I’ve gotten a bit off track with country related picks and reading list books entirely, if the truth be told. London was easy, I had a great selection of all sorts of related books. But Berlin proved to be more of a challenge (bookwise, not travelling wise – Berlin is awesome). I only had two Berlin related books, one of which was Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann. I was keen to read it after Death in Venice but it turned out to be super badly formatted. I’m just assuming here, but I think Thomas Mann intended it to have, you know, punctuation and probably paragraphs too. So that left me with All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.
I read it but to be honest I don’t feel like talking about it right now. I’ve had a couple of goes at this post and it is JUST NOT WORKING. So you’ll have to wait a few weeks for more. But it was good! I would recommend it. It also had nothing to do with Berlin as far as I experienced it. Berlin was so cool, a crazy mishmash of scary totalitarian and beautifully grand architecture, construction around every corner, basement bars, epic antiquities and amazing street art. I did way too much shopping and got to meet up with some family from Melbourne so all in all it was an enjoyable ten days.
Anyway I’ve also been reading some other excellent things. I loved Tess of the D’Ubervilles so much that I think I’d like to save it for its own post. While I’m happy it’s getting some press lately, it makes me sick that it’s due to the popularity of an erotic trilogy I refuse to name. (Here is a great article about it.) If I has known that was why everyone was reading it I would have NOT READ IT and spited myself out of a wonderful book. So yeah I guess that’s two posts you’ll have to wait for.
I also read The Crucible by Arthur Miller which is really chilling. He does an excellent job of capturing a frightening atmosphere where good people are made to suffer because of jealousy, greed and personal and professional vanity. It’s very scary to think of the crimes committed through the manipulation of people’s fear under the guise of morality. I read somewhere that it was written as a parallel for the McCarthy era but it could clearly be applied to many political regimes.
Next I read The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander. I found it meh. No, that’s not quite right. It just didn’t live up to Englander’s excellent writing. It was a pretty brutal account of a Jewish family living through the ‘Dirty War’ in Argentina in 1976, maybe too brutal for me. There was so much darkness, bitter father-son relationships, unfulfilled promises, power struggles, corrupt officials and unlikely helpers, miles of red tape. But I really think it was too long. It was unenjoyable because of the overwhelming darkness (which is ok) and the length of time it took for stuff to happen (less ok).
Then The First Person by Ali Smith, a strange collection of stories that really grew on me. This is getting to be a long post so I will sum it up with some words: whimsical, surreal, unsettling, honest, funny. It captured and crystallised the little but telling moments in relationships as if they’d been snap frozen. (Frozen and crystallising… is that a mixed metaphor?)
My favourite of the last month is The Master by Colm Tóibín. *EDIT: Turns out it’s a list book. Good choice, list editors!* It’s an incredible
portrait of Henry James, a work of beauty and depth and sadness. Apparently it’s written partly in the style of James (I wouldn’t know) but without the crazy long sentences. The novel covers five years of his life, beginning in 1895 and encapsulating a number of important events (no spoilers!) but elegantly swooping between the present of the novel and episodes from James’ past. It drew me in from the start, building up a portrait of a man who sees all but keeps himself apart, sacrificing emotional connection to his authorial need for distance. It was so beautiful and it made me want to read Henry James and, as ever, more Colm Tóibín.