But I will squeeze a few more books in by the end of the year.
Last book I listed was Pamuk’s A Strangeness in My Mind, which was book 44. Then, I went to Ubud. In my suitcase I took one bottle of champagne, and several books, including Lucy Treloar’s Salt Creek; Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life (which I’d been saving) and Eka Kurniawan’s Beauty is a Wound.
At customs, entering Indonesia, I was called to the side to open my suitcase. The man waved a hand over it ‘Just clothes?’ he said. ‘No, one bottle of champagne,’ I said. ‘Just one?’ ‘Yes. And books.’ I pointed to the books, pages out rather than spines out. ‘BOOKS?’ he said, and was interested in a way that he wasn’t about the champagne. ‘Yes. Books, I said.’ Maybe he already knew that the Writers and Readers Festival was under threat because of scheduled panels and film showings; that the government was Not Happy. I didn’t, until a few days later, and also didn’t realise that having Kurniawan’s book in my case – an Indonesian novelist’s novel – might be problematic. It wouldn’t have been, as it turned out, but as it also turned out, I carried that book to and from and didn’t crack a page until I got back to Melbourne.
I’d started Salt Creek before I left Melbourne and finished it within a day of arriving in Paradise. I enjoyed it, and thought it restrained and very well written. But I had A Little Life on my mind. So I started it, but got to a bit where I had to put it down. It’s not any of the bits you probably are thinking of – no, it was something that came out of nowhere, I thought, and shocked me.
45: Salt Creek, Lucy Treloar
46: Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert
I read Big Magic mostly on the plane home from Indonesia. I found it mostly very good, inspiring and ‘all that’. For sure.
47: All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
When I put A Little Life down, I asked my travel friend if she had something I could read. I didn’t feel like reading the Kurniawan. She had All the Light We Cannot See, had finished it the day before. I’d read almost half of this book earlier this year and HATED IT. I couldn’t settle to it, detested what I saw as the cloying prose. Well. I re-started it, knowing people I trust loved it. I couldn’t believe it was the same book. I really liked it. Thought the prose amazing, beautiful, bloody brilliant. It was like two completely different books. Just shows how mood affects reading. I was taking notes all over the place.
48: A Little Life, Hanya Yanigahara
I went back to it once I was safe home in Melbourne. I had already cried several times around the pool in Ubud, putting my towel over my head for long moments of emotion. Yes, it was gruelling to read, yes very hard in places, but it’s a book also filled with warmth, joy, love, kindness, decency. And humour. I LOVED IT. And even though the year’s not over yet, nothing will beat it for me. You see, it is one of the books of my life.
49: Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rys
This was for book club. I smugly left it late, thinking: Oh it’s a mere slip of a thing, that’ll only take a few hours, but man it is dense. I hadn’t finished by the time of the meeting, and it was an interesting meeting cause there were only three of us, plus two book shop staff to facilitate. The discussion ranged from ‘Why did she have to use Brontë’s characters/story?’ to me thinking it was a brilliant and innovative and daring move. The meeting made me finish it, and made me go back and read the first part again, and made me go and find Jane Eyre and start that. I don’t remember reading Jane Eyre but I thought I did. Anyway, I plan to continue that parallel read over the next few weeks. Except, then I started reading…
50: Fever of Animals, Miles Allinson
I’ve had this book (and Murray Middleton’s When There’s Nowhere Else to Run) on my shelves for months. In my mind they merged somehow. Something to do with animals (title) and animals (cover) and too many Ms in the mix. Am I alone here? Anyway, with the short-listing earlier this week for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, I decided to get Fever off the shelves and have a proper look. What was it about this book that got it onto the list? I finished it last night and, while it at times might be considered fantastically pretentious, I really really liked it. I found it almost always interesting (at times, in the middle section, there is a lot of expository stuff about stuff) but even then I kept reading, it had a Knausgaardian quality to it. And it’s FUNNY. And there was something about the voice; it was different, and FUNNY. There’s not enough funny in literature I don’t think. Everyone is so godammned earnest all the time and it’s boring. But this book was clever and smart. I liked it a lot and I didn’t really expect to. I love it when I read something I wouldn’t usually and it becomes an experience. It’s quite a rare thing, to feel pulled into the reading, rather than the eyes skimming across the surface of the page. I wish him luck for the VPLA, and I can see why he made the list.
It made me also go and get AS Patric’s Black Rock White City, which I read earlier this year, and start re-reading that. There was something compelling about the idea of two guys, working at Readings Books, each having a debut novel out in the same year, and each receiving solid critical attention. I really enjoyed Patric’s novel, and am again finding so much pleasure in the unexpectedness of it, the strangeness, the wonderful prose, and the character of Jovan with his tenderness and his damage.
What else will I read? I have a bunch of things of course. I have decided next year I won’t be buying anything new, certainly not anything local, other than one – a friend’s novel that is coming out. But the rest of my reading is going to be by Indian authors or classics set in India. It’s going to be my year of Reading India, because I want to settle and draw inwards and back to my own work, away from the bustle of the literary goings on. I also want to limit social media potterings, become quiet, get my focus. I’ve already started, and will continue over the summer break and into next year. But before I do, I want to read more Ferrante, so I will probably put Jovan to the side and settle back in to Naples tonight.
(I did start Beauty is a Wound. What an opening few pages. What an opening line. It’s fantastic. But it felt like a big commitment, and I have put it off for now.)
(Just realised I already wrote about some of this when I got back from Ubud. Sorry for repeating. Pfft.)