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Archive for the ‘Reading Adventure’ Category

I can’t remember when exactly I discovered Karl Ove Knausgaard. But I can remember exactly the time when he started to persistently demand my attention. That was when I read an article about books which were too big to be carried around and read in the subway or in any other form of public transport. One of the books on the list was Knausgaard’s ‘The End‘ which was the last volume of his 6-volume epic, ‘My Struggle‘. I added it to my list of ‘Epic chunksters which I hope to read, but probably won’t‘. I have been tempted many times since, to get that epic. I have always talked myself out of it, telling myself that ‘I will never read it, it is too big‘, ‘I got Proust’sIn Search of Lost Time‘ ten years back and I haven’t read it yet, the same fate will befall this‘, and ‘I have too many unread books on my shelf, I need to read them first.’ I thought I had come out of this unscathed, and I was happy about it, but then recently I saw the first two volumes of ‘My Struggle‘ in my friend’s shelfie, and it was the last straw on the camel’s back. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and I went and got it.

So my friends, may I present the epic mother-of-all-chunksters, the one which will give Proust a run for his money, Karl Ove Knausgaard’sMy Struggle‘ 🙂 (Who calls their lifetime epic literary work ‘My Struggle’? Why???)

I think there should be a word for an epic chunkster which runs to thousands of pages (the edition I have runs to 4008 pages), which is highly recommended but rarely read, which looks like a novel, but which in reality is a veiled memoir of the author. I think that word could be ‘Knausgaardian‘. ‘Proustian‘, you have been around for nearly a century now, and we love you, but it is time for you to step aside now, because the new kid-off-the-block has arrived, he is your 21st century version, and his name is ‘Knausgaardian‘.

One of my friends says that she reads a chunkster every summer. I loved that idea. So thought I’ll try to read Knausgaard’s epic, this summer. Atleast dip my toes into it. Then I read the great Yoshida Kenko saying in his book ‘Essays in Idleness‘ –

“Those who feel the impulse to pursue the path of enlightenment should immediately take the step, and not defer it while they attend to all the other things on their mind. If you say to yourself, ‘Let’s just wait until after this is over,’ or ‘While I’m at it I’ll just see to that,’ or ‘People will criticize me about such-and-such so I should make sure it’s all dealt with and causes no problem later,’ or ‘There’s been time enough so far, after all, and it won’t take long just to wait a little longer while I do this. Let’s not rush into things,’ one imperative thing after another will occur to detain you. There will be no end to it all, and the day of decision will never come. In general, I find that reasonably sensitive and intelligent people will pass their whole life without taking the step they know they should. Would anyone with a fire close behind them choose to pause before fleeing? In a matter of life and death, one casts aside shame, abandons riches and runs.”

Kenko was a Zen monk from the medieval ages, and he was talking about taking the path to enlightenment, but it is easy to take what he said and apply it to another suitable context. So, when I remembered Kenko’s words, I thought, ‘If I can read this in summer, I can read this in spring‘ and then ‘If I can read this in spring, I can read this today‘, and then, ‘If I can read this today, I can read this now.’ This is how the human mind works.

I have read the first few pages of the first volume, and it looks very beautiful. I have a poor record with respect to chunksters – I get started with enthusiasm, and then I get distracted after a hundred or two hundred or a few hundred pages, because real world tasks which I have kept pushing below the carpet, suddenly burst out and start demanding attention, or sometimes another book uses all its wiles to distract me. So I don’t know what is going to happen here. I have dipped my toe into the Knausgaardian ocean now, and I am waiting to see where it takes me. Please wish me well.

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Women In Translation Month‘ is hosted by the wonderful Meytal Radzinski and it happens in August every year. I haven’t participated in WIT Month for a while. This year I told myself that I will participate and read books by wonderful women writers in translation, and find out what others are reading and discover new books through their posts.

One of the exciting things about participating in a reading event is making reading plans. I always loved that. So I looked at my book collection, looked at all the books that I wanted to read which fit this theme, and made a reading list. There are 10 books in the list. I don’t think I’ll be able to read them all this month. But I hope to read atleast some of them.

So, here is the list.

(1) Collected Poems 1944-49 by Nelly Sachs (German) – Nelly Sachs is one of the great German poets. She wrote beautiful, moving poetry. She left Germany when the Nazis came to power, and moved to Sweden, from where she continued to write. She won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1966. But, unfortunately, she is virtually unknown today. I have dipped into this collection before and read some of her poems, and found them very beautiful. Now I am hoping to read this collection properly from the beginning to the end.

(2) Land of Smoke by Sara Gallardo (Spanish) – This is a collection of short stories by this new-to-me Argentinian author. It looks quite fascinating.

(3) The Taste of Apple Seeds by Katharina Hagena (German) – I have started this book multiple times and got distracted everytime and left it halfway through. Not because of the book, because the book is really good. I hope to do better this time.

(4) Flights by Olga Tokarczuk (Polish) – I have wanted to read this book ever since it came out. I love Fitzcarraldo Editions – their minimalistic style, with all books having blue covers, no introduction or notes or anything about the author inside, they just let the book do the talking.

(5) Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto (Japanese) – I have had this book for years. I have never read a Yoshimoto book before. Can’t wait to read my first one.

(6) I Hid My Voice by Parinoush Saniee (Persian) – I discovered this book serendipitously while browsing in the bookshop. This new-to-me Iranian writer’s book seems to tell a moving story.

(7) Child of the River by Irma Joubert (Afrikaans) – I was excited to discover this book because it is written by a South African writer, but it is not written in English. South Africa is a culturally rich country with multiple languages, but unfortunately the literature written in English from that country overshadows everything else. I can’t wait to read my first South African non-English book.

(8) Nowhere Ending Sky by Marlen Haushofer (German) – Marlen Haushofer is one of my alltime favourite writers. Only three of her books have been translated into English. I have read two of them – ‘The Wall‘ and ‘The Loft‘. This is the third one. I have been saving it for a rainy day. But I think it is time now – to read my third and final Haushofer and then mourn that there are no more.

(9) Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto (Japanese) – This is the second Yoshimoto book on my list. One of my friends gifted it to me and I can’t wait to read it. I think I’ll probably read this one first, before the other one.

(10) Collected Short Stories by Ambai (Tamil) – Ambai is one of India’s greatest short story writers. She is the Indian Alice Munro. She has been writing short stories for literary magazines for nearly fifty years. All her short stories are written in Tamil. They have been translated into English and published in multiple volumes. This collection that I have has all her stories. I have dipped into this collection before. Hoping to read it properly from the beginning to the end now.

So, that’s it from my side. I’m late to the party but I can’t wait to start.

Are you participating in Women In Translation Month? What are you reading?

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As part of my reading goal this year, I decided to read a few big classic novels 🙂 One of them is ‘War and Peace’ by Leo Tolstoy. Inspired by two of my friends, who have probably read it more than once, I have made multiple attempts in past years to read this classic, but for one reason or another I haven’t been able to continue with my reading effort. ‘War and Peace’ is a mammoth classic (my edition is 1358 pages long with small font – if the font size had been bigger, the size of the book would have increased by atleast 50% to around 2000 pages!). One needs to put in the time and effort to read it and do justice to this epic book and be rewarded by the experience. I decided that I will put in the required time and effort this year. And what is more, instead of procrastinating, I decided that it will be first book that I will read this year 🙂 I started reading it a couple of days back, and have finished around 125 pages till now. The classic translation of ‘War and Peace’ is the one by Constance Garnett, but the one I am reading is a new translation by Anthony Briggs.

If you haven’t read the book before, here is a two-line summary : The book is set during the the war between France and Russia at the time of Napoleon. ‘War and Peace’ describes the fortunes, lives and loves of some of the story’s fictional characters and families during this time.

I am giving below some of my favourite lines from the book, from the chapters of the book that I have read till now.

His French was the elegant tongue of our grandparents, who used it for thought as well as speech, and it carried the soft tones of condescension that come naturally to an eminent personage grown old in high society and at court.

As tends to happen with the best-looking women, a defect – in this case a short lip and a half-open mouth – came out as a distinctive and beautiful feature.

Just as a skilful head waiter can pass off as a supreme delicacy a cut of beef that would be inedible if you’d seen it in the filthy kitchen, Anna Pavlovna served up to her guests that evening first the viscount and then the abbe as if they were supreme delicacies.

If everybody fought for nothing but his own convictions, there wouldn’t be any wars.

Even in the very warmest, friendliest and simplest of relationships you need either flattery or praise in the way that you need grease to keep wheels turning.

…she was at that charming age when the girl is no longer a child, and the child is not yet a young girl.

There was a smoothness in the way she moved, a gentle suppleness in her little limbs and a kind of wary aloofness that suggested a pretty half-grown kitten that would one day turn into a lovely cat.

Sonya half-rose, and the kitten in her revived, its eyes gleaming; it seemed ready to flick its tail, pounce about on its soft paws and start playing with a ball, as good kittens do.

At this point, Princess Marya sighed and looked around at the tall mirror to her right. The glass reflected a feeble, unattractive body and a skinny face. The ever-gloomy eyes looked at themselves more hopelessly than ever. ‘She’s flattering me,’ thought the princess as she turned back to read on. But Julie was not flattering her friend; her eyes were large, deep and radiant (sometimes a warm light seemed to pour out of them), really so winsome that very often, in spite of the plainness of the face as a whole, her eyes held a greater appeal than mere beauty. But the princess had never seen the beautiful expression in her own eyes, an expression they assumed only when she wasn’t thinking about herself. Like everyone else, her face took on a strained, artificial and disagreeable expression the moment she looked at herself in the mirror.

We love people not so much for the good they have done to us as for the good we have done to them.

The regiment stirred itself like a bird settling its feathers…

Hope you enjoyed reading the above lines. I will post more of my favourite quotes, after I read more of the book.

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