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Reading wrap-up - August 2020

August was a great and diverse reading month for me, without any kind of the outrage from July. Only safe and interesting books, including a childhood re-read.

The Cook, by Maylis de Kerangal

This very short book is more a reading experience than a novel. You won't find here a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, although it does follow somewhat chronologically the journey of a young chef, told by an undefined narrator (a parent? a friend?). To me, its main interest lies in the prose of Maylis de Kerangal. In long sentences, dotted with commas, she creates a unique rhythm, very much like a beating heart - one of her most famous book is Mend the Living (UK) / The Heart (USA), in which a heart is at the core of the story. Her style confused me a little bit in the first novel I read by her, Birth of a Bridge, but I'd found a peculiar beauty once I let go. Here I dived into the book much quicker, and it was lucky because it took about an hour to read. I don't think it will linger in my mind for long, though. I enjoyed it but will probably forget it soon.

Artemis Fowl, by Eoin Colfer

This was one of my favourite books as a teenager. I lost count of the times I read it, but you'll notice what a book-freak I was even then when you take a look at the state of this book - it looks almost brand new.

Artemis Fowl is the fast-paced story of a human genius whose path - very intentionally - crosses that of the fairy people. The main characters are full of personality and the narrator often adds juicy details to descriptions, making it a really fast book to read.

I did enjoy revisiting it as an adult and will pass it on to my nephews when they're old enough.

Miss Iceland, by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

This book is a warm & gentle embrace. As in The Greenhouse (Afleggjarinn), a book I reread regularly with renewed pleasure, Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir creates a small gallery of characters for whom she feels overwhelming love, and manages to make that love find an echo in the readers. In Miss Iceland we meet Hekla, born in the 1940s and named after a volcano. This young Icelandic woman dreams of writing and leaves her home in the country to settle in the capital, where she hopes to start her career as an author. There, people insist that she would be better with the sash of Miss Iceland, but Hekla refuses this path of smoke and mirrors.

Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir's characters are never spared by life. Through them she touches on sexism, homophobia and racism, themes that are sadly contemporary, with a prose that burst with charm and simplicity.

Women Who Run with the Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estés

This is a chunky tome (750+ pages in my paperback edition) in which the polymath Clarissa Pinkola Estés draws from different schools of thought to examine folk tales across the world and how they can teach  and encourage readers to reconnect with their intuition. It's a dense book, but I found it really accessible and I do think I'll re-read at different stages in my life to absorb all of its wisdom. I'm sure people with all kinds of life experiences could find something to take away from reading it. It touches on relationships, self-confidence, education, transmission, and so many other themes. Each chapter is devoted to one topic and one tale, so you can quite easily read a chapter, let it sit and read another one much later. The author advises (in her postface) to do just that, and to take time to read her book.

The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden

Women Who Run with the Wolves made me in the mood for fairy-tale-like books, so I picked up the first tome of the Winternight Trilogy for my second re-read of the month.

The first time, I'd admired Katherine Arden's imagination. I'd been a little lost among the characters and had trouble grasping some of the concepts, but overall it was pleasant. The second time, I was only a little familiar with the setting (in two years I had more than enought time to forget most of the book), but I was struck by simply how beautiful Arden's prose was. I still feel no rush to read the second and third books in the trilogy, but I did spend a lovely time visiting Rus' again, and marvelling at Vasya's heart and courage.

Merlin Dreams, by Peter Dickinson, illustrated by Alan Lee

In August, watching the Netflix show Cursed made me in the mood for Arthurian myths, and since I'm a big mood reader I picked the book on my TBR that fit that genre exactly - Merlin Dreams. This beautiful book, illustrated lavishly by Alan Lee (the reason why I bought it in the first place), is a collection of short stories set in Arthurian times, but not featuring Arthur himself. They are all dreams from Merlin's mind while he lies imprisoned by his witch student. 

There was a wide variety of tales, from lively ones to cruel ones to beautiful and unexpected ones. Alan Lee illustrates them both in pencil and watercolour, in a vibrant palette that brings the stories to life. Peter Dickinson's prose is also beautiful, especially in the short passages between each tale when we get a glimpse of Merlin's whirling thoughts.


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What did you read in August?

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