I can’t believe it is June already!
My classic purchase for the month of May was The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek. I feel like I’ve become obsessed with this book in recent months. I’d been aware of it for some time but lately I keep running into it. First, I found a second-hand hardcover edition that had the original illustrations but was in poor condition. Then I found it was included in the new editions of Popular Penguins, also with the original illustrations, but I’ve never been a fan of the Popular Penguins. I didn’t like their uniform orange covers before and I certainly don’t like the bold colours of the new ones. They would look pretty awful on my shelf next to books with less loud covers. So, I decided I’d try and get a Penguin Classics edition soon in case they ever become hard to find.
Catch-22 is still my favourite novel and I think The Good Soldier Švejk is very much along the same lines – a satire of an individual up against a vast bureaucratic machine within a war-time setting. It sounds clever, subversive and laugh-out-loud funny.
It is also unfinished. It was intended to be written in six parts but Hašek died with only four parts complete. It made me think of other instances where the fact that the novel is incomplete did not prevent it from being acknowledged as something special – Suite Française or the novels of Kafka.
The illustrations by Josef Lada are interesting too. There are many of them; there’s one every few pages in the book. They are cartoon-style with a distinctly Eastern-European look.
Speaking of Suite Française, I finally got around to watching the film. It was quite good. Like the novel(s), it is short but gives a broad perspective and packs a lot to think about despite this restraint.
My modern classic purchase of the month was My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. I can’t say I have read much Jewish Literature, if I can call it that, but that is going to change because examples of it is building up on my shelves with writers like Saul Bellow and Howard Jacobson.
My non-fiction purchase of the month was The Extended Phenotype by Richard Dawkins. This is the book Dawkins considers to be his best contribution to science. Like The Selfish Gene and unlike his later books, I think it is fair to say it is probably the most challenging to read for those not acquainted with the technicalities of the subject. I have a feeling I will have to reread The Selfish Gene again before I tackle The Extended Phenotype.
Those were all the planned purchases I made last month but, unlike April, I did have some unplanned purchases.
Early in May, I finally had the exam I had been studying for. As usual, after my exam I went for a browse in some book stores in the city. Normally it is supposed to be a celebratory shop but not this time. My exam was a monster. It was three-and-a-half hours long and I needed every second. There was not even time to look over my answers once more before time was up, I was scrambling to the very end. I also found the questions to be a fair bit harder than what I had during my course. I don’t know my results yet, but my post-exam shopping was more therapeutic than celebratory.
I bought two books that will be added to my Read India, TBR pile. The first is Helium by Jaspreet Singh. His earlier novel, Chef, is near the top of my TBR pile and I will be reading it soon(ish). Helium is set in India in the mid-1980’s as the fallout of the Emergency period and the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi continues.
The other book I bought was The City of Devi by Manil Suri. I know, I promised myself that I would avoid buying the lesser novels of otherwise acclaimed writers but my will was weak after my exam. I am probably more interested in reading Suri’s first novel, The Death of Vishnu, which was a Booker Prize longlister but this novel does sound interesting and has a positive comment from Kiran Desai. It also makes one of the few Indian novels I have that is not set in the past but is relatively contemporary.
Last month I wrote about the joy of browsing and discovering a writer or book you were previously ignorant of. Well it happened again when I came across Mary Renault.
How have I not heard of her before? I bought The Last of the Wine which I believe is the first of her historical novels to be published. I found myself very tempted to go and buy some more, especially since the new editions of her Alexandrian series come with an introduction by one of my favourite historians – Tom Holland. But I have made a promise to myself for restraint.
Instead, I have added The Last of the Wine to my ‘cheat pile’, if you will. My cheat pile is basically a list of books that I will permit to leap ahead in my TBR list. In the past, they were usually books where a film adaptation was in the works. I’m not too fussed about that anymore. Now they are usually short novels that I am enthused about and can squeeze in if I find myself getting ahead in my reading goals. So, I’ve decided to put The Last of the Wine on my cheat list and to read it soon before deciding to buy any more Mary Renault. And you can all hold me to this!
Last year, when I was feeling like I needed some light reading, I targeted Robert Harris and bought a second-hand copy of The Ghost and a cheap copy of Fatherland and put both on my cheat pile with the plan of building up to the books I wanted to read the most – his Cicero series. But I was unimpressed by The Ghost, which took the wind out of my sails. Fatherland remains on my cheat pile and depending on how that goes, I’ll decide on whether I still want to read his Cicero series. I hope the same won’t happen with Mary Renault but you may understand my caution.
Speaking of my cheat list, I am reading a book from it right now! I am a bit ahead of schedule in reading my 2017 list so I decided to squeeze in Staying On by Paul Scott which I only bought recently. I’m not going to say much about it yet, except that I am thoroughly enjoying it.
Meanwhile, I am still ploughing through The Shahnameh; making steady progress but it can be hard-going.