June Reading

June was an average reading month; as anticipated, I didn’t read as much as in May. Here’s the list of books I read:

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Ongoing project:

Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji.
After having caught up in May, I didn’t get round to continuing this novel in June (neither did my reading buddy). I’ve started up again and will catch up in this month of July. It’s a good read, I don’t know why I keep letting it lie.

Poetry:

Heinrich Detering (ed.), Reclams Buch der deutschen Gedichte.
A big two-volume anthology of German poetry from the Middle ages to modern times. I’ve read most of the first volume up to and past Goethe and Schiller in the chronology. At the moment, in July, I’m giving it a rest, because I’m focusing on women poets of the 18th century for Jane Austen July. But I will return to the German anthology again in August.

Short Stories:

Robert L. Mack, Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.
I haven’t been reading much in the Arabian Nights, but I have made some progress. I’m at about two thirds.

Non-Fiction:

No non-fiction in June.

Novels:

  • Martha Wells:
    • Fugitive Telemetry.
    • All Systems Red.
      The first was the new novella in the Murderbot Diaries which I liked so much that I was motivated to red the first installment, All Systems Red, again. I mentioned it briefly here.
  • Laurie R. King, Locked Rooms.
    Number 8 in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. I haven’t posted about it, as I’m waiting until I’ve read another one, so that I can do a combined post. It was a good read, I love the series.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun.
    My favourite read this year so far. Here’s my review.
  • Nancy Mitford, Love in a Cold Climate and Other Novels.
    A very enjoyable collection of three novels for which I wrote a review.
  • Yoko Ogawa, The Memory Police.
    The novel we read in my book club. It was very interesting and I’m still planning to write a review.
  • Caroline Alexander, The Iliad.
    This was a great reading experience, as I discussed here.

So, I didn’t read as much in June as I did in May. Not sure why I didn’t, maybe I just had too many other things on my plate. I’m still happy, I didn’t have a reading slump or anything. It’s a bit strange that I didn’t manage a non-fiction book. Maybe I’ll get around to one in July, although I haven’t got one planned at the moment.

Keep safe, world.

Klara and the Sun

My Partner gave this novel by Kazuo Ishiguro to me as a birthday present and I have only just read it. I was saving it up as a treat because I felt I would like it. I do like it. It is among the best novels I’ve read this year.

The novel is told in the first person by Klara, an artificial friend (AF), a kind of android, who exists to be a friend and helper for young people, children or teenagers. We meet her first sitting or standing in the window of a shop to attract customers. She is watching the pedestrians walk by and thinking about their relationships with other people and other AFs. She seems quite insightful, but also naïve and trusting. We also soon learn that she has special feelings for the sun, and for sunlight. I suspect, but don’t think we are ever told, that the AFs need sunlight as an energy source.

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Klara is selected by a young girl (or teenager) called Josie as her AF. She chooses Klara despite the fact that Klara is an older model, not the most up-to-date one. Her mother, who pays for the purchase of Klara, has the weird requirement that Klara must be able to imitate the way Josie, who has some kind of illness, walks. This sets up a strangely foreboding plotline that is only resolved later in the story, when we find out the secret plans Josie’s mother has for Klara (aided by the sinister scientist Mr. Capaldi).

Klara is taken to live with Josie, her mother and Melania the housekeeper. The housekeeper is initially hostile to Klara but later they collaborate to help Josie, whose illness gets increasingly worse. There are tensions in the household caused by the complicated relationship between Josie and her mother. Eventually we learn that Josie is one of a cohort of special children who were somehow “lifted”. Being lifted turns them into talented genius with a bright future but bad social skills. It is also a dangerous procedure that can fail, leading to the child’s death. This is the reason for Josie’s strained relationship with her mother and the reason for her mother’s nefarious plans for Klara in case Josie should die.
Klara and Josie’s unlifted friend Rick work together to try to save Josie’s life. Klara has a spiritual understanding of the sun who is kind of like a god for her. She comes up with a plan that involves an act of sacrifice on her part and a bargain with her sun god. I don’t want to spoil the end, so I won’t divulge the plan or if it works out or not, but instead I’ll write a bit about Klara.

Klara is always ready to say “yes” to everyone if it can help her to alleviate their loneliness, which she thinks is the main goal of the people she meets. She doesn’t seem to understand (at least not at first) that people can have much darker motivations or that the way some try to avoid loneliness can lead to greater evil. She is therefore very helpful and not very much concerned about her own good. We see scattered throughout the novel instances when AFs are ill-treated and they seem to be helpless or blame themselves. Klara’s way of physically seeing the world is very interesting. She has a strange fragmented sight, especially when she is upset. It’s like she sees the world through fragmented windows – a great way of showing that she’s not actually human. She also has problems with orientation and balance when she’s outside in strange places.

The society in which the novel is set has dystopian characteristics. AF are used and discarded like things although judging by Klara they are sentient beings. They are even capable of developing a religion. Their existence and treatment raise complex ethical question, at least in the reader. “Unlifted” people are discriminated against. All these topics are subtly shown as the plot evolves. The novel has a calm style, there’s nothing hurried about it but still sometimes there is a feeling of suspense. Readers have to figure everything out as Klara does – the only difference being that readers are likely to be a lot more suspicious and less naïve than Klara.

The ending is muted and kind of sad in many ways, but also subtly hopeful (at least I felt so). Klara, as her name indicates is just a bright, clear and shining presence. I think she’s the character I found most memorable of all the characters I’ve read about this year. There’s been a lot of hype around the novel which I find justified. I whole-heartedly recommend it.

Keep safe, world.

Tuesday Tidbits

When Partner was away, I drove to the garden centre where Mutti and I bought our small raised bed and I got another one plus some herbs and salad to plant in it. I got some more chives, some red-veined dock (mostly because it looked nice, but it is edible), some savory, some Thai basil (hoping that it will be hardier than normal basil), some lemon thyme, a chili plant and two salad plants (one romaine lettuce and one that I’ve forgotten the name of). Mum and I assembled the wooden bed, filled it with earth and planted the plants. They are doing really well (we’re already using them to season salads and other dishes), but I’m worried about next week, as we will be going to Bavaria again for 10 days and it’s supposed to turn quite hot, without rain (the last four or five days have been pleasantly cool and very rainy). So now I’m planning to put up a sunshade made from an old bed sheet above the plants and half drown them before we leave so that hopefully they will survive. They only get direct sun for about three hours every afternoon, so I think they have a chance.

Last weekend was a long one, due to the public holiday last Thursday (Corpus Christi). Partner returned on Thursday, which was super. For once I did the baking and made a rhubarb cake. A flat yeast bottom (like pizza, only sweet), rhubarb on top and a crumble on top of that. It lasted for three days and was tasty. Tart (because of the rhubarb) and sweet (because of the crumble). As Partner had returned early, while I stayed in bed reading and then had to take Curious Dog for his walk, he insisted on helping me with the cake when he arrived. He wouldn’t take “no” for an answer (he’s like that, always very helpful) and peeled and cut the rhubarb for me.

Last Friday, I had to get Curious Dog some new kibble. The last two 15 kg bags are almost used up and so I drove to the dog food shop and picked up another two bags. On the way back, I stopped off at a market and bought some fresh asparagus. I also did the usual cleaning and vacuuming, but there was also a lot of time to relax and read or watch movies. I tried to get an appointment for my Corona vaccination, because my company has now started vaccinating the employees, but lots of my colleagues also tried to get the vaccination, so it didn’t work out. There’s not enough vaccine for everyone. I’ll try again every Friday until I get my appointment and maybe I’ll also sign up at a local vaccination centre (now that it’s possible, as the prioritization has been dropped in most German countries). I’m actually not unhappy that I didn’t get an appointment for this week at my company, as we Mum and I will be driving to Bavaria on Thursday and that might not have been possible if I’d had a bad reaction to the vaccine. Mum’s got a doctor’s appointment next Monday in Bavaria and I would have hated to miss it.

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Partner and I continued watching The Underground Railroad. We are almost done, only two more episodes. As I’ve said before, it’s dark and powerful. Very unsettling. The only thing I don’t like about the series is that it is literally dark. Very often the scenes are set at night, or in dark places, and you can’t really see much. That’s annoying. We also watched the next episode of The Bad Batch (fun) and Raya and the Last Dragon on Disney+. I liked Raya a lot. The animations were lovely, the world-building great and the story was enjoyable. It was adventurous, funny, sometimes sad, with a happy end. Nice entertainment.

On Sunday, we watched the latest Tatort (Crime Scene) episode, but I didn’t like it much. It was one set in Berlin and somehow, I don’t like the police detective duo in the Berlin episodes. I don’t like their personalities and how they interact, so I’m not sure if I will watch another episode set in Berlin.

Yesterday, we watched an absolutely depressing documentary about the trade in apes, that is, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas. The population of those animals are declining very fast, because they are hunted for bush meat and to sell off the babies. They end up in terrible totally exploitative conditions and the states who are members of the Washington Convention (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) don’t do anything. In fact, government officials are often bribed to turn a blind eye. I can understand why poor people might kill and sell endangered animals, but those government officials aren’t poor. They are just greedy. It’s very sad for all the people in all the countries that work to safeguard the apes but are not supported by their own leaders. If this illegal trade is allowed to continue, soon there won’t be any apes living in freedom in their traditional habitats.

To turn to a less depressing topic, I read a lot on the weekend:

  • Martha Wells, Fugitive Telemetry.
    This is the 6th novella in the Murderbot Diaries. I loved it. I read it once, quickly and then reread it straight away. Then I went on and reread the first of the series, All Systems Red, just because I was in the mood.
    I’ve also discovered that there’s a short story set in the Murderbot world that I haven’t read yet, but I’m keeping it for a treat for later.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun.
    I got this one from my birthday (in March) from Partner. It’s great. Blew me away.
  • Laurie R. King, Locked Rooms.
    A reread, 7th in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. Also very good.
  • The Iliad (translated by Caroline Alexander). I only started this one.
    I read the Iliad in German ages ago, either while I was still in high school or while I was at university and didn’t love it. I thought I’d give it another try. I want to read the Odyssey in the translation by Emily Wilson, but the Iliad is kind of the prequel and I didn’t want to read one without the other. Now I’m loving the Iliad (maybe the translation is better or maybe I’ve just changed as a reader in the 20+ years since I last read it). I plan to finish by the end of June. Later on this year, I want to read some of the retellings of ancient Greek myths by authors like Madeline Miller, Jenifer Saint, Natalie Haynes and Pat Barker.

I’ll provide a more detailed review of those books soon (I hope).

I also continued reading Arabian Nights, which I also want to finish in June, and I read some more German poetry. I had a great long reading weekend and managed to do the normal amount of housework and a bit of weeding in my small garden as well. I felt quite accomplished by Sunday night.

I’ve got another long weekend coming up because I’ve taken next Monday and Tuesday off. On Monday there’s Mum’s doctor’s appointment (just a check-up) in the afternoon. I want to use those two days for some gardening and other chores at our place in Bavaria, but I’m sure I’ll also get some reading in. I’m too lazy to work in the garden all day (and it looks like it will be too hot in the afternoons anyway). I should also get an appointment for Curious Dog to get his yearly vaccinations. There’s lots to do in Bavaria.

Work is picking up again. I’ve planned my tasks for this and next week around my days off (I’m also taking this Thursday afternoon off, for the trip to Bavaria, as I didn’t feel like working on Friday instead. There’s lots to do, but at the moment things are manageable, knock on wood that it stays that way (it won’t, I’m pretty sure).

Keep safe, world.