A few years ago, I decided against keeping on my shelves all of the books that I read. First, I gave away almost all of the books that I read when I was a child and a teenager. I only kept the ones that I assumed I would still enjoy if I ever read them again as an adult. Then I decided to only keep the books that I enjoyed or loved, that is to say the ones that I rated with either four or five stars, plus some special three-star reads.
You may be wondering what makes a three-star book special. It has to fall within at least one of a couple of categories: having been almost a 4-star read, which was the case of Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors and The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis; being part of a collection, such as the Penguin English Library, or of a book series which I enjoy in general; or featuring a specific element that stood out to me because of how well it was crafted. I also used to keep 3-star books by authors whose work I overall cherish, but I only do so now when they fit into one of the previous categories.
The eight books below stood out from other 3-star reads because they feature a character that I loved, an interesting structure, an intriguing narrator, a tangible array of feelings or one strand of many that I highly enjoyed.
My least favourite of the José Saramago’s novels that I read comprises two strands, one of them enthralling and the other incredibly dull. It was thanks to the part focusing on Raimundo Silva that I kept it on my shelves. The main character is a proofreader who is working on a book about the siege of Lisbon during the Reconquista. He purposefully makes a sentence historically incorrect by adding a “no” where there was none. Instead of firing him, his publishing house hires a woman to oversee the work of all proofreaders. Raimundo’s feelings are poignantly described throughout. The other strand of the novel is set during the siege of Lisbon in the 12th century and is frustrating to read to say the least.
The best asset of this book is being narrated by a dead teenager, Edgar Wibeau, who comments on the actions of the characters that are still alive and are trying to understand how he died. He also recalls what happened during the last months of his life and what led to his death. It’s a shame that the author felt the need to have Edgar constantly use the word guys as a vocative. It’s infuriating!
This slim book focuses mainly on a group of artists, the Quartet, which is formed by Elza and Ian, who lived together at Petrzalka in Bratislava, and Rebeka and Elfman. It stands out thanks to its interesting structure. Within the same chapter, some parts are narrated in the third person, while others are told in the first person from the perspective of a specific character, whose name is printed beforehand in bold. The action moves back and forward in time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a defined plot. It is primarily a compilation of snippets, which makes it hard to connect with the characters.
Through this novel, the Portuguese author José Luís Peixoto managed to tangibly convey a myriad of feelings – love, jealousy, suffering, loneliness, fear – and that is the reason why it remains on my shelves. The plot and the setting, on the other hand, are too bizarre. A nameless writer lives in a house full of cats with his mother. He imagines a woman who inspires him to write a book and whom he falls in love with.
Sonetos by Florbela Espanca
This anthology by the Portuguese poet Florbela Espanca features one of my favourite poems, ‘Ser poeta’, so I obviously had to keep it. However, as it includes only sonnets, it ends up being repetitive in terms of rhythm. The poems feel too similar. They mostly explore love and passion, occasionally having pessimistic undertones.
This Portuguese classic starts when Henrique de Souselas leaves Lisbon to visit his aunt in the countryside of Minho, a region in the north of Portugal. There he meets Madalena. She is a great character and the reason why this book remains on my shelves. She defies conventions, cares deeply about the ones she loves, is cleverly sarcastic and is not easily impressed. Although the dialogues between the characters are most often than not impressive, the narration becomes progressively annoying, since readers are treated like dumb idiots.
Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
Despite not recalling much about the plot of this novel, I distinctly remember enjoying one of its two interwoven strands much more than the other and cherishing how they were connected in the end. The narrator is a human data processor who has been trained to use his subconscious has an encryption key. In one of the strands, he is in the process of being accepted into an isolated town where he meets a librarian.
Cemitério de Pianos by José Luís Peixoto
The structure of this Portuguese novel, which is based on the life of the athlete Francisco Lázaro, is without a shadow of a doubt ingenious. I’m sure I would appreciate it even more if I reread it. It is not only narrated by a father and a son, but it is also connected with the phases of a run. Unfortunately, I found the book confusing at first, reason why it took me some time to enjoy the reading experience.
Have you read any of these books? Which books do you keep on your shelves? Tell me in the comments!