reading projects · women in translation month

Women in Translation Month

Drafts are piling up. At the moment there are six of them, all in different stages of writing/editing. One of them is just a sentence long…

I’ve been away from the blog and the community for more than ten weeks now, and it’s harder than ever to come back to it. Plans and schedules for regular posting and reading/commenting on other people’s posts fell short. They started wilting as soon as I put them on paper.

I will obviously need more time before properly returning to blogging, but, in the meantime, since it’s August, I would like to try my best and take part in reading women writers in translation. I picked four books off of the shelf:

Mr Darwin’s Gardener. Kristina Carlson

Berlin lies in the East. Nellja Veremej

The Ant Heap. Margit Kaffka

The Vagabond. Colette


To manage at least two of these would be an achievement!

books · bookshelves · bookshops


Two weeks ago, while running some errands, I stopped by the bookshop. I thought it would be a short visit since my only intention was to return a collection of Turgenev’s stories that I borrowed more than two months ago. Last time I was there, their used book stock was disappointingly thin. The category ”used books” no longer existed on their web page so I feared that they were planning to cut it out completely.

What a pleasant surprise it was to see the shelves full! Naturally, I had to stay and check what was on offer. I found quite a number of wonderful titles, among them Durrell’s Menagerie Manor (for a ridiculously low price) and The Shipping News.

  • Look at Me. Anita Brookner

When books are cheap, I tend to grab any available title by an author of interest. Particularly when a twentieth-century British woman writer (that I am yet to discover) is in question.

  • The Bell. Iris Murdoch
  • The Philosopher’s Pupil. Iris Murdoch

I have only read (and loved) the first couple of pages of The Sea, the Sea, but I have read a lot about her writing during my final year at the university. It’s the philosophy of morality that attracted me to her. Looking forward to exploring!

  • Menagerie Manor. Gerald Durrell

The best kind of comfort read – British humor and animals!

  • A Peppered Moth. Margaret Drabble

After reading four of her books I can say I have mixed feelings towards Drabble. If I’m to be honest the feelings are slightly leaning towards the negative side… Still, my hand automatically reached for this book and I concurred with it.

  • The Shipping News. Annie Proulx

I have read it some time ago, but certain images of the sea come back to me fairly often. I always knew I would like to reread it so here it is…

And at last!!… My first Virago Modern Classic! I felt such a rush of excitement upon spotting the green spine that it did not matter which author or which title it was. I am content with it being Stead’s The Salzburg Tales mainly because she is Australian – having it near will be a reason more to build up my laughable knowledge of the literature of that country.

When books are cheap, I tend to grab any available title by a publisher of interest… Well, in any case, this is certainly true of Virago. I found a collection of stories, Close Company: Stories of Mothers and Daughters, and decided it’s coming home with me.

The next day, my sister invited me to a birthday shopping spree and, after purchasing a dress and some flowers for the balcony, we ended up at the Here I lost my restraint and bought all the books I saw (and put on hold) the previous day.

  • Her People: Memories of an Edwardian Childhood. Kathleen Dayus

Another Virago… The subtitle offers all the explanation needed.

  • Eminent Victorians. Lytton Strachey
  • Orlando. Virginia Woolf
  • The Life of Samuel Johnson. James Boswell

These three books share a connection. I wrote my master thesis on Orlando following my interest in Woolf’s understanding of the art of biography. The Life of Samuel Johnson was the book which she praised and held in high regard so it was essential to read it as part of the research. Eminent Victorians I haven’t read but always wanted to since it occupies a significant place in the history of biography as well.

  • Master Georgie. Beryl Bainbridge

This one came as a surprise since I did not notice it the day before. Bainbridge belongs to a group of writers I am looking forward to getting acquainted with. I read Master Georgie is brilliant.

  • Lorna Doone. R.D. Blackmore

It’s a classic I knew nothing about. The name was faintly familiar, but nothing else. The time will come to change that.

  • The Hobbit. J.R.R. Tolkien

I haven’t read it in the original language. Soon, I hope…

  • The Angel’s Game. Carlos Ruiz Zafón

The second book of the serial I am eager to dig into. Now I only have to get the other three!

Last but not least, A Gardener’s Guide to Herbs. I dwelled for a long time whether to buy this one or not since information on any possible herb is readily available on the internet at any given hour. However, I prefer having them in the form of a book and so the preference sealed the deal. Great photos, short instructions on sowing, caring for and harvesting 60 herbs; the book also states some culinary, medicinal, cosmetical and fragrance uses of these herbs. There are some craft ideas as well. Wonderful!

That was it.

book fairs · books · bookshelves

A Book Fair and Presents from Far Away

April’s Sarajevo Book Fair was as uninspiring as the previous one. Usually, I visit it on the first day, with Joanna – it’s been our tradition for the past eleven years. This year, however, she had better things to do, and I went, feeling no excitement at all, two days before the closing day with another friend of mine.

I had a faint hope of finding some of Aitmatov’s novels and I actually did find one – The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years. It was so ridiculously expensive that even dwelling on whether or not to buy it was out of the question. Here’s what I ended up buying/getting:

  • Satantango. Laszlo Krasznahorkai
  • The Ice Palace. Tarjei Vesaas
  • Dani u Valhali. (The Days in Valhalla) Refik Ličina
  • The Puppet Master. Jostein Gaarder
  • The Golovlyov Family. Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin
  • Tužne šansone. (The Sad Chansons) Dušan Gojkov

Last year I bought Vesaas’ The Birds and was thrilled to learn that Dereta was planning to publish The Ice Palace as well. I’ve been searching for this book for ages! It finally came out and of course, I had to have it. Satantango was another book of theirs that drew my attention. Kraszahorkai’s has been on my reading list for years, so this was an easy choice. (I love Dereta’s covers – very simple, minimalistic, still very beautiful and effective.)

Digging through a bunch of red ”Reč i misao” (A Word and a Thought) books, I stumbled upon The Golovlyov Family. Karen opened my eyes to Saltykov-Shchedrin’s work when she wrote about The History of a Town. I looked up the existing translations to Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian and learned that there are seven books in existence (which is not a wonder at all). I made a note to myself to pay closer attention when browsing old, used book boxes and shelves. It has paid off. I am happily looking forward to reading it.

Gaarder’s latest novel was an early birthday gift from a friend and another book I know I shall enjoy reading. (Even though I have a hunch it will not be in the league of his earlier novels.)

Not sure why I bought Dani u Valhalli. It’s a kind of a fictionalized memoir about the author’s life in exile (in Sweden)… While I was checking a box with used books in English, at the same stall, the vendor asked if he could give me a gift, picked Tužne šansone and gave it to me for ”being pretty”. He also had Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and Maugham’s stories (very cheap, forgot the title), but I had no cash left, and when I came back the next day both titles were gone. Just my luck. I still can’t get over them, especially Aristophanes…

In the end, it should be said that I am relatively satisfied with what I managed to get out of the Fair.

Next, I need to record the books sent by a dear friend in Malaysia. They have given (and continue to give) me so much pleasure. Just the sight of them is spirit-lifting.

A Nature Journal. Richard Mabey (Pure joy! Gorgeously illustrated by Clare Roberts. After reading it, I felt even more inspired to continue observing life in my small corner of the Earth.)

A Buzz in the Meadow. Dave Goulson (Another delightful title! I’m still reading it. Goulson knows how to tell a story.)

The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly. Sun-mi Hwang (A short and sweet novel about a hen who took things in her own.. wings.)

Pennine Way Companion. Alfred Wainwright (I love the visual aspect of this book – lots of beautiful illustrations and the font resembles handwriting. If I ever set my foot on England’s first continuous long-distance path for walkers, it will come very handy.)

So, that was April. On to write about the May book haul…

Geoff Dyer · reading · reading projects

Setting on a long journey…

It seems that my aversion to reading literature is slowly fading away.

I’ve been thinking about this issue, about all the general dissatisfactions regarding my reading. To use Geoff Dyer’s words:

If reading heightens your responses, shapes your idea of the world, gives you a sense of the purpose of life, then it is not surprising if, over time, reading should come to play a proportionatelly smaller role in the context of the myriad possibilities it has opened up. [..] Of course there is more to learn, more to read, but whereas, when I was a teenager, each new book represented an almost overwhelming addition to what I knew and felt, each new book now adds a smaller increment to the sum of knowledge.

 ”Reader’s Block‘, from Otherwise Known as the Human Condition


For the best part of my reading life, the main reason why I read literature was knowledge. I wanted to get to know the world, to learn as much as possible about a human being, to embrace a variety of perspectives and gain experience. I hunted for profound thoughts, searched for truth and principles, worked on developing my self-awareness, and hoped to gain some wisdom…

I realized that for the past few years I have been desperately trying to preserve the original strength of this twenty-years-standing reason for reading, that I have been refusing to acknowledge its recent irrelevance.

If I remember correctly, it was the summer of 2015 when I started complaining about how I had nothing left to learn. Of course, I didn’t mean literally nothing, but nothing that wouldn’t be ”a [relatively] small increment to the sum of knowledge” that I already had… The aversion towards literature that I’ve been experiencing for the last three months had two main roots: a brain strain and the strongest feeling of the pointlessness of reading that I’ve ever felt.

Dissatisfaction with reading was very much connected to my striving to hold on to knowledge as the number one reason for reading. I am now fully aware that this needs to be changed if I’m to enjoy literature again. The best course of action would be to concentrate more on a different kind of knowledge. Not profound thoughts but style and descriptions, not a human being but the human being, not the truth but the landscape and the atmosphere, et cetera.

Also, I want to give my reading a little bit of direction. I miss that. (Sometimes I think about going back to university.) Acting upon a wish to get (better) acquainted with the literature of the countries outside of Western Europe and the United States, I am setting on a journey around the world. As I wrote in my rough reading plan for this year, the countries of the former Soviet Union are as good a place to start as any.

From the Baltic countries, I will continue southwards to Ukraine, then southeast across the Caucasus, and then head straight east to the ”STANs”, with Russia as the final destination of this part of the journey.

I am not setting any deadlines.

John Steinbeck · reading

The Log from the Sea of Cortez. #1951 club

Still I struggle both with reading and writing.

During the previous month I read Barbery and Shakespeare, but without much success or satisfaction. Or joy, for that matter… It’s an expected effect of a lack of interest.

My feelings towards this state of affairs oscillate between acceptance and concern. On one hand, I embrace it as something normal, natural. Why should it not be? There are periods when one’s interest in reading (literature) drops, when the appeal of other interests is decidedly stronger. The brain needs variety, seeks and prefers a different kind of engagement every once in a while. It’s as simple as that… On the other hand, there is a tendency to think about this as of a problem, to sit and ponder the gravity of the reasons for the detachment, to try to come up with a solution/a plan to get back to the ”desired” state of mind as soon as possible…

I am more inclined towards the first line of reasoning. It’s more sensible as well as healthier.

Also, the reasons for the ”repairment” are all completely wrong and ridiculous: a) a faint wish to feel a strong desire to read, b) a thought that I should be reading because there are so many books and so little time, c) a sense of fear that, if I don’t push myself into reading, if I fail to keep the continuity (no matter the quality), I might never want to get back to reading literature again.

What rubbish! That I even have to reason against these ”reasons” is annoying enough. There are better things to occupy my mind with, better things to spend my time and energy on.

Working in the garden, for example.. observing the growth of its flora and the busyness of its fauna, getting better acquainted with the species living in my immediate surroundings (just the other day, for the first time in my life, I saw a snail chewing), learning and reading about nature in general…

Which brings me to the reason I started writing this post – The 1951 club, hosted by Karen and Simon.

My intention was to read Rachel Carson’s The Sea Around Us for the occasion, but in the end, I opted not to. After a quick comparative check of the structure and style of both of these books, Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez seemed to be a better option. I thought it could be more accessible as it’s offering more variety in themes without being too demanding in terms of presence of mind and concentration it requires.

The Log combines marine biology, anthropology, sociology and philosophy, and the best way to read it is one entry at a time (one per an afternoon would perhaps be ideal) since they give plenty food for thought.

It’s all seamlessly woven in together: collecting reports, observations about animals, accounts of the lives of the small coastal towns in the Gulf, adventures with the Mexicans, anecdotes from the life on the boat, musings on different topics (scientists, technology, sea monsters, teleological vs. non-teleological way of thinking, mutation, cannibalism, to name some).

The portraits and sketches of crew members were amongst the most enjoyable parts of the book. The good humor with which Steinbeck brought their personalities to light is infectious. Actually, good humor and wit are dominant characteristics of the narrative as a whole. Steinbeck is very observant, a master painter.

I was surprised to learn that Steinbeck’s wife Carol was a part of the crew. Not a single trace of her can be found on the pages. Similarly, Steinbeck’s or Ricketts’ names are nowhere mentioned. The book is written in first person plural so, most of the time a person is referred to as ”one of us” I guess it wouldn’t be wrong to suppose that the person in question is either Ricketts or Steinbeck… A strikingly beautiful eulogy at the end of the book compensates for Ricketts’ absence from the narrative.

There is a delightful and hilariously funny episode featuring the Sally Lightfoots which tells of a battle of wits:

These little crabs, with brilliant cloisonné carapaces, walk on their tiptoes. They have remarkable eyes and an extremely fast reaction time. In spite of the fact that they swarm on the rocks at the Cape, and to a less degree inside the Gulf, they are exceedingly hard to catch. They seem to be able to run in any one of four directions; but more than this, perhaps because of their rapid reaction time, they appear to read the mind of their hunter. They escape the long-handled net, anticipating from what direction it is coming. If you walk slowly, they move slowly ahead of you in droves. If you hurry, they hurry. When you plunge at them, they seem to disappear in little puffs of blue smoke—at any rate, they disappear. It is impossible to creep up on them. They are very beautiful, with clear brilliant colors, reds and blues and warm browns. We tried for a long time to catch them. Finally, seeing fifty or sixty in a big canyon of rock, we thought to outwit them. Surely we were more intelligent, if slower, than they. Accordingly, we pitted our obviously superior intelligence against the equally obvious physical superiority of Sally Lightfoot. Near the top of the crevice a boulder protruded. One of our party, taking a secret and circuitous route, hid himself behind this boulder, net in hand. He was completely concealed even from the stalk eyes of the crabs. Certainly they had not seen him go there. The herd of Sallys drowsed on the rocks in the lower end of the crevice. Two more of us strolled in from the seaward side, nonchalance in our postures and ingenuousness on our faces. One might have thought that we merely strolled along in a contemplation which severely excluded Sally Lightfoots. In time the herd moved ahead of us, matching our nonchalance. We did not hurry, they did not hurry. When they passed the boulder, helpless and unsuspecting, a large net was to fall over them and imprison them. But they did not know that. They moved along until they were four feet from the boulder, and then as one crab they turned to the right, climbed up over the edge of the crevice and down to the sea again.

But, crabs were not the only ones that successfully resisted human advances. The crew struggled with equipment as well (an outboard motor and a camera), and these struggles were a constant source of humor throughout the book.

It is impossible to say how bad our moving pictures were—one film laboratory has been eager to have a copy of the film, for it embodies in a few thousand feet, so they say, every single thing one should not do with a camera. As an object lesson to beginners they think it would be valuable. If we took close-ups of animals, someone was in the light; the aperture was always too wide or too narrow; we made little jerky pan shots back and forth; we have one of the finest sequences of unadorned sky pictures in existence—but when there was something to take about which we didn’t care, we got it perfectly. We dare say there is not in the world a more spirited and beautiful picture of a pair of blue and white shorts than that which we took passing Sail Rock.

For all the troubles they had with it, the camera was just a machine they failed to learn to operate properly. The motor, on the other hand, was a ”hateful living thing” that had a personality and quirks of its own:

We observed the following traits in it and we were able to check them again and again:

1. Incredibly lazy, the Sea-Cow loved to ride on the back of a boat, trailing its propeller daintily in the water while we rowed.

2. It required the same amount of gasoline whether it ran or not, apparently being able to absorb this fluid through its body walls without recourse to explosion. It had always to be filled at the beginning of every trip.

3. It had apparently some clairvoyant powers, and was able to read our minds, particularly when they were inflamed with emotion. Thus, on every occasion when we were driven to the point of destroying it, it started and ran with a great noise and excitement. This served the double purpose of saving its life and of resurrecting in our minds a false confidence in it.

4. It had many cleavage points, and when attacked with a screwdriver, fell apart in simulated death, a trait it had in common with opossums, armadillos, and several members of the sloth family, which also fall apart in simulated death when attacked with a screwdriver.

5. It hated Tex, sensing perhaps that his knowledge of mechanics was capable of diagnosing its shortcomings.

6. It completely refused to run: (a) when the waves were high, (b) when the wind blew, (c) at night, early morning, and evening, (d) in rain, dew, or fog, (e) when the distance to be covered was more than two hundred yards. But on warm, sunny days when the weather was calm and the white beach close by—in a word, on days when it would have been a pleasure to row—the Sea-Cow started at a touch and would not stop.

7. It loved no one, trusted no one. It had no friends.

The more I think about it, the more I like The Log. I might be going back to some of the episodes for a dose of light and laughter. The only Steinbeck’s work I read before this was Of Mice and Men. I don’t remember much about it. I mean, I don’t remember if there was humor. It wouldn’t hurt to revisit it.

books · bookshelves

New Kids On the Block

I find it difficult to come back to the blog every time a harsh break in writing happens. It’s even harder this time because I haven’t read a single book for almost five weeks now. I feel completely disconnected. Indifferent. The thought of abandoning this space doesn’t disturb me at all.

Current feelings aside (for they shouldn’t be acted upon), in order to make the comeback easier, I am just going to note this year’s purchases. All of the books were bought at, the delightful, recently found bookshop, and all of them were written by the authors I’ve never read before.

A bunch of joy that awaits me:


  • The Light Years. Elizabeth Jane Howard
  • Prodigal Summer. Barbara Kingsolver
  • Lucia in London. E.F. Benson
  • Playing Sardines. Michèle Roberts
  • Juggling. Barbara Trapido





  • The Awakening. Kate Chopin
  • Undue Influence. Anita Brookner
  • Time and Tide. Edna O’Brien
  • The Conversations at Curlow Creek. David Malouf
  • Singular Rebellion. Saiichi Maruya




Jean Rhys · Margery Sharp

The Innocents

I may have seen the name around, but I certainly don’t remember seeing it. I am talking about Margery Sharp.

margery-2017Browsing Jane’s blog, her post on celebrating Sharp’s birthday caught my attention. The comment section was particularly persuasive, so I decided to give it a go and join in. After all, one of the aims of this year’s reading is to get better acquainted with British women writers of the 20th century. After some research and consideration, I chose The Innocents.

the-innocents-margery-sharp-001It tells a story about an ”elderly single woman of no position and small means” who finds herself in charge of an intellectually disabled girl. Cecilia, the girl’s mother, comes back to collect her, full of grand but unrealistic plans for little Antoinette’s future.

One could draw a comparison with another character named Antoinette – that of Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea, (though her story and her character are of greater complexity, of course). Both are unusual, so to say… different. Sharp’s Antoinette is ”an innocent”, a child with a disability, with special needs. Rhys’ Antoinette is neither black nor white enough, and therefore a stranger in her own country as well as in the adopted one. Both are taken or threatened to be taken away from the place they feel most at home, by the people who are failing to understand their needs and personalities. And both are facing a dreadful future.

The novel is engaging but not sentimental and I appreciated it all the more for it. The narrator, the elderly lady who is never named, is acutely perceptive and witty. Funny, as well. Here’s the first sentence:

My father was a connoisseur of wine; but times and incomes change and we with them, and now I am a connoisseur of weather.

I, obviously, do not know what kind of a person Margery Sharp was, and this is the first of her books that I have read, but I think I would not be wrong in saying that the mentioned qualities were hers as well, that she bestowed them to her character as she did her age.

I loved the descriptions of the village, its physical appearance as well as its spirit, its people. The first part of the novel, which deals with getting to know the child and getting to learn how to meet its needs, is wonderful. (Could be used as a textbook!) Sharp writes well and has a great command over her story.

I could make one remark, though – she leaves no food for thought to the reader. Everything is explained. Take this passage, for example:

Antoinette appeared neither glad nor sorry to see me back; certainly perfectly incurious as to where I had been. It was as though she had made a final retreat into passivity. Mrs. Brewer reported her good as gold all day, just curled up on her cot so quiet as a carrot. I had often thought that Mrs. Brewer’s similes seemed to spring from quite deep, if unconscious perception. With too much to bear, her last desperate and final escape frustrated, Antoinette was retreating from being a little animal into becoming a vegetable.

Wouldn’t it come out stronger if she had stopped at the carrot? If she had let the reader do the math?… The fact that the story is told in the first person narrative makes the elaboration, to some extent, excusable.

She does leave one thing to ponder on, though. The plural in the novel’s title.

All things considered, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and will heartily come back for more. She seems perfect for reading in between more demanding works. Also, it would be a good idea to save her stories for the uncommonly stressful days that tend to present themselves every now and then…