Somebody Loves You

Mona Arshi’s novella Somebody Loves You is the story of Ruby, a young girl who chooses mutism as her coping mechanism to deal with the stresses of her suburban life. It opens with a quote from Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet that speaks of feeling unnoticed and finding a way to preserve your inner self.

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A Pale View of Hills

A Pale View of Hills concerns Etsuko, a Japanese woman living in England, and the story of her past in Nagasaki. It opens with a visit from her daughter, Niki, and a conversation about her older daughter, Niki’s half-sister Keiko. This conversation triggers a memory for Etsuko of when she was pregnant with Keiko and developed a friendship with a strange, independent woman living in a run down old cottage with her young daughter.

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Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions

My best friend bought me Alberto Manguel’s reflections on a life in books, because she knows me very well. Packing My Library is subtitled An Elegy and Ten Digressions. It opens with Manguel’s reminiscence about the last location in which he had set up his library of 35,000 books. His reflections on the serious matter of what libraries are and what they mean to us are punctuated with digressions that often stem from a throwaway thought but also season the whole.

Early on, Manguel warns us that he can’t think in straight lines, that he goes where his thoughts lead him, something reflected in his idiosyncratic approach to arranging the books in his library. Manguel groups things by the first language of the author, then by author surname. I’ve come across people who arrange their books by the spectrum of colours on their spines. I’m pretty much an author surname and publication date arranger, although with non-fiction the size of the book also comes into play, and I don’t necessarily arrange non-fiction by author or chronology.

I, too, love a digression.

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A Very Normal Man

A Very Normal Man, the first book by Vincenzo Cerami, who is better known to me as the screenwriter for Roberto Benigni’s film Life Is Beautiful, follows the dark turn that civil servant Giovanni Vivaldi’s life takes when he seeks revenge on an enemy. The English title is a dull approximation of the Italian Un Borghese Piccolo Piccolo – a very small, very middle class man.

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American Pastoral

American Pastoral is the novel that won Philip Roth the Pulitzer Prize. It’s also the first novel I’ve read by him. It recounts the life of a high school athlete, Seymour ‘Swede’ Levov, from his schooldays during the Second World War to a point in his adulthood where his daughter’s countercultural leanings disrupt his American idyll.

People speak highly of Philip Roth. As well as the aforementioned Pulitzer Prize, he also received multiple PEN/Faulkner awards. His complete novels were published in his lifetime, in a nine-volume series, by the Library of America. I only really paid attention when he died, though. Until then, I hadn’t even heard of him. Or if I had, his name and status hadn’t registered. It’s a funny old literary world, full of reading lacunae.

The first few pages of American Pastoral put me in mind of John Updike and Richard Ford, but better. There’s also a bit of Ray Bradbury about the writing, particularly his Green Town books. Roth’s phrasing has a beautiful rhythm that carries you like a river burbling through the story. Roth also managed to make me care about something that I really don’t care about – the very male world of competitive sport.

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Six Degrees of Separation: From The Naked Chef to Like Water for Chocolate

We have an unusual starting book for this month’s Six Degrees of Separation. Our host Kathy at Books Are My Favourite And Best has chosen Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef as our chain inspiration. I haven’t read anyone else’s chains yet, as is my wont, but I’m looking forward to seeing how we all fare. If you’re unfamiliar with this literary meme, you can find the rules here.

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The Communist Manifesto

I’ve had a copy of The Communist Manifesto on my e-reader for years. In the first year of my Economics and Economic & Social History degree, I did a module on political philosophy. I work at a museum that documents the times that Marx and Engels were writing in/against/for/about. Somehow I have lived for more than half a century without reading this prime text for anyone who claims to be socialist.

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The Good Journal Issue One

June 2018 seems such a long time ago. So much has changed, so much hasn’t. The Good Journal launched in June 2018, to build on the success of The Good Immigrant and provide British writers of colour with a showcase for their work. Unlike The Good Immigrant, issue one of The Good Journal has a mix of fiction and nonfiction. The writers are a mix, as well, of established and never published before.

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