I have done very little reading over the past few months, and even less writing, because, well, life. That and the library still being closed. Fortunately things appear to be taking a turn for the better and I have discovered a little community library I’ve been borrowing books from. It’s little more than an oversized cupboard in a green space aptly named Old Library Wood. A bit of research suggests that its presence is part of an ongoing effort to make the area a safer and more pleasant space for local residents. Of course books should be part of that. Books are always a good idea.
I’ve read several of its books so far and left some unwanted books of my own (so far, no takers for the Jilly Cooper). The choice of books is naturally quite limited and has led me to pick some books that I wouldn’t normally have tried. It proves that verging from your comfort zone still rocks, especially now that covid-related restrictions have now been in place for over a year.
Nick Danziger – Danziger’s Travels
I love travel books and although I had never heard of this author I was instantly drawn to this book. In 1984 Danziger, an aspiring artist, travelled all the way to China across Turkey, Central Asia, and even Tibet. I’m not much of a traveller myself, even in non-covid times, but I love to read about other people’s enthusiastic efforts to see remote, uncomfortable and downright dangerous parts of the world. Danziger does not disappoint: his account of travelling across Afghanistan is harrowing and his affectionate stories about China’s Uighur minority only hit harder knowing with current events in mind. Although he mentions struggling to readjust to British society after this return, Danziger went on to become a successful photographer.
Jennifer Egan – Manhattan Beach
Many people, a quick look at Goodreads suggests, hate this book. And sure, it’s pace is slow, events sometimes convoluted, and its characters hard to like. But about halfway through this fictional account of New York during World War II really started to draw me in. Egan’s dialogue writing is brilliant, especially when she writes about gangster life, in which so much is left unsaid. But I was most touch by the story of Anna, one of the first female divers working on the New York naval yard. Anna’s story is fictional, but Egan based her on several real women. As a woman who likes her independence, Anna’s fight to do a man’s job she is better qualified for than many of her male colleagues, and her determination to live her life the way she wants to, really touched me.
Markus Zusak – I Am the Messenger
I admit I am prejudiced towards Zusak because I disliked the film version of The Book Thief (his most successful novel) so much. But I picked this book nonetheless because the premise intrigued me: down and out cab driver receives mysterious messages ordering him to help those around him lead happier life. Could be sentimental but isn’t. In fact, though protagonist Ed is hardly Philip Marlowe, the pared-down language evoked my favourite hardboiled detective novels, which can only be a good thing. The plot twist at the end, which I’m obviously not going to give away, was fun. But the part I most enjoyed, as with Manhattan Beach, were the dialogues and the tender descriptions of the complex relationships between the characters. Turns out I’ve gone of horror in the past year and developed a penchant for love. Who’d have thought?