With the library still closed I continue to read whatever books people throw at me. This week I’ve swapped my usual fiction for a true story: Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five. Its subtitle – The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper – tells one exactly what to expect: a story that has been told many times before and yet hasn’t. As Rubenhold rightly points out, the Ripper’s victims are often solely defined through their brief and fatal relation to their still unidentified killer. The Five aims to set this inaccuracy right and tell the untold stories of the victims’ lives rather than their deaths.
With an ongoing lockdown, and libraries shut until further notice, my book supply had all but dried up as of last week. For someone who always carries something to read and only sleeps soundly with a healthy to-read-stack waiting for her in the morning, this was a problem. I suffered withdrawal symptoms, albeit non-physical ones, and longed more for the escapism good books provide than ever before.
It’s always a joy to discover new authors. In my case there’s barely a method to the madness. When I stumbled upon Vasily Grossman’s An Armenian Sketchbook in my library’s travel section I borrowed the book for no other reason than liking to read about places I know next to nothing about. Little did I know.
If we consider ourselves as beings that are part of nature, protecting wildlife and combating climate change becomes more than something that “has to be done”. It becomes an act of self-preservation. Or, how an evening with nature writer Mark Cocker provoked some surprisingly deep thoughts.
What does it mean to be human? It’s perhaps one of the hardest questions one can ask oneself, or anyone else, and I’m not expecting to come across a coherent answer anytime soon. But, rather strikingly, two books I’ve read over the past week or so approach this existential problem from very different angles. The result being two books I’d highly recommend, not in the least because they speak to each other in quite unexpected ways.
Rarely have I encountered a less ambitious explanation of an author’s reasons for starting a literary career. But then again, Hubert Selby Jr. was no ordinary writer. Writing about the down and out, while struggling with poor health and addiction, one probably cares little about the literary establishment and its self-invented rules…
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