contemporary fine literature

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Let me share with you, my friends, a quandary that has been occupying my thoughts in the last two months, since the purchase of my Kindle. Though I was once very fond of European and western literature, I’ve not kept up with what was happening in that area of artistic endeavor… for many years. And so, with the newly acquired ability to order books in English and have them delivered in a matter of minutes, I started my search for contemporary literature in the west.

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To understand what I was looking for, you should have an idea of my taste in reading material. I won’t speak of the subjects that I have been following in my own language, sometimes in translation. For I have an interest in history, philosophy, and anthropology, as well as the physical sciences. But what I haven’t been reading for years, is contemporary fiction and poetry. And that is what I wished to explore and update. In fact, even describing this subject was a bit hard for me, because I kept thinking of ‘modern literature’, forgetting that ‘modern’ is a designation for a cultural period that has already been swept into the past.

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In my younger days, I devoured the writings of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, and quite a few of the modern European writers and Thinkers. I was especially enthusiastic about the American and English writers. I will mention just a few of my very favorite volumes and writers. Albert Camus was an all time favorite. But I especially appreciated the Stranger and The Plague. I read many of the works of Saul Bellow, but the book that stood out more than all the rest, was ‘Henderson the Rain King’, and I recommended that book to many of my friends. I would recommend it to all of my readers, if you haven’t read it. It is a truly exceptional literary adventure. I read all of John Steinbeck, and loved ‘East of Eden’ the most. Admired Earnest Hemmingway very much, and though many have read his ‘Old Man and the Sea’, and that is truly one of the great peaks of modern literature, there are some others, like ‘Moveable Feast’ that are well worth reading. One of the books I came upon almost by accident, was ‘Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes written as a short story in 1958, and later expanded into a novel. It left me with a life long impression, and is one of the reasons that even now I continuously look for new works of Science Fiction. But I regret to say, that I haven’t found much recently that has captured my attention in that field.

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Another modern science fiction book that really made an impression on me was ‘Cat’s Cradle’ by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. But the more I read of him, the more treasures I found, and I believe that ‘Breakfast of Champions’ is one of the great works of 20th century fiction. I especially loved the conversation between man and god. William Faulkner was a great inspiration for me. Reading his prose was like reading poetry, and it was while I read him in the original English, that I first ventured to think that I might like writing in that language. I would suggest ‘The Sound and the Fury’ to those who have not read him. And of course, the mention of this inspiration brings to mind Joseph Conrad, who wrote in English though his own language was Polish, and is surely an inspiration for all those who have learned to love English as a second language.

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Discovering Jack Kerouac lead me to the Beat Generation and a treasure trove of fine writing after WWII. I could write at length about what I found there, but this post has a different purpose. Yet, in that connection (and again, I can’t tell the whole story here), I would like to mention still another great book, which came out late for me, but which I managed to read, and I treasure it to this day; ‘Straight Life’, the autobiography by Art Pepper, that great saxophone player and composer, whose music I love and listen to, often. And I can’t forget the important contribution of Norman Mailer to the public discussion of values and the meaning of life, even if he was not always at his best, and embarrassed himself by his actions on more than one occasion. Still I consider ‘Advertisements for Myself’ a beautiful example of the aspirations of some of the finest intellectuals in the west after WWII.

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Though I have a special love for thinkers, and writers who are influenced by philosophy, I do like adventure and amusement, and spent many enjoyable hours reading Graham Greene and Raymond Chandler. Their writing offered a penetrating view of the society around them, even while entertaining the reader and offering an escape from some of the more dismal realities of their times. Such writers were a balance to such as Aldous Huxley and Arthur Koestler, two of my favorites… who continuously grappled with the possibilities of further expanding the awareness of man, and coming to terms with meaning in life. And here I might mention that Koestler too adopted English as a second language.

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So this gives you an idea of what I look for and what I have found valuable in reading western authors. It is just a partial list, but it represents my taste. And I was sure that if I went looking for contemporary authors, I would discover like minds among the present generation. In the last few months, I have found three very interesting authors, and I am presently reading their works. I have read four volumes by Margaret Atwood, two books by T.C. Boyle, and am presently reading ‘Independence Day’ by Richard Ford. I realize that this post is getting long as it is, without a discussion of these writers as compared to my expectations. Perhaps I will have to write a ‘part 2’ to this post, for further discussion. But let me just say, that I hope to find inspiration in my reading. I believe in human choices, and believe that even when criticizing the wrongs of society, and our own failures as human beings, it’s equally important to be constantly on the look out for what can nurture our own potential, and that of our fellow man.

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77 responses to “contemporary fine literature

  1. Thank you for sharing some of your library, Shimon. Now I’ll share a couple of good contemporary British writers – Pat Barker and her world war 1 trilogy – Regeneration, Ghost Road etc, and Hilary Mantel’s works about Thomas Cromwell – Wolf Hall being the first of her trilogy – both intelligent, multi-layered writers with plenty to say.

  2. A fascinating list, Shimon. And yes, if we can see our failures and learn from them, then we can nurture both ourselves and others, and hopefully bring a little healing for the past. As to contemporary poetry, I would recommend the Nobel-prizewinner Seamus Heaney, who has recently died.

    • I have heard of Seamus Heaney, but not read him yet. I will try to find some of his poetry and see if I can get to know his writing. I’ve also noted your enthusiasm for Mantel, so that will be high on my books to read. Thank you very much, Gill.

  3. as for science fiction, did you read anything by Alfred Bester (“The Demolished Man”), Stanislaw Lem (“Solaris”), Robert Heinlein (“Stranger in a Strange Land”), or Ursula K. Le Guin (“The Dispossessed”, “The Left Hand of Darkness”, “The Lathe of Heaven”)?

    • I read quite a bit of Heinlein, including ‘Stranger’, and a little bit of Lem. But the other writers you’ve mentioned are new to me, and I really appreciate your taking the time to help me find reading material.

  4. Thank you for sharing, Shimon. I love to read and learn. Even though I have a Kindle, I still prefer the traditional, physical book. I guess I am old fashioned.

    • Used to think I was a great revolutionary when I was young. But then as the years went by, I realized I was quite conservative myself. But once I got to know the computer, I adopted it as a beloved tool. And when it comes to reading, it really doesn’t matter to me much, if it’s in a conventional old fashioned book, or on the computer or a Kindle. For me, reading is one of the most intimate of acts… I feel as if the ideas of the writer are transferred by symbols to my mind… and all that is intervening is unimportant. I feel the same way writing. Thanks very much for your comment, Ann.

  5. Lucky you to be fluent in two (maybe more?) languages and able to read the original works. Someone once told me that if I read Hebrew writers translated into English it wouldn’t be the same. That’s probably true of all translated works.

    • Actually, I worked as a translator for some time in my life, and so I am very sensitive to the difficulties of translation. Some works are relatively easy to translate, and others very difficult. Unfortunately, one of my favorite writers, and one of the best of Israeli writers, Shmuel Agnon, is very difficult to translate, and I believe he is difficult to appreciate in translation. But there are others who are translated well. I’ve read many volumes of translated literature, and they have enriched my life. Thank you very much for your comment, Lisa.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your literature reading, Shimon. It is a great advantage to be able to read original works.

    • Yes, it’s a great advantage, Amy. But I don’t limit myself to reading literature in the original. There are many fine books that I’ve read in translation. Sometimes, the translated versions are easier for me to get here, even when the original is in English. And so I read Margaret Atwood in Hebrew before I got the Kindle. But that is one of the reasons that I so appreciate ebooks. It’s easier to get them without lengthy waits. Thanks for the comment.

  7. Well I hope you find inspiration in your current reading and I shall look forward to part 2.

    There are a lot of authors here I haven’t read, so will look out for them.
    I really enjoyed seeing the book pics with the fantastic illustrations….

    I too suspect that you are fluent in more than two languages…

    I loved the idea of constantly being on the look out for what can nurture our and our fellow man’s potential.xxxx

    • Originally, I had intended to include part 2 in this post. But I found that once I started writing about the subject, there was more to say than I had expected. So this is really just part of the picture. And we are really in holiday mode at this time. And I have much less time to spend with my computer. If you haven’t read Henderson the Rain King, I would definitely recommend that one to you. And look forward to hearing what you think of it. Since it’s an old book, you’re sure to find it in your library. As for nurturing ourselves and our fellows, I have to admit that I started out quite selfish. But when you do encounter enlightening experiences and literature, it’s great fun to share with others. As to languages, Dina… next to Hebrew, which I love with my heart and soul, one of my favorite languages is cat.

      • Lol……well of course I expected you to be fluent in cat!!!! I’m rather nervous of speaking cat to strange cats though, they can be awfully judgemental if you get it wrong!!!!

        I will read the Rain King and let you know how I get on.xxxx

        • Your comment reminded me of something unconnected that I heard recently, and it made me laugh. The person was speaking of relationships between men and women, and referred to women as a ‘species’. In the case of cats, though, I feel safe referring to them as a different species, and as much as I love them, I have to say that most of them are rather prejudiced and opinionated, and so I can understand your getting nervous around strange cats. Very judgmental, as you say. But from my experience, their natural curiosity has been powerful enough to allow getting to know and making friends with a great number of strange cats, and I have enjoyed these relationships. My trick was always showing great respect. xxx

          • Hubs often considers me a different species……lol

            Ahha! Yes, respect is the key with strange cats, I never speak to them in cat, instead I murmur in human, or female, and coax them in until they allow me the great honour of stroking them. I instantly quit when I see the first quick flick of the tail indicating that the petting must stop. xxxx

  8. I am going to jot down your recommendations and list, Shimon…it is fabulous! And I also really enjoyed the photographs of the books…they are fantastic!

    • I’m very glad you liked the illustrations, Kathleen. One of my big problems these days is that I just don’t have enough room for any more books. And I’m happy to hear you’re going to try some of my recommendations. You personally might be interested in Joyce Cary, if you haven’t encountered him yet. I thought the “Horse’s Mouth” was excellent, and I thought he would interest you because he comes from the world of painting.

  9. What and interesting list! And so glad to see we have similar tastes in Literature. I too loved Camus and L’Etranger made a big impression on me when I read it as a 17-year-old for my high Baccalaureate (had to read it in French too, which was the foreign language I was studying at the time), as did the Trial and Metamorphosis by Kafka.

    I shall certainly look at some of the books you’re suggesting, especially Flowers for Algernon, as I love Science Fiction too.

    Thank you very much once again for sharing this with us.

    • It doesn’t really surprise me that we have similar tastes, Fatima. And I’m glad to hear that you love Camus as I do. Though in the case of Kafka, though I admire his brilliance, he makes me so unhappy that I didn’t like reading him that much. Flowers for Algernon is really a wonderful book, and I’m glad to hear that you intend to read it. Thanks a lot for your comment.

  10. What a wonderful list of books and authors … many of whom are familiar to me, and some who have never managed to catch my attention. Diverse tastes and a willingness for exploration are always a good starting point when choosing new reading material. I’m sure you will continue to discover authors who stimulate your intellect and help you uncover new ideas.

    I’ve recently come back to reading again … long story short, when I was working, apparently the strain from looking at the computer all day kept me from being able to read for pleasure in the evenings. I was delighted when an unexpected ability to read again surfaced after I was forced to go on medical disability. In losing one thing, I gained another.

    My tastes these days are focused on fictional writing, with an angle towards the discovery of life’s mysteries. For instance, right now I am reading ‘I Know This Much is True’ by Wally Lamb. It is an odd mix of old world traditions, psychological turmoil, and modern day travails, and as I approach the end of the book, it has me wondering how all these different paths might converge to come to a satisfactory conclusion. I have such a deep appreciation for the artistic quality in how an author chooses to weave a story, so my enjoyment of any book is always tempered by both the author, and the story, and how the two come together to form a whole.

    Perhaps that is where I derive the most pleasure from reading. Any writer, when they are writing with honesty and purpose, can’t help but reveal something about themselves. I enjoy the pursuit of that glimpse of the author that is layered under the cloak of their words. The story is one thing; the person behind the story is another. Both are worth exploring.

    • Very good to hear that you’ve gone back to reading, N. I know what a blessing it is when we have problems that are filling our heads, and it also offers us different perspectives, and widens our horizons. If you haven’t read Henderson the Rain King, I think you would find it a great read. I haven’t heard of Wally Lamb, and I plan to check him out soon. I too, often feel a bond of friendship for an author when I have been moved or inspired by his writing. Thank you very much for your comment.

  11. Great list here! The comments are also helpful because I’m in a similar place — I have a Kindle and have begun devouring contemporary literature. You have many of my favorites listed: Faulkner, Henry Miller. I love Margaret Atwood. If you’re looking for good sci fi, I’ll second the comment above about Ursula Le Guin. Other recommendations are :Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending. I also love Amitav Ghosh’s novels. He’s an Indian writer but writes in English. Jhumpa Lahiria, an American Indian writer is also one of my favorite contemporary writers. Happy reading!

    • Thank you so much, Jordan, for adding to my reading list. I look forward to trying out the books and authors you have mentioned here. I thought that if I’d write about my difficulties with finding reading matter, I’d get some good recommendations on the blog. Just one correction. You mention Henry Miller. I have read some fascinating articles by him on the business of writing, and I was impressed. But when I tried reading one of his famous books, I felt myself put off. Of course this was 50 years ago, and maybe I should give him another chance. What might have caused the confusion was the similarity between his name and the man that I mentioned, Norman Mailer, who I consider a master, though some of his works were not all that good.

  12. At my age one would think that at least it would be possible for me to say most of the classics have been read, but alas no…… I love Jane Austen, Émile Zola, Dostoyevsky and the more contemporary Solzhenitsyn (I found his ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ very moving) fortunately both my wife and daughter are avid readers (they would turn that around 🙂 ) between us we have more books than is really sensible. So like you I have taken to reading an E-Book reader, just because of a lack of bookshelf space. The problem with that is; I now have an E-book and conventional book on the go at the same time!
    Having just read your post, I now think ho, I must read that, a big problem, because I read books and authors will quote a reference or comment on a book, so off I go again. My other problem is that I love reading books by foreign (non-native English language authors) which compounds the situation. Is there any hope – I don’t think so…..
    At the moment I am reading Why Does E=mc2? By Brian Cox, and part two of a biography of John Ruskin. Before that it was The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks (he writes good science fiction by the way) and for humorous SF I will quote “The answer to life the universe and everything is 42!” 🙂 guess what book.
    But on a more serious note; are we not lucky in that we can debate what books we should read or are reading? Not to mention that here I am in Oman and you are in Israel (the wonders of the Internet) I shall look forward to your part two.

    David.

    • I’m so glad that you added to the list of the classics, David. For I too loved the works of Jane Austen, Émile Zola, Dostoyevsky and Solzhenitsyn. My favorite of the last, was ‘The Cancer Circle’, but really I liked all of his works. And I have the same problem of a lack of shelves for more books. I really appreciate your reading suggestions and will follow them up. And I agree with you whole heartedly, regarding the advantages of the internet. I’m an old man, and I feel like I’ve had a couple or more incarnations in this life. But since the personal computer and the internet, I truly feel as if I’m in still another life. Very glad to shake hands with you, from Israel to Oman. I am grateful for the opportunity.

  13. An enjoyable post as always Shimon. I so very much miss reading. We share a lot of favourites here. Unfortunately the cognitive dysfunction associated with Multiple Sclerosis has largely robbed me of this pleasure but have Kindle on my iPad and am able to dip into books on occasion and even if I only manage a page and retain just half of it, it’s worth the struggle. I will be following up a few of the titles you have mentioned here. Thank you for sharing some of your library. I look forward to part two.

    • I am very sorry to hear of this added handicap that you have to suffer, Chillbrook. I was unaware of that. But I myself have suffered from other blows as a result of a heart ailment, and know what it’s like adjusting to new limitations. I admire your perseverance, and finding other things that you do well. That is the way I look at life too. And I appreciate the difficulty. Best wishes always.

  14. It’s always interesting to see what other people are reading. It also illustrates the immense diversity of the written word. For my fact fix I tend to read about causes or issues about which I either have sympathy for example Ireland, the Irish Troubles or antipathy for example Nazi Germany, How & Why, Stalin. I tend to read history and currently I’m trying get to grips with Netherlands and northern Europe from the Holy Roman Empire but it’s so complicated. Just the Dutch reformation is a nightmare of epic proportions. I started Quiet Flows The Don by Mikhail Sholokhov about 5 years ago and it’s that long since I last read it, I’ve completely forgotten the sequence of events.
    As for Kindle, I’ve got one but buy most of my books from second hand shops so it’s mainly the printed word for me.
    I’ve recently done a few biographies, rugby players, musicians and the odd actor but like shopping centres, once you’ve seen one you’ve seen a Mall. I’ll get me coat…..

    • History has always been very interesting to me as well, Mick. Usually it doesn’t matter to me if I sympathize with the forces at work, or detest them. When reading history, one gains a certain perspective on the nature of human society, though of course there are better and worse… just like people. I too used to love used book stores, and there was a time when there were quite a few English books to be found in the book stores here in Jerusalem. But nowadays, it’s harder for me to find English books that interest me here, and that is the primary reason that I bought the Kindle. To me it really doesn’t matter whether the book is on Kindle or printed in a book. I like them all. I don’t follow sports, but I do enjoy a good biography now and then. Thanks very uch for your comment.

  15. Most people who really enjoy literature have a wide variety of interests. You are certainly no exception. I look forward to your opinion of some of the modern authors.

    • As it happened, Bev, I had intended to cover the subject in one post. But then, as I was writing, I realized that the post was getting a little long… and I know that some blog readers don’t like to get stuck on one page for too long. So I decided to break it into two parts. The next part is actually what I was most focused on, when I started writing. But I am already getting some very interesting recommendations, which is what I was hoping for. Thanks a lot for your comment.

  16. What a beautiful post… Some of them I know, some of them I haven’t met yet… But especially the cover of the books hit me… I wished to know all languages in the world… can you imagine this? But I heard a man who spoke eight language as his nature language… Thank you dear Shimon, have a nice day, love, nia

    • Oh, there are so many languages in this world, my dear Nia. More than there are birds in the sky that we see… and like everything beautiful and attractive, we have to choose which to concentrate on. Because it’s impossible to know them all. But it is definitely an advantage to know a few languages, and I too have had friends who knew as many as eight languages. Usually we don’t count. I believe that you and I are in a similar predicament, being in anchored in one culture, but very happy to enjoy others. Always so good to hear from you.

  17. Good morning Shimon.
    I am an avid reader and so am delighted that you would share with us some of your favourites.

    When I first moved to the States in 1966, I was given Steinbeck’s ‘Travels with Charlie’ which was my first real introduction to the many different facets of each State….and after that became a a real fan. There are others on your list, including Aldous Huxley, whose ‘Brave New World’ I read every few years…Others you mention have left a lasting impression.

    I will order ‘Henderson the Rain King’ and ‘Flowers of Algernon’ I love to receive good recommendations.

    A contemporary English writer I enjoy is Robert Harris, and at present I am reading ‘Imperium’ – a book which shows us just how similar we are to those working within and governing the Roman Empire. I have enjoyed all his books….

    Another book which just hit the spot for me is ‘Beautiful Ruins’ by Jess Walter.

    I could go on and on….but yes, a second post on this subject would be lovely.

    Meanwhile, have a beautiful weekend, and give Nechame a big hug from me.x

    • First of all, I have to tell you, Janet, that I was filled with joy when I realized that you had moved your blog to wordpress. I had been having trouble connecting to the old site, as you know. And I believe that wordpress has gained a beautiful jewel when you came aboard. I’m sure that many here will enjoy getting to know you and your blog.

      Glad to hear that you will order the two you mentioned. I’m sure you will enjoy them both, and look forward to discussing them with you. I remember hearing about Robert Harris from you, sometime back… and then I didn’t find him. Now it’ll be much easier. I haven’t heard of Jess Walter, and I will check that out too. As for Steinbeck, ‘Travels with Charlie’ was the last book of his I read. And when it came out, and I read a review, I thought, what is this… an old man traveling around in a camper with a dog? I was afraid that he’d gotten senile. But I read it all the same, because I just loved his style. And when I did read the book, it was no less powerful and deep than all his others. I loved it. Thank you so much for reminding me of that. And thanks for the comment… and thanks for bringing me another big smile. Nechama is really enjoying the weather these days, and the holidays too. Sometimes she gets so many different platters of good meat and fish, that she doesn’t know what to eat. But last night she chose chicken soup, and loves it. I don’t think she knows what a lucky cat she is… she takes such things for granted.

  18. WordsFallFromMyEyes

    My GOD you’re interesting, Shimon, just looking at what you’ve read. You’re like my Polish cousin, really – you have read so may of what he has read too.

    Camus, like yours, is an all time favourite of mine. I remember “having” to read him in school, and I was sunk in his head from thereafter. Absolutely love him.
    I actually tried reading Arthur Miller. Don’t know why I couldn’t exactly, but just couldn’t get in with it.

    Great post Shimon.

    • I’m sure it would be a lot of fun to meet your Polish cousin, Noeleen. We’re in a similar predicament, in a way… coming from rich cultures which have become sort of marginal in today’s world, and so we look towards the west for cultural inspiration. Arthur Miller was a great writer, known primarily for his plays, but also an excellent writer of short stories. But I can understand that he didn’t turn you on. He often tackles very specific social problems, and isn’t for everybody. The book of his that you saw in one of those pictures is a book I read about fifty years ago. Recently I was reminded of it, and thought that after experiencing quite a bit since that one came out, I should take another look at it, and it was definitely worth while. Thanks for the comment. Always good to have you here in the discussion.

  19. About Ernest Hemingway, I have to say the only books of his I really enjoyed were The Old Man and the Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls, otherwise his collection of short stories, written before he became famous, show a much better style and skill of writing than his later, more detailed works. You may wish to explore the collection.

    As a reader from a young age, despite having read a lot, I think I may only have scratched the surface of what’s out there, that’s for sure! I still borrow books from my local library and have only recently gone back to reading fiction (I guess to get my mind off you-know-what….). The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni was mesmerizing, sensual and a door into the paranormal and is a story about an Indian woman, living in San Francisco, who has an Indian grocery shop and helps people by giving them spices applicable to healing their ’emotional wounds’ and everyday problems. I was engrossed and recommend it highly. I am currently reading her The Palace of Illusions, a “reimagining of the world-famous Indian epic, the Mahabharat — told from the point of view of an amazing woman. Relevant to today’s war-torn world, The Palace of Illusions takes us back to a time that is half history, half myth and wholly magical. Narrated by Panchaali, the wife of the legendary Pandavas brothers in the Mahabharat, the novel gives us a new interpretation of this ancient tale.” (from the flyleaf). I’m enjoying it immensely and have nearly finished it. I wonder if your Kindle bookstore might have these books, and I have no doubt The Mistress of Spices would really interest you. Enjoy your new literary explorations, Shimon.

    • I really liked just about everything I read by Hemingway. Farewell to Arms was another of his classics, and his short stories were wonderful. I remember, many years ago, I used to read his stories in American magazines. They came out regularly. I loved his style in writing. I haven’t heard of Divakaruni until now, but I will check out the book. And I thank you for telling me about the Palace of Illusions too. I haven’t read much Indian literature at all. Thank you so much for adding to my list, Janina. The books you suggest sound fascinating. I look forward to trying The Mistress of Spices.

  20. I’m glad you’re enjoying your Kindle, Shimon, and I very much enjoyed learning of your literary tastes. I have read many of the books you mention here. I also enjoyed the comments from your readers and will check out some of the newer books listed here. One I might suggest is “Cutting For Stone” by Abraham Verghese, which is available on Kindle. I liked it very much.

    • The biggest advantage of the Kindle, so far as I’m concerned, is that I can get English books from the west, without waiting too long. Otherwise, it wouldn’t matter that much to me whether I read an electronic book or paper (though my bookshelves are full and overflowing). But when reading reviews (and there are so many books coming out all the time), it is often hard to choose. So it is good having friends who share their tastes. I’ve already read an article about Abraham Verghese, and he does sound like a fascinating writer, even though there are those who claim he writes too much about the medical aspects. Now that I have your recommendation, I will definitely check him out. Thank you very much, Cathy.

  21. So, I thank God for William Faulkner else I might not be reading you here or at all. As I’ve told you outside of your blog that almost virtually all my reading thru life has been medical and surgery. I know it made me a much better physician, but at the end of my career, I still read science journals, in preference to most anything else. I have friends who call themselves “readers” and I do envy them as they would logically be much superior to me. I certainly enjoy your writings and really miss them when you go on vacation. Then, reading the comments to your posts, I see more of such personalities and envy. Since 50 Shades of Grey has been big over here, I wonder what you would say about it. I have not read it and likely won’t but I hear about it. Your photos of your books are intriguing; obviously worn from much use. Thank you for jarring my brain once again.

    • I know what you’re talking about, Bob. When I was a university student, it seemed that the medical students were among the most square, and the most unread… and the cleverest students were those who studied mathematics and physical science. And the reason for that, I think, is that studying medicine is a never ending task, with so much literature, that it’s hard to just amble along and enjoy the curiosities. On the other hand, if you’ve ever read a mathematical book, they are usually quite short and to the point. After a couple of hours, you can just take a walk and let things sink in. But since I know that you are also a deep sea diver, and have had numerous adventures in your life, I suspect that you were something of an exception to the rule, even if you didn’t dive deep into literature. I have heard about ‘50 Shades of Grey’, but my first impression was that it wouldn’t be something that I would really enjoy. But of course, if one of my friends suggests it, I would reconsider. I found that sex was such a beautiful and dramatic experience to discover on my own, that I wasn’t all that much attracted to reading about others’ adventures. But like other subjects, there are always exceptions.

  22. I love reading novels and transporting myself to places unknown. There are so many classics that I have yet to touch. I’ve recently been reading Paul Theroux and his Happy Isles of Oceania, and The Great Railway Bazaar.
    Hemingway has always been a favorite, and though I haven’t read it in years, I really liked his Islands in The Stream.

    • Yes, Angeline, novels can open up worlds we haven’t known in person. It’s like traveling, in a way. I haven’t read Hemingway in many years, myself. But I remember loving his stories, and especially the way he wrote. I heard of Paul Theroux, but never read a book by him. I’ll try him out. Is he still writing, I wonder… Thank you very much for the suggestions.

  23. That is quite the list! I had to grab a couple of those titles to add to my list of books to read. I am not reading much these days other than assigned reading by my professors and children’s books to my children, but one day I will have some time for pleasure reading.

    • Oh, you have brought back some very good memories, Shoes. When I was a young student, I loved the beginning of courses, when we would get long lists of assigned reading, and I would lose myself in new material, and new challenges. It was often the best time of the year for me. But it is good too, to get away from the routine now and then, and have the pleasure of random tastes. I hope you find some interest in those titles I mentioned. There were so many volumes I loved over the years. Thanks for the comment.

  24. I am not surprised that we have read the same books. Currently, I am reading mostly non-fiction. At the moment, I am reading “Collision 2012:Obama vs. Romney” by Dan Balz. I enjoyed all of Cormac McCarthy’s novels. I found “The Hogs of Cold Harbor” (Richard Fulgham) to be a fascinating look at the Civil War. I read several of Khaled Hosseini’s novels and found them to be fascinating. “Stones from the River” (Ursula Hegi) is one that I read several years ago, but it stuck. Of course, “The Great Influenza” by John Barry was one of the non-fiction accounts that was eye-opening for me. “Water for Elephants” is good. All of Maya Angelou’s work is superb. I loved her autobiographical novels. She is my kind of Renaissance woman. 🙂

    I smiled that you enjoyed Vonnegut too. I fell in love with him when he said that his wife and mother both hated life and said so. I still chuckle about that line.

    I was delighted to see the topic of this post. And I enjoyed it. There is a CNN episode of Anthony Bourdain tonight about Jerusalem and the Gaza. It should be interesting. I’ve never seen one of his adventures that wasn’t fun. http://goo.gl/hcYH2n

    • No, not at all surprising that we have read many of the same books, George. I don’t know if I would find much interest in the book on Obama vs. Romney. But if you find it fascinating, let me know. I read one of the books by Obama himself, and very much enjoyed the read. It’s very interesting to me that you recommend Cormac McCarthy’s novels. I haven’t read him yet. But I saw a movie a few years ago, and it was based on one of his books. After that, I looked for him but didn’t find any of his writing. Now with the Kindle that should be easy. I really appreciate your wide array of suggestions. I look forward to getting to know these books. Most of them I haven’t heard of.

      I used to watch CNN on cable TV here. But a few years ago, I got tired of TV altogether, and now I just take a look at news programs now and then. So I’m not that familiar with Anthony Bourdain. But I can tell you that it used to aggravate me to see their portrayals of the middle east. I thought the picture one got from subjects that I knew well, was often misleading (though not necessarily on purpose). It might be interesting if I could get his video special on the internet. But I don’t think they do that. Thank you very much for your comment.

  25. By the way, “East of Eden” was my favorite Steinbeck too. The story parallels the Cain and Abel Biblical account with its struggle between good and evil. The essential concept of timshel (?) interested me. Tell me, am I remembering correctly the scene in which one of the characters sits in a tree and opens a vein in his arm and watches himself bleed to death? For some reason, I cannot recall any events surrounding that image in my head. Perhaps that was another Steinbeck story? I could have sworn that it was Tom Hamilton, but I looked him up and found that he shot himself.
    It’s the Mad Cow, I suppose… 😉

    • Yes, that was something I too loved about ‘East of Eden’, the parallel to Cain and Abel. As you can probably imagine, I grew up with the old testament stories as central to my life as family. And over the years, many of the things I read there… and thought weird at first, were realized and revealed in real life. And it’s been at least 50 years since I read Steinbeck, but I don’t remember the picture you describe of someone watching himself bleed to death. But I do remember timshel. I think that’s the way he wrote it too, though in Hebrew it sounds ‘timshol’. It means to reign or to control. And how he looked for the meaning was touching to me then. Ah, you’ve brought back another wonderful memory for me. Thanks.

  26. Wow, what a list! I cannot say I am familiar with many of these texts, but I know of the authors and I feel some sort of respect, in a way, for their fame (and that it must be something good). This extends to your taste. I remember having to read Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” in Year 12 English studies, and I remember hating it then actually, but I’ve changed (so much it’s ridiculous,) and matured and grown as a person so I wouldn’t mind giving it another shot. “Pala” is one I’d like to get around to reading at some point as well.
    I implore you not to waste your time reading 50 Shades of Grey. It is less of a literary indulgence and more of a test of endurance, on multiple levels.

    Basically, a lot of texts that are popular with my generation (and perhaps more shamefully, those older than I as well), are rubbish. I’ve taken a liking to calling them “potato chip” novels. This is in contrast to “steak” novels – ones you can really sink your teeth into and rip it apart and enjoy and savour and chew it repeatedly and then devour it. It fills to satisfaction. Potato chips don’t. They’re easily done, digested, and forgotten. People like them because they’re cheap and easy, and they don’t have to think. I really hate it, especially now that erotica is a fashionable subject.

    Currently, I’ve been reading “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman and it’s become one of my most favourites. I know it is already and I haven’t even finished it yet. I think that’s the only one that I really feel warrants a mention. I’m at this awkward point in my life where I am looking back and realising how juvenile things were that I once considered deep. I’ve been reading Jean Auel’s “Earth’s Children” series as well. It does require a lot of attention and imagination, but I’m not sure if it would be one you would enjoy. If you do contemplate it, it is a long series, just a word of warning.

    Anyway, I’m rambling. It looks like you have quite a few recommendations, and it’ll keep you entertained for some time 🙂

    • I really liked your metaphor, comparing texts to food. And I do think that in your words, I’m looking for steak. That’s really what this post was all about when I started writing it, but the essence of my search will appear in the next post, part 2. If I were just looking for something to read, I could continue to read older and ancient volumes for the rest of my life, and never run out of material. But what interested me, was finding out where contemporary literature was leading intelligent thinking people these days. Of course, taste plays an important part in determining what we enjoy when we’re reading. I would suggest you try ‘Henderson’ mentioned above, by Saul Bellow. I had not heard of America Gods, and immediately read a few reviews to check it out. I am still undecided as to whether to try reading the book. It did get some very good reviews, but usually, I don’t care much for fantasy. And the idea of reviving old myths and religious images within the framework of the American society makes me wonder if his objective is entertainment or a new philosophical perspective on what’s going on in the US. But I might try it, because I remember that I had my doubts when I first encountered Kurt Vonnegut, and he became one of my favorite writers.

      Usually I don’t care much for series. Or for books about the paranormal. I believe that there is so much to learn from what is seen as normal conventional life, including at times, the exceptions to the rules, that I need not look further. And that’s how I feel about fantasy as well. But I try to be open. Thank you very much for your comment, Jess. You went right to the essence of that quandary that I’ve been writing about.

      • You’re very welcome 🙂 I had a feeling that you were after “steak” books! 🙂 Admittedly, American Gods is all fantasy, fiction, and philosophical commentary. It may or may not be something you enjoy. The first chapters tend to pack the hardest punch, and there was one point where I was quite disturbed and not sure about continuing. My boyfriend then assured me that everyone gets disturbed at that point and it was worth continuing. For me, it has been 🙂

        I’m quite interested in this search. I hope both you and I can find good texts from the leading thinkers today. For me though, it’s just finding who the thinkers are! I’m discovering that the literature I know about, is just a tiny drop in the ocean…

        • Your earlier comment made quite an impression, and I kept thinking about it… even after I’d answered you. I realized that I have quite a number of aversions when it comes to literary taste, and that my attitudes may be preventing me from appreciating some of the best of this younger generation. I also remembered that when Kurt Vonnegut was first recommended to me (about 45 years ago), I thought that Cat’s Cradle would not interest me. And so, despite the fact that ‘America Gods’ is a fantasy, and despite the fact that it revives some ancient mythology, I plan to give it a try. And yes, I agree with what you say in closing. There is such a large assembly of fine writers, from many different time frames and many different countries, that a person can travel indefinitely in the world of literature, and constantly find new ideas and thoughts. Thanks Jess.

          • You are very welcome. 🙂 I travelled recently and I finished ‘American Gods’ thanks to having a copy of it also on an e-reader. It ended so fantastically. I highly enjoyed the book, and I hope you do too. My apologies if you don’t!

  27. Really interesting to see your reading habits, Shimon. I’ll keep an eye out for the Bellow. Richard Ford is a great writer – The Sports Writer is also very good. You may also like Carol Shields. And if you fancy a bit of magic realism, Angela Carter’s Nights At The Circus or Wise Children are both exceptional books. Looking forward to part two.

    • I’m not that attracted to magic and fantasy. The life I’ve encountered had both fantasy and horror woven into the very fabric of supposedly banal situations, but I thank you for your suggestions and I’ll check out Carol Shields. Part 2 is about my first adventures in contemporary literature after a hiatus of many years. I look forward to hearing your opinion. Thanks, Richard.

  28. faulkner and graham greene are my favorites of those you’ve mentioned.

    • The two are such very different authors. What is it that you look for in a work of fiction, Rich? I know that you’re very fond of Stephen King. Would you say that he is your favorite of contemporary writers?

      • what do i look for in fiction? to borrow from an excellent writer, i like stories about “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” i look for stories about people who could be my neighbors, regular people who i can identify with, who find themselves in unusual situations and have to work their way out of it without the convenience of money or power or fame or any combination. i am bored by the overwhelming amount of stories involving politicians, spies, and military situations. i enjoy stories that are about situations that any of us might have happen to us.

        as for stephen king, that’s a double-headed question and answer. what i enjoy about king is his writing style, the simplicity is his sentence and paragraph structure. he is sparse on description because he understands that most people use their own experience and imagination to fill in what one might “see” while reading. too many writers spend too much time on physical descriptions of things, and king avoids that. i listen to books on CD often, and it is very pleasant to listen to what he writes. however, when it comes to his actual stories, i am not a fan. he doesn’t know how to end a story with a conclusion that concisely wraps up what has happened. his endings often come out of nowhere, are too convenient, and have to real connection to what has happened. an ending should not be so much of a surprise that it seems impossible. an ending – for his type of writing – should be something that you could say, “oh, yes, with everything else that happened, this makes sense. i didn’t see it coming, but it makes sense.” it should be like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle that perfectly fits the space in which you place it. it can’t be a piece from a different puzzle that was forced into that space.

        my favorite contemporary author might be jerry spinelli, who writes for middle school kids. he understands problems that kids are going through and writes for them to help understand the world around them. his books are like a public service to kids at a very critical age in their development.

        thanks for asking. happy new year, and enjoy “sukkot” if you are celebrating.

        • This subject that you mention, Rich, of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, does seem like a subject with a lot of possibilities. And I can imagine that it would have appeal for many. I liked your description of what attracted you to Stephen King. I don’t know him well at all, but lost interest after my first read because of the use of supernatural forces. I have listened to a recorded book only once, and found that the reader did not move at the same pace as my thoughts, and so choose to read rather than be read to. What you say about the endings, is something that I noticed as well. And I agree with your vision of what a good ending should be. I haven’t heard of Jerry Spinelli before, and I will check him out. Thank you very much for your explanations, and for your good wishes. Yes, of course, I celebrate the new year and Sukkoth. That is my culture.

  29. Greetings, Shimon. Somehow your eloquent posts don’t always land in my mailbox so I’m very glad to have found this one. I am in deep agreement with your sentiment. I have just been in discussion with a friend who is quite dismayed by the world, and I shall pass this along to him as encouragement.
    As much as I read, I have read very few of your recommendations! I must go at once to the library and rectify this 🙂

    • Thank you very much for coming by and having a read, Melissa. If you wish to be notified with each post, you can press the ‘sign me up’ button, and I’m sure you’ll get notification. I can imagine that many people are looking for a more positive view of life, without being preached to… and I believe there are some great writers who can supply real inspiration in their works. Fortunately, we are not limited to contemporary writing. With best wishes.

  30. Reblogged this on Cool lady blog and commented:
    ShimonZ’s book on likes in modern literature.. a useful collection of books here

  31. I’ve read most of those books you mention and also liked Flowers for Algernon. There was a movie called Charlie that did not do justice to that book.
    I so admire your ability to read books that are not in your first language.
    I’d still like a squiz at your library.
    You might want to write an essay about some of the books you’ve read in Hebrew.

    • That wouldn’t be easy, writing about the books I’ve read in Hebrew. There’s so much. And so many different directions. My favorite writer is Shai Agnon, and I read a translation of one of his books once, before recommending it to someone who couldn’t read it in the original. And I was very disappointed. It seems that some works are very difficult to translate. The English version was nothing like the Hebrew.

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