Recent reads in brief

While I am slowly making my way through more than 600 pages of Sophie’s Choice, I am actually a little behind on book reviews, so here are some brief thoughts on recent reads.

Letters to a Young Poet
by Rainer Maria Rilke
translated from German by Stephen Mitchell

This small volume was written 1903–1908 but its advice still feels relevant and wise, which is presumably why it quickly became a classic.

Franz Xaver Kappus was put in touch with Rilke by the chaplain at his military academy, who had known Rilke when he too was a student at the school 15 years earlier. Kappus aspired to write and Rilke was a revered (rightly so) poet. These 10 letters constitute Rilke’s advice on how to look at life as well as how to write and some non-advice observations from Rilke such as his thoughts on Rome (he was not a fan) and other places he travelled to (all the letters seem to be written from a different location, and often include reference to months spent somewhere else in-between).

What most caught my attention was Rilke’s thoughts on gender equality. He was a feminist if ever I read one. He truly believed that the two sexes were created equal and that society still unfairly favoured men as a relic from a bygone age when man’s superiority of strength and size was relevant to everyday life. Rilke not only believes that the time will come when women will be considered equal in all respects to man, he also thinks that in time women will take their turn as the gender running the show.

Rilke is sweet, earnest, but also troubled. He’s also extremely eloquent. Because he’s Rilke.

“Things aren’t all so tangible and sayable as people would have us believe, most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life.”

Briefe an einen jungen Dichter published 1929 by Insel Verlag.

This translation first published 1984 by Random House.

Source: Shakespeare & Sons, Berlin.

Talking as Fast as I Can: from Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (and Everything In Between)
by Lauren Graham

This book is basically a memoir, written in the form of essays, by Lauren Graham, star of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood. As I expected from seeing interviews with her and reading her novel Someday, Someday, Maybe, this is funny, honest, smart and touching.

For fans like me there are plenty of insights into the television industry, acting and the specific shows Graham has worked on, as well as personal anecdotes from her life. There are some mild spoilers for Gilmore Girls, both the original show and the Netflix reboot, but despite multiple references to it she doesn’t even reveal the final four words.

For non-fans, well you’d probably get much less out of it, but this isn’t just showbiz gossip, it’s a look at life from the perspective of a funny, intelligent woman. Also there’s a very good chapter of writing advice.

That said, this book doesn’t delve particularly deep into any of life’s big questions – it’s pretty light fare. Just what I needed when I was full of cold to curl up with in bed.

“There was only one problem…too late in the rehearsal process, I discovered that one of my special skills was not an ability to keep my eyes open for as long as was required. After twenty seconds, my eyes started to water, and after about forty-five seconds, no matter how hard I tried not to, I had to blink. I think we can all agree that in general, dead people don’t blink very much.”

Published December 2016 by Virago.

Source: This book was kindly sent to me by the publisher in return for taking part in a blog tour to promote its release.


Spider-Man: Miles Morales vol.1
by Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli

This is not the origin story of Miles Morales as Spider-Man (who first appeared in Marvel Comics in 2011), but it quickly catches you up on his story. Like the more familiar story of Peter Parker (who is also Spider-Man in this universe – an older, established one now), Miles is a teenager at high school who was a straight-A student until he started balancing being a superhero with school and he’s…struggling.

Miles has a new admirer – a vlogger who is excited to discover (thanks to footage of Spider-Man’s suit getting torn) that Spider-Man is brown. While Miles is proud to be half-black, half-Hispanic, he doesn’t want to be celebrated for that. And then a new pupil turns up at school and Miles’s best friend Ganke is a little too excited.

It’s a fun comic, but not a new favourite. Perhaps that’s because I’ve effectively jumped into Miles’s story at a mid-point, but this is a new title so it’s been written with people like me in mind. I think it’s more that I didn’t really feel I got to know Miles. I do like the art, which is fairly realistic in style when it comes to people and especially faces. That’s no easy feat.

Published 2016 by Marvel.

Source: Borrowed from Tim.