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.