I’m keen on ebooks; partly because I don’t really have room for any more physical books at home, but mostly because of the trail of clues it leaves as to reading habits.
I’m discovering an unnerving . . . er, talent for thoroughly enjoying a book and then forgetting that I even read it?! Looking through the bookshelf on my e-reading app, there are a number of books that are marked ‘100% read’, and all I know about those books is that I must have liked or loved them, since I read all the way to the final page . . .
I don’t value these (temporarily?) forgotten books any less than the others. Still, offering a list of those titles is too much like organising a treasure hunt with only the haziest idea of what the treasure is.
So here are some texts that have had the opposite effect: they’ve remained in my thoughts and imaginings and have grown even more enjoyable when returned to:
First up . . .
I implicitly trust any book written by one of the following authors: Kenneth Gross, Sara Gran, Ali Smith, Can Xue, Olga Tokarczuk, Eliot Weinberger, Mariana Enriquez, Heather O’Neill, Barbara Comyns. Each one of these besties have a different aim, I think, but that aim is astoundingly true. The other thing they have in common is a tendency to invite you on wild voyages of meaning that make the heart, brain and funny bone happy. I stopped at nine names because I’m aware that recommending entire oeuvres at the head of a book list is already a bit . . .
So Far So Good
I just kept getting wowed by Novák’s masterful interweaving of fact, fiction, form, content and character. Even if the story didn’t drill down into the circumstances of three 1950’s rebels-with-a-cause, I’d still have stayed for the prose alone: the tone and the flow of it.
This isn’t just brilliantly written non-fiction, but brilliantly conceived, too. Weingarten picks one day in 1986: (Sunday, December 28th) and goes on to . . . well, explode time. The twenty chapters elaborate on just twenty of the incalculably vast number of life-changing events that took place in the lives of individuals, families and communities on that one randomly selected day . . .
The Towers of Trebizond
by Rose Macaulay
This was published in 1956 but has five of the six characteristics Calvino identified as essential in 21st century literature: lightness, swiftness, exactitude, visibility and multiplicity. In addition to those appealing features I’d also mention this book’s ramshackle beauty and the way it sizzles with spiritual anguish held over a very low flame.
Jean Patrick Manchette, translated by Donald Nicholson Smith
A high speed, hyper-cinematic narrative – starkly lit – no shadows, all cuts made without hesitation marks. As for the ease with which the narrative dissolves the reader into the murderous protagonist’s mentality . . . that’s . . . strong technique.
An Unexplained Death: The True Story of a Body at the Belvedere
A tense and diaphanous consideration of the known facts associated with a recent death at a former hotel known for the suicides that have taken place on its premises. The authorial voice is like an unwavering column of smoke in the dark.
Sergei Dovlatov, translated by Antonina W. Bouis
A book that opens an émigré’s suitcase and unpacks the successes, failures and crises he wasn’t able to leave behind (and probably wouldn’t have even if he could.) And it was written by Dovlatov, so this is all infused with the finest – and drollest – essence of tragicomedy.
This was the first Anita Brookner book I read, and I was, and continue to be, mesmerised by the blazing concentration on subtext and what that does to the characters’ ways of being and interacting.
Everyday Madness: On Grief, Anger, Loss and Love
The sort of book that makes a fellow really feel alive! I think that’s due to this particular combination of the cerebral and the visceral, as well as the humour that opens up painfully precise scenarios into panoramic views of the altered states life forces (or entices) us into.
The Imposter and Other Stories
Silvina Ocampo, translated by Daniel Balderston
The cover copy says: ‘Each story by Silvina Ocampo is like a knife of spun sugar that can still pierce between your ribs.’ No lies detected there.