We are now down to the last month of 2021. And just when we thought that the proverbial sun is shining behind the clouds, darker clouds started to appear. When things are about to return to normal, ominous news came from South Africa. Apart from its more virulent and more transmissible form, little is known about the newest COVID19 variant, Omicron. The rest of the world waits with bated breath, as developments across various countries come trickling in through news outlets. This is a huge blow to the Philippines, which was planning to reopen its economy. However, I remain hopeful that it gets contained soon, that we have learned our lessons from the previous variants. I am fervently praying that the pandemic will end soon. With the curtains slowly drawing in on 2021, I hope that you have reached those stars you have been reaching for and that you have accomplished everything you wanted to accomplish this year. More importantly, I hope that you and your family are all happy and are doing well during these uncertain times.
Reading-wise, November was a slow month despite gaining some badly needed reading momentum in the previous month. It was my design to focus on books in my active reading challenges, with a focus on my 2021 Top 21 Reading List. It has become a yearly tradition to cram towards the end of the year; yes, I am guilty, HAHA. Thankfully, I made great progress on the reading challenge that I have been lagging in. However, I did not expect that my November reading journey would turn into a European literature month. I did not realize that all of the books I have not ticked off on my yearly reading list, save for one, were works of European writers; the only exception was James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On The Mountain. That was how my November reading journey evolved from a reading challenge month to a European literature month. I have no qualms for there are parts of European literature that I am yet to explore.
With this being said, here is a peek into how my journey went. Here is my reading list for November.
Flights by Olga Tokarczuk
My unintentional dive into European literature commenced with the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature winner Olga Tokarczuk. Flights was among the last books I bought before the Philippines went into lockdown due to the pandemic. After Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, Flights is my second Tokarczuk novel. The winner of the 2018 Man Booker International Prize, Flights is one of the Polish writer’s more popular works. It has also received several accolades and positive feedback that I had to include in my 2021 Top 21 Reading List. At first, I was apprehensive because I learned that the book has an unusual structure. But then again, eccentric literary structures make reading experiences more interesting. In Flights’ case, it was indeed interesting. Rather than a straightforward plot and storyline, Tokarczuk wrote vignettes about a variety of subjects and themes and carefully wove them together into a book that ruminates on travel in general. It offered a unique reading experience and there were parts that left an impression on me, such as the story of Philip Verheyen and the daughter who was fighting to obtain her father’s remains. The book covered a vast ground, from death, Wikipedia, the internet, family dynamics, love, the entire lot. This is a book that cannot be contained in one box, but it is not a book that everyone can appreciate.
Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis
From Poland, my reading journey next transported me to the fabled island of Crete. Crete is also the birthplace of Nikos Kazantzakis, who was often considered as one of the Titans of Greek literature. After all, he was nominated a whopping nine times for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Unfortunately, I have never read any of his works until I read Zorba the Greek, a title I once kept on encountering through online booksellers. However, I kept ignoring it, never realizing that it is a literary gem, even listed as one of the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. The story commenced in a cafe in Piraeus, a port city adjacent to the Greek capital, where the novel’s primary narrator, a young scholarly Greek, was contemplating how to move forward with his life. He planned to go to Crete and re-open an idle lignite mine. It was on his way to the island that he encountered Alexis Zorba. Full of zest, Zorba was the anonymous main character’s antithesis. The book has no solid plot and relied mostly on the interactions between Zorba and his “boss”, as he fondly called the primary narrator. The philosophical intersections made the book flourish although I do not agree with all of Zorba’s wisdom, especially on his thoughts on women. It was the book’s most repulsive facet. Nevertheless, Zorba reminds the readers to live life and experience it to the fullest, beyond the confines of our stifling spaces.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
My third book for the month took me to France, with yet another story that was brimming with philosophical elements. French writer Muriel Barbery rose to international prominence with the English of her French novel L’Élégance du hérisson. The Elegance of Hedgehog was warmly received all over the world, and also attracted critical praise. The nucleus of the story is Renée Michel, a concierge at an upper-middle-class Left Bank apartment building at 7 Rue de Grenelle – one of the most elegant streets in Paris. For nearly three decades, she has faithfully performed her duties, neither attracting the attention of the residents nor making any untoward scenes. Her mundane looks belie a self-taught wide reader who enjoys the works of Marcel Proust, Leo Tolstoy, and the finer things of life such as Dutch paintings and Japanese movies. Despite her acquired taste, she was adamant in remaining inconspicuous. However, she was not able to fool twelve-year-old Paloma Josse, the youngest daughter of one of the apartment building’s residents. Like Renée, Paloma was a wide reader, likes Japanese culture, and was more intellectually advanced than her peers. It wasn’t until the book’s last one-third that it flourished although I still enjoyed the philosophical intersections of the first two-thirds. Overall, it was an insightful and enjoyable read.
Satantango by László Krasznahorkai
It was into the leadup to the announcement of the 2018/2019 Nobel Prize in Literature that I first encountered Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai. Alongside his countryman Peter Nadas, he was touted by many literary betting sites as a potential winner. Unfortunately, neither of the two Hungarian writers brought home the proverbial bacon which went to Austria’s Peter Handke (2019) and Tokarczuk (2018). Nevertheless, this encounter piqued my interest, and as soon as I came across a copy of their works, I did not hesitate to buy them. Nadas’ Parallel Stories was part of my 2020 Top 20 Reading List and was my 800th read, while Krasznahorkai’s Satantango was part of my 2021 Top 21 Reading List. Interestingly, Satantango was Krasznahorkai’s debut novel. The focus of the story is an unnamed hamlet somewhere in Hungary, isolated although it is within the striking distance of a town. The denizens of the hamlet have slowly descended into immorality, where infidelities and betrayals have become ubiquitous. Enter Irimiás, once a local but long-thought dead, and the hamlet was unsettled. Irimiás’ “resurrection” took the form of a messiah who aims to cleanse the hamlet of its pervasive stench. The denizens were none the wiser as the messiah has not changed, after all.
Enduring Love by Ian McEwan
English literature is a staple of the literary world. With a legacy that stretches nearly a millennium, it boasts some of the most renowned titles and the most popular names. A trip to European literature is not complete without a trip to the British isles. Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love, ironically, is the only book I read in November that was originally published in English; I only realized that now. With the ease of logistics, books from different parts of the world have become more available to ordinary readers. Anyway, Enduring Love was a book I purchased over three years ago but was left to gather dust in my bookshelf; nothing new there I guess. Enduring Love is also my fourth novel by McEwan who has earned a fan with me with his vivid depiction of the ordinary. Enduring Love, however, was not it. The start was fine, with McEwan laying out the pieces to the story. A ballooning incident at the park tangled the lives of Joe Rose and Jed Parry, two strangers who responded to the call for rescue. A brief glance turned dangerous when Parry started obsessing over Rose, believing that Rose was in love with him. A man of science and the rational, Rose was unsettled by this unexpected development. Upon research, he learned that Parry was suffering from de Clerambault’s syndrome. While de Clerambault’s syndrome was interesting, the way the story was executed was underwhelming and the exploration of the main subject was lacking.
The Christmas Oratorio by Göran Tunström
I closed my November reading journey with a book that I randomly purchased. It was through an online bookseller that I first encountered Swedish novelist Göran Tunström’s The Christmas Oratorio. The title was the first element of the book that captured my interest. My interest in the book doubled after I learned it was listed as one of 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die; coincidentally, four of six books in this reading list are part of the said list. The novel’s premise is simple enough: it chronicles three generations of the Nordensson men. Their story began in the early 1930s when the matriarch, Solveig, met an accident that led to her untimely demise. She was on her way to join the choir to perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio when a group of cows trampled on her. Her death left a gaping hole in her husband Aron’s heart which estranged him from their two children, Sidner and Eva-Liisa. His virtual alienation was extremely difficult on his son, Sidner, whose growth and story formed the heft of the novel. Victor, Sidner’s son, was the last strand of the novel and was the strand that made Solveig’s story come full circle, sort of. There were parts that I liked and found interesting. Overall, however, I found the story a little bland, and the main characters, all males, passive.
Reading Challenge Recaps
- My 2021 Top 21 Reading List: 19/21
- 2021 Beat The Backlist: 8/12
- My 2021 Books I Look Forward To List: 6/11
- Goodreads 2021 Reading Challenge: 84/85
- 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 18/20
Book Reviews Published in October
- Book Review # 288: Real Life
- Book Review # 289: Bewilderment
- Book Review # 290: The Promise
- Book Review # 291: Schindler’s List
- Book Review # 292: The Gathering
- Book Review # 293: Waterland
- Book Review # 294: Zorba the Greek
- Book Review # 295: The Elegance of the Hedgehog
In what has become normal, I have again failed to meet my target of publishing at least ten book reviews. Still, a tap on the back for me because I have written and published November more book reviews than I did in the previous months. Things are still busy at work but they have started easing up, which I guess helped allow me some time to catch up with my writing. And wow, I am four book reviews short of my 300th review. I didn’t realize how far I have come. It felt like yesterday when I was struggling to complete my first book review but now I am on the cust of reaching 300. I am still catching up on my February book reviews; I think I have about three more but I have also been more proactive in writing reviews on my more recent reads. That is a great development I guess.
I have two goals goal I am looking to accomplish in the last month. The first is to complete my 900th book. I am still undecided on what book to read. Among my choices are Charlotte Brontë’s Villette, Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides, Charles Dickens’s The Old Curiosity Shop, and Nuruddin Farah’s Secrets. I added Secrets to my choices because Farah recently captured my interest. He is also the only writer among the four whose works I have not read previously. My second goal is to publish my 300th book review. With my backlog of book reviews, I am not going to run out of options; choosing which book to review for my landmark 300th review is easier than choosing which book to read as my 900th. Nevertheless, the overall goals for December are to read and review as many books as I can before the year ends.
And that was how my November reading journey went. How about you fellow reader? How was your own journey? I hope you enjoyed the books you have read. For now, have a great day and weekend. As always, do keep safe, and happy reading everyone!