It is not entirely clear in my memory, but by this time last year, the stress of trying to hold myself together in the face of mounting pressures in what had become a deeply dysfunctional workplace, was taking a serious toll on my emotional and mental health. I have not been able to return to regular work since last June. I have struggled to gather the energy to attend to many of the regular household tasks that seem to pile up week after week. My cameras, once my faithful companions, have hardly been touched. The unbearable sameness of my city fails to inspire and seems to be closing in on me despite a remarkably mild winter. But one activity has remained undiminished and if anything has flourished with the extra time I have these days. I am talking about reading.
Most of the books I read take me elsewhere. As I turn my blog focus more and more toward literary themes, it is clear that I have a few idiosyncrasies. I have a definite interest in South African literature. This owes its genesis in part to my own experiences knowing a number of South Africans over the years, from watching the momentous changes that have taken place in the country during my adult years, and in the understanding that the new South Africa faces challenges that create a context for important discussions that we need to continue to keep open. Discussions we can all learn from in our increasingly global reality. The same holds true for another area with which I have an increasing literary interest – central and Eastern Europe. The political turmoil of the past century has provided ample inspiration for a wide range of exciting literature, which, thanks to an increasing number of industrious small publishers, is catching the attention of English speaking audiences. Slowly but surely.
Of course, at the core of all great literature, classic and contemporary, is the essential quality of the human experience. We are born, we grow old, we fall in love, we lose those we love, we battle darkness, we face fear, we hope, we reach for those moments of joy. And the more I open myself to the stories of others from around the world, the less alone I feel.
But then there is this nagging guilt. As a Canadian, why don’t I read more Canadian writers? Well I do, but so many leave me unsatisfied and rarely reach my blog. And those I am especially fond of have tended to come from elsewhere; that is, they are Canadian with a hyphen and frequently write from that transitional perspective. I don’t think it was always that way. Maybe I have just been land bound too long. Maybe I crave the exotic just a little after all.
Well until I can travel, I will keep my bags packed, my options open and and a healthy pile of books standing by from near and far.
6 thoughts on “Looking to distant horizons: A few reflections on reading from afar”
I think part of your love for these literatures is that you are interested in the marginalised and oppressed of society. Or maybe that’s just a projection from me, because I am.
LikeLiked by 1 person
You probably have a good point here Penny. I think that is often where the best and most important stories lie.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I love to hear about reading idiosyncrasies as you call them. It means I learn about a broader variety of books than I would have otherwise because someone such as yourself has gone outside the “usual.”
LikeLiked by 1 person
I like to think it is best to look at reading as a journey, I certainly never run out of potential pathways to explore through reading and talking to other readers. There are, as your blog title implies, so many books out there!
I too like to read books from many places, so I’ve enjoyed coming across your blog today. Looking at your bookshelf, I too have that issue of Granta waiting unread and By Night the Mountain Burns is on my reading list also!
Hi! I have fallen in love with And Other Stories, an indie publisher that has a strong interest in publishing authors from around the world and Istros Books which publishes books from the Balkans. I am taking part in a shadow jury with a number of other bloggers for the IFFP (International Foreign Fiction Prize) which will hopefully introduce me to more new titles. When the long list is announced Thursday I will be busy!