New Books, Or: Some Thoughts About Book-Buying

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I know I don’t usually write about my book-buying, or at least not nearly as much as about my actual reading and my reading goals. There are several reasons for that.

For one, I don’t usually buy many books in one go, so doing monthly (or even bi-monthly) ‘haul’ (a word I hate, by the way – I’m not hauling in a net, I’m spending money) posts seems kinda pointless. For another, I’m not a big fan of those posts (or Youtube videos, where this format seems to be even more popular) because I feel like showing off just how much you buy encourages a kind of (mindless?) consumerism that I’m rather critical of. Which is not to say that I a) don’t buy books (quite the opposite) or b) that I would judge you for liking – or writing – these kinds of posts. I just… think that showing off the things you get, especially on the regular, can create quite unintended side effects, jealousy and fear of missing out not the least among them. Just because I can afford to buy the books I want (in moderation) right now – and after years of barely buying any books that were not directly relevant to my uni degrees, I might add – doesn’t mean that everyone can, and I’d rather not make anyone feel bad, directly or indirectly, for not being in the same privileged position.

So, why on earth am I writing about my new books now, then?

Two reasons: One, because I’d like to talk a bit about the challenges of buying books, and especially certain types of books, in a non-English speaking country. And two, because I like to think about what (excessive?) book-buying does to one’s – or rather, my – TBR and, consequently, my enjoyment of reading.

Now, I am not, nor have I ever been a ‘small TBR’ kind of person. One reason for that is that I (still) own a lot of books I inherited or bought during my university degrees and never got round to reading, and another is that I like to have a modicum of choice. By that I mean books of different lengths and, more importantly, different genres. I’m definitely someone who prefers to read widely and rarely picks up similar books right after another. No, not even when I’m going through a bit of a phase like I am right now with the whole ‘ships and the Arctic’ theme I’ve had going on since January.

However, I also like my (physical) TBR at a length where it feels manageable, meaning that it feels like I could get through it in a year or two if I really put my mind to it.1.  Unsurprisingly, adding several books to it at once – especially books I want to read eventually, but not necessarily immediately – feels rather uncomfortable. For some reason, I have no trouble with digital wish lists, but actual physical books (including library books) can sometimes feel like a burden. This isn’t always the case – the feeling  definitely tends to get worse when I’m very busy or have trouble deciding which book to pick up next. Sometimes knowing that I tend to read new books within a couple of months of acquiring them is enough to dispell the uncomfortable feeling of being overwhelmed, sometimes it isn’t.

‘But Merry, why do you go on a book-buying spree then?’ you ask. Well, because of that second issue I mentioned above, aka the challenge of buying English books in a non-English speaking country. I’m not sure I’ve mentioned this on this blog before, but I live in a small town in south-western Germany. Granted, it’s a university town, but it’s still fairly small. Unsurprisingly, the selection of English-language books in my local bookstores is limited. While you can usually get the classics (especially when they’re on a reading list for the running semester) and some recent bestsellers and evergreens, more ‘unusual’ choices (think LGBTQ+ fiction, plays, poetry, authors who are not British or American) are normally absent.

Now, ordering in books is definitely an option, and one that I use frequently. But it does mean that I can’t exactly browse books or check them out before buying them. And while that might not be much of a problem with prose – you can usually get a fairly good impression about a book from watching / reading a couple of reviews and reading a trial chapter on Amazon – that approach really doesn’t work with poetry and other more experimental text forms. Those you’ve got to get a taste of beforehand, or, at least, like to get a taste of them before buying. I like to get a feeling for an author’s style, and for whether or not I am interested in and can deal with their specific brand of ‘experimental’.

So you can guess that whenever I get the chance to actually browse bookshops in English-speaking countries (and have some space in my luggage), I tend to do just that. Which isn’t to say I go on mindless shopping sprees – I do set myself a budget and rarely pick up books that I know I can easily get back home -, but I definitely enjoy the process of just wandering around the poetry section and picking up all the titles that sound interesting. Which is exactly what I did during my recent trip to the UK, with the shops in question being Gay’s The Word, Foyles, and a second-hand bookstore in Bristol that I forgot the name of.

To prove my point: Of the books in the above picture, five I only bought because I was able to check them out in store (Freshwater, The Girl Aquarium, Grief is the Thing With Feathers, Blue Horses, Brand New Ancients), and one more was an impulse buy because it looked like something I might enjoy (From the Depths). The others are either by authors I’ve read before or that have been on my radar for a while, or presents. I’ve seen exactly zero of these books in my local bookstore before, although I’ll admit that the shop does carry other works by Maggie Nelson, Jeanette Winterson, and Kate Tempest occasionally.

I’m not sure I have a compelling conclusion to these thoughts. I can just say that I’m trying to live with the dilemma of wanting to buy books when I get the chance but not wanting to or being able to read all of them immediately as best as I can. Right now that means that I keep reminding myself that reading a 60 page poetry collection will take me two days max and thus isn’t something to get stressed out about. (I just need to stop buying 500+ page bricks. :D)

All the books I bought or got (from the top): 

From the Depth and Other Strange Tales of the Sea – Mike Ashley (editor) / Brand New Ancients – Kate Tempest / The Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K. Le Guin / The Argonauts – Maggie Nelson / Grief is the Thing With Feathers – Max Porter / Blue Horses – Mary Oliver / The Passion – Jeanette Winterson / English Animals – Laura Kaye / Freshwater – Akwaeke Emezi / The Girl Aquarium – Jen Campbell / Charles Dickens – Claire Tomalin

 

 


1.I’m 32, and a year or two is exactly the time period that seems enough to manage significant reading progress but doesn’t feel like too much in the grand scheme of things. Currently, my physical TBR is at just over 100 books, a lot of them leftovers from my degree. That’s just about manageable, I think.

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In May…

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… we go with the flow.

After having quite a busy – and structured – reading month in April, I decided it was time for a little more spontaneity in May – which is why I’m not even attempting to make a TBR this month.

Instead, I’ve decided to just follow my mood, and also my book-buying. I’ve been travelling in the UK for the first week of the month, and one activity I had planned was to visit a number of London bookshops & browse for books I can’t normally get around here (‘here’ being small-town Germany). I only brought one book on my trip – Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea, pictured above – and decided to just pick whichever one of my yet-unknown new books spoke to me most in case I finished this one before going back home. As it turns out, this is a good strategy (I did indeed finish In the Heart of the Sea and am currently reading Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts), and one I intend to continue for the rest of the month. Let’s see where it will lead me!

April Wrapup

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It seems my readathon marathon this month has done wonders for my reading. Granted, some of my picks for the O.W.L.s Readathon were rather short, but hey. I still managed eight O.W.L.s and nine finished books. I’ll add the finished O.W.L.s to the books below for easier reading.

Matthew Lewis – The Monk ★★☆☆☆.5

A book I started in March and one of my Gothic literature picks. (I’m sort of trying to cover the most important books of the genre eventually). Unfortunately, while Lewis’ pacing and plot are alright, his subject matter and the way he approaches relationships haven’t aged well.

Gottfried Keller – Romeo und Julia auf dem Dorfe (Romeo and Juliet of the Village) ★★☆☆☆.5

This was my pick for Defense Against the Dark Arts (‘Reducto – A book that starts with R’). An ok example of German (well, Swiss) Realism, I guess, but nothing to write home about.

Gail Honeyman – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine ★★★☆☆.5

My pick for Muggle Studies (‘A contemporary novel’). I found Eleanor Oliphant to be a quick and charming read, but one that I felt resolved a little too perfectly? I’m not sure that makes sense; what I’m trying to say is that I enjoyed the reading experience but I don’t think this book will leave a lasting impact.

Joseph Conrad – Heart of Darkness ★★★★☆

A fascinating book that I’ve been meaning to read for quite a while. I’m not sure I like Heart of Darkness, but I want to take the book apart to see how it works, and I suppose that is a good sign. Also, I really like Conrad’s style, and he gets bonus points for unexpected references to my current fave topics (read: (Arctic) exploration, blank spaces on maps, and light-and-darkness symbolism). My pick for Herbology (‘A book with a plant on the cover’).

Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society ★★☆☆☆.5

I didn’t plan on picking up this book; in fact, I didn’t even own it until the last week of the readathon. However, since I had to pick up a present and the bookstore had this on display, I decided to try my luck. What I got was a charming and funny novel that sadly lacked a bit of depth, especially with regards to the way it deals out with the fallout of WWII and the German occupation of the Channel Islands. This filled the Arithmancy prompt – ‘A book written by two or more authors’.

Jeanette Winterson – The Stone Gods ★★★★☆.5

What a weird, fascinating book! Not your typical sci-fi, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Included unexpected references to James Cook’s expeditions, which is always an extra point in my book. Other than that, it’s a book about belonging, environmentalism, and storytelling. I counted this for Divinations (‘A book set in the future’), even though it’s not quite straight-up sci-fi.

Jules Verne – An Antarctic Mystery (ebook) ★★★☆☆

My pick for History of Magic (‘A book at least 10 years old’), and somewhat in keeping with my recent interest in polar literature. In fact, one could call this book Arthur Gordon Pym fan fiction, because let’s be real – that’s what it is. Not a book without flaws (there are some lengthy setups and rehashs of the Pym-story in here), but one that I enjoyed for the way it plays with some popular tropes of 19th century adventure stories and polar exploration literature. (Unfortunately, I read this as an ebook, which explains why it took me ages to finish. I just don’t like to read on screens…)

Annalena McAfee – Hame ★★★★☆.5

This is a book about a fictional Scottish island, a fictional poet and a (I guess also fictional) woman trying to write about said fictional poet, while also struggling with her academic career, her relationship, and motherhood. Diary entries and book excerpts are interspersed with newspaper colums, Scots poems, glossaries, and other text snippets, forming a compelling story about identity, language, and belonging. This book ticked all of my boxes and feels like it was written specifically for me. My pick for Charms (‘Age Line – An Adult Novel’).

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (audio) ★★★★☆.5

I manage about one audiobook each readathon, and it’s always Harry Potter. I just don’t like audiobooks very much (the ‘background noise’ stresses me out for some reason), and while they would help a lot with reading more, I just can’t deal with them well enough to actually enjoy the process. That said, the HP audiobooks read by Stephen Fry are excellent. My Potions pick (‘Next Ingredient – Read a sequel’).

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Unfortunately, while the April readathon(s) mean that I read a lot of books, I also kind of fell off the bandwagon with reviews and other blogging stuff. Let’s hope I can get back into that in May!

April TBR(ish) – It’s Readathon Month!

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Or rather, ReadathonS. Yes, plural!

First off, there is another round of Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon coming up on the weekend of 6-7 April. I participated in the last one and while I got nowhere near to reading the full 24 hours, I still had a lot of fun. The 24 Hour Readathon is an amazing event with a wonderful community full of booknerds all over the world and I love how friendly and motivational everyone is.

Very conveniently, Lauren from Lauren And The Books on Youtube is also hosting her seasonal Cozy Reading Night on Friday the 5th, which I think I’ll use to get in the mood for a weekend full of reading. The idea is to just spend a leisurely evening (or morning/afternoon, depending on your time zone) reading, snacking on awesome food, and talking to your fellow book-nerds. For me, the readathon is from 8-11pm (7-10pm BST), which happens to be my preferred Friday evening reading time anyway.

The big event this month, however, is the O.W.L.s Magical Readathon, organised by G. of Book Roast (also Youtube). The readathon consists of two parts: One O.W.L.s ‘exam’ phase in April, and the corresponding N.E.W.Ts in August. The idea is to read books that fit the prompts corresponding to the different magical subjects taught at Hogwarts (a list of all subject prompts can be found here). You can either leave it at that and just try to acquire as many O.W.L.s/ N.E.W.T.s as you like, or you can go all in and aim for a specific wizarding career (just look at how much work went into this booklet alone!) There is also a community on both Twitter and Discord, if you fancy more interaction.

It’s such an amazing, creative project that I couldn’t but try and participate. And while the readathon is definitely inspired by Harry Potter, the reading prompts are open enough to be interesting to anyone who likes a challenge.

So, without further ado, here’s what I’m aiming for:

Wizarding Career Choice: Hogwarts Professor, History of Magic (Did you really expect anthing else?)

Required O.W.L.s: Defense Against the Dark Arts, Subject You Want to Be Teaching [History of Magic], five other O.W.L.s of your choice.

That’s a total of seven books – a bit of a stretch for me, but definitely not unheard of, especially with the 24 Hour Readathon also coming up.

As for book choices, I’m going for the following:

Defense Against the Dark Arts (‘Reducto – A Book That Starts With R’): Gottfried Keller’s Romeo und Julia auf dem Dorfe or possibly Friedrich Bischoff’s Rübezahls Grab, both of which would also double as my German pick of the month.

History of Magic (A Book That Was Published At Least Ten Years Ago): This is honestly one of the easiest categories for me since most of what I read is backlist. I’m currently thinking of reading Jules Verne’s An Antarctic Mystery for this, which I originally meant to read in March but only got two pages in. (Totally counts. Also, this category is open to change; I am a mood reader, after all.)

As for the other five subjects, those will be subject to my mood and reading pace. I’m pretty sure I’ll cover Charms (Age Line: An Adult Novel) and Muggle Studies (A Contemporary Novel), both of which are easy categories for me because that’s most of what I read anyway. Possible book choices include Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Hame, Tenth of December, In the Heart of the Sea, and Weir of Hermiston (the latter two only work for the adult category). Herbology (A Book With a Plant on the Cover) I can cover with either Wide Sargasso Sea or Heart of Darkness, and if I go for Potions (A Sequel) that would be Throne of Jade because it’s the second book in the only series I’m currently reading/care about. Ancient Runes (A Retelling) is a bit more of a challenge because I’m not a big fan of retellings in general, but I suppose Christa Wolf’s Kassandra fits the bill, and if I really don’t feel like that, I can always reread Kleist’s Penthesilea, which I’ve been meaning to do for a while anyway. I’m set up very well in general because I also have options for Astronomy (A Book With the Word Star in the Title) – Joseph O’ Connor’s Star of the SeaCare of Magical Creatures (A Land Animal on the Cover) – Life of PiDivinations (Set in the Future) – The Stone Gods, and Transfiguration (Sprayed Edges / A Red Cover) – Home Fire, a collection of Federico Garcia Lorca’s poetry, or If We Were Villains.

I suppose, with all these books to choose from, even a terrible mood reader like me will be able to stick to the challenges. Plus, all of the books mentioned above are either from my TBR of owned-but-unread books or library books I picked up recently, anyway.

I’ll report back on my actual progress later on in the month, I guess?! 😀

March Wrapup

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Ah, March. I was so optimistic at the beginning of this month. Then I got sick and all my plans got derailed. Which, sadly, means I didn’t read nearly as much as I wanted to, and only part of what I’d anticipated, too.

I finished three books this month:

Michael Palin – Erebus ★★★★★

This took me way longer than I thought, but part of that was because I really, really didn’t want the book to end. If I’m quite honest, I was a bit apprehensive about reading a popular history book (I’m a historian and they don’t always live up to my – professional – expectations), but I needn’t have worried. Erebus was an excellent read and Palin certainly writes exceptionally well.

Charles Dickens – Great Expectations ★★★★★

An excellently crafted classic and another five star read for me. I actually read an abridged version of this as a kid and had some vague memories of the plot that turned out not wrong, but also not quite right, either. None of them reduced my enjoyment of this book in any way.

Michelle Paver – Dark Matter ★★★☆☆.5

A well-crafted ghost story, but one I hoped I’d love more than I did in the end. I was certainly entertained by this rather quick read; I just wish I’d been given a bit more – more time to develop the impact of the story, and more depth to the characters, mostly.

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I’m also halfway through Matthew Lewis’ The Monk, which I picked up on a whim in the hopes that I’d get more in the vein of both Great Expecations and Dark Matter. This seems to happen to me a lot, but as long as the random book choices are all from my long-term TBR of unread books I already own, I don’t actually mind that much.

The Nature of Travel

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Lately, I have thought a lot about travel writing.

These last weeks, I have been caught at home a lot (at the beginning of the month I was busy with work appointments and – more recently – sick with a persistent cold), and it has made me antsy. The weather has been rather fine these last couple of days (sunny, but cool and blustery – my favourite), and I long to be outside.

I have also been reading a lot about travel and exploration. I’ve been on a bit of an adventure stories and polar exploration binge since January, and my most recent forays in that direction were Michael Palin’s Erebus and Michelle Paver’s Dark Matter, neither of which are actually travel writing in the stricter sense of the word. And yet – there is something in Palin’s very human, very personal attempt at tracing the history of the ship that would vanish with John Franklin in the Arctic in the 1840s and Paver’s beautiful descriptions of Arctic landscapes that made me want to write about travel, too.

Now, I might not have been to the Arctic, but I have been to a surprising number of (sometimes odd) places in the course of my, admittedly rather short, academic career. Most of that travel was connected to work – a conference here, a library or archive visit there –, but it has also given me the chance to do what I like to do best: to spend afternoons and weekends (when libraries and archives are closed) exploring foreign towns, taking long walks, and whiling away hours and hours in museums and art galleries. I tend to journal about these trips extensively (I just… tend to journal extensively, full stop), and I have even considered blogging about my experiences once or twice before. In fact, I specifically remember starting a separate travel blog back when I was doing research in Panama in 2016. Somehow, I never got very far.

I think part of my problem back then (and perhaps still now; we’ll see about that) was that I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my travel writing. Was it supposed to be a guide for other travellers (not really my area of expertise given the erratic nature of my sightseeing choices and my dislike of everything too touristy)? Was it supposed to be about personal impressions? Travel photography (not likely; I only take pictures with my phone)? Reviews of the places I visited? All of the above?

I’m still not sure I can answer all of these questions, but I do know the gist of what I want to do: I want to write about very personal impressions of places (and, occasionally, people), and I want to write about emotions. Travel has changed me and continues to change me, and I want to reflect on where and how that happens. If that means I also write about museum collection composition, music choices, or the best coffee in town, so be it.

***

I promise I’m not going to leave you hanging with this very long – I’ve already started my first travel post, and I promise the usual book reviews and reading wrapups will resume shortly, too. Now that I’m finally over my cold I think I can get my brain to focus enough to make the points I want to make about my recent reading choices.

The above picture is from my first archive research trip to Spain in September to December 2015. I flew back from Madrid on 18 December and was treated to the most glorious view of the Pyrennees in snow and sunshine.

Tentative March TBR

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So, if I’m lucky I should have a little more time in March – meaning that the one big deadline is on the 8th, I’ll still be busy with the thesis after that – so I picked a slightly larger TBR. I’m also still very much in the mood for adventure stories, anything with ships, and Arctic exploration, which is very much reflected in the books I picked. (Two are also picks for a The Terror-related book club I’ve joined on tumblr – the goodreads group is here)

Here we go:

Michael Palin – Erebus: The Story of a Ship

A non-fiction book about HMS Erebus, one of the two ships that were part of John Franklin’s ill-fated 1845 expedition. (Bookclub pick)

Michelle Paver – Dark Matter

More Arctic horror, this time set in the 1930s. (Bookclub pick)

Jules Verne – Die Eissphinx (Le Sphinx des glaces/An Antarctic Mystery) 

I used to love Jules Verne as a kid but forgot about him for a while. Picking this up because I was reminded of how much I loved the adventure genre, and also because it’s blatantly Arthur Gordon Pym fan fiction.

Charles Dickens – Great Expectations

Well, I’m in the mood for more 19th century literature and still trying to read all my unread books. I started this yesterday, and boy, how did I forget Dickens could be this sarcastic?

Nathaniel Philbrick – In the Heart of the Sea

Continuing with the nautical theme, this is non-fiction about the ‘true story behind Moby Dick’, aka the story of the whaling ship Essex. (More shipwrecks and cannibalism! Yay!)

…and I’m also going to pick up Thoughtful Gardening again to read the spring portion.

February Wrapup

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Look at that! As predicted, I didn’t read an awful lot in February, but I did mostly stick to my TBR!

The books I finished:

Herman Melville – Moby Dick ★★★★★

A book I started on a whim in January and absolutely adored! Definitely a candidate for the ‘Best Books of 2019’ list, even though it’s only February.

Esi Edugyan – Washington Black ★★★★★

Picked this on the same whim as Moby Dick but only got about twenty pages in before I decided to focus on Moby Dick. Once I was done with that book, I went back to Washington Black and finished the book in little over a week. This is a fantastic adventure story that takes on the adventure as well as the slave narrative genre in one go, and with great success.

Helen Sword – Stylish Academic Writing ★★★★☆

I picked up this book as inspiration for the thesis writing process and found it both well-written and useful. We’ll see how much the practical exercises help me while writing/editing my own work.

Theodor Storm – Der Schimmelreiter (The Rider on the White Horse) ★★★☆☆.5 –  ★★★★☆

My German pick of the month and one of those typical highschool reading picks that I was spared while in school. More a novella than a novel, Der Schimmelreiter is about dyke building and man’s ambition – and failure – to control nature.

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Hm, now that I think of it, I think February was an extremely good reading month! Not necessarily in terms of quantity, but definitely in terms of quality. There is only one thing I’d like to work on sometime in the near future: As you can tell, I’ve put my goal of reading more Spanish books on hold for the moment. I’m still reading a lot of Spanish for my PhD thesis and just can’t be bothered to deal with more language issues while I’m trying to meet this deadline in early March.

Review: Virginia Woolf – Selected Short Stories

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Title: Selected Short Stories
Author: Virginia Woolf
First published: 1920-1939
Dates read: 10.-15.12.2018
Category: first time read, partial reread, own book
Rating: 4/5
The book in five words or less: an experimental but enjoyable collection

My thoughts:

I don’t know why, but Virginia Woolf is one of the few authors that I only feel drawn towards rarely, but when I do I enjoy her works immensely. This short story collection is the fourth of her books I’ve picked up (after Mrs Dalloway, A Room of One’s Own and Orlando) and, once again, I was not disappointed.

The collection covers Woolf’s Monday or Tuesday, a collection first published in 1921 and illustrated by her sister Vanessa Bell, as well as a handful of single short stories that were mostly published in Harper’s Bazaar or the posthumous collection A Hounted House. Of the fifteen stories in the collection, I’d only read Kew Gardens before, and that was in late 2006 or early 2007.

As with Woolf’s other works, I was struck with how much I love her writing. It’s exquisite and just the right mix between experimental, insightful, and challenging. It’s not just the style, either; it’s the whole package: the characters, the acute observations of the mundane, the beautiful language, the minute descriptions and the languid but precise flow of the language. Woolf’s writing is of the kind that makes you want to take it apart and look at it from every angle to see how it works. (And even then you’ll still not get the whole picture.)

That said, as usual with short story collections, I did like some stories more than others. While I found all short stories in this collection fascinating and entertaining, I had some personal favourites: A Haunted House, Kew Gardens, The Mark on the Wall, Solid Objects, The Lady in the Looking Glass: A Reflection, The Shooting Party, and Lappin and Lapinova.

Read if you like: Virginia Woolf’s novels, Florence + the Machine, impressionist paintings, Downton Abbey

Review: Edgar Allan Poe – The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym

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Title: The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket
Author: Edgar Allan Poe
First published: 1838
Dates read: 6.-19.1.2019
Category: own book, reread (sort of; last read as audiobook ca 2006)
Rating: 4/5 (but very subjective)
The book in five words or less: mutiny, cannibalism and Antarctic exploration!

My thoughts:

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym is Edgar Allan Poe’s only novel, a curious and symbolic tale about a stowaway who lives through a mutiny and a shipwreck, only to embark on a strange and harrowing journey beyond the Antarctic circle.

I picked up this book rather spontaneously because I was watching AMC’s The Terror and wanted something similar in tone and subject matter. From listening to the novel as an audiobook back in approximately 2006, I had vague recollections that Arthur Gordon Pym might fit that description.

As it turns out, partly because 2006 was a long time ago and partly because I don’t retain audiobooks very well, it was only the general gist of my memory that was on point. The details, however, were not, as some of the plot points had amalgamated and merged in my mind. Nevertheless, Arthur Gordon Pym turned out to be a – very subjective – four star read for me.

Don’t get me wrong – Pym is a very weird book. Yes, even weirder than Poe’s short stories, mostly because Pym is much more symbolic. In addition, the book also comes with some the trigger warnings attached that go with all of Poe’s work – premature burial, death, cannibalism, and – unfortunately – a touch of period-typical racism. This last one, however, is intricately linked with Poe’s carefully crafted symbolism that draws heavily on the dichotomy between black and white, dark and light. While that certainly doesn’t make it excusable, the juxtaposition at least serves a purpose.*

Personally, I was more fascinated by Poe’s craft than by the details of his story (if that makes sense), especially since I was reading an annotated edition that explains much of Poe’s painstakingly constructed narrative and symbolism. The annotations in my Penguin Classics edition also point out Poe’s references and sources, many of which are tales of exploration and shipwreck. In fact, learning about the stories that influenced Arthur Gordon Pym contributed significantly to my reading experience, as did my personal background as a researcher who occasionally works with and thinks about early modern travel/exploration narratives and the ways they try to construe “expertise” through eye witness accounts (something Pym does excessively).

I suppose the question remains whether I would recommend this book. I think the answer is ‘yes, but.’ Arthur Gordon Pym is a fascinating – enjoyable does not seem to be quite the right word – read if you like Poe’s other more gruesome tales (The Premature Burial, William Wilson, MS Found in a Bottle) and if you enjoy decoding narrative tropes, structural peculiarities, and symbolism. If you’re not into that – and if you expect a neat solution to your plots – this book is not for you.

*(There is a whole boatload of research on this topic alone, and the symbolic importance of the colour white finds its echo in Melville’s Moby Dick, among others.)

Read if you like: Robinson Crusoe, shipwrecks, AMC’s The Terror, Poe’s short stories, creepy stories with a twist, symbolism, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner