To keep my to my resolution of reading more books this year and inspired by the Lars Book Club and my new found love of Ariel Bissett, I thought I’d start a little bit of a book club. Every month I’m planning on writing a review of a book I’ve read this year, accompanied with a bit of design work, some food for thought, and further recommendations if you like what you’ve read.
I thought there was no better way to start than with the book I read at least once every year Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal. If asked I’m not sure I would say it’s my favourite book because I’m far to indecisive to commit to a favourite book, but it’s probably up there. At only 112 pages long it’s quick enough to finish in one sitting but complex enough to read over and over again.
Set in Prague at a time of communist censorship, Too Loud a Solitude is the story of Hanta an old hermit of a man who has spent his life compacting wastepaper and books. Hanta tells his own story in first person throughout the novel, meandering through his youth and minutiae of his day to day life. There’s a mix of absurd comedy and literary musings, as well as a political subplot that seems unavoidable given the book’s setting.
Hrabal’s story pulls you in as a pair open arms. On the one side, you have a human interest piece all about an old man struggling to keep up with a changing world. On the other, there’s a celebration of literature, of Hanta’s defiance to keep the written word alive in the bales and in his mind. In short, it’s about the mortality of man and the immortality of literature, and their unbreakable bond. If that sounds a bit too pretentious, it is also just a story about a weird old man.
I think this little book has a lot of appeal for almost everyone but particularly those who have an interest in all things literary or anyone who wants to learn more about a lesser discussed bit of European history.
SOME QUESTIONS TO PONDER AS YOU READ…
- Hanta repeats the refrain “for thirty-five years now I’ve been compacting wastepaper and books” throughout the book, what effect does that have on your reading experience?
- Hrabal’s style has been described as one of digressions, how do the wanderings of Hrabal’s style reflect the wanderings of an old man’s mind?
- Too Loud a Solitude is both personal and political, did one message resonate with you more than the other?
- Hrabal’s writing is very much rooted in a certain time and place, do you think that Hanta’s story can transcend that setting? If so how?
- After reading about Hanta’s love of books and fight to keep them whole, how do you reflect on your own access to books and interest in literature?
IF YOU WANT SOME FURTHER READING TRY…
- James Wood’s feature on Bohumil Hrabal in the London Review of Books is a really nice insight into the man behind the novel
- H. Petrone of Go Tell The Bees has quite a long analysis of the novel which features a lot of the historical context I wouldn’t have known otherwise
- Or, have a look at the film adaptation that’s in development
IF YOU WANT MORE BOOKS A BIT LIKE THIS THEN HAVE A LOOK AT…
If you’re planning on reading Too Loud a Solitude and need something to mark your place, you can download and print the bookmark above for free here.