Life has been so busy I haven’t had time to spend hours reading book reviews online and ducking into bookshops like I normally would. Instead, I’ve been rereading some of the books on my shelf that I haven’t thought about for ages and I’m so glad I have. I’ve enjoyed old favourites and finished books that have been looking at me from the book shelf with a guilt inducing stare for avoiding them for so long.
Nothing to Envy by Barbard Demick – I’ve probably mentioned that I find North Korea endlessly fascinating. I just cannot get my head around what it would be like to live in such a violent, regimented society, particularly given that images we see of North Korea almost always come from the regime and focus on enormous military parades and lines of indistinguishable gymnasts (i.e. not the stuff of real life). Demick changes that with this book. While working as the Korean correspondent for the LA Times, Demick wanted to write about what it was really like to live in North Korea. Without free access to people living there, she decided to interview a group of defectors who all lived in the same town on the Chinese border at the same period of time during the terrible famines of the mid-1990s. The result reads like fiction – it weaves together the stories of very different people (a young female doctor, homeless teenage boy, a loyal party member etc) to paint a picture very different to the Pyongyang you might be familiar with.
Persuasion by Jane Austen – my favourite Austen and one of my favourite books ever. It’s hilariously funny and the tension between Anne Elliott and Frederick Wentworth is perfectly drawn, despite a relatively simple plot. I enjoy Austen’s take on the self-made man (Wentworth) versus the utter stupidity of Anne’s supposedly noble family members too.
Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver – I picked this up in Melbourne, thinking it might be a good airport read, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s a story of a young mother trapped in an unsatisfying marriage in Tennessee but it’s also about climate change and how we are responding (or not responding, more importantly). I don’t know what entomologists would have to say about the science in this story but I think that Kingsolver writes so well about the moral, religious, cultural and social issues that climate change raises and I really loved the main character, Dellarobia.
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan – I tend to gravitate towards female writers (see above) and I certainly have no love for military fiction so I have no idea why I decided to read this but I’m really glad I did. Flanagan, inspired by his father who was a prisoner on the Thai-Burma railway during WWII, has written a truly beautiful book about Australian prisoners of war working on the railway. Watching these men try to survive an almost incomprehensibly awful situation and then try to make sense of their lives back in Australia was so compelling. It manages to be so even though the characters are so deeply flawed and contradictory that it can be hard to like them sometimes. Throw in a love story and you basically have a pretty perfect book.
The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith. This has been sitting on my book shelf for an eternity but I’ve been turned off my how prolific McCall Smith is. How can his books be any good if he writes 3 or 4 each year?! I thought I’d hate the characters too. The protagonist is a single, middle aged philosopher called Isabel Dalhousie – not really someone I thought I could relate too. Despite both these things, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. It’s a crime novel (in a very low key, not at all like James Bond kind of way) which offers a very nice glimpse into Edinburgh. Though I found Isabel frustrating at times, I had sympathy for her too.
As always, I’d love to hear your book recommendations. What are you loving at the moment? Xo