With holidays coming up soon, and as if I haven’t already got something of a reading backlog, stocking up on reading material never seemed so justified (though not according to my husband, to the kitties, or indeed to my poor, already-bursting-at-the-seams Kindle…). So, unable to resist all there is out there to be read, and in case that, come the day, I didn’t feel like reading any of the books I already have, I went on a bit of an e-shopping spree for some light reading. Here are my latest e-book acquisitions:
1 . Kat Gordon, The Artificial Anatomy of Parks [Kindle Edition, £0.99]
I was intrigued by the title of the book, which made me stop for a little while and consider a park in its fullness and entirety and how adequately, suddenly, the word anatomy seems to fit in in its description. The title stuck in my mind and, when looking for summer bargains, the book popped up again; I reread the synopsis and it seemed interesting; I checked the rating, and it is of 4½ stars. Besides, at the price, I had very little to lose, so I decided to risk it. The fact is, I have read so many nice, well-written books lately marketed by Amazon at very low prices that I find myself coming close to the conclusion that, when it comes to books, price may perhaps no longer be a trustworthy indication of their quality.
Here’s the synopsis Amazon offers:
At twenty-one, Tallulah Park lives alone in a grimy bedsit. There’s a sink in her bedroom and a strange damp smell that means she wakes up wheezing. Then she gets the call that her father has had a heart attack.
Years before, she was being tossed around her difficult family; a world of sniping aunts, precocious cousins, emigrant pianists and lots of gin, all presided over by an unconventional grandmother. But no one was answering Tallie’s questions: why did Aunt Vivienne loathe Tallie’s mother? Why is everyone making excuses for her absent father? Who was Uncle Jack and why would no one talk about him?
As Tallie grows up, she learns the hard way about damage and betrayal, that in the end, the worst betrayals are those we inflict on ourselves. This is her story about the journey from love to loss and back again.
2. Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature: The adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science [kindle edition, £1.49]
To follow the adventures and misadventures of Alexander von Humboldt, scientist, naturalist, and theoretician of repute, at the same time that I go travelling around Europe? Could there have been a more inspired choice? I don’t think so. I have great hopes for this little book…
So, here’s the blurb:
Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) is the great lost scientist – more things are named after him than anyone else. There are towns, rivers, mountain ranges, the ocean current that runs along the South American coast, there’s a penguin, a giant squid – even the Mare Humboldtianum on the moon.
His colourful adventures read like something out of a Boy’s Own story: Humboldt explored deep into the rainforest, climbed the world’s highest volcanoes and inspired princes and presidents, scientists and poets alike. Napoleon was jealous of him; Simon Bolívar’s revolution was fuelled by his ideas; Darwin set sail on the Beagle because of Humboldt; and Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo owned all his many books. He simply was, as one contemporary put it, ‘the greatest man since the Deluge’.
Taking us on a fantastic voyage in his footsteps – racing across anthrax-infected Russia or mapping tropical rivers alive with crocodiles – Andrea Wulf shows why his life and ideas remain so important today. Humboldt predicted human-induced climate change as early as 1800, and The Invention of Nature traces his ideas as they go on to revolutionize and shape science, conservation, nature writing, politics, art and the theory of evolution. He wanted to know and understand everything and his way of thinking was so far ahead of his time that it’s only coming into its own now. Alexander von Humboldt really did invent the way we see nature.
Andrea Wulf, The Invention of Nature
[kindle edition, £2.99]
I alighted on this book quite by accident, as I was looking for something to read in French — the idea being that by language skill, it is said, is pretty much like riding a bike: you never really forget it. SO, and bearing in mind my forthcoming French holiday, here I am, working my way through a policier. Hoping that my French will make a comeback. And that my tongue can loosen up a bit, or else there’ll be no amount of reading that can help me.
Here’s the blurb:
Sixième jour de l’Armada 2008. Un marin est retrouvé poignardé au beau milieu des quais de Rouen ! Un meurtre… huit millions de témoins.
Quel tueur invisible a pu commettre ce crime impossible ? Quel étrange pacte semble lier des matelots du monde entier ? De quels trésors enfouis dans les méandres de la Seine sont-ils à la recherche ? Quel scandale dissimulent les autorités ?
Une implacable machination… qui prend en otage huit millions de touristes. Une course effrénée contre la montre avant la parade de la Seine. L’histoire de la navigation en Seine, stupéfiante et pourtant bien réelle, livre la clé de l’énigme. Les quais de Rouen, le cimetière de Villequier, les rues médiévales de Rouen, le marais Vernier… deviennent autant de scènes de cette enquête défiant l’imagination.
4. Jonathan Franzen, How to be Alone [Kindle Edition, £1.99]
The title got me. What can I say? Am I wishing and hoping the book will give me some clues as to how to achieve its title’s premise, as I reticently look ahead to three weeks of no “aloneness” at all? Quite possible that deluded, yes… It’s Franzen. Holiday light read? Erm… Seems I might have done it again. But I’ll let you know when I come back.
‘How to be Alone’, is a collection of the personal essays and painstaking, often humorous reportage that have earned Franzen a wide and loyal readership, including what has come to be known as ‘The Harper’s Essay’, Franzen’s controversial 1996 look at the fate of the novel. From the sex-advice industry to the way a supermax prison works, from his father’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease to a rueful account of Franzen’s brief tenure as an Oprah Winfrey author, each piece wrestles with Franzen’s familiar themes: the erosion of civic life and private dignity, and the hidden persistence of loneliness, in postmodern imperial America.
These collected essays record what Franzen calls ‘a movement away from an angry and frightened isolation toward an acceptance – even a celebration – of being a reader and a writer.’ They voice a wry distrust of the claims of technology and psychology, the love-hate relationship with consumerism, and the subversive belief in the tragic shape of the individual life that help make Franzen one of the sharpest, toughest-minded, and most entertaining social critics at work today.
5. Petina Gappah, The Book of Memory [Kindle Edition, £1.09]
I got to the last line of the blurb and was hooked. That was that, right there, telling me that this was a book I definitely wanted to read…
And here it is:
The story you have asked me to tell begins not with the ignominious ugliness of Lloyd’s death but on a long-ago day in April when the sun seared my blistered face and I was nine years old and my father and mother sold me to a strange man. I say my father and my mother, but really it was just my mother.
Memory, the narrator of The Book of Memory, is an albino woman languishing in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe, where she has been convicted of murder. As part of her appeal her lawyer insists that she write down what happened as she remembers it. The death penalty is a mandatory sentence for murder, and Memory is, both literally and metaphorically, writing for her life. As her story unfolds, Memory reveals that she has been tried and convicted for the murder of Lloyd Hendricks, her adopted father. But who was Lloyd Hendricks? Why does Memory feel no remorse for his death? And did everything happen exactly as she remembers?
Moving between the townships of the poor and the suburbs of the rich, and between the past and the present, Memory weaves a compelling tale of love, obsession, the relentlessness of fate and the treachery of memory.
6. Zadie Smith, On Beauty [Kindle Edition, £1.99]
As for my last two books, I believe they dispense with much of a introduction. There has been quite a lot of fuss around the two, and I decided to find out what it is all about.
Zadie Smith needs no introductions, and On Beauty, her second novel. was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Orange Prize for Fiction. The acclaim seems to be quite… erm, enthusiastic, something which further peppered my curiosity. So, without much ado, here it is:
Zadie Smith’s On Beauty is a funny, powerful and moving story about love and family
Why do we fall in love with the people we do? Why do we visit our mistakes on our children? What makes life truly beautiful?
Set in New England mainly and London partly, On Beauty concerns a pair of feuding families – the Belseys and the Kipps – and a clutch of doomed affairs. It puts low morals among high ideals and asks some searching questions about what life does to love. For the Belseys and the Kipps, the confusions – both personal and political – of our uncertain age are about to be brought close to home: right to the heart of family.
7. Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life [Kindle Edition, £3.66]
Finally, Yanagihara’s novel, which sometimes seems to be the most talked about book of the moment. If in doubt, behold: everyone I know is currently sporting a copy of A Little Life, and trying very hard to get into the gist of it. And of course I don’t want to seem contrary, and being able to chat about the book is definitely a bonus, so I decided it’s high time I give it a read too…
Here’s the blurb:
The million copy bestseller, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, is an immensely powerful and heartbreaking novel of brotherly love and the limits of human endurance.
When four graduates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome – but that will define his life forever.