Summer reads: When you can’t travel, let a book transport you



If you can’t get to Venice, Italy, allow a book translated from Italian to transport you there.
Tom Podmore/Unsplash

Amy McLay Paterson, Thompson Rivers University

I don’t understand beach reads. And I’m not the only one. There’s no universal consensus about the category, though the marketing tends to revolve around those books popularly considered disposable, unserious, or at the very least, books “you don’t mind getting wet.”

Last year, I toted Anna Karenina along with me — it got soaked, and I abandoned it in an AirBnB in Dubrovnik, Croatia, after I’d finished reading it. It lasted nearly the whole trip and left a gaping, souvenir-sized hole in my suitcase; it was perfect. So as much as I’d like to dissolve the beach read label entirely, I must also admit I have a type: I want a meaty, absorbing book that takes me further into a vacation by connecting with the cultures that produced it. I want a book that can’t be disposed of, one that will take me somewhere entirely new.

What I really want is to decouple the notion of summer reading as a lifestyle marker of class or gender. If the “pursuit of intellectual betterment” feels inaccessible or off-putting, I would like to propose at least the pursuit of expanding our emotional connections.

In a cultural climate where the limits of empathy are increasingly under a microscope, forging cross-cultural connections feels like a pressing task. Much has been made of the relationship between fiction reading and empathy, but what happens when the limits of our worldview are bounded by the English language? While linguistic diversity is growing in Canada, the majority of Canadians still speak only English at home, and comparatively few books are translated into English. If, as José Ortega y Gasset proposes, reading in translation should transport the reader into the language — and therefore the perspective — of the author, then reading translated works may be one of the best ways to expand empathy beyond the boundaries of language.

I’m not going abroad this summer, at least not physically. I’ll be staying in Canada, with only my books to pull me to other times and places. While in recent years, I’ve focused on keeping up with new releases, this year I’m fixated on atmosphere and transportation, in a mix of old favourites and new-to-me classics from around the world.

Italy

‘Arturo’s Island,’ 1957.
Arnoldo Mondadori Editore

I won’t tell you to read Elena Ferrante, because you’ve probably heard that before. Instead, I will be delving into the work of Elsa Morante, a possible inspiration for Ferrante’s pseudonym. Arturo’s Island, originally published in English in 1959, has been published in a new translation by Ann Goldstein (translator of Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels). The novel promises a mix of the remote island setting steeped in Morante’s preoccupation with social issues and the spectre of war.


Poland

‘Flights,’ 2018.
Riverhead Books

One of my favourite themes in European literature is that of movement and fluidity, the running sense of unity of purpose amidst myriad diverse pockets of culture. The ubiquity of trains and boats support transcontinental journeys by characters who switch language mid-conversation. Last year’s Man Booker International winner, Flights by Olga Tokarczuk takes traveling and travelers as the subject of its interconnected musings, making it an ideal choice for the vacation headspace. This year’s winner, Celestial Bodies from Oman’s Jokha Alharthi, has an English edition but has not yet been published in Canada.


Croatia

‘Baba Yaba Laid an Egg’ 2009.
Canongate Books

In my opinion, no contemplation of Pan-European lore can be complete without Dubravka Ugrešic’s Baba Yaga Laid an Egg. Once labeled a witch herself and driven into exile from Croatia, Ugrešic’s take on Baba Yaga explores the shifting nature of popular folklore.


Nigeria

‘Half of a Yellow Sun,’ 2006.
Knopf

Half of a Yellow Sun by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is not a translation, but it will take you to a place that only briefly existed: Biafra, a West African state founded in 1967. While the brutality of recent war may not make a particularly appetizing subject for vacation, Adichie contrasts the brutality with sumptuous descriptions of pre-war food and luxury, giving her vision of Biafra the aura of a lost dream. Adichie has referred to the war as a shadow over her childhood.


Norway

‘Kristen Lavransdatter,’ 2005.
Penguin Books

There are no beaches in Kristen Lavransdatter and many more Christmases than summers, but if you start Nobel Prize-winner Sigrid Undset’s oeuvre now, it may take you until winter to finish it. Set in Medieval Norway, the book follows the titular Kristen from childhood until death, focusing on her tumultuous love affair and marriage to Erlend Nikulaussøn. Tiina Nunnally’s translation, focusing on plain, stripped-down language, presents a change in philosophy from the first English translation that cut large portions of the text and enforced stiff, archaic language absent from the original Norwegian.


Argentina

‘Fever Dream,’ 2017.
Riverhead Books

Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream is slight in length but packs a heavy punch in both atmosphere and psychological investment. The story of a vacation gone terribly wrong, the novel’s Spanish title closely translates to “rescue distance,” a recurring concept instantly familiar to parents of young children and terrifying as it becomes repeatedly destabilized. Fever Dream is so unsettling that I sometimes hesitate to recommend it, but I’ve found myself repeatedly drawn back to its tantalizing surrealism.


Canada

‘Secwépemc People, Land and Laws,’ 2017.
McGill-Queen’s University Press

I’ve spent much of my life moving around, and as a recent settler on unceded Secwepemc territory, I want to learn more about the land I live on. In a summer steeped in fiction, Secwépemc People, Land, and Laws by Marianne and Ronald Ignace is the only history on my list, but in many ways it feels similar to the others, reaching out to add a new dimension to a place in which I’m still mostly an outsider. For better or for worse, Kamloops feels the most like itself in summer, the climate wants to have its stories told. It can feel intimidating to contemplate a 10,000 year history I know nothing about, but also comforting and necessary to reach back and hear the tales of the land I now call home.The Conversation

Amy McLay Paterson, Assessment and User Experience Librarian, Thompson Rivers University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

A book for any occasion – the perfect holiday mini library


Andrew Tate, Lancaster University

Hell is not, as Sartre suggested, other people – it’s a holiday without books. Holidays, with their promise of carefree pleasure seeking, might seem like the most materialistic of activities. Yet the name has sacred roots: the holy day suggests a time set apart from the ordinary flow of life.

I can tolerate zigzag queues and disappointing hotel rooms but a lack of literature would ruin my trip. For some of us there is no greater pleasure, or more sacred thing, than the imaginative travel afforded by a good book.

Holiday reading fan.

The great philosopher Blaise Pascal believed that human misfortune was the result of other people’s inability “to sit quietly in one’s room”. I’m not sure where Pascal liked to spend his summer break – Disneyland Paris hadn’t opened its gates in the 1600s – but if forced to leave the tranquillity of his room for adventure and the promise of ice cream, it’s probable that he would have filled his suitcase with literature as well as factor 50. And, if he were to ask for a few suggestions, I might recommend this mini-library of my all-time holiday reading favourites. Take note, if you want a real break on your travels.

First chapter

Clive James’s absurdly funny and sad Unreliable Memoirs (1980) is the first book that I remember reading on a beach. I was 16 and should have been focusing on other things, like the exhilarating surf and real human beings, but this “novel disguised as an autobiography” snagged me and encouraged a lifelong belief that words placed in the right order are a kind of magic.

James’s rites of passage tales of suburban Sydney in the 1940s and 1950s are intense in their specificity, evoking a distant world and way of life. But his askew take on the ritual humiliations and surprising freedoms of childhood are so resonant that they might connect with anybody who remembers what it is to be young, awkward and excessively bookish.

In another world.
Soloviova Liudmyla/Shutterstock.com

The family saga

This evocation of the idiosyncrasies of family life anticipates the fiction of James’ fellow Australian, Tim Winton. I especially recommend Cloudstreet (1991), now widely regarded as a classic of world literature, which follows the fortunes of two families who are compelled by separate losses to share a house for two decades.

Winton writes with a distinctive lyricism about Western Australia but this is also a compelling family saga of the pious, industrious Lambs and their worldly, fortune-seeking peers, the Pickles. There are few better writers of landscape and this is a visceral narrative full of elemental detail, salty humour and raw feeling.

The page turner

Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London (2011) is likely to prompt less refined reader responses: fear, laughter and the need-to-know-what-happens-next are the big pleasures in the first of a rather Dickensian sequence that blends police procedural with the supernatural.

PC Peter Grant, a rare fictional detective who seems to be perfectly sociable, becomes a kind of wizard’s apprentice in the Met and investigates crimes that leave his peers clueless. The genre term “urban fantasy” may discourage but this is witty, smart contemporary fable that represents a mischievous rewriting of the rules of classic detective fiction.

Donna Tartt wants to know why you haven’t read The Goldfinch yet.
Bas Czerwinski/EPA

The tome

A long break might create space to grapple with one of the big books of our time: Donna Tartt’s ambitious The Goldfinch (2013), which blends art, obsession and the search for home, is perhaps the closest thing to the experience of reading a 19th-century triple-decker published in recent years; it is rich with character, incident, plot twist and, yes, many pages. I found it utterly absorbing and the fact that it isn’t brief is part of the pleasure.

When homesick

Holidays might encourage escape from everyday life but they’re also a good opportunity to reflect on our understanding of home and belonging. Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead (2004), is a kind of hymn to the joys of not travelling: John Ames, a minister facing up to mortality, reflects on the ordinary mysteries of life in the titular mid-Western town in a series of letters to his young son.

Robinson, in common with otherwise very different novelists such as John Irving and Stephen King, is brilliant at world building. We might have little in common with a Calvinist minister living in 1950s Iowa but Robinson opens up his particular world in a way that encourages both thought and emotional connection. Gilead offers an alternative take on the velocity (and restlessness) of contemporary Western life.

In her brilliant poem, Questions of Travel (1956), partly inspired by Pascal’s defence of staying put, Elizabeth Bishop asks: “Should we have stayed at home, wherever that may be?” If you are similarly sceptical about tourism, I recommend this pile of books and the out-of-office reply as an alternative trek into new lands.

The Conversation

Andrew Tate is Reader in English at Lancaster University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Scribd and Lonely Planet Partnership


The rapidly advancing ebook subscription service Scribd, has teamed up with Lonely Planet to form a travel category. The link below is to an article reporting on this new partnership.

For more visit:
http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/scribd-launches-travel-category-with-lonely-planet-partnership_b84043

LIFE AT THE BOOKSHELF: A Life Around Books


I have spent a lot of my time around books. I love books. I can’t have enough books – at least it certainly seems that way. I’m always on the lookout for books. I don’t buy a lot of new books these days, however, if there is a good one – well, I just have to buy it.

I’ve always read a lot. Early in life I probably read more out of necessity in order to pass subjects and exams. It wasn’t until I left school that I really got a passion for books. What spurred my passion for books was my growing interest in Christianity and my subsequent embrace of it. I just wanted to learn and to learn as much as I could. So I started to buy books

Somewhere along the track I became interested in reading books of other subjects as well, especially books to do with history. I also read novels, but for me to read a novel it has to have a great plot. One of my favourite authors is Tom Clancy, which probably gives you some idea of the type of novels I read.

Of course I collected books on horticulture (I trained as a horticulturist), cooking, computers, travel, wilderness and other areas that I was interested in. However my real passion in books has always been theological and historical.

At the moment my life is in a ‘treading water-like’ situation. I’m probably still another 6 months away from moving into another home to rent (I currently live in a caravan park in a cabin), so the vast majority of my books are in storage and I can’t get at them because they are quite some distance away and I don’t have a car. There probably isn’t a day that goes by that I wish I had access to some book or another. I am longing for the day when I’ll be able to make use of all my books again.

I’ve probably managed to collect another couple of boxes of books in the time I have been away from them and I am slowly accumulating a collection of them in the cabin. They are enough to get me by at this stage, but my various interests are crying out for the books to assist me in them.

I have begun to place a listing of the books I own on my web site at particularbaptist.com and will eventually add them to my Shelfari presence as well. A look at the list (which is nowhere near complete) soon gives an idea of the number of books I have.

See the list at:

http://www.particularbaptist.com/kevins/kevinslibrary.html

See my Shelfari Profile at:

http://www.shelfari.com/particularkev

I have also started accumulating books online at both the particularbaptist.com website and the Kevin’s Family – History Site. These two virtual libraries encapsulate the two main areas of my passion for books – theology and history.

It is for these two libraries (other than my own interest of course) that I am buying out of copyright theological and historical books. Gradually I am building up my collection of online books in these libraries, sharing my passion for books and the wealth in books with a much wider audience.

Visit the libraries at:

http://particularbaptist.com/library/libraryindex.html

http://particularbaptist.com/matthewshistory/library/articles.html

Not only do these libraries contain the works that I have collected and put online, they also have many links to others works that others have placed online. In short, these two virtual libraries have an enormous amount of resources in them – enough to keep the most avid reader going for a life time.

I have now started the ‘At The BookShelf’ Blog and the ‘Reformed Reading Group’ at Shelfari to provide another aspect to sharing my passion for books, especially in the two areas I have mentioned – theology and history. With these two latest sites I will be able to interact with visitors and discuss various books, what we have learnt, questions and issues raised, enjoy fellowship, etc. So I am really hoping that my visitors will join the Reformed Reading Group (I am thinking especially of Reformed Christians here obviously – though others are most welcome) and get involved in the discussion, as well as having visitors interacting via the comments provision here at ‘At The BookShelf.’

Visit the Reformed Reading Group at:

http://www.shelfari.com/groups/36946/about

What I intend to post here in the Blog are reviews of the books I have read and possibly some quotes from some of the books also. I will probably also be posting URLs for new books (old books) I post in the two virtual libraries also.

What else is left to say but please get involved at some of the sites I have mentioned? You won’t regret it.