WHIRLing the Summer By!

No, I have not jetted off to some remote island with no internet access–far from it.  I’ve just been busy, busy, busy reading away–trying to choose the absolute BEST books for the upcoming season of Literary Masters Book Groups and Literary Salons.  So, have I finalized my list of selected books?  No, but I’ve been having fun trying!  Check out some of what I’ve been reading:

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna.  This book was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize this year.  Is it possible to like and hate a book at the same time?  That was my experience.  Set in Sierra Leone, the birthplace of the author, the story involves characters who are trying to come to terms with their pasts–in a place that has recently emerged from a civil war.  There is much to discuss and think about with this book, but I feel reluctant to choose it for my book groups because…well, I think it drags on too much.  I am generally a very patient reader, but I found myself multiple times thinking, “get on with it.”  So, although I think this is a good book with an important story to tell, I’m not putting it on my list.

Red April by Santiago Roncagliolo.  This book won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize this year.  I liked this book a lot, and I’m torn whether to put it on my list.  Written by a Peruvian author now living in Spain, it tells the story of the incredibly officious and bureaucratic prosecutor Chalcatana investigating a series of murders.  But of course, it’s about so much more than that.  I was so curious after reading it that I did some research on the Shining Path in Peru, and I even started reading Death in the Andes by Mario Vargas Llosa, but I feel these books could be just too grim for my groups.  I recommend Red April for an individual read, though, absolutely.  I haven’t yet finished Death in the Andes.

Bruno’s Dream by Iris Murdoch.  I always wanted to read something by Iris Murdoch, and now I have.  I enjoyed this book immensely, but I don’t think it will do for my groups, so I’m leaving it off my list.  Bruno, an old man who resembles a spider (the description of Bruno is worth reading the book for) and who collects stamps, is dying.  Wanting to come to peaceful terms with his estranged son, he calls for him.   I’d love to say that he then weaves a wonderful web in which he catches his son and the other characters (the book has quite a few), but alas, the metaphor is not carried through the book, or if it is, I missed it.  This novel is quite good and well worth reading, but I don’t think it will be on my list.  I’ll have to try another Iris Murdoch novel–yay!

The Sea by John Banville.  This book won the Man Booker Prize in 2005, and John Banville won the Kafka Prize this year.  I loved this book.  It is beautifully written; it carries the reader along on a tide of lyrical prose.  It’s about love, loss, grief, and memory, and it is undoubtedly worth reading.  I’m not sure if it will land on my list because I’m wondering if most people have already read it.  We’ll see.

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