- 1Q84 – Haruki Murakami
- The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party – Alexander McCall Smith
- The 2 1/2 Pillars of Wisdom – Alexander McCall Smith
- A Conspiracy of Friends – Alexander McCall Smith
- Precious and The Puggies – Alexander McCall Smith
- Precious and The Monkeys – Alexander McCall Smith
- The Impossible Dead – Ian Rankin
- A Troubled Man – Henning Mankell
- The Redeemer – Jo Nesbo
- The Snowman – Jo Nesbo
- Die Trying – Lee Child
- Tripwire – Lee Child
- The Complete Polysyllabic Spree – Nick Hornby
- הילד הלא נכון – אורי לברון
- La Torre della Solitudine – Valerio M. Manfredi
My wife keeps complaining about the number of books piling up in our house. They clutter the house, she says. Why don’t you give some of them away, she adds. (As if anyone in his right mind will give up a book he owns!)
As you can see, this month was not a good month in terms of keeping marital peace. A weekend spent in England resulted in the usual Amazon shipment of books to my hotel, plus a visit to a couple of bookshops. Damage assessment: 12 books. In my defence I will say that I would have not bought any of these books for myself, as I do all my English reading on the Kindle now. The only reason they were bought were so my wife has something to read during the long hours of inactivity on shabbat. Not that this fact stops the complaints…
On the reading side, April was not as productive a month. I managed to finish only three books (albeit in three different languages). I spent the first half of the month reading “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens, but half way through I put it down and started on another book. It’s not that I don’t intend to finish it. It’s not that I find classics not enjoyable. God forbid. It’s just that a Dickens novel requires efforts that, at least personally, need to be expended over time. So consider it “work in progress”; I’ll get to the second half some time in the future, hopefully sooner rather than later.
All three loyal readers of my blog will surely recognise the first book I read this month, “The Polysyllabic Spree” by Nick Hornby, as it was this book that inspired me to start writing this monthly blog post.
The book is a collection of Hornby’s monthly columns in The Believer magazine, in which he – surprise! – wrote about the books he bought and read each month. I found I had a lot in common with Hornby’s reading experiences: buying more books that he can read and trying to avoid books he knows he will not enjoy (life is too short!). The name of the book is a play on the name of a rock band – The Polyphonic Spree – and refers to the mysterious people who run The Believer magazine. Hornby describes them as dressed in white robes and running a cult-like existence; they worship obscure authors and forbid him from writing bad things about any books he read. So when he needs to write a bad review, he omits the name of the book. Very convenient. Hornby’s columns are delightfully witty and insightful, which won’t come as a surprise to those who’ve read his books, like “High Fidelity” or the more famous “About a Boy" (which was unfortunately adapted into a movie starring Hugh Grant, the British actor who built a career on one facial expression, that of a bewildered nincompoop, and then proceeded to destroy that career by consorting with Divine Brown. Don’t get me started on Hugh Grant!).
Hornby is a gentle reviewer. He refrains from bashing bad books even when he’s not ordered to do so. I suspect that Hornby is simply a good guy. As an author, he has a lot of respect and understanding towards his fellow authors, and is therefore careful about dissing their work. I truly enjoyed reading “The Polysyllabic Spree”. It’s also given me a few books to add to my “to read” list, always a welcome thing.
The next book I read this month I picked up in one of those “buy 2 get 1 free” (or is it “buy 3 get 1 free”?) deals that have become a standard feature in Israeli bookstores. As such, I didn’t expect much, just another book to kill a few hours. But “הילד הלא נכון” (“The Wrong Kid”) by Uri Levron, turned out to be a lovely book.
The book’s opening scene is a guy driving his son’s babysitter home, when he encounters a group of teenage kids who are blocking the street. Despite repeated requests and some honking, the kids refuse to move to the side to let his car through. One of the kids deliberately gives him the finger. Angry, the guy steps out of the car and starts yelling at the kid, who talks back and taunts him. He almost hits the kid but wisely restrains himself. He is left with a feeling of complete helplessness that becomes an obsession. All he can think about is how to exact revenge from this kid.
I don’t know about you, but I immediately felt complete and utter sympathy towards this guy. How many times do we find ourselves helpless when faced with anti-social behaviour by people who just couldn’t care less? How many times do we fantasise about getting back at these people and letting them have a taste some of their medicine? Alas, it turns out the kid in question was “the wrong kid” to mess with. The kind of kid you wish you had the sense to look the other way when you still had the chance (and before you destroyed his bicycle). Our hero unfortunately finds himself in a right mess and the plot thickens when he tries to extricate himself from this mess. The story is actually broader, involving two of his friends who have their own issues in life – one with impossible love, the other with the loss of his wife. They all end up in Las Vegas for a denouement that brings together the different storylines.
The third book I read this month is hard to define. I picked up “La Torre della Solitudine” (the English version is simply entitled “The Tower”) by Valerio Manfredi a few months ago in an airport bookshop in Italy. Having read another novel by Manfredi (“L’Ultima Legione”), which I enjoyed very much, I thought I was in for another pseudo-historic novel about the Romans; after all, the cover picture depicted a Roman helmet and sword. And Manfredi is a renowned professor of archaeology. But it turned out to be an altogether different kind of book.
The story does indeed start off with a Roman legionnaire who encounters The Tower in the remote reaches of the Sahara desert and dies because of an unexplained force that emanates from it. But the actual story takes place in the early 20th century. Different people, with different agendas, are searching for what ultimately is the same thing: The Tower.
An American archeologist is searching for his father, who went missing in the Sahara desert twenty years earlier while looking to unlock an age-old mystery. A young priest from the Vatican is sent in search of a message from outer space that is supposed to arrive in the Sahara desert, a message threatening the very foundations of Christian belief. And a French officer is searching for those who are responsible for the annihilation of his army unit in the very same area of the Sahara. There is also a criminal of war who is searching for The Tower in the belief it has supernatural powers that will heal his wounds. All the characters are somehow related to each other and even though they have different purposes for finding The Tower, their joint goal brings them together in unexpected ways.
The story is intriguing and has lots of potential. I actually rushed through the second half of the book to get to the end, in the hope of unravelling some of the secrets planted throughout. Unfortunately, Manfredi does not exploit this potential to the fullest. He manages to create a fantastical, yet credible, story, but the ending is not as compelling as the rest of the book. It is clear what The Tower contains pretty early on, and the message from outer space turns out to be also quite predictable. The book is part archeological adventure, part pseudo-biblical and part fantasy. Perhaps Manfredi aimed a little too high for a book of such modest proportions.
I’m now in the middle of a Murakami tome, my first taste of this intriguing Japanese author. I hope to be able to finish it on time to tell you all about it next month.