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.

From Board Book to Picture Book: up-levelling at the I Love Library Books reading challenge

Another upgrade: as I’ve completed my (not over-ambitious!) target of three books for Board Level in the I Love Library Books Challenge, I’m daring – oh, wow – to move up to the next level, Picture Book, which needs a total of six books.

I just might even join in a Library Books Readathon that’s coming up in June – but I’m not committing to it just yet.

Okay, over to the host site, Book Dragon’s Lair, to register my new status.

#26. Arte Metro Roma (Laboratorio Incontri d’Arte, ed.)

Book: Arte Metro Roma: Il Museo Underground di Roma – I Grandi Mosaici delle Stazione della Metropolitana, ed. Laboratori Incontri d’Arte

Genre: Art book – a guide to the modern mosaics found at the stations of the Rome Underground (Metro)

Where I got it: Borrowed from the local library

Length: 215 pages

Briefly, it’s a coffee-table style book full of gorgeous photos and other information about the 45 major and 46 minor wall mosaics which were installed at various stations of the Rome Metro between 1996 and 2000.

Comments: This is a lovely book.  It’s made up of three main sections.  First there is general information about the project: the decision to install these mosaics, how it came about, who sponsored it, how the artists were chosen, how the mosaics were produced, etc.  Most of this is in the form of speeches which were delivered by various people at the unveiling ceremonies of the mosaics.  These speeches / essays are printed in both Italian and English.

The second, central section consists of photographs, one of each of the 45 major mosaics.  They are excellent.  These mosaics are huge, and difficult to photograph.  Many are flat rectangles, but some follow the curve of a wall or even turn a sharp angle.  It seems that the photographer had special access to the stations because there are no people in any of the shots.  The lighting is also very good.  The mosaics are in a variety of styles,  but form a definite series through the materials used (glass tesserae) and the similarity of finishing.

At the Numidio Quadrato station on Linea A, in a suburb in the south of the city, 46 pillars on the station platforms are covered in mosaics, each one by a “young” artist.  The result is an amazing display of colour and design.  The book includes four photos of the platforms, and they spurred me to go and see this station for myself.

The third section of the book provides a brief biography, again in Italian and in English, of each of the 45 major artists, and the name of each of the 46 young artists together with a small photo of the pillar mosaic which is theirs.  It is gratifying to see that the proportion of women is considerably higher among the young artists (about half) than among the more established artists of an older generation (only 3 women out of the total of 45).

If anything is lacking from this book, it is a commentary on what each of the mosaics individually might signify.  Some are not so easy to interpret.  But the book certainly has prompted me to pay more attention to them in future.

Here is a photo (my own, not from the book reviewed here) of one of my favourite mosaics, by Luigi Veronesi; it is at Stazione Anagnina, the southernmost station on Linea A:

Anagnina mosaic

Challenges: Full House Challenge, for the Category “From the Local Library”; I Love Library Books Challenge; Non-Fiction challenge.

From Explorer to Master: up-levelling at the non-fiction reading challenge

Oh look!  I’ve completed ten books for the non-fiction challenge.  That fulfils the requirement for the “Explorer” level, which is what I signed up for.  As we’re not even half-way through the year yet, I’m going to move myself up two levels, to “Master” level, for which I need to read 16-20 non-fiction books altogether.

I’m enjoying this challenge!

I’m heading over to The Introverted Reader (host site) now, to mention my upgrade.