Saturday, November 29, 2014 · 8:35 pm
I’ve got a few things to mention here, and the first is that the next pick for the Slaves of Golconda reading group is Barbara Comyns’s novel The Vet’s Daughter. Everyone is welcome to join in the discussion, which will begin on January 15th.
The next is that I’m proud to announce my good friend and cycling partner, Megan Searfoss, has published a book on running, called See Mom Run!
I helped Megan edit the book and so have had a chance to read an early version of it, and I can say that it’s perfect for anyone who wants to start or improve their running but has time limitations, whether those limitations come from motherhood or some other source. Megan is an amazing person — an incredible athlete, coach, business owner, mother, friend, and now author — and she 0ffers great advice and inspiration in the book. If running interests you, check it out!
The next thing to mention is I celebrated Small Business Saturday by visiting a local bookstore (of course) and got to meet Roz Chast, cartoonist for the New Yorker. I’ve laughed at her cartoons for ages, and loved asking her to sign my copy of her latest book, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, which Hobgoblin is chuckling over at this very moment. Along with her at the bookstore was crime novelist Peter Spiegelman, and so I picked up the first of three books in a series, Black Maps. The only shopping I ever do on the post-Thanksgiving weekend is book shopping (I hardly ever do any other kind, actually), and I love, love, love the newly-born tradition of having authors in bookstores during the weekend to sign books and make recommendations. By the way, I made sure to get recommendations from both authors, and while I felt like I was already spending too much money and so didn’t actually buy these books this time, their recommendations are now on my list: Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters from Roz Chast, and Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell from Peter Spiegelman.
And now, since it’s been forever since I’ve written abo0ut my recent reading, here’s the shortest of short round-ups:
- Joanna Ruocco’s novel Dan: strange with wonderful writing, sort of post-apocalyptic-but-not-really, surreal. It made me start the book over from the beginning once I’d finished.
- Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss: not for the faint of heart. A memoir about incest, beautifully written, very disturbing, fascinating.
- Blake Butler’s 300,000,000: I bailed on this one. It was darker and stranger than I could handle at the moment, but it might be something I return to later.
- Ian McEwan’s The Children Act: I liked this one — lots to think about, a slow-paced novel that stayed compelling all the way through.
- Karen Green’s Bough Down: a mix of prose poetry and art. So basically unclassifiable, and absolutely gorgeous. I’ll be reading this one again. A grief memoir about the loss of her husband.
- Heather Lewis’s Notice: another one not for the faint of heart. Seriously. But if you want to think about the darker side of sexuality, it’s great.
- Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s Ruined by Reading: A Life in Books. I enjoyed this. It won’t make my best-of list when it comes to books about books, but it was still fun.
- Attica Locke’s Black Water Rising: a mystery book group pick, and very good. A good story, strong characters, and about themes that are both always important and particularly pertinent right now: power, money, race, labor, oil.
- E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars: A YA novel, and a lot of fun, with good plot twists and turns.
- Lee Ki-Ho’s At Least We Can Apologize: part of Dalkey Archive’s series of Korean novels. Darkly comic social satire; I laughed and winced my way through this. It has a great premise and a lot to say about power and violence.
Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends, and happy weekend to everyone else!
Thursday, November 20, 2014 · 9:05 pm
Here is the post I just put up on the Slaves of Golconda site. If you are at all interested, head on over to that blog and vote!
Rohan got the ball rolling on choosing another book, and I volunteered to come up with a list for us to vote on, so here goes! But first, an explanation: this group is open to absolutely anybody who wants to participate. You don’t need to do anything to join us except to read the book and participate in the discussion in whatever way you want to. That could include something as simple as reading along and commenting on the posts here, or perhaps publishing a post on your own blog, or possibly publishing a post on this site. Leave a comment here if you’d like to publish a post on this blog, and we’ll figure out how to get that done.
For this round, I thought about what books I’d like to discuss with you all the most, and for some reason books from the 1950s were coming to mind. So, here’s a list of titles I think we might enjoy. Let’s vote by next Wednesday, November 26th. Perhaps we could discuss the book on or around January 15th? I thought that date was far enough away to give us plenty of time to read and also enough after the holidays that they won’t interfere. If anyone thinks another date would be better, though, just let me know.
So, vote for your choice in the comments!
- Mary McCarthy’s Memories of a Catholic Girlhood (1957): “Tempering memory with invention, McCarthy describes how, orphaned at six, she spent much of her childhood shuttled between two sets of grandparents and three religions—Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish. One of four children, she suffered abuse at the hands of her great-aunt and uncle until she moved to Seattle to be raised by her maternal grandparents. Early on, McCarthy lets the reader in on her secret: The chapter you just read may not be wholly reliable—facts have been distilled through the hazy lens of time and distance.”
- Barbara Comyns, The Vet’s Daughter (1959): “The Vet’s Daughter combines shocking realism with a visionary edge. The vet lives with his bedridden wife and shy daughter Alice in a sinister London suburb. He works constantly, captive to a strange private fury, and treats his family with brutality and contempt. After his wife’s death, the vet takes up with a crass, needling woman who tries to refashion Alice in her own image. And yet as Alice retreats ever deeper into a dream world, she discovers an extraordinary secret power of her own.”
- James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain (1953): “First published in 1953 when James Baldwin was nearly 30, Go Tell It on the Mountain is a young man’s novel, as tightly coiled as a new spring, yet tempered by a maturing man’s confidence and empathy. It’s not a long book, and its action spans but a single day–yet the author packs in enough emotion, detail, and intimate revelation to make his story feel like a mid-20th-century epic. Using as a frame the spiritual and moral awakening of 14-year-old John Grimes during a Saturday night service in a Harlem storefront church, Baldwin lays bare the secrets of a tormented black family during the depression.”
- Yukio Mishima, Temple of the Golden Pavilion (1956): “Because of the boyhood trauma of seeing his mother make love to another man in the presence of his dying father, Mizoguchi becomes a hopeless stutterer. Taunted by his schoolmates, he feels utterly alone until he becomes an acolyte at a famous temple in Kyoto. He quickly becomes obsessed with the beauty of the temple. Even when tempted by a friend into exploring the geisha district, he cannot escape its image. In the novel’s soaring climax, he tries desperately to free himself from his fixation.”
- Ira Levin, A Kiss Before Dying (1953): “A Kiss Before Dying not only debuted the talent of best-selling novelist Ira Levin to rave reviews and an Edgar Award, it also set a new standard in the art of psychological suspense. It tells the shocking tale of a young man who will stop at nothing—not even murder—to get where he wants to go. For he has dreams, plans. He also has charm, good looks, intelligence. And he has a problem. Her name is Dorothy; she loves him, and she’s pregnant. The solution may demand desperate measures. But, then, he looks like the kind of guy who could get away with murder.”
Friday, November 7, 2014 · 8:47 pm
Yesterday I had the great pleasure of finally meeting in person my long-time internet friend Michelle Bailat-Jones, whom you may know from the blog Pieces. She recently published her novel Fog Island Mountains and is traveling in the U.S. to promote the book. She appeared at the Center for Fiction last night to do a reading and reception. The Center for Fiction is a lovely venue, a small bookstore with a cozy, comfortable space for events upstairs. It was my second visit to the center and the first for an event, and I hope to return frequently in the future. Michelle’s reading was great, and in chatting with her afterwards, I realized that we both had been blogging since 2006, which means we’ve been internet friends for a long time now.
I was able to get an ebook version of Michelle’s novel before it actually came out, and so could go to the reading with the novel already finished. And what a great novel it is. I read it avidly and was caught up in the story as well as the beautiful writing. The novel tells the tale of a couple in a small town in Japan and their attempts to deal with terrifying news: that Alec, the husband, has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Alec’s wife, Kanae, responds by running away — fleeing from the situation in ways both literal and metaphorical. How can one deal with the news that one’s husband will certainly die very soon? Mirroring Alec and Kanae’s emotional turbulence is the arrival of a typhoon that shakes their town and disrupts their attempts to come to terms with their new circumstances. The story is hers and Alec’s, but it’s also their children’s story, and even more so the story of an elderly woman Azami, who is the novel’s narrator. Azami is a mysterious figure who knows everything there is to know about the town (or she seems to at least) and watches over its inhabitants as well as healing hurt animals that come into her area. She hovers over the whole novel, occasionally telling her own story but also slipping into the minds and voices of the other characters to narrate their lives. The movement between Azami’s story and those of the other characters is seamless. There is an incantatory feel to the sentences, which are often made up of phrases piled on phrases, as though casting a spell over the reader. This passage gives you a good sense of the experience of reading the book:
It is evening now in our little town and the winds have settled, for now, for a few hours, while they regroup and gather off shore and over the ocean, preparing for their fury, but for now we are quiet, we can watch the sky and only wonder how it all will come about, and so now Alec is at his home, he has finished his afternoon classes at his little English juku, he has walked through town — past the butcher, past the new supermarket, past the garden shop, and past me where I was standing and waiting at the corner for the light to change; he even waved me a quiet hello.
From this paragraph, you can see how Azami positions herself in relation to the other characters, as a part of things, with intimate knowledge of what is happening, but still at a distance. You can also see how the prose pulls you in with its rhythms, and how this one long sentence quietly captures a full scene.
It’s all beautifully done, and I hope this book finds many readers. It’s off to a good start as the winner of the Center for Fiction’s Christopher Doheny Award. Many congratulations to Michelle!