Because books are a uniquely portable magic. (Stephen King)
I’m an avid reader, but I’m easily tempted to stick to the screen. This summer I promised myself to read more books and not only fantasy novels. I thought one book a week would be manageable and it was. I really enjoyed my summer reading and hope to keep up the rhythm for the time to come. Even if there will be probably a complete lack of sleep involved and a lot of diaper changing…
First of all, fantasy. I really love that genre, it lets me escape. I prefer a good series above individual books. Maybe because it gives me the chance to completely go under in a new world. Naomi Novik for me really has been a revelation. I’ve finished the fourth book of her series about the dragon Temeraire and I’m eager to continue. Alas, someone else is enjoying the fifth part right now, so I’ll have to wait a little longer for it to arrive in my library. What I like about it most, is the way the characters are deep and sophisticated where needed without overdoing it, and the setting that feels historical even when it isn’t completely (I mean, Napoleon fighting wars with dragons against the English with their own army supported by dragons…).
Less impressed I am with the second series I started this summer, it’s the Bitterbynde Trilogy by Cecilia Dart-Thornton. The first book got me though, it’s the second that was slightly disappointing. She has a way of weaving ancient tales through her stories, but it isn’t as subtle as I would like. At the end of the second book there were two fairy tales used to get her story together. It was a bit much for me and I didn’t like the way it turned out. In the first book it’s about a child, completely deformed, completely lost her memory and her ability to talk. In the second book everything turns out for the best, but she’s still haunted by her lost memory and scary creatures. I have the last book here, but when I read the first chapter, I don’t know if I will finish it…
Then there are a few books that are written in Dutch, my mother tongue, and not translated (yet). 30 is een schoon getal (30 is a beautiful number) by Frauke Joossen is a book that did get a lot of great reviews. I, on the other hand, didn’t like it at all. For me it was a bit too cynical, in a way I could have written it myself. Ok, that sounds arrogant. But what I love about reading, is that I can fall in love with the style. I want to read words and sentences of which I wished I had invented them myself. Not because they’re difficult, but because the use of very normal everyday language has a kind of poetry in itself. But I sat it out until the end and the author has managed to surprise me anyway. A bit of research learned me that she’s a journalist for the magazines in which I read the reviews… maybe that explains my somewhat divergent opinion.
De moeder van Ikabod by the known Maarten ‘t Hart is a collection of short stories. I enjoyed them, but couldn’t retell any of them.
And then De rode droom (the red dream) is a reread. The author, J. Bernlef, passed away in 2012, and it’s one of my favorite authors ever. You really should check out his translated work if Dutch is not your language. The book is about two men who try to survive in a state that used to be communist. They see how the world has changed, and how it impacts them deeply, but they long for the ideals that came with the everyday life they once knew.
I really loved the book, because it’s so typical for Bernlef. He has a simple writing style and knows how to evoke with just the right words a whole setting. I discovered the man in high school, when we had to read Hersenschimmen (Out of Mind). I was completely flabbergasted by that book. I might reread that one soon too.
And last but nog least, four novels that, each in their own special way, made me happy to be a reader. I started the summer with All that is solid melts into air by Darragh McKeon. Oh lord, that book really hit me in the face. It tells about the gigantic cover-up operation after the Chernobyl disaster and the going-down of the Soviet Union, through the stories of ordinary people that aren’t ordinary because, you know, people just never are. To me, this book is frighteningly applicable to today.
With The war of Don Emmanuel’s nether parts, Louis de Bernières threw me back to my college years, when Latin-America seemed just around the corner to me. I studied French-Spanish and there is something with Hispanic literature that makes me feel at home. And de Bernières did very well in translating the inspiration he got from Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I love the style, the setting, and the way he makes that enormous amount of story lines click together. Irony is never far away, and it just works.
The house of special purpose wasn’t the book I intended to read from Joh Boyne, but I’m glad I did anyway. It’s just that I should have seen coming the end way before I actually did. It’s quite predictable, but it didn’t matter at all. It’s well written and a lovely story.
And finally The Illegal, by Lawrence Hill, left me godsmacked too. Because it’s real. It’s happening. Because it’s not just a story, it could be the story of any many talented kid that gets here and tries to make the best of his life. And while I’m willing to trust our government and leaders, I think in many cases corruption makes the situation of those kids even sadder and more unpredictable.
So far for my summer in books. As I want to keep up in the months to come, I’d always be happy to take your advice. What book did you enjoy the most this summer?