The last two months have been somewhat dismal on the reading front with only a total of five books, and one of those I began quite a long time ago. Oh well, there’s always July.
A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguru
Ever since reading Remains of the Day, Ishiguro has become one of my favourite authors. Although he was born in Nagasaki, he moved to the UK when he was quite young and he credits growing up in a Japanese family for giving him a different perspective than his English peers. He has been nominated for the Man Booker prize four times, winning it for Remains of the Day, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017.
A Pale View of Hills, published in 1982, was his debut novel. Set in both Japan and the UK, the story centres on Etsuko as she reflects on her life after the recent death of her daughter. Ishiguro’s novels often don’t end with the kind of neat resolution that we have come to expect and this book is no exception. The ending was a little disturbing as we discover that things are not always what they seem. A thought provoking if unsettling read.
Boys Will be Boys by Clementine Ford
At the beginning of May I attended a live and local screening of Ford’s session at the Sydney Writer’s Festival and then I read her book. Ford has a reputation as a radical feminist but I didn’t get that impression from either the panel discussion about toxic masculinity or her book. Yes, there’s “language”. Yes, she’s often sarcastic. But I believe that she is right about the negative and damaging impact of patriarchy and toxic masculinity not just upon women, but especially on men. I devoured this book in one day and was filled with anger, sadness and frustration.
In a recent article about domestic violence, Hayley Gleeson quotes Margaret Atwood,
“Men are afraid women will laugh at them and women are afraid men will kill them.”
One of the most common responses to the issues of domestic violence, toxic masculinity and misogyny is “not all men”. True. It’s not all men and we know that it is not all men. But that’s not the point and Ford addresses the “not all men” response. There has been too much silence for too long. If we wish to create a society in which all people are respected and valued, then men and women need to stand together to call out bad behaviour, to intervene and to speak up.
Are Women Human by Dorothy L Sayers
Dorothy L Sayers (1893-1957)was an English crime writer and poet, friend of C.S Lewis and one of the first women to receive a degree from Oxford. Although she finished with first-class honours in 1915, she had to wait a few years to receive her degree, as degrees were not awarded to women at that time. Typical! She is probably better known for her Lord Peter Wimsey mystery novels, however she also wrote many essays, of which two, ‘Are Women Human’ and ‘The Human-Not-Quite-Human’, are contained in this little book.
Sayers discusses the way women are always seen in reference to men, always as the “opposite sex” and she wonders if there is a “neighbouring sex”. After all, as she points out, “women are more like men than anything else in the world. They are human beings.” Sayers was writing in a time when women’s access to education and employment was restricted, so her main arguments focus on firstly, that women are human beings, just like men, and secondly, that every human being needs to have purpose and occupation. The upshot is that women want to be respected as individuals in their own right, with their own unique combination of abilities and interests, and not as a single homogeneous class. Perhaps the same could be said of every human being.
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Douglas Adam’s (1952-2001) science fiction cult classic, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy contains time travel, aliens, a depressed robot, as well as the end of the world. It is a hilarious and madcap ride around the galaxy and through time and I loved it. Labelled a “trilogy in four parts”, the book also included The Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Life, the Universe and Everything; and So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. Apparently there is also a fifth book in the trilogy, Mostly Harmless, which I will obviously have to track down. Originating as a radio program, the “trilogy” has gone on to include plays, comics, computer games as well as television and film adaptations. A definite must read for those with a warped and zany sense of humour.
Paradise Lost by John Milton
First published in 1667, Paradise Lost has been described as “the greatest epic poem in English literature.” In poetic form, Milton (1608-1674) recounts the Fall of Man, the temptation of Adam and Eve, and their exclusion from the Garden of Eden. Teskey (2005) says “Growing to understand Paradise Lost is a lifelong adventure”, which is good because it has taken me five years to finally finish my first reading and I think I got the gist of it. One of the problems is that it was an ebook, so because it wasn’t sitting right in front of me on my bedside cupboard with a bookmark sticking out, I would tend to forget all about it. It was also a book that required a fair bit of concentration. Anyone who has ever read Shakespeare would understand what I mean. I found that the best way of reading Milton, was to read it out loud (you should probably do this in private to avoid strange looks though.) Reading it out loud helped me to both get the rhythm and a sense of the drama. I definitely would like to read again, perhaps in another five years, but next time I will use an edition that I picked up from a Lifeline sale, which includes footnotes and some critical commentary.
I have been getting a bit behind on Book Bingo. Recent reads have not really been fitting into any categories but this month I am claiming The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy as my comedy read. After all it did me make me laugh – a lot.