Autumn Beckons

The Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard’s latest cycle of books, the Seasons Quartet, has recently seen its first release, Autumn, in English this month.  (A quick note – the Seasons Quartet was originally published in Norwegian throughout 2015-16).  Styled as a series of letters to his unborn daughter, the quartet takes everyday objects or landscape features as their starting point for Knausgaard’s short and varied digressions on what it means to be alive.  I currently have Autumn by my bedside and it is a beautiful publication indeed, illustrated in style by Vanessa Baird and ably translated by Ingvild Burkey.  I haven’t yet started reading it but I shall do tonight, as it seems fitting to do so as the clouds roll in and the temperature drops. Autumn truly is my favourite season and I look forward to the changing colour of the landscape as trees shed their leaves and the nights draw in.

The second volume in the series, Winter, is released on the 2nd November 2017 and I cannot wait to hold and to read it.  I note on the publisher’s website that the volume has a different illustrator; I’m quite impressed that Knausgaard (or at least his publisher) is bringing together other artists into the fold of his new publications.  It also introduces the English-speaking world to new Scandinavian writers and artists that they may otherwise have not come across.  In the meantime Knausgaard’s much-anticipated sixth volume of his My Struggle cycle of novels isn’t released until late 2018, in the English translation, but the Seasons Quartet more than makes up for the long wait.  Happy reading!

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‘On the Beach’ Predicting the Future

Sometimes I read novels and often think that they hit the spot a bit too close to home.  This was the case recently as I came to the concluding pages of On the Beach, which was written by the novelist Nevil Shute Norway in the decades following World War Two.  The scene includes two of the main characters discussing the context for the apocalyptic situation that they face and openly lament the global use of nuclear weapons during an escalation of an international war:

“Couldn’t anyone have stopped it?”

“I don’t know… Some kinds of silliness you just can’t stop”, he said. “I mean, if a couple of hundred million people all decide that their national honour requires them to drop cobalt bombs upon their neighbour, well, there’s not much that you or I can do about it.  The only possible hope would have been to educate them out of their silliness.”

“But how could you have done that, Peter?  I mean, they’d all left school.”

“Newspapers”, he said.  “You could have done something with newspapers.  We didn’t do it.  No nation did, because we were all too silly.  We liked our newspapers with pictures of beach girls and headlines about cases of indecent assault, and no Government was wise enough to stop us having them that way.  But something might have been done with newspapers, if we’d been wise enough.”

Quoted from the novel One the Beach (1957), by Nevil Shute Norway.

It is a wonderful novel and a book that I highly recommend.  For me one of the most moving aspects of the characters portrayed throughout the text was their attitude and civility in the manner in which they led their lives, and how this civility influenced their actions throughout the novel despite the fact that they knew what was to come.

Next up on my reading list is a newly published novel that I have started reading earlier today entitled Here I Am, by the American author Jonathan Safran Foer.  Foer has previously released a clutch of interesting and diverse novels over the past decade and a half that have really captured my attention, especially his first novel Everything is Illuminated, which was published in 2002. Perhaps unwittingly I noticed that the Here I Am novel continues the theme of international and national destruction set in On the Beach.  Perhaps it is somewhat fitting considering the way 2016 has so far developed…

Novel Romance

I love finding new novels to read, new authors whose previous publications I didn’t know existed and have not yet read.  I find life mixed into these stories, the full panoply of humanity.  I came across this passage recently and it struck me forcefully for the way in which we now, online and face to face, communicate differently:

“What is this rating, a sex appeal thing?”  I asked him once.

Steve tried to persuade me it was more innocent than that.  “It’s more like, do they show up on time, can they keep their end of a conversation, are they clean?  Do they spend all their time checking their phones?”

“You check your phone constantly.”

“That’s because you’re a friend,” he said.  “I would never behave that way with a virtual friend.  It kills your rating.”

“Well, where do I get to rate you?”

“You only get to rate me if you respond to one of my posts.  But you never would.  You’re a Luddite.”

A wonderful exchange between the main character and a friend in Benjamin Markovits 2015 novel You Don’t Have To Live Like This.

I’m a good portion of the way through the above book at the moment and I’m really happy I tracked down a copy of this novel.  Lined up next to read is the Will Self’s Shark, a truly modern novel examining the threads of consciousness and time in an experimental format.

Thinking back to the beginning of this year, I had discovered Javier Marías, the eloquent Spanish author.  I’ve managed to read a number of his novels now (including A Heart So White, Tomorrow In The Battle Think On Me, When I Was Mortal) and I remain deeply in love with his style.

I’m looking forward to the second half of this year and to what authors may come.  What are you currently reading and why?

The Nature of Existence

“‘Off already, sir?’ he said. ‘Are you surprised?’ asked K. ‘Yes,’ said the landlord, ‘weren’t you interrogated, then?’ ‘No,’ said K. ‘I wouldn’t allow it.’ ‘Why not?’ asked the landlord. ‘I fail to see’. K. said, ‘why I should allow myself to be interrogated, why I should play along with a joke or bow to an official whim. Another time I might have done so, likewise as a joke or in response to a whim, but not today.’ ‘Yes of course, I see’ said the landlord, but it was merely polite agreement, lacking any conviction.”

From ‘The Castle’ (1926) by Franz Kafka.

A Paean To The Book

In my castle of books, the tower of pages blows freely in the wind, advertising the fact that they are brimming with pages but are yet to be read.  This saddens me beyond belief.  In a library I could spend my days swallowed in a sea of words, beautifully phrased sentences, emotive paragraphs, and pages of perfection; in short, I could die happy.

Yet whilst my tower grows, a gnawing doubt resides in my bosom  and trickles through my blood.  These things, these objects, are material, paid for with coin and accumulated through time whilst also taking up vast swathes of space.  I jettison one or two here or there, that is true, but can I do this for all?  Even those that I love with a tender thought and a heavy heart?  No, not these, let these stay and reside as they must.  Let them gather dust not on the shelf nor in the soul, but be forever a part of me.

From father to son do Russian classics pass, from charity bookstore to my home to toilet cistern do some books pass, left as a present for a cleaner.  Sometimes left on trains or buses, stored with care.  Where do these books go next?  Do they live well, provide others with such sweet succulence as they have provided me?

A well thumbed travel book, a train journey across from Britain to Japan.  A wonderful guide and misanthropic author, whose very spine is bent by the passage of time spent in my bag.  I shall leave you with a dear friend.  Another, a deep and cohesive attempt at the psychiatric novel, is left behind battered and bruised in an Amsterdam hostel, a message of love scrawled into the front cover page, hoping that the new owner treats it better.  A date, place and time, etched for others to follow.

Books?  No, friends surely, through past and and through present.

Roads To My Reading

Here I present some of my favorite books of 2012 (and a few from before).  You’ll notice they are mostly travel/history books in one form or another, often about places outside of my home country.  Reading for me often opens up the mind, and I tend to gravitate towards travel as this opens up the realms of history and prehistory for the writer, something I’m particularly keen in.  However I am keen on a good novel, so please let me know if you come across any, and I am always open to reading about travel writing, no matter where in the world.  I’d heavily recommend you take a look at the blurbs of the books as they are awfully interesting, and I’m happy for any suggestions to add to my pile.  I’ve put ‘Anna Karenina’ by Leo Tolstoy on this list, but I’ve only just managed to hunt down a copy from my local library after having to hand back in my University copy unfinished.  Rest assured though that Oblonsky, Levin, Vronsky and Anna will live long in my imagination.  Click the links to learn more about each book.

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  • And Quiet Flows the Don‘ (1978, USSR 1920) as the first part of the Don Epic by the Russian Nobel Prize winning novelist Mikhail Sholokhov (I think the Melekhov family will be with me always).
  • The Don Flows Home to the Sea‘ (1978, USSR 1940) as the second part of the Don Epic by the Russian Nobel Prize winning novelist Mikhail Sholokhov.
  • Anna Karenina‘ (1995, serial installments 1873-77) by Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (not pictured).
  • The Periodic Table‘ (2000) by the Italian chemist and writer Primo Levi (not pictured).
  • Timequake‘ (1997) by the American novelist Kurt Vonnegut (not pictured).
  • The Stranger‘ (also known as The Outsider, or L’Etranger in the original French version) (or.1942) by the French author and philosopher Albert Camus (not pictured).

Of course this is just a selection of some of my favourite recent books that I have come across.  Every time I enter a library I feel honoured to share the same space as so many great works of literature and art.  The beauty of the written word never ceases to amaze me, whether it is from a novel, a poem or a piece of travel writing.  It can open up new ways of thinking about every day events, or provide new views on events or people you thought you knew.  It can move you to the edge of tears, or terrify you to point of horror.  The sign of a truly great book is one that keeps you hooked, long after you should have been asleep after a busy day.

I shall forever have treasured and fond memories of volunteering in a Oxfam book and music store, and mulling over which book I should buy next when my shift ended.  One of the pure joys of books is passing them onto friends once you have finished it to lend it out or give it to someone else to enjoy.  I haven’t included any brief synopsis’ of the books here because I want you to take a minute or two to click the link and have an explore, and see what you think is interesting.