Wednesday Reading Roundup: June 15

This week's reading achievement was finishing a book I began a month ago and beginning a book that fulfills two of my 2016 reading challenges.It has been another slow week of reading for me, though for different reasons than last week. On the *plus* side, I’m excited to have finally finished reading a book that was languishing on my “currently reading” list for the last month.

All credit to Taking on a World of Words and Coffee and Cats for WWW Wednesday and inspiring me to continue writing about what I’m reading every week.

What are you currently reading?

Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney. It jumped to the head of the queue this week for my new reading challenge, When Are You Reading? Though I read almost exclusively on my Nook GlowLight Plus, I have the paperback edition of this book. (It’s a #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks title, so two reading challenges addressed in one go). It’s the bilingual edition, the left side in the original and the right side in Heaney’s modern translation. Even though I can’t read the original, I like having it there.

Reading it is reminding me how much I miss holding paper books in my hands. I can’t read it everywhere I go because of eye restrictions, so I’m not getting through it as quickly as I’d like. But I am valuing the meditative experience of reading a poem more than 1,000 years old AND reading it on paper.

I’m also listening to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling on my walks to the beach. I’ve only a few chapters to go, so things are about to get very dark.

What did you recently finish reading?

Surprise! More than a month after starting it, I finished The World Between Two Covers by Ann Morgan. If you don’t know the book, it was inspired by Morgan’s blog project to read a book from every country in the world. The idea came to her (a Londoner) in 2012, when her home city hosted the Olympics. She encountered challenges from the start, including how do you decide what counts as a country? She went with UN designations that she later finds problematic. (I wonder why she didn’t pick the countries represented in the Olympics, or maybe she addressed that, and I’ve forgotten.)

Overall, the book is an earnest effort to provide an overview of the international book publishing industry. Readers who are interested in this subject will find a rich and varied bibliography from which to cull further reading.

Though the project poses some obvious structural challenges, the idea seemed rich with possibilities for connecting with human experience. I eagerly anticipated this book because I thought it was going to be about the author’s experiences reading books from around the world. It turned out to be … not that. It was overwhelmingly a pastiche of citations from theorists, cultural critics, and research on the international publishing industry threaded together by her commentary and thoughts. These were often engaging and thoughtful. The problem, for me as a reader, is the abundance of issues covered loosely, inevitable in a 336-page book (including a very long bibliography). That’s why I call it an overview. It’s impossible to cover every topic she addresses comprehensively in a book of this length. Each chapter could have been a book of its own.

Of the books she read, there are scant mentions of what they invited her to think about, how they challenged her, and how they opened her mind and heart. For me, that would have been a more interesting read. It would also have been a more personal journey, and I can’t blame her for not wanting to write about that. After finishing the book, I visited her blog to see how she wrote about the books themselves. The pieces I read had a Kirkus Reviews vibe, assuming the posture of objective critic. This isn’t the kind of criticism I’m drawn to, leading me to think I probably should have read her blog before reading her book.

This is an excellent book if you want to learn more about international book publishing and its challenges. If you’re expecting a memoir of reading, you won’t find much of that here.

What do you think you’ll read next?

A Man Called Ove: A Novel by Fredrik Backman. It’s my book club’s pick, and we’re meeting Monday to discuss it. A dear friend who is in my book club emailed me that it’s breaking her heart in the best way possible, and she believes I will enjoy it. I trust her judgment and am looking forward to reading it!

What’s on your read, currently reading, and to read list this week?

8 Replies to “Wednesday Reading Roundup: June 15”

  1. I so enjoy reading your WWW posts. I’m not doing one this week because I’m doing a #WeekofReviews challenge. I have that exact copy of Beowulf on my book shelf. It’s been a while since I read it, but the language of the poem is so wonderful. Enjoy listening to HP and I look forward to seeing your post next week!

    1. Thank you so much, Loreen – so nice to hear that. 🙂 And I’m enjoying your reviews! Though I wasn’t able to do the challenge myself, I love getting a chance to read them.

    1. I’d say check out her blog. She has a list of each book with links to the reviews she wrote of each one, so you can get a feel for her writing and how it speaks to you. I’m glad I read it. The first few chapters and a later one on translation were especially interesting to me. My sense is that the marketing wasn’t quite in synch with the book itself, so readers went into it thinking it’s a memoir when it’s more of a study.

      Happy reading, and now I’m off to follow your link – thank you for sharing!

  2. I remember reading the same translation of Beowulf in school. It was fun to try and read the old English from time to time but I’m glad someone else translated it! Happy reading and thanks for participating in WWW Wednesday!

  3. Woo-hoo! Bravo for finally finishing “The World Between Two Covers”! I’m opening an imaginary bottle of champagne for you in my mind!

    I can’t wait till you finish “Beowulf” – regardless of the translation, I’ve always been sort of reluctant to read it because the storyline and setting don’t really draw me in. But as you write, it must be a moving thing to read a poem so old, and with such deep roots in our linguistic history (I also love the idea of a bilingual version, even if, as you point out, most of us couldn’t understand or read the original today). I can’t wait to read what you think of the story and how it’s translated and presented.

    Also, side note: We once had a monstrous little kitten who got into absolutely everything, and we were looking for a name for him and I said, “Let’s call him Grendel”. That’s my closest tie yet with “Beowulf”.

    1. Thanks, Alysa! *raises imaginary glass of champagne*
      Haha, so funny that you named the kitten Grendel. We once had a massive orange cat that we named Behemoth, after the cat in The Master and Margarita. 🙂
      “Moving” is the perfect word to describe reading Beowulf. I keep saying, “it’s so sad” without fully understanding what about reading it makes me feel sad. I don’t have the words to describe it yet, but I hope to once I finish it. 🙂

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