When I was first getting started in blogging, back in 2006 and well before I had even conceived of the idea of a food blog, I reviewed books I read. I read all kinds of books, so there was always a variety. Sometimes I miss writing and blogging about books I’m reading. I love talking about books, as they’re often a source for interesting conversation and discussion. I also love to learn about what others are reading, and it’s how I sometimes discover new reads I’m not sure I would have heard of otherwise.
With this in mind, this post is my personal reading highlights for this month. I’m mostly reading biographies and historical fiction at the moment. I would love to hear what you’re currently reading, so leave a comment below!
I found again an old notebook of mine that I’d started in 2007, for keeping track of books one has or is reading. It was with fond memories as I read about my discovering of Twelfth Night and The Count of Monte Cristo within the same month, and it astonishes me just how much their respective impact is still with me. Monte Cristo is still among one of my favourites of all time (and, coincidentally, ties in with one of the books I read this month that I’ve included). Twelfth Night was just part of the beginning of my exploration of Shakespeare and the development of my passion for his work.
I have started to use again said notebook, keeping track of what I read this month and in December, noting the last book I read in 2012 was P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves in the Offing: a delightful read with wonderful language. I would stop reading more than once just to savour a particular passage, or read it over and over such as this sentence (that I’ve since committed to memory): “He shall feel upon the mantle of his cheek the blush of shame and remorse.”
From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjón: This was my first book to read in 2013, although I first came across it in December. I’m not sure how I found out about it, except that I was reading on the Internet. The author, Sjón, is also a poet and has written lyrics for Björk (one of my favourite singers and whom, I think I’m safe to say, I’ve been a lifelong fan of). Translated by Victoria Cribb, it is set in fifteenth century Iceland and the protagonist, Jónas “the Learned” Palmason, is a naturalist who has been banished to eastern Iceland for his practices (which local authorities condemn as sorcery and necromancy). The novel is mostly told through his recollections of various events from his life before exile, including what lead to him being exiled. Written in a stream of consciousness style, it flows like a current as it is allowed to wash over the reader – rather than fight with or against what is sometimes a challenging style to read. Through some research, I found out that Jónas the Learned is based on a real person, Jon Gudmundsson – who is so obscure that it is hard to find any information about him; he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page – and has close parallels, although what is fact and what is fiction seems to be blurred.
The Black Count by Tom Reiss: We’re all familiar with The Three Muskateers, The Man in the Iron Mask, and, my favourite, The Count of Monte Cristo but chances are likely most people have never heard of Alexandre Dumas’ father, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas: a general that served under Napoleon and through circumstance of history, has become largely forgotten though he was famous and renowned back in his day. (He even had a statue, until the Nazis melted it down during World War II and it has not been replaced yet to this day – although there was a petition to amend this.) I first heard of this book late last year on NPR and the story is both fascinating and astonishing. Now that I’ve read this book, I feel compelled to take yet another stab at reading The Last Cavalier, Alexandre Dumas’ posthumous (and unfinished) work that was discovered by Dumas scholar Claude Schopp. I’ve tried yea many times, yet just couldn’t get into it before except for the introduction that included detailed extensions of the notes he found, which made a story unto itself.
War Horse by Michael Morpurgo: Usually, I’m the kind of person who reads the book first, then watches the movie but this time, I read the book after seeing the movie. I saw the movie War Horse after Christmas, shortly before I went to go see another gut-wrenching film with a friend (Les Misérables – another movie that I’ve now seen, but not read the book). This wasn’t my intention and is not an example of my regular film-watching, FYI. War Horse is a story set during World War I, with the war seen from the horse’s eyes, Joey, as he first begins on the English side, then the German side, along the way touching everyone that he meets and finally joining his master again at the end. I was surprised to learn that it was a children’s book. The horrors of the war are not described in graphic detail and are only lightly touched upon or alluded to, given the nature of the protagonist, such as when Joey notices “a lightness on his back” during the cavalry charge and that is perhaps this book’s strength. The weight of the war is mostly conveyed through atmosphere and mood. I read it with an open mind, though could not help comparing certain points to the movie. The book has much more packed into it than the movie version, although it also seems slower paced but that doesn’t detract from it, rather it’s the story in a different format that allows it. There are scenes that play out differently than they did in the movie, and vise versa, and for the movie’s sake I can see why parts or aspects were changed for more impact.
The Cardturner by Louis Sachar: This was a Christmas gift and I read it the following morning on Boxing Day. I’ve read other books by Louis Sachar, but this was one I had never heard of. It isn’t technically a January read, though it deserves a notable mention. The simple answer is that it’s a book about bridge, the card game (the plot revolves around it and the game is explained throughout). Yet at a deeper level it’s also about relationships (an uncle and his nephew, his nephew and a girl that everyone thinks is crazy), gossip in and about family and the misunderstandings grown from it (the girl that everyone thinks is crazy but is actually more than she appears to be), and the trust – and love – built from learning to understand one another and accept each other’s differences. One doesn’t need to know how to play bridge to enjoy this book, and yet you might come away from it with some curiosity about it as I did. It’s one of the best fiction books I’ve read in a long time and I recommend it to everyone.