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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

My favourite reads: Charlie Mitchell

My eyes too big for my literary stomach, I continue to wage war on tsundoku (the Japanese word meaning to buy books and leaving them unread on a shelf)

The Deserter by Peter Bourne. Courtesy Pan Macmillan Publishing
The Deserter by Peter Bourne. Courtesy Pan Macmillan Publishing

The Japanese have a fantastic word, tsundoku, from “tsunde” (to stack things), “oku” (to leave for a while) and “doku” (to read). Combined, it means buying books and leaving them unread on a shelf. My eyes too big for my literary stomach, I continue to wage war on tsundoku.

Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse (1927)

This is probably my favourite novel. A recluse – half-human, half-wolf – navigates his lonely urban surroundings searching for humanity in the darkness. Sometimes while reading a novel, you sense that you are reading the words of a genius. With most Hesse novels, and Steppenwolf in particular, that sensation never really goes away.

Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge (2016)

On any given day in the United States, about 10 children and teenagers lose their lives to gunfire. Documenting with significant tact and skill the 10 short lives lost on November 23, 2013, Younge paints an astonishing portrait of gun violence in America. With no hint of recrimination, this is the heartbreaking human side of a violent epidemic.

Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya (2004)

A godless reprobate is hired by the Catholic church to edit the testimonies of indigenous villagers massacred by the army a decade earlier, in an unnamed Central American country where the church and military are vying for control. What could possibly go wrong? The tension triggers cold sweats and the ending punches you in the gut.

The Dream Songs by John Berryman (1969)

A young Berryman witnessed his father’s suicide, and was forever haunted by it. Through Henry, his protagonist in the 77 sonnets that comprise this work, Berryman says all the things he could never vocalise, via erratic, strange, but always poignant poetry. This collection had a profound effect on me. My treasured rare early edition has accompanied me to the UAE.

The Deserter by Peter Bourne (2006)

Written at lightning speed by my stepfather at the desk of a crude Jerusalem hotel room, The Deserter tells the story of a Jewish doctor who returns to Israel after years abroad and is deeply unsettled by what he finds. Both an ode to the Palestinian cause and the distillation of a lifetime of human experience, this book taught me a great deal about one of the most important people in my life.

Charlie Mitchell is a leader writer for The National

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