Book Club Recommendations – Books Worth Discussing

Spending a couple of hours just in the company of a good book feels like heaven for many readers, including me. But reading doesn’t have to be a solitary experience. The most sociable readers have always the option of joining a book club either in person or online to discuss previously agreed books and have a lively, but respectful, debate.

Generally-speaking, any book is a good book to choose to read for a book club. However, some are bound to spark a more spirited discussion than others. It’s important to choose books that are interesting to muse about, that make readers think, maybe arrive at different conclusions, or look at the characters from different perspectives. I have five recommendations that I believe are good options to read in a book club.

 

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Although Piranesi by Susanna Clarke is full of fantastical elements, it focuses on very human experiences. This book, which is ultimately about memory and traumatic experiences, has as main character Piranesi, who lives in an immense house surrounded by the sea. He joins the Other twice a week to discuss their endeavours to discover some unknown knowledge. His emotions are portrayed with a meaningful subtlety. For such a short book, it provides many topics for discussion. How do memories influence our perception about ourselves? What clues about the ending did readers find? What did readers discern about what was going on in that world at various stages? Continue reading

Five Books Set in Italy

Italy is one of the countries I dream of visiting. How amazing would it be to be able to spend a month travelling around such a stunning place that exhales history in every corner? While I save money to one day go on that adventure, I content myself with reading books set there, either in their entirety or just partially. There are five books set in Italy that I read in recent years and that I wholeheartedly recommend, despite not considering them perfect nor necessarily favourite books of mine.

 

The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim

The casual humorous tone and the subtle irony of The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim make a simple plot shine. A group of women decides to rent a small medieval castle in Italy during the month of April. Their reasons for that are different, but those charming holidays will make all of them see their lives in a new light. The evocative descriptions of their surroundings are wonderful.

 

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

The first book in The Neapolitan Novels is merely the initial taste of the story of a convoluted friendship that will last for years. Elena and Lila have lived in the same neighbourhood in Naples for a significant part of their lives. As readers learn more about the two friends, they also get a thought-provoking picture of Italian society, since their story is complemented by reflections on class, equality, social mobility and the role of education. Continue reading

‘Human Acts’ by Han Kang

My rating: 3 stars

Suffering is a constant feeling in Human Acts by Han Kang. It is a book about how an uprising in South Korea and the actions of an authoritarian government affected the lives of various people throughout the years. Told from several points of view, it could have been more impactful had it focused on fewer perspectives and intertwined them more closely.

At the beginning of the book, the municipal gymnasium in Gwangju is being used to keep the bodies of the civilians who were killed by the South Korean army during the popular uprising of 1980. The narrator of the first chapter indirectly addresses a character who is looking for his friend’s corpse and, not having been successful in finding it, ends up staying at the gymnasium to help. He was with his friend during the uprising but fled when the army started shooting.

Each chapter has a distinct narrator. The second chapter is told in the first person by the soul of Jeong-dae, who was killed during the uprising. His body and those of many victims were thrown into a pile. He wants to know who killed him and his sister. Five years later, Kim Eun-Sook, an editor at a publishing house, is slapped seven times by a police detective who wants to know the whereabouts of a translator. Through a third-person narration, we learn how she was also affected by the uprising. The first-person narrator of the following chapter is a man who was a prisoner. He was one of the students who was part of the uprising and, in 1990, is recalling what he remembers from that time to a professor. Continue reading

Do I Still Want to Read the Books on My Wish List?

When it comes to adding books to my wish list, I can be extremely impulsive. I sometimes do it only because I read a positive review and the plot sounds vaguely appealing. The problem is that what readers consider to be a gripping plot or an outstanding writing style is not always the same. This later has an impact on my reading experience, as I end up picking up books that others loved but that were not the best fit for me, something that I could have avoided if I had done a more in-depth research before buying certain books.

Since I’ve recently been DNFing many books, I decided to go through my wish list on Goodreads (which doesn’t solely consist of the books that I have on my physical to-be-read pile anymore but all of the ones I hope to read in the future) and ponder if I really want to read them. Result: I removed various books from it, some just after reading the blurb again and others after reading a couple of initial pages available for preview online. I’ve also decided not to read books that feature certain elements that I’m not a massive fan of.

I assume this is a normal action for various readers. So, why am I writing this post? There are various posts in this blog about books that I was planning to read and it bothers me to have written them and then deciding not to read some of those books after all without mentioning it. Is this ridiculous? Very likely! Nevertheless, not only have I decided to write a post about all the books I removed from my wish list based on four main reasons, but I’m also inclined towards avoiding writing further posts about the books I may possibly read in the future, as for me that feels too much like a commitment. Continue reading

20 Books of Summer 2022 – How Did I Do?

2022 was the first year I took part in 20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy of the blog 746 Books. The challenge is simple, albeit not necessarily easy to achieve – read 20 books during the three summer months (it’s also possible to read only 10 or 15). As in a way I was already expecting to happen, I didn’t manage to read the 20 books I had selected at the end of May. I only read in their entirety eleven books, decided not to finish three and am still currently reading one (Human Acts by Han Kang).

Although this challenge allowed me to finally pick up books that had been on my wish list for a long time, I don’t think I’ll participate again next year, since it was far more taxing than I had anticipated. I thought that having a set number of books to read within a short space of time wouldn’t be a weighty pressure, but it ended up feeling like it. I usually only read one to three books a month (depending on the size), so I found it stressful to have to push myself to read more than usual. Well, I didn’t have to… but, particularly in July, I tried really hard to. Having only picked up short books also rendered the reading experience in a way monotonous.

Below is the list of books that I had set for the challenge, featuring links to the reviews of those I read and mentioning the ones that I DNFed. Continue reading

The Book Reviewing Tag

Reviews are a staple of the majority of book blogs, but that doesn’t mean that all bloggers review books in the same way. Since I’m always interested in knowing how other bloggers approach the reviewing process, I was pleased to discover the book reviewing tag, created by Fatma from the blog The Book Place. It is all about how we write reviews, the books we choose to review and how we evaluate our own reviews. There are eight questions that I tried to answer succinctly.

 

What’s your review writing process like (do you write notes somewhere, make annotations, highlights, etc.)?

I’ve been following the same review writing process almost since I started blogging. I always write notes on a notebook or, if I’m not at home, on my phone at the end of each reading “session” about the things I don’t want to forget to mention on the review of the book I’m reading – initial plot points, writing style, personality of the characters, quotes I liked, etc. This makes writing the review itself (usually the day after I finish the book) easier, since I then only have to connect all the notes in a coherent way, plus write an introduction and a conclusion. The proofreading process takes sometimes as long as writing the review, since I keep getting prepositions and other things wrong. But it’s all part of the joy of not having a blog in my first language. Continue reading

‘Strike Your Heart’ by Amélie Nothomb

My rating: 5 stars

Short books can be as impactful and meaningful as longer ones. Strike Your Heart by the Belgian author Amélie Nothomb is a gripping and insightful story about uncaring, jealous mothers (and oblivious fathers) elegantly told mostly from the perspective of a perceptive daughter in various stages of her life. Although the short chapters make the plot flow fast, the life of Diane, the main character, still makes an indelible impression on readers.

In 1971, Marie, Diane’s mother, was nineteen years old. She was studying to be a secretary, but what gave her great satisfaction was going to tons of parties and catching the attention of young men there, since it made all the other young women jealous. Olivier was one of the young men interested in her. He believed that she was as much in love with him as he was with her. She soon got pregnant and had to give up her studies. They got married in a ceremony that was much simpler than Marie would have liked.

When Diane was born, Marie immediately became jealous of her. Olivier thought that she was depressed and asked his mother-in-law to take care of Diane during the day, while Marie studied to be an accountant. Despite immediately realising that it was a jealousy issue, she was delighted to look after her granddaughter, who was starting to understand that there was something wrong about the way her mother interacted with her. Continue reading

‘Convenience Store Woman’ by Sayaka Murata

My rating: 3 stars

The light-heartedness with which the state of mind and challenges faced by the main character and narrator of Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata are addressed makes this short book an endearing story at first. It explores the pressure to conform to what society deems expected of people, particularly women, in various stages of life. Some of the later occurrences seem too far-fetched, though.

Keiko Furukura, a convenience store worker, grew up in a loving family. But when she was at primary school, she kept getting in trouble because of her way of reacting to things. Once she found a dead bird and, instead of burying it, she wanted to cook it. Another time, in order to stop two children fighting, she hit one of them with a spade. Afterwards, she decided to speak as little as possible to avoid problems.

She started working at the convenience store when she was still at university and has been there since the day it opened. For the first time she felt like part of society. She is now 36 years old and none of her initial colleagues work there anymore. Her parents would love for her to have another job, but she feels that she can only act like a “normal” person when all she has to do is follow the manual she was given during the initial training. She also tries to speak like her colleagues and copies the dressing style of the one that is almost her age. It’s at the convenience store that Keiko feels at home. Continue reading

‘Cada Homem é uma Raça’ (‘Every Man is a Race’) by Mia Couto

My rating: 4 stars

Mia Couto’s writing style has an inventive quality to it, giving the eleven stories in the collection Cada Homem é uma Raça (Every Man is a Race in the translation into English) a curious sonority. Every story focuses on a particular person or group of people. Some of them have their lives changed either by individual actions or by the existing political and social realities.

The first story in the collection, ‘A Rosa Caramela’, is narrated by a young man from a village. He is not the main character, though. That is Rosa Caramela’s role. When she was younger, Rosa was left by a man whom she thought was going to marry her. Afterwards, she started behaving strangely and admiring a statue of a former coloniser. More than her inner feelings, the story is about how other people perceived her. The characteristic rhythm and sonority of the Portuguese from Mozambique immediately takes those reading it in the original on a journey there.

It’s not only the sound of the sentences that is distinctive, however. Mia Couto creates new words by turning everyday nouns and adjectives into verbs. This happens in almost all of the stories, but it is very pronounced and successful in ‘Rosalinda, a Nenhuma’, which is about how a woman dealt with the death of her unfaithful husband. In ‘O Ex-futuro Padre e sua Pré-viúva’, the author coined new words by mixing two together, which is slightly grating at times. This is the story of how a man who wanted to become a priest ends up marrying a woman, because she is believed to be pregnant. Continue reading

Favourite Books by Women in Translation

August is Women in Translation Month, the perfect time to read translated books written by female authors. For those looking for suggestions of appropriate books to pick up during the next month, there are four that stood out the most for me from the ones that I’ve read in translation so far.

Bear in mind that, as my mother tongue is Portuguese, I don’t read Lusophone authors in translation. But if you are looking forward to reading books originally written in Portuguese during August, you can find many blog posts with recommendations on this blog or ask any questions you may have in the comments section!

 

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The South Korean novel The Vegetarian is an impressive, affecting and disconcerting exploration of abuse, mental health, desire and rebellion against social conventions. Yeong-hye has always been a dutiful wife. But one day a disturbing dream leads her to become a vegetarian, which deeply upsets her family. Although she is the main character, the story is not told from her point of view. Readers are presented with the perspectives of her husband, her brother-in-law and her sister, who all have distinctive voices. Continue reading