Posts in Reading

Shulem Deen’s Powerful Memoir of Hasidic Life

All Who Go Do Not Return by Shulem Deen is a powerful account of the author’s escape from the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect known as the Skverer Hasidim—an escape that ultimately costs him his relationship with his wife and kids. But it’s also more than that. It’s a book that raises interesting questions about belonging, identity, integrity and conformity. The tale of escape is intriguing in itself. It sheds light on the realities of daily life for Shulem Deen as a Skverer Hasid in the town of New Square, NY. I… Read More

Best Books I Read in 2019

How was your reading year? I read 58 books overall, which was not as many as I’d hoped, but still about one a week, which is OK for me. It was a busy year in many ways, and I didn’t always have much time for reading, but I still read some excellent books. Here’s a quick rundown of the best books I read this year, followed by a breakdown of my reading by gender, publication year, genre, length, rating, etc. The Great Passage by Shion Miura My year started back… Read More

Inside the Syrian Conflict With Jonathan Littell

Homs is one of those places that, like Aleppo and Kandahar and Mosul, has become a byword for suffering. For years it appeared on the nightly news with images of corpses, rubble, wailing widows and intrepid reporters ducking as a shell lands close by. In my childhood, Beirut and later Sarajevo were similar shorthand for misery, along with Belfast during the Troubles. In Syrian Notebooks, Jonathan Littell takes us inside Homs for a  couple of weeks in 2012, early in the Syrian uprising. He gives us a glimpse of the… Read More

German Literature Month: The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz

German Literature Month happens every November, and usually I remember about it some time in December. This year, though, I’m taking part for the second year in a row! After my review of Austerlitz last year, here are my thoughts on The Weight of Things by Austrian writer Marianne Fritz. There are some pretty horrible characters in The Weight of Things, from the overbearing Wilhelmina to the spineless Wilhelm. Even Rudolf, a man who appears only for a few pages before being decapitated, manages to come across as quite arrogant and unlikeable…. Read More

October Reading Roundup

It’s been a busy couple of months for me, driving across Europe and along the Black Sea coast of Turkey, and now exploring Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Add in full-time freelance work and my continuing attempts to finish a novel, and it doesn’t leave much time for blogging. So I seem to have missed the September roundup, but I’ll go ahead with October anyway. Some good books here—even though I was busy, the reading didn’t suffer. Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck I loved John Steinbeck’s classic novels like The… Read More

The Good Life Elsewhere: A Dark Moldovan Comedy of Migration

To describe The Good Life Elsewhere by Moldovan writer Vladimir Lorchenkov as a comedy is slightly misleading. It’s certainly shot through with black humour and absurd situations as some Moldovan villagers go to ever more desperate lengths to escape their poverty and move to Italy. And yet, because of their poverty and their desperation, and because you know that, despite its absurdist exaggeration, this is a novel based on a real situation, the book will probably make you cry more than laugh. The Good Life Elsewhere starts, for example, with a group of Moldovan… Read More

Read to Your Children. They’ll Thank You for It

It’s International Literacy Day today, and I’d like to talk about fostering a love of reading. Recent research by Egmont shows that reading for pleasure has huge benefits for children, and the best way to encourage them to do that is for parents to read aloud to their children. (Thanks to The Author magazine for alerting me to the Egmont study.) The Benefits of Reading for Pleasure Overall, reading for pleasure is declining among kids in Britain, crowded out by other forms of entertainment. But reading has massive benefits, such… Read More

August Reading Roundup

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…. Read More

What Would Radical Happiness Look Like?

How can you be happy when others are suffering? It’s a question that’s bothered me throughout my life. Part of the problem, I think, is that in Western societies, we have defined the pursuit of happiness as an individualistic endeavour. And so I lived for years in London and New York, doggedly pursuing happiness while stepping over the homeless people on the pavement. In Radical Happiness, Lynne Segal suggests an alternative approach. Radical happiness is essentially collective happiness, achieved not by closing your eyes to other people’s misery but by actively… Read More