It’s pouring rain outside, I have a sick kid on the couch, so today seems like a good day to get caught up on books.

Round Ireland with a Fridge – Tony Hawks.
This was a timely read, found at the library on a shelf of books pulled in advance of the St. Patrick’s Day holiday. It is exactly what its title claims to be: the story of a trip around Ireland with a refrigerator.

Hawks is a British comedian who, while traveling in Ireland in the early 90s, saw a man on the side of the road hitchhiking with a full-sized fridge next to him. The image stuck with Hawks and became his go-to story at parties. Fast forward a few years and after a night on which many drinks were finished and many stories told, Hawks wakes to find a note that he had bet a friend 100 pounds that he could hitchhike all the way around Ireland with a fridge of his own.

Uh oh.

Well, Hawks pulls it off. He takes a more modestly sized dorm fridge with him. And after speaking with the DJ on one of the most listened to morning shows across Ireland, he gets help in his efforts from folks who have heard his story on the radio. Along the way he meets a King, takes the fridge surfing, nervously passes through Northern Ireland,[1] has the fridge blessed and named in Gaelic, and makes dozens of friendships along the way.

This is a ridiculous, funny book. What struck me most was the sense of community, both large and small, shared by the book. Hawks is a stranger in each town he stops in, but is always warmly welcomed with a pint and a stool at the bar. And people in all parts of Ireland are aware of his story because of a radio program, a concept that seems hopelessly out-dated today.

Ten Years in the Tub – Nick Hornby.
About 30 minutes after finishing Hawks’ book, I polished off the final two entries in this collection of Hornby’s Believer “Stuff I’ve Been Reading” columns. The next morning I bragged to the girls that I had finished two books in half an hour. They were not impressed.

I’ve already written about this book, so no need to go into details. It was interesting to read Hornby’s observations about things that were going on in the world, and that influenced his reading choices, over the 13 or so years covered by this collection. It’s span included the war in Iraq and protests against it, terror attacks in London, several soccer World Cups, the London Olympics, and the election of Barack Obama among other things. While those events were rarely the center of his monthly columns – World Cups excepted; he pretty much did not read during World Cup months – he still references then often enough that they are significant to the book’s impact.

I’ve already finished one book recommended in these pages, am still working my way through the Y: The Last Man comic series,[2] and have 10 more books in my To Read list courtesy of Hornby’s recommendations. This was a productive read.

The Spaceman of Bohemia – Jaroslav Kalfar
My highly acclaimed novel of the month, this debut by the Czech-born Kalfar got a lot of praise when it came out a year ago and landed on several Best Of lists for 2017.

It is the somewhat ridiculous tale of Jakub Prochazka, a Czech scientist who is recruited as the country’s first astronaut and given a mission of flying out into space for nearly eight months to explore a mysterious storm that has turned the earth’s sky purple but otherwise has not caused any ill effects. During his four-month solo trip out to the cloud, called Chopra, Prochazka slowly breaks down mentally. The required video conferences with interested citizens back on earth weigh on him; the private video conferences with his wife, which began with nudity and sex, have become tense; his body is showing signs of deterioration; and there’s a weird noise in his space ship that he can never quite find but gives him the impression that he is being watched.

One day his wife fails to arrive for their scheduled conference and disappears without anyone back in the Czech Republic knowing where she has gone to. At the same time, that mysterious sound reveals itself as a stowaway from another galaxy who is deeply interested in Prochazka’s deepest thoughts and memories for insight into “humanry.” From that being’s probings we learn of Prochazka’s childhood. We see how he and his wife met and fell in love. We see how he was recruited and trained for his current occupation.

The book turns on two major moments. First, Prochazka’s space craft begins to break apart when it enters Chopra. But he is rescued just before his oxygen runs out by a secret Russian mission that was trailing him. Then, as they approach earth, he is informed that he will be placed in a secret settlement for political prisoners. As the Russian mission was part of a secret program, they can’t reveal its existence by presenting him for display to the world. Longing to find his wife, Prochazka takes dramatic steps to make sure the Russians can not deliver him to their government.

The book closes with Prochazka attempting to reunite with his wife before realizing that is not possible and being forced to create a whole new life for himself on his grandparent’s abandoned farm.

Kalfar infuses this book with humor and heart. The being that occupies Prochazka’s ship is one of the more interesting and charming characters I’ve read recently. And it seemed to me that Kalfar raised interesting questions about relationships between family members, how those relationships affect who we are, and whether our pasts build inescapable paths for our futures. But I’m not sure it all quite worked. I was left wondering if I missed how to connect all those parts together or if they simply don’t fit together. For plot alone, it’s worth the read. And perhaps others will find the links to those questions that I missed.

  1. This was in 1999, and the borderlands between Ireland and Northern Ireland were still a dangerous place.  ↩
  2. I finished books 5 and 6 last week.  ↩