A bookish update

I haven’t written in a while, PhD and so on.

Surprisingly I’ve read much more than I expected during these last couple of months. Probably due to not having access to any source for movies and series other than YouTube and its not quite good period dramas (with some exceptions). A special thanks to Amazon for letting me watch the first two (rather good) episodes of The Man in the High Castle in a time of great need.

I read Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood and, although she has written novels that I have absolutely adored, I find her quite irregular in terms of quality. The Handmaid’s TaleOryx and CrakeThe Blind AssassinThe Edible WomanCat’s Eye, are quite remarkable, whereas Lady Oracle or The Robber Bride are a good read but nowhere as interesting/exciting. I also read by her The Penelopiad, a retelling of The Odyssey from Penelope’s POV, which I really recommend.

Another “disappointment” was Plainsong by Kent Haruf. It’s supposedly a beloved / popular saga in the US but I really couldn’t figure out why. The title is quite fitting, the plot is plain and mostly predictable, everyone seems to be good (except the random idiotic character to put some spice into the novel), with some issues here and there that they manage to solve because they are good people.

And also… Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee aka probably the most disliked second part of a revered classic novel. The review is mildly spoilery, you have been warned.

I must admit I was, indeed, disappointed by the follow up to To Kill A Mockingbird. To me, the novel lacked all the things I’d loved from the first one. And no,
I’m not referring to the deconstruction of Atticus Finch. For some reason I didn’t profess the love and admiration that most readers do. I liked him but he certainly was not one of my favourite characters ever. To be honest, the part I most enjoyed was when Scout realised her father is not the perfect human being she thought him to be, especially the two discussions between Scout and her uncle, and her and Atticus. 

What, in my opinion, was missing were all those quirky anecdotes about Maycomb and its neighbours and the nostalgia it emanated. Fair enough, there are some stories thrown here and there in Go Set a Watchman but they didn’t have the same effect on me. As in the first book, there’s a huge build up for most part of the novel – the main and only twist occurs when you’re already 70% into the book – during which nothing happens at all. And for some reason this was completely fine for To Kill a Mockingbird but not for its second part.

In my last post, I talked about The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth. It took me forever to read that novel and it was, indeed, quite challenging. During the first 50 pages I struggled quite a lot to make sense of Buccmaster’s inner dialogue but it was worth it. The story evolves rather slowly, but this gives you time to adapt to the language, to savour Kingsnorth’s depiction of 11th-century England, and get acquainted with the narrator.  I found it a quite new approach to Historical Fiction and I certainly recommend it!

The French adapted the saga into a TV series twice, the most recent in the early 2000s and it’s pretty trashy (check it out on YT and feel free to compare it with any BBC historical drama).

Opposite to it is The Iron King by Maurice Druon, the first novel of a seven-volume saga about the end of the Capet dynasty in France in the first half of the 14th century, The Accursed Kings. This novel is your average HF, well-written enough so that it’s entertaining, with manipulative and power-greedy characters, love affairs, very gory torture and murder scenes, and some well-documented historical details here and there. What makes this book special is that it was cited by George R. R. Martin as one of the sources for A Song of Ice and Fire. It was fine, nothing exceptional, but it didn’t leave me wanting to read the follow-up, The Strangled Queen. I’ll probably leave it until I need something light (but decent) to take a break from unending problem sets.

After finishing the midterms I felt like treating myself into some books so I went to The Strand‘s stand in Central Park and bought two books. One is Some Prefer Nettles by Junichiro Tanizaki. A couple of years ago I read The Makioka Sisters, which I rather liked, so I’ve been looking forward to read some of his other novels. The second one is An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro, whose books I’ve been steadily reading ever since discovering Never Let Me Go. In case you haven’t, his newest novel, The Buried Giant, is very good!

Tomorrow I’m going to 92Y to listen to David Mitchell talk about his new bookSlade House, which I’ll start reading shortly! A new post may or may not follow.