What are you reading? Suggestions please…

By Niamh Cullen

At the moment, I’m working my way through three books; two novels and a sort of history book.

Last week, I started reading Portugese novelist Jose Saramago’s Seeing. I had already read two of his novels a few years ago; Blindness and The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. The first a fable about the effect a plague of blindness has on an unnamed modern city and the second a melancholic wander through the streets of 1930s Lisbon in the lead up to war, they both impressed me in different ways. On hearing of the death of Saramago – winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998 – late last month, I set out to read Seeing, his 2004 sequel to Blindness. More about that should hopefully follow soon.

Since I left my copy of Seeing in work over the weekend, I’ve also started to read Joseph O’Connor’s new novel, Ghost Light. Set in Dublin at the turn of the century, the novel explores playwright J.M. Synge’s affair with actress Molly Allgood, who was apparently the inspiration behind the character of Pegeen Mike in the Playboy of the Western World. Offering an irreverent and colourful look at the world of the Abbey Theatre – whose founders and early writers Yeats, Lady Gregory, Synge and others are usually treated with too much reverence – it’s proving to be very good so far.

The sort-of-history-book I’m reading is a volume of oral histories, collected by Italian historian Nuto Revelli in the 1970s. After conducting hundreds of interviews with Italian peasants of all ages based in rural Piedmont, in the north-west of Italy, Revelli pieced them together to form the excellent ‘The World of the Defeated’ (Il Mondo dei vinti; unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be an English translation). Collectively, the many stories gathered here narrate the transformation of this remote and rural region from an area characterised by poverty, lack of education and endless heavy labour, but with a strong sense of tradition and community, to one which is severely depopulated – it is only the elderly who still live in many of the remote mountain villages, as the younger generations are no longer willing to endure the poverty and hardship of subsistence farming and have sought work in the nearby factories instead. Beautifully compiled and introduced by Revelli, it makes for a slightly depressing read, as it is hard to tell whether life was worse for the rural Piedmontese before or after the industrial take off of the late 1950s offered the young people a way out of their poverty trap. Since the book was published in the 1970s, I also wonder what has changed; has tourism, possibly skiing for example, been able to revitalise any of these mountain villages?

Well, this is my reading for the week; the list a little more crowded than usual. What are you reading at the moment? Please share your suggestions below, so that we can create our own Little Review database of book recommendations. The books can be about anything of course, and of any genre; just as long as you found them interesting…

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9 Responses to What are you reading? Suggestions please…

  1. Kevin says:

    Now that’s a topic that will touch people’s hearts. And I’m glad to see there are others out there who spend their reading several different books.

    I must admit that I’m a transition phase at the moment, where I’ve finished one book, have read parts of (and partly lost motivation to finish) others. I’ve just finished James Lovelock’s, The Revenge of Gaia. I know I’m a few years late on that one, but what a thought-provoking look at the way the world works, the state the environment is in, and what we *need* to do from here.

    Now I’m looking at a few options for my next reading: returning to Melville’s Moby Dick and trying (again) to get beyond the first few chapters; continuing Wangari Maathai’s The Challenge for Africa; or starting Paul Collier’s Wars, Guns, and Votes (there’s a theme there in the last two). I’d be really interested, though, in anyone who can tell me if I’m wasting my time with Melville – I’ve heard such awful things about the book and such wonderful things that I’m undecided. I know that someone will say, read it and make up your own mind – but time is precious and there are too many good books out there to spend time reading bad ones.

    • Caroline McGee says:

      Yes reading time is precious but one (wo)man’s bad book is another’s gem – I’d say persevere, it will be worth it….if not and you’re sticking with American classics, for something a bit later what about Faulkner’s ‘The Sound and the Fury’, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ or Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird (populist choices I know but great reads). Happy reading.

      • Louisa says:

        I’ve found the danger in struggling with a book you feel that you “should” read is that it can deter you from reading, especially if you’re a one-book-at-a-time reader. It depends on why you read too, of course, and why you want to read that particular book. As you say Kevin, time is precious, invest wisely.

        A few lesser known American classics I’d recommend: Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety and The Angle of Repose, Carson McCuller’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, William Kennedy’s Ironweed.

  2. Thanks Kevin, there are definitely some interesting suggestions there. I am intrigued by the gaia theory, but have never read too much about it. The Revenge of Gaia sounds like another possibly depressing, but necessary book to read. I’m afraid I can’t comment on Moby Dick as I’ve never read it. I must say that it has never really attracted me as a book – but that could be my loss if it’s brilliant!

    I was thinking about Revelli again too. It’s a pity it’s never been translated (as far as I can tell), but does anyone know of any similar types of books on rural Ireland? I’m sure there must be plenty of parallels with some parts of the Irish countryside, and the way of life that is being left behind as people leave the land and buy into another kind of lifestyle.


  3. Caroline McGee says:

    I’ve just finished ‘Ghost Light’ myself – still marveling at Joe O’Connor’s wonderful gift of weaving the real and the imagined in his work and his ability to say in a few words what other writers often never accomplish in far too many. I’m simultaneously (!) reading an eclectic bunch of books that includes the fascinating but poignant story of Henrietta Lacks and her monumental but until now under-appreciated (& unknown to many) contribution to medical science by Rebecca Skloot, T.C. Boyle’s fictionalized account of Frank Lloyd Wright, his mistresses and their lives at Taliesin (struggling a bit with the unreliable narrator’s interventions), Paul Cardinal Cullen: Profile of a Practical Nationalist by Ciaran O’Carroll for an insight into the Catholic Church in Ireland in the nineteenth century and today and Bernadette Cunningham’s excellent study of the manuscripts of the Annals of the Four Masters. Rereading classics like Moby Dick is always such a pleasure – I’ve recently revisited Huckleberry Finn and loved it as much on my umpteenth read as I did the first time! Enjoying The Little Review a lot!

  4. Eleanor Fitzsimons says:

    I’m reading Charlie Connelly’s Attention All Shipping. I’m absolutely loving it. I was half way through Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna but pt it down and can’t seem to work up the enthusiasm to pick it up again. Went to hear her read and chat in Dun Laoghaire yesterday. She is a remarkable woman and I loved The Poisonwood Bible but I can’t muster sufficient interest to finish The Lacuna despite loving it initially.

    • I keep thinking about buying The Lacuna every time I see it in the bookshop, but I haven’t got around to buying it yet. I loved the Poisonwood Bible, which I read fairly recently (ie about 10 years after everyone else!). Let us know if it’s worth reading in the end… I didn’t realise she was speaking in Dun Laoghaire, sorry I missed it!

  5. Segismundo says:

    Would simply like to say I know for a fact plenty of Revelli has been translated into English. The translations just haven’t found a publisher.

  6. Pingback: What are you reading now? (Part 2) | The Little Review

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