We at Overland don’t only take pleasure in deleting commas and rearranging words; we are also ardent readers. Things we have been reading lately include:
Currently I’m reading Deborah Biancotti’s Book of Endings, a collection of stories by the under-recognised Australian speculative fiction author.
In the future I plan to read Robert Service’s Trotsky, a biography which is critical of the Russian revolutionary and has itself come under some criticism.
Last week, after a very strong recommendation from some Overland colleagues, I read The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them by Elif Batuman. A delightful blend of travelogue, literary criticism and memoir, the book recounts Batuman’s experiences as a postgraduate comparative literature student and her ever-increasing fascination with Russian literature. The book is thoroughly entertaining and at times quite hilarious, and it is rather impressive that Batuman has managed to create such an engaging narrative around some ostensibly unappealing topics (academic conferences, PhD research, trying to decipher Old Uzbek poetry).
Currently I’m reading The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein. Really the story of Stein’s life, the book details her friendships with many of the avant-garde painters and writers living in Paris at the start of last century. Stein’s acerbic remarks and witty observations are highly enjoyable, however the book would really benefit from a severe copy edit (Stein appears to detest commas, which occasionally disrupts the book’s flow).
In the future, I plan to read Just Kids by Patti Smith. I love both Patti and Robert Mapplethorpe so am really looking forward to reading about their early friendship. These kinds of books can easily become self-indulgent or fall into the trap of overly romanticising the past, however I have faith that Patti’s poetic sensibilities will ensure that it’s a good read.
Last week, I finished Kraken, the new China Mieville novel. It’s a typically intelligent book but one that’s much more self-consciously genre than The City and the City. In a recent interview, Mieville spoke about re-connecting with the SF fans worried he’d become too literary: “Kraken says, ‘I’m still China from the block.'”
Currently, I’m reading Nina Power’s One Dimensional Woman, one of those books where you read certain passages and silently shout, ‘Hell yeah!’. For instance, Power writes: ‘We must sadly come to terms with the fact that we live in a world in which enjoyment has been profoundly circumscribed. Don’t be misled: The imperative to “Enjoy!” is omnipresent, but pleasure and happiness are almost entirely absent. We can have as many vibrators as we like, and drink as much booze as we can physically tolerate, but anything else outside the echo chamber of money-possessions-pleasure is strictly verboten.’
In the future, I plan to read (or rather re-read) Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, to test an idea I have. At least, that’s the plan. But it’s not impossible that I’ll be distracted by the new Naomi Novik novel Tongues of Serpents (Napoleonic war, dragons: what’s not to like?).
Last week I read Slouching towards Bethlehem, a collection of essays by Joan Didion, first published in 1968. She writes, by way of introduction, ‘My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their interests. And it always does. That is the one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.’ Needless to say, I have fallen in love with Joan Didion.
Currently I’m reading another collection of essays, Walter Benjamin’s Illuminations, edited by Hannah Arendt. I recently rediscovered Benjamin after reading ‘The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction,’ which I found startlingly relevant. I started today with his essay ‘Unpacking my library: a talk about book collecting’: ‘You have all heard of people for whom the loss of their books has turned them into invalids, or of those who in order to acquire them became criminals.’
In the future, I plan to read all day every day because I am falling behind (yet again!). I shall start with A Dying Colonialism, about Algerian war and colonial oppression by Frantz Fanon, move on to anything Roberto Bolano (because all I hear is talk of him) and then Clarice Lispector. I am also hunting short story collections so am open to suggestions.
Over to you.