Many of you will know I borrow most of my (printed) reading material from my local public library. I’ll buy the occasional treat for myself, but if I bought every book I wanted I would run out of money pretty quickly. We library members can put in title requests, but I have wondered how much a community’s reading habits and tastes, and exposure to new writers, are potentially shaped by purchasers and suppliers.
I’m lucky in that my library is well-resourced; there are new titles on the shelves all the time, and these are slowly becoming more diverse. I’ve often worried my reading proclivities are too Western-centric and the only person who can turn that around is me. I have no excuse.
This is why I grabbed Eka Kurniawan’s Man Tiger off the shelf as soon as I saw it for two big reasons. Indonesia has become a country of real interest for me since Keira has been studying the language at school – and even received an Excellence Award at the National Australia Indonesia Language Awards late last year (I take the chance to brag when I can!) – and also because of the growth of the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. I’d love to go one year.
The second reason is due to Kurniawan’s rising star reputation in the literary world from his novel Beauty is a Wound and excellent written profiles, such as this essay by Gillian Terzis in the New Yorker. I was curious to read his work.
Now I’ve finished Man Tiger, I can see that the accolades are well-deserved. His storytelling is quite different to most other writers that I’ve read: while time progresses linearly between sections, within these the story loops around, shifting between characters and their backstories, often giving the impression of (often violent) events from different POVs in quick succession. I admit I found this stylistic choice, especially when the narrator directly addresses the reader, slightly jarring and I wondered why Kurniawan had made this choice. It wasn’t until the final quarter, where these connections, their mysteries, all finally, tragically, came together, leading up to the masterful conclusion, did I realise how carefully structured it was. Then I wanted to go back and start all over again.
The Natural Way of Things was on my 2015 fiction Christmas list as “my number #1 book choice this Christmas season”. I finished it late yesterday afternoon and all expectations were met – and exceeded. Part of me doesn’t want to talk about it yet because I’m still processing the experience: the narrative (unflinching), themes (frighteningly identifiable)… and more.
Wood’s style, observations, are precise and perfect. This lovely observation, for example, of women as they lay on a massage bed: “The women’s eyes were always shut and their faces were flattened and stratched by the pressure of the surface, mouths wide and lips flat against their teeth, and they looked like those photos of the faces of astronauts going into space”.
The ending was a tantalising mystery – I think that’s why I read the second half in a single sitting. What would happen? I won’t give away any spoilers, but every twist made sense, Wood taking the reader further down into bleakness and I finished with a hollow feeling in my chest – there was a resolution, but damn… (you’ll understand if you’ve read it!)
Next is Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, on loan from a girlfriend. I’ve only just started, so my impressions are only half-formed, but I can already see I’m going to need to be in a particular sort of mood when I sit down with it. The way it’s broken down into sections, divided again into sub-headings with blog-post-sized morsels of advice, will appeal to those who respond well to Gilbert’s brand of galvanising cheerfulness. If you’re familiar with her work, you’ll already know if that’s you or not. If not, this book would be a good place to start.
What are you reading this month?