I'm a GoodReads user testing new waters after the serious website changes. I mostly read fiction, usually Anglophone classics/ modern classics; I like nonfiction (mostly social and cultural history), good fantasy and graphic novels. For guilty pleasure, I read advice and how-to books. I made at least two reading resolutions recently; 1. read less, live more; 2. read books which give me more pleasure. I have poor filters, and books I find stylistically pleasing tend to be depressing, so I need to do something about that; if you think you know a book that is very well written, but won't make me weep, please drop me a line.

Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston

Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston - Valerie Boyd This is a very good biography, as far as I can tell, and a good resource, if you happen to teach anything by Zora Neale Hurston. While it took me a long time (in months, not pages) to get used to Boyd's style of narration (somehow it felt a little artificial, or a little too dreamy - I put it aside for two years), I later had a ball reading this, once I went past the childhood section.

Maybe it is the biographer's angle, but it strikes me how modern Hurston comes across as; unwilling to compromise her self or do what others expected her to do unless it allowed her to grow on her own terms. Yet this book not only gave me a much deeper understanding of Hurston's life and views, it also suggested many resources and short bits of writing I used while teaching [b:Their Eyes Were Watching God|37415|Their Eyes Were Watching God|Zora Neale Hurston||1643555]. Find an essay on High John de Conquer, a folklore figure, here: (bear in mind that the first and last paragraphs were changed to more uplifting per editor's request), and, as a bonus, a lesson plan I found online on folklore in [b:Their Eyes Were Watching God|37415|Their Eyes Were Watching God|Zora Neale Hurston||1643555]: )

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - Tennessee Williams
Why is it so damn hard for people to talk?
Something's left out of this story. What did you leave out?
This was probably the first book on my to-read list I have added. It is enormously good, and then suddenly stops being that enormously good-I've read the three endings, and have issues with each. Still, it is outstandingly well constructed - the situation is built out of several equally serious conflicts, in a way I find as rare as it is balanced.

Statki, które mijają się nocą

Statki, które mijają się nocą - Zofia Chądzyńska Zabawne jest to, że wzięłam do ręki tę ksiażkę szukając czegoś, co przez jeden wieczór pomoże mi odpocząć od pracy, i po dziesięciu stronach jęknęłam; nastolatka na progu choroby psychicznej, matka pracoholiczka po fatalnym rozwodzie i depresji. Książka ta ma jednak tę niezaprzeczalną zaletę, że kończy się zdecydowanie szybciej, i chyba, choć niejednoznacznie, dobrze.

Nie jestem w stanie ocenić prawdziwości klinicznej opisanej sytuacji - czy Eryka miałaby prawo wykaraskać się z tak niewielką pomocą ze stanu graniczącego z chorobą - ale sposób poprowadzenia postaci jej, jej matki, i innych postaci wydaje mi się prawdopodobny. Na moje oko autorka nawet dociążyła sytuację, bo pewnie dużo mniejsza trauma niż przedstawiona mogłaby doprowadzić do podobnych skutków. Nie przeszkadza mi to, że książka kończy się w tym momencie, w którym się kończy, bez przeprowadzenia nas przez cały żmudny proces odbudowy relacji.

Zimny płomień (paperback)

Zimny płomień (paperback) - Yukio Mishima, Henryk Lipszyc This is a collection of stories by Yukio Mishima, showcasing stories such as 'Onnagata', 'A List of Bridges', 'The Priest of Shiga Temple and His Love', 'Patriotism', 'Death in Midsummer', 'Sunday', 'Fountains in the Rain' and 'Pearl'.

The aim was to show Mishima's versatility, but I must say it was an interesting test for me as a reader.

I felt drawn to more philosophical stories, such as 'A List of Bridges' (an atmospheric and dark story of determination and sense of superiority, and of how what we consider our dreams turn out to be merely cliches), or 'The Priest of Shiga Temple and His Love' (a story Paulo Coelho should read each morning and evening, and then weep).

I quite liked the 'lighter' stories in the collection: satirical 'Sunday' bored me a little, but I liked the subversiveness of 'Fountains in the rain' and the way "Pearl' represented the concept of saving face. But I had a huge problem with what supposedly was the core of the collection: 'Patriotism' (the single story Mishima believed should be read as representative of his style and concerns), 'Onnagata', and 'Death in Midsummer'.

The latter combines oppressiveness and detachment, and features quite a lot of telling in relation to showing (an important feature of Mishima's writing technique, I presume). 'Onnagata' is intelligent, written with perceptiveness and a degree of sympathy; characters come alive, there is still much telling to aid the showing, but I accept it as a part of the convention.

'Patriotism' - I had mixed feelings, to put it mildly. It is almost too pretty, and authentically gruesome at once. It is kitchy and propagandistic; saccharine in its idealised portrayal of female focaliser, and yet at least to some degree realistic. Not to mention ominous.

Breakfast of Champions

Breakfast of Champions - Kurt Vonnegut Why, oh why, did I choose to read this particular book?

I think I wouldn't have finished it if not for the fact I was reading it for a group challenge (immature, I know). Also, I knew there exists a film adaptation of this, so I hoped that something by way of a plot would appear. And it did, albeit debatably and almost too late.

This book is beyond irritating - I hate the way Vonnegut needs to explain the _literal_ plane of nearly every simile or metaphor he uses, inevitably following this with a line drawing. Example:
(...)no cry from a whistle had got very far from Earth for this reason: sound could only travel in an atmosphere, and the atmosphere of Earth relative to the planet wasn’t even as thick as the skin of an apple. Beyond that lay an all but perfect vacuum.

An apple was a popular fruit which looked like this:

[insert line drawing of an apple]

The narrator states early in the book it is to be his present to himself on the occasion of his 50th birthday; take his words seriously. This is a book only an author could love. I can hardly explain the two-star rating I gave it.

Malgudi Days

Malgudi Days - R.K. Narayan, Jhumpa Lahiri These stories feel universal; I am uncomfortably aware that this comment - from a white reader, on a non-white author's work - may smack of insensitivity to difference, but they feel universal the way greatest Russian literature does; they present human weaknesses and imperfection in a humorous, but, more frequently, objective and non-judgmental way.

My favourite story was Engine Trouble; I really liked and may use An Astrologer's Day, The Missing Mail, Lawley Road, God and the Cobbler, and Hungry Child.


Snow - Orhan Pamuk, Maureen Freely Suffocating prose; monologues in spades; hard to understand without footnotes, which made me care less for the plot; I have a feeling English translation is not too good - at some point, accidentally, I switched from a print copy in English to an e-book in Polish and the change in the ease of reading was amazing, something I rarely experience these days. It seems that either the English translation is less flowing than the Polish one, or that the Polish translator took some liberties with the text.


Harlem - Tomasz Zalewski Raczej proste wprowadzenie niż monografia; książka napisana dziennikarskim stylem, dużo relacji o ludziach, bardzo szybko się czyta. Trochę nowych dla mnie informacji o historii Harlemu.

Nights at the Circus

Nights at the Circus - Angela Carter I find the way in which Carter - herself an anorexia survivor - draws attention to female physicality in a way both intimate and vaguely uncomfortable.

Life After Life

Life After Life - Kate Atkinson A book I trudged through and find hard to rate. I found the premise (chance, the protagonist dying, dying, dying at different ages and in different circumstances, only to make new choices) extremely irritating, not entertaining - especially at the beginning (how many times did little Ursula die?), but the book grew on me.

I liked the supporting characters (I know the little brother got a separate book all to himself), the way Atkinson represented Ursula's private world, mental and emotional, at different ages. I liked how normal she felt (although I believe the fact I read [b:The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family|23856|The Sisters The Saga of the Mitford Family|Mary S. Lovell||37169] helped me appreciate and understand her background). I loved -and was taken aback by - the most uncomfortable (WW II) parts of the book ; her being stuck with Hitler's entourage in August 1939, and subsequent suicide with her daughter in April 1945 in Berlin; this is followed by an 'alternative life' scenario, when she becomes an ARP warden in London during the Blitz - and the book is worth reading for this part only . I loved the research and the level of detail: on Hugh's (Ursula's father's) letters from the Front:
His letters were cheerful and guarded ('the men are wonderful, they have such character'). He used to mention these men by name ('Bert', 'Alfred', 'Wilfred') but since the Battle of Ypres they had become simply 'men' and Sylvie wondered if Bert and Alfred and Wilfred were dead.
I have, however, failed to connect with the protagonist; her life was interesting, she wasn't. Which makes a lot of sense, but spoiled reading for me.

The Price of Salt

The Price of Salt - Patricia Highsmith Probably a better-written love story than anything Goodreads recommends on the occasion of the Romance Week. The description of coup de foudre is strikingly accurate; the situation when someone takes you into their life so generously and voraciously you fail to understand you do the same.

Very well crafted, with repeated patterns (the hands, the dresses, the chorus-like, but not nagging, repetitions), and beautiful, if somewhat too simplistic, shifts of balance throughout. Writing feels like Yates' - perhaps with less immediacy, the details do not cut you with the same sharpness as in [b:Revolutionary Road|48328|Revolutionary Road|Richard Yates||1235136], but the overall feel is similar. There's a wonderful perceptiveness and attention to fleeting emotions and states.

At some point I was struck by the (obvious) comparison with [b:Lolita|7604|Lolita|Vladimir Nabokov||1268631] - the escape into the American interior; imagine my surprise when I realised [b:The Price of Salt|52258|The Price of Salt|Patricia Highsmith||50983] predated [b:Lolita|7604|Lolita|Vladimir Nabokov||1268631], and read it was an inspiration to Nabokov.

The description of Therese's temporary employment in a department store is downright dystopian - the workers introduce themselves and sometimes address each other with numbers; Therese signs her first card to Carol with her full employee number, and that only.

Notes to self: possible addition to the curriculum. Might want to read Highsmith's biography, [b:Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith|124860|Beautiful Shadow A Life of Patricia Highsmith|Andrew Wilson||120245].

The Daughter of Time

The Daughter of Time - Josephine Tey 3,5 stars, a pleasant, old-fashioned read.


Emma - Jane Austen, Fiona Stafford 1. I read this the second time thanks to Kelly's excellent review, and I raised the rating from two stars to three (the previous time, I only finished it because I was really curious about what would happen to Harriet, and was really in a "either this book goes or I do" mode).

2. Emma is very didactic, the subjects in question being (mainly) marriage/ family responsibilities ("unsuitable connexion[s]... [do] not produce much happiness") and class (one should always know one's place; upstarts make fools of themselves; carelessness is a sin, being considerate is one of the highest virtues; it is impossible to obtain the je ne sais quoi of gentility by imitation.

3. Many good quotations. The Eltons and all Maple Grove references were in particular a source of subtle comic relief.

4. I actually considered making a "Mr Knightley disapproves" meme for the purpose of reviewing this book, but my feminist conscience revolted (even if, what do I care?) Still, I love this quotation (Mrs Elton, One Who Does Not Know Her Station in Life, as evidenced by the lack of honorifics in her speech, addresses Mr Knightley):
"That's quite unnecessary; I see Jane every day: -- but as you like. It is to be a morning scheme, you know, Knightley; quite a simple thing. I shall wear a large bonnet, and bring one of my little baskets hanging on my arm. Here, -- probably this basket with pink ribbon. Nothing can be more simple, you see. And Jane will have such another. There is to be no form or parade -- a sort of gipsy party. We are to walk about your gardens, and gather the strawberries ourselves, and sit under trees; and whatever else you may like to provide, it is to be all out of doors; a table spread in the shade, you know. Every thing as natural and simple as possible. Is not that your idea?"

"Not quite. My idea of the simple and the natural will be to have the table spread in the dining-room. The nature and the simplicity of gentlemen and ladies, with their servants and furniture, I think is best observed by meals within doors. When you are tired of eating strawberries in the garden, there shall be cold meat in the house."
I have a feeling this guy would not appreciate scented candles (whereas she would love Pinterest and aspirational decor pages).

Now, off to read [b:Jane Fairfax|262744|Jane Fairfax|Joan Aiken||254685] by [a:Joan Aiken|12075|Joan Aiken|].

Maszyna do pisania. Kurs kreatywnego pisania

Maszyna do pisania. Kurs kreatywnego pisania - Katarzyna Bonda 3,5 gwiazdki. Fajne porządkujące narzędzie do pracy z tekstem dla nauczycieli i uczniów szkół średnich, ew. początku filologii.

The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity - Julia Cameron I've seen this book referenced by [a:Victoria Moran|79557|Victoria Moran|] and [a:Sarah Ban Breathnach|3495853|Sarah Ban Breathnach|], and finally decided to read it at a time when I felt very, very stuck in a very, very major rut. Nothing pleased, I was not capable of looking forward to doing anything. This book really helped. I did not notice any increase in my creativity (that was not the goal), but it was a great incentive to sit down and think about things that could give me pleasure or seem fun to do, to make travel plans - and then to acually start doing things that are on the list.

Serce przepiórki

Serce przepiórki - Marek Wawrzkiewicz Trzy do czterech wierszy sprawiły mi dużą przyjemność, reszta raczej techniczna, wolę dużo późniejsze tomiki pana Wawrzkiewicza.

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