Well! Another year, another fresh start and more time to read.
Happy 2013, I hope everyone’s new year’s were celebrated with much fun and joy and happiness. Mine was.
Though, I must admit I didn’t think I’d be writing another blog post so soon. Given the heat though, it’s perfectly acceptable to be sitting inside with the air conditioning on and not sweltering in what must be at least thirty-five degrees outside.
Now, onto the good stuff. Over the past two or three days, I’ve managed to tear my way through two absolutely BRILLIANT books. These books are The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, and Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson. They’re both very short, but they pack a heck of a punch. Not only because they are brimming with stories of human life-as-we-know-it, but also because both of them have quite a deep personal meaning for me. This I shan’t go into because this is a blog and not my diary, but suffice to say that both of them carry a lot that an almost-twenty-year-old can learn about life and the future. They talk of love, of living, of regret, sadness, betrayal, and also hope. Lots of hope and happiness, even if some of it is implied. It’s very easy to come across unexpected parallels between your own life and those of the characters/the author, and this is part of what makes the books stick with you.
Now, I feel I must stress that the last time this happened was when I read Bryce Courtenay’s The Power of One when I was about fourteen or fifteen, and that was purely because of the hardship that Peekay had to endure, and his strength and warmth that he used to help him along the way. I’m a big believer in reading things at the right time, as determined by you and not someone else. That way you feel ready to understand what the work might have to offer you, and also to tackle those things that perhaps you weren’t quite emotionally ready for but really, honestly, needed to know. I think that both Sense of an Ending and Why by Happy were a combination of needing to know, and being ready to know in the above sense. For me, at least.
The Sense of an Ending details the life and times of one man, Tony, who learns through a number of broken relationships that judging people as he did in his youth is not something you can do throughout life because it always ends badly. He also ends up learning his own personal nature, and figures out how he can live with it on his own terms. But, as with most things, you always have to read between the lines and look beyond the pages to ‘get’ the book’s true meaning. This may take a while, and it’s individual for all of us. Barnes has an interesting writing style in which he pulls out events from a continuum, and highlights what is important about them so the reader can get a good sense of the emotions and thoughts he is trying to convey. It is quite an effective technique as it gives the reader handholds for the work, things they can recognise and hold onto, and perhaps even gather and store up in a box like you would seashells on the shoreline. They can then interpret these fragments and assign meaning to them in their own time, and learn something. It didn’t get the Man Booker Prize of 2011 for nothing, I can assure you of that.
Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? is Jeanette Winterson’s memoir. Like Barnes, Winterson writes in fragments, and gives you time to piece all the parts together without judgement. Judgement is the key word here. As readers, there is a contract we enter into when reading a book. That contract is that we suspend all we know of the real world for the duration of our time amongst the pages. With Why Be Happy, it is a mixture of suspending the rules, breaking the rules, and then remaking them again and again and again. And in doing this, we can’t judge. We have to set aside what we do in our everyday lives and just give the book some space to breathe, to spread its wings and to teach us something. About ourselves, about our lives, and about those around us. Sit back and enjoy the ride. Why Be Happy has a lot to teach, and a lot to tell to us all. In different ways, no doubt.
In the end, both books are well worth the read, and both will stick with you in one way or another. These sort of books are real gemstones amongst literature, and should be treasured for what they hold within.
Besides these two, I’ve also had the pleasure of watching the television miniseries of Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth, which is a book I adore because of its historical realism, its political and religious intrigue, the lives it transcribes, and the sheer scale of it. Admittedly it was a little more graphic than I had imagined any televised series would be, but it did the book justice and is well worth watching. Follett’s work is all extremely detailed and historically accurate, and there isn’t a hint of fiction about it. He began his career writing crime fiction, and segued into historical fiction. I do intend to read his crime fiction works at some point.
Speaking of crime fiction, I’ve decided to finally read Stieg Larsson’s Milennium Trilogy, which I’ve been meaning to do since it came out. Crime stuff is only a new interest of mine and so far it’s living up to its standards. I hope it continues to do so.
Well, that’s enough from me for the moment. I wish you all a wonderful 2013, and as usual never to stop reading.
All the best;