Wednesday 30 May 2007

15.The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana

I started this hefty tome yesterday and am about 65 pages in. The main character is an antiquarian bookseller, Dottore Bodoni, who's had some kind of incident involving memory. He can't remember who he is, anything of his history, or anyone he knows, but he can remember every book he's ever read (which is a lot - he has 5,000 books in his home, never mind in his shop. You know that sounds like heaven to me. Maybe I should become a bookseller! Becoming independently wealthy would also allow me to have 5,000 books in my home at any given time; I'll have to work on that too).

I know from the dust jacket that Bodoni will eventually start trying to reconstruct his memory of his experiential past through his books, but right now he's just trying to figure out how to move forward (both literally and symbolically) without knowing where he's come from. I also know that this book has reminded me that my notion of myself as well-read is a false one - I'm not getting even half of his literary references. I'll have to keep reading I guess!

I haven't read anything else by Umberto Eco, but like many people I know I've tried and failed to get past the first 50 pages of Foucault's Pendulum.

NB: I thought I didn't like hardcover books, but this is in hardcover and I think actually increasing my pleasure in the reading experience. I'll have to amend my complaint: I don't like thin or small hardcovers; but a large, fat hardcover is always good - it feels like a serious read.

(PS-If someone knows how to post images to a blog entry, please contact me. I keep trying to post cover photos of the books I'm writing about but nothing happens when I click the add images button. And it's not my pop up blocker that's causing the problem.)

Friday 25 May 2007

14. The History of Love

I should have been working on my revisions instead of reading this novel today, but I woke up in such a fog that I couldn't even imagine where to begin. I tried to convert my C.V. into a resume instead of doing revisions but I was too brain-foggy for that too, so I gave up and started reading. (Thankfully, I have finished that wretched piece of shit, Flowers for Algernon, so reading is now pleasurable again.)

So far, I'm really enjoying this book. Sometimes it makes me laugh out loud straight from the belly; more often, though, it makes me weepy and pathetic and while I'm no avoider of the waterworks, I feel I could use more laughter these days. But as Roger and Aristophanes know, comic writing isn't as well-respected and common as it should be.

Anyway, The History of Love is quite compelling. It's a sort of mystery, but not a murder mystery; maybe a puzzle would be a better way to describe it. There are (at least) 2 first person narrators and a third person omniscient narrator who stops in every once in a while; there are many characters who are not obviously connected, although one of the connections I began to suspect earlier today is starting to be revealed.

Nicole Krauss is married to Jonathan Safran Foer, one of the US's current literary golden boys; he's doing so well, in fact, that according to my internet sources (always reliable) Krauss doesn't like to talk about him in interviews. And fair enough; one wants to be respected and considered on one's own terms.

However, the rumour (which they both apparently find absurd) that they perhaps collaborate on one another's novels doesn't seem far fetched to me - I definitely see a lot of clear similarities. I don't care though; good books are good books, regardless of who wrote them.

(I found Krauss's novel while wandering around in a bookstore, which I've been known to do on occasion.)

Monday 21 May 2007

12. Flowers for Algernon and 13. after the quake

I don't usually like to be reading two leisure books at the same time, but the circumstances of my day brought this unusual state about.

This morning, I started reading Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algernon (I finished the Mishima book yesterday; 'twas excellent). Melinda recommended the Keyes book to me when we happened upon it in a bookstore last fall. She'd read it when we were teenagers and really liked it. In fact, it turns out that my hubby and I are some of the only people in the world not to have read this as a teenager...ah well.

Flowers for Algernon is okay. I think I would have been blown away by it as a very young teenager; however, I'm not as forgiving a reader now as I was then (hell, I semi-willingly read V.C. Andrews then - I wasn't forgiving, I was stupid.) It's told in first person from the perspective of a young man with an I.Q. of 68 who is the recipient/victim of an experimental operation to increase intelligence. At this point in the book the operation is looking like a stunning success, as our erstwhile narrator has become even smarter than the scientists who did this to him. (Yet somehow, his writing style is about as sophisticated as that of a reasonably well-educated grade 12 student; the author is failing me here).

So, I hadn't planned on reading more of Flowers for Algernon tonight because it's irritating me a little. That said, I'll finish it because it's got short chapters and is therefore perfect for picking up and putting down when I get back to my revisions tomorrow. But then this afternoon, I sprained my ankle and have had to spend the evening sitting with my foot propped up and iced - what else is there to do in a situation like that but read? But I just couldn't stand the idea of reading any more of the Keyes book today, so I grabbed the most compelling thing within reaching distance of my chair - Haruki Murakami's after the quake.

This Murakami book is a collection of 6 short stories written after and peripherally about the huge earthquake that hit Kobe in 1995. I read the first 3 stories tonight and really enjoyed the second two, but especially "landscape with flatiron." I recently read Murakami's novel Kafka on the Shore and was ultimately extremely disappointed by it, so I'm pleased to be enjoying his fiction again.

(I can't recall when I was first introduced to Murakami, and I think Melinda introduced me to Keyes. I'll read more Murakami; Keyes can go eat his own head.)

Saturday 19 May 2007

11. The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea

Well, I finally finished The Good Fairies of New York and had to resist the urge to throw it under the wheels of the subway car I had just exited. That book was exceptionally bad in terms of writing and plotting. But then, to add insult to injury, the publisher decided not to bother hiring a copy editor: in the last 60 or so pages, I noticed at least 3 typos on almost every page! I wasn't even looking for errors, so there were probably a lot more than that. Nothing gets my goat more than sloppy editing; it suggests to me that the publishers thought the book was already a disaster and one more problem wouldn't matter. Grrr.

Luckily, my reading time is being redeemed by The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea by Yukio Mishima. Mishima is insane (ahem, was insane: he disemboweled himself in public in 1973!) and I can't identify with his characters most of the time. But the writing is so good, and the plots usually so compelling (if exceptionally disturbing too) that he's established himself as one of my favourite writers.

This one is about a group of apparently very proper, well off 13-year old boys who secretly meet to discuss the meaning of life (there is no meaning) and to harden their hearts by killing small animals and dissecting them. Meanwhile, one of the boys' mother has a new boyfriend, a sailor, who they idolize....but if I know Mishima, it's only a matter of time before the sailor will disappoint them in some way and then things will go horribly wrong. Can't wait to get back to it later today!

I first encountered Mishima when I was about 19; a friend gave me The Temple of the Golden Pavilion for my birthday that year.

Sunday 13 May 2007

10. The Good Fairies of New York

Brook ordered me this book from Amazon for Valentine's Day and by May 2 he finally received an email from them saying they couldn't find it. So, he went to Book City and there was one on the shelf just waiting for him. (Brook read about this book in either Now or Eye magazines and thought I would be interested.)

I'm about 100 pages in and while it's a very easy read, it's not a very satisfying one. The idea of drunken, drugged out Scottish fairies descending upon New York (fleeing as they are from various dangers and ignominies back home) to help people is attractive to me in its silliness - but Martin Millar's writing style is irritating. This is an adult's book, apparently, but it reads like its written for 12 year olds, and maybe not the smartest 12 year olds. I suspect that like Neil Gaiman, Millar is an idea man - but his ideas and his writing are both notably inferior to Gaiman's.

Anyway, it's only about 230 pages so it'll soon be on to the next one. And maybe it'll get better.

Thursday 10 May 2007

9. Theft: A Love Story

So, I finally finished The King of the Fields, which turned out to be one of the most wretchedly bad books I've read this year. It was scattered and weird and when the two main characters pulled a Thelma & Louise on the last page (sans car, of course), I wasn't sad. I think Singer may be in my bad books for awhile. I would apologize for spoiling the ending for y'all but you surely know better by now than to read this one...?

Now I'm about half way through Peter Carey's latest novel, Theft: A Love Story. This one was published last year but I really don't like hardcovers much so I waited till it came out in paperback - which I knew would be last Saturday night because I'm obsessive that way. It's one of those lovely Vintage Canada trade paperbacks with the rough-feeling cover and the well appointed margins with perfect-sized font... Besides the tactile perfection of this one, I'm really enjoying the read too. I've only really been disappointed by two of Carey's 10 novels - Illywacker which just went on way too long, and Jack Maggs, which in retrospect I don't remember why I didn't enjoy.

Theft is about a thuggy artist named Michael Boone, a.k.a. Butcher Bones, and his failed social relations and complications holding onto his own creations. It's told from two narrative perspectives, Michael's and his brother Hugh's. (Hugh is, I'm guessing, supposed to be an idiot savant; in any case, his narrative is confusing and compelling at the same time.) Carey seems to have lost some of the raw energy that made books like True History of the Kelly Gang and Oscar and Lucinda so mind-blowing, but there's no denying he's still a great writer. I'll continue to enjoy this and look forward to his next one.

The first Carey book I read was The Tax Inspector, which was on my Commonwealth Lit. syllabus in the second year of my undergrad. degree (this is the same class that introduced me to Janet Frame).

Sunday 6 May 2007

About the Le Guin book

Gifts got better - significantly better - as it went along. I still wouldn't say it's a classic though.

8. The King of the Fields

This is a novel by the now deceased but very prolific Isaac Bashevis Singer, who I first discovered (in the form of his collection of stories, Gimpel the Fool) in an anarchist bookstore in Philadelphia. Since then, I've learned a lot about this author's vegetarian/animal rights' activism, which is cool. I really liked Gimpel the Fool, but this one is only so so. I'm posting a review I found on because it's funny and will explain The King of the Fields better than I can right now (I just finished marking on Friday, so I'm semi-comatose.)

"From Publishers Weekly
The Nobel laureate's disappointing interpretation of primitive history, translated from the Yiddish by the author, depicts the transition of Poland from a a hunter-gatherer society to an agricultural land whose new rulers "called themselves Poles because in their language pola meant field. This is not, as one might expect from Singer, a fanciful excursion into the realm of anthropological magic, charms and mysticism; rather, the earthbound characters spend much of their time raping, killing, acting out sexual perversions and tending to bodily functions. Women are paradoxically portrayed: when they are not being dragged off by their hair and addressing their men as deities, they are powerful, amazon-like specimens. The novel also suffers from an incongruous time frame: at least one character calls her father Tatele, a Yiddish diminutive, and a Jewish cobbler from post-Talmudic Babylon and a Christian bishop somehow find themselves among the prehistoric Poles. This encounter allows Cybula, one in a succession of kings of the fields, to engage in simplistic philosophizing about the origins of the universe, god, the vicious cycle of human cruelties and the like - that is, when he isn't busy sleeping with both his wife and her mother.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc."

Tuesday 1 May 2007

7. Gifts

So, I'm still marking exams which means I still can handle only very light reads outside of work. I bought Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin for something like $3 at one of those apparently totally illegal GIANT BOOK SALEs that have been popping up all over Toronto and thought this was the time to give it a shot.

I'd tried to read Le Guin's most famous novel for adults, The Left Hand of Darkness, when I was in high school, but found it unbearably dull and never finished it.

But I thought I'd give her another chance with this one - she is one of the world's most famous sci-fi/fantasy authors after all.

Gifts, which is for teens I'm guessing, is just okay. I found it hard to get through the first 50 pages - something about the writing style was bugging me. It's getting better now, mostly I suspect because I like the idea of the book - the so-called gifts of the title are really different small clans' respective abilities to maintain territory and/or livelihood in usually terrible, kind of supernatural ways.

Some can erase everything in other people's minds, some can call animals to them for the hunt, some can unmake things (i.e., kill or destroy them). The narrator is of the family of unmakers and I'm hanging on because the dust jacket tells me he's going to blind himself in order to be unable to use his gift - I want to know what happens then. But so far, it's pretty slow going.