New Year, New Books.
December 30, 2012 § 1 Comment
As another year draws to a close, I started to reflect upon the stacks (and boxes and boxes) of books that are scattered all over my room and fill up my shed. It’s weird, because I’m really not a materialistic person at all. But, thinking about moving back to Europe, I’m realizing how hard it will be to leave all of these friends behind. Especially all of the ones that I have already read- the underlined ones with colors and smiley faces in them that have accompanied me through long work shifts, bed-inducing sicknesses, and transatlantic plane rides. And while I wouldn’t love to share them with others, I don’t want to give them away; does that make me selfish?
But share I shall, at least here. I am proud to say that I have read a lot of good books this year. And, while there are many more books that I am dying to read, I have a new year’s resolution that will be both extremely difficult and extremely satisfying to adhere to: Not Read Any Books In English. Woah. Right? But, it’s time to start working on the French, Polish, German, and Italian stacks as well.
But, until then… here’s a list of books that I thoroughly enjoyed this year:
Absolution, Olaf Olafsson
Probably my favorite book of the year- and there has been no lack of good literature to pick from. In this gripping novel, we are transported into the mind of Peter Peterson, a highly successful businessman that, half a century ago, fled from a crime that he crafted himself. And as we try to understand what this deep, dark crime is, we also discover an assembly of emotions and characters that staged the perfect climax for unrequited love. And throughout this journey that has a conclusion that will leave you flipping back through the pages, there are many beautiful descriptors of wine and music. In fact, so many quotes that make me happy, that I wrote a blog entry about it a while ago: voila, Absolution post.
This book isn’t particularly long, but it has so much dark and guilty awesomeness packed into it, that it’s almost overwhelming. If your New Year’s resolution is to read more books (as it should be), start with this one.
Nocturnes, Kazuo Ishiguro
I’m not an expert on short stories, and I haven’t really fallen in love with a collection yet- until I found this book, that is. Ishiguro is the author of Never Let Me Go and Remains of the Day, if you’re wondering what you’re getting yourself into. It’s right up my alley. And it reads just like you would expect a nocturne to sound like
There are five stories about music and nightfall, about love and loss, about life and its fragility. From the canals of Venice to the cosmetic surgery rooms of a luxurious American hotel, these themes reoccur in varying balances and colors, but always reinforce the main melody. I think I would almost suggest reading each story a different night, just to give time for proper digestion… because while I thoroughly enjoyed the collection, I kept trying to juggle all of them after finishing the book, and sometimes they got in the way of each other.
The Bookseller of Kabul, Asne Seierstad
This book is non-fiction, although it reads just like a finely-crafted late-night story in front of the fireplace… though a bleak, rough story that left me feeling dusty and grimy. Asne Seierstad is a reporter that went to Afghanistan two weeks after the September 11 bombings, and ended up spending three months in Kabul. She wore a burka and lived in the house of a bookseller and his traditional Afghan family. She recorded each of the character’s stories, and presented us with this memoir of her discoveries about a nation hidden behind a veil.
Lyrically written, honest, and rich with tastes and scents, this book transported me to the streets of Kabul and invited me to share the joys and sorrows (and there definitely are a significantly larger amount of sorrows than joys) of the characters living under this roof. At the end of the book, I wish I could have jumped into their world and shook a few people until they saw daylight- but that has yet to happen.
Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson
I’ve been repeatedly buying this book from Half Price Books for a couple of years now, and probably have a copy in every country where I have a base. I am very glad that I finally got around to reading it.
This book doesn’t even seem like fiction; the details, characters, historical events, maritime lingo, and judicial developments all seem like an extremely thorough and heart-felt recording of something that has really happened. Set on an island off the coast of Washington, this is a story of fishermen and berry farmers, and a murder trail that shocked the population. Set against the fresh wounds of World War II, this is also a story of racism, wounds, and culture. And, regardless of the exact heartbeat, love.
La Mongolfiera, Mario Lodi
This is a children’s book… but, every once in a while, we need something short and sweet with cute illustrations (I cannot find the cover that I have anywhere online, but once I make another trip to my Shed of Books, I will upload the proper picture) to make us smile. Especially if we usually tend to read dark and deep books about life and existence and love and death. So, this was my cookie with colorful sprinkles this year.
A group of school children build a hot air balloon and take a trip through the world (mostly Italy, but a couple of quick jumps outside of its boundaries) with their professor and learn about life- a much more effective method than reading textbooks, if you ask me. I loved the hand-drawn pictures inside and the path of their travels- especially since they landed in ANCONA and then went to go explore the GROTTE DI FRASASSI and then went to go play with GATTI in ROMA before flying over to SARDEGNA. Whew, what an awesome lineup : )
The Geography of Bliss, Eric Weiner
This might have just been the most interesting (in the sense of refreshing and unusual) book that I have read in a long time. And I thoroughly enjoyed the concept: one grumpy man’s search for the happiest place in the world. A former correspondent for NPR, Eric Weiner decides to set forth in the world and find where, not what, makes a person happy. Traveling through a certain number of countries in the world (the chapter dedicated to Iceland is my favorite; anyone who has fallen in love with a country just because will doubtlessly relate), Weiner uses a combination of travel memoir, psychology, science, personal reflections, and his crabby humour to try to justify the phenomenon of happiness. And while I learned many things about various countries and the mind, what made this most enjoyable was the writing style (I was giggling out loud for the entire 368 pages), and the depiction of an individual’s relationship to its surroundings.
I don’t believe that there is a particular revelation or answer after the year of travel, but it will certainly make you think about what it is that creates happiness for you, and where you can find it. And how far you’re willing to go for it- if you have to do anywhere for it in the first place, that is.
Novecento, Alessandro Barrico
A story about Danny Boodman T.D. Lemon Novecento, a world-renowned pianist that was born and discovered on a grande cruise ship, and has never set foot off the ship. One day, a trombonist boards the ship to join the ship’s orchestra, in which he meets Novecento. This dramatic monologue is told from the trombonist’s point of view, as he recounts his friendship and adventures with the talented musician.
Short, but a great read. There’s some wonderful passages, and the diction is lovely, especially for one fascinated by all of the slithering, seductive sounds found in the Italian language.
Tutto Torna, Giulia Carcasi
I loved this book for multiple reasons, one of them being that it was the first real non-school required Italian book that I read. I walked into an Italian bookstore and spent an hour searching for the perfect cover and the perfect synopsis, and I walked away with this, and it was satisfying to the last word.
This is a story about a man who meets a girl on a train when it stalls in a tunnel, the lights go out, and the man faints . The man teaches vocabulary, and tends to categorize and define everything, and assign numbers and dates to every event in life. The girl is a mystery, and continues to be, even when the book ends. Attempting to search for perfection, this book explores how close distance can be and how honest lies sometimes are.
It was very easy to read (and this is coming from someone who’s Italian is definitely not perfect yet), but there was abundant beauty and complexity in its simplicity. There were some really great phrases, motifs, and descriptions scattered heavily throughout the novel. Quick read that makes you re-read passages over and over again, and continues to circle around your head for days afterward.
Tu, Mio, Erri De Luca
On an island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, in the 1950’s, a boy grows up over the summer. A story of self-discovery against a post-war backdrop, the lifestyle of a fishing family is painted with influences from the war and a girl with a strange name that one day appears. As the boy tries to remain loyal to what he has been brought up with, he also tries to understand the strange fascination that he and the girl share for each other- even if it is forbidden and more based in the past than in present reality. Not very uplifting, but a great adventure of adolescent growth.
Not to mention that my fishing vocabulary (in both Italian and English) greatly improved after reading this book. And I became better acquainted with the napoletano dialect.
Room, Emma Donoghue
This book mutually disgusted and fascinated me, and I’m still not suite sure which feeling holds dominance over the over. Based on true events, Donoghue’s novel tells the story of a mother and a son who are imprisoned in a shed by an abusive, sick-minded man. Through the eyes of 5-year-old Jack, we hear all about their life in an 11″ x 11″ room; the place that he was born in and the place that he has never left. He is oblivious of the outside world; sunshine and birds and flowers and animals and oceans are foreign to him, things that exist only inside the television.
Until one day, when his 27-year old mother decides to break the illusion and attempt escape. What follows is the disillusionment of reality; or, rather, the very question of what is reality, of what is safe, and what is home. And what is outside of Room.
“Italians say that someone who acquires a new language ‘possesses’ it. In my case, Italian possesses me. With Italian racing like blood through my veins, I do indeed see with different eyes, hear with different ears, and drink in the world with all my senses…”
If you wish to be Italian, you must master the language; that’s a fact. This is one woman’s quest to do just that, and through her stories, we explore art, culture, history, food, love, music, and more- all intertwined with this seductive language that has shaped a nation for thousands of years.
The Lost Girls, Jennifer Baggett, Holly C. Corbett and Amanda Pressner
So, I felt kinda embarrassed to put this one up here. It’s one of those books you buy, take the cover off, gulp it down in one long plane ride, and then leave it on the seat without much regret. It’s a chick-flick-y book without much literary substance, and the writing style tends to be unnecessarily over-descriptive (yes, we get the the steaming cup of coffee is hot). But, for something lighter and more fun, maybe inspirational, this book is a pretty valid candidate. What can I say? My wanderlust doesn’t take much to ignite.
Three girls, all over-worked and at various stages of relationships, live in the hussle-and-bussle of New York. They decide that they are tired of it, so they take off for a year and travel the world: the party scenes and jungles of South America, volunteer work in Africa, spirituality and love in Asia. They return, changed, improved, grown up. Kind of cheesy, yes. But if you’re craving a travel read without too much investment, it’ll do : )
[Other note-worthy books from the past few months include: Sentiero dei Nidi di Ragno by Italo Calvino, Small Wars by Sadie Jones, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, Italian Neighbors by Tim Parks, The Pleasing Hour by Lily King, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, Cosa c’è dietro le stelle? by Jostein Gaarder, Little Bee by Chris Cleave, and The Maytrees by Annie Dillard. How’s that for the most random collection ever?]