I hope everyone has started their literary year off on the right foot, and I will be looking forward to all your favorites again in December!
I liked them because they were fantasy and fiction, and they really helped me escape from the real world and real problems.
I guess that’s why I read all the time…
And also there were parts that I could relate to myself and I love those parts!
More favorite reads by customers can by found on Your Favorites.
Kafka’s Other Trial – Elias Canetti
The life of Franz Kafka is fascinating in its complex intensity; his psyche a tantalizing labyrinth that begs interpretation. Not every soul is able to make clear some of its entanglements (Louis Begley’s Franz Kafka: The Tremendous World I Have Inside My Head is an example of a mouse trying to swallow a lion whole), and it takes the brains of a giant like Elias Canetti to make sense of it. In Kafka’s Other Trial, Canetti makes a study of Kafka’s letters, in particular the hundreds to Felice Bauer (which she sold, greedily and indiscreetly, but thankfully), and in describing them he lays bare the tortured psyche of the writer, the lover, and not the least, the son, living in Prague as an assimilated but not unhaunted Jew. It is the most insightful and finely written book on Kafka I’ve yet come across.
John Banville wrote an excellent review of this book in the Guardian.
Inside a Pearl: My Years in Paris – Edmund White (paperback edition out next month)
Self-revelation has been Edmund White’s niche for a long time (starting with A Boy’s Own Story), and he has mastered the mixture of memoir and fiction as a genre in itself like no other writer. He manages to describe the pleasures of life (sex, gossip, eating) and displeasures (aging, losing friends and lovers to death) with great elegance. ‘Edmund White is one of the three or four most virtuostic living writers of sentences in the English language,’ Dave Eggers wrote. Inside a Pearl is pure memoir, but Edmund White-style: it reads like a great novel filled with characters fully rounded. Well, I can’t say it any better than Martin Amis: ‘Edmund White has three voices. First there is the storyteller, relaxed, conversational, an anecdotalist, an inspired flâneur. Then there is the poet: on every page there lies in wait a metaphor of startling precision, an image that holds and reattracts the eye. And then there is the laic philosopher, who observes human life from the highest altitudes, held aloft by vast infusions of erudition and experience’
Munich Airport – Greg Baxter
The mist surrounding the airport of Munich, where the protagonist is stuck together with his elderly father, pervades this novel, where understanding is central but near-impossible. How to understand the suicide by starvation of his sister, with whom he has lost all contact and who was on a self-destructive road for a long time, out of sight in Berlin? How to understand suicide at all?
This is a novel of small movements, exhausting situations (the elderly father has a little accident), and a slow but beautiful search for insight. A penetrating sadness adds to its beauty, a seriousness and absence of events to its hypnotic style.
The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink – Olivia Laing
Echo Spring is not a place but a brand of whiskey. In Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, ‘making a trip to Echo Spring’ means taking another drink, and drinking is the only anaesthetic for Brick, who can’t bear his life amongst his greedy and menacing family.
Olivia Laing explores the influence of alcohol and alcoholism of six writers, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Cheever, Berryman, Carver and Williams. It is not a simple subject to explore, but she searches deep and in detail, with great verve and vibrancy. It is a fantastic read, with just the right amounts of psychological profoundness, light gossip and literary insight.
The Family that Couldn’t Sleep: A Medical Mystery – D. T. Max
A family in the North of Italy has been suffering from a mysterious and fatal illness: rather late in life (around their fifties) some of them start to suffer from insomnia. It comes with a fever and soon the sleeplessness is complete. This turns out to be lethal, and every family member that gets it dies.
Recent research has revealed its cause (though not its cure); it is a prion, a proteine that also causes BSE in cows and Creuzfeldt-Jacob in people. FFE (the insomnia disease) is just as devastating as these other brain-eating diseases. Prions are misfolded proteins that destroy neurons: unstoppable, because the misfolding turns out to be contagious, making holes in the brain.
D. T. Max has written the book like a whodunnit, producing an exciting but compassionately written detective story. Early scientific explorers going into the dark depths of Papua New Guinea, living amongst a people that still knew cannibalism (which turned out to spread prion diseases) make for compelling reading. The discovery of prions and its deadly uses is a slow process of adventures and ambitions, horrible animal testing and quaint characters. The author suffers from a related disease and writes with the empathy and urgency of an insider looking for a cure.
The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking – Oliver Burkeman
Negative thinking turns out to have great potential. Oliver Burkeman explores the various ways philosophers and gurus and writers have discovered the positiveness of negativity. Zen master Alan Watts has said that the more we strive for happiness, the less likely we are to achieve it. And the opposite might be true as well: meditating on death and emptiness could result in greater contentment. Burkeman visits pychologists and retreats, and participates in all kinds of exercises, and leaves us with the well-contemplated results. No miracle transformations here, but it is a refreshing sort of search-for-happiness book, with more gravity than the usual screaming self-help book, that often drowns in its superficiality.
More of Tjeerd’s favorite reads can be found on Staff Choice: Tjeerd.