Jun 16, 2021 | Community

The other way around… and a list of books

Author: Olive Mendez

Illustrator: Licenciado Dominguez

Today is a cloudy day in Brunswick, my home. What has living here inspired me to do? What has the pandemic? What has the stars, the oceans, and the colours in the sky? We like attributing our actions to our surroundings or is it the other way around? We like attributing our surroundings to our actions. I feel the latter is what ‘being in control‘ could mean. We define our surroundings through the power of our actions.  Cause and effect. Happenings. Logic. Stories. Control.

Enough context. 

Two nights ago I couldn’t sleep and a memory crossed my mind. I had a list of some of the books I read while travelling (ooh travelling!) between 26 March 2019 and 4 March 2020. 

This is the list in chronological order (from 2019 to 2020):

  1. La borra del café (Coffee Dregs) by Mario Benedetti. While in Mexico. I stumbled across this one because my father noticed I was reading another book (Antología Poética) by the same author. I told him a friend gave it to me and I was liking it. He gave Coffee Dregs to me saying “you might like this as well!”. I did. I enjoyed reading a child’s story from his own eyes as he grew up. Family relationships, love, friendship, dreams, and tragedy encapsulated in a cute but deep story.
  2. Luz Interna (Inner Light) by Jose Agustin. While in Mexico. I found it on a bookshelf in my parents’ house. I had read it when I was in my twenties, however, it felt like reading something brand new. Hippies and beatnik culture juxtaposed with Mexico’s intricate social structure… nice!
  3. The Industrial Revolution 1760-1830 by T.S. Ashton. While in Mexico, the USA, and the UK (England and Scotland). Bought this one in a second-hand bookshop owned by an Argentinian after drinking ‘mate’ (pronounced mah-teh) in Cholula, Puebla. Too academic and dense, but interesting to read while being in three different countries and most definitely lively while in Manchester.
  4. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. While in the UK (England and Scotland), Spain, and France. I Airbnb’d in Edinburgh, Scotland. The room I stayed in belonged to a ‘housing geek’ and the book was sitting on his shelf along with many others. I browsed through it and decided to get myself a copy in a local bookshop. Imaginative and intense short stories full of colour, parallel realities, and philosophy.
  5. Blink: The power of thinking without thinking by Malcolm Gladwell. While in France, Switzerland and Italy. When an overthinker reads that title it’s easy to think that I would think less after reading it, of course!…. I wasn’t… or was I? Well, maybe I was and/or I wasn’t but I think I haven’t unconsciously thought about it.
  6. The Pursuit of Italy by David Gilmore. While in Italy and Australia. I found it in the house/farm where I was volunteering in Pontremoli, Italy. Always catchy to read the story of a country from a foreigner, immigrant, or outsider’s perspective. Extra insights while being in Italy and having to go back and forth to Australia to take my citizenship test.
  7. The Purple Swamp Hen by Penelope Lively. While in Australia and Greece. I stumbled across this book on a train while exploring the Cinque Terre region in Italy. Someone forgot it and it became temporarily mine. It made me think of how little I read books written by women authors. I enjoyed reading short stories from a woman’s perspective; it felt emotional and powerful (is that where the empowered word/feeling comes from?). I kept it with me until I left it in an airport waiting room in Chennai, India. I can only hope someone found it and enjoyed it as much as I did.
  8. The Language of Cities by Deyan Sudjic. While in Greece and Bulgaria. Another book I found in that Edinburgh room full of housing material. I got myself a Kindle version of it. What a pleasure to travel and learn about urban planning and what cities tell us about culture, policies, and history through their design.
  9. Lady by (…). While in Bulgaria. This was a black book with a picture of an elegant black-hatted lady and I just can’t remember who wrote it and I curiously can’t find it on the internet (!). I found it in a house where I stayed in Sofia, Bulgaria. I found the characters disengaging and the narrative extremely prudish. I didn’t finish this one.
  10. The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, and Other Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald. While in Turkey and Oman. I bought it from a guy who sold second-hand books in Istanbul on the street. I can’t properly describe what it was but I couldn’t finish reading it. I only read a few stories and I found it dense. It was good at building up my expectations but clumsy at fulfilling them.
  11. Las Tierras Arrasadas (The razed lands) by Emiliano Monge. While in India. I can’t recall how I got to this book. I read it on my Kindle. I came back to Spanish after eight books. The rhythm at which the story was written wasn’t the same rhythm at which I was travelling so I found it dull. I felt the author took as much effort to finish writing it as I did reading it.
  12. Slow man by J.M. Coetzee. While in India and Singapore. It was at my favourite hostel in India (Electric Cats Hostel at Munnar) where I found this book. It was refreshing, easy to read, and an insightful combination of words. Being set in Adelaide, Australia where I lived for five years brought an extra connection. Immigration, racism, magic, and ageing are some of the (sometimes) subtly mentioned topics of this book.
  13. Introduction to Muhammed. While in Malaysia. This was a book I couldn’t finish reading because I had to leave it in the house where it belonged before getting to the end. Being in a (mostly) Muslim country, I enjoyed learning a bit more about Islam, the Koran, and its founder in a ‘for dummies’ formatted book.
  14. Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo. While in Vietnam. While at uni, there was a ‘quiz night’ question that for some reason came up repeatedly while we played a board game named “Maraton“. Who wrote Pedro Paramo? I knew the answer but never read the book. For some reason, I thought about this while in Vietnam. I got the Kindle version of it. One of the most enjoyable books I’ve ever read. Juan Rulfo smartly plays with timelines and parallel realities in obscure but joyful scenarios that made me wonder about my own perception of culture, life, and death through blurry but steady characters.
  15. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran. While in Vietnam. This book was a recommendation given to me by a Palestinian friend whom I met in India. If I’m honest I haven’t finished it. With the same honesty, I must say I have started it three times. Its messages are philosophically deep and inspirational. They match very much the way I see (or would like to see) things. Among other topics, it literally talks about love, marriage, work, and home.
  16. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. While in Vietnam. One of my beloved travel companions (and a reading machine) finished reading it and transferred it to me, saying I would enjoy it. Oh my, I did! I once read Hemingway at school but never paid attention to the details. I also think that reading him in his original language was eye-opening. The sweet and sour drama of love beautifully written.

What is the cause and effect of what we read and who we are? Are we what we read or is it the other way around? Is what we read what it is because we are who we are? 

Making sense of cause and effect and its intricacies is just part of who we are (…and of what we read?). Thinking about the books I read last year makes me believe that stories captured in words are as good or as bad as the causes and effects that make sense to us at a certain point in our lives. Suddenly, it feels obvious to see that the cause rules the effect, or is it the other way around?

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