Saturday, 2 May 2015

The Year In Books - May 2015

During April I finished reading two books - both of them autobiographical.

The first of the two was "The Year of Magical Thinking" by Joan Didion. 

Joan Didion has the reputation of being one of the doyens of American Literature.  I had not previously read any of her work so when I read the rave reviews of this book in the press I had high expectations.  Sadly, these weren't met.  I was expecting a personal, even philosophical, account of the grief that Joan Didion experienced when her husband of forty years died suddenly.  I thought she would articulate the emotions that many people experience when they are grieving but find difficult to put into words.  

I didn't find any of that in the book and instead  found her very distant and academic.  There is nothing wrong with being academic - I was in academia myself for a long time - but I was hoping for something with more feeling.  I understand that we all experience grief in different ways and, since Joan Didion has spent her life as a reporter, that she is used to looking at things with a trained, objective, eye.   I  understand that some individuals might seek to explain a shocking, unexpected event, by turning to medical journals.  I  also appreciate that some people are private and like to keep their feelings to themselves, but these people wouldn't write a book.   "The Year of Magical Thinking" was too impersonal and didn't give me any real insight into the grief and other emotions that Joan Didion felt on the death of her husband.

The second book that I read during April was "Elizabeth and her German Garden" by Elizabeth von Arnim.  This is a diary that Elizabeth von Arnim kept during 1896 and 1897 and describes how she made her garden in the grounds of her home in Northern Germany.  Interspersed with her writings about her garden are diary entries about her husband, her children and the visitors to her home.   Elizabeth von Arnim writes very well and there are some lovely passages about the garden, which she loved.   She did not love her visitors so much and she can be quite rude about them (but then if we can't be candid in a diary, where can we be?).  She has an acute eye and is very witty.   I liked this book a lot more than "The Year of Magical Thinking."

For May I am going to finish reading "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" by John le Carre, which I started reading a couple of days ago and also on my list for May is "The Diary of a Country Prosecutor" by Tawfik al-Hakim.

This post was written to join in with "The Year In Books" which is curated by Circle of Pine Trees

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