Sunday, January 31, 2010

Smug-pug, c'est moi

Have you ever encountered a voice in fiction that's so like that of someone you know in real life that you're totally freaked out? To the point that you can't stop supplying a projected subtext to the work at hand that you know isn't warranted or at all fair? To the point that the entire novel is tainted by an unwavering sense of foreknowledge as to what you'll have confirmed about the author once you seek out the biographical material, no matter how often you tell yourself not to confuse the writer with her creation?

Such was my experience with Novel on Yellow Paper.

I'd gone into it expecting much enjoyment--I've had a fondness since high school for "Not Waving But Drowning," the one Stevie Smith poem I'd read but had never forgotten. But Pompey Casmilus is such an aural doppelganger to this, ah, real-life counterpart of mine, who continually puts me in the smug-pug foot-on-the-ground role as I'm called upon to save her yet again from drowning, that I found no charm in Pompey's voice--I've become immune over the years to such techniques and no longer appreciate freewheeling tangents meant to detract and delay us both from dealing with the problem at hand. (And that's a pity: I'm Southern and ordinarily love a good tangent.)

My apologies to my fellow Slaves. Maybe I can read this one again some day with a more disinterested ear.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Monday, January 25, 2010

It's Blue Monday!

If you've already read the masters of literary misery mentioned in yesterday's Independent article and don't find them bleak enough, then here are two others that truly corner the market on existential despair:

Anna Mitgutsch's Jakob. Out of print but still readily available used, it's the story of a woman who has an autistic son back when the mother was relentlessly blamed and scorned for causing the condition.

Barbara Gowdy's The White Bone. Elephants. They suffer. They die. They don't deserve it! Even the cover on this one cuts me like a knife.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Favorite Unknown: Julie Hecht

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Who’s your favorite author that other people are NOT reading? The one you want to evangelize for, the one you would run popularity campaigns for? The author that, so far as you’re concerned, everyone should be reading–but that nobody seems to have heard of. You know, not JK Rowling, not Jane Austen, not Hemingway–everybody’s heard of them. The author that you think should be that famous and can’t understand why they’re not…

Julie Hecht.

Julie Hecht is primarily a writer of short stories, all narrated through the perspective of an eccentric Jewish neurotic, who's perpetually working on a series of photographs of her world-renowned reproductive surgeon, prodding others to adopt a macrobiotic diet, removing the polo player from various articles of clothing, chatting up cashiers and waiters, and steeling herself to face those really trying times with Mozart operas in her personal audio device and a prescription of Xanax in her purse.

And always, always observing the absurdities of life with a perplexed honesty at how things have come to be the way they are.

I've heard her described as an acquired taste, but I've loved her from the get-go.

Her two collections of stories are Do the Windows Open? and Happy Trails to You. Her novel The Unprofessionals, which relates the story of her unnamed narrator's friendship with the world-renowned reproductive surgeon's son, should be read between these, although Hecht's style is better suited to short works.

Was This Man A Genius? describes a series of interviews Hecht conducted with the late comedian Andy Kaufman for a Harper's profile that was deemed too odd to run in the magazine.

Give her a try when you're in the mood for something a little offbeat.

Booking Through Thursday

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Reading Habits of Fictional Characters

As I said on New Year's Day, one of my projects for the year is to keep track of all the reading done by the characters in the fiction that I read.

There was enough enthusiasm expressed in the comments of that post that I decided not to dally in getting the project started--even though the characters in the books I'm reading now aren't being very specific about their reading choices (except for the dead guy in The Yiddish Policemen's Union who read Siegbert Terrasch's Three Hundred Chess Games and "cheap Yiddish thrillers"). I'm inaugurating the project today with a few instances from a book I read several years back that I remembered as being especially bookish, Katharine Weber's first novel, Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear.

I'm providing a Mr. Linky down below, and I'm being presumptuous in adding links Sherry and Mel U provided me with in the earlier post. Sherry wrote a post about Book-Loving Books last month and Mel U's entire blog is about the literary treatment of reading--I linked to a couple of his posts and I hope he'll link to more. And I'm hoping Frances will blog about the reading list completed byRoald Dahl's Matilda and provide a link here once she has!

If anyone else decides to keep track of, or to mention on occasion, what the fictional characters they encounter are reading, I would be most grateful if you'd link to it here after you've made note of it on your own blog. I will add a direct link to this post in the sidebar so that you can find it easily.


And now for a few quotes from Katharine Weber's Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear:

She also has no good records. I just got up for a stretch and a prowl, and I see nothing worthwhile except for the Django Reinhardt album I gave her for her birthday last year, which she doesn't seem to have opened. Too much Rachmaninoff, way too much. Also odd books: very affettato fiction (The Name of the Rose, an unread-looking Pynchon, dog-eared Du Maurier, and strange quantities of Ann Beattie and Paul Theroux), three different How to Improve books (sex life, complexion, thighs), and, of course, your basic, up-t0-date Survivor Guilt Library: The Abandonment of the Jews, Holocaust Testimonies, the Annotated Diary of Anne Frank, Eichmann in Jerusalem, Children Without Childhoods, Nazi Doctors, Wartime Lies, Sophie's Choice, The Painted Bird, and every book by Primo Levi. (I wonder if I could make money with a Holocaust Book Club. You bet. People would be too guilty to return any of the monthly selections.)


Was it Alexander Portnoy who thought spatula was Yiddish? When I was small, Gay read to me a lot (possibly because she wasn't particularly adept at making conversation with a toddler), and what she read included some books from her own childhood, as well as books she had read to my mother when she was little. Consequently, when I was about six (the story goes), I asked my mother for a sixpence for the gumball machine in the shoe store. (My mother thought this was a bit much and instituted an embargo on Enid Blyton books.)


I lie on a chaise with my towel and book (I'm reading Anne's copy of Rebecca--I keep wanting to sing "On the Road to Manderley") and sunglasses, and when I get too hot, I swim, and then I come back and lie here some more.


Harriet's books (she was always in the middle of several at once; this month she was reading Anne's books as well as her own Saki and Henry James stories) seemed to perplex Victor when he encountered them splayed on various surface throught the flat. He would pick up each one, examine the title with a distracted air as though hoping for some explanation of something, and then close the book (thereby losing Harriet's place) before putting it down.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Last books of 2009

The Discomfort Zone. Jonathan Franzen. Last book purchase of 2009. I thought I'd make it out of the bookstore without buying a thing but found I couldn't resist this one's $2 price.

Call It Sleep. Henry Roth. I bought this at the Strand back in November for my daughter. An English professor recommended it to me over the summer, and since he'd compared it to The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, I knew it would be one she'd enjoy. She read it in Nepal.

The Wine-Dark Sea. Patrick O'Brian. Christmas present. I wonder if I'll finish the series this year?

The English Stories. Cynthia Flood. Collection of linked stories. Christmas present. Because of Kerry at Pickle Me This.

The Book of Fathers. Miklos Vamos. Review copy.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Library Loot

These are the latest books I've brought home from the library. I wish finding the time to read everything immediately was as easy as finding books that interest me.

Memories of the Future. Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky. Russian short stories from the 1920s. A blurb on the back calls Krzhizhanovsky "a poker-faced surrealist whose imagination is so radical it goes beyond political lampoon into the realms of metaphysical assault."

Reasons for Advantages of Breathing. Lydia Peelle. I'm interested in reading Peelle's short stories because Gillian Welch interviewed her in Bomb last fall. I love Gillian Welch.

Manhood for Amateurs. Michael Chabon. Personal essays--"beautifully written meditations," according to MFS.

The Three of Us. Julia Blackburn. Memoir. I think I saw this on some overlooked books of the decade list.

Too Much Happiness. Alice Munro. Short stories. Is any further explanation necessary?

The Anthologist. Nicholson Baker. The latest by my cat's namesake; it made Dorothy's best of 2009 list.

The Love of Stones. Tobias Hill. Because I thoroughly enjoyed The Hidden.

Lit. Mary Karr. Memoir. I skipped Cherry, but loved The Liars Club years ago.

Far North. Marcel Theroux. Postapocalyptic road novel set in Siberia.

The Night Watch. Sarah Waters. Danielle and Jeanne both read this one recently and I wanted it on hand for when I'm finished with The Little Stranger, which I should be starting in a day or two.

Tomorrow: the last New Books stack of 2009.

Monday, January 04, 2010

I have heard that there is a library

"Then what do you do?"

"I sit at home, and--"

"Mend your stockings?"

"No, I don't do that, because it's disagreeable; but I do work a good deal. Sometimes I have amused myself by reading."

"Ah; they never do that here. I have heard that there is a library, but the clue to it has been lost, and nobody now knows the way. I don't believe in libraries. Nobody ever goes into a library to read, any more than you would into a larder to eat. But there is this difference;--the food you consume does come out of the larders, but the books you read never come out of the libraries."

"Except Mudies," said Alice.

"Ah, yes; he is the great librarian. . . ."

--Anthony Trollope, Can You Forgive Her?

Saturday, January 02, 2010

What would your good do

"No sooner do you appear on the roof than you blab nonsense, and I'll tell you what it is--it's in your intonation. You pronounced your words as if you refuse to acknowledge the existence of either shadows or evil. But would you kindly ponder this question: What would your good do if evil didn't exist, and what would the earth look like if all the shadows disappeared? After all, shadows are cast by things and people. Here is the shadow of my sword. But shadows also come from trees and from living beings. Do you want to strip the earth of all trees and living things just because of your fantasy of enjoying naked light? You're stupid."

--Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita

Friday, January 01, 2010

Just a few minutes ago

in our front yard and below, across the road a couple days before Christmas.

Hello, 2010

January 1! Don't you look special! And you are-- S. turns 21 later today. He had to work yesterday so the party is tonight instead of last night, as is tradition.

So. Here are my plans for the year:

I'm going to start keeping track of the reading done by the characters in the fiction I read. I'm going to call it The Reading Habits of Fictional Characters and I'll keep track here on the blog as I encounter it. I have no idea if anyone else takes an interest in the books the people in novels and short stories happen to read, but if anyone else out there enjoys these encounters as much as I do, I'll be happy to provide a Mr. Linky or set up a wiki so that we can find one another and share our discoveries.

And in the same old same old department: I'm going to do my level best to read more books that I already own (or already have checked out from the library: 40 plus, or have already preordered: five) than acquire more. Truly, I have reached the point where I maketh myself sick and I must get it through my head that any new books I hear about in the coming months will still be available in 2011, so why not wait until then to purchase them or get them from the library? I am going to grant myself permission to buy a few books for the Kindle simply because they won't take up any more space in the house and more importantly because my mother-in-law got a Kindle for Christmas (we went in on it with L.'s older brother and almost-wife) and it's linked to my Kindle and I wouldn't feel right if she paid for everything that we have the ability to share. She doesn't particularly like the classics, even the ones that can be downloaded for free, unfortunately.

And maybe I'll read Ulysses finally, who knows.

Best wishes, everyone. I'm happy you're out there.

A bang, not a whimper

  Two months into L.'s retirement, and I'm finished with the stockpiling of books. No more book purchases! Or at least, no purcha...