A year of great books

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Welcome to my new blog on books!

Last year, I focused my reading on contemporary fiction- my favorite books were Ursula Le Guin’s Lavinia (an immersive retelling of Virgil’s Aeneid); Jonas Jonasson’s The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (an unlikely, comic tale that reminded me of the film Forrest Gump); and Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being (a bittersweet novel on connections in our global village). I read Shakespeare’s play King Lear, but no classic novels (at least according to my Instagram and Facebook timelines).

This year, I plan to read a mix of current and classic fiction and record them in this blog so I’d remember them. For the classics, I’m getting inspiration from Slate Academy’s A Year of Great Books: every two months, book club members get to vote for a candidate in a list presented by Slate’s literary critic Laura Miller. For January to February 2016, she gave the following intriguing choices, none of which I’ve read yet: Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment; Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman; Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre; and Gustave Flaubert’s A Sentimental Education.

To my surprise, my favorite bookshop had copies of all four books. Moreover, the book that I was most drawn to, Tristram Shandy, is downloadable as a free e-book. This novel also got the most votes from Slate book club members.

This is how Miller describes Sterne’s novel:

An almost indescribable comic novel—witty, bawdy, and a tremendous amount of fun—it features the most famous blank page in all literature, and other “postmodern” devices that were not rediscovered until the late 20th century. “Nothing odd will do long,” wrote Samuel Johnson. “Tristram Shandy did not last.” He was wrong.

This afternoon, I stopped reading when I reached this famous blank page (or two blank pages, pp. 31 and 32, in my copy). The book is almost 700 pages long, so I’d need to read around 20 pages a day (or 100 pages each weekend) to finish it by the end of February.

The narrator Tristram Shandy spends the first 30 pages of the book describing his conception- the evening when his parents made love. His tone is light and chatty and he digresses into stories about other people, in much the same way that “chismoso” or gossips tend to free associate, without clear logic nor direction.

Sterne’s book provides fun relief from reading the contemporary fiction/ autobiography My Struggle Book 1 by Norwegian Karl Ove Knausgaard that I’ll describe in a future post.

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