norwegian wood by haruki murakami

when someone expresses interest in trying haruki murakami’s body of work, i always recommend to start with “norwegian wood”.

it’s one of his most approachable books, being “just a love story”, but the reader still gets murakami’s distinct voice, the one that utterly confuses and bewitches you.

for me “norwegian wood” is an endlessly re-readable book. i’ve read it first in russian translation several times, and now moved on to english translation (will i ever be able to read any other version?).

add this novel to your to-read list if you want to know heartbreaking beauty, unfathomable logic, bottomless tragedy, and one fabulous kobayashi midori (she’s my favourite).

p.s.
steev, i hope this helps 8)

the buried giant by kazuo ishiguro

i bought this book so long ago that i don’t remember when and where (and that doesn’t happen often, mind you). however, it was clearly during my ishiguro-barnes phase that lasted for a while in mid 2010s (beavers, doesn’t that sound like a long time ago).

with this book ishiguro further reaffirms my opinion that he’s of the rare type of writers who write differently in every new book. “the buried giant” is nothing like “never let me go” or “remains of the day” or any other book of his.

this time he seems to try his hand at a fable-tale mixture.there are knights, dragons, mentions of king arthur. signifiers are all present, but the plot breaks out of the mold. the protagonists don’t reach the goal that was posted at the start, the curse is lifted for worse, and the knight ends up defending the dragon.

you might say “oh well, postmodernism again”, and i’d reply “yep, you got in one”. as much as we are tired of it, when done well, postmodernist novel is a delight, and kazuo ishiguro delivers on that front.

this book is three out of five = liked it. if you are not into tales with plot twists, you can safely put “the buried giant” aside. but if you are (or a fan of ishiguro’s), then your time won’t be wasted.

strong female lead by arwa mahdawi

arwa mahdawi has had a column in the guardian for few years now, and i always have enjoyed reading it. so, when she wrote a book, it immediately went on my to-read list.

but even if you never heard about arwa before, trust me, this book is worth your attention.

“strong female lead” is a non-fiction that examines and challenges mainstream assumptions about leadership. this is not another book that tells you to try harder or emulate your middle-aged male boss, but it’s not all touchy-feely and happy-clappy, if you allow me this colloquialisms.

arwa’s style is easy to read, to comprehenend, and to digest. it strikes the balance between being approachable and having hard evidence for the claims made.

on my five point scale, “strong female lead” gets full marks, and i wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who wants to become a better leader, no conditions applied. you don’t have to be a woman to find this book useful.

gayme changer by jens schadendorf

this is the second time when i read the book because i have met its author. (first one is “a is for angelica“)

jens and i ran across each other at the university where we both doing masters degree; as every published author should do, he mentioned that he just had a book published. my dear readers (all ten of you) can easily guess that conversation flowed effortlessly from there.

“gayme changer” stands out thanks to being a business book about successfull lgbtq+ people. no othering, no sob stories, no doom and gloom. it was refreshing, honestly.

when setting that aside, the book itself is aimed at a specific audience looking for business strategy related literature, but not written in the impenetrable style of michael porter & co. if you are such reader, you already know it. then, i wholeheartedly recommend you to read “gayme changer”. if you are not, then you can still be happy on behalf of lgbtq+ people in corporate world 8)

this mournable body by tsitsi dangarembga

”this mournable body” is not a happy book by any means. but don’t let that repel you. this is one of those books when 2020 booker prize makes perfect sense (i feel the need to specify this as there are instances where i personally don’t understand what virtues warranted a literary award).

the novel is written in second person, which is a rarity, especially for the long-form. generally i am sceptical of second person narration, but here it was executed brilliantly. instead of feeling like the book was monologuing at me, it was slowly wrapping the story around me, making me identify with the protagonist at a very fundamental level. by the time i realised that the protagonist is actually not a very nice person, albeit troubled, i already felt like i’m walking in her shoes, and thus was willing to extend way more empathy.

i recommend you to read this book if you want to learn about a massively different life, compared to your own, on the safe presumption that you are not a woman living in zimbabwe and struggling with major mental health problems exacerbated by poverty.

noise damage by james kennedy

the way i found this book is more interesting than the opinion i have about it.

i was on my way to paris in march 2022, waiting for boarding in the budapest airport. when i found a free seat, there was a book on the chair next to me, with the a piece of paper sticking out that said “take me. read me. pass me on!” how could i resist such call to action? (didn’t read it during the holiday – i was too busy enjoying france, and wrapped in tokyo ghoul drama in the downtime)

i tried the book later (in april, when firmly back to budapest). it’s a recount of the author’s failed musical career. i see why people rate it so high on goodreads: the narrator has sense of humour, distinct style, and, unsurprisingly, nearly perfect pacing.

unfortunately, as the subject itself doesn’t interest me, i haven’t finished it. i pass this book on hoping that next reader will enjoy it.

black sun by rebecca roanhorse

by the time i reached last few chapters, i was ready to rate “black sun” as “really liked it”, but the cliffhanger ending was too abrupt (and too much of a bait for the sequel). so it’s simple “i liked it” rating.

this book strikes a good balance between plot advancement and character development, which is somewhat a rarity in fantasy genre. and given that both aspects are fresh and unfamiliar, no wonder that it got so much praise.

despite my distaste for the ending, i plan to read the sequel – i’m very charmed by xiala, and curious of her fate.

natural history by carlos fonseca

this is love from the first page.

this is the book i wish i have written myself.

this is a complete surprise.

i remember exactly how i’ve found this book. it was the list of best covers of 2020 at lithub.com, found via kottke.org. one glance at the cover and i desperately wanted to add it to my collection.

“natural history” is one of those multi-layered stories, when several threads tie up in one messy knot at the end. you know it from the start, so that’s not the surprise. the story brought me joy not because of any plot twists or some other surprises (when i said “complete surprise”, i meant entire book). the appeal is in the lace of faces, places, and events. words wash over you page by page, and soon you are fully submerged into the world where nothing really makes sense (making it not that different from actual reality) but everything is connected.

i really don’t know how to talk about “natural history” without spoilers. and i don’t know who else might like it, as well. so, don’t expect a recommendation from me this time. take a gamble instead.

the unwanted undead adventurer by yu okano

“the unwanted undead adventurer” was a recommendation from a friend. a definite step out of my usual habits, but that was the whole point.

in essence, this is a novelised dungeon rpg, down to details like self-updating maps, respawning monsters, and teleports at the end of caves. as someone who has platinum trophy in diablo III (sony ps4 version), i sure appreciated the setting. the only difference from rpgs i played was in the objective. the protagonist got turned into a skeleton, and now is on the path of transforming back into a human, or at least something closely resembling it.

unfortunately, it was only the first book in a long and winding journey back to humanity, and while i enjoyed the book as a nice break from the gloomy stuff on my shelves, not to the extent of picking up next volume.

no one is talking about this by patricia lockwood

i can’t rate this book. it left a huge impression on me, but how do you rate a book that took you across the full spectrum of emotions in the span of barely two hundred pages?

having picked it up after a review in the guardian i expected an ironic meta commentary on society, the millennial style of comedy. and it did start this way. but then the rest of the book happened, and it was decidedly not comedic.

the anthropocene reviewed by john green

“the anthropocene reviewed” wasn’t written for me.

what i liked:

  1. attempt to make it informative
  2. footnotes

what i didn’t like:

  1. amount of solipsism.
  2. the tone of the book was aiming for gravitas and falling short too often.
  3. having listened to the same content as podcast first. i couldn’t shrug off the feeling of reused content without much improvement. i’d even say that these essays go better as podcast.

i might have appreciated this book more if i were younger and north american. it didn’t help that the book was overhyped in my informational field. everyone and their pibling was praising it, so inevitably, my expectations were raised high.

pandora’s jar by natalie haynes

one of many instances when promotional blurbs mislead you. i still liked the book (with some asterisks), but that’s not what i was sold. this not a retelling of myths done by a modern feminist, but more of analysis of how original works were interpreted by later writers and artists. “pandora’s jar”. another nitpick – word “funny” was mentioned too many times. why would you promote a book as funny, if it goes over stories of clytemnestra, ariadna, and medea?

on the book itself – natalie haynes probably forgot that her book could be read outside of england. every first cultural reference (and there were so many of them) meant nothing to me, despite my relatively good (for a foreigner) knowledge of it. therefore, i’m sure i missed quite a lot of humour (see my question in the paragraph above).

despite these annoyances, i liked the book for its informational value. the premise – greek myths are almost always retold and interpreted by men, who are too happy to ignore women in them – stands strong and i hope more authors will dedicate their time to this – it’s a rich field.

drinking coffee elsewhere by zz packer

this was the second attempt to read this collection of stories. i remember putting it aside few years ago, because the mood and themes was too much for me.

well, i guess i grew stronger since. because the relentless despair and anger i pick up from these stories affects me differently than it did in the past.

the world sucks for the protagonists of zz packer’s stories. there is not a drop of beauty or poeticism in it. the world sucks, and sometimes you can’t do anything about it, other than feel and share their pain.

read this as an antidote to cloying happy-clappy positivism.

the employees by olga ravn

this book is done a major disservice by the description at the back cover and on goodreads. what it should instead say:

you like weird?

read this.

and that’s it. nothing else.

i will be re-reading “the employees” many times, i know it.

heroes by stephen fry

i guess that greek myths will never stop attracting writers who survived through the english classical education. to be fair, if i were forced to study ancient greek in school, i’d probably try to reclaim greek mythology too.

thankfully for all readers, on top of carrying childhood trauma by euripides, stephen fry is a talented writer with a very distinctive sense of humour. he makes full use of fourth wall breaking, adding narrator’s commentary, and some pratchett-esque usage of footnotes.

“heroes” is a great light reading if you are already familiar with all the weirdness of greek mythology. but if it’s your first exposure, then be warned – pegasus being born out of medusa’s neck after perseus chopped off her head is not the weirdest thing you’ll read in this book.

travel light by naomi mitchinson

i’ve chased this book after reading “this is how you lose a time war”. it was a rare case when my local bookshop couldn’t get a copy for me, so i had to resort to amazon. but i had to have a book that manifested itself in every variation of the timeline in one of the best time-travel stories i’ve ever read.

imagine you are on a hike and come across a river. it looks familiar even if you’ve never seen it, but it doesn’t make much sense – it’s a fast stream, yet there are so many bends and turns, breaking rules of hydrology. you are so intrigued that you decide to follow the stream, and after few turns find yourself in a completely different climate zone.

that’s how “travel light” feels like.

a streetcar named desire by tennessee williams

thank you, i hated this.

read williams, they said. he’s like american checkhov, they said.
well, i call bullshit.
if everything else from tennessee williams is like this, then do not compare him to checkhov, genius who can engage and capture even the most stench haters of theatre.

the only reason why i read this play till the end is because it’s short. everything felt both over the top and flatly dull. celluloid stick figures in cardboard house.

i don’t think this play holds up to the test of time even for american readers, let alone international audience.

p.s. photo has an non-book easter egg

captain blood by rafael sabatini

okay, let me get this out first: this book did not age well. i still enjoyed reading it though, all while seeing how it clashes with my 21st century opinions. second problem is that rafael sabatini has exactly that flowery yet repetitive language you expect from a pirate adventure paperback. don’t play a drinking game when the author starts describing a character – no matter which word you pick, a heavy toll on your liver is guaranteed.

but you didn’t pick “captain blood” for social commentary or high prose, did you? you want sails, cannons, duels – all that pirate aesthetics. fear not – that’s exactly what the book serves on a looted golden platter (there is notable absence of parrots, which i appreciated).

i have a soft spot for this book, because i first read it as an impressionable teenager. by then i already ploughed through dumas père, jules vernes, james fenimore cooper, arthur conan doyle, and louis boussenard, yet still was on the hunt for more adventure. captain blood lodged himself in my memory deepest of all them.

touring the land of the dead by maki kashimada

this book contains two novellas under one cover – “touring the land of the dead” and “99 kisses”. both explore familial relations, but have notably different moods.

first novella can be relatable to many readers, since it explores the impact from toxic relatives – a sadly common occurrence, regardless of where you’re from. without spoiling it too much, all i can say is that the open ending of the story is fitting and hope-inspiring.

as for the second one – “99 kisses” – this one has been decidedly out of a comfort zone for me. it is written from youngest sister’s point of view on her family, which all women – mother and four daughters. though mother is barely mentioned, all the focus is on sisters – their weird, claustrophobic, almost incestuous, tangled up relationship, beautifully described by the author.

not a book i would actively recommend to anyone, for the fear of misjudging someone else’s preferences for weird literature, but i will be on the lookout of more translations of maki kashimada’s books.