Monday, April 11, 2011

Library Haul

This picture is so out-of-date. I have three books "in transit" for me at the public library, three on my desk at the university library, and four that I brought home last week.

I cannot possibly get to them all, but I'm going to try!

Journey Into the Past. Stefan Zweig.

The Last Brother. Nathacha Appanah

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives. Lola Shoneyin

The Universe in Miniature in Miniature. Patrick Somerville

Emerald City and Other Stories. Jennifer Egan

Model Home.  Eric Puchner

Thirteen Orphans. Jane Lindskold

Father of the Rain. Lily King

Red Hook Road. Ayelet Waldman

Poems. Elizabeth Bishop

Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age. Susan Jacoby

Wish You Were Here. Stewart O'Nan

The Illumination. Kevin Brockmeier

When the Killing's Done. T.C. Boyle

Ship Breaker. Paolo Bacigalupi

The Empty Family. Colm Toibin

The Collected Stories. Grace Paley

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


My hopes to keep my book purchases within the 2-4 books a month range have been dashed. I've received three books--David Foster Wallace's The Pale King, Diana Wynne Jones's Fire and Hemlock, and Sarah Blakewell's How to Live--since the photo was taken and expect a couple more within a few days.

In Great Waters. Kit Whitfield. Mermaids! Alternative history! I've had this on my wish list since it made the top ten of 2010 at Eve's Alexandria.

Purple Hibiscus. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Read for the staff book club at the library--but the book club dissolved before the discussion took place. Long story short, it was also the latest selection for the campus-wide book club, which met this afternoon. Good group, good discussion, and I put in a few good words for Half of a Yellow Sun.

The Aleph and Other Stories. Jorge Luis Borges. The idea of Borges scares me, but when I went to Borders to buy Purple Hibiscus and Purple Hibiscus wasn't there, I had to justify the trip somehow. . .

A Novel Bookstore. Laurence Cosse. From the Borders trip--a Slaves of Golconda suggested title.

The Yacoubian Building. Alaa Al Aswany. From the Borders trip--a Slaves of Golconda suggested title.

Going Out. Scarlett Thomas. An early Thomas. From the used bookstore here in town.

The Plot Against America. Philip Roth. I can't believe I haven't read this yet; a find from the used bookstore.

This Vacant Paradise. Victoria Patterson. I've already read, and enjoyed greatly, this contemporary retelling of The House of Mirth.

The Autograph Man. Zadie Smith. John recommended this to me ages ago. Whatever happened to John?

Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. James Tiptree Jr. Tiptree's one of the science fiction authors mentioned in Among Others, and since I'd read a Tiptree story a few years back and enjoyed it, I therefore concluded I ought to read more.

Princes in the Land. Joanna Cannan. I can't believe I actually got this book! I've tried ordering it from Book Depository at least twice before and my order would always wind up cancelled. I practically lunged when I saw it was back in stock.

The Wise Virgins. Leonard Woolf. A used copy with only a bit of a coffee stain. . .

The Vet's Daughter. Barbara Comyns. This has been on my wish list for years; reading Who was Changed and Who was Dead moved it into the shopping cart.

Irretrievable. Theodor Fontane. One of the latest releases from NYRB.

Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripedes. Anne Carson, trans. Sasha's review influenced this purchase.

The Towers of Trebizond. Rose Macaulay. Because of the famous first sentence about the camel.

Morte D'Urban. J. F. Powers. I think this was the first NYRB I've come across at the used bookstore.

Anathem. Neal Stephenson. A rainy afternoon spent browsing at Barnes and Noble and I come home with this. I think I must have been trying to get the most words for my money. Should I read Anathem or Quicksilver first?

Minding Frankie. Maeve Binchy. Review copy.

Monday, April 04, 2011

The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard

A conscious act of independent humanity is what society can least afford. If they once let that in, there'd be no end to it.

--Ted Tice, in The Transit of Venus

Although I had never heard of Shirley Hazzard before The Great Fire won the National Book Award back in 2003, I was so keen to read it afterwards that I plucked it from a cart down in tech services instead of waiting for it to make its way upstairs and out onto the library floor. It turned out to be a tough read, with its "often oblique writing style, more implication than explanation," as I wrote, after finishing it, at Live Journal. Till then I'd never read such elliptical writing, and while I determined that I did want to attempt The Transit of Venus, her previous novel that she'd published all the way back in 1980, I was of the opinion that Edward P. Jones' The Known World should have won the NBA. I'm a sucker for anachrony, especially flashforwards, and Jones left me swooning with his ability to go forward, backward, all in the same paragraph.

Had I known that Hazzard would hinge the reader's comprehension of what takes place at the end of The Transit of Venus on a couple of flashforwards, I'm sure I'd have quit intending to read it--someday, when my brain's up for it-- and actually read it long before now.

The Transit of Venus requires a lot of effort, a lot of focus, from the reader. Being me, I raced through it in a weekend, pencil both asterisking and underlining excessive sentences and paragraphs for further study. I'd read enough of several reviews to know that the ending tripped people up, that a line on the first page that seemed a throwaway at the time was of vital importance, and with that heightened awareness--somehow, that dead body under the bridge, mentioned briefly in the newspaper, is going to come back up--and my own love for flashforwards, I reached the end with a fairly good big picture understanding of what had taken place. Since then, I've been going back through the pages, rereading what I'd marked and noticing many many other glints of literary gold I'd previously missed, foreshadowings and insights and sentences that made more sense now that I was looking at them from the proper angle. Not that I feel that I've mastered the material, but that I'm sure that it's worth my time to read again.

And it seems a fitting book to be reading now, when I'm also reading A Visit from the Goon Squad (another book that breaks your heart in its flashforwards), so I can think how two writers concerned with what's left out, what's told slant, manage to create characters and stories that aren't reduced to the status of second fiddle.

Please join the Slaves of Golconda discussion of The Transit of Venus here and here.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

What I've been reading lately

I know, I know, I've been absent around these parts and I do feel guilty. I know what causes me to feel burned out on blogging and yet I still find it difficult not to be distracted by the malaise of other bloggers, by outbreaks of drama, usually from areas of the book blogging community that have little or no bearing on my own, by the realization that I'd much rather read than write a review designed to market product (and I am putting it that bluntly because I chanced upon a comment by a book blogger who said that's what she does--product reviews) for an industry that's found a source of free labor. Labor, of course, that is discounted, disparaged, demeaned by those who may or not--that's still hotly debated--benefit.

I just want to read, record my thoughts on what I read. I want to read blogs by other readers who do the same, who are more interested in recommending and discussing books than marketing them, than marketing themselves. (And watch me turn right around later this week with a giveaway from a publisher.) I want to follow Twitter links directly to interesting posts and articles, not be taken on a detour to a blogger's Tumblr posts that do nothing but repeat the tweet (and up stats across all social media) before sending you on to the full post elsewhere. What I want out of blogging is definitely not what other bloggers want.

Although I know all this, I'm too often sidetracked. My suspicion is that's related to how cruddy I've been feeling for quite some time: I find myself reading the stuff that irritates me, to justify how I feel. A couple weeks back, after two days of severe facial pain due to an especially potent crop of spring pollen, I broke down and went to the doctor. Since I was there, I mentioned how frequent and unpredictable my migraines had come, how often I felt overcome by feelings of free-floating rage--surely, menopause had to be right around the corner to account for this upheaval, right? My doctor kept asking questions until she determined that what I'd been seeing as purely a hormonal issue was actually due to lack of sleep. Bingo: I'd told L. months ago that I felt as sleep-deprived as I had when the kids were babies; I'd become so accustomed to it that I'd ceased to see it as a problem.

So, a sleep aid. I'm off caffeine. My sugar craving's gone. I've still not achieved eight hours  more than a time or two, but I'm managing to go back to sleep when I wake in the middle of the night, I'm getting enough sleep to dream again. It feels pretty wonderful.

To help regain my blogging mojo, I've started reading through my favorite bloggers' archives and will continue to do so because it's turning out to be even more fun than I'd expected.

And now for the books I read in March:

Louise Penny's The Brutal Telling. My friend C. has raved about Bury Your Dead, and I read this in prep for reading its follow-up. Hated it. I have certain pet peeves, and one of the biggies is Shifting Perspective. Penny played hopscotch through her characters' heads--a sentence or two from one's perspective, a sentence or two from another's, and on and on, until we're even briefly privy to a horse's thoughts. C. laughed at me when I ranted about this, but B.S. said she didn't like shifting viewpoint either and that Penny doesn't  do it in Bury Your Dead. I did like the duck and the trip to Queen Charlotte Islands, however.

Jean Silber's The Art of Time in Fiction, from the Art of series. I'd like to read the rest of the series, but I didn't like this near as Charles Baxter's The Art of Subtext. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for it?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus. I was pleased when the library staff book club chose Adichie, but alas, the club was disbanded before the discussion took place. Very much a first novel--the main character narrates a scene she wasn't on hand to witness and the first person perspective keeps us from learning why the Catholic father would repeatedly beat his wife until she aborted (even crazy religious fundamentalism doesn't account for that)--but a noteworthy debut nonetheless.

Steve Yarbrough's Safe from the Neighbors. The Tournament of Books crowd would label this one a White Male Fuck Up novel and there were several occasions when I wished someone would smack the main character/narrator upside the head. But it's also an interesting look at the contemporary South, at how thinking someone's a good guy merely because he isn't a racist, or someone's bad because he is, is ultimately an inadequate way of judging your fellow man (or self). Plus, there's an incredible set piece the Ole Miss library involving a deer that's crashed through a glass window that I'm glad I didn't miss.

Jo Walton's Among Others. Loved, loved, loved this. A fantasy novel that sings the praises of science fiction, a coming-of-age story that takes place in the aftermath of the story most authors would have chosen to tell instead of this one. Loved following the links about the book back to Walton's Live Journal and reading the discussion between Walton and Pamela Dean on whether fan fic between the worlds in Among Others and Tam Lin could sync up, as well as the original post that was the genesis of the book.

John Wyndham's The Chrysalids. One of the myriad books mentioned in Among Others, and one I happened to have on hand. Genetic mutations in a dystopian community where religious fundamentalism runs rampant. I want to read more Wyndham.

Barbara Comyns' Who was Changed and Who was Dead. I read Our Spoons Came from Woolworths years ago, but this was quite different. A flood, a very peculiar family, ergot poisoning. I'll want to read it again, after I've read the rest of Comyns' work.

William Faulkner's Spotted Horses. Reviewed for the Classics Circuit.

Victoria Patterson's This Vacant Paradise. I ordered this immediately after reading Kate Christensen's review. I love modern takes on classics, particularly when the writer takes inspiration from, instead of strick adherence to, the original. Patterson does this beautifully with this Southern California retelling of The House of Mirth.

Shirley Hazzard's The Transit of Venus. For the Slaves of Golconda discussion at the end of the week. All I'll say now is that I loved it.

Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth. Because of the Patterson and because it had been at least a decade since I first read it. It holds up.

And now I'm going to try to stay current with what I'm reading instead of letting everything languish.

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...