One book a month: Nomadic suggestions for your year of reading

Transnational and nomadic reading suggestions, one book a month, in a tour around the globe.

January – A new beginning. Winter. We go to Italy with Italo Calvino’s IF ON WINTER NIGHT A TRAVELER (1979). A novel of multiple beginnings, for a meta-fiction galore. Its Chapter One offers a stunning, memorable example of an opening chapter.

February – On this Valentine’s Day, let’s celebrate the transnational love between a young Chinese woman and an Englishman in A CONCISE CHINESE-ENGLISH DICTIONARY FOR LOVERS (2007) by Xiaolu Gu. Learning how to love while learning a foreign language. Mastering English will coincide with a discovered self-confidence. The author lives between London and Beijing.

March – March madness … Then, a book that celebrates madness and oddity, THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF TRISTRAM SHANDY, GENTLEMAN (1759) by Laurence Sterne. Genial, postmodern before postmodernism.

April – Stay with me on how I picked this month’s selection… Spring… the Prague Spring of 1968… A Czech writer, Bohumil Hrabal (1914–1997), and its novella TOO LOUD A SOLITUDE (1977). A love for books–also as physical objects, and a message against censorship and political oppression. Lyrical, funny, moving.

May – It’s always flourishing in the Caribbean. Jean Rhys, WIDE SARGASSO SEA (1982). A female, post-colonial gaze giving voice to “the madwoman in the attic” from Jane Eyre.

June Because on the other side of the world is not summer… THE OLD MAN WHO READ LOVE STORIES (1989) by Chilean writer Luis Sepúlveda.

July – Summer in Paris, a murder, multi-ethnic encounters, traveling to Brooklyn, religious fanatics: ARAB JAZZ (2012) by French-Mauritian author Karim Miské. Brilliant, for plots, characters and style. I read it in the Italian translation; it has been published in English in the UK (but not yet in the US). The book ends with a playlist of the songs mentioned throughout the book.

August – “On August 16, 1968, I was handed a book written by a certain Abbe Vallet.” This is the opening sentence in Umberto Eco’s THE NAME OF THE ROSE (1980).

September – The academic year has just started, and this is when A.S. Byatt’s POSSESSION (1990) begins. Lots of literary references, but with a light touch. Somehow, the romantic counterpart of The Name of the Rose.

October – It’s Fall and then it’s Winter in Haruki Murakami’s HARD-BOILED WONDERLAND AND THE END OF THE WORLD (1991).

November Icelandic author, Audur Ava Ólafsdóttir with her BUTTERFLIES IN NOVEMBER (2004). A woman traveling with her friend’s child in an on-the-road adventure of self-discovery. I read it in Italian a few years ago (with the title, La donna è un’isola/ “The woman is an island”) and is now available in English too. It includes strange, improbable recipes.

December – Erri De Luca’s GOD’S MOUNTAIN (2002). Because a key moment of the book occurs on New Year’s Eve. I wrote about this book in a previous post.


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