Adding It Up: My Reading in May

Month: May 2014

Books completed this month: 6 (4 ebooks; 1 hard copy; 1 pdf download).
Books completed year to date: 28 (19 ebooks; 4 hard copy; 2 audio; 1 part hard copy, part ebook; 2 pdf download)

Abandoned this month: nothing
Abandoned year to date: 2 books; 1 short story

Short stories completed this month: 5
Short stories completed year to date: 20

Best read this month: ArteMetroRoma, more of a browsing book than a read, but quite captivating, about the modern mosaics which can be seen at some of Rome’s underground stations.

Completed this month for the various challenges:
Reading round Munster – 0 (Total year to date 5/6 – runs from Nov 2013 to Sept 2014)
Full House Challenge – 2 (Total year to date 13/25)
Back to the Classics – 0 (Total year to date 2/10-and-a-movie)
Read Scotland – 0 (Total year to date 2/1-4)
Africa Reading Challenge – 0 (Total year to date 1/5)
Deal Me In [Short stories]: 5 (Total year to date 20/52)
Non-Fiction: 5 (Total year to date 13/16-20)
I Love Library Books: 1 (Total year to date 3/6)
Audio Books: 0 (Total year to date 2/1-5)
Ebooks: 4 (Total year to date 19/25)

Comments: I still have a bit of catching up to do to get back on track towards my goals, but I’m glad that the break in my stride in late April and early May has not had disastrous consequences!

Short Story #20. Haywards Heath (Aminatta Forna)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the ace of diamonds.

Story: Haywards Heath, by Aminatta Forna (from The Granta Book of the African Short Story)

Comments: One of the first stories I read for this challenge, The Bear Came Over the Mountain by Alice Munro, has Alzheimer’s disease as its topic.  So does Haywards Heath.  In this story, two medical students, Rosie and Attila, have an affair during their college days in England, but when they graduate Attila goes back to his own (unnamed) African country, despite Rosie’s pleas that he stay.  They both pursue their careers.  Many years later, he returns to England to track her down.  At the hospital where she worked he is told that she has taken early retirement – but she is in a home, suffering from Alzheimer’s.  He visits her.  She does not recognise him, though when he says his name she tells him she has a friend of that name who is coming to see her soon.  Attila comes back for another visit to Rosie in the home some time later.  There is an afternoon dancing session taking place, and Rosie is dancing with a young African care attendant whom Attila has noticed on a previous visit.  Rosie gazes at the care attendant and calls him “Attila”.

Aminatta Forna’s father was from Sierra Leone, her mother from Scotland.  She was born in Glasgow and brought up in Sierra Leone.  She lives now in the UK.  The issue of race, or colour, is an integral part of this story, but Forna does not labour the point.  It speaks for itself.  The whole story is in a rather understated, less-is-more style, which I liked very much.

I had already mentioned Forna’s Ancestor Stones as a possible read for the 2014 Africa Reading Challenge; having read this story I think it will definitely be on my list.

Short Story #19. Signs and Symbols (Vladimir Nabokov)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the five of hearts.

Story: Signs and Symbols, by Vladimir Nabokov (I read it at The New Yorker website).

Comments: This is my first encounter with Nabokov.  The story startled me – or rather, the abrupt ending did.  What happened next?  Well, that’s the point, obviously.  An elderly Russian couple who have emigrated to America visit their only son who is in a “sanitarium” for the mentally ill.  He suffers from “referential mania”.  The parents are not allowed to see him because he has attempted suicide.  They return to their apartment; the father decides that he will remove their son from the hospital; the phones rings – it’s a wrong number; the phone rings again, wrong number again; the phone rings again, they don’t answer.  The End.

Hmm.  You can read an interesting essay about The Signs and Symbols in Nabokov’s “Signs and Symbols” by Alexander Dolinin here.  And in the footnotes there, you’ll see references to lots of other interpretive works.  Me – I just felt a little short-changed.  I really don’t want to have to do a whole lot of work to figure out what’s going on.   Even to figure out if the author is setting up his readers for a little session of “referential mania” themselves.  But the story is worth a re-read.  The scenes are vivid.  Much is said in few words.  I empathized with the characters all the way through.  It’s credible.

The last day I was in the second-hand bookshop that I occasionally frequent, I considered buying a book about an author’s experience in a mental hospital.  In the end I decided not to, a decision which I now rather regret.  If the book is still there the next time I go back, I might invest.

#28. A Report on the Sinsinawa Dominicans Today (Elizabeth Durack)

Book: A Report on the Sinsinawa Dominicans Today, by Elizabeth Durack

Genre: Investigative journalism-style report

Where I got it: PDF download

Length: 190 pages

Briefly, it’s about the theological and ideological positions that are now being taken by an Order of Catholic sisters in the USA.

Comments: This is hair-raising.  These women are far from being Catholic, they are New Age post-Christians, so why are they posing as Catholics?  No wonder the Orders that are attracting vocations are the traditional, habit-wearing, ones, if this is all that the allegedly “progressive” ones can offer.  What a shame.

Challenges: Non-fiction challenge.

#27. A Million Steps (Kurt Koontz)

Book: A Million Steps, by Kurt Koontz

Genre: Travel

Where I got it: Free Kindle download

Length: 212 pages

Briefly, it’s an account of the author’s pilgrimage on the Camino to Santiago di Compostela in Spain.

Comments: In 2012, American Kurt Koontz hiked about 500 miles of the ancient – and recently re-popularised – pilgrimage route to Santiago di Compostela, which he calculates comes to a million steps.  This book is not a day-by-day journal account of his pilgrimage as much as a series of reflections on various themes which formed part of his exterior and interior pilgrimage.  He writes of the people he met, the camaraderie, the various kinds of hostels, the scenery, the challenges and joys of the hike, and he shares with us his personal struggles, reflections on where he’s at in his life, and his hopes and fears for the most significant relationship in his life.  I enjoyed this book very much. 

Challenges: Non-fiction reading challenge; ebook reading challenge.

Short Story #18. Promenade (Henrietta Rose-Innes)

Deal Me In Reading Challenge: I drew the three of diamonds.

Story: Promenade, by Henrietta Rose-Innes (in The Granta Book of the African Short Story)

Comments: This is my newest favourite short story of the year!  It’s great.  The narrator (nameless) is a middle-aged, single man, and we learn from the first few funny paragraphs that he is slightly pompous, unimaginative, and self-preoccupied.  He prides himself on looking less that his age, and exercises, rather mildly, every evening for the sake of his health, power-walking along the sea-front.  He regularly passes another man, a boxer, and they develop a strange, wordless relationship through their regular brief meetings.  And then something happens which completely disorients the narrator – and he realises that he is, after all, beginning to look old…  It is brilliantly written, in straightforward but memorable language, and is by turns funny, poignant, insightful, melodic and deep.

Henrietta Rose-Innes is an award-winning South African writer.