April 30, 2009

April Reads

I've just gotten back into the habit of checking books out of the library, after something like a 15-year hiatus. I just feel ridiculously happy at the thought of being able to read all the books I want for free. To many people, the idea of frequenting the library might not be terribly novel (hehe), but to me it's just the best thing since sliced bread. Though admittedly, it's also has put me into a slight panic. I feel this intense urgency to read the book I've checked out and return it on time, which can be problematic if you, say, check out four thick novels all at once, which is what I did recently. I learned a valuable lesson from having to renew one book while having to return an unread one, only to borrow the same book from a different library: I'm a "check out one book at a time" kind of girl. Because, quite frankly, I sometimes can't handle the pressure! Nevertheless, I was able to finish two library books this month, though not without a little struggle. It was worth it.

Thomas Hardy by Claire Tomalin. I always can tell what makes a good biography, at least in my eyes. It’s after having read the final page, when I close the book and try to go about my daily life only to discover that I haven’t quite got the life I’ve just read out of my head, that I know that what I finished was particularly good. Tomalin's biography on one of the most well-respected and widely-read English authors is one such book. Hardy grew up in a poor country family, but even at a young age showed great promise for learning and had an obvious fondness for reading that set him apart from his contemporaries. His natural inclination for observing the world around him and creating stories about what he saw paved the path toward becoming an exceptional novelist and poet. Though his early attempts at gaining attention from his writing met with constant challenges; he went from publisher to publisher and endured countless rejections before finally getting his first novel published (which can only be encouraging for anyone who has ever indulged hopes of writing a book, surely?). His bleak novels about the struggles of man against the unrelenting and baleful workings of fate thus earned him a reputation for pessimism, which Hardy himself disagreed with. He thoroughly enjoyed his vocation and the success it brought him; he loved to socialize and was open and friendly with people from all walks of life, from aspiring young writers to his local postman to whom he lent some books from his personal library and invited into his home for impromptu literary discussions. Hardy had a joy for life and a quick, lively mind, even through his final days. He considered himself a realist with an ironic eye. I consider him an author not to be missed.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. I had really high hopes for this book. A literature professor living under the ever-watchful gaze of the totalitarian Islamic regime in Tehran starts a covert weekly book club with her former female students. In private, these women shed the restrictive clothing and behaviors forced upon them by the regime in order to openly dissect and discuss banned Western books like Lolita, Pride & Prejudice, and The Great Gatsby. While the first section on Nabokov’s Lolita was pertinent and fascinating, I wasn’t as impressed with the other sections. The group of women in the book club I had grown so attached to suddenly vanish in the second and third sections and are replaced by the author's less interesting, meandering memories of her class lectures (which at times I found self-important and simplistic). By the time the author returns to the stories of the women in her book club in the final act—on Pride & Prejudice, no less—I simply lost interest. Although I did appreciate the passing glimpses into the lives of Iranian women living under such brutality, the book didn’t quite satiate my curiosity about life under the regime. Anyone have any recommendations for a similar-themed book?

Shakespeare Wrote for Money by Nick Hornby. This is the third and final collection of columns Hornby penned for The Believer magazine. As always, he writes with a wry, honest look at popular fiction and at the books he's bought in a given month and the ones he has actually read, and there is often a discrepancy between the two. Anyone who thinks they buy more books than they can possibly consume in a year (a habit I am shamefully guilty of) will definitely sympathize with Hornby's book plight. He also wrote High Fidelity, a great book and film.

Bruges-la-Morte by Georges Rodenbach. A man mourns the death of his wife and finds some solace in taking solitary afternoon walks amidst the melancholy, pale winter Bruges streets that so reflect his own state of mind. On one such outing, he spots a woman who bears a striking resemblance to his late wife. He follows her and, unsurprisingly, an affair ensues. Anyone who has seen Vertigo or read Browning’s “Porphyria’s Lover” may have a clue as to what happens next. Rodenback’s poetic prowess is evident in beautifully penned descriptions of the grey, decaying city of Bruges. This is one of those short, gothic books perfect for dreary nights.

For May, I have a couple more books currently on hold for me at the library. But once I'm done with those, I'm putting myself on a library-hiatus. We'll see how that pans out....

1 comment:

Mary-Laure said...

I want to read the Hardy bio, because he's one of my favorite writers...