“So here today I present to you an Unread Books Challenge. Give me the list or take a picture of all the books you have stacked on your bedside table, hidden under the bed or standing in your shelf – the books you have not read, but keep meaning to. The books that begin to weigh on your mind. The books that make you cover your ears in conversation and say, ‘No! Don’t give me another book to read! I can’t finish the ones I have!’"I'm pathetic really, but how could I take a picture of over 200 books, so I narrowed it down to (7) that I really want to read, but have been avoiding for some unknown reason??
- Sylvanus Now; Donna Morrissey - Morrissey's third novel set in mid-twentieth-century Newfoundland examines the interpersonal dynamics that link the inhabitants of an insular fishing village. This time the pressures on the fishermen and their wives come from both within (insularity suffocates even as it nurtures) and without, as modern fishing methods threaten the livelihood of the locals. Sylvanus Now is determined to fish the way his ancestors did, but his wife, Adelaide, yearns for escape: from a stultifying future of tending babies and working "on the flakes," where women salt-dry the freshly caught fish. Morrissey meticulously documents the bitterness that grows in both husband and wife as their very different dreams are slowly crushed. And yet, in the midst of seething emotions and steadily building disappointment, a sustaining love begins to grow between the beleaguered pair. Morrissey generates a remarkable intensity of emotion here, and if the novel often seems oppressively sad, it is buoyed by the crispness of detail and the author's ability to vivify the slow process through which an inner life is transformed.
- East of the Sun; Julia Gregson - British author Gregson bows in America with her fast-paced second novel, an absorbing international period drama concerning three young Englishwomen and a troubled boy journeying to India in the late 1920s. The eldest at 25, Viva Holloway is an orphan hoping to retrieve her lost parents' personal effects; she's paying her way by chaperoning three younger travelers. Rose Wetherby is going to India to be married; Victoria Tor Sowerby is Rose's bridesmaid; and 16-year-old Guy Glover is returning home after getting expelled from school for stealing. Throughout, narrative shifts reveal the travelers' perspectives and fears: Viva is haunted by a childhood and family she barely remembers; Rose is growing increasingly nervous about how little she knows of her fiancé; and Tor is eager, after a disappointing deb season in London, to find a husband of her own and avoid returning to England. Guy's strange behavior makes it clear he's unstable, and before long, he's assaulted a member of a powerful Indian family, setting off a frightening chain of events for both himself and Viva. Gregson's rich imagery, strong characters and gripping plot make this a resonant page-turner.
- Snow; Orhan Pamuk - A Turkish poet who spent 12 years as a political exile in Germany witnesses firsthand the clash between radical Islam and Western ideals in this enigmatically beautiful novel. Ka's reasons for visiting the small Turkish town of Kars are twofold: curiosity about the rash of suicides by young girls in the town and a hope to reconnect with "the beautiful Ipek," whom he knew as a youth. But Kars is a tangle of poverty-stricken families, Kurdish separatists, political Islamists (including Ipek's spirited sister Kadife) and Ka finds himself making compromises with all in a desperate play for his own happiness. Ka encounters government officials, idealistic students, leftist theater groups and the charismatic and perhaps terroristic Blue while trying to convince Ipek to return to Germany with him; each conversation pits warring ideologies against each other and against Ka's own weary melancholy. Pamuk himself becomes an important character, as he describes his attempts to piece together "what really happened" in the few days his friend Ka spent in Kars, during which snow cuts off the town from the rest of the world and a bloody coup from an unexpected source hurtles toward a startling climax. Pamuk's sometimes exhaustive conversations and descriptions create a stark picture of a too-little-known part of the world, where politics, religion and even happiness can seem alternately all-consuming and irrelevant. A detached tone and some dogmatic abstractions make for tough reading, but Ka's rediscovery of God and poetry in a desolate place makes the novel's sadness profound and moving.
- The Walking People; Mary Beth Keane - Debut author Keane offers an extended meditation on leaving, finding and making home in a novel focused on the new Irish immigrant experience. Awkward, dreamy Greta Cahill was always in the shadow of her vivacious older sister, Johanna, as the two grew up on the far west coast of Ireland. Surrounded by houses left vacant by neighbors who emigrated, adventurous Johanna dreams of America, especially when, in the aftermath of a family tragedy, she befriends Michael Ward, the son of itinerant tinkers who wants nothing more than to stay in one place. When teenaged Johanna's dream comes true, Michael and Greta are dragged along to America in Johanna's impetuous wake. In New York City, however, Greta and Michael create their own home, happiness and success. The narrative, which extends from 1956 to the present, has the dusty feel of 19th-century literature, though Greta is an appealing character lacking in nostalgia. Her romance is also authentic and unsentimental, and despite the stodgy storytelling, her coming-of-age reflects a fresh take on the lives recent immigrants can create.
- The Mosquito Coast; Paul Theroux; In a breathtaking adventure story, the paranoid and brilliant inventor Allie Fox takes his family to live in the Honduran jungle, determined to build a civilization better than the one they've left. Fleeing from an America he sees as mired in materialism and conformity, he hopes to rediscover a purer life. But his utopian experiment takes a dark turn when his obsessions lead the family toward unimaginable danger.
- The Post Office Girl; Stefan Zeweig - The post-office girl is Christine, who looks after her ailing mother and toils in a provincial Austrian post office in the years just after the Great War. One afternoon, as she is dozing among the official forms and stamps, a telegraph arrives addressed to her. It is from her rich aunt, who lives in America and writes requesting that Christine join her and her husband in a Swiss Alpine resort. After a dizzying train ride, Christine finds herself at the top of the world, enjoying a life of privilege that she had never imagined.
But Christine’s aunt drops her as abruptly as she picked her up, and soon the young woman is back at the provincial post office, consumed with disappointment and bitterness. Then she meets Ferdinand, a wounded but eloquent war veteran who is able to give voice to the disaffection of his generation. Christine’s and Ferdinand’s lives spiral downward, before Ferdinand comes up with a plan which will be either their salvation or their doom.
Never before published in English, this extraordinary book is an unexpected and haunting foray into noir fiction by one of the masters of the psychological novel.
- The Samurai's Garden; Gail Tsukiyama - Seventeen-year-old Stephen leaves his home in Hong Kong just as the Japanese are poised to invade China. He is sent to Tarumi, a small village in Japan, to recuperate from tuberculosis. His developing friendship with three adults and a young woman his own age brings him to the beginnings of wisdom about love, honor, and loss. Given the potentially interesting subplot (the story of a love triangle doomed by the outbreak of leprosy in the village) and the fascinating period in which the book is set.Don’t forget to leave a link to your actual response (so people don’t have to go searching for it) in the comments—or if you prefer, leave your answers in the comments themselves!
Books Read in 2021
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