A nice thing about being on the road is that there’s a lot of time to read. (And to watcha lot of TV series, but that’s another story.)
Here are some quick recommendations:
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
We are imperfect mortal being, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves.
Didion shares a moving account about the death of her husband and her year of mourning. She’s so vulnerable and honest in the piece that it reminds of you how scared you are to lose the people you love. Modern society shies away from grief, preferring that mourners to “be strong” and unemotional. Yet Didion describes how we’re never fully prepared for death, that it hits you suddenly and deeply, and that losing someone is trying, complicated and of course irreversible.
The Room by Emma Donoghue
Sometimes when persons say definitely it sounds actually less true.
This is a simply written but disturbing novel about a five-year old boy held captive with his mother in a Josef Fritzl-esque backyard shed. Donoghue uses the innocence of her narrator’s voice to slowly reveal the situation and discover that the world is bigger than the room. It was a gripping if claustrophobic read.
Homeland by Cory Doctorow
Cops and robbers all using the same screwdrivers, and civilians in the middle, getting screwed.
In the sequel to the young adult novel, Little Brother, Doctorow revisits encryption, data security and citizens’ rights. I admire him for working in how-to guides to set up TOR networks or disk partitioning. Since the surveillance state laced with torture is hardly fiction, it’s great to read a book that makes these issues immediate, urgent and hopefully defeasible.
The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Che Guevara
I steel my body, ready to do battle, and prepare myself to be a sacred space within which the bestial howl of the triumphant proletariat can resound with a new energy and a new hope.
Well, no trip to Argentina would be complete without reading the account of Che’s journey across Latin America. I learned his name is a common nickname for Argentinians, who often refer to each other as “che”, meaning “friend”. It was fascinating to read about Latin America in the 1950’s and to see the spark of Che’s revolutionary spirit, especially when he described the terrible living conditions of miners, lepers and other unfortunates.
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
Britain no longer rules the waves, it just waives the rules.
The author of Cloud Atlas wrote quite a different kind of novel with Black Swan Green. It’s apparently semi-autobiographical and recounts the young narrator coming to terms with his speech impediment (“stamper, not stutter”). Mitchell writes well, although some of the fantastical / dream elements in the story seemed somewhat out of place. I’d recommend Cloud Atlas over this one, but if you’re keen to read more Mitchell, it’s a solid choice.