Friday, January 09, 2009

The Reading List

I intended to catch up on my reading this holiday, but I find my good intentions didn’t keep pace with my reality. I only managed to finish two books so far and I have three days let. The holiday reading list started off with Farley Mowat’s People of the Deer, and Wally Lamb’s The First Hour I Believed, and considering the speed in which I read - it’s a disgrace.

I knocked off the People of the Deer in a day and a half. Say what you will about Farley Mowat’s politics but give the man his due. Not only can he tell a story but he engages the reader in ways few living writers ever manage to accomplish. I would have finished sooner but I found catering to the tribe’s need got in the way of my reading, and then, Wally Lamb’s new book logjamed my reading list like a big fat beached whale.

I really liked his two previous books and I was really looking forward to the time spent sitting by the wood stove reading this book. I should never have bothered, but once in, I was determined to finish it. There was just no way I was going to lug this mammoth book back to Toronto with me. Half-way through though the idea of reading the Red Deer phone book was starting to look as a viable alternative to finishing this book. I finally finished it last night and I am full of nothing but regret. I regret that I bought this book, I regret that I started this book, I regret the giant black hole of time reading this book consumed, but mostly I regret, I didn’t heave this book into the woodstove after the first 100 pages failed to deliver anything of substance or charm.

Anyways, I have been carting around Meir Shalev’s “A Pigeon and a Boy” for sometime. I hadn’t started it - just because I wasn’t in the mood but after Lamb’s book I needed an anecdote, and figured I’d give Shalev a chance. I haven’t finished it but I did manage to wade in roughly 100 pages last night - besides I didn’t get an offer to do anything better then read last night. Meir Shalev is no Wally Lamb, and can I get an Amen for that. So far I am utterly charmed by this book and I will quote you why:

There are a few character traits that set me apart from my parents and brother and wife. Some I have already mentioned and others I will mention now. They – she included – are well acquainted with the skies above their heads and the earth beneath their feet, while I am a kite whose string has severed. They – particularly she – take risks, while I hesitate. They – especially she – decide and do, while I settle for hopes and wishes, in the manner of the devout in prayer: like a hammer that pounds again and again on the same spot. Always the same words, always toward the same east. Sometimes – with my dark, closely spaced eyes, my desire for wandering and fear of travel, my uttering of prayers and my dread that they will be answered – I feel like the only Jew in the family.

And the best thing is - I cannot imagine any of the poetry or emotion this evokes - has been lost in translation.


beachnut said...

Thanks for the new author tip, Kateland,
I'm always looking for something new.
As for Farley, I actually didn't think that I would like his books, but once you get started, they kinda want you to make the end.
I'm not a huge fiction fan, but you might like the author Daniel Silva.
You tip me, I tip you.

Kateland, aka TZH said...

Beachnut, I have a confession to make - I am a bit of a snob when it comes to reading fiction, but not in the Margaret Atwood/Alice Munro way. I also collect first editions so by the time an Author often becomes 'popular' I either have the books or I don't usually read it.

I need prose which has a kind of lyrical quality to it and evokes an emotional reaction or connection in the reader. This means, I am not much of a fan of the spy/thriller genre. I still think no one has beaten le Carre for the Smiley novels or even Ludlum for his early Bourne novels. I'll try a Silva if I see one in one of the used bookstores I regularly visit.

I finished reading Shalev's novel, and its so simple and yet full of seductive nuance that it is hard to describe in a few sentences. I'll quote the Ha'aretz review to give you an idea of what the book is about -

"Some people shoot - themselves or others - but I went to find myself a home." This disturbingly honest statement, with its sarcastic offhanded qualification, recurs throughout Meir Shalev's imaginative and absorbing novel.

At once a period piece and a contemporary tale, the book examines the delicate workings of family relations and of learning to move on while the past is ever-present. Anyone can find part of themselves in this book, yet, in a sense, "A Pigeon and a Boy" could not have taken place anywhere in the world but in Israel.

The novel's distinct "Israeliness" is disarming. Present-day narrator Yair Mendelsohn is reminded of his first childhood home, in Tel Aviv, as he takes a nostalgic stroll down the city's streets to a musical medley of accents; a secular family moves to Jerusalem in the 1950s and experiences a very peculiar Yom Kippur in the holy city; a pair of would-be lovers enjoy a lazy, drunken summer eve on a northern kibbutz in the 70s, with war and loss looming above it all. And, most important, there is the persistent search and yearning for home - both then and now.

I'm leaving the book here, (I have more than enough books to pack in Toronto), so if you want to give it a read, let D know and make arrangements with him to pick it up.