Monday, 13 May 2013

Mr B's Reading Year: Part 1 - The Howling Miller

As a student in Bath for four years, I was always enticed by Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights, an award-winning independent bookshop full of unusual treats. At the same time, as much as I love spending a large amount of every day with Venezuelan literature, I've found myself really missing books from other countries. So when my boyfriend asked what I'd like for Christmas, I immediately suggested Mr B's Reading Year. Due to moving house and other distractions, I have only just started my Reading Year, but it is well worth the wait.

The Reading Year is the ultimate gift for book lovers. The package begins with a session with a bibliotherapist (what an amazing job title!) to establish your reading tastes over a nice cup of tea. What do you like to read, and why, where and when? I found it quite challenging at times to actually formulate why I like the books I do - and remembering books that aren't obscure Venezuelan fiction! - but my therapist Becky was great at suggesting different aspects of books that might appeal to me, leaving me confident that by the end she understood my reading tastes better than I did. She also asked about my Mastermind specialist subject, my guilty pleasures, and favourite place in the world, to ensure that the books I receive will be tailored to my tastes. Which brings me to the best bit: armed with my literary likes and dislikes, Mr B's will send me a book at the start of each month for the next year (except January, when readers are expected to be too busy enjoying their Christmas presents).

It's the attention to detail that Mr B's put in to their deliveries that really turns the arrival of each book into an occasion. When the first book arrived, wrapped in brown paper, tied with string and sealed with wax, I was more excited than a kid at Christmas. Attached to the outside of the package is a note detailing why that particularly book has been chosen, without revealing its name, which only heightens the excitement. As Becky has since left to pursue her own writing, my bibliotherapist is now Mr B himself, so I feel like I'm in particularly safe hands. He mentioned in his note that he doesn't usually recommend this as a first book as the cover 'is just too awful', which made me extremely eager to see what it was. I instantly loved the bright, Dada-esque design. I know they say don't judge a book by its cover, but this one gave me very high hopes.

My first book, then, is The Howling Miller by Arto Paasilinna. While the original Finnish version was written in 1981, it was only translated into English in 2007 and so remains relatively unknown here. It is the story of a misunderstood miller, Gunnar Huttunen, who enjoys howling like a wolf and has occasional violent outbursts. It's a short novel with simple, straight-forward and unemotional language, yet the story of Gunnar facing the hypocrisy of a small-town who villainize this outsider while ignoring their own failings is oddly moving. I found myself really routing for Gunnar, which meant I sped through the book to discover how he fared. Having very little knowledge about Finland, I also enjoyed learning snippets about the country through the novel, from its involvement in WWII to some of its rural geography, and even the spelling of words (many place names looked Japanese to me).

I can't wait to see what my next book is!

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