Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo

★★★☆☆ (3/5)

A selection of favourite passages from the book

• I could see the room was completely empty. “There’s no place to sleep,” I said. “Don’t worry about that. You must be tired from your journey, and weariness makes a good mattressimages

• I swallow foamy saliva; I chew clumps of dirt crawling with worms that knot in my throat and push against the roof of my mouth. . . . My mouth caves in, contorted, lacerated by gnawing, devouring teeth. My nose grows spongy. My eyeballs liquefy. My hair burns in a single bright blaze.. . . .” He was surprised by Susana San Juan’s calm. He wished he could divine her thoughts and see her heart struggling to reject the images he was sowing within her

• The road rose and fell. It rises or falls depending on whether you’re coming or going. If you are leaving, it’s uphill; but as you arrive it’s downhill

• That town sits on the coals of the earth, at the very mouth of hell. They say that when people from there die and go to hell, they come back for a blanket

• The picture of my mother I was carrying in my pocket felt hot against my heart, as if she herself were sweating

• I can’t break her of that habit, but it’s too late now.

• Then he heard the weeping. That was what woke him: a soft but penetrating weeping that because it was so delicate was able to slip through the mesh of sleep and reach the place where his fear lived

• Through the door he could see the dawn. There were no stars. Only a leaden gray sky still untouched by the rays of the sun. A drab light that seemed more like the onset of night than the beginning of day

• I’m suspicious of my own shadow.

• Every sigh is like a drop of your life being swallowed up

• Suddenly it will thunder. And rain. Maybe spring’s on its way. You’ll get used to the “suddenlys” there, my son.

• Hope? You pay dear for that

• And even if I had looked up, what good would it have done? The sky is so high and my eyes so clouded that I was happy just knowing where the ground was

• We live in a land in which everything grows, thanks to God’s providence; but everything that grows is bitter. That is our curse

• console you with my own inconsolable sorrow

• there is no memory, however intense, that does not fade

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Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors

★☆☆☆☆ (1/5)

This has been quite a tedious read. Perhaps it is befitting here to blame the translator for the dry, wiry prose that dampened an otherwise mildly interesting premise.

Sonja, our protagonist, is a forty-something year old literary translator who is stuck between defining relationships and identities of others and herself. She is distanced from her family and settling in a new city where she is learning how to drive (albeit unsuccessfully). A horde of characters around her include her driving instructors, her family, a masseuse and some friends.

The author (or the translator) failed to develop a bond between the reader and the characters. Copenhagen fails to make a mark as the chief setting of the novel. The characters are isolated and boxed in writing only.

This is one of those few books which bring upon self-loathing whilst reading, on account of the fact that I cannot abandon a book midway and must conclude it at all costs, no matter the tedium and dullness that comes along the way.

A selection of my favourite passages from the book

• Language is powerful, almost magic, and the smallest alteration can elevate a sentence or be its undoing.

• With Jytte, all bad things stem from quiet. Just like Kate, Jytte senses danger in blank expanses, so the thing is to abrade them with tedious speech, cake recipes, dog hair

• The back of the heart is the spot between the shoulder blades. Ellen calls it the back of the heart because that’s where you get stabbed when you get stabbed in the back

• Everything’s supposed to mean something else, everything’s supposed to be rising, tearing itself free of its wrappings, climbing up to some higher meaning; it’s supposed to get away from where it’s been. Reality will not suffice

• Ellen has a practical bent, Sonja reminds herself; she’s the type that has a grasp of the tangible. She also thinks I should form my hands like a funnel over my head so the universe can dribble energy into me, which means she’s got a grasp of the intangible too

• Life ought to be kept at a boil, dramas a-simmer, and beneath the love you never had there should be the roar of tinder-dry twigs catching fire.

• Mom’s world exists within herself. She doesn’t need to ring up the world outside

• That the past contains stones we can use to build a bridge to a better future—Kate doesn’t buy it

• When it rains this hard, she can’t see the city she’s gone astray in. Nor can she hear it.

• Her face is a sieve that would let water trickle right out, and she has to focus to shut it off.

• She learned the city’s movements, its dialog, its form. But bit by bit it stopped making sense.

• Back where I come from, we’ve got a heath so large and ancient that it’s developed its own consciousness

How Reading Changed My Life by Anna Quindlen 

★★★★☆ (4/5)

A selection of favourite passages from the book

• Perhaps only a truly discontented child can become as seduced by books as I was. Perhaps restlessness is a necessary corollary of devoted literacyimages

• “Reading makes immigrants of us all,” she wrote years later. “It takes us away from home, but, most important, it finds homes for us everywhere.”

• Reading has always been my home, my sustenance, my great invincible companion

• While we pay lip service to the virtues of reading, the truth is that there is still in our culture something that suspects those who read too much, whatever reading too much means, of being lazy, aimless dreamers, people who need to grow up and come outside to where real life is, who think themselves superior in their separateness

• Reading for pleasure was replaced by reading for purpose, and a kind of dogged self-improvement: whereas an executive might learn far more from Moby Dick or The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, the book he was expected to have read might be The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People

• But there was much more than freedom. Reading became the pathway to the world, a world without geographic boundaries or even the steep risers of time. There was a time machine in our world, but not the contraption of metal and bolts and motors

• This ability of a book to lessen isolation is important, not simply for personal growth, but for cultural and societal growth as well. Before the advent of television, books were the primary vehicle for discovering both the mysteries and the essential human similarities of those a world away

The Little Virtues by Natalia Ginzburg

★★★★★ (5/5)

A selection of favourite passages from the book

Winter in the Abruzzi

• When the first snows began to fall a quiet sadness took hold of us. We were in exile: our city was a long way off, and so were books, friends, the various desultory events of a real existenceimages (2)

• There is a kind of uniform monotony in the fate of man. Our lives unfold according to ancient, unchangeable laws, according to an invariable and ancient rhythm

Worn-Out Shoes

• But what kind of men will they be? I mean, what kind of shoes will they have when they are men? What road will they choose to walk down? Will they decide to give up everything that is pleasant but not necessary, or will they affirm that everything is necessary and that men have the right to wear sound, solid shoes on their feet?

Portrait of a Friend

• But because he had always expected it, it gave him no pleasure when it came, since as soon as he had something he was incapable of loving or enjoying it.

England: Eulogy and Lament

• The English rarely show surprise. If it happens that someone faints in the street, everything is provided for. In a few seconds a chair is found for him, a glass of water, a uniformed nurse. That people may faint in the street has been foreseen, and everything goes on around the patient automatically and promptly so that help is at hand

• Italy is a country which is willing to submit itself to the worst governments. It is, as we know, a country ruled by disorder, cynicism, incompetence and confusion. Nevertheless we are aware of intelligence circulating in the streets like a vivid bloodstream. This is an intelligence which is clearly useless. It is not used to benefit any institution that might to some extent improve the human condition. All the same, it warms and consoles the heart, even if this is an illusory comfort and perhaps a foolish one

• In Italy a tree in blossom at the roadside would be a delightful surprise. It would be there by chance, having sprung. out of the earth in sheer joy, and not because a calculated decision had been made that it should be there.

• Indeed, nothing in the world is sadder than an English conversation, in which everyone is careful to keep to superficialities and never touch on anything essential. In order not to offend your neighbour, not to violate his privacy— which is sacred—an English conversation revolves around subjects that are extremely boring for everyone concerned, but in which there is no danger

• In England intelligence is translated into deeds, but if we look for it among the people who pass us in the street we only find a faint glimmer and this—stupidly and unjustly certainly—gives us a feeling of loss and induces melancholy

• England is a country where people stay exactly as they are. The soul does not receive the slightest jolt

• The soul does not free itself from its vices but neither does it attach itself to new vices, Like the grass, the soul silently lulls itself in its green solitude, watered by the tepid rain

He and I

• If I occasionally hear a piece of music that I like I don’t know how to remember it; and how can I love something that I can’t remember?

The Son of Man

• Once the experience of evil has been endured it is never forgotten

My Vocation

• it always seems to me that there must be some correct way of doing these things which others know about and I don’t

• If you carry details around inside yourself for a long time without making use of them, they wear out and waste away. Not only details but everything, all your ideas and clever notions

Silence

• A man has no choice but to accept his face as he has no choice but to accept his destiny: and the only choice he is permitted is the choice between good and evil, between justice and injustice, between truth and lies

Human Relationships

• all around us moves a crowd of people who are apparently calm and light-hearted while we, oh we are the gloomiest, most gauche and detestable thing on earth

• After many years, only after many years, after a thick web of habits, memories and violent differences has been woven between us, we at last realize that he is, in truth, the right person for us, that we could not have put up with anyone else, that it is only from him that we can ask everything that the heart needs

The Little Virtues

• As far as the education of children is concerned I think they should be taught not the little virtues but the great ones. Not thrift but generosity and an indifference to money; not caution but courage and a contempt for danger; nor shrewdness but frankness and a love of truth; not tact but love for one’s neighbour and self-denial; not a desire for success but a desire to be and to know.

• In reality the difference is only an apparent one. The little virtues also arise from our deepest instincts, from a defensive instinct; but in them reason speaks, holds forth, displays its arguments as the brilliant advocate of self-preservation. The great virtues well up from an instinct in which reason does not speak, an instinct that seems to be difficult to name. And the best of us is in that silent instinct, and not in our defensive instinct which harangues, holds forth and displays its arguments with reason’s voice.

• If we deny him a bicycle which he wants and which we could buy him we only prevent him from having something that it is reasonable a boy should have, we only make his childhood less happy in the name of an abstract principle and without any real justification. And we are tacitly saying to him that money is better than a bicycle; on the contrary he should learn that a bicycle is always better than money

• The true defence against wealth is not a fear of wealth—of its fragility and of the vicious consequences that it can bring—the true defence against wealth is an indifference to money

• The money we give our children should be given for no reason; it should be given indifferently so that they will learn to receive it indifferently; but it should be given not so that they learn to love it, but so that they learn not to love it, so that they realize its true nature and its inability to satisfy our truest desires

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter 

★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

• For a souvenir, for a warning, for a lick of night in the morning. For a little break in the mourningunnamed

• So, yes. I do eat baby rabbits, plunder nests, swallow filth, cheat death, mock the starving homeless, misdirect, misinform. Oi, stab it! A bloody load of time wasted. But I care, deeply. I find humans dull except in grief. There are very few in health, disaster, famine, atrocity, splendour or normality that interest me

• She was not busy dying, and there is no detritus of care, she was simply busy living, and then she was gone

• You remind me of everything I have ever been interested in

• Once upon a time there was a demon who fed on grief. The delicious aroma of raw shock and unexpected loss came wafting from the doors and windows of a widower’s sad home.

• I remember a story about a Japanese writer who fell on his own sword and it was so sharp it cut through blood and came out clean from his back.

• Ghosts do not haunt, they regress

• Once upon a time there were two boys who purposefully misremembered things about their father. It made them feel better if ever they forgot their mother