I love this idea, being hosted by Sarah’s Book Shelves, of pairing a fiction book with a nonfiction book that is in some way related. I have been thinking about this on and off all week (hence my post is coming in just under the wire to properly be part of the challenge), and I have a few suggestions below.
- On the feeling of being rescued and comforted by books
On the surface, it perhaps seems strange or even disrespectful to pair a memoir about being female under the oppressive regime in Iran with an absurd speculative fiction novel about mucking about in the backstory of Jane Eyre, but I think both of these books convey something absolutely true about being a reader: the feeling of needing to read. Both Azar Nafisi and Thursday Next feel a compulsion to read, often excessively and obsessively, as a form of escape. Thursday immerses herself into fiction, and in Reading Lolita in Tehran, Nafisi writes this:
I became again the child I had been when I would indiscriminately and waywardly pick up books, slouch in the nearest available corner, and read and read. I picked up Murder on the Orient Express, Sense and Sensibility, The Master and Margarita, Herzog, The Gift, The Count of Monte Cristo, Smiley’s People—any book I could get my hands on in my father’s library, in secondhand bookstores, in the still-unravaged libraries in friends’ houses—and read them all, an alcoholic drowning her inarticulate sorrows.
I quoted that in my original review of Reading Lolita in Tehran, and it’s still something that I think about a lot. I’m sure that many book bloggers have had times where they read as solace and comfort in the midst of despair, and I think that both of these books convey that, albeit in very different ways.
- On the ridiculousness of English people
English people are ridiculous. This is probably true of any particular group of people, observed from the inside, but I am especially aware of it in England, given that this is my home. PG Wodehouse captures our stilted social skills, class awkwardness, and inability to make eye contact with strangers in many of his novels, but I think the Blandings Castle series does this best. And, of course, Bill Bryson has beautifully satirised us all from the perspective of an American. I think that both of these books affectionately represent a lot of what I find strange or confusing about English people.
- On the excitement of travelling somewhere new
I love travelling (and I love trains in particular; see this especially nerdy book review), and I have especially fond memories of my first couple of solo international trips, both made for conferences. I think that Europe in Autumn, a near-future thriller about the break-up of Europe into hundreds of tiny city-states, perfectly represents how exciting it is to travel alone. Although it was written pre-Brexit, pre-Catalonia etc., it sums up the current atmosphere in Western Europe unsettlingly well. I am still halfway through Night Trains: The rise and fall of the sleeper, but I think it conveys the same feeling, albeit in a much more grandiose sort of way. There is a beautiful luxury to travelling by yourself and not being beholden to anybody else’s plans or schedules, and I think both books give off the feeling that you are travelling along with them.
I am really enjoying seeing everyone else’s Nonfiction November posts, and am looking forward to catching up on this week’s blogs tomorrow morning. What has everyone been reading this week?