Winter Reads 2018

Well, now that I live in Australia, this should technically be called “Summer Reads.” But my brain will probably never stop equating December through March to winter.

The last three months have been quite busy for me; I’ve moved from Canberra to Perth, searched for a new place to live, and have been on the lookout for a new job. Despite this, I’ve managed to read five books, with quite a range of topics.

Just before Christmas, I started Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. High Fidelity is about Rob, a thirty-something record shop owner who was dumped by his girlfriend. In the first half of the book, Rob is a bit of a jerk and doesn’t seem to realize his faults.  Rob comes to realize that his past girlfriends who broke his heart are not entirely at fault, and he shares some of the blame. High Fidelity is a fun book to read. Those interested in music would enjoy this book. There were a lot of musical references that went over my head but will be appreciated by music lovers.

I then started My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. I heard about Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels about two years ago on public radio, and I was intrigued by the series. This book follows two friends, Elena and Lila, growing up in 1950s Naples. It’s interesting how Ferrante doesn’t make out the friendship between the girls as this happy, loving, saccharine experience. Rather, she shows how they compete against one another in education and, as they go into their teenage years, relationships with boys. I feel that is much more of a realistic portrayal of friendship, one where you can love someone and yet have this desire to upstage them.

Ferrante also writes wonderful prose. Although the book does get lengthy and start to drag in the middle, the way she crafts words makes for wonderful reading.

In February I read Books v. Cigarettes, a collection of essays by George Orwell. In the title essay, Orwell examines how reading books, thought to be a costly pastime, is actually much cheaper than smoking cigarettes. If you are a fan of essays about literature and books, I think that you would enjoy this collection.

My favorite essay in this book was “Such, Such Were the Joys,” about Orwell’s time at an all-boys boarding school in the years before and during the First World War. The way Orwell describes the school and his years there is very vivid and almost graphic, yet he doesn’t seem to be biased about his time at the school.

The shortest book I read this winter was this lovely, illustrated collection of Anton Chekhov’s short stories, About Love. The short stories in this collection are Chekhov’s only interconnected stories.

I enjoyed the writing style that Chekhov employed in this collection. The characters of Ivan Ivanych, Burkin and Alyokhin have narration around them, but also narrate stories of their own. For example, in the title story Alyokhin tells the story of how, as a young man, he fell in love with the wife of a friend.

The illustrations done by Seth in About Love are adorable.

A similar type of narration was used in the final book I read this winter, The Society of the Crossed Keys, a collection of writings from Stefan Zweig. Zweig’s writings were the inspiration for the Wes Anderson film The Grand Budapest Hotel. The first part of this book is a conversation between Wes Anderson and George Prochnik, a biographer of Zweig, and the book continues with selections of Zweig’s work.

The Society of the Crossed Keys includes some of Zweig’s nonfiction work, an excerpt of his novel Beware of Pity, and one of his short stories, “Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman.” I found Zweig’s writing to be very vivid, yet not overly flowery.

These were some fantastic reads, and I think that I have found a new love for late-19th and early-20th century short stories. What have you been reading? Do any of these books spark an interest for you?

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Nonfiction November To-Be-Read

When I was working on my Master’s degree I read at least a nonfiction history book a week. Since I graduated in May 2016 I have read one work of nonfiction, Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time; a far cry from my usual nonfiction picks.

The last couple months I’ve been a bit anxious about getting back to reading history monographs, so when I heard about the Nonfiction November reading challenge I was excited for a little push to get back to my academic roots. The challenge is supposed to follow four vague prompts, but I’m going to the beat of my own drum and reading two history books and two travel books.


The Unwomanly Face of War — Svetlana Alexievich

I’m cheating a little bit here, having begun this book last week. I just couldn’t wait to start this book, though. This is the first book by Alexievich, who has written other histories of Soviet Russia. The Unwomanly Face of War is an oral history of Soviet women who fought during World War II. What really drew me to this was that Alexievich was not allowed to publish it until Perestroika began in the mid-1980s, and even then in a highly censored version as it defied the official state version of the war.  The interviews are harrowing and tragic and utterly engrossing.

Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco — Gary Kamiya

I visited San Francisco in 2014 and absolutely fell in love with the city. I randomly found this book in a discount bookshop near my apartment and picked it up because I love the feel of San Francisco. This is a travel book of snapshots of 49 different place in San Francisco, from Golden Gate Park to Chinatown.

Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall — Anna Funder

Another oral history about Communism in Europe; this time focusing on the German Democratic Republic. As part of my Master’s degree, I studied the history of Germany from World War I until reunification. Most of the books that I read for this focused on the political process, so this, which focused more on personal stories, will be an interesting addition to my previous knowledge.

Down Under — Bill Bryson

I have lived in Australia for almost three months now and I don’t know much about the country. Bill Bryson is a relatively famous travel writer and has an excellent sense of humor. To demonstrate this, in the first page he remarks on how Australia once lost a prime minister (he was walking along the beach and fell into the surf, never to be seen again). I’m excited to dive into Bryson’s other observations on this country.

I think this is going to be a good month for reading. What nonfiction books do you have on your TBR?

Rakowicki Cemetery

Rakowicki Cemetery (Cmentarz Rakowicki), a rambling cemetery located in Old Town Krakow, was established in 1803 and over the course of the last two centuries has been expanded several times. The cemetery is notable for its architecture as well as being the resting spot of many famous Poles.

 

Spring in Krakow

I like the wildness of spring in Krakow. I like how the plants are untamed, and the weather is unpredictable. Saturday is balmy, and Sunday rain will come down in sheets. Life, for a bit, is festive, as the market comes again to the Rynek, and post-Easter Emaus is a spectacle of kitsch.

Monthly Reads — March 2017

In March I had lots of books started, but only managed to get through three of them. The jury is still out on whether or not I really enjoyed what I read this month.

Time Bites — Doris Lessing

This is the first book of Lessing’s that I have read, and I’m not sure if it was a good place to start with Lessing’s work. Time Bites is a collection of essays, most of them dealing with literature or topics closely related to literature. I really like to read essay collections. I find they are relatively easy reads, and I like that I don’t necessarily have to read it in order or continuously. Time Bites is quite long, and after attempting to read every essay in it for the last two month, I decided to pick out about 20 of the ones that interested me the most. The problem was, though, that these essays bored me, even the ones that  I thought would be really interesting. Also, there were periods where Lessing would randomly bring up how much she disliked “political correctness” and it seemed very out of place whenever she did it. Overall, most of the essays I found were just boring or off-putting.

We Should All Be Feminists — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I had been hearing about We Should All Be Feminists quite often in these past two months. Based on Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, this is a short book that is a really easy read. I don’t have anything really critical to say because it’s not an overly complicated book about feminism or feminist thought; it’s just a very fun but thoughtful look at Ngozi Adichie’s views on feminism.

Circe and the Cyclops — Homer

This was another really short book that took two stories from The Odyssey — perhaps the two most famous stories from it. I’ve never read the entire Odyssey, so this was nice to just pick up and get a sense of what the whole poem is like. Also, the book cost me 5 złoty (about $1.50).

In addition to these books, I started reading Sofia Kahn is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik, Mortal Engines by Stanisław Lem and The Ministry of Pain by Dubravka Ugrešić.

Five Travel Books I Want To Read

In a Sunburned Country – Bill Bryson

“Sunburned” can mean only one country: Australia. Bill Bryson is one of the more prolific travel writers and has written about everywhere from the Appalachian Trail to Liechtenstein. In a Sunburned Country covers everything from modern-day Australia to Australia’s convict past. Bryson is supposed to be a hilarious writer and keeps his books fun and informative.

 

The Art of Travel – Alain de Botton

Of course, it’s always fun to read a good, fun-filled travelogue about one person’s journey through the Amazon or Russia, but sometimes you need to sit down and think about the philosophy of travel. Philosopher de Botton looks at the concepts behind travelling and how people are affected by it. What really draws me to this book is that de Botton uses poetry, artwork, and his own experiences to give the reader an understanding of what it means to travel.

 

West with the Night – Beryl Markham

This is less of a travelogue and more of a memoir about a not-often-heard-of remarkable woman. Markham was born in England in 1886, but lived most of her life in Kenya, and was the first female bush pilot in Africa. She was also the first woman to fly across the Atlantic from East to West. These memoirs seem like an interesting read about Colonial Africa and aviation in the early 20th century.

 

The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries – Jessa Crispin

I first came across this book over the summer and was instantly intrigued. This book is part memoir – of Crispin who left her life in Chicago for Berlin – and part examination of famous women expats. The book explores “exile,” and while it’s not so much of a travelogue, it still sounds fascinating.

 

Journeys – Stefan Zweig

Stefan Zweig is an author who has become increasingly popular over the last few years. In fact, his work inspired Grand Budapest Hotel. I’m a fan of his short stories, which look at a “lost” Europe from before World War I and the inter-war years. Journeys is Zweig’s travels through post-World War I central Europe. I think this would be very interesting for anyone travelling through central Europe who want to know a bit more about what the area was like in the past.

What are the books about travel that you intend to read?