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.
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?