Saturday, December 18, 2021

Reading Oscars 2021



I Kicked off the reading year 2021 with Ray Bradbury's Martian chronicles. I liked the novel and I wrote a review.I followed it up enthusiastically with "The illustrated Man", another Bradbury, but gave up after two chapters.

 I looked for something else.

 A few years ago, a handful of Belgian journalist assembled the "Flemish canon", a list of 50 must-reads in the Dutch language.

From that list, I choose the one most recently written: Hugo Claus' "The sorrow of Belgium". I read it front to back in one long reading rush; I was captivated by this wartime story . Claus' was Belgium's most likely candidate for a Nobel Price, but he passed away a decade ago. Brilliantly written, thoughtful, intelligent.

With that positive experience, I next opened Harry Mulisch's "The invention of Heaven". Although it is also very well written and reads easily, I abandoned the thick volume half way. I picked it up a few days ago, started reading again and expect to finish it before the end of the year. Intriguing.

 A book, I did finish was "Paradise" by Nobel Prize winner Abdulrazak Gurnah. I don't know yet what to make of it, but I have a soft spot for Tanzania and the East African coast so it brought back a few memories.

 The winner I choose for this year fiction reads : Claus' "The sorrow of Belgium"

Non Fiction

Parallel with the fall of Kabul ( but not intentionally ) I read "Alexandria" by Edmund Richardson . It is a very interesting book about a country, people and a chunk of history that does not get too much attention normally. A reviewed it on my blog. I find reviewing nowadays difficult. My attention tends to wander.

I followed that reading with a book containing a collection of articles from musical author Alex Ross :"Listen to this". I am a huge fan of Alex Ross, but this novel is not as good as his "The rest is noise" and the "Wagner" - book, that are both, as far as I am concerned, genuine masterworks.

Then I immersed myself in Homer and the Odyssey for a couple of weeks.

A review on Daniel Mendelsohn' s " An Odyssey" in the Octavian report ( why to read the classics? ) directed me not only to Mendelsohn's book, but also to the most important text-books he consulted for his personal take on Homer's work. So I read:

- Odysseus : a life by Charles Rowan Bey Brillant!

- Homeric moments : clues to delight in reading the Odyssey and the Iliad by Eva T. H. Brann. Fantastic !

- The world of Odysseus by I. Finley. I had this classic already in my library. Interesting

- Disguise and recognition in the Odyssey by Sheila Murnaghan I did not read. It is too expensive to purchase (even on the second hand book market).

I topped up this Homeric readings with "Hearing Homer's song : the brief life and big idea of Milman Parry" by Robert Kanigel. The book gives a good idea about how the Iliad and the Odyssey were created and how Milman Parry got the inspiration for his theory.

As a reading coda, I finished this Homeric streak with Mendelsohn's "Three rings : a tale of exile, narrative, and fate", a kind of spin-off, musing or footnote to the writing of his very personal Odyssey book. It is interesting in itself because it dwells on the Homeric ring composition, Auerbach's Mimesis, François Fénelon and " W.G. Sebald.

Very entertaining and instructive was the book by Spanish Irene Vallejo "Papyrus, the invention of books in the ancient world". It seems it has not yet been translated in English. It is a pity for it is ( at least for Bookish people ) an enjoyable read.

Finally, my nightstand book was "Island dreams, mapping an obsession" by Francis Gavin, an easy enjoyable read of which only fragments linger in my memory after a good night sleep.

The winner I choose for this year non-fiction reads : Homeric moments : clues to delight in reading the Odyssey and the Iliad by Eva T. H. Brann.


To complete my reading report I should add that I left a few books half read : "If this is a man" by Primo Levi, "The Quest for the Tomb of Alexander the Great": by Andrew Michael Chugg, "The dawn of everything : a new history of humanity" by David Graeber, "The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas Machado de Assis ", very much hyped by social networks.

And then finally there was the usual dabbling and rereading : the odd page of Moby Dick, Lacarrières's hagiographic lives of the Desert Saints, "The Pound Era" by genius Hugh Kenner

So in general not a bad year in reading. Especially taking into account a very challenging year, both professionally and privately.