Monday 30 March 2009

The gods of the hearth exist for us still

A long time ago, I took a graduate course devoted to George Eliot and it's remained one of my favourite courses ever taken. Being introduced to Eliot opened up a whole new world for me because she was just such a ridiculously perfect writer (mind, I haven't read Romola, which I'm told has some weird translation issues). I don't mean perfect in that Fielding's Tom Jones way, where there are absolutely no loose threads left anywhere though. (I did enjoy Tom Jones, very much, but it was very neat, which I'm not sure is an unmitigated good.)

No, for me Eliot is perfect because her writing is so good and so human and unlike Dickens, whom I certainly adore, she never uses the narrative equivalent of loudly proclaiming and gesturing wildly to drive home the importance of any given moment or event. She quietly and clearly lays it all out and trusts us to get it.

And Silas Marner, which inexplicably is the first Eliot I've read in 10 years!!!, is perfect in the way I remember the other Eliot novels I've read being; indeed, perhaps more so. This is why I read - to sometimes have the pleasure of engaging with books this beautiful in both subject and execution.

A gesture towards a plot spoiler - careful!
Silas Marner is what my down east peeps would call a come-from-away in small town Raveloe. He just shows up one day not knowing anyone and begins plying his trade as a weaver. People find him strange but necessary because of the work he does, and he spends fifteen year collecting money, which in the face of his almost complete lack of human interaction becomes the focus of all his passion. He ends up being robbed of all of it and he almost loses his mind...but then he's given something much better. I won't say anymore because while surprise isn't what makes this novel amazing, it won't hurt either.

I'm looking forward to reading Romola, which wasn't on the syllabus of the course I took. I'm also looking forward to Middlemarch, which was on the syllabus but which I didn't read because the font in the copy I had was too small and I needed new glasses and trying to read it was giving me migraines and I was too broke to get either another copy or new specs and someone had the book out of the library and...and. Sigh. It's a big blot on my reading and grad school credibilities, I know. I know! But I'll try to make up for it soon. Mea culpa.

Saturday 28 March 2009

The Reading Lamp: the Gogol vs. Dostoevsky cage match!

I thought I loved reading and that The Brothers Karamazov was one of my favourite books of all time - but I haven't read it 6 times yet, so what do I know?

What I do know is that I could take some lessons in how to be a real, passionate reader from Jenn. Also, I won't be betting on Gogol in the cage match.

Your name: Jennifer Mullen

What are you reading now? Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide by Brenda Aloof (GREAT book for dog owners!). It's award-winning and hugely comprehensive. Yes, I know, I'm a dog nerd. I'm actually re-reading it; it's great to refresh and I'm picking up things I didn't on my first reading.

Where are you reading it? My bed :)

What would your ideal desert island book be? It would have to be the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I know, not one book technically, but still. I'm a massive fan; usually read the series once a year. The Silmarillion would be another great desert island book; I've taken it on wilderness trips before as my only book and because I'm a fairly fast reader, have finished it and started it immediately again and it holds up. Tolkien rocks.

What book would you like to put into a mine shaft and blown up? Why? Any Dr. Seuss book! Just because I think the floating paper scraps would look so nice and colourful!

What's your favourite either unknown or underappreciated book?
I'd have to say two: Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih - it's one of those books you can read again and again. I love the writing - there is such a strong voice. It's also a great book about the meeting of cultures and the things we think we know; he does a masterful job of melding issues of ethnicity, the legacy of colonialism (which I loved coming from a background of research in Indigenous issues and politics) and cultural colonialism as well, in terms of how we relate to each other and the roles we assign each other. But that makes it sound like it's a political book, and first and foremost I'd say it's a great story. He really isn't as well known in the West as he deserves to be; he is on par with the best of any modern writer I've ever read.

The other would be The Engineer of Human Souls by Josef Skvorecky - you know I LOVE Josef Skvorecky. This book is the culmination of a lot of his early works, and it's great because I think he's writing at his most mature here. The story is fantastic, fairly autobiographical, and is literary while being just flat out funny. I think it's a powerful book and as a Torontonian and a Canadian, he does a great job of melding Czech and Canadian landscapes and cultures. Again, his work is political, but in a highly personal and humorous way. He deserves a far bigger following and reputation in Canada (he tends to be seen as a Czech writer mostly, I think) than he has; I'm trying to think of a Canadian writer who I think comes close to matching Skvorecky at the top of his game and I can't.

Favourite author? Why?'s going to have to be a smackdown between Fyodor Dostoevsky and Nikolai Gogol. Huh....who comes out on top.....? Probably Dostoevsky. I mean, The Brothers Karamazov. Come on. There is no finer work than that ever, anywhere. It is so incredibly powerful and enduring that it actually, literally, takes my breath away when I read it. Which makes me a monstrous nerd, I know, but it's beyond words for me.

It drives me crazy that so many people read Crime and Punishment - and I'm not saying that's not a good book - and leave their Dostoevsky at that. While it's true I've read everything of his, I don't understand how Crime and Punishment became THE book and The Brothers Karamazov didn't. I suppose Crime and Punishment is more accessible, easier, but I've read The Brothers Karamazov six times and each and every time there is something else that strikes me. That he wrote something that remains so powerful today and so incredibly omniscient about human behaviour and society is stunning; everyone should read this book. The Grand Inquisitor - that section is SO strong and so present that it's scary.

Though, I do love Gogol. I think if he had lived longer he would have produced a body of work to rival Dostoevsky's. He's probably the writer I most wish I knew; just so I could have stolen or at least read the final part of Dead Souls before he destroyed it.

Favourite and/or least favourite literary time period? Why? Favourite - that's easy! Nineteenth century Russia! No contest whatsoever. Great authors, great ideas, just this massive explosion of work. The political differences are fascinating to read; you've got conservatives, nihilists, those who embrace the land as the means by which cultural and personal redemption can be found, freethinkers - everything and everyone, basically - and they all write so well.

The Russian style from this period is so distinctive and has such a strong focus on the personal as a representation of the larger world and of Russia. Culturally it's something I find fairly distinctive; regardless of the politics of the writer, there is a focus on Russia, and on the destiny and fate of Russia. I do have an embarrassing over-emphasis on 19th century Russian writing though - in high school it was all I would read. It's funny, in first year university, I decided to branch out into 20th-century and read Solzhenitsyn; I read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which I enjoyed, but my overwhelming reaction was "Wow, this is just a 20th-century The House of the Dead (Dostoevsky novel of life in a Siberian prison camp)." So I enjoyed it, but I thought it was derivative.

I did make it through the first 100 pages of Cancer Ward, and hated it. Most boring 100 pages of my life. I have since read more Russian authors from a variety of time periods, including the Soviet period (for fun, read back-to-back dissident and approved authors!).

I was thinking that my second favourite literary time period (not that you asked) would probably have to be modern Japanese writing - whoo! However, I would say that as a period my reading is heavily slanted towards Haruki Murakami (easily my favourite contemporary author); he's not the only Japanese author I've read but I could be better versed in other Japanese authors and writing. Not so modern, but I Am a Cat by Soseki Natsume - great! I'm also a big fan of Yukio Mishima - Confessions of a Mask is probably my fave of his.

Least favourite - I don't have one, but I do dislike a lot of 19th century English authors - Austen, Dickens - blech blech blech. But then I do love Trollope!!!! The Palliser novels/series and The Way We Live Now kick ass! So I can't be entirely anti-19th century English authors. Mind you, I suppose more appropriately I could blech about English authors from the first half of the 19th century or so.

If you're interested in being interviewed for The Reading Lamp, drop me an email at colleen AT bookphilia DOT com.

Thursday 26 March 2009

Year-end wrap-up, or, the ghost of future

I may not be counting my books anymore, but I sure am aware of the time – two years ago today, I started this blog. Happy anniversary to moi! Let's raise a glass of sparkling grape juice to celebrate. has been very enjoyable to create and has only become more so as I’ve figured out more clearly what I want to do with it and how I want to do it.

That said, I’m still not doing everything I want to be doing with this site, either in terms of my writing or the brilliance and thoughtfulness of on what I read. It’s occurred to me recently that my dissatisfaction with what I write is in part related to the dissatisfaction with what I’ve been reading.

It turns out that reading entirely randomly isn’t as appealing or stimulating to me as it was when I was doing so only between reading for graduate school, where the reading, while I for the most part chose it myself, was still very narrowly focused in terms of both subject matter and context (i.e., original language, country of origin, time period).

I actually miss the order of reading in a university-like fashion. I miss the pleasure of delving into a single time period or author or even theme (e.g., about a hundred years ago, I took a great graduate course called Early Modern Privacy) – I miss feeling like I’m learning something.

Having finished school, I’ve been wondering how I can replicate some of its strictures for myself, in a way I’ll find engaging. Many ideas have come and been shelved and what’s stuck is an idea based on what I don’t know. Of the literatures of all the world’s so-called great nations, it’s French literature I know the least about (although German lit would be a very close second). I’ve read a few things – Madame Bovary, The Stranger, The Plague, Guy de Maupassant’s stories – but it’s definitely a gaping hole in my world literature knowledge.

So, this is my plan: I’ve created a long-ish list of French literature, beginning in the Middle Ages with The Song of Roland and ending, quite arbitrarily, with J.M.G. LeClezio, who won the Nobel for literature last year. I’m sure there are gaps but I’ll fix things as I go along. More on my self-education in French literature (at best to be only a partial education, no matter how much I read, as I’m reading it all in English translation) soon.

Before I can begin this years-long project, however, I’m going to finally be turning my blog into a 3-column blog; my French book list will take up one whole column either to the left or right of the posts, and the other will likely have much of what I already have – blog links, etc. Since I’m changing up so much, I might change my title photo as well, even though I’m quite fond it. All of this will happen in the next couple of weeks when I have more time to sit down with Blogger.

But I should be saying something about the past year instead of harping so much on the ghost of future. Having abandoned the book counting, I have no statistics to offer. I will say that I really like the new feature I introduced last year, The Reading Lamp, and have one or two more on the way. I also introduced but then saw the premature death of Curious/Creepy, having moved to an apartment that’s so conveniently located that I never have the opportunity anymore to take transit and spy on people’s reading. Finally, I will soon be introducing an occasional feature about my life as a bookstore owner.

Most importantly, here are some lists of what I hated and what I loved, March 26, 2008-March 25, 2009:

The Best Books of Blog Year le Deuxieme (in no particular order)
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis
Pamela by Samuel Richardson
number9dream by David Mitchell
Confessions of a Mask by Yukio Mishima
Life in Cold Blood by David Attenborough
Out by Natsuo Kirino
South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
The White Darkness by Geraldine MCaughrean
The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk
Skellig by David Almond

The Worst Books of Blog Year le Deuxieme (in no particular order)
Our Fathers by Andrew O’Hagan
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Snakes and Earrings by Hitomi Kanehara
World War Z by Max Brooks
In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami
Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino
The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
The Light of Day by Graham Swift
Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki
Mishima: A Biography by John Nathan

The good news here is that my list of least favourite books is complete whereas my list of favourite books had to be trimmed considerably so that I wouldn’t make this insanely long post too much more unbearable. I read many more good than bad books this year! Here’s to another year of reading many more kick-ass than shiteous books!

Monday 23 March 2009

I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls

This is not the cover of the copy of Watchmen that I finished reading this morning. This cover is the one I'm seeing everywhere now, both in bookshops and clutched in people's parka-clad arms. (Yes, it's still cold enough to require a parka here. Gah!)

The copy I just finished reading is from sometime in the 80s, when the Watchmen comic books were first bound together as the Watchmen graphic novel. I have to say, I think that the earlier cover was way more kick-ass than this one is. The one I read showed the bloody, broken, high rise window of The Comedian's apartment right after he's been tossed from it. A little more evocative, for me.

But really, it's what between the covers that matters most - and this book was AMAZING. I don't have to have read many comics to know that Moore and Gibbons were really playing with/sending up/questioning the inherent assumptions of common comic book conventions. And I don't have to have read many comic books to find the idea of aging super-heroes both silly and mournful.

Watchmen is stunning for its complexity and depth; hubby told me this was the case, but I still wasn't prepared for the extent of its complexity. It was really forward-thinking in its consideration of what constitutes "too far" in striving to serve a greater good, in nations' contributions to environmental devastation, and in how marketing is an effective tool for both taking over and controlling the world, to name just a few of the gigantic - and disturbingly current - issues tackled here.

And on top of this, it was just a damned good story and the art was pretty great, I think. I say "I think" because comic book art is something I can't comment on with any credibility. But I liked it. It was purty, disturbing, visceral, and dreamy in all the right places.

And now I can go see the film, which I've heard really mixed reviews about and which my husband refuses to listen to, plugging his ears and yelling "LA LA LA LA LA!!!" if anyone tries to discuss it in his presence. Looking forward to it but have to bring pee bucket. Film three hours long. Why writing like Rorschach speaks? Hurm.

What I liked best about Watchmen, I think, was its incredibly terrifying and non-Hollywood ending (which I won't reveal here). There's no neat tying up of the action and certainly no comfortable moral conclusions espoused to make anyone feel better, not even the perpetrator of the horrors. It's messy and the stuff of life-long nightmares. I hope the director/scriptwriter of the film had the cojones not to soften and dumb it down for movie-goers. I'll post my thoughts on the film once I've seen it.

Wednesday 18 March 2009

A gentleman's C

It's been a few months now since I finished graduate school and having stumbled across Peter Ackroyd's The Lambs of London, I decided to take a tentative step back towards Renaissance England to see how I felt about it.

The Lambs of London is about Charles and Mary Lamb (definitely post-Renaissance) and their discovery of an early copy of Greene's Pandosto (written in the heart of the Renaissance and a fine read); this book leads to the Lambs developing a relationship with a young book-seller named William Ireland.

What hooked me when I saw this in the library was the presence on the front and back covers of secretary hand, a style of writing from Shakespeare's era (and before). Here's a larger picture of some writing in this hand:

Beautiful, isn't it? It makes our post-modern scrawling look like the work of mentally challenged 10-year olds. Of course, not everyone in the 16th century and beyond knew this hand - it was a mark of a certain level of education, and almost exclusively the mark of a boy's education.

But I digress. The reason it excited me is that I know how to read secretary hand, having worked as a research assistant back in the day for someone working on 16th- and 17th-century letters (the real things, as opposed to the representations in plays of letters I worked on). I figured this book, citing as it does Pandosto as central to its action, would be all about olde Renaissance bookes which I can't resist (e.g., I just stole a book from the store called Four Jacobean Sex Tragedies. Yay!).

And The Lambs of London kind of was about olde bookes, but Pandosto was a red herring if ever I saw one. The novel was actually about Ireland's discovery of a bunch of papers, including two plays, written by Shakespeare that no one knew existed.

Apparently Ackroyd didn't know of Chekhov's maxim that if there's a gun it must be fired, for Pandosto was used in the flimsiest of ways and only to get the Lambs to become acquainted with Ireland (all real people, who didn't know each other the way Ackroyd has them know each other in this novel).

Young Ireland, so the story goes, becomes randomly acquainted with a rich widow who through Ireland's careful eye discovers she owns one more house than she thought. To reward him, she lets him have all the papers in the newly found house, which just happen to include a letter, a will, and two plays written by Shakespeare. Everything begins to unravel when Shakespeare's "new" tragedy is laughed off the stage after only 6 days.

Yes, Ireland has been forging like mad, possessing as he does a particular talent for writing in secretary hand and making paper look old. Sounds like a good story to me, but there were several problems with this book which have led to me thinking of it as an effort deserving only of a gentleman's C.

First, artificially bringing the Lambs and Ireland together was just that - too artificial, and it didn't add anything to the story. If anything, it distracted from what should have been an interesting study on the life and mind of a notorious forger by suggesting that Mary's real-life madness was brought on by her love of this dishonest young man. Could you have been less original, Ackroyd? That whole woman goes insane for love thing is really old and not in the good way (which is spelled "olde").

Second, I'm not sure who this book is really written for. I feel as though anyone who knows anything about either the Lambs or Shakespeare won't like it for the ways Ackroyd plays fast and loose with the facts but not in exciting ways (really, what was the point of having Mary die before Charles does in the novel, when it was the opposite in real life?). Indeed, knowing anything about Shakespeare means you likely won't be surprised to discover Ireland is a forger - and yet, that's the only potentially exciting thing about the book as it stands that I can think of.

Third, the writing was just fine, but it was fine in that workmanlike way, not in that interesting way. It didn't offend but it didn't inspire either.

It may seem as though I hated this book, but I didn't. It was, as I've said, a gentleman's C; good enough, but not taking any compelling chances or making large gestures, and too distracted by trying to make characters who didn't need to come together.

Le sigh. I really didn't think I was picking another letdown here. The only thing to do is to read some famous Victorians or Russians next (after Watchmen, which hubby is insisting I read before we see the film).

Sunday 15 March 2009

Meh redux

Oy vey. So, I read The Virgin Suicides fully expecting to love it and expecting soon afterwards to read Eugenides' Middlesex and love that too. A girl can dream can't she?

Alas, I was disappointed by The Virgin Suicides and no longer feel any real desire to read Middlesex. I mean I wouldn't not read Middlesex if it were the only thing around but I'm not aching to do so anymore.

What it comes down to is this: The Virgin Suicides, after the first 40 pages which were strangely hilarious and quite compelling, just sort of petered out. It was fine. It was mediocre. It was so thoroughly mediocre that it didn't even irritate me.

It was just...nothing. I didn't feel anything at all about this book. I know that I could probably say something about the interesting things Eugenides has to say about suburban ennui and 20th-century America's (I mean North America, yes) unhealthy interest in the ugly secrets and degraded lives of the people we idolize but I don't care.

And I mean that in the most positive, or at least neutral, way possible. In the most un-aggressive way imaginable I don't care about what Eugenides has to say. The Virgin Suicides was just a big fat nothing for me. A liaison that didn't work but which ended, on my part anyway, with absolutely no regrets or hard feelings. But also with no desire to try again.

I'm probably going to get in trouble for this because I think pretty much everyone in the world loves this book. I wanted to, believe me. But no dice. It bored me. Sorry. :(

Thursday 12 March 2009

A gigantic ball of yarn

My husband has been harassing me to read Guy Gavriel Kay's The Lions of Al-Rassan for at least 6 months now, and not just because he was feeling badly about how long we've been holding off returning it to the friend who lent it to us.

I finally got to it last week and I have to say I'd kick my own ass if I were flexible enough to do so because I've really been depriving myself. The Lions of Al-Rassan is a totally kick-ass book, a rollicking good yarn, and Guy Gavriel Kay is maybe giving me a little tiny bit of faith in Canadian lit because of it.

Indeed, I liked this novel so much that I'm having trouble figuring out what to write about it. How about this: It was so good that I couldn't stop reading it but then sometimes I had to stop reading because the tension was just too much! Even better, Kay didn't ruin this awesomeness by neutering all the characters the way so many fantasy writers do, making their only desires ones for revenge, honour, or the precious.

Yes, fellow babies, this was kind of sexy fantasy but it was much more than that - it was a compelling and often painful look at the unbridgeable gaps between people of different cultural and religious backgrounds, and then the amazing things and even more painful things that can happen when those gaps are crossed.

I will also thank goodness that Kay didn't do the whole Olde Tymey Fantasie Dialogue thing (i.e., stilted, formal language) to make things sound Antiente and Deepe, e.g., "The green tide of Orkdom is upon us and we are alone. There can be no mercy." (I got this from a very convenient web site which I found when I wrote "fantasy", "literature", and "quotes" in the Google search engine.)

My only real complaint about this book is that Jehane, the main female character, who is 27 or so and a doctor, sometimes behaves in ways I imagine the teenage harpies in The Babysitters' Club might act. E.g., Jehane falls in with Roderigo Belmonte and Ammar ibn Khairan, the two most dangerous and accomplished men in Al-Rassan. But they're not totally intimidating, they're also smart and hilarious and tease Jehane a lot who, when goaded too much, tends to pout angrily and try to hit them. Eh what? Wasn't that my well thought out flirting technique when I was in junior high school? Even then I knew I'd have to come up with something more sophisticated than that to get the boys - in high school!

Also, Kay did something even more unforgivable with Jehane at a key, tragic moment in the book; after a day in which her oppressed people are massacred wholesale in her home city, she asks her lover to, and I quote, "Hold me." Oh no you dinn't!! I don't whether to think that Kay believes his female readers will lap that shit up, reading as we do, primarily Harlequin romances, or if he's been reading too many Harlequins himself. In any case, ugg.

But these were relatively small moments, and so while they irked me incredibly, the rest of the novel was so damned good that I soon forgot my irritation and got back to the nail-biting, the racing heart, and even the occasional tears. That said, I think I cried less reading this book then my bawl-baby hubby did. I love sensitive guys who like books about people getting killed to death with swords but who also get emotional and weepy about them; my hubby is the coolest.

Monday 9 March 2009

Am I becoming the deadbeat dad of the book blogging world?

I'm feeling a little...lost? sad? anxious? about the fact that I appear to be blogging a lot less than I was when manically reading non-grad school novels between bouts of working on my dissertation. I feel badly and unhappily in the presence of seriously unwelcome irony here.

You see, I always imagined I'd be reading THREE TIMES AS MUCH post-grad school as I was during grad school. I yearned for it. I banked on it. This belief got me through grad school!! I harboured beautiful dreams of reading a book a day, or over 3 days if Charles Dickens wrote it. Ha!

Now? In reality? Now I'm kicking back and taking things real slow like. This hasn't been a choice, really; I just don't have the fight or flight instinct associated with reading anymore, which is both good and bad.

The good news is, the unpressured read, while lacking in adrenalin, more than makes up for it in lingering pleasure. The bad news is, because of my new laziness, and the fact that I never take public transit, I'm not doing much blogging these days. I fear my blog is disappearing a little, whether I will or no. I worry a little that one day I'll look up and realize that I've forgotten about it; I know, this should be an entirely ridiculous fear but maybe it isn't: in my bookstore owning/post-PhD world, I've forgotten all kinds of things I used to love and engage in daily on the interwebs - like surfing lit forums and looking at pics of LOLcats and reading book news.

I'm going to try doing some brainstorming (ah, brainstorming - just like in grade 8 English class!) and hopefully come up with at least one new feature to replace what looks to be the prematurely dead Curious/Creepy, so that I don't leave y'all hanging between posts on super-long novels. Because while I don't think many people read, I don't want to lose anyone by being a once a week or less blogger.

I don't want to be the deadbeat dad of the book blogging world. I really don't want that. I don't want you to be bored, and I don't want to become bored. And since I can't read a book every two days (anymore, sigh) like Raych can, I need to figure out something else to write about. So, here goes - my first attempt at thinking in 3 months! Wish me luck...

Wednesday 4 March 2009

Talked down off the ledge

After the disappointment that was Natsuo Kirino's Grotesque I just couldn't take any risks - I had to read something that I wouldn't fail to really enjoy. After the last few books I read, I actually didn't feel like reading at all or ever again, which is a tragic state I couldn't allow myself to remain in. My response was thus the only one possible: I picked a book by the only writer I know who's even more reliable than P.G. Wodehouse: Ellis Peters.

Thank all good things for Ellis Peters, for One Corpse Too Many (the second in the Brother Cadfael series) has talked me down from the non-reading, tv-watching, eating potato chips and getting fat ledge. Peters' writing is always perfect, her plotting compelling, her pacing the right balance between patient and forward-moving: in other words, she's all that I want every writer to be, dammit!

But I've realized another key reason why I adore her so much and wish she were my granny or something (if she were alive; unfortunately, Peters died in 1995): Peters knew how to make medieval England seem real, not magical and foreign as in so many fantasy novels, but also kind of homely and lovely (even when the wishy-washy King Stephen is wreaking havoc in his attempt to maintain the throne against his cousin Maud).

Yes, even though Brother Cadfael seems to find himself with a murdered body on his hands once a month, and even though Peters hints at the shitty things he did while crusading in the Middle East, he's still somehow a kind of perfect dad. And most of the people around him are just nice. And even murderers have these great, good things about them.

I think Peters just had a lot of faith in humanity. It's weird to say something so mushy but her characters do really good things, but in ways that seem entirely human and normal, not heroic at all. Her optimism is damned refreshing, I tell you, and I love that it is so present somehow in murder mysteries of all things.

Now I feel fortified enough not just to try an author less tested and reliable than Peters, but indeed to try an author entirely new to me: Guy Gavriel Kay. Also, I have to read this Kay book to stop perpetrating a serious book crime, i.e., to finally read and return a tome lent to me over a year ago. Mea culpa.

Sunday 1 March 2009

Am I paying off some kind of horrible karmic book debt ?

February turns out to have been the month of cursed reading choices for me, for much to my chagrin, Natsuo Kirino's Grotesque is, to be blunt, a complete piece of shit. I would like to apologize to you for bringing you more book crankiness, so please don't hold this post against me. But how do I apologize to myself for the time I spent on this, just hoping it would somehow become even half, nay a quarter!, as good as Kirino's previous novel, Out?

I can't apologize and indeed I'd think of scourging my back with some stinging plant product made into a whip in shame and repentance if this novel hadn't already been the reading equivalent thereof.

Grotesque is about the murders of two middle-aged prostitutes in Tokyo, linked by the narrator who is sister of one and former high school "friend" of the other. I think Kirino tries to revisit in this novel the complicated social position of women in modern, urban Japan that she so effectively and chillingly considered in Out. But somehow that doesn't come across here; all that comes across is that women and girls are total bitch-fests into serving themselves and getting at others in the pettiest and most devious ways possible.

Irritating misogyny aside (if I could put it aside, which I can't), this book was just boring - the machinations of the narrator just weren't interesting and her constant harping on all the things that bugged her were infuriating precisely because they were so unrelentingly uninteresting. I felt like punching her in the mouf and telling her to shaddap.

All I can say is, it's a good thing I borrowed this book from the library because otherwise I'd really be irked! This is one of the many reasons why I love libraries: we support them by patronizing them, and they support us by sometimes saving us from spending money on pure shite.

Anyway, enough negativity. On a positive note, I'm dispensing with the keeping track of how many books I read per year thing. I realized that for reasons I don't get (but I'm sure the word "obsessive" would appear somewhere in the explanation) I had become quite attached to the numbers game and was thus losing out a bit on pure reading fun; indeed, I had stopped enjoying the collection of Henry James short stories I've had on the go for most of the past year because I was all worked up about not finishing them during this blog year. Lame.

Here's to not caring about numbers (except, of course, for the 2009 Support Your Local Library Challenge!) and to not reading any more sub-par books until the summer at the very earliest. I feel like a terrible book would be somewhat more palatable were I reading it outside on a patio somewhere.