Tag: Aracoeli

Distracted by Other Books

Posted October 2, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 12 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in September 2018

For the past few months it has felt like I have really slowed down in my reading, and that felt a little demoralising. Granted, to use the world ‘demoralising’ when referring to one’s reading life is very much a first world problem. To think my biggest problems in my life is about my reading journey really does mean that I have a pretty great life. I am currently in a period of uncertainty with my job where I am unsure if I will be made redundant and yet my concern is directed towards how many books I have read in a single month. As much as I would love to keep my current job, I feel at ease around the whole situation, one path leaves me with work, the other leads to a pay out and more reading time. While I do experience a little worry, it only comes in short waves and honestly I feel like they would be stupid to get rid of me.

Getting back to my reading month, I started off by finishing The Shape of the Ruins. I had put this one aside for the entire month of August because it was Women in Translations Month. Which makes me feel like I have done this book a disservice. Setting down a book normally is caused by not enjoying what I am reading but in this case I was literally distracted by other books. I am more interested in being a part of this great reading event. Juan Gabriel Vásquez is an amazing writer and I feel like my recent discovery of his books is one of the highlights of the year, but when women in translation month came along I could not stop myself from focusing on that event. Do you ever get that feeling? Sometimes I want to go into the new month with a clean slate but there will always be other books to distract my reading journey. I have found my reading niche, and I am happy that my focus is solely on translations, probably because I am now being distracted by less books than before.

One of the highlights of September was a weekend away from everything. My wife had to go down to Brisbane for work, and I decided to come along for the ride. I had a few days in a hotel room with some books I wanted to read. This was an amazing experience. I took down Aracoeli, Fever and Spear and Wait, Blink to occupy my time. There is something refreshing about stepping away from the distractions of your life to focus on some reading. I think this reignited the passion within me and kicked my reading back into normal gear. I was not experiencing a reading slump but I think I was lacking the motivation to read as frequently as I normally do. As far as the three books are concerned, Fever and Spear was the clear highlight. I think I am not smart enough to fully appreciate Aracoeli, but I will get there and Wait, Blink was just a fun quirky read.

The National Book Award in America last year announced that they had added a translated literature award and this month we finally got to see what was on their first longlist. My initial reaction to the list was one of curiosity, mainly because I was unfamiliar with half the picks. There were some obvious choices like Flights which won the Man Booker International prize this year. However The Beekeeper is an interesting pick, mainly because it is the only non-fiction book to make the list. I do feel like I should read the entire longlist just to be a part of the conversation. I listen to a podcast called The Three Percent Podcast which focuses mainly on translations and the publishing world, and just listening to the way they talk so critically about this longlist makes me envious. I know I have only recently focused on reading translations but I hope to be able to get to a point in my life where I can just scoff at a longlist the same way as the hosts. This kind of reaction happens all the time when an award like the Man Booker International longlist is announced. I feel like that kind of familiarity towards the choices is definitely a reading goal for me. Out of the ten books picked, I had only read one of the books picked (Flights), but at the end of this month I have completed three more (Wait, Blink, Love and Trick). Two others are currently being read (Comemadre and Disoriental). Which is leaving me in a really good position to complete the rest of the list, which are Aetherial Worlds, The Beekeeper, One Part Woman and The Emissary. Expect to see reviews from all these books in the next few months.

I finished off the month reading African Psycho, which is obviously a parody on American Psycho but I think I enjoyed it more. Not because there was anything special about the novel, mainly because it was a very different book to what I expected. Half the book I felt was a struggle, and that seemed to be the author emulating that obsession found in American Psycho, but the ending really pulled the whole book together. Finally I ended the month on a low note, The Silence of the Girls, which was the book club pick for October. It was a boring retelling of the Trojan War told from the perspective of a female slave. There was so much potential in exploring the fears this woman might have faced but Pat Barker missed the opportunity. This was told from the first person perspective of the slave so we could hear her thoughts, but for the most part the author wrote lines like “I was scared” regarding a situating with nothing more. You know that old writing advice “show don’t tell”? Pat Barker should have listened to that advice. Just writing about this is making me angry and I have said more about this novel than the others because this will be the last time I put any effort into writing about The Silence of the Girls.

I mentioned that I am currently reading Comemadre and Disoriental. I also mentioned that I want to complete the National Book Awards longlist for translated literature, so I do need to mention that again. I have been feeling very motivated and I hope to take that opportunity to write more. I still have a few reviews to write but I also want to get back into BookTube. I love talking about literature and looking for as many ways to do so as possible. Have you seen The Literary Discord? For those who do not know, Discord is like a modern day forum, it was created mainly for games as a place to build communities, but other communities have utilised it as well, including me when I created The Literary Discord as another place to talk about literature. My plan to return to BookTube is to push myself to speak about books that do not get enough attention (translations). It is a way to practise speaking and develop my voice. I have this blog and my podcast that I am passionate about, I hope to be able to bring that same passion back to BookTube, because I lost it. I hope this new found energy continues for me and I hope you have all had a great reading month.

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Aracoeli by Elsa Morante

Posted September 29, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 1 Comment

Aracoeli by Elsa MoranteTitle: Aracoeli (Goodreads)
Author: Elsa Morante
Translator: William Weaver
Published: Open Letter, 2009
Pages: 311
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryWordery (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

When an Italian booktuber (Bruno) offers some recommendations for great Italian authors to check out, I am going to pay attention. In his video, he recommended Alberto Moravia and Elsa Morante, who were married for twenty years. Comparing Elsa Morante to Elena Ferrante peaked my interest and the recommendation given was her last novel Aracoeli. A melancholic novel about an aging man attempting to recover his past and get his life on track. Stuck in a dead-end job for a small publishing house, 43 year old Manuel travels to the home town of his mother Aracoeli, to try and understand her.

People that have a deep understanding of psychology would get more from Aracoeli than I did but what struck me is his obsession with his mother. I do believe that Manuel is a very unreliable narrator so all his thoughts and feelings have to be considered before discovering the truth. His self-loathing I could handle but I was often frustrated with his short-sightedness. It was difficult to like this character because I found myself constantly trying to analyse him, never sure if I was understanding who he truly was.

Aracoeli was an enigma as well, mainly because we are constantly inside Manuel’s had. I never felt like I was fully understanding this character, and when the novel talks about how she contracts an incurable disease (syphilis is implied) or how she was a nymphomaniac I spent more time wondering about her situation. She was a victim of her circumstances and the way women were treated. Reading Aracoeli felt more like sifting through all that is going on to find the truth, but that is part of its appeal.

If I am to compare Elena Ferrante to Elsa Morante, it would be in relation to the way both wrote about the treatment of women. Both wrote incredibly complex Neapolitan women trying to navigate their way through life. I think Ferrante is a much easier read but I might consider Morante a much more rewarding experience.

I do not begin to understand the complexity of Aracoeli and I know it will be many read throughs before I even scratch the surface. I love novels like this because they make you work for a much more rewarding experience. I may not understand Aracoeli now but I hope to in the future. There is so much despair and destruction in the book, but I find myself pondering it weeks after I finished it. I have to return to Aracoeli, it is the type of book that leaves you no other choice.


Distracted by Other Books

Posted September 11, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 14 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in August 2018

August is Women in Translations month, which means there is a big influx of people reading translations, even the publishers and big bookish media seem to promote the event. This feels like a double edge sword for me, while I love that more people are reading from my corner of the bookish world, there are plenty of cringe worthy moments to be had as well. There are people who like to make themselves the authority of the topic despite showing no interest previously in the male/female balance in the world of translations. Admittedly this reaction I have is just my grumpiness coming to play and in reality I should be thankful to see so many people participate in a month dedicated to reading women in translations. For those that did not want to dedicate a whole month, some BookTubers even put together a Women in Translations readathon, but I will not be discussing my problem with readathons here.

I had planned my reading month, thinking that while vacationing around Tasmania I would have more reading time than expected. I packed four books to read during the trip, plus a kindle but I only managed to complete one novel during that entire trip, and it was not even a book I was enjoying. Prior to my vacation, I had read Convenience Store Woman, a book that I still think about to this day. The hype surrounding this book is justified. I also read The Door with my wife, which was discussed on the latest episode of Lost in Translations. Before my trip, I scheduled six reviews for my blog, all being women in translations. I am pleased to say, that I am pretty much up to date with reviewing, as I have made the choice not to review every book I read. I want to spend more time writing essays and improving my writing abilities so while reviews seem to be an important aspect of my blog, I hope this means that I will write more.

Tasmania was an amazing experience, I have not been there before and I really enjoyed the cold weather. I got to experience snow falling for the first time, most non-Australians might think this is not as special as I make it out to be. The book I read while away was Oneiron; it was not for me, and I really struggled to get through it. I understand what Laura Lindstedt was trying to do by putting these women in this situation and have them reflect on their lives but I was disappointed. I did however start Aracoeli and I am having a much better experience. Elsa Morante is a wonderful writer and for those who do not know her, she is one of the authors that influenced the writing of Elene Ferrante.

During my trip I visited bookstores every chance I got, which did leave me with a much heavier bag by the end of the trip. I wanted to limit my purchasing by focusing on expanding my women in translation collection but I failed at that. So many stores seemed to have a very limited selection for translations, which is fast becoming the biggest downside of my reading niche. The feeling of leaving a bookstore empty handed is heart breaking for a book lover. However, if I started to complain about the amount of books I did end up purchasing, I would be lying to myself. I have so many amazing books to read, I just need to find the time.

After Tasmania we stopped in Melbourne for the weekend and attended the Melbourne Writers Festival. This year had an amazing line up and I think I want to write about what I saw in a different post. The festival has inspired me to be more active in my blogging and to write more pieces, so let’s see if it pays off. The final book I read before going back to work was Sofi Oksanen’s novel Purge. Previously I read When the Doves Disappeared which I liked but did not love, honestly, I think Purge is a far superior novel. Because it was Women in Translations month, I think it is necessary to check my reading stats to see if I have a balanced reading life this year. I am pleased to say that 75% of my reading have been translations, which is indicative of my passion. With 52% being books written by women. I hope to maintain this balance, but I know how easy it is to have the statistics change.

Happy reading everyone.

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Distracted by Other Books

Posted August 2, 2018 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 7 Comments

My Thoughts and Reading in July 2018

I do not know if it is just a mid-year thing, or just a feeling but I have been feeling highly critical of my blogging lately. For the past month I have been plagued with the thought of deleting everything and starting fresh. Rebranding and focusing on my passion for translated literature. Ironically this is the month I celebrate nine years blogging as Knowledge Lost. There was a time where I had two blogs, the other was a dedicated book blog called Literary Exploration but I merged them into one a few years ago. Now I just want to dump all my writing and start fresh. Knowing full well that if I did take such an extreme action that I would regret it. Part of me loves that I can view my old writing and see how much I have improved, and the other just wants to make it disappear.

If I was to start fresh I would focus a hundred percent on translated literature, and look for ways to promote them. I would probably make it an extension of Lost in Translations. There is also a part of me that would love to see something collaborative dedicated to promoting translations, but past experiences make me wary of collaborations. I know something like this would be awesome but I know how quickly people lost their passion for a project like this.  These feelings are disconcerting because all I want to do is promote literature, particularly books in translation but I feel like no one is listening.

Knowledge Lost has always been a place to store all my writing and even if I feel shame towards most of it, I know I would regret losing it. I have to work past my feelings of angst towards past me but I do not know the best way forward. I do think this is just a feeling that will pass but it is taking far too long. I feel plagued and my mind is going around in circles. If this is the biggest life problem I have, I should be thankful. I am curious to see if I will come up with a satisfactory solution or if the feeling will just fade away.

A slow reading month might be the effects of these feeling but it has not caused me to slow down in writing. In fact I have set aside an hour every week day after work to just focus on blogging. This has helped me increase my output on posts. I participated in the Spanish and Portuguese reading month hosted by Winstonsdad’s Blog and Caravana de Recuerdos, mainly because I had a few books I needed to review from Latin America. I do think that being a part of a community helps push me to be more active and I really appreciate that. I need the motivation and if I end up not blogging, I normally get annoyed with myself.

The first book I finished in July was The Neighborhood by Mario Vargas Llosa, which was translated by legendary translator Edith Grossman. I enjoyed so much about this novel but the sex scenes really ruined the experience for me. I have already posted a review on this one and I do not think there is anything else to say about The Neighborhood. They Know Not What They Do by Jussi Valtonen, (translated by Kristian London) was the biggest let down of my month and might have contributed to a slow reading month. It was marketed as a psychological satire and the back says it is the book for fans of Jonathan Franzen and Dave Eggers. My experience was just a five hundred page generic thriller. While I can see how it might compare to something like Dave Eggers The Circle, I was far from impressed. I love a good satirical novel but I think there are two types, the one that thinks it is clever but is just exploring the same ideas repeatedly because it cares more about the plot or the one that subtly works in some ideas that will leave the reader thinking. Or to put is simply, the ones that tells you what to think and the ones that make you think. They Know Not What They Do very much had its own ideas and you can get that information by reading the synopsis.

Luckily the two other books I read this month were both amazing, one being The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson (translated by Thomas Teal) and the other was La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono, (translated by Lawrence Schimel). I want to talk about both in greater detail, so you might have to wait for the reviews. The True Deceiver is the second Tove Jansson novel I have read (Fair Play was the other) and I really appreciate the character studies she does in her books. Both feature two women and their relationship with each other and both are well worth reading. La Bastarda is the first novel by an Equatorial Guinean woman to be translated into English, which in itself is pretty exciting. I have so much I want to say, in regards to Fang culture and how this novel relates to Western culture but you will have to wait for the review. All I can say for now is that it is well worth reading.

I was distracted all month long with my thoughts on blogging but that did not stop me from being distracted by other books. I have currently three books on the go now and am eagerly awaiting August. Not because it is Women in Translations month but also because I will have some much needed vacation time, where I get to travel to Tasmania and then I will be attending the Melbourne Writers Festival. I bought two new books which might be read in August but surprisingly I did not add any new books to my wishlist. I know I have thought about all the other books I want to be reading but they were mostly other books I own. I hope August is a better month for me.

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