A summer reading list

Everyone loves a reading list, maybe. I didn’t really start off with a list or even any grand intentions for my capacity to spend time reading, although I did wonder whether a 100 book challenge for these six months might be fun. But soon realised the pain of compiling one might take the joy out of it all. So my reading list is a kind of organic ‘see what happens’ and a bit whimsical, but always open to suggestions and recommendations. Thankfully I was generously given a kindle voucher which has been my savior! 😉

So this is some of what has been keeping me busy over the past few months, and I think it is almost on the order I read them. Given that I read Zorba over a 2 week period and its less than 250 pages I wouldn’t exactly say I am powering through these!

Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazanzakis – a beautiful, heart-breaking and insightful read by the Cretan author. If you have seen the film, or even just think about the Zorba Dance whne you think of Greece, I implore you to also read the book as it is a marvelously poetic piece of work. The novel contrasts the intellectual life of thoughts and words we get from the narrator, with the actions and mayhem of Alexis Zorba, who becomes the inspiration for the narrator to realise he must live life to the full. This is where G and I get the ‘be more Zorba’ mantra from. Also Kazanakis writes the novel with a Greek protagonist narrating which actually works much better than the downtrodden English man in the film version. It’s a must read for anyone who wants to understand some more of this beautiful county and its changing landscape in Greek rural society in the late 1940s. It’s not a ‘fun’ read but it’s a great adventure nonetheless.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – amazingly well written autobiographical book by a brain surgeon from the US. It charts his life and death after learning that he has terminal cancer, the thought processes it takes to accept and challenge his fixed ideas about his life plan. The beauty of his memoir is in fact how Kalanithi learns to how to live by accepting his own death.  I heartily recommend this to anyone looking for something contemplative to read and think about holding on to precious moments. I bawled by eyes out for at least the last 10 pages. Amazing and life affirming.

Death by Any Other Name (short stories) and For Now: Notes on living a deliberate life by the Greek author Daphne Kapsali were quickly devoured over days! Beautifully written, thought provoking short non-fiction life reflecting pieces mostly set on the Cycladic island of Sifnos. Her first self published work 100 Days of Solitude is a collection written when Kapsali gave up her life in London and spent 100 days in Sifnos, writing a hundred little reflections on being herself and creating the freedom to live as a writer.  You can tell I love it, huh?

Talking of books based in Greece there seems to be a theme emerging. I downloaded The Illegal Gardener by Sara Alexi – quite a good fictional story set to a backdrop of an English woman escaping to Greece after a divorce and finding an unexpected alliance with a gardener she employs and befriends. He is an illegal immigrant from India and it contrasts her life of ease with his painful journey and struggle. I also powered through Girl Gone Greek by Rebecca Hall one afternoon at the beach. Perfect accompaniment  to waves lapping at the shore; a light-hearted tale of an English teacher spending the summer in northern Greece and discovering new things about Greece and challenging her own ways of thinking. On a recommendation I downloaded Passing Thyme by the journalist  Gordon Coxhill who it seems lot f people in Syros know as he spent many years living in the 90s – it’s a nicely written book, and captures a time before many people ventured here but probably only appeals to people who know and love Syros, or those who look back fondly about ‘the good old day’s’ of Greece’. It is well written and evocative, but has some ‘tittle-tattle’ aspects of people he knew and I can imagine not all were favoured by his rendition of events when it was published. It’s pathos and tragedy reminded me of “This Way to Paradise” by Willard Manus, which is of a similar memoir style but set in Lindos, Rhodes in the 1960s.  Whilst in the ‘Greek’ phase I was gifted a paperback copy of Who pays the ferry man? By Michael Bird, its based on his 1980s TV show set in Crete as an English man returns to find lost love and settle old scores after fighting there with the Greek partisans during WW2. I’ll honestly say I hope the tv series was better than the books – its incredibly predictable and a bit stale!

 I also powered trough the Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan; again a perfect feel-good tale when you need a fascinating page-turner with mystery as well as romantic twists and turns.

I have also dipped back into Dave Eggers who I love his earlier work like  A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000), which is his memoir about raising his younger brother in San Francisco following the deaths of both of their parents, as well as Zeitoun, based in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and You shall know our velocity.  So with good confidence, I read The Circle from 2013. It was a suburb contemporary novel about internet data dominance in a fictionalized silicon valley social media giant. A great thought provoking and timely read about reality, technology and the internet’s dominance in our lives. I have read that is is now a film starring Emma Watson as the protagonist Mae…mmm, I don’t think I‘ll rush to see it. So feeling in an Egger-esque mood I then picked up The Heroes of the Frontier, not quite post- apocalyptic but set very on the edge of societal breakdown, his narrative is led by a tough female mom of two, excellently characterized and like Mae in the Circle, Eggers seems to be able to tap into the female psyche and write strong believable protagonists, and is something his writing suits.

The Girls by Emma Cline was just outstanding, and I know I am way behind the curve as this was touted as the summer read of 2016! Cline is incredibly talented, whether she is worthy of the status bestowed upon her by publishers only time and follow up novels will tell.  But here she captures the heart of teenage rebellion in her masterful fictional retelling of the 70s cult Manson murders. It’s creepy and complex, the dark scenes of distress that really get under your skin with the way she characterizes female teenage desire and obsession. I can’t recommend highly enough!

There has been  a few  false starts with books that I hope I will end up finishing such as A Brief history of Seven Killings by Marlon James (just didn’t grab me enough) and Zero K by Don Delillo (I struggled with empathizing with the strange protagonist in a sci-fi tale of brain preservation, felt coldly unemotional)– both had such good promise (and rave reviews).

I am just about to finish the mammoth American Gods by Neil Gaiman – I quite enjoyed stardust and given that will be a TV show it is certainly getting mass-appeal. From the outset there is an enticing premise in this epic novel with Gaiman’s magical play on myths and legends – steeped in Norse mythology, Far Eastern legends and even leprechauns, Gods from the old world have been living silently in America for centuries and now threatened by modern monsters of worshiped by the masses, they must battle it out as ‘the storm’ is coming! Sounds quite far-fetched, but its protagonist is a mortal ex-con named Shadow, he seems like an archtypical muscle hero but as the story unfolds Gaiman weaves him into a fairly interesting character. Perhaps this will make me want to watch the show too – the novel is quite episodic with grand battle scenes, so I expect it will translate quite well to TV.

Other books I am itching to read this summer are:

  • The Power by Naomi Alderman
  • Capital by John Lanchester (a friend gave it to me so I have to read it)
  • Eleni by Nicholas Gage ( a Greek classic)
  • Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
  • We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates

I think the kindle works well for some books, but I do enjoy the feel of a real book in my hands. Luckily, there is also a book swap in the village so will definitely sniff some books out there too!

I’d love more recommendations, especially classics I should try. Why not, I think I have the time…

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