If, like me, you use GoodReads’ annual Reading Challenge feature to track and record your reading goals, you may have noticed that many people are reading over 100 books a year.
That is very impressive and I’m more than a little envious of those numbers. The reason is that I have a substantial number of books, fiction and non fiction, that I’m hoping to get through in my lifetime.
I say lifetime because at my current rate of 25 books a year there’s no way I could get through my entire TBR list. I mentioned in a previous post – The Health Benefits of Reading – that I read every night before I go to bed. The thing is, while I read every day, it’s not long enough to achieve the kind of volume of books I’d like.
Then I found Charles Chu’s article about how to read 200 books a year. He describes how we can all read 200 books a year if we reallocated the time we spend on social media and watching TV to reading. He bases his calculations on a reading rate of 400 words per minute and the average non fiction book word count of 50 000 words.
I decided I would look into this calculation for myself to determine the veracity of his claim and get some numbers that are also relevant to fiction readers.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro was published in 2005 and was a Man Booker, Arthur C. Clarke, and James Tait Black Memorial Prize Nominee. Though the novel didn’t win any of those awards it is one of Ishiguro’s most popular novels.
Last year I read Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day which I really enjoyed. I ‘discovered’ Ishiguro’s writing in that book and I liked it so much that I feel I would follow him into any story he wrote. This is why I decided to read Never Let Me Go. It felt a natural progression into the works of an author I intend to continue reading. The thing is, I wasn’t sure what to expect because the blurb, which you can read below, and its mention of boarding school ongoings didn’t really strike me as my cup of tea.
“From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day comes a devastating new novel of innocence, knowledge, and loss. As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were. Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special–and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Suspenseful, moving, beautifully atmospheric, Never Let Me Go is another classic by the author of The Remains of the Day.” (GoodReads)
However, and this is a big however, I had no idea what I was in for. That blurb gives you absolutely no clue as to the world you are about to step into. And thank goodness for that. Not knowing beforehand is key to the surprise, especially together with the way Ishiguro tells this story.
As always, his writing is lovely and his characterisation is spot on. The pace and the sprinkling of breadcrumbs is well planned. I can not tell you what this is actually about, of course, because I won’t take the shock of the discovery away from you. It’s what makes this book. It’s what contrasts the normalcy of the rest of the story which is an important detail.
Never Let Me Go was a good book. My advice is read it, without reading any blurbs, articles, or conversations about it. Don’t let anyone spoil it for you.
You’ve decided to learn a new language. You’ve bought a book. After the initial excitement of exploring this new world begins to fade, page by page, you may begin to wonder what you’ve got yourself into.
Fear not, it always starts that way. It’s new, it’s foreign, and it’s confusing.
I’m from a country that has 11 national languages. Being bilingual is not an option but a requirement. After learning three additional languages, I can tell you that there is light at the end of the tunnel. You can get to the point of actually understanding and speaking a new language. You just have to set yourself up for success.
The 2016 Etisalat Prize for Literature Shortlist is out and brings us 3 novels from the African continent. This year two Nigerians and one South African are vying for the prize.
The Seed Thief by Jacqui L’Ange
“Sometimes the thing you find is not the one you were looking for. When botanist Maddy Bellani is asked to travel to Brazil to collect rare seeds from a plant that could cure cancer, she reluctantly agrees. Securing the seeds would be a coup for the seed bank in Cape Town where she works, but Brazil is the country of her birth and home to her estranged father. Her mission is challenging, despite the help of alluring local plantexpert Zé. The plant specimen is elusive, its seeds guarded by a sect wary of outsiders. Maddy must also find her way in a world influenced by unscrupulous pharmaceutical companies and the selfish motives of others. Entrancing and richly imagined, The Seed Thief is a modern love story with an ancient history, a tale that moves from flora of Table Mountain to the heart of Afro-Brazilian spiritualism.” (GoodReads)
And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile
“During the rainy season of 1995, in the bustling town of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, one family’s life is disrupted by the sudden disappearance of seventeen-year-old Paul Utu, beloved brother and son. As they grapple with the sudden loss of their darling boy, they embark on a painful and moving journey of immense power which changes their lives forever and shatters the fragile ecosystem of their once ordered family. Ajie, the youngest sibling, is burdened with the guilt of having seen Paul last and convinced that his vanished brother was betrayed long ago. But his search for the truth uncovers hidden family secrets and reawakens old, long forgotten ghosts as rumours of police brutality, oil shortages, and frenzied student protests serve as a backdrop to his pursuit. In a tale that moves seamlessly back and forth through time, Ajie relives a trip to the family’s ancestral village where, together, he and his family listen to the myths of how their people settled there, while the villagers argue over the mysterious Company, who found oil on their land and will do anything to guarantee support. As the story builds towards its stunning conclusion, it becomes clear that only once past and present come to a crossroads will Ajie and his family finally find the answers they have been searching for. And After Many Days introduces Ile’s spellbinding ability to tightly weave together personal and political loss until, inevitably, the two threads become nearly indistinguishable. It is a masterful story of childhood, of the delicate, complex balance between the powerful and the powerless, and a searing portrait of a community as the old order gives way to the new.” (GoodReads)
Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya
“Ifi and Job, a Nigerian couple in an arranged marriage, begin their lives together in Nebraska with a single, outrageous lie: that Job is a doctor, not a college dropout. Unwittingly, Ifi becomes his co-conspirator—that is until his first wife, Cheryl, whom he married for a green card years ago, reenters the picture and upsets Job’s tenuous balancing act.” (GoodReads)
The National Book Critics Circle has announced the finalists for the 2016 awards. They have awarded the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award to Margaret Atwood. The NBCC awards will be presented on the 16th March in New York. I’m going to share the finalists for the Fiction category here but follow the above link to see the finalists in the other categories.
Moonglow by Michael Chabon
“In 1989, fresh from the publication of his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon travelled to his mother’s home in Oakland, California to visit his terminally ill grandfather. Tongue loosened by powerful painkillers, memory stirred by the imminence of death, Chabon’s grandfather shared recollections and told stories the younger man had never heard before, uncovering bits and pieces of a history long buried and forgotten. That dreamlike week of revelations forms the basis for the novel Moonglow, the latest feat of legerdemain in the ongoing magic act that is the art of Michael Chabon. Moonglow unfolds as the deathbed confession, made to his grandson, of a man the narrator refers to only as “my grandfather.” It is a tale of madness, of war and adventure, of sex and desire and ordinary love, of existential doubt and model rocketry, of the shining aspirations and demonic underpinnings of American technological accomplishment at mid-century and, above all, of the destructive impact—and the creative power—of the keeping of secrets and the telling of lies. A gripping, poignant, tragicomic, scrupulously researched and wholly imaginary transcript of a life that spanned the dark heart of the twentieth century, Moonglow is also a tour de force of speculative history in which Chabon attempts to reconstruct the mysterious origins and fate of Chabon Scientific, Co., an authentic mail-order novelty company whose ads for scale models of human skeletons, combustion engines and space rockets were once a fixture in the back pages of Esquire, Popular Mechanics, and Boy’s Life. Along the way Chabon devises and reveals, in bits and pieces whose hallucinatory intensity is matched only by their comic vigour and the radiant moonglow of his prose, a secret history of his own imagination. From the Jewish slums of pre-war South Philadelphia to the invasion of Germany, from a Florida retirement village to the penal utopia of New York’s Wallkill Prison, from the heyday of the space program to the twilight of “the American Century,” Moonglow collapses an era into a single life and a lifetime into a single week. A lie that tells the truth, a work of fictional non-fiction, an autobiography wrapped in a novel disguised as a memoir, Moonglow is Chabon at his most daring, his most moving, his most Chabonesque.” (GoodReads)
LaRose by Louise Erdrich
“North Dakota, late summer, 1999. Landreaux Iron stalks a deer along the edge of the property bordering his own. He shoots with easy confidence—but when the buck springs away, Landreaux realizes he’s hit something else, a blur he saw as he squeezed the trigger. When he staggers closer, he realizes he has killed his neighbour’s five-year-old son, Dusty Ravich. The youngest child of his friend and neighbour, Peter Ravich, Dusty was best friends with Landreaux’s five-year-old son, LaRose. The two families have always been close, sharing food, clothing, and rides into town; their children played together despite going to different schools; and Landreaux’s wife, Emmaline, is half sister to Dusty’s mother, Nola. Horrified at what he’s done, the recovered alcoholic turns to an Ojibwe tribe tradition—the sweat lodge—for guidance, and finds a way forward. Following an ancient means of retribution, he and Emmaline will give LaRose to the grieving Peter and Nola. “Our son will be your son now,” they tell them. LaRose is quickly absorbed into his new family. Plagued by thoughts of suicide, Nola dotes on him, keeping her darkness at bay. His fierce, rebellious new “sister,” Maggie, welcomes him as a co conspirator who can ease her volatile mother’s terrifying moods. Gradually he’s allowed shared visits with his birth family, whose sorrow mirrors the Raviches’ own. As the years pass, LaRose becomes the linchpin linking the Irons and the Raviches, and eventually their mutual pain begins to heal. But when a vengeful man with a long-standing grudge against Landreaux begins raising trouble, hurling accusations of a cover-up the day Dusty died, he threatens the tenuous peace that has kept these two fragile families whole.” (GoodReads)
Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
“When Margaret’s fiancé, John, is hospitalized for depression in 1960s London, she faces a choice: carry on with their plans despite what she now knows of his condition, or back away from the suffering it may bring her. She decides to marry him. Imagine Me Gone is the unforgettable story of what unfolds from this act of love and faith. At the heart of it is their eldest son, Michael, a brilliant, anxious music fanatic who makes sense of the world through parody. Over the span of decades, his younger siblings–the savvy and responsible Celia and the ambitious and tightly controlled Alec–struggle along with their mother to care for Michael’s increasingly troubled and precarious existence.” (GoodReads)
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller is a dystopia novel published in 2012. It was a 2013 nominee for the Arthur C Clarke Award for Best Novel. This is another novel that has been on my TBR list since it came out.
“Hig somehow survived the flu pandemic that killed everyone he knows. Now his wife is gone, his friends are dead, and he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, Jasper, and a mercurial, gun-toting misanthrope named Bangley. But when a random transmission beams through the radio of his 1956 Cessna, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life exists outside their tightly controlled perimeter. Risking everything, he flies past his point of no return and follows its static-broken trail, only to find something that is both better and worse than anything he could ever hope for.“ (GoodReads)
Without intending to I’ve read a few dystopia novels from my TBR list fairly close together. They all offer something different. Some offer a view into an alternate world resulting from an idea or technology taken too far. Others, like this one, aren’t really about an alternate world but instead about the people left behind.
In The Dog Stars the world is still the world we know just without all the people. There are only tiny pockets of people left alive trying to survive a world without a modern economy. They’re trying to live in the face of the loss of their loved ones and the comforts of their prior lives.
It’s a lovely book that mostly takes the form of Hig’s internal dialogue or thoughts. Some people didn’t enjoy the way it was written because of the punctuation and sentence structure. Honestly, I barely noticed it. Reading it was like following Hig in his mind and everything made sense. I enjoyed reading it and it was a different take on the dystopia story.
Earlier I shared a quote by William Thackery about the two most engaging powers of a photograph.
“The two most engaging powers of a photograph are to make new things familiar and familiar things new”
As a photography enthusiast I think that capturing something new is part of the passion. We all want to get that shot of something people rarely see or, if we’re lucky enough, something no one has ever seen before. We go to new corners of our cities or travel to distant shores to capture the new.
But what about breathing new life into the familiar of our lives? Thackery’s quote got me thinking about how I can use the familiar to become a better photographer.
It isn’t easy to make the familiar new. You’ve got to position yourself both physically and mentally in a new place to see the familiar differently, to envision how we can portray it differently, and thus make it new.
As we begin 2017 some are thinking about new photography projects and others may be thinking about resolutions. Endeavouring to make the familiar new could be a great project to improve your photography but it can be so much more.
Looking at our every day lives with fresh eyes and capturing it from a different perspective may well give us a renewed perspective on our lives. It could be a creative practice of mindfulness. You may find you are surrounded by more beauty than you were aware of and you may see all the things you can change to make things better for yourself.
Wishing you all a prosperous 2017!
“And each successive shot was another loud, fateful rap on the door of my undoing.”
Pg 50 of The Stranger by Albert Camus
The Stranger is a short novel published in 1942 by famous French author Albert Camus. Camus was born in Algeria in 1913 and became a philosopher, author, and journalist. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957.
The Stranger was Camus’ first novel and Claire Messud writes in A New ‘L’Étranger’ that it is “one of the most widely read French novels of the twentieth century…”
This is my first Camus novel which I chose because many speak so highly of it. I enjoyed the story and I found the character Meursault to be interestingly different.
This book was originally written in French and I happened to read Stuart Gilbert’s translation. There were parts of the story where the English didn’t feel right to me and I became conscious that it was a translation which I don’t think should happen. This version left me feeling that I might have been better off reading Matthew Ward or Sandra Smith’s translation. It doesn’t always happen this way but with this particular novel the translation version you read will definitely affect how you perceive this story and ultimately that is the key to The Stranger.
When you read what others have written about this book you will undoubtedly come across descriptions like wikipedia’s: “Its theme and outlook are often cited as examples of Camus’s philosophy of the absurd and existentialism, though Camus personally rejected the latter label”. I am not going to pretend to know anything about any of that.
What I can tell you is that the main character, Meursault, comes across as a bit strange. Throughout the story you get the distinct impression that he does not conform. He does not follow the norms set out by society about how we should be. He didn’t seem to me as a bad guy but he didn’t seem to have a moral compass and passed absolutely no judgement on what the rest of society might well deem worthy of judgement. What I found incredibly interesting about this is the way Camus wrote him. While he does not subscribe to society’s moral code he did not come across as a bad person but rather a different person. How society, and you the reader, would deal with a person like this seems to me to be the crux of this story. And indeed, according to David Carroll in his book Albert Camus the Algerian: Colonialism, Terrorism, Justice, Camus himself wrote in January 1955:
“I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.’ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.”
The title of the book points to this also. Unfortunately, in English the title doesn’t carry across all the meanings as it does in the French L’Étranger. I don’t speak French but as a foreigner in a Portuguese speaking country I learned early on that ‘estrangeiro’ (and the French ‘Étranger’) means a foreigner, a stranger, and an outsider. The context determines which meaning is implied. The story reminded me of this throughout because Meursault is all three; a foreigner in Algeria, an outsider to society, and a bit of a stranger to those around him.
My sentiments are echoed in Sandra Smith’s introduction to her new translation of The Stranger the title of which she has altered to The Outsider:
“In French, étranger can be translated as “outsider,” “stranger” or “foreigner.” Our protagonist, Meursault, is all three, and the concept of an outsider encapsulates all these possible meanings: Meursault is a stranger to himself, an outsider to society and a foreigner because he is a Frenchman in Algeria.”
This quote was taken from Claire Messud’s article A New ‘L’Étranger’ which is well worth reading after you read the book. Another article that I enjoyed is Lost in Translation by Ryan Bloom which shows how important a good translation is to fully appreciating these seemingly ‘simple’ novels of the past.
I enjoyed reading this short book but choose your translation wisely.
Eggers’ The Circle was published in 2013 and there was a lot of talk about the book that year. This story about a young woman who goes to work at a powerful tech company is still pertinent this year, if not more so, given the evolution we’ve seen recently of major tech companies.
“When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in America–even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.“ (GoodReads)
Eggers gives us a look at the extremes of living in the digital age. It asks us to think about how our behaviour and relationships change as we increasingly intertwine our lives with digital tech.
Right now we all know people who are avid users of Facebook, for example, who share most of their lives on their timeline as well as people who either choose not to use Facebook as often or at all. It’s a personal preference and we respect that. But what if it was mandatory to share your life on the internet for all to see? What if your right to digital privacy and anonymity was no longer seen as a right and you could no longer opt out of the online sharing frenzy?
This may or may not terrify you depending on your personal preferences. As The Circle unfolded and I followed Mae’s journey within the company and their requirements, values, and ideas were slowly revealed I felt a strong sense of foreboding. I felt an overwhelming sense of how it could all go horribly wrong. I had a feeling, too, that if the circle were to be completed in the real world, as they seek to do in the book, then a great deal of us would feel very violated.
That was just my response though. From the way the story is written Eggers passes no judgement one way or the other. I think when you read this book how you feel as it develops will show if, at the end, you are a Mae or a Kalden. You are either comfortable with The Circle world or not.
I enjoyed reading The Circle and recommend it. It doesn’t have the ending that you might be expecting as you read it but I thought the actual ending was pretty terrifying, honestly. A major film adaptation of this book is set to be released in 2017 starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks.
This year’s Man Booker prize went to The Sellout by Paul Beatty. Beatty’s novel also won the NBCC fiction prize earlier this year and he is the first American author to win the Man Booker prize since US authors became eligible in 2014.
The 2016 Chair of judges, Amanda Foreman, commented that: ‘The Sellout is a novel for our times. A tirelessly inventive modern satire, its humour disguises a radical seriousness. Paul Beatty slays sacred cows with abandon and takes aim at racial and political taboos with wit, verve and a snarl.’ You can read more about the author, novel, and prize here.
“Paul Beatty’s The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, it challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant. Born in the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens—on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles—the narrator of The Sellout resigns himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians: “I’d die in the same bedroom I’d grown up in, looking up at the cracks in the stucco ceiling that’ve been there since ’68 quake.” Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father’s pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family’s financial woes, but when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that’s left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral. Fueled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town’s most famous resident—the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins—he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.“ (GoodReads)
If you missed it you can have a look at the 2016 Man Booker shortlist for further reading inspiration.
I’ve read a few different books about creativity within the last 2 years written by different types of creatives. I’ve read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert who is a writer, the artist Austin Kleon’s two books Steal Like An Artist and Show Your Work, and most recently The Crossroads of Should and Must by artist Elle Luna.
I’ve enjoyed all of these books and while you might be wondering how many books about creativity you can read before it gets monotonous I’ve noted that every creative has their own way of conjuring creativity and has had different experiences within their various creative fields.
“Creativity is not a gift from the gods, says Twyla Tharp, bestowed by some divine and mystical spark. It is the product of preparation and effort, and it’s within reach of everyone who wants to achieve it. All it takes is the willingness to make creativity a habit, an integral part of your life: In order to be creative, you have to know how to prepare to be creative. In The Creative Habit, Tharp takes the lessons she has learned in her remarkable thirty-five-year career and shares them with you, whatever creative impulses you follow — whether you are a painter, composer, writer, director, choreographer, or, for that matter, a businessperson working on a deal, a chef developing a new dish, a mother wanting her child to see the world anew. When Tharp is at a creative dead end, she relies on a lifetime of exercises to help her get out of the rut, and The Creative Habit contains more than thirty of them to ease the fears of anyone facing a blank beginning and to open the mind to new possibilities.” (GoodReads)
Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit is about her approach to creativity as a choreographer. You don’t have to be interested in dance to enjoy this book because it is firmly centred on her creativity method. I enjoyed reading the book. She is smart and interesting and naturally this makes for good reading. Her approach is completely different from what I’ve previously read.
Her advice is very practical and comes with exercises. While I didn’t feel the exercise sections were really necessary after reading her chapters, she goes into detail and some of you may well find these sections helpful. If you’re interested in creativity you will probably enjoy this.
Sham Jolimie is a photographer featured in this Fstoppers article. Her haunting animal portraits are a thing of beauty. Jolimie is an advocate for animal welfare and social justice and her portraits of animals, particularly wild animals, shine a light on their humanity (for lack of a better word) and ask us to see them differently.
Her shot of an owl in the rain has captured many hearts for its raw emotion.
“I shot this precious moment on a rainy monsoon day. I stood in ankle deep rainwater and shared a silent conversation with this shivering wet owl. We stared at each other for a long while. Its deep intelligent eyes and sad demeanour changed my perception of birds forever. They are more sentient and self-aware than I ever imagined. Owls have tiny facial muscles that allow them to show their feelings on their faces, just like humans.”
Jolimie’s Instagram is filled with shots like this and more. Without doubt you’ll find creative inspiration and beautiful photography.