Wah! I can’t believe that we’re already down to the last four months of the year. The events of the past eight months is begging of the question – what happened this 2020? Apparently a lot and not that much at the same time. COVID 19 and quarantine are the two prevailing themes of the year; these two words sum up the year so far. I hope things look up in the coming four months. I hope that you reap the benefits of everything you worked hard for this year. I hope your prayers get answered. I hope your wounds would heal. I hope everyone all the best.
In so far as my reading is concerned, August was again about ticking off some books in my reading challenges. All eight books I have completed is a part of one challenge or another. I am pulling all the stops to complete them all with time to spare; I usually cram towards the end of the year, HAHA. I think my August ventures (and July as well) have paid off as I made significant strides in these challenges.
Without more ado, here are the magnificent reads I had in August.
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
I finally completed my 2020 Beat the Backlist challenge with my first Charles Dickens in nearly a decade. After Ducks, Newburyport, Bleak House is my second 1,000 pager this year and I have one more on the way (Peter Nadas’ Parallel Stories). In Bleak House, Charles Dickens showed his fascination with the legal fascination by writing about a controversial legal subject in Victorian England – the Chancery Court system. But it is more than just legal fiction. Bleak House is also parts-coming-of-age which relates the story of Esther Summerson. It contained shades of romance, mystery, and a score of subplots. Perhaps I was trying to find my footing again in terms of the Dickensian tale but I felt that the story dragged longer than it should have.
Perfume, The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind
I have long been riveted by Patrick Suskind’s Perfume, the Story of a Murderer. I can’t point exactly what enchanted me or compelled it is just that I am sure I wanted to read the book. It took years but I finally managed to purchase my own copy and without further preamble, I have included it in my 2020 Top 20 Reading List. The story revolves around Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, an orphan who was born in the slums of 18th century Paris. I am a little conflicted with the story or maybe I am still trying to figure out how I feel about it after years of contemplating about it. Although it wasn’t apparent, the novel permeated with elements of magic. It also had plenty of suspense. Maybe I was looking for more story? It was too quick and before I knew it, the story was already over.
The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien
It has been some time since I last immersed in a story written by J.R.R. Tolkien, more than four years actually. The Silmarillion is one of his works that were published posthumously and takes back the readers to Middle Earth. Rather than a complete novel, The Silmarillion is a collection of stories that relate the history of Middle Earth. However, one can barely notice the disconnection as Tolkien wrote with such flare that it was barely noticeable. Again, his brand of world-building is astounding and breathtaking. I found it easier to appreciate compared to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Is the language easier or is it because I have become acclimated to his language. Whatever it is, I am glad I included the book in my 2020 Top 20 Reading List.
Maus by Art Spiegelman
So here’s another graphic book. Literally graphic as it is a graphic novel. Art Spiegelman’s Maus was inspired by the story of his parents’ escape from the gas chambers of Auschwitz. It is the story of survivalism and strong will and determination, one that is often encountered in many a World War II or Holocaust story. However, it reminded me that each of these stories deserve to be heard through the pandemonium. The horrors of World War II and Auschwitz were the novel’s focal point but subtly related through this graphic novel is the story of a son trying to grapple and reconcile with his seemingly “parentless” childhood, living under the shadows of a brother who has long perished because of the war. Touching, thought-provoking and at the same time contemporary, Maus is a towering elegy to the victims of the Second World War.
Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky
From one Second World War story to another Second World War story, the world never seem to run out of narratives that were inspired by this grim phase in the history of mankind. Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française is not just another trite Second World War story. It is the story of Paris in retreat, of its denizens in panic and struck by horror and fear. Némirovsky weaves a story that is universal and yet achingly nostalgic through well-fleshed out characters. It was unfortunate that she perished even before she could complete the story. In her original draft, the story had at least three more parts but she only managed to complete three before she was captured by the Nazis. Unlike the Spiegelmans, Némirovsky (and her husband) was not able to escape the horrors of the gas chambers.
If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha
From the past to the contemporary, from one reading challenge to another, my reading journey next brought me to modern Seoul, South Korea where four (actually five) spirited women has converged in the city’c busiest district of Gangnam. In her debut novel, Frances Cha sheds a light on several aspects of the modern South Korean society with its fascination with plastic surgery as her commencement point. Beyond the glitzy KPop music video is a society that is patriarchal, sexist, and even racist. Cha tried to do so much, and I appreciate the effort, but the overall impact was ephemeral. I loved the friendship that has developed amongst the characters; it was poignant without being nauseating.
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
Just like If I Had Your Face, Emily St John Mandel’s The Glass Hotel is a title I was looking forward to in 2020; they’re both part of my 2020 Top 10 Books I Look Forward To. St. John Mandel is foreign to me as I have never read any of her works before but The Glass Hotel generated such blurb that I cannot resist the temptation of dipping my hands into this narrative. It is the story of Vincent, a simple bartender in Hotel Caiette British Columbia’s Vancounver Island. Her life changed when she was jetted to New York City by rich investment fund manager Jonathan Alkaitis. However, I felt like St. John Mandel was trying to do too much with the array of subjects she tried to capture. In the end, the impact, like If I Had Your Face, was fleeting.
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell
I actually complete The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists in September 1 but nonetheless I am including it as part of my “read books”. It is unfortunate that Robert Noonan (Tressell is a pseudonym) tasted success only after his passing in 1910. Partly autobiographical, The Raggde Trousered Philanthropists is a narrative that discusses in length the dichotomies amongst the different social classes, with emphasis on the “employed” and the “employers”. At the heart of the story is Frank Owen, a house painter who made it his conviction to educate his fellow workers on their present condition. It is rife with discourses on politics and socialism. It is a thought-provoking story, one that makes readers rethink the way they live their lives.
Current Read: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
I have become a fan of Jeffrey Eugenides since reading Cal’s story in the Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece, Middlesex. It was a distinct reading experience which made the book one of my all-time favorites and Eugenides an author whose works I look forward to. Over three years since Middlesex, I am opening a new chapter with The Marriage Plot. Unfortunately, I am still in the early parts of the novel so I cannot say much; I am not even done with a complete chapter yet. LOL. Despite its lowly rating in Goodreads, I am looking forward to this book, which does have an interesting premise. It mentions a lot of other literary works so that is a plus for me.
Reading Challenge Recaps
- My 2020 Top 20 Reading List: 19/20
- Beat The Backlist: 12/12
- My 2020 10 Books I Look Forward To List: 4/10
- Gooodreads 2019 Reading Challenge: 59/75
- Year of the Asian Reading Challenge: 17/20
- 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 16/20
Yay! By completing my Beat the Backlist challenge, I am one reading challenge down for the year. Technically, it is my second completed reading challenge since my pledge for the Year of the Asian Reading Challenge is between 11 to 20 books. I am also down to my last book in my 2020 Top 20 Reading List – Peter Nadas’ Parallel Stories.
Book Reviews Published in August
- Book Review # 190: The Girl With The Louding Voice
- Book Review # 191: American Dirt
- Book Review # 192: Empress Orchid
- Book Review # 193: Fish-Hair Woman
- Book Review # 194: A Wild Sheep Chase
- Book Review # 195: The Satanic Verses
- Book Review # 196: Bleak House
- Book Review # 197: The Red-Haired Woman
- Book Review # 198: If I Had Your Face
- Book Review # 199: The Silent Cry
Yes, I am happy I completed all my pending April 2020 book reviews whilst, at the same time, making an early dent into my May 2020 book reviews (Japanese Literature month). Not only that, I completed 10 book reviews for the month, the most I had since November 2018 when I published 11 book reviews. I also had more book reviews than books read, which was a first this year. September is going to be a very tedious month but I will still try to make it a prolific month, both in reading and in completing book reviews.
Although I am not yet done with some of them, my progress in the past two months have allowed me some leeway. I think I can be more exploratory in the coming months. I still have a lot of unread books so I will try to focus on them and prepare for 2021. I am thinking of the coming year as early as now. LOL. Apart from this, I am also looking at reading more current works as I a quite the backlist reader. Some of my favorite authors like David Mitchell, Yaa Gyasi, and Akwaeke Emezi all have made releases this year. And yes, I am also looking at the Man Booker shortlist.
How about you readers? How was your August reading journey? I hope you had a great journey. You can also share your experiences in the comment box.
Happy reading everyone!