Holidays are here (almost). And holidays for me mean that time of year when I try really hard to unwind and think of absolutely nothing and do absolutely nothing except gazing at the clear deep blue skies and, yes, read until my eyes (almost) pop out.
This year I have it all planned out: a month of pure, uninterrupted reading bliss in early summer as we traipse around Europe… This will be followed by another month or so at home with their majesties, doing bits here and there (i.e., spurring man on to do some diy while I finish tweaking the blog and write, write, write).
Then, in late summer and early autumn, there will be yet another month or so of pretty much the same bliss, but without the timetables and routines imposed by cohabitation with Their Cattinesses and my fellow cat herder. Just me, the patio, the old rickety wicker armchair, a couple of cushions, a foot stool, the rustling of the trees and the Portuguese fair weather, and the beautiful deep blue skies to stare at and daydream.
There. In the manifest impossibility of having a beach, the sun, a towel and a book all to myself (as Gil Elvgreen’s pinup poster suggests), these will be my three instances of as near heaven as I can get – for which I have been stocking up quite judiciously and in abundance (He-Herder refers to my book foraging by such unflattering names as ‘hoarding’ and ‘stock-piling’, but what does he know of these things?).
So, and without further ado, here’s the herding up of some of my so far unread or unfinished book acquisitions of the past six months, and a preview of what I shall be happily digging into for the next few weeks and again in September.
Out on the patio, lazily…
Out on the patio, lazily, soaking up the mildness of the autumn sun. Or while on the rocking chair in my bedroom. Or on the beach. The solidity of paper between my fingers, the weight of the book on my knees, and all the while trying to forget that, for a self-confessed environmentalist like me, ‘paradoxical’ is the mildest adjective that can be applied to my love of physical, ‘old fashioned’ books. Here are the three treasures I reserved for those special moments:
1 . Chris Forhan, My Father Before me
All right. So Forhan’s book is not exactly an acquisition in the usual sense of the word, inasmuch as it wasn’t bought, but won on a give away by Literary Hub – which is one of my favourite online hang outs for what’s best and newest in creative non-fiction.
My Father Before Me is a memoir, a genre I have just begun to delve into through my interest in creative writing and, especially, in creative non-fiction.
Here’s the inside jacket:
The fifth of eight children, Chris Forhan was born into a family of secrets. He and his siblings learned, without being told, that certain thoughts and feelings were not to be shared. On the evenings his father didn’t come home, the rest of the family would eat dinner without him, his whereabouts unknown, his absence pronounced but not mentioned. And on a cold night in 1973, just before Christmas, Forhan’s father killed himself in the carport.
Forty years later, Forhan dives headlong into his family past, illuminating the silence and stoicism of his ancestors and the ripple effect it had on generations to follow. At the heart of this riveting investigation is Forhan’s father, a man whose crisp suits and gelled hair belied a darkness he could not control, a man whose striking dichotomy embodied the ethos of an era. Weaving together the lives of his ancestors and his parents and his own coming-of-age in the 60s and 70s, Forhan paints an unforgettable portrait of a family, a nation, and a son finding himself.
With its finely hewn language, its ear for cadence and rhythm, its wisdom, heart, and insight, My Father Before Me is the kind of epic, immersive memoir that comes along once in a decade.
I am really, so looking forward to reading this book! Maybe I am expecting too much, but I don’t think so. From the bits I read here and there, the language is sparse and carefully hewn, there seems to be absolute precision of meaning, and an approach and perspective that are almost dispassionate without being in any way cold or detached. The browsing riveted me – but I’ll let you know when I’ve finished.
2 . Robert Harris, Dictator
Again, not strictly an ‘acquisition’, but a Christmas present (has it been that long ago…?) from my best friend, who is only too aware of my almost absolute bias regarding any fiction Robert Harris writes. I love all of Harris’ books, and his “Roman” books in particular (Pompeii included). Dictator is the 3rd book in the so-called ‘Cicero Trilogy’ [Imperium > Lustrum > Dictator], which follows the rise and fall of Cicero, and the ascension to power of Julius Caesar.
Here’s the inside cover synopsis:
There was a time when Cicero held Caesar’s life in the palm of his hand. But now Caesar is the dominant figure and Cicero’s life is in ruins.
Exiled, separated from his wife and children, his possessions confiscated, his life constantly in danger, Cicero is tormented by the knowledge that he has sacrificed power for the sake of his principles.
His comeback requires wit, skill and courage – and for a brief and glorious period, the legendary orator is once more the supreme senator in Rome.
But politics is never static and no statesman, however cunning, can safeguard against the ambition and corruption of others.
Riveting and tumultuous, Dictator encompasses some of the most epic events in human history yet is also an intimate portrait of a brilliant, flawed, frequently fearful yet ultimately brave man – a hero for his time and for ours. This is an unforgettable tour de force from a master storyteller.
From the third or so that I’ve read so far, it promises to be as brilliant as the other books in the series. I’ll wait till I’ve finished before I pronounce myself definitely though, and it’ll be up to you, if you like ‘historical fiction’ and haven’t done so yet, to read Harris’ books and decide just how much bias I am guilty of.
3. Simon Sebag-Montefiore, The Romanovs: 1613-1918
Three hundred and five years and seven hundred and eighty four pages of the stories and history of one of the most fascinating dynasties in modern History – what’s not to like?
And again, hardly an ‘acquisition’ as such, or one only in the sense that it was acquired and not bought: rather, the most surprising and amazing birthday present I could get from John, Mr BF and Cat-Herder Honorary.
Here’s the inner cover description:
The Romanovs were the most successful dynasty of modern times, ruling a sixth of the world’s surface. How did one family turn a war-ruined principality into the world’s greatest empire? And how did they lose it all?
This is the intimate story of twenty tsars and tsarinas, some touched by genius, some by madness, but all inspired by holy autocracy and imperial ambition. Montefiore’s gripping chronicle reveals their secret world of unlimited power and ruthless empire-building, overshadowed by palace conspiracy, family rivalries, sexual decadence and wild extravagance, and peopled by a cast of adventurers, courtesans, revolutionaries and poets, from Ivan the Terrible to Tolstoy, from Queen Victoria to Lenin.
To rule Russia was both imperial-sacred mission and poisoned chalice: six tsars were murdered and all the Romanovs lived under constant threat to their lives. Peter the Great tortured his own son to death while making Russia an empire, and dominated his court with a dining club notable for compulsory drunkenness, naked dwarfs and fancy dress. Catherine the Great overthrew her own husband – who was murdered soon afterwards – loved her young male favourites, conquered Ukraine and fascinated Europe. Paul was strangled by courtiers backed by his own son, Alexander I, who faced Napoleon’s invasion and the burning of Moscow, then went on to take Paris. Alexander II liberated the serfs, survived five assassination attempts, and wrote perhaps the most explicit love letters ever written by a ruler. The Romanovs climaxes with a fresh, unforgettable portrayal of Nicholas and Alexandra, the rise and murder of Rasputin, war and revolution – and the harrowing massacre of the entire family.
Written with dazzling literary flair, drawing on new archival research, The Romanovs is at once an enthralling story of triumph and tragedy, love and death, a universal study of power, and an essential portrait of the empire that still defines Russia today.
I can’t wait to sink my reading teeth into this book — which will probably be in autumn, when I will have more free time in my hands. At 780 odd pages, I will need it, too.
Out and about, and in between…
For the outs-and-abouts and all the in-betweens for the next 26 weeks, there’s of course the kindle, though I still feel a bit of a traitor for having fallen for “immaterial” books like this. But the fact is that it’s proven its worth, especially since I never seem to know what I’ll be feeling like reading… just for those days, I can now carry half my library around.
I’ve got some good books in there already, but mostly I’ve got some light reads. These are books that are very welcome as a sort of rest for when my rain is a bit addled, but which I would never buy in paper. It’s from those that I will be picking a book as I go along, according to circumstances and what I feel like at the time.
The remaining reads, I guess they’ll be my reading list for the year, though chances are I’ll find something else I’ll want to read in the meantime, forgetting all about lists and my incurable case of tsundoku. And of course I’m always adding to my list.
Maybe this is the year I will be able to fulfil my reading challenge of 52 books in 52 weeks… Who knows?
Candidates to summer & autumn e-reads
Catherine Czerkawska, The Physic Garden
David Lodge, Lives in Writing
Lao She, Cat Country
Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen, Rabbit Back Literature Society
Richard Smyth, Wild Ink
Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections
Ayse Kulin, Last Train To Istambul
A. B. Yeoshua, The Lover
Anne Charnock, Sleeping Embers of An Ordinary Mind
Umi Sinha, Belonging
Zadie Smith, On Beauty
Petina Gappah, The Book of Memory
Michel Bussi, Un Avion Sans Elle
Gabriel García Márquex, News of A Kidnapping
Ben Greenman, Emotional Rescue: Essays on Love, Loss and Life – with a soundtrack
Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life
Wyl Menmuir, The Many
Sejal Badani, Trail of Broken Wings
Jeffrey Eugenides, The Virgin Suicides
Marilee MacDonald, Montpelier Tomorrow
Yevgeny Zamyantin, We
Andrea Wulf, The Invention Of Nature
Cynthia Bond, Ruby
Alice Hoffman, The Museum of Extraordinary Things
Roald Dahl, Love from Boy
Nick Pope, Operation Thunder Child
Ken Liu, The Paper Menagerie
S. E. Lister, The Immortals
Juan Gómez-Jurado, Cicatriz
Sarah Winman, A Year of Marvellous Ways
Katherine Hayton, The Three Deaths of Magdalene Lynton
For all my other books, both kindle and paper, check under tsundoku on the main menu. New stuff added almost daily.