The Joy of Reading

NaNoWriMo, short for National Novel Writing Month, is an Internet-based writing project that requires participants to write 50,000 words from November 1st to November 30th. Started by a freelance writer Chris Baty in 1999, this project has motivated many would-be novelists to start writing their novel. The goal of NaNoWriMo is commendable—encouraging people to both start writing and to complete their unfinished masterpieces. However, NaNoWriMo also begs the question: is there actually a novel writer in all of us? I have read plenty of badly written novels and can attest to the fact that not everyone is meant to be a novelist. But there are also plenty of good books out there and what this world really needs are more readers! So this November, instead of trying to write a novel, why not read a novel? Why not set a goal to read a novel a week? As Claire Fallon of the Huffington Post points out “If you love books, please know you don’t have to write one to validate your passion. Reading is more than enough, and it adds more to the literary ecosystem to read avidly than it does to write a novel for kicks.”Note 1  As a reader/librarian, I am always thrilled at the availability of so many wonderful books for my reading pleasure without my having to do any of the hard work of writing, editing and publishing! This year, I was especially pleased to find that three established authors, all of whose earlier books I have enjoyed immensely, had published new novels.

The Noise of Time
The Noise of Time, by Man Booker Prize winner Julian Barnes, was a pure joy to read. Using the adjective “joy” with any of Barnes’ books, more so with this one, may seem rather inappropriate. His stories almost always seem to have a melancholic tone. The Noise of Time is a fictional biography, telling the heartrending story of the brilliant Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich as he copes with the repressive Soviet regime. The artist’s fear of the brutal regime and his self-loathing at surrendering to Stalin for the sake of his art is powerfully and movingly portrayed in spare and beautiful prose.

Olive KitteridgePulitzer Prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout, offers us yet another must read: My Name is Lucy Barton. When Lucy Barton’s appendectomy leads to complications forcing her to be hospitalized longer than anticipated, Lucy’s estranged mother comes to visit her. Though the mother and the daughter have not spoken to each other for many years, in the hospital they gossip about superficial things and never address the underlying tensions that had caused them to become estranged. Growing up poor and hungry, with an abusive father, Lucy resents her mother for her not being able to protect her. Though a writer, Lucy is unable to voice her feelings to her mother. She buries the unpleasant memories, simply taking pleasure in her mother’s company. A beautifully written tale of love and longing, told without a “…scintilla of sentimentality in this exquisite novel. Instead, in its careful words and vibrating silences, 'My Name Is Lucy Barton' offers us a rare wealth of emotion, from darkest suffering to — 'I was so happy. Oh, I was happy' — simple joy.Note 2

The Vegetarian
What happens to ordinary people when they make what we think are commonplace decisions is the subject of this rather surreal tale by Korean author Han King. Highly-touted winner of the Man Booker International Prize, The Vegetarian is a novel sure to make you sit up and take notice. An average couple, Mr. Cheong and his wife Yeong-hye, live a very ordinary life when one day the wife throws away all the meat from their freezer and decides to become a vegetarian. She is prompted to this decision by her dreams, which are incredibly dark and violent. Yeong-hye’s decision has bizarre repercussions as societal norms clash with individual desires. Who knew that becoming a vegetarian could be so dangerous?

Last word: Be on the lookout for Zadie Smith’s newest book, Swing Time, which will be released on November 15th. Having enjoyed White Teeth in all its zaniness, I look forward to reading Smith’s newest book. Our library system has already ordered multiple copies so be sure to reserve a copy for yourself.

—Rina B.

Notes
Note 1 Fallon, C. (2015, November 3). "Just Because You Love Books, Doesn’t Mean You Have To Write One." Retrieved October 29, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/nanowrimo-problem_us_5637cc83e4b0631799135a8a

Note 2 Messud, C. (2016, January 4). "Elizabeth Strout’s ‘My Name Is Lucy Barton’." Retrieved October 29, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/10/books/review/elizabeth-strouts-my-name-is-lucy-barton.html

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