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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Verdict

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.

3 Comments

  1. Brian Joseph 6 September 2019 at 5:37 am

    A fascinating sounding group of books. By coincidence I recently discovered Willa Cather myself. I am currently reading through her Great Plains Trilogy. I am finding her to be a wonderful writer.

    Reply
    1. Andrew Blackman - Site Author 7 September 2019 at 2:38 pm

      Ah, that’s great, Brian! I’ll look out for your review. I’m starting with the short stories, but would like to read Cather’s novels as well, including the Great Plains Trilogy.

      Reply
  2. mandywight 8 September 2019 at 9:39 am

    Thanks for this, Andrew. I was really interested to read about Bury me Standing, as the Sinti community are the focus of Ursula Krechel’s latest novel- reviewed here: https://peakreads.wordpress.com/2019/05/12/geisterbahn-ghost-train-by-ursula-krechel/
    And I was interested to see in the excellent but harrowing Holocaust museum in Budapest this summer that there was a lot of information about the fate of the Roma and Sinti community in Hungary. I’m also interested that you’re reading about Ireland. I have Sebastian Barry’s novel A Long, Long Way on my To be Read pile.
    I’ve been reading Gilgi, oder eine von uns by the German writer Irmgard Keun, and Helen Mort’s Black Car Burning, about the climbing community in and around Sheffield, especially resonant for people who come from round here. Blog posts on these should follow!

    Reply

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