I’ll come straight out and say it – May was a really bad reading month for me. I got around to reading a total of 4 books this month, 5 if you include the one I’m part way through and only one of those was a book on my May TBR so I didn’t do very well on the reading front this month, but I endeavor to do better in June. I am going away twice later this month so if all goes to plan I’ll be able to catch up on plane journeys a little bit!
But without further ado, the books that I did get around to reading were:
- Hey Nostradamus by Douglas Coupland. This was the one and only book on my May TBR and this was on my TBR because I recently ‘rediscovered’ Douglas Copland’s writing after reading Life After God and fell in love, again. I picked up this and powered through it with much the same sense of wonder and appreciation for his wit and his dark humor and I just loved this book. This follows for separate peoples perspectives on a high school shooting and looking into questions of faith and guilt and regret. It’s just a very thought provoking, creative look at the human condition and human emotions and how they’re often very complex and I gave it a 4 stars.
- I then read a short story collection – The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter. I bought and read this first back in college, my second year I think, on a recommendation from my English teacher and I don’t really know why but I somehow figured I’d read this a second time this month. I must have been feeling the dark, Gothic vibe and if you like that kind of thing OR if you’re particularly into Gothic poetry then I’d recommend. If anything, I’d say this was more like a poetry anthology than a short story collection. Carter’s writing is very heavy and decorative and quite politically charged so maybe read this if you’re in the mood for dark, heavy, symbolic, ornate.
- Immortality by Milan Kundera. The third book I read this month was Immortality. I picked this up for a bit of a funny reason. So basically, after I read The Body by Hanif Kureishi I was really enjoying reading about mortality and aging and looking back at life and wasted opportunity and the brevity of youth and it almost hit me more than it ever really has that I’m getting older all the time. Weird I KNOW, but true. So when I spotted this in the charity shop I picked it up straight away and I actually really enjoyed it even though it terrified me. Rather than being specifically about mortality, as I assumed, this was actually about legacy, and the idea of building a history that stays around once you’re gone. So Kundera looks at art for example and loads of different aspects of manifestations of the self and our memories. Again, a very heavy philosophical book but a really good one all the same!
- Then for the best book I’ve read in SUCH a long time: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. I’ve had my eyes on this for the longest time, and when I saw this was half price on Amazon with free shipping it was pretty much a no brainer for me. I read this in about 12 hours flat and I just loved it. I may have vested interests because I eat a vegan diet and it’s something I’m very passionate about, but I really do feel that this is required reading for all humans capable of eating anything at all. Part informative non-fiction, half memoir and a small part animal-eating dictionary, ‘Eating Animals’ builds upon and challenges our cultural associations with food, questioning why our beliefs are as staunch as they sometimes are and suggesting ways in which we might aim to revise our ethical considerations. Foer looks specifically at factory farming; the mass production of animal products, animal rights or the disturbing lack thereof and the institutionalized cruelty often at play across the US – the mass cruelty and abuse we prefer to turn away from. It’s grizzly, hard to hear stuff. Yet what Foer has achieved with ‘Eating Animals’ stands far apart from the ‘exacting force’ of pro-vegetarian activism (perhaps supposed by many upon reading the title) and instead digs to the core of dietary ethics, in(conveniently) mapping a complex moral and ethical debate with a mild-mannered objectivity. It’s just so incredible, I couldn’t sing its praises enough.
- And the book I’m part way through, well, half way through is The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. This is another book that’s been on my radar for a while and I’m finally reading it. I read A Thousand Splendid Sun’s by the same author and even though that was a very long time ago, it remains one of my favourites. I can’t really say much about this as I’m not finished, but so far it’s very sad but I’m enjoying it a lot.
So that’s all for my May Reading Wrap-up. Despite not having read very much, I was happy with the things I did read and I can’t really say I didn’t enjoy anything, which is good. Keep an eye out for my June TBR, which will be up shortly and let me know what you got around to reading this month! H x
This week just gone was a lovely one. The weather got a little warmer, and we spent our first week in the new house. It’s been nice getting to grips with the new space – I love being able to sit out on the lawn in the evenings, or run myself a bath in our new bathroom and relax after work. I love our ping pong table even more, and games have been getting quite competitive. I’m also enjoying cooking a lot more – hence the food picture spam! I hope you all had a wonderful week and weekend. I’m looking forward to the week ahead, and hopefully more good weather to come!
The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
“I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray, making children laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old girls happier, all of ’em Zen Lunatics who go about writing poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason and also by being kind and also by strange unexpected acts keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody and to all living creatures …”
No doubt the sorry state of my dog-eared and scribbled on copy of The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac bears greater testament to how much I love this book than any review ever could, but that doesn’t mean I won’t indulge in a couple of hundred words of praise regardless.
Written in the late 1950’s, The Dharma Bums details our protagonist Ray Smith’s travels across America. Based on his own experiences and travels, Ray embodies and reflects Kerouac’s core relationships; his spiritual inspirations and his search for spiritual enlightenment in his mid-thirties. Kerouac’s prose rolls onwards with a simple beauty, weaving down into the San Francisco bay and back into the High Sierras, to remote fire lookouts atop of Desolation Peak and wild mountain camps in the Yosemite National Park. Ray winds his way through a typically post war US, bringing the narrative back time and time again to the flows of the natural world, held against the accelerating pace of American culture and introducing us to many beat generation writers and poets along the way.
Perhaps it’s cowardly of me to now steer away from the Kerouac debate that so often crops up in discussions on Jack’s writing, and the beatnik style in general. I will say this before I run away completely though, that to see Kerouac’s stylistic meandering as cheap and lazy would perhaps be to miss the point entirely. Even to categorize his stylistic intentions as anything at all would be to bastardize a style so natural and uninhibited in its tone, so peaceful and profound in its effect that I have no doubt that I’ll reread this book many more times over the years. With that said, I want to leap all the worlds ties and ‘sit among Jack in the white clouds, looking back on this book as a standalone ode to a simpler way of living, the reception of which does little to taint how much I will always adore it.
With each chapter, Kerouac’s descriptions of nature, solitude and spiritual awareness border on the sublime. His philosophical reflections on life in the wilderness almost always had me underlining frantically, often interrupting Nathan in the kitchen or as we drove, to re-read whole paragraphs, or searching for a pencil in our moving boxes to make excited notes in the margins. Kerouac’s writing so richly and energetically celebrates non-conformity, appreciation of the natural world and living life spontaneously and yet it retains the hard edges and astute observations that ground this work before it transcends into the unattainable. In many places, the novel foreshadows Kerouac’s alcoholism, which sits as a big black stain on the horizon and humbles the threat of idealistic romanticism.
The books religious feeling for me also reaches past faith in the divine, and into a simpler appreciation of nature. Kerouac’s writing cuts a quicker path the core of life, shedding the weight of religious doctrine and achieving a generally more abstract understanding of the beauty of the natural world. It’s rare, I think, to stumble across a book so heavily charged with religious sentiment, and yet so simple in its message and so aware of how little it all matters anyway. Ultimately, Kerouac manages to connect metaphysics with the natural world in a way I can’t remember ever having known. A rambling prose and a story driven by a dazzling spontaneity, The Dharma Bums for me reflects the often forgotten quality in Kerouac’s simple wonder for the beauty of the natural world and the small parts we play.
“I think it’s a lovely hallucination but I love it sorta.”