The first month of the year took me from Greece to Serbia via Vienna (don’t ask!), and in the world of books it took me from a Cretan classic to a medieval poet, via some self-help literature, a road-trip novel, and a new theory of climate change. Here we go…
Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future by Joel Wainwright & Geoff Mann
How will our political systems respond to the catastrophic climate change that now seems inevitable? This book examines a few possible ways in which we could come together to avoid collective insanity, and unfortunately the most likely one seems to be a Leviathan: an all-powerful capitalist oligarchy that saves us from destruction through some high-tech fix and therefore holds total power over us and can legitimately crush any dissent in the name of saving the planet.
It’s a terrifying vision that makes it all the more urgent to find a fairer, more democratic way of taking the radical collective action that is needed at this point.
Soul Tourists by Bernardine Evaristo
Bernardine Evaristo won the Booker last year, of course, for her latest novel Girl, Woman, Other, but I decided to go back in time and read her earlier road-trip novel Soul Tourists. The two central characters were well drawn and contrasting: uptight banker Stanley and freewheeling Jessie. And what made the book really interesting was the sudden appearance around Europe of ghosts or visions of black people from the continent’s past.
This pocket-sized collection of poetry by Rumi was a gift from Genie after we visited his home town of Konya last year. There are some beautiful poems in there, and others that I didn’t really understand, so in both cases I’ll be happy to go back and read them again and think about their meaning. One to keep on the nightstand and dip into regularly.
Freedom and Death by Nikos Kazantzakis
“Freedom or death” was the rallying cry of fighters on the island of Crete during their rebellions against Ottoman rule. This novel tells the story of one of the captains of a rebellion, but it’s far from a simple tale of heroism, as Captain Michales is a highly conflicted character whose patriotism comes into conflict with his love for a Turkish woman. This was my first Kazantzakis read, and it was a good one. I’m excited now about trying his more famous novels like Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ.
The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav
Oprah Winfrey said that reading this book changed her life. I don’t think it has changed mine, but I did get some useful things from it. I love the idea that we are all connected, that we should hold reverence for all of life, that harming others is like harming ourselves, etc. I don’t agree with all of the author’s views on reincarnation or our purpose for being here (views which are stated as simple facts, despite there being no way of knowing their validity). But that didn’t stop me from learning some important things from it and being reminded of others.
This was a thought-provoking set of books to start the year with, and I got some good things from all of them. But for sheer enjoyment of reading, Freedom and Death was a clear winner. It’s a compelling tale of a complex character, and it’s also a beautiful evocation of the life of the Greek community in Turkish-dominated Heraklion in the 19th century.
How did your reading year start? Share your recommendations and/or disappointments in the comments.