Friday, 28 December 2012

Books of 2012 (and a New Year song)

Today is going to be in English, not in PERFECT English, but I’m going to do my best ;) My 2013 resolution (one of many) is making a good use of my English grammar and pronunciation books. They are really good, but unfortunately they don’t work just by sitting on the shelf. So, be patient with my English and feel free to correct me (you're so lucky you don’t need to listen to my “wood chopping” accentJ).


Simon of Stuck in a Book and his post inspired me to do my own list of my favourite books read in 2012. I was thinking about it for a long while and picked 5 (+ 3 extra) books that I really loved and which were somehow important.

So... let’s start...

5. After Dark – Haruki Murakami (translated by Jay Rubin)
Luke, who I’ve met in Pwll Deri told me about Murakami and Norwegian Wood, but I started with After Dark as this was the only Murakami’s book I could find in the library. And I loved it (I quite liked Norwegian Wood as well, when I eventually managed to read it).
Just in short, Mari misses the last train home and waits until morning in 24h diner but night life in Tokyo is never quiet and soon some strange things start happening.
Hmmm...  Close your eyes (ops... don't close your eye, carry on reading), relax and imagine. You are reading a book and suddenly there is a sentence (or two, or three) that you just have to read and re-read few times. You don’t know why but you just like that particular fragment. Ok, I know it sounds like OCD but it’s not only that, because you quite enjoy doing it. Reading it over and over again seems like a right thing to do. When you finally move on with a book, after few pages you go back to that sentence. Very often you can’t find it (somehow you didn't think it was important to mark it) and you pretty much end up reading the book from the beginning. Anyone knows what I’m talking about? Or should I sign up for a mental check up? (Well, I don’t think it’s entirely normal, but I've never said I’m normal J). 
Anyway, this is THE fragment from After Dark (don't hold your breath): 

She reaches out at regular intervals and brings the coffee cup to her mouth, but she doesn't appear to be enjoying the flavour. She drinks because she has a cup of coffee in front of her: that is her role as a customer.

Ok, just wondering who actually DIDN’T say WHAT???
Well... I honestly don’t know why on earth those two sentences has stuck in my head. It might be coffee J But there must be something deeper than just drinking coffee. I found myself doing it a lot when I read Murakami (I used to do it with Coetzee), reading the same fragment many times, enjoying it and trying to guess what’s hidden between the lines.
Anyway, Murakami's books have many overly descriptive sentences, which sometimes aren’t necessary, sometimes he repeats himself. But you either love it or hate it. 1Q84 divided the nation. Almost nothing is happening during the first 150 pages but I still loved it (surprisingly).
Ok, I supposed to say how enjoyable After Dark was but I have a feeling it's going the opposite direction. So I'll just shut up ;)

4. Guard Your Daughters - Diana Tutton
I’ve learnt about this book from Stuck in a Book and I loved it. You can find the review written by Simon over here. It has started a positive revolution in the blogosphere, GYD was the most talked about and most wanted book (its prize on Amazon is almost 10 times higher than before the review). I'm just going to say this: read the book, but first, read the wonderful and (in my opinion) the most powerful and important review of 2012. Thank you, Simon!

3. God in a cup: The Obsessive Quest for a Perfect Coffee - Michaele Weissman 
A first non-fiction book on my list. Weissman writes about her journey to different coffee plantations all over the world, learning all about coffee, from planting to brewing, but also how to enjoy, appreciate and respect this heavenly beverage.
Most of you are probably not surprised that this book is here, well I’m not. This year I’ve read many books about coffee and although I loved them I would not recommend those to everybody. In order to enjoy some of the books you need to like coffee. But God in a Cup is different; I really believe that it can be enjoyed even by those who don’t drink coffee. I hope anyway J 

2. The solitude of Prime Numbers - Paolo Giordano (translated by Shaun Whiteside)
As a mathematician I do like prime numbers but this book is not about the numbers. It’s about two lonely people whose past takes over their lives and their future. It’s a love story (in a way) but not the kind of love story that makes you sick. Alice and Mattia are like prime numbers (I always imagine them as 11 and 13) - very close to each other but there is always something between them (ah silly 12). It’s an interesting book and it’s a first novel of this young Italian author.  

And now... The Book of the Year Award goes to.....

The Piano Shop on The Left Bank - Thad Carhard

Another book that I’ve learnt about reading Stuck in a Book (Simon's review over here).
Some of you are probably aware that I’m not a big fan of 100 (or other number) books you must read before you die lists. I don’t know why but they really annoy me, maybe because they are so industrial. Before even reading one you can guess at least 50% of its contents.
So, I was very surprised how much I actually liked Simon’s 50 books you must read but may not have heard about list which is very personal and very honest. When I saw The Piano Shop on the Left Bank I just knew I must read it although I didn't know anything about it. And I absolutely loved it. Well...playing piano was always a part of my life (and yes, there were times that I didn’t appreciate it, but I still remember my biggest achievement - Christmas songs concert that my sister and I have given some time ago. Ala, I hope you remember our moment of glory ;))
Ok, about the book. Carhard, while walking back home after dropping his children to school, discovers a piano shop. He walks inside and it all starts. He buys a piano, starts playing again after a long break and learns about the instrument from his mentor and a friend – the owner of the shop – Luc. It’s a lovely non-fiction book. Obviously it’s a book about pianos (history, different types and makes, tuning etc.) but also about different people and the important role the instrument played in their lives. It’s also about the unique friendship between Carhard and Luc. And about life, about passion, about music and about love... I’ve never read a book like this before. It’s just brilliant.
I would like to say: "I’m sure you will love it even if you don’t play piano" but I honestly don’t know. I’ve played piano for a long time so I can’t imagine how I would feel about this book if I hadn’t played. Well, give it a try and “be patient with yourself”.

Ok.... this is it. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

I’m a little bit disappointed that there isn’t any Nobelists in the final 5 (not even 10). Well, there is always next year. I just want to mention (very quickly) few other books that would probably make it to the 6th, 7th and 8th place on the list if I’d carry on.
The Hut Six Story by Gordon Welchman
The Secret Life of Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay
Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges

But I really think I should write a separate post about those (and about Rejewski J).

Now a little update on what was going on. Hmmm... nothing much, I'm afraid. Christmas is over. It was really sad this year but I survived and just want to say a big THANK YOU for all your support, especially a big thank you to my wonderful family. I’m taking a week off in the beginning of January, going to spend some time in Forest of Dean (in some village in the middle of nowhere) doing nothing. Well... I’m going to catch up with sleeping and then I think I will be able to think things over and make some constructive decisions. I'll give you a full report ;) 

Hope you all have a good 2013 but instead of a greeting card I’m “sending” you a song, a well known and loved The Prayer of François Villon (by Bulat Okudzhava). For whatever reason I always think of a New Year when I listen to it.

As long, as the earth keeps turning,
As long, as the sun is above,
Almighty, please give to all of us
The things that we do not have:
Grant a mind to the wise man,
The coward, grant him a horse,
The happy, let him have money,
And don't forget truly yours.
Below, an original, Russian version sang by Regina Spector (English translation can be found in description)

And here - my favourite version of this wonderful prayer (by Adrianna Brzuzek)
Happy New Year !!!


  1. Lovely list, Agnieszka - you already know that I love two of them, and it was wonderful to be reminded about Piano Shop, as it's been a long time since I read it.

    Your mention of prime numbers amuses me - my brother is a mathematician, and he loves prime numbers too, but I hate them! They just feel too spiky for my liking...

    1. Thanks for you comment, Simon.
      When I was still at uni I used to read quite a lot of mathematical books about prime numbers, but nowadays I prefer looking at them from a different angle, more like philosophical point of view (if that makes sense). I think you are quite right saying that prime numbers are spiky, but maybe they need to protect themselves (?) as they are (in my opinion) quite vulnerable. It’s interesting topic to think about...