The Great Library Rundown, Part 3: Afternoon Reads

Fast Reads

Today for your consideration, Dear Readers: two books you can read in an afternoon.

IMG_6535First is Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Other Words, a book of short meditations on her love for Italian. A few years ago, the writer acclaimed for books including The Interpreter of Maladies and The Lowland moved to Italy and committed to reading and writing exclusively in Italian, which she had started learning in her twenties (and which is, by the way, her third language). Ms. Lahiri wrote the book in Italian, and the original is presented side-by-side with Ann Goldstein’s translation into English (if that names sounds familiar, it might be because she also translates Elena Ferrante’s work).

I loved reading this (and it was fun to dip into the Italian to look for phrases to puzzle out, or just to whisper all those delightful consonants), not only for the language, but also for its consideration of isolation, belonging, effort, mastery, and passion. Highly recommended.

IMG_6536Next is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Story of Kullervo, edited and with notes by esteemed Tolkien scholar Verlyn Flieger. Drawn from the Kalevala, a Finnish epic, the tragic tale follows Kullervo, one of the inspirations for The Silmarillion‘s Túrin Turambar. Here’s the summary from the publisher:

Brought up in the homestead of the dark magician Untamo, who killed his father, kidnapped his mother, and who tries three times to kill him when still a boy, Kullervo is alone save for the love of his twin sister, Wanona, and guarded by the magical powers of the black dog, Musti. When Kullervo is sold into slavery he swears revenge on the magician, but he will learn that even at the point of vengeance there is no escape from the cruelest of fates.

It’s a rather grim tale, and I think that if you’re not a Tolkien die-hard, this book isn’t for you, since the story itself is not fully fleshed out. The explanatory material is quite interesting, though, and it put the Kalevala on my to-read list.

Have you read any afternoon-long books recently?

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18 thoughts on “The Great Library Rundown, Part 3: Afternoon Reads

  1. I recently read The Children Act by Ian McEwan – it would be a solid afternoon’s read but for fast readers, time well spent.
    Probably one of the best short books I’ve read in recent years was Magda by Meike Ziervoge. It’s a fictionalised account of the last few days of the life of Magda Goebbels, the wife of Nazi propaganda minister, Josef Goebbels and herself a prominent member of the Nazi party. Magda was mother to six children, all of whom she took into the Führerbunker in Berlin and killed. Although the writing in this short book wasn’t award-winning stuff, the story was incredible and I still think about it two years after reading it.

  2. I’m interested in Lahari but I think I might read a novel first…Looks like In Other Words is over 200 pages, did you really read it in a sitting? Are you a very fast reader? I don’t think I could do that!

    • It’s over 200 pages, but the Italian is on the left and the English is on the right, so even if you dip into the Italian occasionally, you’re not reading those whole 200 pages.

      And I think I’m a moderately fast reader?

  3. I had no idea that Lahiri had been doing this and that she published a book in Italian! Where have I been? Thanks for making me aware. The book I recently read in an afternoon was Saving Alex, which I posted about on my blog.

  4. I’m glad you enjoyed Lahiri’s book! I had read mixed reviews and so hesitated but it is good to know that you thought highly of it. I am so impressed that she wrote a book in a language that she only recently studied!

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