Border, by Kapka Kassabova

Kapka Kassabova’s Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe is an example of why I like to wait until the very end of the year/new year to write my year in review post. I just finished it and I think it pushed aside other contenders for my favourite non-fiction of 2017. I learned about Border when Rebecca (@Ofbooksandbikes on Twitter) recommended it at Book Riot.

Kassabova was born in Bulgaria, which her family left in the early 1990s after the end of Communist rule. She now lives in Scotland. For Border, she roams the region where Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey meet, writing a blend of travelogue, memoir, and history. Kassabova is a poet, and it shows not just in the book’s language, but in what I’d call her metaphorical thinking: the book is full of rivers and bridges, for instance, natural borders and marks of human attempts to cross them. Border alternates short, “poetic” sections with more straight reportage, but the border between these two approaches is one Kassabova keeps permeable. Myth, mysticism and history mingle; sometimes it’s hard to tell if the tale of a border crosser is literally true, if she really met the same woman who carved her name in a border tree decades ago, or just another Zora with a similar story. But all the stories of people confined by, forced across, or fleeing over borders feel “true” in some way. Whether she has met them in a story or in reality, Kassabova brings people to vivid life on her pages. Continue reading

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Recent(ish) Reading List

My grades are in, my wrapping is done (much earlier than usual!), I’m nearly done updating my course schedule for next term, my stockings are hung by the chimney with care. Time to catch up on blogging! I’m thinking about my “reading year in review” post and my reading goals for next year, but in the meantime, here are some things I’ve been reading (and listening to) this fall.

Lots and Lots of Mysteries

This has once again become my genre of choice. Some highlights: Continue reading

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Ah, September

A month ago I finished Reservoir 13Reading (most of) the Man Booker longlist had really restored my reading mojo. I was reading a lot, I was able to immerse myself in reading again, nothing would stop me now! Yeah. Since then I have read a book and three quarters. Short ones.

When I wrote that Reservoir 13 post, the first week of term had just ended. Since then, the reality of work during the semester has set in. I’m often too tired to concentrate after dinner, my main reading time. I’ve listened to a lot of mystery audio in lieu of reading. But now I’m settling into the semester routine, my reading pace is picking up again. I thought some long-weekend blogging might help keep the momentum going.

Continue reading

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Reservoir 13 and My Booker Shortlist

Last night I finished the final book I’ll manage to read before the Man Booker shortlist is announced Wednesday morning, and I loved it.

Sunita said that Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 is a kind of “structural inverse” of Solar Bones

Whereas Reservoir 13 takes a distanced view of a village and slowly draws you into individual lives, community relationships, and the natural world, Solar Bonestakes one man’s life experiences and pans out to encompass the surrounding community. Both juxtapose quotidian events with large-scale change (especially environmental hazards and how we are changing our natural and built surroundings). The main characters are imperfect but humane and caring. Ordinary people turn out to be much more than their simple descriptions suggest.

That strikes me as about right. I loved both books, but Reservoir 13 might have a slight edge. A visiting girl disappears from a small village on New Year’s Eve, and McGregor follows the community through the next thirteen years. We catch glimpses of the characters, watch lovers come together and part, births and deaths, and the cycle of both natural and village life (so many lambing seasons, well-dressings, and Christmas pantomimes). Certain sentences repeat themselves, with slight variations, patterns a reader begins to look for.  Continue reading

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Solar Bones, by Mike McCormack

when I opened Solar Bones by Mike McCormack and I saw the way it begins

the bell

the bell as

hearing the bell as

hearing the bell as standing here

the bell being heard standing here

I remembered someone had said it is one long sentence, if you can call it a sentence when there’s no period at the end, and for that matter no capital letter at the start and

I said to my husband that James Joyce has a lot to answer for, inspiring Irish writers to try this stuff, thinking of Eimear McBride’s book that I couldn’t get through no matter how great everyone said it is but

actually, although there are some fragmentary poetic bits like those opening lines, most of this novel doesn’t really feel experimental, being broken up into paragraphs that help you follow the wandering logic of the narrator, and those poetic moments come at places that feel right, not to mention that

the fact that it has a lot less punctuation than your typical novel effectively represents the stream of Marcus Conway’s consciousness, which I really enjoyed following so I ended up liking this book a lot.

Continue reading

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