Archive for the ‘Vintage Books’ Tag

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What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund is a series of visual sound-bites and the result is a lack of substance.

Granted, Mendelsund is a book cover designer and art director; it makes sense he’s interested in the visual aspects. My initial impression was the author would focus on what the imagination conjures as we read. This is not the case; Mendelsund argues authors do not give readers enough information to complete pictures in our minds.

Through a series of references to Moby Dick, Anna Karenina and To the Lighthouse, along with a few other titles, Mendelsund maintains it’s impossible to see characters the same way the writer does. The content is comprised of numerous graphics and limited text. This includes one word on a page, single sentences, a hodgepodge of visual images, brief paragraphs, pages with terms crossed out and an assortment of illustrations, both familiar and not.

The fact that everything, from the cover to the illustrations is in black and white further emphasizes the author’s premise: readers do not get to know a novel’s characters in a true and intimate way. Frankly, I don’t buy it.

Reading is personal even if a book has universal appeal. Granted, my image of Ishmael  may be different from someone else’s, but is that a bad thing? When I see a movie based on a book I am almost always disappointed. Why? Partly because the characters in the film are not the way I saw them on the page.

What We See When We Read

Two-and-a-half Bookmarks

Vintage Books, 2014

419 pages

A Not So Hot Read   Leave a comment

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The late Henning Mankell was best known for the Kurt Wallander series. I was curious about his other works, which led me to After the Fire. This  first-person account follows retired physician Fredrik Welin and his experience after his home is lost in a fire.

The 70-year-old Fredrik, asleep and wearing only his pajamas, barely makes it out alive. The house, the solitary one on a small island in the Sweden archipelago, had been in his family for generations. Evidence of arson raises suspicion that Fredrik is responsible.

References to a backstory surface but are never fully explained. His only friend, Jansson, is a retired postal carrier who made his deliveries by boat from one island to another. Fredrik is often dismissive of Jansson’s good intentions and offers of help. Fredrik’s estranged daughter arrives; it’s unclear whether she’s meant to help or annoy her father.

Fredrik is not a likeable, engaging character, which often makes it difficult to sympathize with his loss. He is impatient and selfish. When he meets Lisa Modin, a local journalist who is much younger than he is, Fredrik imagines a relationship could develop.

Mankell crafted a storyline focusing more on Fredrik, his loss and his outlook on life than on the mystery of who started the fire. In fact, when that is eventually revealed, it’s anticlimactic. Fredrik does undergo a mild transformation from an island recluse to someone who looks beyond himself. Yet, this offers little in the way of a satisfying outcome to the narrative.

After the Fire
Henning Mankell
Three bookmarks
Vintage Books, 2017
399 pages