What we’re reading
Each week we bring you a sample of the books we’re reading, the films we’re watching, the television shows we’re hooked on or the music we’re loving.
Emily is reading Nine Open Arms by Benny Lindelauf
I’m having a really good run of fiction in translation. Last year I loved the graphic novel Jane, The Fox and Me (translated from French) and the young adult novel Why We Took the Car (translated from German), and at the moment I’m enjoying the spirit and restraint of Nine Open Arms, originally written in Dutch by multiple award-winner Benny Lindelauf and soon available in English thanks to the work of translator John Nieuwenhuizen.
This children’s book with plenty of crossover appeal moves between the 1930s and 1860s, following a family of nine who make it look charming to be perpetually down on their luck, while subtly pulling at the heartstrings. The narrative is in the hands of 11 year old Fing, whose responsible perspective allows the other, more eccentric characters to shine. These include her dramatic younger sister Muulke, her irascible grandmother and her dreamer father. Nine Open Arms is beautifully and simply told, enriched with dialect which reminds you of the story’s origins but warmly invites you inside the story. I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.
Fiona is reading An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth
Sometime in early 2013, after following Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield on Twitter for a few months while he documented his time on the International Space Station, I went outside one clear evening and looked up. I stared hopefully up at all the stars until I saw it: one that was moving across the sky from one horizon to another. I waved, because I am ridiculous, but also because I was thrilled about the world. Up in the ISS, there was someone who was looking down at us as well, and thanks to science and technology, he could report on things like what squeezing a waterlogged towel does in space (it’s pretty cool), and post pictures of Earth as seen from above.
Back on Earth after five months in space, he wrote this book, and this is exactly as fascinating and fun to read as I thought he would be with more than 144 characters to work with. From the moment he watched the moon landing as a kid and made every subsequent decision with the thought “what would an astronaut do?” (for example, an astronaut would do homework instead of watching television, hence why I would be a terrible astronaut) to becoming a fighter pilot to getting picked as an astronaut (a moment almost unbearably tense despite the obvious answer) to being the first Canadian to go on a spacewalk, it is just thrilling stuff, even when he’s talking about having to do a lot of study or how complicated it is to pee on the ISS. His enthusiasm for space travel is infectious, and his personable nature means you just want to be his buddy. I’ve been pestering my partner by reading out interesting facts every second page; I recommend you do exactly the same.
Bronte is listening to the Harry Potter audio books
(and reading Joan Didion’s essays)
I made my first foray into audiobooks over the Christmas break and can’t believe I hadn’t tried this sooner. It is so much fun!
I’m perhaps a bit of a Harry Potter geek and thus am accordingly well-versed in the Potter universe - having read the books multiple times. That said, listening to someone, specifically the very charming Stephen Fry, read me these books feels like discovering them again for the first time. I’m a speedy reader and I usually love this as a.) it’s exciting to get caught up in the thrill of reading and b.) I get to read lots of books. In contrast, an audiobook slows me right down and this leads to all sorts of lovely surprises – such as a new-found appreciation for the world Rowling created (doors that open when you tickle them!) and interesting ideas I’ve never had before (is it possible my beloved Hagrid is a muggle-racist?).
In paper-form, I’m reading my way through Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem for the first time and feeling very wowed. Her essay on John Wayne is such a smart, funny-sad delight.