THIS Reads: Sense and Serendipity

by thiszine

BY JOHN COLEMAN

I find it interesting how we stumble over the things we end up reading. What makes us pick up a certain newspaper, magazine or book, only to have it become one of our favourites? In hindsight, I sometimes realise odd licks of fate that initially guide me to a certain trend in writing, only to view it later as something monumental. For instance, I’ll always remember the cornerstone novel in my life being Orwell’s 1984. I first read it on a philosophical whim when I was thirteen years old; I was coming of age and getting interested in world politics, and had heard how prolific was the novel’s satire of modern democratic society, derived from a premonition. I not only fell in love with Orwell (since having read most of his catalogue), but 1984 influenced my perception of the world. Whenever I reminisce on how I forged my left-wing, anti-establishment, down-with-globalisation ways, I often think of how trapped Winston Smith is, constantly evading Big Brother, and how the thought of becoming him forever changed my outlook.

It seems like lately, in a much less momentous way, I have oddly stumbled over more reading when titles jumped out at me for some reason and became some of my favourites. Here are a few that I have tripped over in the past few weeks.

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer
I fell upon Packer while reading an article about the New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 list in this a few months back. Skimming through the finalists, the words Drinking Coffee Elsewhere pulled me in for a couple of reasons. One: It reminded me of the movie “Coffee and Cigarettes,” one of my favourites, a documentary about rock and roll warlords. Two: Because it sounds so good (I know, but if you share this sentiment, you know what I mean). Thankfully, the witty title of this collection of stories was not a guise to lure in readers, only to have them disappointed at some lame, poorly written life story. Contrarily, ZZ Packer’s style is sensational. She not only attacks identity and gender theories, racism, and other contemporary controversial topics in Coffee, but does it with some of the best writing I’ve ever read. I highly recommend.

Anton Chekhov
I recently reviewed a book of modernised Chekhov tales and while doing so realised that I had never actually read anything by Chekhov. It’s hard to say this as an English major, but true. I had only heard of his prowess – how he is the best Russian story writer of all time and second to Shakespeare in the world-scope of bards. And, I’m pretty sure a few Simpsons episodes are taken straight from Chekhov‘s pages. Needless to say, I had to do some buffing up. What I mainly love about Chekhov’s over two hundred stories (and a number of plays) is the focus on everyday life. Whether drawing characters from working class Russia or writing about important national landmarks, Chekhov had an unbelievable knack for depicting reality in a highly important era.

Death In Venice by Thomas Mann
The other day I was reading the arts section of the newspaper and came across a review of a new opera in Toronto, Death In Venice, based on the novella by Thomas Mann. Once again, and I don’t know why, this title leapt off the page at me. I instantly hit the library. Now, if there is one thing I love about literature, it’s being able to get entranced by writing. Venice opens with its hero Gustav von Aschenbach taking a very Poe-esque walk by the cemetery where he bumps into an eerie stalker. From this, I was hooked. But the story is more than a Gothic stroll; it deals with everything from ancient philosophy, Shakespearian tragedy and the Narcissistic archetype. Check this out if you enjoy quick reads and allusion rich literature requiring an afternoon or two full of research.

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