really good novel and quite nuanced in its portrayal; for every racist, there are several other people in the community who are well-meaning, albeit sometimes in a clumsy way … Markandaya’s prose can be a bit strange at times, causing the odd stumble in the first few pages. But, once you’re into the rhythm of it, she’s a very good writer.

Set in 1932, it focusses on the lot of Violet, a 38-year-old so-called ‘surplus woman’, in her situation of struggling to cope with loss, to make ends meet on a low-income job (afford a warm meal) and to be independent. We read about her position in her family and her developing new friendships, as Violet and others gradually and quietly push back against societal constraints. What is particular is that the author paints a detailed picture of ecclesiastical activities (the crafts of embroidery and bell-ringing) at Winchester Cathedral, where Violet finds some comfort in the community of volunteer broderers working on a project to embroider kneelers for worshippers. The scenes are well set and enjoyable; the characters come to life. The ending gave me food for thought. I won’t say anymore.

The deep and lasting resonance of Goodnight Moon.

The JD Salinger exhibition at The New York Public Library sounds incredible.

“Isn’t faux praise and elevation of mediocrity just as patronizing as the dismissal of ‘ethnic writing’?” Colin Grant considers the anxieties and complexities of furthering diversity in the literary world.

I “had a good experience” with Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron says Anthony Madrid in The Paris Review.

Reading Gaol is up for sale.

Continue reading…

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