Thursday, October 21, 2010

Stockpile, then stop (for awhile)

If you've been over at Stefanie's blog this week, you may have noticed that I mentioned in the comments a(nother) book buying moratorium.

As of today, this afternoon, in fact, after opening four book packages. Many of these books are in anticipation of an expected birthday check from L.'s mom this weekend, but still.  And there are a couple of books yet to come--Storm Jameson's None Turn Back and Mrs. Oliphant's The Mystery of Mrs. Blencarrow. Only one of these books is on my read-immediately list, which is the main reason I think I need to develop some restraint.

I don't think I can make it the full four months I've been mulling over, but I am going to do my best to make it until February 1--that's when Karen Russell's first novel, Swamplandia, is coming out and I'm dying to read that just as soon as I can get my hands on it.

The new books are:

Birdbrain. Joanna Sinisalo. Did anyone read Sinisalo's Troll: A Love Story from a few years back? I pre-ordered Birdbrain months ago, based on how much I'd enjoyed the earlier novel. A Finnish couple go backpacking down under taking along a copy of Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

Saint Augustine. Rebecca West. I'm going to give top priority to my Rebecca West project in the coming months.

Mistress of the Art of Death. Ariana Franklin.  From C., who thinks I ought to read it soon if I expect her to retain enought detail to discuss it with me.

The Aeneid. Virgil. A birthday gift from W., chosen from my wish list, but given with the plea that I please not make her read it with me when I attempt it next year.

Surreal South. Laura Benedict and Pinckney Benedict, eds. Contains unsettling works by a lot of Southerners, plus, somehow, Joyce Carol Oates.

Chalcot Crescent. Fay Weldon. A futuristic satire.

Troubles. J.G. Farrell. Had to return the library copy of this that I'd checked out over the summer and got tired of waiting for it to be returned.

Poison Penmanship. Jessica Mitford. Subtitled the gentle art of muckraking.

Aurorarama. Jean-Christophe Valtat. First in a steampunk series set in the Arctic.

Doctor Zhivago. Boris Pasternak. For next month's group read at Nonsuch Books.

And yes, that is a new Kindle to the left of the bookstack, an early birthday present freshly loaded with Connie Willis's Blackout and Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad. He's my bus buddy and his name is Trey.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Pedigree by Georges Simenon

No doubt he would not remember everything. However henceforth, in the Rue Pasteur flat, there were two eyes and two ears more than before, and only time would make a final selection from all the sights, sounds and smells. Henceforth, when she threaded her way along the narrow pavements of the Rue Puits-en-Sock where so many tram accidents happened, when she went to buy fifty centimes' worth of chips, a couple of chops or half a pound of pudding, when she complained of this or that, or when, from the fruit market, she looked through the windows of the cafe for Felicie's bright, slim silhouette, Elise was no longer alone.

He wasn't playing. He was gazing at the wonderful mist of fine golden dust which was coming from the bedroom and which was as it were absorbed slowly, irresistibly by the damp air of the street. When his mother beat the mattresses, it was as if there were thousands of little animals spinning around, coming together and parting again, while there were some feathers which stayed for a long time suspended in space. Just now, there was also the circle on the ceiling, another sort of animal, a luminous, impalpable animal, which trembled in one corner of the ceiling and suddenly rushed across to the other wall when somebody touched the window, for it was just a reflection of the sun.

The universe grew bigger, people and things altered in appearance, certainties were born at the same time as anxieties, the world became peopled with questions, and a ring of chiaroscuro made contours less reassuring, extended perspectives to infinity.

In the days when the world had been simpler, Roger had questioned his mother unceasingly.

Nowadays, he kept quiet. When he was found with his thoughts far away, he pretended to be playing. He listened to what the grown-ups said among themselves; certain phrases, certain words haunted him for weeks, while others translated themselves as pictures which imposed themselves on him willy-nilly and which he later tried in vain to dispel.

His father, now that they were on their way home, knew so well what he was thinking that he murmured:

'You'd better not say anything, for your mother's sake.'

Then he added--and this touched Roger much more:

'She thinks she'd doing the right thing.'

That was all. There must be no more talk about that subject.

'What are you doing this afternoon?'

'I don't know yet.'

'Is there anything to read at home?'

'Some Eugene Sue.'

For Roger went twice a week to borrow some books from the municipal library in the Rue des Chroux (the one in the Rue des Pitteurs had gone up in flames the day the Germans had shot three hundred people) and from the lending library in the Rue Saint-Paul. He chose books he liked. In the evening, or on Sunday, Desire would read one of these books, haphazardly, and if his son took it back before he had finished it, he did not even say anything, just began another of which he might never know the end.

That was what the two of them were like.

--Georges Simenon, Pedigree

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Rebecca West was a Booker prize judge the first two years it was handed out!

There were perhaps 60 books, which seemed a lot, though modern judges are said to read twice as many. Getting through the 60 was made easier by our not daring to take on Dame Rebecca. "Miss Murdoch writes good and bad novels in alternate years," she said. "This is a bad year." Muriel Spark: "clever but too playful." And out they went.

40 years of Booker prize judges dish the dirt

Friday, October 15, 2010

For what it's worth and if you're reading this from elsewhere and haven't noticed the birdie in the sidebar, I am now, as of just this week, on Twitter.


This means Twitter has officially jumped the shark, right?

Part One, Madame Bovary: The Literary Habits of Fictional Characters

On the other side of the hallway was Charles' office, a small room about six paces wide, with a table, three chairs, and an office armchair. The volumes of the Dictionary of Medical Science, whose pages were uncut but whose binding had suffered from all the successive sales through which they had passed, by themselves almost entirely filled the six shelves of a pine bookcase.


She had read Paul and Virgina, and she had dreamed of the little bamboo house, the Negro Domingo, the dog Faithful, but most of all of the sweet friendship of a good little brother who goes off to fetch red fruit for you from great trees taller than church steeples, or runs barefoot over the sand, bringing you a bird's nest.

At the convent there was a spinster who came every month, for a week, to work in the linen room. . . . Often the boarders would slip out of study hall to go see her. She knew by heart the love songs of the century before and would sing them softly as she plied her needle. She would tell stories, give you news, do errands for you in town, and lend the older girls, secretly, one of the novels that she always had in her apron pocket, and from which the good old maid herself would devour long chapters in the intervals of her task. They were always and only about love, lovers, paramours, persecuted ladies fainting in lonely pavilions, postilions killed at every stage, horses ridden to death on every page, gloomy forests, troubled hearts, oaths, sobs, tears, and kisses, skiffs by moonlight, nightingales in groves, gentlemen brave as lions, gentle as lambs, virtuous as no one ever is, always well dressed, and weeping like tombstone urns. And so for six months, at the age of fifteen, Emma soiled her hands with the greasy dust of those old lending libraries. With Walter Scott, later, she became enamored of things historical, dreamed of studden leather chests, guardrooms, and troubadors. She would have liked to live in some old manor, like one of those long-bodiced chatelaines who, under the refoiled ogives, would spend her days, elbow on stone sill and chin in hand, watching a white-plumed horseman come galloping from the depths of the countryside on a black horse. At that time she worshipped Mary Stuart and felt an ardent veneration for illustrious or ill-fated women. Joan of Arc, Heloise, Agnes Sorel, La Belle Ferronniere, and Clemence Isaure, for her, stood out like comets against the shadowy immensity of history, in which there still appeared here and there, but less visible in the darkness and without any relation among them, Saint Louis and his oak, Bayard dying, certain of Louis XI's ferocities, a little of Saint Bartholomew, the Bearnis's plume, and alway the memory of the painted plates on which Louis XIV was extolled.

She took out a subscription to Corbeille, a women's magazine, and to Le Sylphe des Salons. Skipping nothing, she would devour all the reports of first nights, horse races, and soirees, would take an interest in a singer's debut, the opening of a shop. She knew the latest fashions, the addresses of the good tailors, the days for going to the Bois and the Opera. In Eugene Sue, she studied descriptions of furnishings; she read Balzac and George Sand, seeking in them the imagined satisfaction of her own desires. She would bring her book with her even to the table, and she would turn the pages while Charles ate and talked to her. The memory of the Vicomte would always return to her as she read. She would find similarities between him and the invented characters. But the circle of which he was the center gradually grew larger around him, and the halo he wore, separating from his face, spread father out, illuminating other dreams.

Finally, in order to keep up to date, he took out a subscription to La Ruche Medicale, a new journal whose prospectus he had received. He would read a little of it after dinner, but the warmth of the room, in combination with his digestion, would put him to sleep after five minutes; and he would stay there, his chin on his hands and his hair spread out like a mane as far as the base of the lamp. Emma would look at him and shrug her shoulders.

Sometimes, too, she would talk to him about the things she had read, such as a passage from a novel, a new play, or the high society anecdote being recounted in the paper; for, after all, Charles was someone, always an open ear, always a ready approbation. She confided many secrets to her greyhound! She would have done the same to the logs in the fire in the fireplace and the pendulum of the clock.

"I've read everything," she would say to herself.

And she would hold the tongs in the fire till they turned red, or watch the rain fall.

--Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary (Lydia Davis translation)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Madame Bovary - First, the memories

I've read Madame Bovary before, 30 years ago in a comparative lit class in college. I remember quite a lot about about that semester--I took my first journalism class; I fulfilled my math requirement and consequently threw my statistics notebook into the  trash as I left the classroom after completing the statistics final; I got an A plus on my paper comparing Hamlet and Faust despite my T.A.'s conviction that contrasting the men was the only logical approach; my mother had her first heart attack the week before spring break and my dad was hospitalized along with her since he was at that time incapacitated with back pain. And I spent what free time I had over that spring break plowing through Hard Times, which I hated, for my history class, only to be told in the next class that time was short, and we wouldn't have to read Dickens after all. Etc.

But Madame Bovary--I'm afraid it's not a book that's stayed with me through the years. Adultry, debt, poison, mainly it's the poison that I remember since L.'s mother's Shetland sheepdog puppy ate rat poison not long after I read this--Sunny survived, incredibly enough--so I had mental reinforcement for that portion of the book, along with little sidebar memories of a carriage ride, the fact that it was reading that led Emma astray, as well as a bit of a class lecture on shifting points of view--did Flaubert start a sentence alone with Emma playing the piano and then pull out far enough to bring in the entire listening village, or is that from some other book? I honestly don't remember.

So I'm very happy Frances arranged a group read to celebrate the new Lydia Davis translation and am very curious to see if any other memories come back to me over the course of reading the book a second time.

Edited to add:

I've found the paragraph about Emma playing the piano!

In the Davis translation:

She would draw, sometimes; and Charles found it most entertaining to stand there and watch her bending over her pad, half closing her eyes to see her work better, or forming pellets of bread crumbs on her thumb. As for the piano, the faster her fingers raced, the more he marveled. She would strike the keys with assurance and run down the entire keyboard from top to bottom without stopping. When it was thus assaulted by her, the old instrument, with its buzzing strings, could be heard as far as the edge of the village if the window was open, and often the bailiff's clerk, who was passing on the main road, bareheaded and in slippers, would stop to listen, holding his piece of paper in his hand.

And from the Francis Steegmuller translation, which I orginally read:

She drew occasionally; and Charles enjoyed nothing more than standing beside her watching her bent over her sketchbook, half shutting his eyes the better to see her work, or rolling her bread-crumb erasers between his thumb and finger. As for the piano, the faster her fingers flew the more he marveled. She played with dash, swooping up and down the keyboard without a break. The strings of the old instrument jangled as she pounded, and when the window was open it could be heard to the end of the village. The huissier's clerk often stopped to listen as he passed on the road--bareheaded, shuffling along in slippers, holding in his hand the notice he was about to post.

Who's reading the original? Why don't the translators agree on who is closing their eyes, who is rolling the bread crumbs on their fingers?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Latest stack of books aka Mailbox Monday

I think it's time for a book-buying ban. Any day now it shall commence.

(Yeah, right.)

And while I usually never get my act together enough to join forces with Mailbox Monday, today is an exceptional day because I have.

David Sedaris. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk. I'm already two Sedarises behind, but I figured S. would like this.

Charles Yu. How to Live in a Science Fictional Universe. My husband started this the day it arrived. He suffers from 30-pages-or-so syndrome, usually setting books aside at that point, so the verdict is still out on whether he'll finish.

The Lydia Davis translation of Flaubert's Madame Bovary. A giveaway from Frances at Nonsuch Book, for her group read of Madame Bovary that begins on Thursday. I've already finished Part I.

Kim Wright. Love in Mid Air. A giveaway from Becca at Bookstack. Kim's local, and we were in a writing workshop together back in the early 90s, so I'm definitely looking forward to reading her first novel.

Rick Perlstein. Nixonland. Because I need more history in my life.

Ron Chernow. Washington: A Life. Can it top my favorite biography of all time, Chernow's own Alexander Hamilton?

Adam Levin. The Instructions. This book is humongous. It's supposed to combine "the crackling voice of Philip Roth with the encyclopedic mind of David Foster Wallace."

And my download finger has evidently gotten a little twitchy. I still can't figure out how Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence was ordered for the Kindle--I want to read it, yes, but I ordinarily don't buy novels that are readily available at the university library. Plus there's the fact that it's been a few months since I've even glanced at any Pamuk pages at Amazon, so it's all very weird. Could the cats have ordered it on accident?

I consciously bought Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic, since I've been intending to read for several years, and I've also acquired James Patrick Kelly's The Secret History of Science Fiction and Craig Sherbourne's Muck: A Memoir. My mother-in-law wanted several books downloaded onto her Kindle, so in the future I'll have access to the latest Sara Gruen and Julia Glass novels, if I need them.

And I surely will.

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...