June is now over. We are now midway through 2022. Wow. Time is certainly in a rush. Still, I hope you were all able to enjoy the month that was. I have noticed that things are slowly but surely returning to normal. Malls are now again teeming with activities. The metro rail is now filling up with people. Tours are everywhere. Everyone is excited to resume their lives pre-pandemic. We have managed to overcome a health crisis that has reset our lives in the past two years. While I understand that protocols are still in place, I hope everyone is still practicing the minimum health protocols. COVID19 remains a threat and a misstep could literally undo all the progress that we have made.

Reading-wise, at the start of June I resolved to extend my foray into the works of European literature, a journey I started back in May. I have quite a pile of unread books and despite the progress I made in the past two months, I still have several unread books. Nonetheless, my reading journey in the past two months was brimming with interesting works that transported me to different parts of the continent, from the Czech Republic to Italy to Spain to France to Serbia to Norway to Sweden to the United Kingdom. I was everyone, thanks to these wonderful works. They were all engrossing works; yes, there were some that were underwhelming but, overall, it was a successful journey. Compared to May, June was a slower reading month; I guess my new job figures into this slowdown; I ended the month with seven books. Nevertheless, here is a peek into how my June reading journey went.

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco

I kickstarted May with my third novel by Fredrik Backman. I had the same start with June as I kicked it off with my third novel by popular Italian writer and historian, Umberto Eco, who I first encountered through must-read lists. My reader-writer relationship with Eco, however, did not start the way I wanted it to. I was barely impressed with Baudolino although he made it up with his debut novel, The Name of the Rose, a book I always knew I would love. As for my third novel by Eco, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, I really wasn’t as impressed. The novel was narrated by Giambattista Bodoni, fondly referred to as Yambo. When the novel started, we learn that he lost his episodic memory due to a stroke. His semantic memory was working fine but he cannot recall his wife and his family. He cannot even remember his own name. Thus begins his journey to regaining his memory which started with a journey to Solara, his childhood home. There, he browsed through a plethora of newspaper clippings, poems, vinyl records, books, and magazines. However, all of these did not amount to anything or even to a robust plot. The action started picking up later in the story but it was a little too late to redeem the story. Readers who love trivia might find this book fascinating.

The Use of Man by Aleksandar Tišma

From Italy, my reading journey took me to the Balkan Peninsula for just the second time during this two-month journey. It was in early 2020 that I first learned of Serbian writer Aleksandar Tišma when I randomly obtained a copy of his novel, The Use of Man. I learned that the book books was the second book of Tišma’s most acclaimed set of works, The Novi Sad Trilogy. At its heart, The Use of Man is the story of the city where Tišma grew up: Novi Sad, where central Europe ends, is the converging point of different groups of people from Serbs to Croats to Hungarians. Its story was charted through the destinies of four characters: Vera Kroner, Sredoje Lazukić, Milinko Božić, Sep Lehnart. Their paths converged in the German language class of Fräulein Anna Drentvenšek. Over the horizon, the war is brewing and it was just a matter of days before the Second World War would come knocking on the city’s doors. I did struggle a bit with the story, mainly because of the lack of a linear structure. Tišma’s gaze was unflinching and barely provided concessions; it was the war at its most nightmarish. One chapter left a deep impression on me; it detailed the experiences of Vera in the concentration camp. I am cognizant that war stories from the Second World War can become too banal but what I appreciate in works like The Use of Man is that they remind me that the voices lost in the din need to be heard.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

British writer David Mitchell initially earned my interest with his complex but riveting novel Cloud Atlas. I would read more of his works and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is his fourth novel I read. The novel transported me to a place I didn’t expect I’d find myself in, although should be noted that part of Cloud Atlas was set in South Korea. Anyway, the novel was set in Japan, on the trading post of Dejima in Nagasaki, in the twilight years of the 18th century and the early years of the 19th. The titular Jacob de Zoet, who for fans of Mitchell’s works would immediately recognize as the ancestor of Jasper de Zoet in Utopia Avenue, is a clerk for a Dutch merchant ship. He wanted to work under the Dutch East India Company in order to save money for the dowry of his betrothed, Anna, The opportunity presented itself when Daniel Snitker, the acting chief of a factory on Dejima, was ousted. But while on Dejima, de Zoet met Orito, a midwife studying under Dr. Marinus; yes, he appeared in The Bone Clocks. He was enamored by her, drawn to her. As the story progressed, a separate plotline emerged: the story of a cult on the Japanese mountainside. While I find it an overall interesting book, it was not quite at par with Cloud Atlas.

Olga by Bernhard Schlink

German writer Bernhard Schlink is one of many writers who are part of my list of reading prospects. His book, The Reader, is ubiquitous, thus, piquing my interest. However, it was a different work by Schlink that I was able to obtain, Olga, which is also his latest work. The titular Olga is Olga Rinke. She was born in the twilight years of the 19th century in the Silesian region of Poland. However, she lost both her parents at a young age. Against her wishes, she was taken by her paternal grandmother who was against the union of Olga’s parents. From Silesia, Olga was taken to Tilsit in Pomerania where she was expected to do farmwork and forget about her studies. However, she had a dream and she resisted. It set the tone for the rest of the story which painted the portrait of a strong-willed woman who overcame all the disadvantages that came her way. There is also a love story. The storytelling, however, was a little uneven. The story was divided into three parts: the first one was rushed and basically illustrated the landscape of Olga’s life; the second part was a portrait of Olga through a child she raised; and, the third part was a series of letters meant to provide some kind of cathartic moment but it was never fully achieved. I still want to read The Reader.

The Dumas Club by Arturo Pérez-Reverte

The Dumas Club is my second novel by Spanish writer Arturo Pérez-Reverte. My first novel by Pérez-Reverte, The Seville Communion, however, fell way below my expectation. I was, nonetheless willing to give concessions. I gave The Dumas Club a try; it is, after all, listed as one of 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Sure enough, the book’s premise caught my attention; I found the prospect of digging into the underworld of publishing and rare book dealership interesting. The novel started in Madrid where we meet Lucas Corso, a middle-aged book dealer and rare books collector. Among the elite, he has quite the reputation of not sparing anything – regardless of legality – in order to accomplish a task for his affluent clientele. The story followed two plotlines. One concerned Corso authenticating a manuscript of The Anjou Wine, the forty-second chapter in Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers. While his investigation was ongoing, he was approached by Varo Borja to authenticate a book he has recently acquired, Of the Nine Doors of the Kingdom of Shadows. The book’s author was burned at the stake during the Inquisition and it was claimed that only three copies of the book exist. Two of these books, however, were forgeries. We follow Corso as he traveled across Europe to investigate which is real and which is not. Parts-mystery, parts-literary, The Dumas Club was a riveting book but can be offensive for its depiction of women.

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

Another book that I have encountered through the 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die is Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus. I was, however, a little apprehensive about obtaining a copy of the book at first. Although I was curious, I felt like it was not my cup of tea. I eventually relented to my curiosity and in 2021, I was able to obtain a copy of the book. Nights at the Circus is widely considered to be Carter’s most popular work. The novel was divided into three parts with the first part set in London. It took the form of an interview with American journalist Jack Walser finding himself in the company of Sophie Fevvers, a celebrated aerialiste believed to have descended from a swan. For Walser, it was the scoop of his lifetime. I struggled a bit with the first part because of the structure and the fact that Fevvers was an unreliable narrator. The second part took place in St. Petersburg and, to get more scoop, Walser joined the circus that Fevvers was part of. What Walser did not expect was that he would fall in love with Fevvers. The last part took place in Siberia and had some weird elements to it as we meet a shaman. Overall, it was an interesting book. Not an easy read but still interesting.

Beware of Pity by Stefan Zweig 

I culminated my two-month foray into European literature with my first novel by Austrian writer Stefan Zweig. Zweig was a lucrative writer who has written several short novels but Beware of Pity is widely considered his only novel, mainly because of its length. Nonetheless, it was with this book that I am starting my venture into his prose. Set in 1913, the novel charted the story of a young Austrian lieutenant, Anton Hoffmiller, stationed in the Austrian countryside. He was surprised when he found himself invited to the home of Kekesfalva, a rich landowner. During the party, he performed the gentlemanly gesture of asking his host’s daughter, Edith, to dance. Rather than accept his offer, she burst into tears and that’s when Toni realized that Edith was a cripple. Humiliated, he fled but sent roses the following day to make up for his rudeness. What ensued was a series of visits, motivated primarily by pity. This situation turned into a disaster Toni did not expect. I get the point of the novel but I somehow find the story overwritten. There were several repetitions that plodded the story. Edith was also an unbearable character; I guess it is understandable given her affliction. Toni, on the other hand, cannot seem to make a decision for himself. But then again, it was also understandable because of his provenance. Overall, Beware of Pity was an interesting work that delves into compassion.

Reading Challenge Recaps
  1. My 2022 Top 22 Reading List9/22
  2. 2022 Beat The Backlist: 7/15; 49/50
  3. 2022 Books I Look Forward To List4/10
  4. Goodreads 2022 Reading Challenge: 55/80*
  5. 1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die: 2/20
  6. New Books Challenge: 6/15

*I updated my reading target for the year because I am way too ahead.

Book Reviews Published in June
  1. Book Review # 353: Kokoro
  2. Book Review # 354: Second Place
  3. Book Review # 355: The Book of Mother
  4. Book Review # 356: The Use of Man
  5. Book Review # 357: Whereabouts
  6. Book Review # 358: The Prophets
  7. Book Review # 359: Aftershocks
  8. Book Review # 360: Death on the Nile
  9. Book Review # 361: The Sweetness of Water
  10. Book Review # 362: Light Perpetual
  11. Book Review # 363: China Room
  12. Book Review # 364: Go Set a Watchman

Wow. For the fifth consecutive month, I was able to complete at least ten book reviews, something unexpected and achievement of some sort. I have been turning myself into a workhorse because of my desire to complete all my pending book reviews from 2021. My effort is paying off because I am now down to my last eleven books from 2021, from about 50 at the start of the year! At the same time, I want to ensure that I won’t bury myself in 2022 book reviews. I have now completed all my pending book reviews from January 2022 and I am about to start on my February 2022 reading list. I hope that I sustain the momentum I have built in the past five months despite me getting back to work.

Earlier today, I published my 65th review of the year which is another remarkable feat considering that we are barely midway through the year. This number is 17 book reviews less than my total output in 2021. The 77 book review I completed last year is the most I completed in a year. With the momentum I have gained, it is more than possible for me to reset my personal record. But to be honest, at the start of the year I set my target for 2022 to at least 100 book reviews. It is still not within reach but I am starting to believe that it is doable.

For my July reading journey, I have decided to pivot toward one of my comfort zones in the vast ambit of the literary world: Japanese literature. It is certainly my favorite section of the literary world and July being my birth month, it is a fitting theme for the month. I have actually finished one book already, Yukio Mishima’s The Sound of Waves and I am currently reading my second book by Shūsaku Endō, The Samurai. Also on my priority list for July are Kenzaburō Ōe’s A Quiet Life (or A Personal Matter), Mieko Kawakami’s All the Lovers in the Night, Sayaka Murata’s The Convenience Store Woman, Masuji Ibuse’s Black Rain, and Ryū Murakami’s From the Fatherland, with Love. I am just hoping to cover as much ground as I can.

And that was how my June reading journey concluded. 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!