Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Overcoat and Other Stories ( Nikolai Gogol)

An easy way to journey into the world of Russian literature

★★★★★★☆

Title: The Overcoat and Other Stories
Author: Nikolai Gogol
Translator: G & M Struve /Isabel F Hapgood (from Russian)
Genre:
 Fiction/Short Stories/Classic
First published: 1835-1842
Edition: Paperback, published by Dover in 1992

Four works by great 19th-century Russian author* – “The Nose,” a savage satire of Russia’s incompetent bureaucrats; “Old-Fashioned Farmers,” a pleasant depiction of an elderly couple living in rustic seclusion; “The Tale of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarrelled with Ivan Nikiforovich,” one of Gogol’s most famous comic stories; and “The Overcoat,” widely considered a masterpiece of form.

***

This was my first foray into Russian* literature and I actually really enjoyed the experience. I am glad I started with this collection of four short stories. They were very readable and actually quite funny.

Gogol is a great storyteller. He tells his stories with wit and great detail. All these stories are about ‘random people’, clearly born out of observation of people like the ones he describes. The writing style is very conversational.

My favourite of the four stories was the title one. The Overcoat is a small story about a small life of a small man in a big world. It was both funny and tragic, and balanced the two very well.

The Nose was amusing. Gogol must have written it after consuming quite a bit of vodka. It was very bizarre, but it did make me smile quite a bit.

I enjoyed all four stories almost equally and I never felt bored or out of my depth. Sometimes I did feel like something was lost in translation, but overall I found these stories easy to read and understand. The fact that I probably did not pick up on some of the metaphors and satire does not bother me. After all, it was written almost two centuries ago in a different part of the world.

This certainly got me more interested in reading more from that part of the world. Overall, a perfect way to dip my toes into Russian literature.

6 out of 7 stars

* Just a note to say that Gogol was actually born in Ukraine and a couple of these stories are set there. He refers to it as Little Russia. I thought this was an interesting tidbit considering current affairs.

Books · Randomness

A Quick Musing on Buying Books…

I started the year with the hope to buy fewer books than last year. In 2021 I bought far fewer books than the years previously and I was far more consciously reading the books I bought. Yet for some reason I decided that in 2022 I was allowing myself to buy only one book for every two (physical) books I read.

Well, that already went out of the window, since I bought (ordered) quite far too many books in the last week or two. I have been reading quite a bit and when I am reading a lot, I tend to buy more books. It just gets me thinking about what else I would like to read and excited about certain kind of books. I also read a couple of books this month that led me to other writers and especially poets, which is a completely different kettle of fish again.

I ordered three books for my Russian Classics TBR, which I am fine with, as I was going to buy those anyway and I will be reading them this year. I bought the two smaller ones, The Overcoat and Other Stories by Nikolai Gogol and Notes From The Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky, because that is where I want to start. I was going to read Anna Karenina on my Kindle, but actually the version I have is an older translation and I think it will be harder to read. Since this is a big book, I want it to read as easily as possible. I have been doing some research and the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky seems to be the one to go for. That one was available in a fairly inexpensive but beautiful Ballantine Books edition, so I ended up ordering that one.

I was going to read three Russian classics, but I also have Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov on my Kindle, which I am hoping to read sooner rather than later. I don’t feel compelled to buy a physical copy of that. I am ok with reading it on my Kindle.

Four is an awkward number, so I figured a fifth Russian Classic would be interesting. I will see if I can add one at some point. I’d like to read one by a woman, but that appears to be tough task! A Russian friend recommended me Nikolai Leskov, so I may check him out once I have read the other books. That is if I like Russian literature!

Also, I wanted to read classic works by South American authors. I stumbled on Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and I ordered a collection of his poems in the Vintage red spine edition. I have started that one and may finish it by the end of the month. It’s big, but it’s deceptive as on one side it has the original Spanish text and on the other the English translation.

I also ordered a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, another very well-known South American author. I decided to give Love in the Time of Cholera a try. I found a nice Everyman’s Library edition that was inexpensive. In the same edition I stumbled across The Collected Works of Khalil Gibran. Now I have read a couple of works by Khalil Gibran and absolutely fell in love with his writing. To have his work collected in one book is just perfect, as he has a lot of smaller works and short stories. I am very excited about that one. I won’t count a collected work like this towards my TBR, as I am more likely to just dip in and out and I have already read a couple of the stories.

I ordered a couple more contemporary novels, which I plan to read next month.

Finally, I found some used Persephone books on eBay, which I decided to buy as I have been eyeing those for a while. They may take a while to get to me though, since they are shipping from abroad

Overall, despite the fact that I have bought too many books already, I am feeling very positive about it. I am confident that all these books will get read relatively quickly. I am genuinely excited about them and I feel happy. Looking at previous years, I tend to buy a good chunk of books at the beginning of the year and then there are some months I buy hardly any, so I am sure it will even out in the end. My goal is still to buy fewer books than last year, but I am not going to beat myself up about it. As long as my TBR keeps going down rather than up on average I will be pleased..

And you know what? The books bring me joy, just like music. Books and vinyl records are my vices! I guess there are worse things to spend your money on!

Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Radiance (Grace Draven)

Not so bad in the end!

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Radiance (Wraith Kings #1)
Author: Grace Draven (USA)
Genre: Fiction /Fantasy Romance
First published: 2014
Edition: Kindle e-book

Brishen Khaskem, prince of the Kai, has lived content as the nonessential spare heir to a throne secured many times over. A trade and political alliance between the human kingdom of Gaur and the Kai kingdom of Bast-Haradis requires that he marry a Gauri woman to seal the treaty. Always a dutiful son, Brishen agrees to the marriage and discovers his bride is as ugly as he expected and more beautiful than he could have imagined. Ildiko, niece of the Gauri king, has always known her only worth to the royal family lay in a strategic marriage. Resigned to her fate, she is horrified to learn that her intended groom isn’t just a foreign aristocrat but the younger prince of a people neither familiar nor human. Bound to her new husband, Ildiko will leave behind all she’s known to embrace a man shrouded in darkness but with a soul forged by light.

***

I really needed something lighter and this one had been on my radar for a little while. I enjoyed the read, but maybe I was a little disappointed. I’m on the fence.

The story started strong and I thought I was going to love it. The characters were interesting, the conversations were amusing and I was completely on board. But then the story just started to peter out and I got bored, which I was really gutted about. Three quarters in I thought I would definitely not be continuing this series. Luckily the story did pick up in the final quarter, when the stakes suddenly got a lot higher and more interesting!

The fantasy elements were pretty limited here, apart from that the groom in this political marriage is not human… The world did not yet feel fleshed out. I did not really understand some of the characters’ action, but I did enjoy their connection. It was just a mixed bag for me.

I can definitely see the potential in this series. Magic was hinted at and shown a little bit and there was a healthy amount of court intrigue, but in this one none of it really came to fruition.

I may continue the series, or I may not. I will brood on it a little while.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesday: 19 January 2022

It’s only the 18th of January and I have finished 10 books…. What the crazy is happening this month? I bet February will be an almighty reading slump as a consequence 😂. Nevermind that, I’m simply in a reading mood I guess. The weather being grey and miserable (though not raining!) has been helping in that regard I guess. What else is there to do?

***

WWW Wednesdays’ home is at Sam’s blog Taking On A World of Words. Check it out!

The three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you will read next?

***

What am I currently reading?

I needed a lighter read and I picked up Radiance by Grace Draven. It had been on my radar for a good while after having heard good things about it. It was 99p Kindle Deal last week, so I picked it up. I am about two thirds of the way in. It started strong and I thought I would love it, but it has petered out a bit. Hopefully it will pick back up again for a strong ending. I think it’s a trilogy, but at the moment I would not be continuing in the series. But… you never know!

I am over halfway in Dave Grohl’s autobiography The Storyteller. I am enjoying listening to that one so much! It was a great choice of audio book for sure.

What did I recently finish reading?

Are you ready? Do you have a cup of tea or coffee and a bowl of biscuits? This may take a while, as I have finished 6 (SIX!!!) book this past week. Granted, most of them were fairly short, but still! It’s an unparalelled achievement for me. My hit-rate is still a bit iffy though…

The first book I finished was Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, which was a great read. I flew through it! It had been a while since I read a book that was this fast paced and ‘techy’. It was on my 2022 TBR and yes, a 6* read for me.

The next one I read was Autumn Rounds by Canadian author Jacques Poulin. Originally published in the 1990s, this was translated from French. It’s a rather quiet story about two older people meeting and falling in love. It was maybe a little too quaint for me, but still a good read. 5*

The first poetry collection I read this year was Sex & Love & Rock&Roll by Tony Walsh. This was a tad too repetitive for and too many of the poems did not quite work for me. There were some really good ones, but too much of a mixed bag. 4*

The first non-fiction book I read was Palestine As Metaphor, which is a collection of interviews with incredible poet Mahmoud Darwish. It was very insightful, especially the interview between Darwish and an Israeli poet. It very much humanizes the conflict to see it through both their perspectives and their discussion. I am so glad I read this before diving back into more of his poetry and prose. It was so interesting. 7*

Another book I really enjoyed was When The Moon Is Low by Nadia Hashimi. This one tells the story of an Afghan woman and her three children as they flee Kabul after the Taliban kill her husband. It was very well told without being that gritty. 6*

Finally I finished a short story collection; The Dangers of Smoking in Bed by Argentian author Mariana Enriquez. To be honest, I was disappointed with that one. Sometimes it seemed to use scenes and words for shock value without actually doing anything shocking. There were a couple of stories I really liked, but most were just *shrug* for me. 4*

What will I be reading next?

I had a quick think about what I would like to be reading the rest of the month.

First of all, I want to read a couple of books that have just come into my house. The first new book that fell through my letterbox in 2022 was the Vintage red spine edition of Selected Poems by Pablo Neruda. I would like to read that one for sure and I will likely start reading that one today.

And I also would like to read my first Russian book. Since The Overcoat and Other Stories by Nikolai Gogol arrived today, I think I will start with that one. It’s a short one as well, a collection of four short stories, so I can ease myself into Russian literature gently. Also, apparently he inspired Dostoevsky, another Russian author I will be checking out in the near future, so it makes sense to read Gogol first. I have always been very scared of Russian literature, so fingers crossed!

Novel-wise, I might be in the mood for fantasy, but I have also been eyeing Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore, but I will decide when I finish my current novel.

***

Let me know what you are reading!

Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: The Dangers of Smoking in Bed (Mariana Enriquez)

Mostly these just did not do much for me – just ok

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: The Dangers of Smoking in Bed
Original Title: Los peligros de fumar en la cama
Author: Mariana Enriquez
Translator: Megan McDowell (from Spanish)
Genre: Short Stories / Horror
First published: 2017 (in Spanish)
Edition: Paperback, published by Granta in 2021

The stories in this collection are as terrifying as they are socially conscious, and press into being the unspoken — fetish, illness, the female body, the darkness of human history — with unsettling urgency. A woman is sexually obsessed with the human heart; a lost, rotting baby crawls out of a backyard and into a bedroom; a pair of teenage girls can’t let go of their idol; an entire neighborhood is cursed to death by a question of morality they fail to answer correctly. Written against the backdrop of contemporary Argentina, and with resounding tenderness towards those in pain, in fear, and in limbo, this new collection from one of Argentina’s most exciting writers finds Enriquez at her most sophisticated, and most chilling.

***

It is always disappointing when a book you had high expectations of fails to live to those. I try not to go in with pre-conceived ideas. Yet, at the end of this much louded collection I just feel very little.

These stories are mostly set in Buenos Aires and maybe part of my problem is that I know next to nothing about Argentinian culture. To be honest, it started out strong and I thought I was going to love these stories, but story after story just failed to grab me. Yes, they were weird and I tend to like weird. But maybe it was simply not my kind of weird. Some seem to have kind of shocking content for shocking content’s sake, if that makes sense. Maybe the author was making a particular statement. She probably was and maybe I am too stupid to see it.

There was some stories I enjoyed, but overall they left me rather cold. The longer story was probably the one I liked best, probably because it gave me a little more to grab hold of. Maybe the other stories did not give me enough context- as if they were just snippets rather than anything complete. I felt very removed from them, but maybe that’s a good thing!

This is certainly not a bad collection, but it clearly was not for me. I don’t think I will be reading more from the author. Clearly, many people love this collection, so if you think it sounds like it’s up your street, do read it!

4 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: When The Moon Is Low (Nadia Hashimi)

An important story delicately told

★★★★★★☆

Title: When The Moon Is Low
Author: Nadia Hashimi
Genre: Fiction/Historical
First published: 2015
Edition: Paperback, published by William Morrow in 2015

In Kabul, we meet Fereiba, a schoolteacher who puts her troubled childhood behind her when she finds love in an arranged marriage. But Fereiba’s comfortable life implodes when the Taliban rises to power and her family becomes a target of the new fundamentalist regime. Forced to flee with her three children, Fereiba has one hope for survival: to seek refuge with her sister’s family in London.

***

This is a story of family and of desperation and yet it always gave me a sense of hope rather than despair. I am impressed with this novel for exactly that reason.

The author weaves a story of a young family at the time the Taliban took power in Afghanistan. She tells their story as their country changes and they escape their home country to travel through Europe as refugees with England as their destination, since they have family there.

The story is told through Fereiba, the mother, and later through Saleem, the eldest son. Hers is written in first person, his in third person. I liked that dynamic in the storytelling.

This is not the most gritty refugee novel I have read, but in a way therein lays its power. It makes you realise that the family you are reading about in a way are the lucky ones. They have something to hold on to, a family to travel towards. Not everyone is so fortunate. The grittier stories are in the people they encounter, who are less lucky, who have had even tougher journeys. Their stories are not told explicitly, but definitely implied, especially through Saleem. The ending felt a little abrupt, but in many way it was the right ending.

I think I will seek out the author’s previous book, because I thought this was a very well written book that told an important story in a delicate way.

6 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Palestine As Metaphor (Mahmoud Darwish)

Yes, now I understand (I think)!

★★★★★★★

Title: Palestine As Metaphor (La Palestine Comme Métaphore)
Author: Mahmoud Darwish (and interviewers)
Translators: Amira El-Zein & Carolyn Forché
Genre: Non-Fiction / Interviews
First published: 2019
Edition: Paperback, published by Olive Branch Press in 2019

Palestine as Metaphor consists of a series of interviews with Mahmoud Darwish, which have never appeared in English before. The interviews are a wealth of information on the poet’s personal life, his relationships, his numerous works, and his tragedy. They illuminate Darwish’s conception of poetry as a supreme art that transcends time and place. Several writers and journalists conducted the interviews, including a Lebanese poet, a Syrian literary critic, three Palestinian writers, and an Israeli journalist. Each encounter took place in a different city from Nicosia to London, Paris, and Amman. These vivid dialogues unravel the threads of a rich life haunted by the loss of Palestine and illuminate the genius and the distress of a major world poet.

***

I will be hard to explain what reading this book felt like for me. This is a collection of interviews with a poet, whose work I love, but who always feels way more intelligent than I am. I won’t I always exactly understand his work and his metaphors, but I always feel it deep inside. It always touches something.

As I started it I felt completely out of my depth. Both the interviewer in the first section (Abbas Beydoun, a Lebanese poet) and Darwish himself were clearly far smarter and eloquent than I was. I felt a bit lost and maybe a little awed by the conversation.

However, as I got more and more into the book I realised that I was understanding it perfectly fine and that I actually really enjoyed the somewhat philosophical tone. It just took me a moment to flick that switch in my brain. What this book did for me is to get a better understanding of the man, whose work touches my soul. He talks very eloquently about what it means to be a poet, what it means to be Palestinian, and what it means to be a Palestinian poet. It also becomes clear how important poetry is to him. The man WAS poetry.

In the interview with Israeli poet Helit Yeshurun it is clear that the Israel-Palestine conflict is very current and is somewhat of a rift between interviewer and interviewee. It makes for very interesting discussions. I think that is the interview I enjoyed the most, but to be honest, I got so much out of each and every one of them that I can only be grateful they were published in English.

I truly loved reading this and I am looking forward to going back to reading some of his poetry and works.

7 out of 7 stars

Books · Poetry · Read in 2022 · Reviews

(Poetry) Book Thoughts: Sex & Love & Rock&Roll (Tony Walsh)

flashes of brilliance watered down

★★★★☆☆☆

Title: Sex & Love & Rock&Roll
Author: Tony Walsh
Genre: Contemporary poetry
First published: 2013
Edition: Paperback, published by Burning Eye Books in 2015

Tony takes us on an extraordinary journey through ordinary lives; flying the flag for the performance poetry scene which packs out venues and festival tents around the UK. These are accessible, musical poems;influenced by the songs which soundtrack our lives;brimming with northern warmth and humour; propelled by passion and compassion as their bassline and their beat.

***

Poetry is personal. Probably the most personal genre of books out there in my opinion. I fully expected to love this one as the themes of real life and music speak to me. And yes, I did like the themes, but the poems themselves did not do as much for me as I wanted them to.

There were some flashes of brilliance, especially in the more elaborate poems, but a lot of them were like sparse lyrics for EDM songs. There was a lot of repetition of lines and I found that I started finding that a little irritating. I wanted the poems to speak to me and the more they repeated, the less they did so. I think I want my poetry to be a bit more elaborate than this. I am not sure.

This was definitely not a bad collection and I enjoyed parts of it a lot, but too many of the poems did not speak to me.

4 out of 7 stars

Books · Read in 2022 · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Autumn Rounds (Jacques Poulin)

a quiet, tender sort of novel

★★★★★☆☆

Title: Autumn Rounds (La Tournée d’Automne)
Author: Jacques Poulin (Translator: Sheila Fischman)
Genre: Fiction/Literary
First published: 1993
Edition: E-book, courtesy of NetGalley and the publisher (Archipelago Books)

A quiet man, living in an apartment in Quebec City, hears a marching band through his window. He looks out, sees the band and suddenly decides to join the crowd forming around them. So begins Autumn Rounds, a novel about love that unfolds late in life. The band turns out to be touring musicians, singers, and acrobats from France; among their number is a strangely familiar woman to whom the man feels very attracted. This is a bitter-sweet novel. Because it is his last tour, the man is acutely aware of the details of his life on the road: the way cats in the towns are attracted to his van because it was once a milk truck, how certain reading networks will soon be needing new coordinators, how hauntingly beautiful he and the woman find the landscape of the North Shore of the St. Lawrence River.

***

This is the kind of novel to just curl up with and enjoy as the rain lashes the window. It’s quiet and kind of quaint, almost abstract in its execution.

I enjoy quiet books and this one was no exception. Set in Canada, originally written in French, it tells the story of the Driver, who visits small villages with his bookmobile. Just that premise alone is so sweet. His relationship with Marie is interesting. These are older people discovering feelings for each other and I was really glad to read about that. The author chose to build it in such a quiet way and I enjoyed it. However, I did always feel quite distanced from the characters in an odd sort of way, especially Marie, who I did not really understand.

Was it a bit too twee? Maybe a little, but it was a very nice experience to read this. I would like to seek out more works from this author.

If you like a quiet book that is simply about a older man carefully navigating falling in love again whilst spreading his love of books, this will be for you.

5 out of 7 stars

Books · Reviews

Book Thoughts: Dark Matter (Blake Crouch)

Now, this was compulsive reading!

★★★★★★☆

Title: Dark Matter
Author: Blake Crouch
Genre: Fiction /Science Fiction
First published: 2016
Edition: Kindle e-book

It starts with a man in a mask kidnapping him at gunpoint, for reasons Jason can’t begin to fathom—what would anyone want with an ordinary physics professor?—and grows even more terrifying from there, as Jason’s abductor injects him with some unknown drug and watches while he loses consciousness. When Jason awakes, he’s in a lab, strapped to a gurney—and a man he’s never seen before is cheerily telling him “welcome back!” Jason soon learns that in this world he’s woken up to, his house is not his house. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born.

***

I flew through this novel. I kept wanting to turn the page once I got into the story.

It had been a while since I read a fast-paced book like this and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I enjoyed the plot and the writing, though I have to say that the ‘sciency’ stuff went completely over my head. But then, I have never studied quantum physics! I do feel like I wanted a bit more explanation about the tech every now and then. I wanted to understand it more. It as not necessary to enjoy the book, but still…

I liked Jason as a main character and the idea the author puts forward about the multiverse, though to be honest it gave me a headache when I thought about it too much, so I didn’t. It does beg the question “What does it mean to be me?” and that is a question always worth asking yourself.

The stakes were high enough to root for Jason throughout the book, but it never gave me palpitations! Just the right amount of thrill I would say.

This was a fun read and I will definitely read more by this author. I would highly recommend it when you need something fast-paced with a bit of a thrill that also makes you think a bit.

6 out of 7 stars