30-Dec-2013

Book Update: And the year ends with..


Yet again I seem to have mostly forgotten what I have been reading. This is not a commentary a quality of the books. It is more my memory which is becoming like a sieve with each passing day. The positive side of this is that I can finally reread books without remembering what comes ahead. I am not entirely sure if I have already read Alice Munro’s Runaway but it does not matter because I enjoyed the book thoroughly and if I am doing it the second time without recollection of the first, so much the better. Runaway is a collection of short stories, located yet again somewhere in Northern Canada in small towns. Munro’s characters grip you beautifully and keep you engaged with their little human foibles.  Short stories can sometimes be too short or too brief to capture the stories they tell. Not so with this collection. You read a piece, savour it and feel satisfied.


I discovered two authors this time around both of whom I enjoyed. This has been a stroke of good luck since finding a good author is a lot tougher than it looks. Incidentally both authors were brought to my attention in the Guardian’s Books section. 


I had noted down Alan Furst’s name dutifully in my reading list and found his Dark Star in the library. This is a spy novel set in Poland just before the Second World War. I am no fan of spy novels, yet this one kept me going. Unfortunately I could not finish it before the extended due date and my mood changed and I moved on to other books. Then I went looking for him again and found Spies of Warsaw. Same settings. Clearly Furst specialises in one thing and he is bloody good at it. Spies of Warsaw held my attention a lot better. It traces a French military attaché posted in Warsaw. The attaché though is just an excuse to lovingly dwell into details of what the spy network would have been like back then and you sit there enthralled. One point I especially enjoyed was the author’s casual comment on Allied countries who spy on each other. Everyone knows everyone does it but when you are caught out by your so-called friends, it is embarrassing. Reminded me of U.S. and Germany now! 


The other author Kate Atkinson was in the news for not having made it to the Booker list this year. The library stocked an older novel ‘When will there be good news’. Despite the melodramatic name, the novel itself is quite gripping. A little girl witnesses a horrific incident. Years later, a young teenage babysitter worries about her employer. A policewoman wonders about her marriage while getting obsessed with one of her cases. An ex-policeman is on a questionable journey but is totally sidetracked. All these paths meander, sometimes joining together, sometimes not. It has been a while since I have read a fast paced thriller and I do enjoy my share of them. I am now waiting to go back and find another book by her.


There was Nadeem Aslam’s The Wasted Vigil. Inspired by a post on a friend’s facebook page, I looked for his Maps for Lost Lovers but the library only stocked this. Through its fictional setting, it describes the sad and long period of turmoil that Afghanistan has been going through. Another book that made me feel glad I have the life I have and was not born a woman in a fundamentalist setting. 


Apart from these notable books, I turned to an old favourite P.G. Wodehouse’s A Pelican at Blandings for comfort reading. What an author. What an author.


Also read a book by a ‘chick-lit’ author discovered by mom. Jane Green’s Other Woman chronicles the daughter-in-law and mother-in-law relationship. Like all these things there is a kernel of truth that gets stretched but not to the point where you throw your hands up. 


There was Maria Semple’s This One is Mine. The story revolves around two women. One of whom is married to a very well-off man, has a child, a good home, a good life and yet wants more. The other longs for all these symbols of stability and chases them. The protagonist sounded like an early and unpolished version of the one in Where do you go Bernadette. The latter book I loved. So this one was a slight disappointment. 


Now I recollect reading these books a while ago and forgetting to jot them down in the blog. Chicken, mules and two old fools by Victoria Twead. My mom had recommended it as light reading after spotting it on a blog some time ago. It indeed is, describing a couple who move countries, live in an idyllic location, renovate the house they are living in and make a killing selling it. Sounds like it is your dream come true? Yeah, I felt that way too.


I also read Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Torday. The name sounds light and funny, the book is less so. It starts off wryly enough describing a mid-level fisheries scientist who is roped into the hopeless project of starting salmon fishing in Yemen and the story goes on to tell us if that is actually achieved. There is a slight heaviness to the tone, with funny episodes having an underlying bleakness. Don’t expect laugh out loud and you should be ok.


I am quite satisfied with how 2013 has ended in terms of books. A friend and I were discussing books and she was amazed that I found time to read despite holding a full time job and having a kid. She is quite an avid reader herself, so it was well thought out, serious compliment. I thought about it and told her that reading seems to be the only constant in my life just now what with the baby and changing countries and all. 


So here is hoping I get to read more good books next year. Happy new year all.