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04 December 2012

A Year In Reading 2012

Hello. I am a guest blogger. I normally blog about books since I suspect that is the only topic Faidhi allows me to post up here. 

There's this thing that The Millions does every year where they get people to write about their reading adventures throughout the year called A Year In Reading. Since I have no authority to post on The Millions, I thought The Chukai Insider would be my best bet. Please bear with me.

This one's for you, Faidhi.
I really started to expand my collection of nineteenth and early twentieth century literature this year. I was acutely aware of how little I have been reading compared to when I was in high school, partly from lack of time but mostly because of my inability to manage what little time I had properly. So I began my journey towards change by making reading before bed a ritual and making sure I have a book in my bag everywhere I go. This worked so well that now I enjoy long tram rides to class (which I used to hate with a vengeance!) and I look forward to train rides and travelling as the perfect excuse for me to spend solid quality time reading.  But before all this happened, like I said I was running out of ideas on what to read so I most geekily scourged the internet for clues on what I have been missing out on. Rory's booklist was the most helpful. I've always been a fan of Gilmore Girls although I stopped watching when Jess left, partly because it coincided with me leaving for boarding school and I just fell out from watching after that, and partly because I am just a big fan of Jess. But Rory's love for books is also one of the reasons I love the show so much. So Rory helped a lot with the first draft of list of books I would buy. The rest just came to me as I perused the millions of books and other recommendations found online.

As a result, this year has been rather 'explorative' for me reading-wise. I delved into non-English speaking writers - Rory was into Gogol at some point in the show - and have not looked back since. I was just bored and out of ideas on which contemporary literature to read next, plus I was, and still am, not up to date with contemporary English literature in general. The tricky part about this is to get your hands on a good translation; a badly translated version will kill the book for you, trust me. No, I am not dramatic at all. 

I say this because I bought a used copy of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo online without making sure that it was unabridged and the reviews were inaccurate because they were not about that particular version. So I ended up with a badly translated, abridged (ABRIDGED!) book without even knowing it until I actually finished reading. I enjoyed it nonetheless. I'm guessing the unabridged version would have more details about the French Revolution and would be undoubtedly more descriptive, but my copy still retained the essence of the story, however slight, just enough for me to be deeply touched by it. It is a very touching story, everybody should read it! 

Apart from that little slip up, I did manage to get a few decent translations of great books. 

I read my first Dostoevsky; Crime and Punishment this year. I enjoyed it but it is a really heavy book, albeit with plenty of humour now and then. Generally though, Dostoevsky was probably a very sad man. I read this over the Hari Raya holidays, which is a very mentally-draining season, so it was especially tiring for me. His ideas are interesting though, which is why it is a shame that I didn't decide to read the book during simpler times. I plan to read his The Brothers Karamazov next and also to finally read Chekhov. I have his Portable collection somewhere in my hoard of books. Books are such wonderful things to hoard; nobody can say you're doing anything wrong. They're just books after all. 

Another first (lots of 'firsts' this year!) would be Japanese literature. I started with Murakami's Kafka On The Shore but I was actually more looking forward to reading Soseki Natsume and other classics. I don't remember how or why I somehow started with Murakami. His writing is very westernised in my opinion. Of course, he doesn't write like any western writer I know but he has lots of western influence in the substance of his writing. If you want something pure Japanese, you should read Botchan by Soseki Natsume. It is very light and a fast read but so heavily ingrained with messages. It's very funny too, although I'm not sure how much of the puns and punchlines got lost in translation. The copy I got; translated by Alan Turney, I would say it is a good one, so you can look for that if you are interested. It is an old publication though, there might be better newer ones. The thing is, you have to be moderately familiar with some aspects of Japanese life if you are to read Japanese classics since they have some phrases and everyday objects that are somewhat alien to other cultures. Now, I am not anywhere close to being a weeaboo (God forbid!) but I do enjoy the occasional anime and Japanese movie and one of my favourite bands of all time is Japanese, so I am quite accustomed to Japanese culture. As in, when you say tonkatsu or kotatsu, I don't say, "What?" Well, that should give you an idea of what to expect. Don't be discouraged though, if you know what a kimono and sushi are, you'll probably be fine.

I also read The Master of Go by Yasunari Kawabata which is a whole other genre in itself; I enjoyed it immensely but I don't think it's for everyone. It is laden with ideas and personal opinions of the writer. It talks of change and culture, new versus old. Speaking of old, I also read two historical fiction novels; the disappointing Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and the unexpectedly brilliant Pure by Andrew Miller. Seriously, when I read Wolf Hall (finally, after buying it two years ago during a cold overnight stay on a bench at Stansted Airport) I just couldn't believe why it won so many accolades. Maybe it's just not for me, which is saying something seeing as I love historical fiction and history in general. I'm the kind of person you can find casually reading a history textbook and browsing wikipedia for facts about past wars. So yes, I shocked even myself by not enjoying Wolf Hall.

This one's for Faidhi, as well. My, my, what mengada people we are.
Another semi-historical fiction I read was Tea Obreht's wonderful The Tiger's Wife. To end my trend of reading outdated books, I can proudly say that this one is fairly recent. The most recently published book I read this year? Rick Riordan's The Mark of Athena. But back to The Tiger's Wife; when I bought it I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know what it was about - my other resolution was not to buy books based on reviews - I only knew the fact that it won an award. So it was pleasant surprise when I discovered that the main character is a doctor; something I can relate to, and the story is rich in folklore and myths. I do know that not everyone gets this book, I'm glad I do.

Well, this post has been long enough. So before I bore you with the myriad other books I read, lets just cut to the chase. Introducing my favourite book this year; The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty. I think this is a rather 'you either love it or hate it' book since my sister - whom I forced into reading it - hated it. On the other hand I found it very funny and touching and just lovely. I finally read it over the summer holidays on a week long trip with my sister, so now the book also holds my memory of hours-long bus rides and beautiful scenery within it. See why it's great to bring books on trips? Well, my relationship with this book has lasted quite some time; I've been wanting to read it since I was fifteen or so, if I remember correctly. But before the era of me being able to buy books on Amazon (and me abusing that right), I couldn't find it anywhere. So I'm glad I still remembered it after so many years and chanced upon reading it. It's a very good book, definitely my pick for this year although it was published aeons ago! 

Like I said; no, I'm not dramatic at all. Maybe just a little sarcastic.

Other honourable mentions: Empire Falls by Richard Russo (READ IT!), Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (read it and explain to me), Eaters of The Dead by Michael Crichton (reading Crichton always makes me feel melancholic) and Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin (definitely read this!). You see? A lot of dated books. I am currently reading Murakami's 1Q84 and A Quiet Belief in Angels by R. J. Ellory. Both brilliant works. Hopefully, I can finish them before the year ends. 

So what have you been reading this year?

And here, isn't it a good idea?

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