Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Search for a Good Book

Reading is one of my great passions and I'm always on the lookout for a good novel to read. When I first came to Italy, getting my  hands on a decent selection of high quality books in English was a real problem. There were some titles available at the Feltrinelli in Bari, but they were mostly the bestsellers (not always synonymous with "good reading" in my personal opinion) or language teaching reference texts. 

Imagine my joy when I discovered Daedalus Books & Music, "Quality Books and Music at Up to 90% Off." They carry overstocked items and sell them at fantastic prices, plus somehow their taste and mine are really a perfect match. Back then I would receive a paper catalogue in the mail, peruse it passionately for days and days to make my selections. Mail off my order and then wait months until my precious box of books would arrive from the US by ship. Now you can find Daedalus on-line and all shipping is by air, such a luxury!

For the last several years my recreational reading choices have been determined by the monthly selections of the book clubs I've belonged to. Since a different club member chooses a book each month, we have had some real highs and some real lows. I really hated both Where Rainbows End, by Cecelia Ahern, and Oblivion, by David Foster Wallace. Two wildly different books, one a saccharine-sweet romantically improbable bit of fluff, the other the mind-grinding observations of a neurotic and overly analytical, deeply unhappy genius (in fact, Wallace committed suicide in 2008). 

Book club has, however, brought me such treasures as A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry, and introduced me to the magical dreamlike world of Toni Morrison. But, in all honesty, one of my favorite things about the book club group's choices is this very aspect of its nature . . . I never know what I'm getting myself into when I start reading each month. The book may be a gem, or it might drive me crazy, but either way a friend of mine thought it was worth reading, so I'm willing to take a gamble on it.

I have recently screwed up my courage and taken a dive off the deep end into reading novels in Italian. 

After finishing Io e te by Niccolo Ammaniti in one day (it was that good!), at the moment I'm reading his Che la festa cominci. I am a big fan of Ammaniti because he writes in a clear, immediate style. His characters speak the way Italians really do today. His stories and characters accurately reflect contemporary Italian social issues, people and their real lives . . . he exaggerates them just enough to render everything absurd and laughable, but in a sort of bittersweet way. You laugh because he takes people and situations that you recognize, but then pushes them just one stop beyond "normal." So they are funny, but they are so close to real that it's a funny that's not really funny . . . painfully funny, if you know what I mean. They also have an emotional depth and punch that you don't find every day.

Che la festa cominci (published in Italian in 2009) is not out in an English translation yet, but several of his others are. I'll Steal You Away, I'm Not Scared and As God Commands are all brilliant. So far, this is not my favorite of his books, it's a little bit silly, a little bit too wild and wacky, but I haven't finished it yet, so I can't pass final judgement.

What are YOU reading right now? Do you have any suggestions for me? I love to read books recommended by a friend!


Jess said...

Try "Little Bee" by Chris Cleave. It will definitely hold your attention!

Carrie said...

I just finished Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman. It's a short book of essays about books and reading. Since I love books, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. In fact, I borrowed it from the library but am going to buy a copy for myself. It's something I'll read many times over.

Happy SITS Sharefest!

Karen said...

Thanks for visiting my blog. I just read "Sarah's Key" for my book club and enjoyed it. Another great read I found that way was "The Help."

Couture Carrie said...

Great recos!


LindyLouMac said...

I am so impressed that you are now enjoying reading in Italian. I have read A Fine Balance and some of Toni Morrison's novels but must check out the website you mention. I am intrigued Bookclubs are they local or online ones?

Saretta said...

Hey all, thanks for the recommendations, I will definitely check them out!

LindyLou - the book clubs have been with local English-speaking friends who love to read. We actually spend a lot of our monthly gatherings chatting about all kinds of things, not just the book!

LindyLouMac said...

I like the sound of that wish I lived near enough to join in :)

Saretta said...

LindyLou - you are more than welcome to join us if you are ever in the neighborhood!