26 June 2020

Book Beginning: Sandwich: A Global History by Bee Wilson

Book Beginnings is a weekly meme hosted by Rose City Reader. We share the first sentence (or so) of the book we are reading, along with our initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.
Portable, quick, satisfying, cheap and requiring neither plate nor cutlery, the sandwich is the most universal of all fast food, the archetypal hand-held snack.

Lately I have unearthed quite a few series of small, non-fiction books. "Sandwich" is from one called "Edible" with single-word titles such as: Milk, Pancake, Soup, Spices, Whiskey, and Chocolate. The publisher says:
Edible is a revolutionary new series of books dedicated to food and drink that explores the rich history of cuisine. Each book reveals the global history and culture of one type of food or beverage.

I think this will be perfect for light summer reading, although it might be hunger inducing!

17 June 2020

Some Current Reads

It's a few days late for it, but here's my entry for June's Quick Lit, a monthly meme on the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog. The creator is Anne Bogel, who explains that Quick Lit is where "we share short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately on the 15th of the month".

Translation: A Very Short Introduction by Matthew Reynolds

This is another book in Oxford University Press's A Very Short Introduction series, now 689 books strong. From Abolitionism to Zionism, from Lincoln to Rousseau, from Advertising to Sleep, and everything in between is discussed in a very accessible way in about 125 pages each.

So far I've read "Italian Literature", "Languages", and now "Translation". I find this series perfect for dipping a toe into a subject without digesting an entire 500-page tome on the topic. Each book has sections on references and further reading, in case I want to pursue that topic further.

I have been reading more literature in translation recently, and wanted to know something about the processes and issues involved. I find it hard to summarize this type of book, so I'm giving you the publisher's blurb about it:
In this Very Short Introduction, Matthew Reynolds gives an authoritative and thought-provoking account of the field, from ancient Akkadian to World English, from St Jerome to Google Translate. He shows how translation determines meaning, how it matters in commerce, empire, conflict and resistance, and why it is fundamental to literature and the arts.
Reading this slim volume helped me to better appreciate the translated novels I've been reading.

Literature: Why It Matters by Robert Eaglestone
Polity 2019

I enjoy these small books about big topics, and the Why It Matters series from Polity Books is another good source of quick, distilled information. The literature topic is very complex, more than I'd imagined. I did like this volume, but, again, cannot easily tell you what it's about. I'll let the publisher explain it:
"Facts alone are wanted in life," exclaims Mr Gradgrind at the beginning of Dickens' Hard Times. Literature is not about facts alone, and – despite two and a half thousand years of arguments – no one can agree on what it is, or how to study it. But, argues Robert Eaglestone, it is precisely the open-ended nature of literature that makes it such a rewarding and useful subject.
Eaglestone shows that studying literature can change who you are, turning you from a "reader" into a "critic": someone attuned to the ways we make meaning in our world. Literature is a living conversation which provides endless opportunities to rethink and reinterpret our societies and ourselves. With examples ranging from Sappho to Skyrim, this book shows how literature offers freer and deeper ways of thinking and being.

The whole series is worth reading, and this one only has 12 books!

Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih
Translated by Denys Johnson-Davies
Heinemann, 2008
Originally published in Arabic, 1966

I had high hope for this short novella. It's another of my finds in the clearance section at my local used bookstore. I had not heard of the author before, but the influential literary critic Edward W. Said proclaimed this novel to be "among the six finest novels to be written in modern Arabic literature". It also fit into my plan to read more translated literature.

One of the glowing reviews, in the The Observer (London), had this to say:
An "Arabian Nights" in reverse, enclosing a moral about international misconceptions and delusions. This is the story of a student who returns to his village after his obsession with the West had led him to London and the beds of women with similar obsessions about the mysterious East...Powerfully and poetically written and splendidly translated by Denys Johnson-Davies.
The first 2/3 of the book was very interesting, the prose lyrical and readable. The descriptions of the Sudanese men in London and the Londoners' impressions of the Sudanese men are well written, and perhaps especially enlightening in the current era of trying to understand racial bias. But then it veered off into violence and the grotesque. I did finish it, but overall I would say I did not like this book. I don't like violent, grotesque movies or TV shows either. Maybe if you can think of it all as allegory you would like it.

This is my entry in the Classic in Translation category for the 2020 Back to the Classics challenge. It's also part of my reading for the 2020 Mount TBR Challenge.