The Japanese have a word, ‘tsundoku’, which refers to the books we all receive and purchase that, perhaps we dip into, perhaps we fancy the idea of reading them, but never do we take the plunge and actually read the carefully selected words within.
One of my new year’s resolutions for 2019 was to read a book a month. Not too challenging – I know people who devour 50 books or more a year, but for me 12 was a good number given my busy schedule.
So, I thought what better place to start than with books I already own? Here are three books; two of which were gifts, and a third I’ve owned for over a year; and I’ve finally read them cover to cover.
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson
A strange book, this one – Jonas tells the story of a man who, on reaching his hundredth birthday, jumps (rather, climbs) out of a (ground floor) window in his nursing home in order to go on a bit of an adventure.
The story itself is quite bizarre and hinges on the ability of the old man and his accomplice, whom he meets quite early in the tale, to throw money and alcohol at people until they comply (and they all do, eagerly). Then, sewn into this story is the old man’s life and his travels and encounters across Eurasia.
This is a story about a man who spent his life getting in and out of scrapes and unfortunate and more fortunate entanglements. It tells a real history through the use of this ‘false’ history, which I found to be an interesting device along the way.
The protagonist turns out to be the one man who influenced the course of key events right across the continents, without whom things supposedly would have gone a different way. It’s hard to know whether what happened is the truth as presented in this novel’s universe, or whether within this world the old man is simply telling tall tales through this sort of ‘flashback’.
The lesson appears to lie in the power of being obstinate, standing firm, and allying yourself with the right people at the right time. The old man shows little loyalty to anything or anyone but himself, yet appears to have a true talent for aligning and attaching himself to people who might be of use to him until needs change.
I didn’t mind the story, but I had to accept it for what it was; quite absurd. There is something to be taken away, which is that freedom is always a choice. I bought the sequel before I finished the first book, which is either a sign of keenness or insanity. Stay tuned.
Bonfire – Krysten Ritter
I was pleased to pick this up in a Foyles about a year ago when shopping for Christmas presents, and I’m very glad I did. I’m also pleased to include it in my year’s book list, as I’m very keen to read more books by female and minority authors.
Women’s issues are at the fore in this book, and I could really feel the female perspective come alive in this thriller. The fear that she feels for her own safety – something men don’t typically acknowledge in the same way for themselves; the disgust she has in herself for feeling a certain way towards men – again, men would just be alright with those feelings from being raised differently. The trials that women face at school and in their work lives, versus the very different power struggles that men seem to have.
The book’s central plot had a distinct flavour of “Erin Brokovich” about it. Something in the water that’s making people ill, and a big pharma to bring to account. Then the side story – or, rather, the main story for the protagonist – that it all takes place in her hometown of Barrens, where everybody knows everybody else, and old flames, old rivals, and old friends all mesh into the conspiracy.
The clues are given slowly, and this is a wonderful suspense that kept me coming back. The chapters are short, some of which are painful flashbacks that really made me pause, for thought, for tears. And Krysten’s dark, dry sense of humour really helps to weave the whole tapestry together.
I loved this book, and strongly recommend it!
Friday Black – Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
This is actually a collection of dystopian short stories, this time by a black author. For me, it was also an attempt to read something a little off the beaten track that is also relevant to my own interests – combining dystopian novel-writing with short story writing.
My copy (bought for me) is one of Foyles’ signed copies, and this guy has an enviable signature.
Anyway. The book opens with “The Finkelstein 5”, which was one of the best stories in the collection. It gets to the root of issues surrounding race, violence, and bias through a story on a fairly extreme (though depressingly close to real) example of the racist murder of children.
Other stories take completely different ‘what if’ examples taken to extremes, with special mentions going to the use of drugs on mental health in society, capitalism and ‘black friday’ (the books’ namesake), and focuses in on dealing with pain: a kid so fed up of his station he wants to murder; places where you could learn to deal with people (read: take your anger out on paid actors in protective gear); and on being stuck in a kind of time-looping purgatory.
The writer is very imaginative and is adept at using an economy of words to move the story forwards – a skill I desperately crave – I found myself unable to ration this book very well and ended up reading it in two weeks!
Look out for my Q2 review in July!