The OF Blog: April 2012

Monday, April 30, 2012

April 30 Used Book Porn

Thirty-six German-language books.  Thirty-three of them cost 10¢ each; the other three were 95¢ each.
 Did my biweekly trip to McKay's today.  Traded in my entire Sandman collection (I plan on buying the Ultimate volumes in the next year or so, so after not having read them again these past 2-3 years, I could justify doing so now in order to add to my "rainy day" collection of books) and certain others.  Ended up with almost $94 in store credit.  Spent about $65 or so on 48 books, one of which is a new 2012 release.  Not too shabby.  Going to read the Freud book in Spanish to see just how true the stories of how his English translator altered the semantics of his theories via Latinization of certain expressions.

The Livy is in Latin, the other five are in Spanish/Spanish translation.

The DeLillo will be read later for a Gogol's Overcoat read-on; the McCarthy completes my collection of his Border Trilogy, which I will read sometime in May/June, with possible reviews.

Heard positive things about the new Johnson novel; for years I have been meaning to read Ellison's posthumous novel.

I am a fan of Banana Yoshimoto's fiction.  I have not read these two novels, however.

A few thoughts regarding the tempests surrounding Scott Bakker's writing and blog posts

A warmth climbs through her as she speaks, an unaccountable assurance, as if out of all her crazed burdens, confession is the only real encumbrance.  Secrecy mars the nature of every former slave, and she is no different.  They hoard knowledge, not for the actual power it affords, but for the taste of that power.  All this time, even before Achamian's captivity, she has been accumulating facts and suspicions.  All this time she has fooled herself the way all men fool themselves, thinking that she alone possessed the highest vantage and that she alone commanded the field.

All this time she has been a fool.

The White Luck Warrior, p. 431-432, Canadian edition

For the past several months, there have been a series of arguments, starting first with a revival of old complaints on Bakker's Three Pound Brain blog regarding comments made on the Requires Only That You Hate blog, before a recent diffusion of these issues and comments to several blogs, including those operated by authors such as John Scalzi and Catherynne Valente, as well as several threads over on Westeros.  Outside of a few comments months ago on Bakker's blog (I want to say it was something like the third out of what appears to be nearly a dozen or so long essays referencing his detractors) and bemusement on Twitter, I have largely stayed out of the main points of contention:  the issue of Bakker's texts being misogynistic, the author's claims to be battling for feminism (among other such claims; I believe these were made on another blog or LiveJournal), questions of evolutionary psychology, whether or not there is a "rape module" to be discovered inside of humans, and most recently, gang-raping dolphins.  It is enough to make the mind hurt trying to process the various iterations of these arguments.

I held off writing anything substantive on this because I had more important (NB:  "selfish") matters to deal with recently:  health and exam preparations.  Now that I'm nearing the end game of waiting to set up job interviews for ESL/English/Social Studies, I have a spare hour or so to devote to noting briefly some of the issues that I have with Bakker's text and his approach to introducing/discussing controversial ideas/research.  Having met the man personally nearly eight years ago, I am not able to place my opinions in reductionist terms; people are, as Whitman notes, are "large" and "contain multitudes" within themselves.

The issue of female agency and the reduction of female roles in his fictions to largely variations on the crone/whore/victim triad has dominated most of the discussions.  It certainly is an issue that has been problematic for me for years, although I have been willing enough to give the author just enough of a shadow of a doubt to see if his hinted plans to deconstruct both ancient/biblical and modern (and presumably "postmodern"?) conceptualizations of gender/gender roles will come to fruition.  I certainly can see where the text itself supports an interpretation that women are sexualized beings that are either passive recipients of male lust/violence or are the wanton harlots that trigger those reactions in males.  I wish I could lie and say I am puzzled as to why Bakker cannot commit to just a simple "yes, the text is problematic as it stands now, but future developments will hopefully show that there is much more going on under the surface," but I cannot.

What has dragged this out for months largely (but not exclusively) deals with Bakker's truer intent in his fiction, that of exploding conceptualizations of how things are.  He seems to be challenging the assumptions that underlie the reactions.  If anything, one could make the argument that he and his texts are not as much misogynistic as they are misanthropic; humans are fallible creatures whose base motives are rooted in violence and desire to dominate/control power.  This is not precisely "nihilistic," as there are meanings to be found to these actions, but it certainly is a very dark and potentially disturbing world-view.

I say "potentially disturbing" because there likely are going to be many who challenge these presumptions.  In making his larger case, Bakker often resorts to the language found in neuroscience and evolutionary psychology research.  In particular, he has frequently cited Jonathan Haidt's work in discussing how humans organize themselves into particular group structures.  While I cannot say that I am familiar enough with Haidt's theories to give expert opinion, what I have noticed based on Bakker's references to them that they seem to be simplistic reductions of a myriad of complex impulses and rationales that appear to be too heavily rooted in Anglo-American political culture to be of much use in discussing more "global" matters.  Leaving aside the inevitable uncertainties of evaluations made on incomplete information, it appears that Bakker is being too uncritical in using arguments such as Haidt's that appear to be based on faulty or non-testable methodologies.

That in and of itself is relatively minor.  But when such terminologies are being applied as retorts to those who question (sometimes vociferously and occasionally in a very acerbic fashion) his motives and rationale for his statements regarding gender roles and potential latent and/or active sexism and/or misogyny in his fiction, the terms of the debate are shifted too much toward the semantics of the debated terms and too much away from anything really substantive when it comes to the issues at hand.  After reflecting upon this for some time, something occurred to me that perhaps some will see as ancillary to the long-running arguments, but for myself it may be key toward understanding my own growing ambivalence toward the storytelling mechanisms around which the debates have been centered.

Above is a passage from late in his latest novel, the epic fantasy The White-Luck Warrior.  The character providing these thoughts, Mimara, is reflecting back upon her past while trying to negotiate the rapids of her present travel through a dead and ancient land.  There are descriptions of her experiences after the degradations of her past as a brothel-slave (her mother sold her into sex slavery in a moment of desperation).  This passage, I suspect, is meant to be a foreshadowing of something greater revolving around the setting and how the characters within it have their world perspectives stripped away.  Yet a close reading of that quoted passage reveals a structural issue that plagues much of Bakker's writing.  Note the distant reflective voice present within this quote.  Does it feel like something that a human being, particularly one who is still relatively young and who has experienced repeated traumas over at least ten years, would actually think?

Too often, Bakker does not trust the narrative and the characters within it.  There are moments where instead of presenting a more "naturalistic" character perspective on the world and surrounding events, there is this separation, as if the point found in the chapter epigraphs must be reinforced and referenced repeatedly by the characters.  Nuances and subtleties are often removed or obscured by this narrative intrusion.  Instead of reacting and processing with the characters, readers often have notions that they, like the characters, are self-deluded fools who will go automatically for the easy and pleasurable while ignoring the hard truths around them.  It is little surprise that many take umbrage at this, sensing (even when they may not be able to articulate it fully) that these challenging asides may be flawed, that there is something else besides what Bakker, through the narrative structure, is attempting to hammer down into them.

Yes, there are times when reader reactions are going to fall in line with Bakker's expectations.  But I cannot help but sense there is much not being covered.  Even when granting times in which cultural training and possible behavioral tendencies guide us subconsciously toward reactions that we little understand ourselves, it rarely is simply a simple issue of "being hardwired," as Bakker often puts it.  The "software," our acculturation processes and our own unique reactions to environment and societies, is not a significant part of his story.  That makes me suspicious of the underlying intent and how effective it truly is.

This suspicion does not deny that when considered, Bakker is making some intriguing arguments regarding human volition.  The issue, however, becomes that of efficacy.  His relative lack of nuance and engagement with societal (as opposed to strict biological) conditioning weakens the story in crucial places for me.  Take for instance the so-called "rape aliens," the Inchoroi.  Their lasciviousness, their seduction and coercion of human wills to perform obscene sex acts, this is meant to be the awful counter to the absolute moral strictures of this setting (one in which damnation is a physically real and present occurance).  They are meant to be horrifying, but Bakker largely reduces them to being mere grotesques.  Their actions are revolting, but there is little true horror behind them because of the narrative emphasis on revelation and (self-)deception.  Some of the themes tied into the Inchoroi and their Sranc creations resemble in some aspects those covered in some of Thomas Ligotti's works.  Where Ligotti utilizes the narrative structure to accentuate the alienation and anguish present in human deceit, Bakker's narrative intrudes too much into the processing realm, interrupting the reader's ongoing interpretation of the textual themes.  While this does not destroy the power of certain key narrative developments, it does weaken them, making some interpretations, such as that of human sexuality and the treatment of women in a world whose intentional misogyny (itself "confirmed" by the local metaphysics, at least through the fifth volume) muddled.  This gives validity to those who argue that the writer either implicitly (or explicitly) endorses these problematic views or he really has no understanding at all when it comes to describing human characters and their motivations.

This latter accusation certainly has some evidence to support it.  Having read twice his neuro-thriller, Neuropath (2006 and 2008), during my second reading I found myself becoming disengaged from the text (perhaps because I knew of the manipulations to come) because the characters were so implausible.  Having a hypersexualized woman who had been "altered" at first seemed to be a critique of standard thriller use of sex (and sexual violence) to further the plot.  Yet that character's scene was so stilted and contrived upon a re-read that it felt devoid of any real impact because that character had become "other" in the sense of her not really being a human being.  The same held true when I read Bakker's The Disciple of the Dog:  the "voices" were being forced too much into a pre-designated role, to the detriment of any real characterization.  When these poor character constructs are placed in settings where they are meant to be ciphers for controversial explorations of human sexual domination and violence, it is little surprise that those who have experienced sexism, if not outright misogyny, in their lives will frequently turn against the text, viewing it as an endorsement of what they cannot stand, all due to its poor structure and implementation.

Spending time trying to force others into considering "second order" questions regarding truth and the underlying structures behind one's world-views is a strategy doomed to failure, especially when there is the belief that the issue at hand is the narrative and what appears to be its underlying belief foundation.  While I personally think the author has not intentionally set out to reinforce misogynistic world-views, his stated intent of targeting predominantly male readers while arguing with women of various feminist ideologies that he is fighting that battle better than they are is leading to a debacle.  Borrowing half-processed neuroscience and evolutionary psychological terms uncritically, when there appears to be evidence that mitigates or even challenges those assumptions regarding just how important biological imperatives are in human interactions, only leads to accusations of trying to remove the terms of the debate from the immediate realm of function and practical application to the semantic level, in which the disagreement over terminological interpretation seems to lead only to a derailing of the larger argument. 

Things are at an ideological impasse, or so it seems to me.  Bakker doesn't seem to be engaging with his critics as much as he is attempting to force them to argue their points through his own chosen schematics.  While there is obviously some value to considering things through another's perspective, when it is not readily being reciprocated (or being perceived as not being reciprocated), why bother?  All it seems to lead to is just dozens of posts on an issue that seems to be too easily reduced to the caricature of an actual substantive debate.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Ranking the awards for 2011 releases: Preliminary placements

I have been following nearly twenty literary/genre awards given for books released in 2011, starting with last year's Man Booker Prize and continuing through the recently-announced Shirley Jackson Awards.  Although I have read some novellas and other shorter fiction, I'm going to limit this just to fiction/novel categories for better comparison points.  Mind you, there are still a few award nominees I have to read and some awards that haven't been announced yet, so this is just a prelim to something that I might expand upon in November, after the final awards for 2011 releases, the World Fantasy Awards, announces their winners.  Below are rough chronological listing of the awards:

2011 Man Booker Prize 

Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending 
Patrick deWitt, The Sisters Brothers
Carol Birch, Jamrach's Menagerie
Esi Edugyan, Half Blood Blues
Stephen Kelman, Pigeon English
A.D. Miller, Snowdrops

This was a weak shortlist, as few of the stories ever accomplished anything other than being competent at telling stories within long-established literary genres.  The Barnes short novel was well-written, but utterly forgettable in terms of an actual story or characterization.  The deWitt was my favorite from this group, but even it broke no new imaginative or prose ground.

2011 National Book Award

Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones 
Téa Obreht, The Tiger's Wife
Edith Pearlman, Binocular Vision (collection)
Andrew Krivak, The Sojourn
Julie Otsuka, The Buddha in the Attic

This was a much, much stronger shortlist than the Man Booker shortlist.  Ward's story, although not my favorite, was strong, emotional, and lyrical.  Obreht's debut novel won the Orange Prize in 2011.  Pearlman won the National Book Critics Circle Award this year for her excellent collection.  Otsuka won the PEN/Faulkner Prize, and Krivak's book is up there with the others in quality, despite not making any other shortlists/winning any major awards.

2012 National Book Critics Circle Award

Edith Pearlman, Binocular Vision 
Teju Cole, Open City 
Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot
Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger's Child
Dana Spiotta, Stone Arabia

This too was a strong shortlist, although the Hollinghurst and, ultimately, the Eugenides left me feeling distant from the texts.  Cole's debut novel was my favorite of the five, followed by Pearlman and Spiotta.

2012 PEN/Faulkner Award

Julie Otsuka, The Buddha in the Attic 
Don DeLillo,  The Angel Esmeralda (collection)
Anita Desai, The Artist of Disappearance
Steven Millhauser, We Others (collection)
Russell Banks, Lost Memory of Skin

Interesting mix of short fiction and novels, newer voices and established names.  Of these, I liked the Otsuka the best, but DeLillo and Millhauser had strong collections.  Banks' premise was purposefully unsettling and the Desai was good but not as excellent as the others.

2012 Man Asian Prize

Kyung sook-Shin, Please Look After Mom 
Yan Lianke, Dream of Ding Village
Rahul Bhattacharya, The Sly Company of People Who Care
Jahnavi Barua, Rebirth
Amitav Ghosh, River of Smoke
Banana Yoshimoto, The Lake
Jamil Ahmad, The Wandering Falcon

Toss-up for me between this and the National Book Award (and one other) for having the strongest shortlist.  I loved each and every one of these seven fictions, but there were few similarities in theme or approach between them.  Several of these are up for upcoming awards, including Lianke for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 

 No Winner


Karen Russell, Swamplandia!
David Foster Wallace, The Pale King
Denis Johnson, Train of Dreams

This was not a great list of finalists.  I liked all three, but each were flawed in some form or fashion (the Wallace was tragically left unfinished).  None of them deserved to win the award.

2012 British Science Fiction Award

Christopher Priest, The Islanders 
China Miéville, Embassytown
Adam Roberts, By Light Alone
Lavie Tidhar, Osama
Kim Lakin-Smith, Cyber Circus

This is one of the two SF/F fantasy shortlists announced so far that have not annoyed me.  Priest was a deserving winner.  Tidhar's book was very, very good as well and while I had problems with both the Miéville and the Lakin-Smith (I have yet to read Roberts' book; maybe when I have more money to import books again), it is a stronger list than the following two genre awards.

2012 Nebula Award for Best Novel

China Miéville, Embassytown
Jack McDevitt, Firebird
Jo Walton, Among Others
Genevieve Valentine, Mechanique:  A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti
N.K. Jemisin, The Kingdom of Gods
Kameron Hurley, God's War

This is a solid albeit unspectacular SF/F shortlist.  The Hurley and Walton are the two stories that I enjoyed most.  Refuse to read the McDevitt due to past experiences with his writing.  The others were okay, but not award-worthy to me.

2012 Arthur C. Clarke Award 

Jane Rogers, The Testament of Jesse Lamb
Charles Stross, Rule 34
Sherri Tepper, The Waters Rising
China Miéville, Embassytown
Drew Magary, The Postmortal/The End Specialist
Greg Bear, Hull Zero Three

Blech.  I have read four of the six shortlisted (the Rogers won't arrive until after the May 2nd ceremony; the Stross I refuse to read due to past experiences) and none of them strike me as worthy of any award shortlists, much less winning one of the few genre awards that awards a cash prize.  Easily the weakest shortlist out of the 2011 releases cycle that I have followed.

2012 Orange Prize

Esi Edugyan, Half Blood Blues
Anne Enright, The Forgotten Waltz
Cynthia Ozick, Foreign Bodies
Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles
Ann Patchett, State of Wonder
Georgina Harding, Painter of Silence

I have not finished all of these (read the Edugyan, Enright, Ozick, and Miller) and some of these are 2012 releases in the US, but it is a good, solid, but not spectacular shortlist this year.  The Enright took me until its final pages to hit me with the full force of its narrative.  The Miller was good, but there were a few longeurs.  The Ozick was unmemorable for me.  The Edugyan was OK, but I thought it was not deserving of the Booker Prize consideration that it received last year.

2012 Hugo Award for Best Novel

China Miéville, Embassytown
George R.R. Martin, A Dance With Dragons
Jo Walton, Among Others
Mira Grant, Deadline
James S.A. Corey, Leviathan Wakes

Ugh.  The Walton was my favorite, followed by Miéville and Martin, each of which was decent but not the authors' best works.  The Grant I will not be reading due to lack of interest in following a series and the Corey was dreadful.

2012 LA Times Book Prize

Alex Shakar, Luminarium 
Edith Pearlman, Binocular Vision
Joseph O'Connor, Ghost Light
Julie Otsuka, The Buddha in the Attic
Michael Ondaatje, The Cat's Table

This was a strong shortlist.  The Shakar took me a bit to warm up to, but the premise and conclusion were excellent.  Already gave my encomiums to the Pearlman and Otsuka books, but the Ondaatje was also excellent.  The O'Connor was merely very good.

2012 Independent Foreign Fiction Award

Umberto Eco, The Prague Cemetery
Sjón, From the Mouth of the Whale
Diego Marani, New Finnish Grammar
Judith Hermann, Alice   
Yan Lianke, Dream of Ding Village
Aharon Appelfeld, Blooms of Darkness

Outstanding shortlist (I've read all but the Appelfeld, which will be read in the next few days).  The Marani book blew my mind and the others read are up there.  This could be the best shortlist of them all for me.

2012 Best Translated Book Award for Fiction

Jean Echenoz, Lightning
Moacyr Scliar, Kafka's Leopards
Jacques Jouet, Upstaged
Diego Marani, New Finnish Grammar  
Juan José Saer, Scars
Wiesław Myśliwski, Stone Upon Stone
Dezső Kosztolányi, Kornél Esti
Dany Laferrière, I am a Japanese Writer
Magdalena Tulli, In Red
Enrique Vila-Matas, Never Any End to Paris

I have read only five of these ten finalists, but those five (Echenoz, Scliar, Marani, Myśliwski, and Tulli) ranged from very good to outstanding in the case of Marani.  I certainly will be reading the rest of these shortlisted titles to judge their quality.

2012 Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novel

Michael Cisco, The Great Lover
Glen Duncan, The Last Werewolf
Donald Ray Pollock, The Devil All the Time
Sheri Holman, Witches on the Road Tonight
S.P. Miskowski, Knock Knock
Reggie Oliver, The Dracula Papers

Having read all but the Oliver, I think I can safely say that this year's Shirley Jackson novel finalists are the strongest SF/F genre shortlist that I've read.  The breadth and depth of these finalists is refreshing after the conservatism I detected in the Clarke and Hugo nominees.

In addition, I have read all or am in the process of reading the winning novels for these awards:

2012 James Tiptree, Jr. Award

Andrea Hairston, Redwood and Wildfire - excellent novel.  Should have been on some of the other SF/F shortlists.

2012 Bram Stoker Award

Joe McKinney, Flesh Eaters - decent but not great zombie apocalypse-type horror novel.

2012 Edgar Award

Mo Hayder, Gone - I'm currently 2/3 into this crime/thriller novel.  Better than expected, but not excellent so far.  But it is better than the other finalists I've read:

Keigo Higashino, The Devotion of Suspect X
Philip Kerr, Field Gray

I'll update my rankings later in the year, after other awards are released, but if I had to rank the top three, it would go:

1.  Independent Foreign Fiction Award
2.  National Book Award
3.  National Book Critics Circle Award
4.  Man Asian Prize
5.  PEN/Faulkner

There is very little space between these five.  For the bottom three, I would go:

1.  Arthur C. Clarke Award
2.  Hugo Award
3.  Man Booker Prize

The rest is closer to the first group of five than to the bottom three.  If you've read some or all of these shortlists, what are your thoughts on them individually?

No, science fiction is not the world's first "international language"

Damien Walter in today's Guardian argues that science fiction somehow is the best-equipped literary/cultural mode of expression to capture a "global" esprit du temps.  He is all over the place in trying to make this case, starting with the argument that movies like the forthcoming Avengers symbolize this "globalization" by noting:

At first sight this seems a triumph of international connectivity, but the sci-fi blockbuster transcends cultural boundaries by doing away with the whole problem of meaning and replacing it with CGI spectacle. The director, Joss Whedon, has pulled off an impressive feat in packing so many mythic symbols and archetypes into one movie, while completely castrating their meaning.

 Where to begin?  The most obvious is that there is not as much a transcending of cultural boundaries as such a movie represents the triumph of a particular national mindset, that of mid-to-late 20th century American culture.  The symbols and expressions contained within reflect the values of American pop culture (itself an entity very distinct from the fading regional and ethnic cultures within the United States), not those of a world.  Using blockbusters such as this as examples only serve to reinforce the notion that instead of a "global" melding of cultures, a particular national culture has exported most of its value system intact in an insidious form of imperialism.

Although Walter does note that this is not "good," with the comment about "castrating their meaning," followed by the next paragraph observing that "it's arguable that geek culture is really just a response to a lack of culture, a generation who have grown up alienated from any sense of cultural belonging, and are left clinging on to Hollywood product," the problem is not that of an absence of culture (devoid of divergent voices as this mass-pop culture may be, it is still a ritual affair in which some ideals have become reified in the form of superheroes and gadgets that stand in the place of religious/social ceremonies), but that of a particular cultural strain that seeks to homogenize matters.

Walter claims that in the face of this development that science fiction, out of all the other literary modes by which people express their concerns, is the most apt to handle these rapidly-changing developments.  To that, I say no.  This is not to deny the validity of science fiction's role in voicing certain concerns, but when judged outside the Anglo-American direct sphere of influence, it quickly becomes apparent that science fiction is not the mode of choice.

For example, over the past three decades in Latin America, three distinct yet related literary movements (the infrarealismo that influenced not just Roberto Bolaño, but others associated with him, such as those in the list found within the link; the Crack Manifesto group, which included Jorge Volpi and Ignacio Padilla, among others; and the McOndo group, which included Alberto Fuguet and Edmundo Paz Soldán and several others) emerged that focused on utilizing a hyper-realism to describe the effects of American imperialism/"global" culture on quotidian lives.  Their narratives, often acerbic and written as an antithesis of sorts to the magical realism of the Boom Generation, have begun in the past 15 years or so to disseminate into other parts of the world.  Bolaño certainly is the most popular of the crew and while he does note in his writings some appreciation for the themes discussed in American science fiction, his main focus is on the world as it is and how the past century has had a devastating effect.  Spanish writer Javier Marías also discusses this fragmentation of native cultures over the course of his Your Face Tomorrow trilogy.

I am not as qualified to speak about African and Asian literatures as I am Latin American (I can only read in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and French at least semi-fluently), but based on people like Gao Xingjian (Nobel Prize winner) and Yan Lianke, both of whom had their works banned by the Chinese government, it would seem that the dominant mode of social discourse in literature is still that of the social-realist novel.  Again, this is not denying that China does not have a large SF community – it does – but numbers do not necessarily reflect influence, if the case of dissident literature is to be considered in discussions of "international literature."

While I have no problem with Walter claiming that SF has become more "international" in focus (considering the huge turnout in Portugal earlier this month for George R.R. Martin, it can safely be said that there are active, vibrant communities in several nations on six continents), I do have issues with the unsubstantiated claim that science fiction is the best-equipped to express global sentiments.  First, because of my suspicions that "global" is more "imperialist at its end stage" than anything where there is a bilateral dissemination of ideas, and second, because of the rise of a newer style of social novel in which the tensions between the native and imported cultures is a central thematic element.  For those reasons alone (and doubtless, there are others that will occur to me later), I have to dismiss Walter's argument for lack of evidence and for arguing a flawed position.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Squirrel eating chicken breast

Some of you thought I was joking when I have stated in the past that I live surrounded by carnivorous squirrels.  Just a few minutes ago, I witnessed one eating a chicken breast that I had tossed outside for our lab, Molly, to eat.  Although due to the lighting/shadows the breast cannot be easily discerned, that is what the squirrel has in its forepaws, happily munching away.

It's a young squirrel, so doubtless this early taste of flesh will increase its appetite in the future.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

This is why I love to read stories and to translate some of them

I began reading Argentine author Angélica Gorodischer's 2000 story collection, Menta, as a counterbalance to another read-in-progress whose prose was merely serviceable.  I have been a fan of Gorodischer's writing since reading first the translation and then the original of her acclaimed Kalpa Imperial, but I find it sad that besides this excellent novel, there is only one short story of hers that, to my knowledge, has been published in English translation.  She is a gifted writer, one who because of her prose style and thematic treatments of gender, sexuality, and societal issues reminds me favorably of Ursula Le Guin (yet Gorodischer has written as much outside of SF as within that nebulous literary genre).  Her stories often open with enticing paragraphs that suck the reader into its sticky web, refusing to let go until the story has been digested properly.  Below is one such example, "Eso no es todo" ("That is Not All"):

Le contaban cuentos cuando era chiquita.  Muy chiquita, tanto su mamá como su papá.  Los de su mamá eran mejores.  No es que los de su papá fueran malos, no, nada de eso, eran estupendos y estaban poblados de héroes y aventureros y puertos exóticos y desiertos, pero eran vacilantes, a veces tanto que se volvían confusos.  Como si su papá quisiera darle el gusto y anduviera tanteando porque no sabía, realmente no sabía lo que ella prefería.  Y en todos, en los de su papá y en los de su mamá, en todos aparecía en algún momento el genio protector o el hada rubia o el gnomo pícaro que concedía tres deseos a la niñita perdida o al muchachito desamparado.

They told her stories when she was a little girl.  Very little, as much her mama as her daddy.  Her mama's were better.  It's not that her daddy's were bad, no, nothing like that, they were stupendous and were populated with heroes and adventures and exotic ports and deserts, but they were unsteady, sometimes so much so that they turned confusing.  As if her daddy wanted to please her and was gauging her reactions because he did not know, he truly did not know what she preferred.  In all of them, in those of her daddy's and in those of her mama's, in all of them appeared at some moment the genii protector or the blond fairy or the wicked gnome that granted three wishes to the lost little girl or to the abandoned little boy.
My translation is a rough sketch, as in future drafts, I would tighten the prose somewhat (likely eliminating some of the repetitive clauses – en todos – that work well in Spanish but not as well in English), but I believe even this quick draft, which took all of maybe five minutes to type out, should give the reader enough information to judge for herself the power of this beginning.

For myself, I found myself remembering the stories my mother used to make up on the fly when she was stuck with me (and later, my sister) when I was a toddler, stories about a little cow named Coco (OK, not the most original of names, but it was something).  There is something about stories told to us by parents during our youth that stick with us into our adulthood, and reading Gorodischer's opening paragraph, I was reminded of that.  It is not precisely a "direct" introduction; there is a hesitant pause in reminiscing about the narrator's father that seems to carry the germ of something deeper, something I wanted to investigate further.

So I did.  It was an even better tale than I expected, but that is something for another time.

What are your thoughts on this translated/original paragraph?  Would you have wanted to read on from this point?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Results of putting forth more efforts to read women writers

I just reached the milestone of 150 books read over the past 113 days.  That has been a typical pace for the past five years, so that's not what's noteworthy.  What is noteworthy was what authors/books I've discovered since I decided that I wanted to try to read more female authors after only 28% of my first 100 books read were by women.  For the past 50, that total increased to 44% (22).  And here's a listing of those twenty-two women writers, with notes by some of them:

1.  Elfriede Jelinek, The Piano Teacher (Nobel literature laureate; very good novel)

2.  Melanie Rae Thon, The Voice of the River (loved one of her short stories enough to flag it for BAF 4 consideration; enjoyed this novel)

3.  Maureen F. McHugh, After the Apocalypse (very good story collection)

4.  Wisława Szymborska, Here (Nobel literature laureate; excellent poetry collection)

5.  Maya Jasanoff, Liberty's Exiles (won 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award in History; outstanding history of the Loyalists)

6.  Giannina Braschi, El imperio de los sueños (one of the more avant-garde Latin American poets/writers of the past 30 years; Spanish; very good trio of novellas)

7.  Leah Bobet, Above (selected one of her short stories for BAF 4 consideration; good but uneven debut YA novel)

8.  Mercé Rodoreda, Aloma (Catalan; I wrote a commentary on her fiction that will appear in the near future on Weird Fiction Review; moving story)

9.  Phil and Kaja Foglio, Girl Genius:  Agatha Awakens (graphic novel; it was well-done in places, but a bit spotty for my taste)

10. Kim Lakin-Smith, Cyber Circus (BSFA Award finalist; decent novel, but the weakest on the shortlist that I had read)

11.  Sherri S. Tepper, The Waters Rising (Clarke Award finalist; weakest novel of that shortlist)

12.  Elizabeth Hand, Available Dark (excellent sequel to her Generation Loss, which was nominated for some awards, if I'm not mistaken)

13.  Amal Al-Jubori, Hagar Before the Occupation, Hagar After the Occupation (finalist for the 2012 Best Translated Fiction Award; poetry; outstanding; to be reviewed later on Gogol's Overcoat)

14.  Nawal El Saadawi, Woman at Point Zero (gripping fictionalized account of a real prison confession told to one of Egypt's most prominent dissident writers)

15.  Jan Morris, Hav (a modern-day classic that tweaks the approach of a travelogue to create something profound)

16.  Anne Enright, The Forgotten Waltz (2012 Orange Prize finalist; very good novel that may be reviewed later on Gogol's Overcoat)

17.  Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles (2012 Orange Prize finalist; perhaps my favorite on the shortlist)

18.  N.K. Jemisin, The Kingdom of Gods (2011/2 Nebula Award finalist; very good in places, but the narrative was a bit too uneven for it to be the strongest contender on this year's Nebula shortlist)

19.  Herta Müller, The Passport (Nobel literature laureate; very good short novel)

20.  Jac Jemc, My Lovely Wife (forthcoming debut novel is very, very well-written; review next month on Gogol's Overcoat)

21.  Cynthia Ozick, Foreign Bodies (2012 Orange Prize finalist; good, but weaker than the other two finalists read this month)

22.  Judith Hermann, Alice (2012 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize finalist; very good collection of related short fictions that revolve around how a single character, Alice, deals with loss and grief).

Best part is knowing that this is the tip of the iceberg and that most of these are the equals to the best fiction read so far this year by male writers.  Are there any recent (2011-2012) releases by female writers that you think might be of interest to me, based on the list above?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

2012 Clarke Award finalist: Sherri S. Tepper, The Waters Rising

"Neigh, neigh," offered the horse, "ti-i-idewise."

Out of the six finalists for this year's Arthur C. Clarke Award for SF published in the UK, Sherri S. Tepper's The Waters Rising perhaps has drawn the most flak.  Beginning with Christopher Priest's succinct dismissal of the novel's qualification to be considered a SF novel, "For fuck’s sake, it is a quest saga and it has a talking horse. There are puns on the word ‘neigh.'", most of the discussion revolving around The Waters Rising have dealt with that issue of what precisely is a "SF" novel in relation to what constitutes a quest or epic fantasy.  The novel certainly supports interpretations of both, although the far future, nanotechnology-based underpinning of a post-apocalyptic, quasi-medieval society is largely subsumed by the traditional characteristics of a quest story, replete with what some might pejoratively label as "travel porn," as well as cartoonishly-evil antagonists.  It is only near the end of the novel that the quest narrative fades into a slightly more plausible SF plot, with a strong emphasis on "slightly." 

The Waters Rising is a sequel to Tepper's 1993 novel, A Plague of Angels, which I have not read.  Apparently all the two novels share in common is a single human character, Abasio, and his talking horse, Big Blue.  Why Big Blue is a talking horse, I have no clue, except maybe he exists to make horrid puns such as the one quoted at the beginning of this review.  If Big Blue were the only talking animal in this novel, perhaps I could dismiss it as an anomaly, but the later addition of a talking chipmunk (even if the reason for its talking is explained within a quasi-mystical origin) makes it difficult to not parse this novel as a straight-up quest fantasy.

The story's plot is relatively straightforward.  There are a group of people, including Abasio and a seemingly young "soul bearer" named Xulai, are charged with returning to Xulai's eastern homeland of Tingawa (apparently a vague amalgamation of China and Japan), ostensibly to bear the soul of a dead Tingawan princess to her resting place.  Yet along the way, after numerous pages devoted to the niceties of travel and legendary quasi-histories, the troupe struggles against the wicked Duchess Alicia, who unleashes remnants of long-lost machines to try and end their quest.  All of this is standard-issue Quest 101 plot, with very little in the way of narrative innovation to keep this from devolving into a turgid, plodding affair.

The characterizations are very shallow, as most of the characters remain relatively static, with very little development in terms of motivation or reaction to plot developments.  Tepper has divided her characters into nice, neat "good" and "evil" sections, with virtually no hint as to why either should remain so.  Although there certainly can be well-constructed fictions that possess such stark contrasts between "good' and "evil" personages, The Waters Rising lacks any sense of real depth.  Perhaps part of the problem lies in how characters such as Xulai are portrayed:

Xulai set her feet on the path, noticing with some surprise that she was not trembling.  Her feet moved solidly and steadily.  Indeed, she felt...what?  not quite cheerfulness.  But the stone had been approving!  Approval was good.  Even better was being reminded of Precious Wind!  No one in the whole world was more calm and poised and well mannered than Precious Wind.  And, thinking about it, as the wagon man had bid her, if the stone knew Precious Wind, then the stone knew about Princess Xu-i-lok, who had advised her to make the obeisance but had forgotten to say anything about stones that talked, though, again, if Xulai had thought about it at the time, she would have noticed that she was to ask permission.  Well, if one asked permission, presumably permission would have to be granted, and if not in speech, then how?  So it was clear, if one thought about it, that the Woman Upstairs had implied that the stones would speak.

Faulknerian prose this passage most certainly is not.  In most novels, there are passages that when taken out of context can mislead readers into thinking that the entire work is clunky.  In this case, however, that is a representative passage.  Leaving aside the "precious" nomenclature for a moment, the internal monologue feels stilted, artificial; I suspect very few people think in such a fashion.  In her attempt to flesh out the characters' thoughts, Tepper has only succeeding to reducing them to mere vehicles of expression, devoid of anything that feels "human."  Tepper's tendency to force issues can be seen in another passage, where Abasio is conversing with Xulai:

"Will I be homesick?"  he had repeated in a thoughtful voice.  Well, would he?  "Home was a farm I had been eager to leave from the time I was old enough to walk.  Home was a city so filthy, so violent, and so torture ridden that I sometimes shudder when I remember it.  Home was a few good friends or, rather, good fellows who could be depended upon if one were under attack, though – for the most part – if they had shared one thoughtful new idea among them, it would have surprised me greatly.  Home was a long journey into new lands to the south while people died all around me, cut down like a harvest of grain.  Home was one woman, one woman I loved, love, gone now, leaving only her speaking, thinking spirit behind.  Home held another woman I had been with but never met, but who, I was assured, would raise my son to heroic stature by sheer force of will.  Home was that son, not yet born when I left, a son I unintentionally fathered though I was unconscious before, during, and for some time after the act.  Home was a war in which too many good men and creatures died, irreplaceable men, irreplaceable creatures, irreplaceable love."

Although admittedly, such sentiments are often expressed in such a fashion in many speculative fictions, it is a laborious effort that attempts to provide a backstory for readers who have not read the earlier novel in lieu of actually writing dialogue that sounds "natural."  The entire middle portions of the novel contain dialogue that is similarly stilted, making it difficult to do a close reading, since the entire affair bogs down into a series of narrations of past and current threatening events, such as the one that gives rise to the true conflict of the novel, that of humanity versus nature:

Abasio shrugged, "The Edgers told me the waters will keep coming.  They said that when the earth was formed, the aggregation included several huge ice comets.  They were mixed and surrounded by a lot of stone, so there were reservoirs of water deep inside the planet that nobody knew were there.  Recently, they've found a way out.  There's a country called Artemisia, south of the mountains.  The Big River used to run through there and the land went on south a long way before it came to a part of the ocean they called the Gulf.  Now over half that land is gone.  Of course, it was lowland to begin with.  I haven't been to the East End of this continent, but I've heard about it.  All the cities that used to be along the eastern shore are underwater now, or with their tops sticking out.  There's people living in the tops of the old buildings.  They go back and forth in boats.  Down below, in the parts below water, they farm oysters and mussels."

This premise is hard to buy, especially if anyone knows much about the Earth's geology.  With global warming, yes, some lowlands can be flooded, but to have this concept of having a vast subterranean waterworks main bursting and sending sea waters high enough to overtop lands thousands of feet above current sea level?  It is preposterous.  Leaving aside the unnecessary repetition ("down below, in the parts below water"), the amount of info-dumping would perhaps give even WoT fans pause.

Tepper certainly is not subtle in discussing gender issues.  Although her Sleeping Beauty tale, Beauty, had detractors noting its stark depiction of gender inequalities, it is much more subtle in comparison to The Waters Rising, where, for some unknown reason, post-disaster Earth has somehow reverted back to a near-exact analogue of the European Middle Ages, including even the issue of dowries:

"On Wold's side:  dowry.  On Tingawa's side:  wife-price.  That's another of our differences.  In Norland, women are so little valued, a man must be paid to take a wife; in Tingawa, women are so greatly treasured, a man must pay dearly to get one, as I have good reason to know!"  Bear still owed a large part of the bride-price for his own betrothed, and getting it by wagering had proven unprofitable.

As a discussion of gender issues, this scene felt shoehorned in, as Tepper is not as much deconstructing the very real and problematic issue of gender portrayals in epic fantasies as she is bolting this onto a narrative without integrating it in a suitable fashion into the narrative world.  The overall effect is diversion from narrative development rather than deepening it, as perhaps could have been the case. 

After hundreds of pages wasted in following a travelogue/quest, The Waters Rising finally reaches the end game, when the troupe reaches the cephalopod Sea King.  Tepper arrives at a magico-mystical solution to the inexplicable water increase by having the terrestrial species, humans included, be genetically altered so they could be hybrid cephalopod/human, etc. species that would live underwater.  Of course, permission would need to be sought from the various animals, some of which seem to have been altered to permit human-style speech.  This concluding section felt so hippy-drippy that I thought I was experiencing one of those old environmentalist commercials where a mute Native American was looking forlornly at forest/environmental damage and pollution.  When this is contrasted with a fuller explanation as to what caused a long-ago disaster (hint:  "Oog" equals the Abrahamic faiths), Tepper could not telegraph her eco-religious beliefs in a more bald fashion.

Tepper's refusal to be subtle or at least nuanced in presenting these elements makes it difficult to take anything away from her thematic treatments other than "she makes a strong case for the opposing side to her views."  When viewed as a whole, the constituent elements, especially concerning the environmental factors, are risible.  The humans feel like constructs, the talking animals seem like stereotypical stand-ins for "pure," "more primitive" human societies, and when this is introduced to a setting that has a questionable cause of crisis in the first place, it makes the resulting novel a dull, dreary mess.  While I could (eventually) see how The Waters Rising could be considered "science fiction," I still am baffled how this very weak and disjointed novel was chosen by a panel of judges to be the "best" SF published in the UK in 2011.  It easily is the worst of the four Clarke Award nominees that I have read to date.

Friday, April 20, 2012

This is what I'll be (re)reading today

Yes, the juxtaposition is intentional.  I will be writing a new piece on it later, likely for publication elsewhere (I do have a review from January-February 2009, along with an interview with Brian Evenson, that is available in the archives here).

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Book Porn in honor of my mother's 29th (to the nth power) birthday

Works in French (Stendahl, Hugo, Balzac, and La Bruyere), Spanish (Prado Bazan, de Espronceda), and selections of Grimm's Fairy Tales in German.

Went shopping in Nashville, in part to buy a book for my mother's birthday, but also to restock the "rainy day" reading selection.  Most of these pictured are from today's McKay's round, but some I had ordered online days before (pictures 3 and 6 and the second book in 5).

Two DeLillo books, so I can pretend to keep up with Paul's upcoming reviews on Gogol's Overcoat.

The Roth will also be part of my pretensions of keeping up with Paul's reviews of Roth.  The Wagner won the 2011 Prix Utopiales award in France, among other works.  Very good through 50 pages.

Even though I've already read this Eco novel in both the Italian original and Spanish, I want to evaluate the English translation, as it was recently nominated for the Independent Foreign Fiction Award.  The Youmans book deals with the Civil War, so I thought I'd read it and see if my father might want to read it later.

Been meaning to read more of Kobo Abe's work.  The Mysliwski is also up for a translation award.

Both the Appelfeld and Al-Jubouri are candidates for translation prizes.  The Al-Jubouri is an outstanding poetry collection which I likely will review sometime in the next few weeks on Gogol's Overcoat.

Monday, April 16, 2012

I am not a fan

Let me state it one more time.  I am not a fan.

I do not squee! when I receive a review copy in the mail.  I glance at the books and will read through just enough to determine whether or not I will be able to review it within two months of receiving it, but I make no promises, nor do I feel guilt when I receive a book that does not interest me.

I do not wait with bated breath for awards to be announced.  I believe that due to the proliferation of awards, over a variety of genres, that several mediocre works get nominated.  Unless I have had a bad prior experience with an author, I will consider them, but when I repeatedly don't enjoy their output, I have no qualms about saying that I will not read nor will I review particular books.

I am a critic at heart, trained to be one, albeit in history and not precisely in Languages and Literature (although I have a significant amount of university coursework in both).  I distrust personal appeals and when I think I am too close to an author as to not be able to rip into his/her work if warranted, I will not review them in a public space.

I find it odd when some take umbrage when I note perceived deficiencies in various genres/award categories.  I am no insider; whether these awards succeed or fail is no concern of mine.  I am happy for those that win, but that does not mean that if Author X wrote a deficient work that I will not blast (as needed) his/her work if it were to win a particular award/s.

I am quite aware of the marketing aspects that go along with reviewing.  Doesn't mean I have to receive copies (if any are sent, it is with the hope that I will consider them rather than the expectation that I will review them positively) nor do I have to worry overmuch about if promo copies and advance blurbs will sway me.  I try to dislike as many fictions as I can, but will permit the text to win me over, even if I may think the author smells of elderberries.

I value some opinions more than others.  If you cannot express your opinion well, whether you be an author trying to convey a book's message or someone commenting on another's work, then I will not value your opinion as much as another who does do this.

I do not aim for "objectivity," for I believe that to be as much of a chimera as "relativity" in assessing value.  Value is closely tied to perceptions, but perceptions don't usually shift 180° between works and/or authors.  If a lot of sentences are not technically adequate, if the characterizations feel stilted, if there are no discernible thematic elements, if the parts are greater than the whole, then I will be unforgiving even if the work at hand is by someone whose previous works I enjoyed.

Again, I am not a fan.  I am an evaluator whose opinions can be swayed with evidence, yet as empathetic as I may be toward people, I find that there are many good, some very good works that I self-select, but very, very few works that will be re-read twenty years from now when I will be mostly a different person.  Those rare works are the ones worth focusing on, not on whether or not it is "fair" that a competent fiction is questioned for being on an awards shortlist.

This is what you've been missing if you haven't followed what Paul Smith and I have written at Gogol's Overcoat

Yes, I know there are very few reviews being posted here at the OF Blog, mostly because I haven't yet begun reviewing the various genre shortlists that have come out recently.  But over at Gogol's Overcoat, which Paul Smith and I are co-admins, we have had a lot of material go up in the past three and a half months.  For those who haven't followed it, here are links to many of the posts we have written:

Faulkner Fridays - Roughly every Friday, I try to post my thoughts on a novel or 1-3 short fictions Faulkner wrote.  I will have the April 13th entry, on his novel If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem (The Wild Palms) up either late tonight or tomorrow.  But here are links to the first fourteen entries:


6 – As I Lay Dying
13 – “A Rose for Emily”
20 – Sanctuary
27 – “Barn Burning”


3 – Light in August
10 – “Red Leaves”
17 – “Shingles for the Lord”; New Orleans Sketches
24 – Pylon


2 – “Hair”; “Nympholepsy”
9 – Absalom, Absalom!
16 – “A Justice”; “Lion”; “The Bear”
23 – “The Tall Men”; “Adolescence”
30 – The Unvanquished


6 – “Centaur in Brass”

Don DeLillo's Americana (written by Paul)

Philip Roth's American Pastoral (written by Paul)

"Remembering the Battle of Shiloh 150 Years Later" (essay and pictures taken by myself)

Man Asian Prize

Kyung sook-Shin, Please Look After Mom (winner)

Yan Lianke, Dreams of Ding Village (finalist)

National Book Critics Circle Awards

Laura Kasischke, Space, In Chains (poetry winner)

Teju Cole, Open City (fiction finalist)

Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger's Child (fiction finalist)

Dana Spiotta, Stone Arabia (fiction finalist)

Forrest Gander, Core Samples from the World (poetry finalist)

(Note:  Several reviews are not linked here because they were posted here at the OF Blog in 2010 when I reviewed the National Book Awards.  Edith Pearlman won the fiction award for her Binocular Vision.)

Zora Neale Hurston

Jonah's Gourd Vine

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Moses, Man of the Mountain

1961 Nobel Finalists

E.M. Forster

J.R.R. Tolkien

(More of the finalists will be reviewed later in the year)

In addition, later this week will appear the first two reviews of a roughly biweekly Mondayish (as in I finish reading them by that time, with a review to follow within the next week or so) series on 2010 Nobel literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa's fiction and selected non-fiction.  Paul I believe will be continuing to review works by DeLillo and Roth, among others, and both of us plan on mixing in recent book releases (Samuel Delany's Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders and Jac Jemc's upcoming debut novel, My Wife, will be reviewed by the end of the month), at least one more Civil War in Tennessee piece by myself, and then possibly pieces on cinema, arts, and other matters of history.  We also hope to have occasional guest pieces as well.  If you haven't followed us yet, maybe these links will help sway you some?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

March 2012 Reads

Read more in March than I did the previous two months.  Forty-eight books in total.  Only four of these were re-reads.  Thirteen were in Spanish, two others in Portuguese.  Twenty were written or co-written by women.  Only four might be found in the SF/F aisle of a bookstore. 

64  Don DeLillo, The Angel Esmeralda:  Nine Stories (PEN/Faulkner Finalist; very good collection.  This might be reviewed later on Gogol's Overcoat)

65  Dawn Lundy Martin, Discipline (poetry; very good)

66  Jim Harrison, Songs of Unreason (poetry; excellent)

67  Rahul Bhattacharya, The Sly Company of People Who Care (Man Asian Prize finalist; very good)

68  Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child (good, but there were a few spotty narrative areas)

69  Dana Spiotta, Stone Arabia (reviewed at Gogol's Overcoat)

70  Amitav Ghosh, River of Smoke (Man Asian Prize finalist; very good)

71  Yan Lianke, Dream of Ding Village (Man Asian Prize finalist; reviewed at Gogol's Overcoat)

72  Andrea Hairston, Redwood and Wildfire (will say more about this year's Tiptree Award winner later)

73  Jo Walton, Among Others (Nebula and Hugo finalist; more later)

74  Jahnavi Barua, Rebirth (Man Asian Prize finalist; very good)

75  Lászlo Krasznahorkai, Satantango (very, very good novel)

76  Gonçalo M. Tavares, Joseph Walser's Machine (excellent)

77  Ander Monson, The Available World (poetry; very good)

78  Javier Negrete, La Espada de Fuego (re-read; Spanish; good to very good epic fantasy opener)

79  Juan Gabriel Vásquez, El ruido de las cosas al caer (re-read; Spanish; 2011 Premio Alfaguara winner; very good)

80  Steven Millhausser, We Others:  New and Selected Stories (PEN/Faulkner finalist; outstanding collection)

81  Lars Iyer, Spurious (fairly good story that involves philosophy and fungi)

82  Graciela Montes and Ema Wolf, El turno del escriba (re-read; Spanish; 2005 Premio Alfaguara winner, very good)

83  Alberto Fuguet, Aeropuertos (Spanish; excellent)

84  Gonçalo M. Tavares, Jerusalén (Spanish; outstanding)

85  César Aira, El congreso de literatura (Spanish; outstanding)

86  José Saramago, Claraboia (Portuguese; his long "lost" first novel; good to very good)

87  Ignacio Padilla, Los anacrónicos y otros cuentos (Spanish; good)

88 Various, Testigos del Horror (Spanish; non-fiction; charity anthology of writings about Doctors Without Borders and what the authors witnessed)

89  N.K. Jemisin, The Broken Kingdoms (good, but the first half was weak)

90  Jorge Volpi, Leer la mente (Spanish; non-fiction; very good)

91  Jordi Soler, El Estrangulador (Spanish; very good)

92  Colson Whitehead, The Intuitionist (very good)

93  Hernán Rivera Letelier, El fantasista (Spanish; very good)

94  Mira Bartók, The Memory Palace (National Book Critics Circle Award winner; moving, very good)

95  Steve Erickson, These Dreams of You (already discussed in mini-review)

96  Zora Neale Hurston, Novels and Stories (first three novels already reviewed at Gogol's Overcoat)

97  Aimee Bender, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (devastating; excellent)

98  Daniil Kharms, The Plummeting Old Woman (good translated story collection)

99  Yasunari Kawabata, The Old Capital (very good)

100 Kelly Barnhill, The Mostly True Story of Jack (good to very good in places)

101 Leopoldo Brizuela, Los que llegamos más lejos (very good)

102 Elfriede Jelinek, The Piano Teacher (very good)

103 Melanie Rae Thon, The Voice of the River (good)

104 Mauren F. McHugh, After the Apocalypse (good)

105 Matt Bell, Cataclysm Baby (review within the next week or so)

106 Wisława Szymborska, Here (poetry; excellent)

107 Maya Jasanoff, Liberty's Exiles (National Book Critics Circle Award winner; history; outstanding work that could be a landmark in the field of studying the Loyalists from the American Revolution)

108 Alex Shakar, Luminarium (very good)

109 Giannina Braschi, El imperio de los sueños (Spanish; very good)

110 Leah Bobet, Above (average)

111 Gonçalo M. Tavares, Histórias Falsas (Portuguese; very good)

112 Greg Bear, Hull Zero Three (Clarke Award finalist; more later)

Friday, April 13, 2012

The 50 most popular blog posts, according to Google Analytics

Post Title                                                                                          Page Views

1.         /                                                                                             781,016


















































Add to Technorati Favorites