Summer lovin’ of reading

I lasted just 200 pages with Dan Brown’s Inferno. As the summer hotted up my taste for thrillers cooled down and having been swept up by the social media whirlwind that surrounded Stoner by John Williams I swung into some non-stop summer reading.

Described by Vintage books as a ‘forgotten classic’, Stoner is about an American Professor William Stoner and his rather ordinary life. And it’s this ordinary element that enraptured me. Nothing much happened apart from a loveless marriage and a man growing older and succumbing to the disappointments of ordinary life. But it was Williams’s writing that made me read this in just a few days. I couldn’t put it down. It’s one of those reads that you can’t quite describe because you’re drawn in and you can’t quite fathom why. It’s a marmite book – you either love it or hate it, but I recommend that you give it a try.

Following on from a rather reflection-inducing read was another, Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. I’d been wanting to read this for years, I got the impression from various reviews and by word of mouth that it was going to be compelling, moving and worth the wait. And plot and story-wise it was.

Birdsong

But the inventive, breath-gasping literary sensation I’d built up in my head didn’t live up to my somewhat misplaced and misjudged expectation. There’s no doubting that any novel based on the First World War is going to tug at some heartstrings, bring painfully into the present the searingly tragic events that took place nearly a century ago. It was a strange read.

As we often say at bookshare, you have to feel something for the main character(s) to really be taken by a book.

And I disliked Stephen from the off.

For his nonchalance, lack of empathy, ease at tossing loved ones aside and his own misplaced expectation of life. But in the last third of the book, as he’s trapped underground in a tunnel, his fellow fighter having died beside him, hanging onto to dear life, I was there, I was with him, I could feel him breathe, his anxiety, his apathy.

So whilst the writing was not the literary sensation I was hoping to devour, the subject caught me, it made me think about the role my own ancestors may have played in WWI and it made me grateful they fought, and the legacy we can give them is just to never forget.

I read Birdsong at a time of personal sadness, with the passing of my last remaining grandparent and all the thoughts and feelings that brings. Having finished Birdsong and not wishing to deepen the sadness, I turned to a book that’s raucously colourful cover had grabbed me in my local secondhand bookshop, and which now promised a lighter, cheerier tone. With a cover so bright, the story inside must be too, right?

White-tiger

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga did not disappoint, by page two I was chuckling.

“It is an ancient and venerated custom of people in my country to start a story by praying to a Higher Power.
“I guess, Your Excellency, that I too should start off by kissing some god’s arse.
“Which god’s arse, though? There are so many choices.
“See, the Muslims have one god.
“The Christians have three gods.
“And we Hindus have 36,000,004 divine arses to choose from.”

Brilliant, vibrantly written, Adiga brings the colour of India to life. He uses the humourous voice of Balram – a boy, I mean ‘The White Tiger’, to peel back the truth of India’s underbelly. The White Tiger seeks to better himself in a rather unsavoury fashion. The side-splitting humour that litters the first half of the book calms throughout the second, making way for the serious, disturbing reality to seep through to the surface of the novel. Whenever I’m engrossed and enjoying a book, I always find the end evaporates into a semi-silent ‘pffffff’ – testament that I don’t want the book to end. And this is such book. Read it, devour it, consider it.

The colour soon faded as I embarked on re-reading A Child in Time by Ian McEwan.

McEwan's A Child in Time took on a whole new meaning, through the passage of time

McEwan’s A Child in Time took on a whole new meaning, through the passage of time

I first read this 14 years ago when I was studying A level English literature. I disliked the language, the depressing tone and felt no empathy for the characters. I’d seen McEwan give a lecture and thought he was pompous. So for years (17 in fact) I swore I’d never read a McEwan book again. That was until one of our book sharers David read and reviewed it, and kindly lent me his copy.

We’d talked about how the books you’re ‘made’ to read at school can make you love or loathe a genre/author and this was a classic case of the latter for me. But I’m so glad I tried again as where I found his writing over complicated aged 17, I now found it moving and compelling, with an interesting writing style that drew me in and held me till the end. Where I had no concept of the subject matter as a teenager, it now resonated strongly and the powerful complicated nature of relationships which were expertly weaved. McEwan is affecting.

I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed reading this again, and rather fittingly the whole book centred around the perception and passage of time, and this for me has been a case in point… it’s worth allowing time to pass before tackling a school read again, but that you really must try again – the passage of time can bring a whole new enjoyment to a book. Thanks to David for sharing it with me. I may very well try another McEwan sometime, but given how much this author ‘affects’ me I may very well let a good few years go by before I do.

And as the summer draws to a close, I’m setting my sights on a classic autumn, having already raced through George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, and embarking on Leo Tolstoy’s epic Anna Karenina on my new e-reader… the summer may be drawing to a close, but my love of reading is still spring-like.

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