I am back after a wonderful two weeks in Italy. I strolled through vineyards, forests, and countless hill-towns in Tuscany, admired palm trees, snow-capped mountains and German tourists on Lake Garda, and found unexpected quiet on Venice’s twisting, charming streets and canals.
To be frank, I am not particularly excited to be home. I would much rather be sitting somewhere in the Veneto with a glass of prosecco or visiting a spa in Merano or maybe discovering the ancient glories of Rome. Instead, I am back at home where it is cold and wet and I am expected to work for a living for another thirty or forty years. Most unsatisfactory.
My wanderlust is something I live with the whole year round, though my vacations are limited to three weeks a year. I am already plotting where to go next year. Italy again? My beloved Germany, perhaps? Croatia, finally? Dare I pluck up the courage for India? I thought I had it narrowed down but then yesterday I read Bill Bryson’s newest book, The Road to Little Dribbling, and now, of course, I am desperate to go back to the UK. One of the delights of the UK, as Bryson never tires of pointing out, is how crammed full it is of fascinating people, places and history. London alone has more cultural sights than many countries but there are thoughtful, original museums and galleries scattered across the rest of the nation with infuriating frequency. I am ready to go NOW and spend three or four weeks (months?) roaming about, visiting museums and galleries, walking the South Downs and the Yorkshire Dales.
What I shall actually do is stay here, work, study for a demanding upcoming professional exam, and, perhaps, occasionally remember to update this blog. I do miss regular blogging but have been so busy this year that I’ve barely had time to read, never mind reflect on my reading. It is something I miss and I hope in the coming months I’ll be able to make blogging part of my regular schedule again.
Though I didn’t read much, and certainly not deeply, I did come across some excellent books this summer. Girl at War by Sara Nović, about the impact of the Serbo-Croatian war on a young girl, was excellent; Uprooted, a light, undemanding fantasy novel from Naomi Novik, was a fun distraction from my other concerns; and Man Overboard by Monica Dickens was a nice, light romance about an unemployed naval officer that reminded me of how well Dickens writes from the male perspective and had unmistakable similarities to the writing of my dear Nevil Shute.
But the most delightful surprise of this summer was Sofia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik (of which Kate has already written an excellent and far more detailed review). Sometimes, books appear that so perfectly match my dream book wish list that I can barely believe they are real. This was one of those books. Sofia Khan is a young British Muslim woman, working in the publishing industry in London (much like her creator). Like many young women, she is looking for love but not prepared to compromise too much. She wants someone who shares her faith, is close to his family (though not too close – living with the in-laws is a step too far for Sofia), and believes in her feminist values. If he happens to be gorgeous and brings the banter, so much the better.
Through Sofia and her friends, Malik looks with humour and sympathy at the way young, educated, devout, modern Muslim women approach romance. One friend is in love with married man and, as the novel begins, considering becoming a second wife. Another is in a relationship with a black man, something her family and community would certainly not approve of. Sofia isn’t quite sure who she wants but she knows she wants love and marriage and a family of her own.
As someone who has never been able to connect with alcohol- and regretful hook-up-driven Chick Lit novels (or television shows, like Sex and the City), Sofia Khan is Not Obliged was a welcome change. It offered a cheeky, intelligent, fallible heroine who, although I may not share her faith or culture, I could identify with more easily than most of the other protagonists in the genre. Once I started reading, I could not put the book down – it’s the only thing I’ve read this year that kept me up past midnight (on a weekday, no less). I read it thanks to NetGalley and can’t wait for the paperback to come out in January (it is available now as an e-book).
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