Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Trip home

I'm going home for a long weekend next week to visit family and friends; I have a friend visiting from overseas so it will be a busy time with a belated Thanksgiving dinner surrounded by lunches, coffees and drinks plus some quality time with my parents, sister and my cat, Mandoo. I probably won't have much reading time except for when I'm at the airport and flying up but nonetheless that does not prevent me from planning which books I am taking with me. Whenever I venture out, I have a book in my bag as I like to be prepared for all eventualities and potential reading time. For four nights at home I am conservatively packing two books -preferably chunky ones- but I have books at home, some of which I am planning to bring back with me.

Now this is where you come in. I have a shortlist of potential reads to take with me but I am having difficulty deciding between them. Which would you recommend/suggest travel with me?

What is the What by Dave Eggers: this comes highly recommended by Claire of Kiss a Cloud. The copy I have is from the library so reading it is time-sensitive. 560 pages.

Synopsis: At the heart of this astonishing novel is a true story of courage and endurance in the face of one of the most brutal civil wars the world has ever known. Valentino Achak Deng is just a boy when conflict separates him from his family and forces him to leave his small Sudanese village, joining thousands of other orphans on their long, long walk to Ethiopia, where they find safety - for a time. Along the way Valentino encounters enemy soldiers, liberation rebels and deadly militias, hyenas and lions, disease and starvation. But there are experiences ahead that will test his spirit in even greater ways than these...Truly epic in scope, and told with expansive humanity, deep compassion and unexpected humour, What is the What is an eye-opening account of life amid the madness of war and an unforgettable tale of tragedy and triumph.

Manja by Anna Gmeyer: the latest Persephone to pique my curiosity, a reader very kindly sent me a copy of my own. 552 pages.

Written in London by a young Austrian playwright in exile, Manja opens, radically, with five conception scenes one night in 1920. Set in the turbulent Germany of the Weimar Republic, it goes on, equally dramatically, to describe the lives of the children and their families until 1933 when the Nazis came to power. 'What is so unusual,' wrote the playwright Berthold Viertel in 1938, 'is the way the novel contrasts the children's community - in all its idealism, romanticism, decency and enchantment - with the madhouse community of the adults.'

Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan: Frances of Nonsuch Book sent me a copy of this collection of short stories after I won a give-away on her blog. This is garnering a lot of attention on the blogosphere and otherwise just now, not least because it is the latest choice of Oprah's Book Club. I actually had a copy borrowed from the library but was so glad that I could return it when I received my own copy. 384 pages.

Synopsis: 'Nothing interests Maman today, not even Jean, her favorite child ...She acts dumb, bewitched, like a goat that the neighborhood children have fed sorghum beer.' This extraordinary collection ranges from the depiction of a street family's poverty in Kenya, illegal trading of children in Gabon to inter-religious conflicts in Nigeria and Ethiopia and the terrible situation faced by a mixed Hutu-Tsutsi family in Rwanda. Say You're One of Them is fiction with real emotional punch and told from the viewpoints of children - the innocent victims - is powerful, vivid and deeply moving. Uwem Akpan's ability to capture a child's imagination and his skilful portrayal of the situations they have to endure makes this a truly compelling read.

This book comes with both a caveat and a concern. JoAnn of Lakeside Musing recommends taking this collection slowly, perhaps a story at a time, as it is emotionally draining so perhaps it is not the best choice for a short break. Furthermore, I would prefer not to read this consecutively with What is the What due to similar subject matter.

The Bell by Iris Murdoch: I have been meaning to read Iris Murdoch for some time and she comes highly recommended by Naomi of Bloomsbury Bell (the "bell" of her blog name is taken from this title) who suggested I start here. 352 pages.

Synopsis: Dora Greenfield, erring wife, returns to live with her husband in a lay community encamped outside Imber Abbey, home to a mysterious enclosed order of nuns. Watched over by its devout director and the discreet authority of the wise old Abbess, Imber Court is a haven for lost souls seeking tranquility. But then the lost Abbey bell, legendary symbol of religion and magic, is rediscovered, and hidden truths and desires are forced into the light.

Kieron Smith, Boy by James Kelman: I have been wanting to read this book for several months and seeing as I am going home to Glasgow, it seems a perfect choice. 432 pages.

Synopsis: Rejected by his brother and largely ignored by his parents, Kieron Smith finds comfort - and endless stories - in the home of his much-loved grandparents. But when his family move to a new housing scheme on the outskirts of Glasgow, a world away from the close community of the tenements, Kieron struggles to find a way to adapt to his new life. Kieron Smith, boy is a brilliant evocation of an urban childhood. Capturing the joys, frustrations, injustices, excitements, revels, battles, games, uncertainties, questions, lies, discoveries and sheer of wonder of boyhood, it is a story of one boy and every boy. It is James Kelman at his very best.

There are a couple more contenders -including a book or two that may or may not turn up before I go- but these are the front-runners. Any opinions either way? If this is me planning for a long weekend, think what I'll be like in the lead-up to Christmas when I'll be spending two weeks at home!


verity said...

Hehe - I'm just the same - you saw me planning for my summer vacations.

I would actually advise against chunky books because they weigh so much, and if you don't like one of them then you are stuck with less to choose from.

I haven't read any of those, but I'd probably go for the James Kelman since you're going to be in Glasgow!

Mrs. Q: Book Addict said...

I'm new to your blog. I only read one of the books in your list. "Say You're are one of them" was very good but also sort of depressing. I do recommend it. I also plan to read "What is the What" i've heard great things about it.

farmlanebooks said...

That is a great slection of books! I haven't read any of them, but do have most of them in the TBR pile.

I didn't realise thT Say You're One of Them was a collection of short stories - please can you read that and let me know whether I need to strike it off my list!

I also think you should read Kieron Smith, Boy, as there is nothing better than reading a book in the place it is set.

Have a great trip home!

Eva said...

I've read The Bell-I read it in January as my first Murdoch! I enjoyed it for sure. :)

Kals said...

Have a good vacation and enjoy the reads! =)

claire said...

You know what I would pick! But then, not sure if you'll read it distracted.. so might not be a very good idea. However, I really do want you to bring Kieron Smith, Boy because what better way to spend your alone time than internalize about the place with a book. Also, I'm dying for someone to review it because I loved loved loved How Late it Was, How Late, but haven't heard much about this new book since it came out.

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

Great selection of books. I have Say You're One of Them and have been wanting to read What is the What for some time. For Thanksgiving weekend I plan to read Swan Thieves

JoAnn said...

The Bell has been on my list for years, so that's the one I'd pick. I loved The Sea, The Sea by Murdoch. I wouldn't recommend Say You're One of Them as a travel book.

Jackie, two of the five stories in Say You're One of Them are around 130 pages each and could easily be considered novellas. I think you should leave it on your list.

Nymeth said...

Have a wonderful trip home, Claire! I haven't read any of your potential reads, but I'm dying to read What is the What in particular myself, so I'll say that :P

Vivienne said...

Enjoy your time at home and have a lovely Thanksgiving. I always go to the bookshop on the way to the airport and treat myself to new books before I fly. It is normally the only time I buy new books.

Aarti said...

I read What is the What earlier this year while I was in India. It was really, really good. I haven't read any of the others, but a short story collection could also be perfect for a busy long weekend.

Hope you read What is the What soon, though!

Paperback Reader said...

Verity, you did pack an amazing amount for your summer vacation! I tend not to over-pack but I do spend a lot of time deliberating.

Chunky books weigh more than a number of single books? I'll bear that in mind when bringing books back with me.

I should have guessed that you would go for the themed-reading!

Hi Mrs Q, thanks for commenting. I think I will avoid the depressing choice for a mini-holiday but will definitely be reading it. I have heard great things about What is the What too.

Jackie, I am definitely going to read Say You're One of Them this month. I wanted to stress that it is short stories as it appeared as if that was being lost in some mention of it. I know how you feel about short stories!

I am very tempted by Kieron Smith, Boy as I do like reading something in the place it is set.

Eva, glad to hear you enjoyed it! I'm looking forward to finally reading Murdoch.

Thanks, Kals!

Claire, okay you may have convinced me to definitely read Kieron Smith, Boy at home and succeeded in talking me out of What is the What and read that at home instead...

Hi Nicole, thanks for commenting. Holiday reading is the best, isn't it?!

JoAnn, I think I'll read a couple of stories before I go and leave it here. I'm really looking forward to The Bell :).

Thanks, Ana. I will definitely be reading What is the What over the next month but I'm undecided which city I will be in when I do so!

Vivienne, I can't wait until the airport in case there's nothing I want to read! I have to be prepared beforehand. I don't celebrate Thanksgiving myself but a couple of my friends that I'm seeing are American so should be a lot of fun.

Aarti, I think you've just added another book to the mix... a short story collection that I am desperate to read, that would fit well into the weekend and that isn't as depressing as Say You're One of Them. I'm very excited about What is the What now!

The Literary Stew said...

I haven't read the Bell but if you haven't tried Murdoch yet (she is brilliant!), you should definitely read it during the holiday. I would also bring the Persephone. Can't go wrong with that!

Anonymous said...

I haven't read any of these, but The Bell sounds quite intriguing.

Paperback Reader said...

Mrs. B, this choice is becoming even more difficult now! True, you can never go wrong with a Persephone and a few people would like me to read The Bell...

Jill, The Bell intrigues me too.

Bloomsbury Bell said...

Hello! I am back in the land of blog after having flu of the swine, evening class coursework and all sorts of other distractions like weekends away! Anyway, you know exactly what I am going to say... take The Bell! Iris Murdoch always provides such a fantastic reading experience - I hope you like it!

coops said...

I've not read any of these. Manja is on my Persephone wishlist and the Glasgow book sounds highly appropriate, hence those are my picks!

verity said...

Not sure that chunky books weigh more than slimmer ones, it is just that one can take more slimmer ones for the same amount of weight!

Paperback Reader said...

Naomi, I hope you have recovered from both flu of the swine and the excitement of being away - welcome back! Of course, I had a feeling what you would say and didn't I promise you that I would read The Bell during November? I should fulfill that promise...

Thanks, coops! That's 4 for Kieron Smith, Boy, 5 for The Bell, 5 for What is the What (well, maybe 4 seeing as Claire talked herself out of recommending it for a short break), and 2 each for Manja and Say You're One of Them. I think it will be the Kelman and Murdoch.

Verity, The Bell is quite slim so I think it will be that, another even slimmer volume that Aarti gave me the idea to read whilst away, and Kieron Smith, Boy, chunkier but less chunky than a couple of the others.

Anonymous said...

Oh I think I would take The Bell which I loved but is a book that you have to give quite a lot of time too and press on but is utterly worth it! I would also take the persephone as you are almost guaranteed to love it!

Sophie said...

I have to add another vote for The Bell! Partly because I can't wait to hear what you think of it!

Paperback Reader said...

Simon, that's what makes Persephones so tempting! I will be taking a few home at Christmas-time.

Sophie, can't wait to share my thoughts! The Bell will definitely be going with me.