0599 | The Woodlanders | Thomas Hardy post image

Context: read this at the lovely Cataract Hotel in Aswan on the Nile

Six down and one more to go of Hardy’s from the 1001 Books List. Unbeknown to me at the time, I actually finished it to within an hour of 80 years and a day since Hardy passed away.

Fans of Hardy will know that he often brings the landscape to life in his novels. In The Woodlanders, he does more than that as the title indicates. The inhabitants of Little Hintock are as intricate a part of the landscape as the woodland itself. From the very beginning, the roles that these characters play are entwined intimately with the lives of Grace Melbury and the two men who take turns in her heart.

Grace has been educated beyond her station by a father who wishes her to escape the traditional life he leads as a timber merchant. This apparently places her out of reach of her stoic admirer, local cider brewer Giles Winterbourne, but makes her a perfect match for an outsider in the form of Dr. Edred Fitzpiers. At least, this is what [click to continue…]

0598 | Everything is Illuminated | Jonathan Safran Foer post image

Context: another book finished as I commuted backwards and forwards to Saudi each day.

This is at once one of the funniest and also one of the most tragic novels I’ve experienced in a long time. Safran Foer’s tale of the history of his own Jewish family’s experience in Ukraine is told from two very different points of view. Neither are equally accessible, but together they form a splendid whole and one that is even more impressive for a first novel.

The modern-day episodes of the author visiting Ukraine are very readable. This comes both from the farcical humour and, as this gives way to plot, an increasing desire to uncover the secrets that are obviously waiting to be discovered. So far so good.

Then there are episodes woven between detailing what at first appear to be unconnected events in the distant past. These events are told in a style bordering on magic-realism with a fair amount of wordplay. However much difficulty you might encounter, I’d highly recommend that you persevere. The rewards are truly great. [click to continue…]

0597 | The Forsyte Saga | John Galsworthy post image

Context: read this while we visited Japan and did something I never did in 6 years living there: watch sumo!

The last book of 2017 is the one and only book of the year that reaches the lofty heights of the 90%+ rating needed to enter Arukiyomi’s Hall of Fame. And deservedly so. This study of a Victorian family was one of the best portraits of generations that I have ever set eyes on.

From start to finish, the writing is excellent. At times, it is utterly sublime. I don’t think I will ever forget the passage at the end of The Indian Summer of a Forsyte. If you are looking for writing that will move you to tears with its beauty, try that out.

But the writing is so much more than that. Galsworthy has given us a quintessential study of the Victorian age as the sun begins to set on empire and the values that formed it. The characters of each generation are vividly brought to life, and through them, you live in another age.

At the pinnacle of Galsworthy’s achievement sits the character of [click to continue…]

0596 | The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night | Anonymous post image

Context: read this epic while I lived through another as the two-year process to take me on direct hire at my company came to a successful end.

Right, first off, if you’re going to read this, you should do it unabridged. Let’s face it, if you don’t, you’ve not read the 1001 nights but 648, or 385, or whatever the editor decided to trim off this masterpiece. If Sheherezade can tell 1001 stories to keep herself alive, give the woman’s effort some respect and read all the tales she tells. It’s only by doing so that you can really fully appreciate this vast collection and its influence on, not only the literature of Persia and Arabia, but huge aspects of its culture too.

There’s no better way to accomplish this task than by picking up the 6 volume boxed set of the 1962 Heritage Press edition of Richard Burton’s translation with his vast collection of footnotes and 1001 beautifully simple illustrations by Valenti Angelo. This made reading it a delight for me. There’s nothing better than picking up a book that people have taken such care to create.

I was privileged to be able to borrow this edition from a friend who hadn’t read it himself and who, I think, fully expected me never to [click to continue…]

0595 | Silk | Alessandro Baricco

0595 | Silk | Alessandro Baricco post image

Context: read this as I landed back from a trip to the UK.

This is a tiny jewel of a novel and, like a jewel, I felt that it deserves to be looked at for longer than it’s size perhaps might initially indicate. I certainly spent longer looking at it than I might otherwise have done, my ex-wife having gone off with my copy prior to our split.

Eventually, I got it back from her and managed to finish it off. This meant I read it in two sittings, one either side of my divorce which, considering the subject matter, was somewhat ironic. Silk, you see, tells the story of unrequited love within a marriage, something that is sadly all too common an occurrence.

The writing is beautiful and brilliantly paced. It is simple and yet deep, and through it all Baricco lends everyday life a melancholic pathos that belies the depths of desire that each of us have. The tragedy of the novel, and unrequited love, is that a partner can [click to continue…]