1001 Books Roundup May 2020
Well due to Covid-19 shutting down all libraries in my area for an unspecified amount of time my 1001 reading has gone a little haywire and rather than reading the same books as the group I am reading what group reads I can as and where I can.
So without further ado lets move on to this months winners and losers
Rasselas by Samuel Johnson – Tackle the TBR – What GR says: Rasselas–regarded as Johnson’s most creative work–presents the story of the journey of Rasselas and his companions in search of “the choice of life.” Its charm lies not in its plot, but rather in its wise and humane look at man’s constant search for happiness. Good to know the charm is not in the plot as there really isn’t much of a plot to speak of.
My Thoughts: This book is best summed up by the title of the last chapter “The Conclusion in Which Nothing is Concluded” that is pretty much it.
Rasselas a Prince from the Happy Valley decides he wants to leave his home. Why? Because constantly having everything you could desire doesn’t make him happy, well why would it he is human. Instead he wants to travel the world and find people who are truly happy. Good luck with that.
Rasselas is joined on this adventure by his sister, her serving women and a poet. Oh boy. They set out and explore various lands meeting different types of people all who share one thing in common. No-one is truly happy.
The book explores the different forms of lets say discontent experience by different people. Those who are rich are as unhappy as those who are poor; likewise those who are married and those who are single; those who choose a solitary religious life or those who immerse themselves with other people; kings and robbers. No-one is truly happy.
Aside from a few mishaps and misfortunes nothing dramatic happens and the only conclusion drawn is no-one is truly happy.
3 Stars while pretty much pointless in terms of story the exploration of happiness was interesting and this was a quick read.
White Teeth by Zadie Smith – BOTM #1 June 2020 – What GR says: At the center of this invigorating novel are two unlikely friends, Archie Jones and Samad Iqbal. Hapless veterans of World War II, Archie and Samad and their families become agents of England’s irrevocable transformation. A second marriage to Clara Bowden, a beautiful, albeit tooth-challenged, Jamaican half his age, quite literally gives Archie a second lease on life, and produces Irie, a knowing child whose personality doesn’t quite match her name (Jamaican for “no problem”). Samad’s late-in-life arranged marriage (he had to wait for his bride to be born), produces twin sons whose separate paths confound Iqbal’s every effort to direct them, and a renewed, if selective, submission to his Islamic faith. Set against London’s racial and cultural tapestry, venturing across the former empire and into the past as it barrels toward the future, White Teeth revels in the ecstatic hodgepodge of modern life, flirting with disaster, confounding expectations, and embracing the comedy of daily existence. Hodgepodge of modern life? Good description this book captures life in all its chaotic mess.
My thoughts: For the most part I really enjoyed this book. I loved the characters and the complicated mix of life that they represent. I loved the descriptions of society at the time as a large part this book is set in the realms of my childhood and the terrain was familiar and recognisable. However there were some sections that, for reasons I cannot define, dragged. They felt overdone and as if the point had already been made in a better format earlier in the story.
Zadie Smith is a brilliant writer and reading this was a delight in terms of the writing quality. The characters were fully formed and relatable, amusing without intending it, caught up in their own lives and beliefs and jumping off the page with their reality.
The beauty of the story is following the characters as they live their best lives and for that reason I am not mentioning the plot because you need to discover it for yourself.
3 Stars – a high 3 stars read this for the immersion in the multicultural London of the latter half of the last century.
The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing – Q2 Read – What GR says: Anna is a writer, author of one very successful novel, who now keeps four notebooks. In one, with a black cover, she reviews the African experience of her earlier year. In a red one she records her political life, her disillusionment with communism. In a yellow one she writes a novel in which the heroine relives part of her own experience. And in the blue one she keeps a personal diary. Finally, in love with an American writer and threatened with insanity, Anna tries to bring the threads of all four books together in a golden notebook. There are 4 coloured notebooks and a golden notebook, Anna is having mental health issues this is an accurate description.
My Thoughts: I really expected to love this story the concept is intriguing and the introduction by Doris Lessing is amazing sadly from that point on the story lost its grip on me. The four notebooks overlap so you get the same story multiple times even the fictional diary is just a retelling of Anna’s life by the end of the book the repetition was getting to me.
This book does have important points to make about the role of women in society, how mothers and wives are perceived and what it takes for a woman to be successful compared to a man and in some sections it makes these points well. It also explores mental health and how we become reliant on others to provide us with a framework for our lives. Politics particularly communism is explored and again it is shown that outside influences define how we see ourselves and others.
The book also looks at literature versus entertainment. Several people want to turn Anna’s book into a film by completely changing the central message and characters as if they have missed the point of the book in the first place.
A quote that is oh so relevant to society today “There’s his friend – he’s bombastic and rabble-rousing and he drinks and whores around. He’ll probably be the first Prime Minister – he has all the qualities – the common touch you know.”
I can see why this is on the 1001 list of books and I agree it has thoroughly earned its place.
3 Stars – There are some great one liners in this book and some excellent observations but that wasn’t enough to make this feel anything other than a “worthy” read to me.
Have you read any of these? What did you think? Let us know.
I’ve had that Doris Lessing on my shelf for years but never managed to give myself the space it needs to read it, there are these iconic books from the past that have value, but are weighed down by that “padding” that today would be edited out and it is for that reason I hesitate.