Monday 30 July 2007

PS - About the Murakami book

I see I promised to update on Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World - AWESOME!!!!! One of the best books I've read in a long time. It makes me want to go read all of his stuff, which Kafka on the Shore never made me even think of doing.

31. Perfume: the story of a murderer

I just started this novel yesterday so I'm not very far into it but it's already quite clear that it's ridiculously over the top.

Perfume tells the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, born literally in the scrap heap underneath his mother's fish stall in 18th-century Paris. His mother plans to let him die, as she has her previous 4 children, but is exposed and beheaded for it.

He's sent to various wet nurses who keep sending him back to the monastery that's taken him in because he's greedy and has no smell - his lack of smell makes him frightening to both grown-ups and other children. Indeed, many of the children he encounters in foster try repeatedly but unsuccessfully to kill him because there's something so inherently unnatural about him, even as an infant...

As he grows he becomes obsessed with scents and has olfactory powers well beyond those of normal human beings. He's also without a conscience or morals and so when he smells the most perfect of smells and discovers, having followed it across the river and through many a meandering narrow back alley, that it belongs to a 14-year old girl he doesn't hesitate to strangle her so that he can truly absorb her scent and fix it in his memory.

Her smell, what Jean-Baptiste considers the "principle of scent" inspires him to become the world's most famous perfumer, and that's where I left off reading last night.

I'm not sure where I first heard of this novel, but it may have been Brook warning me never to read it several years ago.

(I FINALLY finished Rez Dogs Eat Beans - and I immediately put it up for grabs at I also finished Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio and Leave it to Psmith and I was very sorry to see the ends of those two.)

Saturday 21 July 2007

30. Leave It to Psmith

I honestly don't know how it is that I've never read any Wodehouse before this - according to the bio on the back of the book, he wrote 90+ books before he died in 1975.

I recall several years ago now asking around for recommendations of humorous authors and Angie from TVA recommended Wodehouse and chuckled a little to herself thinking of his stuff. I should have listened harder, but I forgot about Wodehouse until I saw some Wodehouse on Vee's shelf while I was teaching in Kingston this year. Not that I read any of her Wodehouse either...I'm really very thick it seems.

Anyway, somehow I was recently inspired to pick up Leave It to Psmith and I began reading it this morning instead of copy editing as I should be doing. I'm about 90 pages in and it's a light, satisfying, and increasingly hilarious read. I don't often laugh out loud when reading but it's occurred several times already - and the hi jinx are only just about to begin.

FYI: the p in Psmith is silent, "as in phthsis, psychic, and ptarmigan" - Psmith added the silent p to distinguish himself from other run-of-the-mill Smiths.

Friday 13 July 2007

29. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World

I've decided to take a little breather from my two short story collections and read a novel. I'm happy to take a break from Rez Dogs Eat Beans because it's so mediocre, but I'm also taking a little break from Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio because it's really good and I don't want it to end!

Two days ago I was reading Strange Tales on the subway and I was so engrossed that I missed my station by two stops - I've never before missed a stop because I was so into a book (it used to happen to Brook quite often, however, especially when he was reading Anna Karenina). Two thumbs up for Pu Songling.

Anyway, I started another Murakami: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World - which, if nothing else, ought to win some kind of award for having one of the most compelling titles in the history of literature.

Hard-Boiled is exceedingly post-modern; it's not yet clear if it's too post-modern for me. There are two parallel narratives that have some kind of profound connection but I'm not yet sure what the terms of that connection are. At this point, I'm still able to just enjoy where each stream takes me, but I'm worried that, as in Kafka on the Shore, Murakami will never make clear the linkages he gestures toward. For now, I'm going to enjoy a good read and will update you later on whether or not Murakami gets his s*** together this time 'round.

Monday 9 July 2007

27. Rez Dogs Eat Beans: And Other Tales and 28. Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio

I've been reading Rez Dogs Eat Beans for well over a month now, but it's going so slowly that I didn't want to post it here until I became fairly certain that I'd really finish it. Now that I'm just past the halfway point, I think I can commit to finishing, although it's a pretty disappointing read.

Brook and I inexplicably stumbled across this book in the English section of a bookstore in Brno, Czech Republic in December. Of all the American literature available I truly can't imagine why the buyers at this store chose this one - I'm certain it's never been on any bestseller lists anywhere - Rez Dogs Eat Beans is just a collection of newspaper stories Gordon Johnson wrote over something like a 15-year period for some rag in San Diego!

The first story was quite good but they've been going downhill since (not to mention becoming very repetitive) consistently ever since. However, all the stories are exactly the same length (2.75 pages in some gigantic font), so they're good for reading during TV commercials. I wonder how Johnson would feel about such a dubious compliment.

I just started Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio a couple of days ago and so far I'm really enjoying it. Written over several decades in the mid- to late-17th century, Strange Tales is a collection of short but (so far) very compelling tales of the supernatural and other general weirdness.

Roger bought me this one for Festivus 2006 and it was the first I'd heard of Pu Songling; I'm glad to have remembered it was hiding in one of my bookcases as I'm totally in the mood for the short, pithy story collection. (Thanks, Roger!)

Wednesday 4 July 2007

26. Mother Night

It's been a long time since I've read anything by Vonnegut - about ten years, I reckon. I made my way through a bunch of his stuff in my early 20s when I was studying hard and wanted to read for pleasure but was disciplined enough to take 10-minute reading breaks and then get back to business (ah, if only I could still do that!).

Vonnegut's work - Cat's Cradle in particular, as I recall - is perfect for very short bouts of reading: the chapters are short, the writing is clear and simple, and the ideas are uncomplicated.

I picked up Mother Night when Brook and I were in Thunder Bay over the weekend because I figured (correctly it turns out) that I'd finish Grim Tuesday early and be left with nothing to read on the plane home.

Mother Night is enjoyable in a short chapter, simple idea kind of way which is just what I wanted. Like most of Vonnegut's stuff though, I suspect I won't remember it in a few years.

This one's about a man named Howard Campbell who during WWII, masqueraded as a Nazi radio broadcaster in order to convey sensitive information to the Americans. After the war ended, he was disappeared and relocated and spent many years living in NYC without anyone's knowledge. He's been discovered though and is now considering how to flee. The US, after all, won't protect him from either local vigilantes or Israel who wants to try him for war crimes, because he was so effectively disguised as a Nazi and is hated by most and loved by only crazy neo-Nazis.

(Dave L. introduced me to Vonnegut in the early 90s when he lent me Slaughterhouse Five.)

Sunday 1 July 2007

25. Grim Tuesday

So, I'm up in Thunder Bay on a little vacation weekend with my hubby. We flew up on Thursday night and I knew I'd finish The Decay of the Angel on the plane (especially because those bastardos at WestJet didn't couldn't sit us together!), so I had to bring along another book, but a light one (both in terms of content and physical weight).

I decided on Book 2 in Garth Nix's The Keys to the Kingdom series, Grim Tuesday. I'd say I'm about 2/3 of the way through and it's just as compelling, satisfying, and easy as Mister Monday was.

I think my reading is going to slow down for sure now (and/or I'll be reading only kids' stuff for the next couple months) as I've accepted a freelance copy editing project that will start in two weeks or so.