Reading Is Bliss
Asking a reader to name their "all-time favourite titles" is like asking a parent to choose between their children. All are dear in their own special way, though also with frustrating flaws that will provoke deep-seated and complicated feelings at times.
I have avoided making a list of ultimate favourites so far on this blog for that very reason. Because the books you love will change with the passing of time and life stages. However, like past loves, that does not mean the books you once adored so much that you couldn't bear to be parted from them are meaningless once they have fallen off the "favourites" list.
In my own rambling way, I'm introducing the topic of this post: books that have been translated into English. It has to be English, because I sadly can't read any other languages with enough fluency to devour whole books.
One of the books on my all-time favourites list that I love is a translated version of A Dream of Red Mansions, a Chinese classic written centuries ago that is also called The Dream of the Red Chamber or The Story of the Stone, depending on which translated text you're working with. I have read the books (three thick volumes) several times, dipping in and out of parts of the story with glee.
The Christmas holidays are not far off, and I've already allocated most of my two weeks' leave to reading. It is 14 precious days when I can sleep when I want, wake up late, and don't have work to think about.
My reading snacks are sorted (thank you, Cookie Time, for the best chocolate chip Christmas cookies ever). The cat is being prepped for all the extra quality time we'll spend together. And all I can see ahead of me are days of golden sunshine, cooling summer rain, and a great deal of very chilled pinot gris (none of this "room temperature" bollocks).
That leaves my reading list. This year, I'm doing an eclectic mix of old and new, recommendations and re-reads. In no particular order, here's my holiday reading list:
Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter
Wikipedia describes this book as being about a young woman who would have you believe she's a Cockney virgin hatched from an egg, with fully-fledged wings. Need I say more? I am particularly susceptible to the phantasmagoric, and this is meant to be particularly good in a muddled, post-modernist way. It will be great to read something that truly feeds my imagination.
The Hundred Secret Senses, Amy Tan
One of my sisters recently re-read this and while talking to her about it, I realised that I'd actually forgotten huge chunks of the plot. This is one of those comfort reads that I've read a few times already, and that I want to go back to. It combines supernatural elements (in the story, one of the characters believes in the World of Yin, basically the Chinese underworld), with a very real, moving depiction of the conflicted relationship between two sisters thrown together by fate.
I re-entered the full-time workforce after 18 months of freelance bohemian bliss, during which I was a night owl when it came to freelance work, just so I could at least call some of the daylight hours my own.
One of the biggest adjustments I have found to toiling for roughly 8.5 hours a day in an office is the mental hangover that comes with a fulltime job. After the 40-minute or so commute home in crawling end-of-day traffic, the last thing I feel like doing is reading. That is the awful truth of it.
Most of us are engaged in some kind of job that is "full time and more". Most of us have mortgages and bills to pay, families to nurture, friends to spend time with. Most of us are juggling so many balls that it can become an incredible art in itself just to find time to read.
So the question I'd like to pose today is, how do you carve out reading time for yourself?
I don't mean just stealing an hour here and there between work, chores, chauffeuring children, worrying about the state of the world. I mean, how do you mentally disconnect from it all and get to your happy reading place?
I'd like to start today's post by asking for a moment's silence for Doris Lessing, the Nobel Prize-winning author of the groundbreaking experimental novel The Golden Notebook, and many, many other fine books. Doris was 94 slipped away peacefully into that dark night. A few years ago, upon learning that she had won the Nobel, the-then 88-year-old's first reaction was: "oh, christ". Yes, a fine writer and thinker indeed, whose influence shall be sorely missed.
Moving on to today's actual blog topic...I was drawn to this article about the biggest heartbreakers in literature. I thought it was a pretty thorough list, but have a few of my own to add. I will also admit to wanting to dabble in writing something a little lighter and more fun after the sad, sad news about Lessing. Trying not to steer away from thoughts of how I'd feel if this was Margaret Atwood.
Josephine March from Little Women
While there were many things to admire about Jo - her love of books, strength of character, quirkiness and determination to forge her own path in life, she still broke Laurie's heart. Her "dear, sweet boy", and inadvertently insulted him as well, by implying that he was shallow and all about the looks: "you'll get over this after a while, and find some lovely, accomplished girl who will adore you, and make a fine mistress for your fine house". Just woman up and tell the boy you don't feel the same way and leave it at that, jeesh! Also...LAURIE, I'LL MARRY YOU AND BE THE MISTRESS OF YOUR FINE HOUSE!
Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games
Putting aside Team Peeta or Team Gale for a moment...Katniss rejected Gale for totally douchey reasons! He wasn't her sister's keeper. She also blew hot and cold with him throughout the series, playing the ultimate game of "come here, now go away", what with the kisses and letting him take a beating for her, but ultimately running off with Peeta because she believes they're too similar. She should have taken Pa Gerald's advice from Gone With the Wind, when he tells Scarlett, "like must marry like, or there will be no happiness".
There have been a fair few Shakespearean heartbreakers, but none bigger than Othello. Our favourite Moor killed his wife because he suspected her of having an affair. His iron-clad proof? A handkerchief. For crying out...! Desdemona defied her family and ultimately society to marry for love, and her reward was to be physically abused by her husband in public, then smothered in bed.
I have always thought holiday gift guides were lame. It's not that I don't appreciate some inspiration on what I can get that cousin of a friend of a friend for Christmas - but that the entire idea has been co-opted by advertisers.
Seriously, advertisers and marketers LOVE holiday gift guides. They cottoned on early to the fact that people are inexplicably drawn to lists. If you don't believe me, just look around the internet. Top 10 this, top 5 that, 18 reasons this, 25 ways that, and so on...
I'm not entirely opposed to being sold things. It's how people make a living, and there's a shameful part of me that thrives on consuming. I spend an inordinate amount of time browsing for clothes and literary treasures online. I have my eye on several books, an iPad cover that looks like a book, literary quote t-shirts, and a reading light shaped like a lantern.
So in that spirit, whenever I'm asked about what books I would recommend people buy for their loved ones for [insert celebration here], I now say "don't buy them a book".
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