I hope you had a cozy holiday season with breakfasts in bed, curled up with a book – doing whatever and with whomever fills up your soul. As always – may the new year bring you subtle meanings, clever turns of phrase and a rainbow of exhilarating character arcs!
What a glorious year 2018 was! For me it brought a lot of personal milestones and tribulations; put me on a path of reinvention and reflection at the same time. The reading list to which it unfolded is a testament to the that dichotomy – a clash of old and new, tried and uncharted, classic and experimental, all with a touch of indulgence.
I have always been of the opinion that what we read is what we are. Once by shaping our values, dreams, knowledge, context, language. Twice by creating the absence of non-meaning. This sounds convoluted but is the straightest way to say what I mean. To overexplain – the time spend in a book’s world is a time not spend doing whatever else and thinking whatever else. Every action in the real world becomes a variable, dependant on thoughts and emotions, planted by a book.
And so a full year passes and it is hard to detangle the threads of events from those of perception, the fabric of dreams from that of knowledge. Below I share what I read and therefore whom I was during 2018.
Disappointment after disappointment of modern over-hyped books, led me to the aisle in the back of bookstores, where the not-so-shiny old editions of classic literature reside. Some titles got the collector treatment and mesmerize from bookstore windows, and I am not saying I have not spent too much on owning a few. But there, at the back, there are shelves upon shelves of literature, written in times of revered literary criticism and lofty intellectual expectations, in a society driven by – dare I say – more complex searchings. I am certain some authors still write to unburden their souls, but it is rare now to find a book not sneakily hoping to transform into a script, characters not written with a specific actor in mind, lines, themes, and even whole series not written to ride a movement that might win them notice. In short – there is pretense, there is authenticity, and then there is the real thing.
To speak in titles – I read – finally, and too late – Rebecca – a masterpiece by Daphne De Maurier, and A Room With a View by E. M. Forster. Both books were made into award-winning movie adaptations, yet they hold greater merit still. I also finally read Deviation – by beloved Bulgarian author Blaga Dimitrova, who was a friend and inspiration to Romain Gary. Her writing voice is so strong and so notably superior to anything written and published here today, that I felt proud and ashamed at the same time. The book was adapted for the screen almost the moment it was published in the 1960s.
I picked up some fresh titles, too, despite my disenchantment. I chose Jenny Han’s series To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and was not disappointed. Very relevant and very witty, this series reminded me of the Anne Shirley books, of all things. Regardless of the different context, time, themes, fundamentally both series explore the coming-of-age of a girl that does not fit perfectly in the societal average, cherishes her family and friends, and knows how to stand up for herself. So my respect to Jenny Han – parallels to L. M. Montgomery are no small feat.
To keep it safe, my other modern pick was Jojo Moyes’s Still Me and it was just that – a very safe, very expectedly entertaining novel, but an improvement to the previous Me Before You Sequel. I decided to keep it safe once again in December, by trusting Reese Witherspoon’s book club pick A Day in December and it hurt. I never ever skim through books and I skimmed the hell outta this one. I finished it on 2nd of January, so I can’t say the new year started on a high reading note.
The Ancient ones
Then there was a bunch of books about Ancient Greece, which somehow made my summer vacation feel more on point. From Nikos Kazantzakis to Margaret Atwood, it seems the topic is attractive to a variety of writing styles. My favorite, though, was The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. At first I did not think it lived up to the acclaim, but it does. The writing is good and the story follows Greek mythology and The Iliad very closely, which is strangely satisfying after so many cringe-worthy adaptations. I have some issues with the first half, mostly where the character of Patroclus is concerned, but once the war starts, this book shines.
I personally don’t see any scandal in it, but a lot of eyebrows were raised, when I shared with friends that the Song of Achilles was just one of four books I read last year, where the protagonist was in a homosexual relationship (Call Me By Your Name, Olivia, Lord John And the Private Affair were the other three). By coincidence or rather not, they were some of the best written romantic relationships I have read recently. I don’t know if authors put extra effort to make the reader root for the couples, but I was very glad to have stumbled upon them. Call Me By Your Name I only picked up because of the movie adaptation’s Oscar nomination and could not stop raving about it for a whole month.
On a more scanalous note I read Anaïs Nin’s Delta of Venus – a collection of erotic stories, which were quite provocative.
And so much more…
There is no finite list to hold all there is to a person, and, for the intents and purposes of this post, that extends to books. I read other titles, too, and they were important. Yet describing their impact will not be achieved by mere listing – in the words of Virginia Woolfe – “For books continue each other, in spite of our habit of judging them separately.”