How was your reading month? I had a good one, recovering from my slump in July and making some great discoveries. Here they are:
The Troll Garden by Willa Cather
Willa Cather is one of those authors whose work I’ve been meaning to read for so long that I’ve forgotten who made the initial recommendation. This short story collection was an excellent introduction, full of poignant plots and fascinating characters, with a noticeable focus on themes of creativity and art, urban vs. rural life, and the yearning for something better. I particularly liked Paul’s Case, a story of brief and tragic youthful rebellion against the constraints of bourgeois life.
Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca
While travelling around Europe for the past five years, I’ve come across Romani people (a.k.a. gypsies) in many places, from the vibrant Shutka neighbourhood of Skopje to a small village in Ukraine where one of their young men had just been murdered by far-right thugs. I realised I knew almost nothing about them other than the usually negative stereotypes thrown around in the media, so I read this fascinating book that weaves contemporary stories and interviews with details of their history. Highly recommended.
Youth and the Bright Medusa by Willa Cather
After reading The Troll Garden, I decided to work my way through Willa Cather’s other books. This one has some of the same stories as the earlier collection, but with some good additions like Coming, Eden Bower!, a story about the odd love-hate relationship between a struggling painter and an ambitious singer. Like another story, A Gold Slipper, it jumps forward suddenly in time to show the very different outcomes for each character.
A Brief History of Ireland by Richard Killeen
I was travelling in Ireland earlier this year and bought this book to get me up to speed on its history. I knew patches of it already, but had never seen it put together like this, from pre-history right through to the turn of the millennium. It brought home to me quite how much England has done to create the very sectarianism that is now presented in the British press as ancient and incomprehensible hatred.
The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
I liked aspects of this novel about alienation and the desire of Port and Kit Moresby to go ever deeper into the Sahara in a doomed attempt to escape their own ennui and the slow, painful death of their marriage. But I found the main characters exasperating and not entirely believable. So despite the beautiful prose and strong themes, it was a bit of a struggle for me.
1916: The Easter Rising by Tim Pat Coogan
More Irish history, this time going from the general to the particular. The 1916 Easter Rising against British rule was an abject failure in that it was poorly organised, gained little popular support, was defeated within a week, and most of its leaders were executed. But it was a success in the long term because the courage of its leaders and the brutal British response fuelled Irish nationalism and created the conditions that would lead within six years to the founding of the Irish Free State, something that had seemed impossible before the rising.
I enjoyed most of my reading this month, but the one I’d most recommend is Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca. Accurate information about the Romani is amazingly hard to come by, and this book is a powerful corrective to the lazy demonisation that seems so common in so many parts of Europe.
What have you been reading lately? Leave your recommendations in the comments.