parallel stories

I’m currently reading Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami, and concurrently reading A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.

I started reading HW&EW on the plane to Japan. I figured that it would be somewhat appropriate to read a novel by a Japanese author while I was there, and I’d been meaning to read more of Murakami’s works anyway.

A couple of weeks ago (and a couple of weeks since getting back from Japan), I was out in the City to get a haircut. Subsequently having a bit of time to kill before dinner, I decided to retreat to the library. Out of curiosity, and just because that’s what I do, I browsed the “recent returns”. At the time, I was somewhere in the middle of HW&EW, so I wasn’t really looking for something to borrow out and read, but when I picked up ATTB, and read a few pages, I just couldn’t put it down.

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much-loved novels

For the last month and a half, I’ve been reading Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. I’ve never read anything by any of the Brontë sisters before (someone once told me that they thought Wuthering Heights was quite boring, and that probably (unjustly) put me off all of their novels), and I’ll admit that the only reason Jane Eyre made it on to my to-read list is because it is the favourite novel of the same friend who has recommended and lent me several brilliant novels in the past – novels that I probably would otherwise not have come across or picked up.

I am convinced that this friend of mine has the best taste in books of anyone I know. Well, either that, or she’s just really good at picking books for me.

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hardcover vs paperback

Just over one and a half years ago, I wrote a post about reading quirks. One of the things I talked about was my preference for paperback novels over hardcover ones. But since I’ve been reading this simply elegant hardcover copy of Tender is the Night (and also since reading a hardcover copy of What I talk about when I talk about running), I’m finding that this could very well be changing.

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I’ve been reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night over the past few weeks, and while I usually wait until I finish reading a book in its entirety before writing a post (except that time I was compelled to write about The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and possibly a few other books way back), I’ve been getting this feeling like I need to write this now or else I’ll forget things and won’t be able to adequately communicate my thoughts on the book afterwards.

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my reading evolution

On the week-end, I made a trip to the library, and then to the book store. I wanted to browse the library before I went to the bookshop because I hadn’t been to the library in a long time, and wanted to scope out what books I could borrow so that I didn’t have to buy them (sometimes I feel like I own way too many books, but then I wonder if there’s such thing as “too many books”…)

(By the way, yes, this was the post I was supposed to write before I went off and wrote that tangential post instead. The preamble kind of ambled away and became the whole post.)

As I was browsing through the library and then through the book store, I found myself reflecting on the evolution of my reading choices. When I was younger, I read a lot of fantasy novels. I still read fantasy occasionally but sometime during high school, I started reading classics. In late high school, and then throughout my uni days, I think I started reading thrillers and sci-fi. I also went through a phase of reading action/crime novels, usually involving secret agents or something and very complicated plots.

These days, I find myself drawn to what I would call “powerful” books, or “emotionally powerful” books – novels that are masterfully written to draw out deep human emotion. These usually have some focus on human suffering – be it physical, emotional or psychological – and often (or increasingly so, anyway), coincidentally have something to do with war. (Of course, I still read more light-hearted books too. Have to have a balance, right?)

I used to avoid novels that were translated from other languages (because I was always a bit wary of the potential of a translated text to fall short of the beauty of the original, regardless of how well the translation is done), but now they make up more and more of my to-read list. For example: “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Marquez, “Snow” by Pamuk, “The Shadow of the Wind” by Zafon, and numerous works by Murakami – these are all on my TBR list.

Reflecting on the evolution of my reading, I’m actually quite amazed. If you had told my 12-year-old self, or even my 15 or 16-year-old self that I would move away from fantasy toward the books I’m reading now, I probably wouldn’t have believed you (or maybe I would have – I dunno, I was gullible and impressionable back then).

In the last two weeks, when I have made two trips to the same book store in search of books to purchase, I have, each time, wandered over to the YA/teen section in search of books by Brian Jacques. I think I went through a phase in my late primary school years when I almost exclusively read the “Redwall” series. There are a lot of books in that series, and I reckon I must have gotten through the majority of them. I know there are several I haven’t read, but it’s been so long now, I don’t know if I could remember which ones.

I’ve only ever been able to find one book by Jacques in the book store. It’s one that I’m pretty sure I haven’t read (it’s just called “Redwall” and might be the start of the series) but each time that I see it there on the shelf, amongst the random other books that never existed in my childhood, I cannot bring myself to pick it up and take it to the counter. It is always with a strange sadness that I put it back on the shelf. Part of me wants to read it – wants to buy it – but another part of me worries that I’ve outgrown it.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Jacques is a brilliant author (I was still reading his novels in high school too) but the beauty in his novels is different to what you’d find in the works of Marquez or McEwan, for example. The stories are still wonderfully constructed, but they were written for a younger audience, and I worry about being disappointed if I read them now.

But, then again, maybe I don’t need to revisit Redwall. Maybe the memories are enough. The “Redwall” series provided so much inspiration to me back then, and if I’m still thinking about it now, that must mean something, right?

My favourite of the series was probably “Salamandastron”, maybe followed closely by “Martin the Warrior”. I don’t remember the storylines exactly, but I remember that they were awe-inspiring, and compelled me to read more and write more. Hmm… maybe one day I will buy a copy. Perhaps not to read from cover to cover, but for sentimentality reasons, and for those days when I’m feeling nostalgic.

letting go of preconceptions

It feels like it’s been a long time between posts. I did post last week, and I’m still in time for this week’s post, but it got to the stage where I was starting to worry that maybe I’d accidentally forgotten a week…

Well, anyway, apart from being ridiculously busy at work (I think I did 40 hours over four days), I’ve been busy trying to finish ‘Never Let Me Go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro. I did actually finish reading it this afternoon, but I’m having a bit of trouble making up my mind about what I think of it.

NLMG, to me, seems to be a pretty short book (only 282 pages, and reasonably large font size) so I had expected to finish reading it pretty quickly (kind of like with ‘The Book of Tomorrow’, which I read earlier in the year). I can’t remember exactly, but I probably would have started reading it around mid-March. Maybe it started at a disadvantage because I’d just finished reading ‘The Hotel New Hampshire’. Actually, I remember taking my copy of NLMG to/from work and to lunch, but taking several days to actually get started on it because, although I’d been really keen to read it ever since I bought it in January, once it actually reached the front of the line, I didn’t want to rush into it.

Maybe I just wanted to allow adequate time between THNH and my next novel. (Usually I read a bit of ‘Great Expectations’ in between books – I find it helps the transition i.e. getting over book hangovers – but my copy of ‘Great Expectations’ was still on loan to a friend.) Maybe I just wanted a bit of a rest from reading in general (I’m quietly afraid of becoming short-sighted).

Now, this may seem a bit silly to some people, but another disadvantage NLMG faced resulted from the cover of the book. I’ve already written a post about the dilemma of buying the movie tie-in edition, but the problem goes beyond that. On one of the first occasions that I took the book to lunch at work, people naturally noticed that I was reading something new, and asked to see what it was. I was having lunch with quite a few people that day (good synchronising of lunchtimes), and most of them had seen the movie and thought it was, well, terrible.

I didn’t want this to deter me, as generally movies don’t live up to the books they’re based on, and I really want to say that it didn’t affect how I read it (I honestly didn’t know it was also a movie until I saw that cover), but, really, I can’t be sure. They also kind of spoiled the story a bit by talking about the donations (I still hadn’t started reading it at this stage). Again, I was hoping this still wouldn’t affect my reading experience (I knew Dumbledore would die in HP6 but still loved it), but I feel that, because of the way it’s written, it would have had a greater impact if I’d known nothing about it at the start.

Overall, NLMG didn’t capture and pull me in as well as I was expecting. The story kind of progressed a bit slowly, and I didn’t really sympathise with any of the characters. I checked out some reviews on Goodreads just now, and it seems like a lot of people thought that the first half or so was pretty slow. One person pointed out that nothing really gets explained until the last 30 pages.

I also wasn’t overly taken by the writing style – particularly the segues between sections, which felt a bit repetitive sometimes. It tended to be something like “I thought that was the worst of it, but then there was this incident” or “Before I tell you about this, I should elaborate on this other thing”. I’m probably oversimplifying, and maybe this is nit-picking, but it was just something I noticed.

The concept behind the book, however, I thought was great. It is thought-provoking, and kind of makes me wonder if this could realistically happen, provided you could get past the ethics, etc. (I can’t imagine that cloning would ever lose the controversy and become widely accepted.) And then there’s the question of whether clones would be like mindless zombies or if they’d think and feel and want things for themselves. You could end up with a clone uprising.

I liked NLMG a lot more towards the end. I think I should hide it away somewhere for 20-30 years, forget everything that happens in it, and then read it again anew.