I haven’t done one of these “what I’m reading” type posts for a long time, and considering I’m currently reading several books (as I so often do), I figured why not write such a post now?
Breath by Tim Winton: Tim Winton is an author I have never quite managed to read. But, in this case, I know why. It might sound odd, but as he is an Australian writer who writes what seem to be very Australian stories, I found myself kind of cringing at the thought. But it’s an odd kind of cultural cringe – I think Australia does have a lot of great stories and I genuinely believe they should be shared, but I think for me personally I like to read stories set abroad, because I like to discover the world outside of where I have spent most of my life. Deep down though, I know this cringe is silly.
Breath is a book which is, essentially, about surfing, and no doubt stems from a strong love of surfing by the author. Contrary to popular belief, not all Aussies surf, and I certainly can’t (although I do love the beach and couldn’t live too far from it). But what I find amazing about this novel is that the main character’s reminiscences of growing up and learning to surf are so descriptive, so evocative, that I kind of want to try it myself, despite my total lack of co-ordination for such sporting endeavours. What is also jumping out at me as I speed through this captivating story is the writing – Winton is brilliant with language, and I think I have a lot to learn as a writer by reading more of his stuff. Take this following sentence as an example of what I mean, as the main character considers why they performed such daredevil feats as kids:
It’s easy for an old man to look back and see the obvious, how wasted youth and health and safety are on the young who spurn such things, to be dismayed by the risks you took, but as a youth you do sense that life renders you powerless by dragging you back to it, breath upon breath upon breath in an endless capitulation to biological routine, and that the human will to control is as much about asserting power over your own body as exercising it on others.
It’s moments like this, when I’m reading, that I remember why I want to write, why I want to push myself to keep improving and write the best stories I possibly can.
The Man Who Forgot His Wife by John O’Farrell: I started reading this novel a long time ago, but oddly forgot about it for some (oddly coincidental) reason. I didn’t get very far in, so I decided to start over and this time make sure I finish it.
This novel, by the very funny O’Farrell (who has written equally humorous non-fiction and fiction books over the years), is about a man, Vaughan, who quite literally forgets his wife, and everything else in his life. After a week in the hospital with nobody coming to find him, his best friend finally appears and explains what Vaughan’s life was like before his fugue, including the devastating news he is going through a divorce. And once Vaughan meets his soon-to-be ex-wife, he falls for her all over again which only serves to enrage her more.
It’s nothing ground breaking in terms of plot and ideas, but it is quite funny and it has its own charm that comes with so much of what O’Farrell writes. It does lead you to wonder how you would live your life if you forgot everything and had to start again, and how much of who you are is really embedded deep down and how much is based on memories and experiences.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell: From the author of Cloud Atlas, an immensely popular novel I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, comes this tale set in 1799 in Japan. At a time when Japan had shut out the outside world entirely, not letting people out or people and ideas in, the one gateway into the country was an artificial walled island where European traders met, which was connected to the port of Nagasaki. The story focuses on this place, and around the Dutch clerk Jacob de Zoet.
I don’t have much more to say on this, other than that the opening chapter is totally not what I expected and quite confronting. But there is something intriguing about the writing, and more so about the plot, which is pulling me in. I suspect once I really get into it, I might go quiet for a couple of days.
Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks: My favourite neurologist writer, Oliver Sacks, has been positively pouring out books over the last few years, including my favourite book of his, Musicophilia. This latest one focuses entirely on hallucinations – all the different kinds people have, the different causes of them, and how they tie in with other types of neurological disorders and phenomenon. Whether you’ve ever experienced hallucinations or not, this is fascinating reading. I’m almost finished this one, so will probably have a review of it up in the not too distant future. Definitely one of my favourites by Sacks so far.
I’ll post up reviews of all these books once I am finished reading them, but in the meantime what are you reading lately?