Well, hello again. It’s been a while. A little over a couple of weeks to be precise during which I returned from vacation and moved to a different apartment. Again. I am currently in my fifth apartment here in Groningen living on the fourth floor of a huge block of flats with the dogs next to the cutest old lady and a guy with a very happy-go-lucky yellow Labrador gentleman called Milo.
I thought the best way to come back to the blogging scene is a book haul of the titles I got while I was away – and kept on receiving now that I’m back. My bookshelves need a serious clean up/ book unhaul by the way.
Each month I am looking for a new release (of that month) to buy so I can stay (in my mind) up to date with the new books (even though I almost never read any of them in time to actually claim I am up to date with the new books). The reason I picked this book was that the author is a psychiatric nurse practitioner specialising in traumatised children and is, presumably, knowledgable enough to write a compelling story about psychological trauma and its effects on people. Moreover, Claire Fuller, an author I have read and much enjoyed, wrote an interesting review on the book so now I am curious to see what I’ll think of it. Book synopsis:
GATHER THE DAUGHTERS tells the story of an end-of-the-world cult founded years ago when ten men colonised an island. It’s a society in which men reign supreme, breeding is controlled, and knowledge of the outside world is kept to a minimum. Girls are wives-in-training: at the first sign of puberty, they must marry and have children. But until that point, every summer, island tradition dictates that the children live wildly: running free, making camps, sleeping on the beach. And it is at the end of one such summer that one of the youngest girls sees something so horrifying that life on the island can never be the same again.
When I was in Greece back in July I went to a big bookstore that sells titles in English too and there I stumbled upon, for the nth time, The Vegetarian by Han Kang which I proceeded to pick up and briefly skim. From the first page the book pulled me in and I started thinking I should be more open to literature that is not originally written in english. The Vegetarian being the winner of the 2016 Man Booker International prize bore in me the urge to check out this year’s winner, A Horse Walks into A Bar. Book synopsis:
The setting is a comedy club in a small Israeli town. An audience that has come expecting an evening of amusement instead sees a comedian falling apart on stage; an act of disintegration, a man crumbling, as a matter of choice, before their eyes. They could get up and leave, or boo and whistle and drive him from the stage, if they were not so drawn to glimpse his personal hell. Dovaleh G, a veteran stand-up comic – charming, erratic, repellent – exposes a wound he has been living with for years: a fateful and gruesome choice he had to make between the two people who were dearest to him.
A Horse Walks into a Bar is a shocking and breathtaking read. Betrayals between lovers, the treachery of friends, guilt demanding redress. Flaying alive both himself and the people watching him, Dovaleh G provokes both revulsion and empathy from an audience that doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry – and all this in the presence of a former childhood friend who is trying to understand why he’s been summoned to this performance.
Introducing Project Man Booker 2017. I have pledged to myself and on my blog that I will read all thirteen titles of this year’s Man Booker longlist. So, of course, I had to go out and buy them first. Having a quick look through Solar Bones I notices that there were no punctuation points. After a brief search on the internet I was informed that this whole book is written as one sentence. One sentence. Sounds suspicious. Book synopsis:
Marcus Conway has come a long way to stand in the kitchen of his home and remember the rhythms and routines of his life. Considering with his engineer’s mind how things are constructed – bridges, banking systems, marriages – and how they may come apart.
Mike McCormack captures with tenderness and feeling, in continuous, flowing prose, a whole life, suspended in a single hour.
The next book of my MB Project is not a novel I would normally pick out for myself. In fact the reviews and criticisms that I’ve heard about this book are so mixed, ranging from extreme praise to outright rage and disappointment. I am curious to see which side I will stand on by the end of it. Book synopsis:
In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, Saeed and Nadia share a cup of coffee, and their story begins. It will be a love story but also a story about war and a world in crisis, about how we live now and how we might live tomorrow. Before too long, the time will come for Nadia and Saeed to leave their homeland. When the streets are no longer useable and all options are exhausted, this young couple will join the great outpouring of those fleeing a collapsing city, hoping against hope, looking for their place in the world . . .
Jumping out of the Man Booker list for a second, here is my monthly new release for August. I first heard about Noumenon from Thomas’ channel on YouTube, my beloved SFF180. He held up the paperback edition and was quite enthusiastic about the concept so of course I was instantly intrigued. Book synopsis:
In 2088, humankind is at last ready to explore beyond Earth’s solar system. But one uncertainty remains: Where do we go?
Astrophysicist Reggie Straifer has an idea. He’s discovered an anomalous star that appears to defy the laws of physics, and proposes the creation of a deep-space mission to find out whether the star is a weird natural phenomenon, or something manufactured.
The journey will take eons. In order to maintain the genetic talent of the original crew, humankind’s greatest ambition—to explore the furthest reaches of the galaxy—is undertaken by clones. But a clone is not a perfect copy, and each new generation has its own quirks, desires, and neuroses. As the centuries fly by, the society living aboard the nine ships (designated “Convoy Seven”) changes and evolves, but their mission remains the same: to reach Reggie’s mysterious star and explore its origins—and implications.
A mosaic novel of discovery, Noumenon—in a series of vignettes—examines the dedication, adventure, growth, and fear of having your entire world consist of nine ships in the vacuum of space. The men and women, and even the AI, must learn to work and live together in harmony, as their original DNA is continuously replicated and they are born again and again into a thousand new lives. With the stars their home and the unknown their destination, they are on a voyage of many lifetimes—an odyssey to understand what lies beyond the limits of human knowledge and imagination.
And we are back on the Man Booker train with a thriller novel, Reservoir 13. I literally have no idea what this story is about and I like that I’m going in blind. Book synopsis:
Midwinter in the early years of this century. A teenage girl on holiday has gone missing in the hills at the heart of England. The villagers are called up to join the search, fanning out across the moors as the police set up roadblocks and a crowd of news reporters descends on their usually quiet home.
Meanwhile, there is work that must still be done: cows milked, fences repaired, stone cut, pints poured, beds made, sermons written, a pantomime rehearsed.
The search for the missing girl goes on, but so does everyday life. As it must.
As the seasons unfold there are those who leave the village and those who are pulled back; those who come together or break apart. There are births and deaths; secrets kept and exposed; livelihoods made and lost; small kindnesses and unanticipated betrayals.
Bats hang in the eaves of the church and herons stand sentry in the river; fieldfares flock in the hawthorn trees and badgers and foxes prowl deep in the woods – mating and fighting, hunting and dying.
An extraordinary novel of cumulative power and grace, Reservoir 13 explores the rhythms of the natural world and the repeated human gift for violence, unfolding over thirteen years as the aftershocks of a stranger’s tragedy refuse to subside.
The final novel of the MB Prize that made it to my August book haul is my first ever Ali Smith book. People say she is a fantastic author and I am so eager to get into her works. Again, Autumn doesn’t sound like something I would normally pick for myself but it’s always good to try new things. Always? Well, many times. Book synopsis:
Fusing Keatsian mists and mellow fruitfulness with the vitality, the immediacy and the colour-hit of Pop Art (via a bit of very contemporary skulduggery and skull-diggery), Autumn is a witty excavation of the present by the past. The novel is a stripped-branches take on popular culture and a meditation, in a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, what harvest means.
Autumn is the first installment in Ali Smith’s novel quartet Seasonal: four standalone books, separate yet interconnected and cyclical (as the seasons are), exploring what time is, how we experience it, and the recurring markers in the shapes our lives take and in our ways with narrative.
Fun fact: Bret Easton Ellis used to date one of my favourite authors, Donna Tartt back when they were in college. I picked American Psycho when I was in Greece at one of the biggest bookstores we have in Athens because I loved the cover and I wanted to read this story that everyone claims to be extremely disturbing. We shall see. Book synopsis:
Patrick Bateman is twenty-six and he works on Wall Street, he is handsome, sophisticated, charming and intelligent. He is also a psychopath. Taking us to head-on collision with America’s greatest dream—and its worst nightmare—American Psycho is bleak, bitter, black comedy about a world we all recognise but do not wish to confront.
The next two are nonfiction books about psychology. I am going to be starting some book reviews for Mindwise, the blog of my university (University of Groningen) and these are the two first picks that are going to be reviewed there. This is a very exciting new project for me but also a little stressful since I’m not familiar with writing nonfiction reviews. Nevertheless, I am very happy to participate in the Mindwise blog starting with a book by a professor of the university itself, Douwe Draaisma. Book synopsis:
Weaving together an engaging array of literary, historical, and scientific sources, the author considers forgetting from every angle. He pierces false clichés and asks important questions: Is a forgotten memory lost forever? What makes a colleague remember an idea but forget that it was yours? Draaisma explores “first memories” of young children, how experiences are translated into memory, the controversies over repression and “recovered” memories, and weird examples of memory dysfunction. He movingly examines the impact on personal memories when a hidden truth comes to light. In a persuasive conclusion the author advocates the undervalued practice of “the art of forgetting”—a set of techniques that assist in erasing memories, thereby preserving valuable relationships and encouraging personal contentment.
And the second nonfiction psychology pick is a biography of Hermann Rorschach, the young psychiatrist who devised one of the most controversial psychological tests to be used even today. I am looking forward to reading this one. Book synopsis:
The captivating, untold story of Hermann Rorschach and his famous inkblot test, which has shaped our view of human personality and become a fixture in popular culture
In 1917, working alone in a remote Swiss asylum, psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach devised an experiment to probe the human mind. For years he had grappled with the theories of Freud and Jung while also absorbing the aesthetic of a new generation of modern artists. He had come to believe that who we are is less a matter of what we say, as Freud thought, than what we see.
Rorschach himself was a visual artist, and his test, a set of ten carefully designed inkblots, quickly made its way to America, where it took on a life of its own. Co-opted by the military after Pearl Harbor, it was a fixture at the Nuremberg trials and in the jungles of Vietnam. It became an advertising staple, a cliché in Hollywood and journalism, and an inspiration to everyone from Andy Warhol to Jay-Z. The test was also given to millions of defendants, job applicants, parents in custody battles, workers applying for jobs, and people suffering from mental illness—or simply trying to understand themselves better. And it is still used today.
Damion Searls draws on unpublished letters and diaries, and a cache of previously unknown interviews with Rorschach’s family, friends, and colleagues, to tell the unlikely story of the test’s creation, its controversial reinvention, and its remarkable endurance—and what it all reveals about the power of perception. Elegant and original, The Inkblots shines a light on the twentieth century’s most visionary synthesis of art and science.
And finally the last book I have for this book haul is the second standalone novel in The First Law series by Joe Abercrombie. If you are a fantasy fan and have not yet read any Abercrombie books I strongly suggest you fix that mistake as soon as possible! Book synopsis:
They say Black Dow’s killed more men than winter, and clawed his way to the throne of the North up a hill of skulls. The King of the Union, ever a jealous neighbor, is not about to stand smiling by while he claws his way any higher. The orders have been given and the armies are toiling through the northern mud. Thousands of men are converging on a forgotten ring of stones, on a worthless hill, in an unimportant valley, and they’ve brought a lot of sharpened metal with them.
For glory, for victory, for staying alive.
We had another big one didn’t we this month? Oh well, as Sophie Carlon (another BookTuber I follow) says: At least it’s not drugs.