Reading & Events Summary July 2019

Not a lot of summer holidays for me this year, so my reading hasn’t been copious this month. [This may change over the next 3 weeks, when the boys are with their father in Greece.] Only 9 books completed, but most of them have been quite outstanding – and that is all thanks to the Russians. Their political leaders may be problematic, but boy, can their authors write!

I started off with a short, sharp satire Envy by Yuri (Yury?) Olesha. Isaac Babel’s Odessa Stories were a rambunctious delight, but with a disquieting undercurrent running throughout. The Strugatskys were in top form with Roadside Picnic, while Olga Grushin’s The Dream Life of Sukhanov captured a moment of tremendous change in recent history with great poignancy and lyricism. I haven’t yet reviewed Light-Headed by Olga Slavnikova (which I read in the French translation), but it’s another great piece of satire, although perhaps it could have been a bit shorter without losing any of its punch.

The Russians were excellent company. I will miss them and, yes, there were some communalities to all these authors (or perhaps I sub-consciously chose works that were of similar nature). Their humour is always rather dark and biting, their stories a mix of laugh-out-loud absurdity and profound sadness. The big questions of life are addressed, even though mostly in a roundabout way that decades if not centuries of censorship have cultivated to perfection. And I find their dash of surrealism not just tolerable but necessary and fun, unlike some works in the magical realism tradition.

In-between these hard-hitting books, I found my brain craved less demanding fare. I was either rereading either old favourites like the second book in the Ripley series by Patricia Highsmith (the one with the art forgeries) or else Adrian Mole (however, the trials and tribulations of a middle-aged Mole made me shudder rather than laugh). I also read two contemporary books focused on friendships, marriages, gender expectations and growing older.

I will probably compare and contrast Anna Hope’s Expectation with William Nicholson’s Adventures in Modern Marriage at some point, but although they were fun and easy to read (I deliberately avoided making too many comparisons with my own marriage or ageing), they were rather underwhelming. In any other month of reading, they might have scored higher, but when I put them up against the Russians, they seemed rather anemic.

5 women authors, 4 books in translation (Olga Grushin wrote her book directly in English). Next month will be all about women in translation and I am heading off to Brazil. My selection includes: Clarice Lispector’s short stories, Patricia Melo’s tale of revenge Lost World, Fernanda Torres’ account of old macho beach bums The End and, to balance things out, The Head of the Saint by Socorro Acioli.

If I get a chance to read any other women in translation, it will be Marion Poschmann’s The Pine Islands (set in my beloved Japan but written in German) and History. A Mess. by Sigrun Palsdottir (the latest Asymptote Book Club title, from Iceland). I might also read some Brazilian men, for balance. And, of course, I should read the books I borrowed from the library: Lissa Evans’ Old Baggage and Jonathan Coe’s Middle England, as well as dip in and out of Sylvia Plath’s Unabridged Diaries.

Beyond the reading, this month has been quite tiring: a lot of deadlines at work, both boys doing their Duke of Edinburgh expeditions, plus a lot of visiting of universities (which has its fun moments but involves a lot of driving and organising). I’ve done three things that go beyond the routine: went to the opera, attended an immersive theatre experience of Shakespeare’s The Tempest in Oxford and sat in the public gallery at a criminal trial at the Old Bailey.

How has your month been? Do tell me about your holiday plans! I’m not going anywhere on holiday just yet, but this song always puts me in a holiday mood. Thank you, Caroline, for sharing your flash fiction based on this song with me. Do check it out here.

16 thoughts on “Reading & Events Summary July 2019”

  1. That’s an impressive reading spread in my opinion and great to have some Russian recommendations. I’m working through summer too but it feels freer not having to shuffle children here and there. I’m looking forward to reading women in translation and to catch up with what everyone else is reading. Enjoy the solitude, in the company of great books.

    1. Yes, there has been far too much shuffling of children so far in my summer (and the older one has been on holiday since the 14th of June!). Of course, I will miss them as soon as they are gone, but it will be restful.

  2. No matter how busy you are, you always fit in books and cultural events, so I am in total awe of your energy.
    Not going away this year as I’m happy to be at home and enjoy the delights of Beccles and beyond, especially with the glorious weather we’ve been having. Spent a couple of days in Canterbury last week for daughter’s Graduation in the cathedral, which was an amazing day. She’s chosen to live in Canterbury as now has a job using her computer science degree.
    Next week my mum arrives to spend a few days here, so it will feel like a mini-break visiting local attractions and eating out.
    I intend fitting in reading and writing when peace reigns for a few hours. Enjoy your time whilst your sons are away to recharge your batteries with a plethora of books.

    1. Congratulations to your daughter – and to yourself! I’m beginning to realise just what a hard slog it is getting them so far… All the reading and events keep me sane. I often feel too tired and moan about having overscheduled myself, but, in retrospect, I’m always glad I did go.

      1. Thank you, she got the First she wanted and worked hard to get it. It is a hard slog but oh so worth it when they achieve their desired goals. You’re a wonderful example to your boys so I imagine they will go far.

  3. You have had a busy month, Marina Sofia! I’m glad you’ve gotten the chance to do a little reading, too, and I’m especially glad you weren’t disappointed. I think it’s interesting you mention some of the commonalities among the books you read. Perhaps we do sub-consciously choose certain books…

    1. There might be some cultural similarities involved as well, or perhaps certain type of books from a country are more likely to get translated. There was certainly more in common amongst my Russian writers than amongst my American writers.

    1. I completely understand your passion for them. I’ve never read a big batch of them before, only the odd one interspersed among other reads, so it was a new experience for me.

  4. The Russians are hard to top for sure. A colleague was just saying how he finds much of the fiction that’s being published these days very thin in comparison with modern classics and older fiction. Naturally there are exceptions to this, but even so, I think he has a point. The richness and sense of depth is often missing…

    1. I sometimes feel that style has overtaken substance (at least with contemporary American authors I feel that – wonder if MFAs have something to do with it?).

  5. Very impressive all that you do, while working full-time and raising your two sons. I am reading relaxing books which do not tax my brain, while trying to keep up with the insane news over here and not be totally overwhelmed by it. I know there is political craziness there, too. It’s stupefying what’s allowed to emanate from the White House with silence from so many senators and congress members. The debates are somewhat entertaining and allow pundits to talk all night. I’m reading nice, easy books with a few dead bodies thrown in. I just keep adding books to my lists.

    1. It keeps me from falling into despondency – as you say, the news frenzy doesn’t help, plus I will have no peace until the financial settlement is finally settled (although I bet my ex will find other ways to make my life hell even after that is done). I alternate between less taxing books and the more challenging ones, otherwise I’d go mad!

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