January Reading Summary

So what has my first month of reading freedom brought me? By freedom, I mean of course not having to read any books for review, following my own whims and jumping into rabbit holes. There was only one book that I had already promised to review, and that was the controversial story of child killers The Flower Girls by Alice Clark-Platts. But other than that, I was free as a bird or a butterfly, so which flowers have I alighted on?

11 books, no less, and some of these were massive 500+ books, so great in terms of quantity, but also of quality.

First and foremost, January has got me obsessed with Romanian playwright, novelist and essayist Mihail Sebastian. I read his polemical novel about being Jewish in Romania, his essay in response to the outrage he experienced upon publication of that novel, and his diaries which pick up the story from where he left it off in the novel. I am also now rereading his novels and trying to get hold of his plays (in Romanian, of course, but some of his work has been translated into English, with more forthcoming).

Traditional uniform of Hungarian Hussars.

I’ve become equally absorbed with the work of Miklos Banffy, as I read the second and third books in his Transylvanian trilogy after a year’s break following the first volume. I was so reluctant to reemerge into the real world after bathing in that beautiful description of a vanished world, although I was slightly disappointed that the story stops with the outbreak of the war (and Balint’s family all gaily setting off as Hussars in the army). I will be reviewing the trilogy shortly for my #EU27Project, and beware! It might end up being a bit of a mammoth post.

The third obsession this month has been poets talking about poetry, where they find inspiration, the craft of poetry, what a poet’s role is in society etc. I’ve started with Denise Levertov and Maxine Kumin, but have a few others planned for next month.

Idyllic landscape of Rwanda today, hiding the scars of yesterday, from Africa.com

I read a lot of women this month too. In addition to the two poets, I also read Scholastique Mukasonga’s remarkable account of a rapidly disappearing traditional way of Tutsi life in Rwanda just prior to the genocide The Barefoot Woman. Another woman’s account of war was Pat Barker‘s The Silence of the Girls, a very different book, not based on personal experience, more shouty than understated.

I’ve also read Jana Benova‘s Seeing People Off, a Slovakian entry to my #EU27Project. I still have to write the full review of this short, snappy novel, a series of vignettes offering an often hilarious, satirical account of post-Communist life in the artistic milieu in Bratislava.

Another short but biting satire was Fernando Sdrigotti’s Shitstorm, forcing us to take a good hard look at ourselves and how we conduct our lives and debates online, moving quickly onto the next scandal that we can be indignant about, without really being fully implicated. I can’t help but wonder what Sebastian would have made of it all. I think this may become my theme when looking at any present-day news: ‘What would Orwell and Sebastian say about this?’, although Sebastian, with his gentler, more forgiving approach, is perhaps closer to me in spirit.

So much happier now that I’m following my own interests in reading, with no qualms about abandoning books that promise to be average or not quite captivating. This month I didn’t finish The Binding for example, a new book just out which sounded great in concept, but failed to set my heart alight. I’m sure it will do well commercially though, it has The Miniaturist success written all over it.

10 thoughts on “January Reading Summary”

  1. Shitstorm caught my eye having become far too caught up in Brexit on Twitter which has done me no good at all and stopped me from properly thinking about it. Thanks for alerting me to it.

  2. Wonderful month and some real chunksters there! It really is the best when you can just follow your whims and read what you want without feeling obliged to pick up a book. I know I’m much happier without challenges and limitations!

  3. I’m very happy for you that you followed your own instincts this month, Marina Sofia. It’s lovely, isn’t it, to read exactly what you want, rather than read from a sense of obligation. And you read some fine work, too!

  4. It sounds really good – reading what you want when you want! That’s what I used to do before blogging – those review books don’t always live up to the blurbs. Once I’ve finished all my review books I’ll go back to doing just that.

  5. Very much looking forward to seeing your piece on the Banffy trilogy. What a marvellous set of books, broad in scope yet intimate in detail. I’m so glad you liked it.

  6. I’m glad you’re enjoying your reading freedom! I’ve just finished The Binding and wish I had abandoned it too, but I agree that it’s probably going to be a big success anyway.

  7. One of the liberating aspects of getting older is that we readers feel like all of our reading time is valuable and we have to choose books carefully and not due to obligation or pressure. And no one should hesitate to toss a do not finish book. A friend says that we should subtract our age from 100 — and just give the book the number of pages that remain, and if it’s not good at that point, stop reading.
    I have to do this.
    I marvel at how many books — and large tomes — you can read in a month, and you work and have children. How do you do this?

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