The OF Blog: September 2011

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Currently reading Kate Beaton's new book, Hark! A Vagrant

I am currently reading Canadian comics writer (and history/anthropology grad) Kate Beaton's just-released Hark! A Vagrant, which collects several of the history and literature-themed webcomics that she's released over the past few years.

One of the blurbs compared its biting wit and oddball humor to the venerable The Far Side and for me that comparison is not far off.  Virtually every one of the strips I've read so far (roughly 30 pages, although I've read a few in the middle of this 166 page book) has made me smile, if not chortle in a few places.  The case of the literary/film Watsons in particular was very well-done.  Hopefully there will be some readers willing to give Beaton a look-over, as this is going to be a keeper for me for years to come.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

New poll question and a few updates

Been a while since I updated the poll, so I added one tonight about Thomas Ligotti, in large part because I'm re-reading two collections of his, My Work Is Not Done and Teatro Grottesco.  Both of these I would recommend to those who like reading darker, unsettling fictions in the month or so leading up to Halloween, as well as to those who just want to read something atmospheric and well-constructed.

I'm also preserving the results of the late August poll on whether or not 2011 has been a good year for debuts.  Here are the results:

  11 (28%)
  6 (15%)
I'm woefully unread, so uncertain
  16 (41%)
I'm still waiting for Squirrelpunk!
  6 (15%)

Personally, having now passed twenty debuts sampled or read in full, I believe 2011 has seen quite a few good to great debuts, albeit most of them lying outside the core SF/F-marketed area that some readers of this blog may favor.  Still more to go in the final three months, as I'm now reading books #380, #381, and #382 story-by-story (the other is a 2011 translation of a collection of Catalan writer Mercé Rodoreda's fictions.  These are excellent - and one appears in The Weird, coming out next month.

Hopefully soon I'll get back to writing formal reviews.  There are two main reasons why I have not done much at all over the past two months.  One is the beginning of football season and I especially love following SEC college football.  The other is due to being exhausted from work stress.  Hopefully, my work situation will resolve itself in a favorable fashion in the next month or so, but uncertainty is never my friend.  Regardless, I do need to try harder at that, since there are several books that are deserving of a closer examination (although I suppose I could try to outsource these to Canadian bloggers, who doubtless could cover their cover arts better than I could ;)). 

However, I can recommend a few books even if it might be a while before I get around to reviewing them (if at all, that is).  Here are the best books that I've read in September, not all of which are 2011 releases:

Tom Perrotta, The Leftovers

Justin Torres, We the Animals

Javier Marías, Your Face Tomorrow  trilogy

Gonçalo M. Tavares, Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique

Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding

Alexander Maksik, You Deserve Nothing

Colson Whitehead, The Colossus of New York

Amy Waldman, The Submission

Esi Edugyan, Half-Blood Blues (not available yet in the US; Booker Prize shortlisted novel)

Well, there's one other, but that one I'm waiting until October to discuss, since it's not available yet.  Each of the others are (and all of them I bought with my own money, lest any worry about me being swayed by review copies).  Let me know if you've heard of or read any of these and what you thought of the ones you've read, okay?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Thoughts after re-reading Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince 10 different times/ways today

Those few who know me well know that one of my favorite literary works to re-read regularly is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's classic Le Petit Prince/The Little Prince.  Ever since I first read it (in English alone, at the time) in 2000, I have been moved by it.  Every year or two, sometimes in the summer and other times in the darkening nights of autumn, I re-read the book.  There are many reasons why I do so, some of which are related to my love of the story and others to my love of languages.

I currently own 10 editions of the book (French, English, Spanish, Latin, Portuguese, Catalan, Italian, German, Serbian, and Hungarian), with an Irish Gaelic edition ordered earlier today that should arrive in October.  I often use these translations as a measuring stick for my reading fluency in a particular language and if I have improved over a year or two period.  Reading 5-10 chapters of this short book at a time per language certainly tests my brain's ability to switch back and forth between languages.  I found it interesting, upon my eighth or ninth re-read, to see which passages were resonating more for me in one language compared to another.  Little effort is required for me to read in either English or Spanish; I sometimes switch my thoughts from one language to the other when I pick up a work in one of those particular languages.  French, Italian, and Portuguese require a little more effort, yet I have noticed that my French in particular has jumped significantly over the past year; I no longer need a dictionary to assist me with the majority of the words.  Italian and Portuguese feel "off," not because I don't get immediately the gist of the words, but rather that each is close enough to Spanish that the constructions require me to re-read on occasion.

I attempted Catalan for the first time today.  It was a beautiful experience, combining some of the best aspects of Spanish and French constructions.  I felt the irony of the serpent's comment on solitude more when I read:

¿On són els homes? – va continuar finalment el petit príncep –.  M'hi trobo una mica sol al desert.

– Entre els homes també t'hi trobes sol – va dir la serp.   

German is not as "graceful" to me.  Yet there is something about the same passage that casts it in a harsher light than the Catalan translation that suits another interpretation:

"Wo sind die Menschen?" fuhr der kleine Prinz endlich fort. "Man ist ein bißchen einsam in der Wüste..."

"Man ist auch bei den Menschen einsam", sagte die Schlange.

But the German translation on the whole did not move me as much as the Romance language editions.  Not surprising, considering the affinity between those and the original French:

– Où sont les hommes?  reprit enfin le petit prince.  On est un peu seul dans le désert...

– On est seul aussi chez les hommes, dit le serpent.

The Serbian translation I cherish the most because it is the only edition gifted to me.  Although its structure, replete with noun declensions and participial constructions, departs markedly from the French original, it is beautiful because of associations held with it.  Funny how much emotional associations can assist in creating a favorable reading (re)experience, but here is certainly the case.  Here is a passage that caught my attention for the first time today, despite the multiple re-reads over the past few years:

– Vi uopšte ne ličite na moju ružu, vi još ništa ne predstavljate, reče im on.  Niko vas nije pripitomio i vi niste nikoga pripitomile.  Vi ste kao što je bila moja lisica.  Bila je to obična lisica slična stotinama hiljada drugih lisica.  Ali, ja sam od nje napravio svog prijatelja i ona je sada jedinstvena na svetu.

Hungarian I do not know, or at least not more than a handful of words and the barest understanding that its structure, much less its vocabulary, is alien to me, yet that alien quality allows me to wander and wonder.  Words used to be incomprehensible to me in any language, then I mostly taught myself how to read English and then Spanish and then the other languages, yet there are no common roots and very few borrowed terms in Magyar.  It has acute accents and umlauts in strange places, enough to spark curiosity.  Does the prince (presumably, "a kis herceg," since that is the title of the Hungarian translation and that term appears frequently there) still have that winsome wistfulness in an agglutinative language?  Just viewing it made me focus harder on what the text was saying in the other languages and I think I learned a few new words in that tongue.

Yet the value I take from The Little Prince is not limited to linguistic study; that is only the tip of the semantic iceberg.  Rather, there are close associations I have with this story.  I remember reading it and thinking of a woman I knew, one who at first I thought could be a lover and who ended up being one of my two best friends during a dark and troublesome time in my life nearly a decade ago.  I gave her a copy of this book one Christmas (I can't recall if it was 2001 or 2002, but I want to say 2001), because I worried that she was becoming too much like the adults in the story, after "serious" matters.  I never have asked her if she read the book; perhaps I should at some point. 

With another, I think of the fox.  That scene keeps resonating with me, changing slightly each time.  There are, of course, seven billion people in this world (or over three billion more than when I was born in 1974).  But how many of us put forth the effort to "tame" another, to make that person special in our lives because of the time we've "lost" to them?  The lesson the little prince learns from the fox, that it is okay to, as the Italian translation says:

É amerò il rumore del vento nel grano...

Not to mention that it is best that we see with our hearts, as the essential is invisible to the eyes.  What do we value most in this world?  Material possessions?  There are people who would love to have my book collection, all 1800 books or so, yet the books are not the most valuable things I own.  I own (and am owned by) several friendships with people across the world.  I have come to value more a few handwritten letters and gifted books than any books that might be worth $500 or more today which sit on my bookshelves.  There is something valuable about suffering along with someone and not having to allude to it at all afterward.  As the little prince says:

"Water can also be good for the heart..." 

So can people thinking and rethinking little words written almost seventy years ago.  The essential may be invisible to our eyes, but if our hearts are receptive, perhaps each time we think of a Le Petit Prince or a close friend with whom we've fallen out of touch recently, there might be something there that rekindles that spark which life's struggles threaten to snuff out.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Used cover art: Which is better?

I just returned from a visit to my favorite used bookstore, McKay's in Nashville, and I thought instead of just posting a couple of pictures of the books' spines that I would have a sort of cover art "contest" to see which books are more visually appealing to you.  In these photos, a cast-iron squirrel shall be like blind Justice; it stands between the two books, trying to decide which one out of the two in each of these eight photos is more attractive visually.  Want to judge along with the squirrel?  Just say left or right for each of the eight photos.  Curious to see which are more appealing to readers here.

Left:  Ignazio Silone, Fontamana.  Right:  Jacques Audiberti, le cavalier seul

Left:  Elena Poniatowska, Querido Diego, te abraza Quiela.  Right:  Silvina Ocampo, Cornelia frente al espejo.

Left:  Robert Coover:  A Night at the Movies:  Or, You Must Remember This.  Right:  Vladimir Nabokov, King, Queen, Knave.

Left:  Tom Perrotta, The Abstinence Teacher.  Right:  Poe:  Essays and Reviews (Library of America edition).

Left:  Rubén Mendoza, Lotería and Other Stories.  Right:  Rafael Alberti, Sobre los ángeles/Yo era un tanto y lo que he visto me ha hecho dos tontos.

Left:  Thomas Mann, Die Erzählungen:  Band 1.  Right:  Heinrich der Löwe, Der verbinderte König.

Left:  Voltaire, Candide.  Right:  Anouilh, Antigone.

Left:  Camilo José Cela, Tobogán de hambrientos.  Right:  Mariano Azuela, Los de abajo.

I think the squirrel is having a more difficult time choosing than it expected.  Was it easier for you?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

2011 Debuts Read So Far

Thought now might be a good time to list the 2011 debut novels and/or collections that I've read so far (counting those in progress as well).  Seems like I've read more debuts lately than I have at any point in recent years and that is a major plus.  Here's the list to date:

Karen Russell, Swamplandia! (at times brilliant, other times sluggish, this was a mostly successful transition over to the novel form from one of my favorite short fiction writers)

Téa Obreht, The Tiger's Wife (one of my favorite 2011 novels; already reviewed)

Ben Loory, Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day (accomplished debut collection; already reviewed)

Genevieve Valentine, Mechanique:  A Tale of the Tresaulti (very good novel that utilizes circus imagery; second best of such novels read/reading to this point)

Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (this is Riggs' first novel after several non-fiction pieces; it was a mostly satisfying read)

S.J. Watson, Before I Go to Sleep (solid but with a conclusion that weakens the excellent premise of the first 4/5 of the novel)

Donald Ray Pollock, The Devil All The Time (Pollock's first novel after an acclaimed collection realized the promise of that earlier work; already reviewed)

Elanor Henderson, Ten Thousand Saints (excellent look at early 80s NYC hardcore scene; moving characters)

Stephen Kelman, Pigeon English (shortlisted for the 2011 Booker Prize; very good in places, yet the whole was less than the sum of its excellent prose and characterizations.  A re-read might improve my opinion of it)

Kevin Wilson, The Family Fang (excellent; already reviewed)

Belinda McKeon, Solace (good, but not memorable for me)

Yvvette Edwards, A Cupboard of Coats (longlisted for the 2011 Booker Prize; decent, but not noteworthy)

Mary Horlock, The Book of Lies (started out rough, but it grew on me until I was fully enjoying it by the end)

Stuart Nadler, The Book of Life (excellent slice-of-American-Jewish-life collection)

Ernest Cline, Ready Player One (I felt like I was reading a book in a foreig...err...geek language.  It was entertaining, but I wouldn't hold it up as being worthy of being considered as more than just a light read for those who love video geek culture)

Justin Torres, We the Animals (excellent, excellent debut)

Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding (although I weary of baseball-as-metaphor tales, this one was actually a moving, poignant look at relationships and how structures can collapse (or improve) as suddenly as a shortstop's attempt to field a wicked hop)

Alexander Maksik, You Deserve Nothing (a teacher-student bond/romance that doesn't irritate me - Maksik captures the emotional bonds and conflicts that develop in certain educational/tutoring relationships very effectively.  Finished this earlier today and was impressed)

Erin Morgenstern, Night Circus (in progress, but very promising so far)

19 debuts read or in the process of reading so far this year.  Looks like I'm going to have a helluva time writing a recap of these come late December.  Hopefully, I've helped introduce you to a few authors that might pique your fancy to the point that you explore their works.  2011 certainly has been a rewarding year for me when it comes to debuts and maybe it'll prove to be the same for you.

Any debut authors (collection, novel, non-fiction) that I might want to explore?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Southern Festival of Books

Despite living in the outer western suburbs of Nashville for most of my life, I have never attended the Southern Festival of Books, despite being told by my sister and others that I would love this free, three-day event.  Since I have a couple of vacation days built in and don't have the budget for major travel, I'm strongly considering attending this festival.

The author list is impressive.  Of particular interest are Chad Harbach (The Art of Fielding, which I'm currently reading), Erin Morgenstern (Night Circus, also a current read), Justin Torres (We the Animals, which was excellent), Donald Ray Pollock (The Devil All the Time, which I reviewed last month), Stewart O'Nan (several books I've been meaning to read and one that I enjoyed), Tom Perrotta (The Leftovers, which I enjoyed when it came out last month), and Kevin Wilson (The Family Fang, which I also reviewed this summer).  Doubtless, there will be several more authors to discover.

I noticed there was a place where I could, as a blogger, contact event staff about arranging one or more interviews, but I am probably not going to do this, mostly because I'm not 100% certain I can get off work enough to prepare to do any sort of interview (I'm somewhat meticulous in my approach to interviewing and if I have to record it, something I've never done to date, then it'd involve some purchases of recording material and more pre-prep) the justice I'd like for such to have.  So I'll go as a fan for at least this year and take in the vibe.  Festivals such as this appeal to me on a conceptual level than do conventions, mostly because it seems the books and authors are more on display than are fans who get together to weigh in on matters.  I think it's because I want to be left free to discover things than to be corralled into pontificating on the state of some literary genre or another.

What about you?  Any of you close enough to consider going?  If you are too far away, would the festival's concept and author lineup appeal to you?  Are there other authors on that list that I might need to explore before October 14?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A few thoughts on Jonathan Lethem's "Radisson Confidential" ( October issue of Harper's)

I recently began a subscription to Harper's to serve as a complement to my The New Yorker subscription.  Between the two magazines, I have discovered a wealth of new fiction that I might not otherwise have encountered.  I also have the joy of reading intriguing pieces, even when I do not entirely agree with the underlying message.

This past week, I received the October issue.  On the cover was this little line at the top:  "Jonathan Lethem and Zadie Smith on Science Fiction."  Hrmm...interesting.  Knowing Lethem's early novels were firmly considered to be SFnal and that Smith had recently commented positively on Le Guin (which she reiterates in her review column), I was curious to see what insights might be derived from reading these two pieces.  The Smith is worth reading for its review of not just a new Le Guin mini-collection, but also for introducing me to Magnus Mills, an author whose works I may explore in the very near future.  The Lethem, on the other hand, was a much more ambiguous piece that still has me thinking about it three days after I first read it.  First, a few quotes:

Through the magic portal labeled SCIENCE FICTION WRITER I found a seat waiting for me on a dais in an endlessly resumed panel discussion, in a floating opera that touched down for weekends at Radissons, Hyatts, Ramadas, to the bewildered amusement of the hotel staff and the permanent obliviousness of anyone else.  (There may be one being enacted down the street as you read these words.)  I embraced the science fiction convention-going community instinctively, out of my long responsiveness to countercultures that feel themselves to be sufficient worlds, pocket universes in permanent abreaction to what lies outside their boundary.  Like hippies.  The title of the never-ending panel was "Science Fiction and the Mainstream."  The problem with the panel was that it was talking to itself.  The nervous readers, imperious critics, benighted booksellers, and tut-tutting librarians, all so invested in the quarantine against science fiction, were nowhere within hearing range.  So, the many brilliant and underestimated writers, when they sat on the never-ending panel, were in an echo chamber.  Afterward they'd move to the hotel bar and, defending against pain, gossip about conventions they'd attended five and ten and fifty years before.

The irony was, the writers in the bar had vacated a hotel conference room full of what many writers fear can't really exist:  devoted readers who weren't themselves aspiring writers and who savored their work, collected their editions, and were conversant in literary-critical context. Of course, this was a paraliterary context, full of names from an alternate twentieth-century canon:  Weinbaum, Simak, Effinger.  The readers could not only trace a given story's inner workings but quote the reaction to it in the letters column of Galaxy, May 1953.  The Radisson was a magical arena of sublime reverence for acts of the literary imagination and scrupulous regard for the results.  Yet for the writers, with few exceptions, this couldn't salve their self-perpetuating injuries. (Harper's, October 2011, p. 18)

These two paragraphs caught my attention because they remind me strongly of my own immediate reactions to whenever someone brings up "the mainstream" or "the stuffy critics":  there's this weird sort of echo chamber effect going, with people tossing about these fine-sounding and yet (to me, at least) hollow epithets directed toward this semi-real, semi-imagined, and wholly-misconstrued "mainstream," whatever that term might mean outside of a narrow, vaguely pejorative sense typically intended in such diatribes to the chanting chori of this updated Greek tragedy. 

Lethem focuses here on the writers but I cannot help but think of the readers who engage themselves in this game and who perpetuate its themes and motivations.  What gain is there to be had by continuing to espouse a literary "divide," when it might be that such perceptions are fueled not just by the thoughts and confusion of a few on the "other" side, but even more by those who seem to need an "other," misguided and yet somehow simultaneously culturally-blessed kudos-distributing entity.  The rhetoric often found at conventions and on various blogs, fansites, and forums resembles in tenor and even in word choice (gatekeepers, ivory tower, pretentious élites, etc.) those found in political propaganda:  the "others" think "they" are better than "us," with the ultimate reaction being a division into camps what started out as individual preferences for a particular political/social/literary style (or to be more honest, styles, since few people like to bind themselves to a single axis of preference).

The result is an echo chamber, where those inclined to believe such propaganda gravitate toward the like-minded.  Lethem continues by noting these similarities:

These were matters of class, hierarchy, caste; things Americans like to deny, or acknowledge only in others, as if observing from some pleasantly egalitarian aerie - the enlightened middle class to which we must certainly belong.  I'd write, "These were obviously matters of class, etc.," except that for all my attempts I've never made it obvious to anyone besides myself.  For me, the insight is definitive, which probably makes this a confession of some agonized caste-posture I'm not aware I've assumed (it feels like I'm walking up-right, I swear).  The idea that status-anxious guardians of literary culture require a designated underclass to revile:  that's never seemed too exotic a diagnosis.  More curious to me was the entrenched and defiant injustice-collecting of those who had been informed they'd contracted writing-cooties.  Twenty years later critics help me grasp the operations of "identity politics" in the late-twentieth-century literary marketplace:  the huge currency of authentic "outsider" roles and the baroque operations left to those without a simple claim by gender, race, orientation.  At that point the tribal sulks and credential inspections within the science fiction caste began to make a lot more sense.  By then, I'd also made lifelong friends in the bar of the Radisson. (Harper's, October 2011, p. 18)

This paragraph still occupies some of my waking thoughts.  It is the key to following the rest of Lethem's four-page article, down through the quasi-exploration of literary "Genius-Asperger's" (much of the second half of the article is devoted to this and it muddies the points made in the quoted passages) and the self-alienation of several writers (and readers) from a general literary "conversation."  It contains powerful accusations, several of which ring true for me.  I do believe there may be something to the "identity politics" angle that might explain much, if not all, of the distrust and antagonistic feelings several speculative fiction (yes, I'm using that loaded term here) readers and writers feel toward the parvenu who seem to be "invading" their space, their chosen genre, their selected and anointed traditions.

But what makes me uneasy is the degree and intensity of this perceived identity politics.  I am not convinced it is a strong association for most genre readers (I suspect the majority of those who read say fantasy and/or science fiction often read historical fictions, biographies, romances, contemporary fictions, and sundry other literary genres), but perhaps it does describe those who read almost exclusively in a particular literary genre.  Does a large literary genre (or genres, if you prefer) depend heavily on the distrust and animosity several of its supporters feel toward other literary traditions?  Or is there something else at play?  Lethem's article leaves me thinking, as he notes in the concluding paragraph, that perhaps the best discussions and thoughts will emerge not from those participating in the panel discussions but among those who are sitting in the crowd, trying to make sense of it all.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Books I'm Currently Reading

I'm currently alternating between these books on a coolish (around 60) Friday night.  The Jean Ray and Dino Buzzati books are in French and Italian, respectively.  The Buzzati arrived Thursday and the Ray today in the mail.

Excited about the Spiegelman book, as it arrived today as a review copy (it will be available on October 4).  I received the Morgenstern on Tuesday, its release date, and it's promising so far.

I did a rare thing in purchasing the English translations of Javier Marías' Tu rostro mañana trilogy after finishing the trilogy in Spanish on Thursday; I wanted to have the translations in case I decide to do a review and then a gift later to someone.  I would have bought the Tavares in Portuguese if it were readily available here in the US, but halfway through it (I received it around two weeks ago), I can note that it's an excellent story so far.

Maybe I'll finally get around to doing reviews this weekend or next.  I do have a short work week next week due to a mini-school break, so maybe by then I'll have a review or three written.  Perhaps it'll be of one or more of these books.

Any of these you've read before or would like to read?

Monday, September 12, 2011

August 2011 Reads

Been away for a while, doing things that left me with little internet time.  So to break the silence for a spell, here's a listing of what I read last month.  Most of these are first-time reads; some might even be reviewed in the near future.

286  Dana Spiotta, Stone Arabia (solid novel that trods some of the same ground that A Visit from the Goon Squad does, but it stands out enough to be a good read in its own right)

287  Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad (very good novel; might say more in the near future)

288  Gabriel García Márquez, Yo no vengo a decir un discurso (Spanish; Non-Fiction; collection of author's speeches over the course of his life.  Good for what it is)

289  Gabriel García Márquez, Todos los cuentos (Spanish; collection in e-book form of all of his short fictions.  Great to re-read several enchanting tales)

290  Donald Ray Pollock, The Devil All the Time (reviewed earlier)

291  Helen Schulman, This Beautiful Life (reviewed earlier)

292  Djuna Barnes, Nightwood (excellent 1930s novel)

293  Phil Edwards, Snooki in Wonderland:  The Improved Classic (reviewed earlier)

294  Tim Powers, The Bible Repairman and Other Stories (collection; solid collection of Powers' newest fictions, but few stories stood out)

295  Jules Amédée Barbey d'Aurevilly, Les diaboliques (French; these stories of women betraying their lovers was almost shocking at times.  Excellent prose)

296  Vicente Blasco Ibañez, El paraíso de las mujeres (Spanish; decent retelling of Gulliver's Travels, but it is among the author's minor works for a reason)

297  Octavio Aragão, A Mão que Cria (Portuguese; I had planned on reviewing this at length along with the Intempol anthology, but I haven't yet finished the latter.  Will note that I enjoyed reading this short novel and hopefully will have more to say in the near future)

298  José Maria Eça de Quieros,  A Cidade e as Serras (Portuguese; good)

299  Juan Gabriel Vásquez, El ruido de las cosas al caer (2011 Premio Alfaguara winner; very good; might review in full later)

300  Alice La Plante, Turn of Mind (murder mystery involving an Alzheimer's patient at its center.  Very good read)

301  Elanor Henderson, Ten Thousand Saints (good novel detailing hardcore music scene of the 1980s and the crises of a group of friends and family members)

302  Stephen Kelman, Pigeon English (this Booker Prize-shortlisted novel was promising in places, but it ultimately left me feeling that this was merely a solid, competent novel rather than anything special)

303  Thomas More, Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation (Non-fiction; written just before the author's execution, this was the sort of inspirational read I wanted at the time)

304  Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic and Other Essays (Non-fiction; easy-to-follow philosophical work)

305  Algernon Blackwood, The Empty House and Other Ghost Stories (collection; good early weird fiction)

306  Patrick Dewitt, The Sisters Brothers (I liked this Booker-nominated work better than the Kelman; at times a visceral western, yet there were other depths discerned at times.  Satisfying, excellent read)

307  Kevin Wilson, The Family Fang (already reviewed)

308  László Krasznahorkai and Max Neumann, Animalinside (already blogged about this excellent prose/illustration piece)

309  Belina McKeon, Solace (solid, but not spectacular) 

310  Alison Pick, Far to Go (this familial slice of life just before the Holocaust was poignant, but also heavy-handed in places)

311  Dante Alighieri, La Divina Commedia di Dante:  Inferno (Italian; classic)

312  Dante Alighieri, La Divina Commedia di Dante:  Purgatorio (Italian; classic)

313  Dante Alighieri, La Divina Commedia di Dante:  Paradiso (Italian; classic)

314  Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, No Thoroughfare (average potboiler; below both authors' normal levels)

315  Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy (decent English translation of one of my favorite epic-length poems)

316  Wilkie Collins, Blind Love (Collins' last novel was almost a self-parody of his earlier, greater works)

317  Michael Crummey, Galore (decent, albeit forgettable, work)

318  Yvvette Edwards, A Cupboard Full of Coats (on the Booker longlist, this novel was OK, but not all that great)

319  Mario Vargas Llosa, Los cachorros (Spanish; collection; short e-book edition of a couple of Vargas Llosa's earliest short fictions.  Very good)

320  Marian Coman, Fingers and Other Fantastic Stories (translated from Romanian, this short e-book collection contains some delightfully weird fictions that are well worth the $0.99 I spent on it)

321  Mario Vargas Llosa, Los jefes (Spanish; more of Vargas Llosa's early short fictions; very good)

322  Cristina García, The Lady Matador's Hotel (very good)

323  Augusto Monterroso, Cuentos (Spanish; collection; very good)

324  Steve Erickson, The Sea Came in at Midnight (might review later)

325  Steve Erickson, Our Ecstatic Days (might review later)

326  James Boice, The Good and the Ghastly (very good)

327  Robert Irwin, The Arabian Nightmare (this has to be an overlooked masterpiece, considering the quality of the prose and how few mentions I've heard about it before reading it)

328  Mary Horlock, The Book of Lies (very good)

329  Steve Erickson, Tours of the Black Clock (might review later)

330  Anders Nilsen, Big Questions (one of the best graphic novels I've read this year)

331  Frank Herbert, Hellstrom's Hive (might review this on the SFF Masterworks page later)

332  Stuart Nader, The Book of Life (collection; very good)

333  Ernest Cline, Ready Player One (good debut novel)

So far into September, I'm half a book away from finishing #350.  Looks like I'm on pace to read well over 400 books for the third year in a row.  Any of these you've read before?  Any you want to read in the near or distant future?

Monday, September 05, 2011

Le Monde's 100 Books of the Century

This list was published back in the late 1990s, but it still is a markedly different list than what Anglo-American publications produced around the same time.  Bold for the titles read (whether in the original or in translation), italics for the ones owned but not yet read, and plain for unread works.

1.              The Stranger    Albert Camus     
2.              Remembrance of Things Past     Marcel Proust           
3.              The Trial    Franz Kafka  
4.              The Little Prince    Antoine de Saint-Exupéry   
5.              Man's Fate           André Malraux         
6.              Journey to the End of the Night            Louis-Ferdinand Céline       
7.              The Grapes of Wrath      John Steinbeck
8.              For Whom the Bell Tolls             Ernest Hemingway  
9.              Le Grand Meaulnes         Alain-Fournier          
10.          Froth on the Daydream    Boris Vian      
11.          The Second Sex     Simone de Beauvoir
12.          Waiting for Godot            Samuel Beckett         
13.          Being and Nothingness     Jean-Paul Sartre       
14.          The Name of the Rose    Umberto Eco
15.          The Gulag Archipelago   Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn       
16.          Paroles     Jacques Prévert        
17.          Alcools      Guillaume Apollinaire          
18.          The Blue Lotus    Hergé
19.          The Diary of a Young Girl           Anne Frank   
20.          Tristes Tropiques            Claude Lévi-Strauss
21.          Brave New World            Aldous Huxley          
22.          Nineteen Eighty-Four     George Orwell           
23.          Asterix the Gaul      René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo
24.          The Bald Soprano           Eugène Ionesco        
25.          Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality         Sigmund Freud        
26.          The Abyss/Zeno of Bruges         Marguerite Yourcenar         
27.          Lolita         Vladimir Nabokov    
28.          Ulysses     James Joyce   
29.          The Tartar Steppe          Dino Buzzati  
30.          The Counterfeiters         André Gide    
31.          The Horseman on the Roof        Jean Giono     
32.          Belle du Seigneur            Albert Cohen            
33.          One Hundred Years of Solitude            Gabriel García Márquez       
34.          The Sound and the Fury            William Faulkner      
35.          Thérèse Desqueyroux    François Mauriac      
36.          Zazie in the Metro           Raymond Queneau  
37.          Confusion of Feelings     Stefan Zweig
38.          Gone with the Wind        Margaret Mitchell    
39.          Lady Chatterley's Lover             D. H. Lawrence          
40.          The Magic Mountain       Thomas Mann          
41.          Bonjour Tristesse            Françoise Sagan       
42.          Le Silence de la mer        Vercors          
43.          Life: A User's Manual      Georges Perec           
44.          The Hound of the Baskervilles      Arthur Conan Doyle
45.          Under the Sun of Satan Georges Bernanos    
46.          The Great Gatsby            F. Scott Fitzgerald     
47.          The Joke   Milan Kundera         
48.          A Ghost at Noon/Contempt        Alberto Moravia       
49.          The Murder of Roger Ackroyd   Agatha Christie         
50.          Nadja        André Breton            
51.          Aurelien   Louis Aragon
52.          The Satin Slipper            Paul Claudel
53.          Six Characters in Search of an Author Luigi Pirandello        
54.          The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui             Bertolt Brecht           
55.          Friday       Michel Tournier       
56.          The War of the Worlds    H. G. Wells
57.          If This Is a Man/Survival in Auschwitz             Primo Levi     
58.          The Lord of the Rings     J. R. R. Tolkien           
59.          Les Vrilles de la vigne (French)      Colette      
60.          Capital of Pain     Paul Éluard   
61.          Martin Eden        Jack London  
62.          Ballad of the Salt Sea      Hugo Pratt    
63.          Writing Degree Zero       Roland Barthes         
64.          The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum     Heinrich Böll
65.          The Opposing Shore       Julien Gracq  
66.          The Order of Things       Michel Foucault        
67.          On the Road         Jack Kerouac
68.          The Wonderful Adventures of Nils       Selma Lagerlöf          
69.          A Room of One's Own     Virginia Woolf           
70.          The Martian Chronicles    Ray Bradbury           
71.          The Ravishing of Lol Stein          Marguerite Duras    
72.          The Interrogation           J. M. G. Le Clézio        
73.          Tropisms     Nathalie Sarraute     
74.          Journal, 1887–1910       Jules Renard
75.          Lord Jim   Joseph Conrad          
76.          Écrits        Jacques Lacan           
77.          The Theatre and its Double       Antonin Artaud        
78.          Manhattan Transfer       John Dos Passos       
79.          Ficciones   Jorge Luis Borges     
80.          Moravagine          Blaise Cendrars        
81.          The General of the Dead Army      Ismail Kadare           
82.          Sophie's Choice   William Styron          
83.          Gypsy Ballads      Federico García Lorca          
84.          The Strange Case of Peter the Lett       Georges Simenon     
85.          Our Lady of the Flowers             Jean Genet    
86.          The Man Without Qualities        Robert Musil
87.          Furor and Mystery          René Char     
88.          The Catcher in the Rye    J. D. Salinger  
89.          No Orchids For Miss Blandish    James Hadley Chase            
90.          Blake and Mortimer        Edgar P. Jacobs         
91.          The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge           Rainer Maria Rilke   
92.          Second Thoughts            Michel Butor
93.          The Burden of Our Time/The Origins of Totalitarianism      Hannah Arendt        
94.          The Master and Margarita         Mikhail Bulgakov      
95.          The Rosy Crucifixion       Henry Miller
96.          The Big Sleep       Raymond Chandler  
97.          Amers       Saint-John Perse      
98.          Gaston/Gomer Goof      André Franquin       
99.          Under the Volcano          Malcolm Lowry         
100.    Midnight's Children    Salman Rushdie 

OK, read just over a third of these.  How many have you read/own?  Which ones of the non-highlighted titles would you recommend to me and/or others and why? 

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Thinking of doing some themed months

Found a reference elsewhere this evening about my July 2010 Borges Month, which reminded me that was the month with the highest traffic here (now I'm pulling maybe 40% of that month's numbers).  Not that I'm motivated to do something strictly for hits (instead, thinking it might be something fun that more readers might want to read), but I'm thinking about devoting the next few months to a few authors.

For example, September will see me cover some works by Flann O'Brien and Italian writer Dino Buzzati.  In October, I would start covering more authors found inside the upcoming anthology The Weird; perhaps some combination of Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco in conjunction with this.  Maybe Gabriel García Márquez late in the year.  Possibly, could cover others as well, not necessarily in formal reviews, but in shorter, more informal pieces similar to what I did for some of the Borges pieces.  Lots of options, which is what makes this enticing to me.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Conversing about books, utilizing book pictures


put their heads together and begin discussing books owned and books that needed to be read or at least investigated further.  They thought, "hey, what about women and water?"

"Well, there's always Kit Whitfield's In Great Waters if you want a cover that features women and water.  Plus I hear it was nominated for a few awards in 2010," the McSweeney's #36 head said.  "Yes," responded the thinking Flann O'Brien head, "it is a good one, but there is something weird about the Clark Ashton Smith Xiccarph, or maybe it's just the cover and the odd title that make it so appealingly odd?"

"Perhaps so, but what about this?"

"Sure, Sure, Miyuki Miyabe's Ico:  Castle in the Mist contains some promise, but it's based off of a videogame?  That might portend several things, but it doesn't mean it'll be weird.  Still, it bears looking into.  As for the John Sayles book, A Moment in the Sun, it has languished a while on the reading docket, no?  But this tale of fin-de-siècle 19th-20th century American life has pleased the few times it's been dipped into."

The McSweeney's head/box thought for a minute and then remarked: 

"Road trip-type novels appeal to many.  Although he's far from that in his writing, there's always Javier Marías' works.  Tu rosto mañana is a huge international hit – I hear three weird bastards are talking about doing group reviews of it sometime – while Los enamoramientos has already been through two editions in 2011 alone in Spain and it possibly will replicate its predecessor's success when it's translated into English in the near future."

The Flann O'Brien thinking head scratched his chin for a few moments, lost in thought.  "Well, for me, I'm trying to decide between the neglected works of the Harlem Renaissance writers (Library of America has just released a two-volume set of short novels from the 1920s and 1930s) and the obscurity under which Michel Bernanos' La montagne morte de la vie has languished ever since the 1960s.  Thankfully, it will be available shortly in translation in The Weird."

"Well, these certainly are worthy books for whatever mood this daft reader might be in," the McSweeney's head demurred, "but I cannot decide whether or not there is sufficient merit to look beyond the cover of K.V. Johansen's Blackdog.  It contains a brooding dark-skinned swordsman and an almost whiter-than-white female heroine character with some dog, presumably black, and a bird.  It feels too similar to so many other covers to run-of-the-mill secondary-world fantasies that I'm uncertain if it will offer anything new to jaded readers.  But the book beside it, Zoran Živković's The Writer/The Book/The Reader, is visually appealing because the cover image is so sparse and it seems to promise there is much to be beheld within."

"Yes, Živković has some of the better covers for his books, regardless of the language of the edition being viewed (here is the Serbian original, which is almost erotic in its connection of reader and book).  But what grabbed me recently was this new Gollancz SF Masterworks edition cover for Frank Herbert's Hellstrom's Hive.  It certainly provides a thematic link to the story within.  Creepy, but effective as well.  If only there were more covers that could hint so strongly about the contents as this one does."

"Well, there's more that could be said about covers, but what about titles?  This 2010 novel by Paul Murray, Skippy Dies, seems to be a rather morbid title, but it also seems to hint that it is a character study.  Maybe I'm just overthinking it, but why am I reminded of Gabriel García Márquez's excellent Chronicle of a Death Foretold, in that the death might serve to highlight the lives and motives of those surrounding the victim.  Despite the bland lettering, it likely will be a book that will be read on a college football Saturday."

"Football..." the Flann O'Brien head drawled, "you mean the beautiful sport, don't you?"

"No, I mean the glorious smashmouth game in which a juke can break ankles and that a well-timed playaction pass can sucker the DB into cheating toward the line of scrimmage...err, I suppose we should wrap up this book talk and get down to other matters?"

And with that, this hazy sort of dream ended.  Surrounding me were over a dozen books of all sorts, shapes, and languages.  Looks like September will see a lot of reading (and some re-reading).  At least there should be some promising discoveries, no?
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