Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What Are YOU Reading?

So ... what are you reading, guys, and is it something you'd recommend to the world?

I must confess to feeling like lighter reads at the moment. For me that usually means non-fiction. And I find it easier to take my book out of the house than to be distracted by things I need to do at home.

Today I had a lovely long lunch at the P.J. Hilton with the excellent company of Elizabeth Gilbert. Or at least her book Eat, Pray, Love.

It was actually my Christmas tree present from someone in our book club, and perhaps not something I'd have otherwise chosen for myself - a travel book as much about an internal journey for healing in the aftermath of a painful divorce and a failed love affair, as it is about the places she visited.

Structured to resemble a string of prayer beads, the books falls into three sections of 36 chapters each. She takes a year out of her life spending four months each in Italy (to enjoy a love affair with the language and enjoy the best of the food); India (where she confronts inner demons in an ashram); and Bali, Indonesia (where she plans to spend time with a traditional healer ... except that life seems to have other plans for her).

Sure, Gilbert is a bit of a flake sometimes, but she is very good company warm and funny, and actually pretty wise. Although she doesn't get to see an awful lot of each country (in India she never leaves the ashram, and in Bali it's only at the end of her stay that she leaves Ubud to see the beaches!), the real pleasure is in her descriptions of the characters she meets and the conversations she has. She's willing to open her heart and learn, willing to bend down to listen.

I enjoyed the Bali section the best as she lands up in Ubud which is of course a place I know well, and I think she describes it with clear insight, including her observations about the expat community.

Anyway, I look forward to the next journey she takes me on, and will also be slipping copies of this book to a few friends I know will enjoy it.

I'm also reading The Collected Poetry of Dorothy Parker - another book which fell into my hands serendipitously. This scruffy old volume (1931!), ex-library, and broken spined, was rescued from a flea market by a friend who always brings me scavenged books. She's more than a little bit wicked, and her little verses, which look so tame and domestic at first, really do bite back. I should though slip this copy in the microwave, I think, as I'm sure there are all kinds of microbes hanging out among the pages.

My next read is Child 44 by Tom Rob-Smith. Our book club members chose it and I have barely a week to get through it now. I did begin it and got mightily put off by a cat being hunted for food when I think one of the starving humans should have sacrificed his body for the sake of the rest and let the moggy be! (I really am going to set up that Society for the Prevention of Cruetly to Fictional Cats.) Am not overly impressed with the writing - it's a bit simplified reader, and just hope the plot makes up for it. Even a few pages in I'm quite shocked that this made the Booker shortlist - where got standard lah?

Still, will try to read with an open heart and let you know how it goes.

So over now to you guys! Make me jealous.


Rebecca Ilham said...

Hey Sharon,

I just finished The Reader and would totally recommend it (I know you've read it, twice!). Before that I read The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. Can't believe what I've been missing out, the book is as old as I am and it's brilliant! A must-read for all females, feminists or not...

I'm reading The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison right now, which is about racism in America. Not exactly what I want to read right now, to be honest I'm in a book-limbo, waiting for the entrance into another book heaven...

gnute said...

I have just put down CK Stead's Villa Vittoria (a 1997 novel). Stead tells an espionage thriller through four character sketches, each sketch takes up a quarter of the novel, and all the characters converge at the end for some action. It's really quite clever and enjoyable, with a running theme of loyalty (whether it be to one's politics or to one's spouse). I'd consider it a light read.

GeneGirl said...

Finished The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh - very very good, Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushide - good and The Language of People - Clare Morall (You gave me her other book Splashes of Color which I really liked) - fair read.
Love you Sharon - will be off work next week onwards - can I come laze or bake with you?

Damyanti said...

I liked the first part of Eat, Pray, Love the most, obviously because I love all things Italian, and take pleasure in the fact that I can now read all the Italian phrases without running to a dictionary! A lot of readers have accused Gilbert of navel-gazing, and she does go on a bit, but she also has a few important things to say.

I just finished Toni Morrison's Sula, and Laurie Colwin's collection of short stories,The Lone Pilgrim.

I recommend Sula, because it totally transported me out of myself for a few hours, which not many books do for me nowadays :( . The Lone Pilgrim is an insightful study on love relationships, and I love the endings of most of the stories. The Skating Girl is my favorite.

I'm now reading The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield and am loving her writing so far---her short staccato sentences and her lovely portrayal of a book-loving teen-aged girl whose twin died at birth. Am also reading The Misalliance by Anita Brookner, but I'm finding it slow going.

kamal s said...

Hi! I'm juggling:
1) Dangerous Laughter - Steven Millhauser (a collection of 13 short stories)
2) Middleman - Bharati Mukherjee
3) Lush Life - Richard Price

I just finished re-reading The English Patient....I wanna go back there again.

Greenbottle said...

Reading an Old Saul Bellow's book "To Jerusalem and Back". Quite amused by his description of a young hasidim who made him sit in the middle seat on the plane to jerusalem becuase "i can not sit beside your wife" and offering Mr Bellow 15 dollars a week for the rest of his life if he promise to eat only kosher food.

sounds like my typical taliban friends.

also just starting "Nabokov's blues" about Nabokov's other passion (lepidoptera). Blues here refers to a group of butterflies that is Nabokov's academic specialty. As an entomology student myself i find this book very interesting.

both books were from payless sales.

Chet said...

I just finished Eat, Pray, Love and Slumdog Millionaire.

I read somewhere that Gilbert has been called the something younger sister of Anne Lamott. I went to google for the actual quote and found that they have appeared together recently! What a treat that must've been.

As for Slumdog Millionaire, it is very different from the movie, but is good on its own. Altho there are some similarities, perhaps it's best to see them as separate works.

I have started reading Nam Le's The Boat, and Toni Morrison's A Mercy.

Having studied Morrison at university, and having seen her "live" during her Beloved book tour, I find myself almost approaching A Mercy with a touch of reverence and ... fear. I wanted to say she's gotten progressively more difficult to read since Beloved (which I've yet to finish), but that's not true. While I found Jazz almost incomprehensible, I enjoyed Paradise very much, but it did require "quiet" reading, i.e., no distractions, just me and her words on the pages of the book.

There is an hour-long video somewhere on the Web of her reading from A Mercy and discussing its relationship with Beloved, which I'm saving for when I finished reading the book.

Sorry for this rambling reply. Maybe I should've just posted an entry on my blog.

bibliobibuli said...

greenbottle - damn, those were great Payless finds. jealous!

no, Chet, i love what you wrote.
rebecca - and there are plenty of excellent atwood's to follow that one. "the handmaid's tale" is an incredible book ...

gnute - not heard of that and it sounds like fun!

gene girl - yes come and laze. can bake also if your're in the mood. am going to miss you, dammit.

damynati - nothing wrong with a bit of navel gazing sometimes, and i felt it was all appropriate in gilbert's book

kamal - "the middleman" is just so good ...

chet - i have to catch up on my reading of Morisson - the last one was Jazz and yes, difficult, but thought it very good indeed.

i reckon Gilbert must have been influenced by Lamott, there's that same touch-feeliness about what they say about writing.

i am half way through "the boat" (still!) but it is very good

Anonymous said...

The Boat was very disappointing - I had such high hopes for it: there were 2-3 good stories but the rest were too long and meandering...And calling a story "Hiroshima" tends to give away the ending lah!

- Poppadumdum

Anonymous said...

wowww...weird laaa...everyone's in the boat now hehe I agree with you poppadumdum...i find some of his stories too long...

am also reading Ben Okri's Starbook :) Anyone of you read his stuff before?

-Jee Wan-

bibliobibuli said...

agree with both of you. and yeah i've sort of got stuck on one that's sinking in the middle ... maybe i should just skip. i did love the story about the guy in america wanting to meet his daughter.

BorneoExpatWriter said...

Continuing my two year itch of nonfiction, just finished The Power of Persuasion by Robert Levine and was fascinated by how normal, bright people are pulled into cults like Moonies and Jonestown. Now I see how...

Am reading Herman Hesse's Autobiographical Writings. Hesse popped up in the Jung book I was reading and had read quite of few of his novels oh so long ago, in my pre-Malaysian younger days.

This is going to lead me into several autobiographies on novelists that are crying out to be to read; perhaps they know I need a mentor in my year of rewriting far too many novels that should have been published years if not decades ago. Perhaps I wasn't ready then, but now, oh yes! Momentum is everything...and Hesse and the others are speaking to me, saying, if we can do it, so can you! What are you waiting for? Richard Adams was 52 when he published his first novel, Watership Down. Yes, he's next on my list. And if he can do it...

bibliobibuli said...

you off fiction too, Robert? i feel a bit weird at the moment, enjoying non-fiction so much more. maybe sometimes we need some clearing out space?

Yusuf Martin said...

Reading has taken a backstage to my writing just now.

The only book I am reading at the moment is Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe's Tiger: India 1799. One of the Sharpe's series which fostered the TV series with Sean Bean as Sharpe.

Which is incidentally my mother's maiden name, no not Sean Bean - Sharpe.

Sufian said...

The Kiss Murder (Mehmet Murat Somer). A Tranny Detective Story. Set in Istanbul. By a Turkish writer. Paid full price for it. Silverfish.

Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs. Jeremy Mercer. You'd like this, Sharon. A memoir by a Canadian writer who lived for a while in Shakespeare & Co, the famous Parisian bookshop.

I Want to Watch. Diego De Silva. Italian writer. The story of a sixteen-year-old prostitute and a serial killer.

The Knife Man. The history of modern day surgery. Quite fun.

bibliobibuli said...

oh i've read "books, baguettes and bedbugs" and loved it, just as you predict!

"the kiss murder" sounds good

a bit violent your reading????

mae said...

Ahh, Eat Pray Love that took the world by a storm. I've stumbled upon Oprah episodes featuring women grasping their dog-eared, worn and torn copies of their books proclaiming that it's their bible to happiness.

Sure, she's wise, and she is rather profound when it comes to describing her observations and reflections; but her slightly "blonde" (she IS blonde in real life) and contradicting approach to everything was just a tad aggravating.

Just a tad.

Just started following your blog Sharon, I love that you've got something like this for Malaysian readers and writers. :)

Oh, and I'm currently flitting between "Everything is Illuminated" by Jonathan Safran Foer and "Neverwhere" by Neil Gaiman. :)

bibliobibuli said...

hi Mae, really nice to meet you.

hmmm i know some really brainy blondes, so blonde is more a state of mind. i don't think gilbert is blonde in the state of mind sense.

life gives us a lot of hard knocks and sometimes we lose our way. (i know i have!) and i think it's nice to read about someone else's journey to find balance and happiness.

Ida Hariati Hashim said...

Dear Sharon,

Like Kamal s, I am juggling too:

1) Totto-chan (Tetsuko Kuroyanagi)-inspires me in my search for the ideal education for my kids.

2) The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (F. Scott Fitzgerald)- because many have seen the movie, since I hate movies adapted from books, so I'd better read the book la..

3) Chicken Soup for the Soul (Canfield & Hansen) - hahah..rereading it again. The soul needs nourishing..phew!

4) Shogun (James Clavell)- rekindling the old flame with this epic..goodness, I can't remember the actor who played John Blackthorne..need help here..

Chet said...

Richard Chamberlain! He was also in The Thorn Birds.

kamal s said...

Glad to find another fellow juggler here as well. (Hello, Ida!)

Is THE BOAT really *that* atrocious? Am thinking of getting it, but maybe....not, or maybe so....don't know.

I just bought Olive Kitteridge. How did I miss this one is still a mystery to me.

Zed Adam said...

Hi Sharon,

I loved Child 44, it was an awesome read, I couldn't put it down. It's not poetic, yeah, but the characters will make up for it, really. :)

Current reads? I'm just about to start on "Madapple" by Christina Meldrum.


bibliobibuli said...

"the boat" is very well written ... well worth reading. stories are long though and i'm asking myself whether they really do need to be. but hey i'm hanging in there and will pick it up again the moment i finish "child 44" which is getting really good 90 pages in!

Drachen said...

1) The 7th Omni Book of Science Fiction (1989)
2) Best New SF 6 (1992)
3) Discover Magazines

I'm totally out of sync with everybody else! :-)

Eliza said...

Am reading Jhumpa Lahiri's An Unaccustomed Earth and wish I started it earlier.

Just finished Jeffrey Deaver's The Broken Window - and rather miss all these serial killers and forensics!

I still have The White Tiger to start, and a few others.

Like Ida, curiously, I'm re-reading Chicken Soup. I need the uplift too!

BorneoExpatWriter said...

Yes, off fiction since about 2006, though I sneak in a short story now then, plus all of my student's stories. I'm finding non-fiction an excellent way to fill up the well again and it's playing out in my own fiction in ways I never expected. It's getting me excited, too. You have to be either excited or a bit nuts to edit 1,175 pages of three novels back to back in the last 20 days, and then to make all those changes (plus additional ones)that I need to get done in the next few weeks. It's all about momentum.

If I'm too busy caught up in someone else's novel, something I can't put down, where am I going to find the time to write? With non-fiction, I can put it down and pick it up later, in small doses, if necessary.

But mentioning Shogun, and some of the other books, does make me nostalgic for those pre-writing days when all I had to look forward to was getting lost in a great novel. I'm hoping the tradeoff is for me to leave behind some good books/novels for future generations to read.

Karen said...

Hi Sharon,
How are you, how are the classes at british council doing?
Its been a while since i've dropped by your blog. I just read Sarah Water's Tipping the Velvet over the weekend. Oh boy, i just could not put the book down! finished it in 2days!

oh yes i've started a new blog. Do drop by when you have the time.

Anonymous said...

hi sharon,
my grubby fingers have many times touched that eat, love, pray book but my heart always says put it back down.
instead i got myself
1. neil gaiman- coraline.
2. the trachtenberg speed system of basic mathematics. I WILL READ IT PROPERLY!
3. the road less traveled-m. scott peck.

i enjoyed coraline immensely.i've read a little trachtenberg and some peck. onwards..

hanida :)

Chet said...

I've finished A Mercy and taking a break with a lighthearted feline/canine murder mystery (book 12 from the Mrs Murphy series by Rita Mae Brown), after which I will once again attempt Beloved.