I haven’t done a book post for a while and I thought I ought to address that. One, I’ve been reading a bit slower than usual and this time, one book at a time. Two, I do have a book problem, in that I’m addicted to buying books, and I really ought to get on with reading them rather than creating yet another book tower by the bed. Three, the books I did happen to read were not massively enthralling, so I didn’t feel compelled to recommend them.
Perhaps I should review them anyway? The thing is, I don’t feel comfortable giving anything a “negative” review. I only want to review stuff I wholeheartedly recommend. I’ll still read a book I’m not crazy about to the end though in case it livens up midway or has a blinder of an ending. That aside, I’ve had some great bookshop experiences lately.
Last week, in my local secondhand bookshop, I came across Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea. I’ve never read any Sartre and it seems like the kind of writer any reader worth their salt ought to notch on their desk post so I got it (literally only £1.29!). I also found a Vonnegut (£2!), a book of poetry by Margaret Atwood (£3!) and another book of poetry by Carol Ann Duffy (£2!). So it was a good day at the bookshop, people.
Anyway, I’ll stop banging on and let you know about some random reads I ardently recommend…
Blue Ticket by Sophie Mackintosh
This was a painfully beautiful read. So many poetic turns of phrase throughout that made me sigh. No unnecessary words are used. Some sentences are three words long. Images are painted and left hanging. An air of dystopia pervades the world. You question which country this could be happening in and you have to fill in the blanks yourself.
It deals with how women are judged within society for perfectly reasonable choices they make, and also how they are dealt with if they step over the line, drawn by an ill-natured authority. It is not for them to decide what they do with their bodies. There’s quite a parallel with what is currently happening with the anti-Abortion bill they’re trying to pass (and have passed) in certain US states. It’s not an easy read. Characters are acutely lonely for different reasons. Emotions are stark and glaring. You are left wondering what you would do in similar circumstances. Still, I found this a riveting read and – to use an overused phrase – unputdownable.
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka
I got this a year ago, and I would have experienced it differently had I read it then. It’s quite poignant to read it with a filter of war waging in the country it talks about. It’s actually a laugh-out-loud comedy and deals with relatable dysfunctional family scenarios with delightful dry humour, reminding you how “normal” your own family is.
It puts a lens on how family members can be so different and divided despite being blood-related, something I’ve always found fascinating. But also how one’s search for love can lead them to make shocking decisions that disturb the clan status quo, whilst also in some ways bringing it together. Such as your elderly dad marrying someone less than half his age so she can get a passport and all his money, and he in return gets, well, other favours. A wonderful read when taking a pause between chores or for some coffee break quiet time. Though at times the humour is dark, and darker still knowing the country it describes is being utterly destroyed as we speak.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
So I finally got round to reading some Vonnegut. And now I get why there’s so much fuss around this one. It’s a very surreal, unexpected premise for a tale. Gritty, unflinching, and at times, darkly ironic, it depicts the casual cruelty and senselessness of war told through the eyes of an accidental time traveller.
The main character has an unusual condition where he often finds himself coming unstuck in time so he is able to experience different moments in his life simultaneously. He is flung hither and yon from one reality to another, the main one being his experience of the deplorable fire bombing of Dresden in 1945, controversial because the war was coming to an end and it was therefore unnecessary (though of course, all war is unnecessary).
In a weird way, I found the whole tale very plausible. I could imagine someone having this condition. The ability to time travel as another level of extra sensory perception. And despite the subject matter, this book is infinitely readable because it’s peppered with such brilliant nuggets of wisdom and moments of candid comedy throughout.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
I’ve read this before but recently I had a strong urge to read it again and it was just as enchanting as I remembered it. Hemingway always takes me a while to get into, but this tale will gently sweep you away. We learn about the strange and beautiful behaviour of fish at sea told through the eyes of an age-old fisherman. We share his lamentation and the ongoing brotherly battle of wills between him and the sea creature he is trying to overcome, as they refuse to give in to each other. Both are at the other’s mercy and beyond help. This story really speaks of the bonding between man and beast. It’s moving and humbling. You’ll probably get a lump in your throat. It may well put you off fishing. It’ll certainly renew your respect for the sea.
I’m now spoilt for choice as to what to read next but it’s a lovely dilemma to have.
What are you reading at the moment?
© N Nazir 2022