As first impressions go, well, this wasn’t the best to give when speaking to my new flatmates. I was trying to say the word for physiotherapist. In the written form, the similarity of the two words were quite clear. However, the pronunciation was somewhat different. How was I to realise in that moment what a difference would be made by neglecting to pronounce the ‘e’ in fisioterapeuta? I unconsciously applied English pronunciation rules and thought that “physiotheraputa” would be close enough. Peuta as in like “pewter”.
Despite studying Spanish for four years at secondary school and somehow obtaining a GCSE in the language, I had unfortunately missed out on learning the more colourful words of Spanish. With my anglified pronunciation I had unknowingly referred to somebody as being “physiobitch”…much to the amusement of my new flatmates!
As somebody that couldn’t claim to be shy about swearing in my first language, it was a surprise to me that I had a swear-shaped gap in my Spanish language abilities.The first of many gaffes in my naïve attempts to practice my new language.
This isn’t the first book I ever read by Paulo Coelho, but it is one of my favourites. Veronika Decides to Die is a dramatic story of love, life and death. It highlights ways in which all of us make decisions every second of our existence relating to living and dying.
Even the title sounds dramatic. Veronika is a girl that from the outside seems to have a pretty good life. Nothing particularly bad happens to her, there’s no tragic backstory. But she just felt unsatisfied. Her suicide attempt did not “succeed” and so she finds herself in a hospital for patients with mental disorders. She is told that the overdose damaged her heart and she had one more week to live before she dies. With only week to live, Veronika re-discovers herself sexually and emotionally, falls in love, and starts wanting to live. It’s almost like the intensity of a short space of time highlighted the priorities of her “bucket list”.
Anyone who thinks life is not worth living should give it a try. I’d maybe even go so far as to say that doctors and other medical professionals should read it in order to have a better insight into the mind-set of patients.
Trail of Broken Wings by Sejal Badani was a fascinating story that at times brought tears to my eyes. It’s quite rare that a book has that kind of impact on me. I had to actually avoid reading it on public transport at one point because it was just too hard to keep myself together.
Without giving the whole story away, basically it’s about a photographer that hasn’t been in touch with her family for some years. But when her father falls into a coma she reluctantly returns to the family. She has changed, and her family have also changed. There are some really dark secrets that come to light and a history of violence that comes to the surface. Even though it wasn’t an easy read, it was a really interesting exploration of how cultures interact and how cultures change from one generation to the next. But I found the ending to be a bit of a disappointment to be honest *spoiler alert* because she seemed to still believe that she needs somebody to “fix” her, which is somehow beautiful but ultimately disempowering. Though possibly more realistic.
Anyway, this is a quote I liked from the book:
“Everyone must reach a point in their life when they stop running. When it is easier to stand still than to keep being chased, even if the person chasing you is only in your head.”
I’m a big fan of Haruki Murakami. I started reading his books when I was trying to learn Japanese. I read the books in English! Just out of interest for the culture and the country. The first book of his that I read was Norwegian Wood. It was really fascinating, and I was hooked.
Many of Murakami’s novels deal with the transition from adolescence to adulthood. This probably accounts for their amazing popularity, especially with young Japanese readers. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is about a young man haunted by a great loss. It’s a journey into the past to mend the present. It’s about love, friendship, and heartbreak.
Tsukuru, the protagonist, doesn’t have a colourful surname, in contrast to his old friends. Colour, or the lack thereof, features heavily in the novel. The characters with colourful names seem to have nearly stereotypical identities. Colourless Tsukuru is 36 at the time most of the novel is set. It is sixteen years since Tsukuru and his four friends turned 20. In Japan turning 20 is seen as becoming an adult. The kind of celebrations that I would associate with turning 18. Although the novel is about this transition, it is told from the perspective of somebody much older. At times it felt pretty depressing, in my opinion, that there was this 36 year old guy that was still lamenting about things that happened 16 years previously. It was almost a bit frustrating, like he just needs to move on in life! Inevitably, his journey/pilgrimage does help him to understand his immediate past (the last 16 years) and his present, but also his future.
I really enjoyed the start of the book and the character formation. But I didn’t like the lack of clarity at the ending.
#18: China / USA
The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan caught my eye on a library shelf when I was living on the outskirts of London. I had been looking for a literary form of escapism and this seemed like an ideal book. Set in a country and culture in which I didn’t have much familiarity.
It is partially set in the USA in San Francisco and the main characters discover secrets about their family from many years earlier. I enjoy these kind of books, where there’s a complex family problem and they learn more about their relatives at the same time as learning more about themselves. It was an interesting to read about the ways in which family expectations in a tightly-knit Chinese family continued to influence future generations of the family living abroad.
I also rather enjoyed the title, because I hadn’t come across the word bonesetter before. In traditional Chinese medicine a bonesetter was a person that performed joint manipulation. They could also have treated dislocations as well as actually re-setting a broken bone so that it heals in a better alignment. I like the idea of it being the original form of physiotherapy or osteopathy.
This morning I read a short story called The Nose by the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol. Well, I say read, but in actuality it was an audio book, so for the sake of accuracy I listened to The Nose. Felt like giving my eyes a rest from reading. The Nose is set in St Petersburg. It was quite a surreal story about a man that wakes up to discover he has no nose. It was a bit strange, but also interesting – for example, one of the major concerns for the man-with-no-nose is that he won’t be able to flirt with the ladies anymore. But I found the characters a bit too hard to believe or to relate to. It worked quite well as an audio book because the nose-less character had quite a distinctive voice, almost like somebody with a bad headcold.
My inspiration for this reading challenge comes from a video that I saw earlier this week. A woman called Ann set herself a reading challenge in 2012 to read a book from every country (though no necessarily set in the country itself). So I’ve decided to set myself a pretty crazy reading challenge: reading a book related to each country in the world. Which from the list I’m going to be using works out at 196 countries!
I’m going to make the challenge more flexible so that I will include books that are set in a country, not limited to the book or author actually being from that country. My list will be open to non-fictional works as well as biographical writing. For me, no unpublished or, if at all possible, self-published books (I want anyone to be able to follow my trail). It would feel more authentic to read books in the original language version, though given my current language abilities this challenge will be completed predominantly in English (ultimately using translated versions), with some attempts to read in Spanish (though this will require more time!)
Of course, there are a number of countries that I can already tick off. Books from my childhood and teenage years which brought to life countries I might never get to visit in person. For the rest of the countries, well, I could do with a bit of help! Though I do have some ideas jotted down, I am more than open to suggestions, which I will add here for the benefit of anyone who might want to come along with me on my epic read-trip (road-trip…read-trip… get it?!…oh dear).
I’ll try to write a quick note or at the very least give a star rating out of five for each of the books I read. I’ll try to link this to my account on Goodreads (a site which I’d definitely recommend for all bookworms!). Of course, my comments or reviews are not going to be sophisticated literary criticism, but more to give an idea someone who might be tempted to give the title a try an idea as to what it’s like to read.
So, here goes! World travel minus the expense of a travel ticket! Ha, wish me luck, and I’d be delighted to get any suggestions of global books that I can add to me “to read” list! 🙂
I am not a great one for keeping hold of books after I’ve read them. If I liked them a lot, I tend to want to share them with friends or family members. If I wasn’t impressed…I tend to pass them on to second-hand shops. I can’t bring myself to lie convincingly enough to persuade people I know to read them. But I guess that at least if a stranger contributes some monetary donation to a charity and dislikes the book as much as I did, the silver lining for both of us is that the charity has gained a little. Anyway, this tendency to not keep the books I read, has meant that over the years I sometimes half-forget titles, and almost always misremember the names of authors. It’s much trickier to give a recommendation of a book when I don’t have the information to hand.
So, I began using Goodreads as a way to rediscover the books I’d read. It has a clever way of predicting/suggesting what other books I might have read. Sometimes it isn’t right, but a lot of the time, it is spot on! I’m sort of hoping that now that I’m trying to read more internationally, that Goodreads might find it a little harder to place me…maybe my reading tastes will appear less predictable.
Another great feature on the site is that you can set yourself a reading challenge, for example to read 24 books in the year 2017. It’s surprisingly motivating to see a visual progression towards your reading goal.
If you’d like to find me on Goodreads, you can click here
or just search for ‘wordtravel’.
So, according to my Goodreads account, I’ve read somewhere in the region of 170 books in my life. That does involve counting some of my childhood favourites, but perhaps there are some half-forgotten books I read as a kid that haven’t made it onto my list on Goodreads. But just thinking of the statistics there, that’s only 7-8 books per year of my “independent-reader” life. So how am I going to manage 196 books?! Well, I’ve already got 18 covered, mental maths time… 196 – 18 = …178
When I’ve been talking about this aim to read more widely with family and friends, there have been some that suggest I should try to set myself a time goal. Some people are way too ambitious about my reading speed – just one year isn’t enough! I’m interested in this project, but I don’t want it to become a chore (which I am concerned it might do if I feel under too much time pressure).
In an unrelated challenge, last year, I set myself a modest goal to read one book per month – and I succeeded in this task. This year, in January, I set myself a goal of reading 18 books this year. So far I am on track. If I were to complete this “read the world” project at a speed of 18 books per year, then it’d take almost ten years! So perhaps I can try to increase that, possible a rate of 24 books per year would be still somewhat realistic – that’d take seven years to get around the world.
In general, I read short story book much faster than novels. I’m thinking it might be a strategic advantage to try to include a decent amount of short story collections in this reading quest. Possibly comic fiction too.
This is a blog about language and literature and how we can use words to travel through time as well as to travel to other places.
I hope this blog can be a space to share ideas and get suggestions from other people 🙂