The NYTBR, 16 June 2013

Congratulations to the following writers/contributors, who made this issue of the NYTBR worth reading (Although self is still canceling her subscription):

Elaine Blair * Jeannette Walls *  Donovan Hohn * Justin Cronin *

Elaine Blair’s review of What Do Women Want?  Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, by Daniel Bergner was the title page review.  Blair’s review made self want to read Bergner’s previous book, The Other Side of Desire.  See, it is so interesting that a man is responsible for doing all this research into female desire.  Self fully expected that a woman scientist would produce the first comprehensive look at this fascinating topic.  But then, why can’t it be a man?  Men, after all, are just as affected by feminine desire as women are!  Onward.

The “By the Book” interview is a good one.  It’s with memoirist Jeannette Walls (There was one time the “By the Book” interviewee was Amanda Knox, she who was jailed in Italy for several years after being convicted of the murder of her roommate.  What on earth the NYTBR thought they were doing when they interviewed Amanda Knox about her favorite books is still a profound mystery to self)

Jeannette Walls’ favorite book “of all time” is The End of the Affair, by Graham Greene.

Recently, she was impressed by A House in the Sky, by Amanda Lindhout, a memoir about Lindhout’s time spent “kidnapped in Somalia.”  In addition, Walls recommends the following memoirs:  In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, by Neil White; The Memory Palace, by Mira Bartok; Denial, by Jessica Stern; A Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah; An Unquiet Mind, by Kay Redfield Jamison; Chanel Bonfire, by Wendy Lawless; The Center Cannot Hold, by Elyn Saks; After Visiting Friends, by Michael Haimey; The Kiss, by Kathryn Harrison (Self has read this one; it’s about Harrison’s affair with her father); My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor; Couldn’t Keep It to Myself:  Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution, edited by Wally Lamb.

The book that “had the greatest impact on” Walls when she was growing up was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Donovan Hohn reviewed The Riddle of the Labyrinth:  The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code, by Margalit Fox.  It is wonderful to read that the “gentleman archaeologist who led the excavation at Knossos” on the island of Crete brought along for sustenance “two dozen tins of ox tongue, 12 plum puddings and a Union Jack.”  Hohn also brings up the term “hash marks” which then leads self to wonder how far we have come, from markings on an ancient tomb in Crete to Twitter.

Finally, there is Justin Cronin, who reviews “the world’s first 9/11 werewolf book,” Red Moon, by Benjamin Percy.  Here we are in a world where “lycans” (werewolves, for you non-initiates or total ignoramuses) are confined to a reservation on a “discouraging patch of permafrost in northern Scandinavia, currently under American military occupation to safeguard its valuable training resources.”  A majority of Americans goes about their business peaceably under “mandated medication — a mind-dulling silver-infused concoction wittily named Volpexx.” Sold!  How soon can self get her hands on this book?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Inspired by Stephen King Interview in Vanity Fair, October 2013

Today, self lugged around the huge September 2013 issue of Vanity Fair, the one with Kate Upton and her magnificent, hydraulic chest on the cover.  She had to remind herself to turn it over so that it wouldn’t cause anyone to do a double-take.

The Proust Questionnaire is with Stephen King, one of her absolute faves.  One of the questions was:

Who are your favorite writers?

King responded:  Cormac McCarthy, John Le Carré, John Sandford, Margaret Atwood, Michael Connolly, Lee Child, Ruth Rendell, Patricia Highsmith, Larry McMurtry . . .

The list causes self to think back.  Specifically, to the books she read in 2012.  Which ones stood out in her memory?

  • Caesar:  Life of a Colossus, by Adrian Goldsworthy
  • Atonement, by Ian McEwan
  • The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, by Jennifer 8. Lee
  • Human Smoke, by Nicholson Baker
  • The Mezzanine, by Nicholson Baker
  • How Doctors Think, by Jerome Groopman, M.D.
  • The Beautiful and The Damned, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Finder, by Colin Harrison (This one she read in, of all places, PARIS)
  • I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Essays About Being a Woman, by Nora Ephron
  • The Last Empress, by Anchee Min
  • A Voyage Long and Strange:  Rediscovering the New World, by Tony Horwitz
  • Dreams From My Father, by Barack Obama
  • Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, by Rhoda Janzen
  • Loot:  The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World, by Sharon Waxman

So far this year, the most memorable books self has read are:

  • The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
  • Fiasco:  The American Military Adventure in Iraq, by Thomas E. Ricks
  • La’s Orchestra Saves the World, by Alexander McCall Smith
  • A Passage to India, by E. M. Forster
  • Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
  • The Quiet American, by Graham Greene
  • The Leopard, by Giuseppe di Lampedusa
  • Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser
  • Little Heathens:  Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression, by Mildred Armstrong Kalish
  • Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson
  • Don Quijote, by Miguel de Cervantes, in a translation by Burton Raffel
  • Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Human Factor, by Graham Greene
  • In Praise of Messy Lives, by Katie Roiphe

Perusing the two lists, the authors self might describe as her favorites are:  Nicholson Baker, Jerome Groopman, Anchee Min, Tony Horwitz, Gretchen Rubin, E. M. Forster, Hilary Mantel, Graham Greene, Giuseppe di Lampedusa, Theodore Dreiser, Miguel de Cervantes, Leo Tolstoy, and Katie Roiphe.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

In Honor of the Day: War Literature or Matters Related Thereto

Below, books self has recently read that touch on some aspect of war.  The list contains a mix of fiction, memoir, and nonfiction:

102 Minutes:  The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers, by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn

Agent Zigzag, by Ben Macintyre

A Life in Secrets:  Vera Atkins and the Missing Agents of World War II, by Sarah Helm

A Long, Long Way, by Sebastian Barry

Atonement, by Ian McEwan

Dunkirk:  Fight to the Last Man, by Hugh Sebag-Montefiore

Eichmann in Jerusalem, by Hannah Arendt

Falling Through the Earth, by Danielle Trussoni

Homecoming, by Bernhard Schlink

Human Smoke, by Nicholson Baker

Imperial Life in the Emerald City, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran

Legacy of Ashes:  The History of the CIA, by Tim Weiner

Loot:  The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World, by Sharon Waxman

Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson

Sepharad, by Antonio Muñoz Molina

The 9/11 Commission Final Report

The Annals of Imperial Rome, by Tacitus

The Assault, by Harry Mulisch

The Bookseller of Kabul, by Asne Seierstad

The Coming of the Third Reich, by Richard J. Evans

The Emperor’s Children, by Claire Messud

The Great War and Modern Memory, by Paul Fussell

The Quiet American, by Graham Greene

The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink

Virgil’s The Aeneid, translated by Robert Fagles

The Summer in Books

Here are the books self read this summer (She starts her summer in June and considers it over by 1st of September):

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard:  Self tried manfully, but she just couldn’t bring herself to finish.

Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser:  She has encountered more than a few people who say they have never heard of Theodore Dreiser.  She loved this novel.

The Leopard, by Giuseppe di Lampedusa:  People had heard of the movie; they didn’t know it was based on an actual novel.  Self thought this novel was beautiful.  Note for note, the most ravishing book she’s read so far this year.

The Great Gatsby:  Bad.  A major disappointment, one of the worst ever.

The Quiet American, by Graham Greene:  Felt like it could have been written today, substituting Afghanistan for 1950s Vietnam.  It was all the things Gatsby wasn’t:  tightly written, surprising, harsh, and tremendously sad.

Wolf Hall, by Hillary Mantel:  A miracle.  Made her hate Thomas More, a historical figure she once revered (because of Paul Scofield’s performance in “A Man For All Seasons”).

The book self just started is Love and Summer, by William Trevor.  She was so glad she began reading it while it is still summer.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

THE QUIET AMERICAN, by Graham Greene, p. 29 (Penguin Classics Edition, Intro by Robert Stone)

Cover Detail, The Quiet American (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)

Cover Detail, The Quiet American (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)

The narrator, a British journalist, and his Vietnamese girlfriend, Phuong, have just made the acquaintance of a young American named Pyle.  The setting is Vietnam in the last days of French colonial rule (sometime 1950s).

Self adores the writing.  Especially after the flighty, swoony prose of The Great Gatsby, which had her gritting her teeth with annoyance (She did read to the very end, though — which means Fitzgerald did exert some kind of hold on her imagination)

But let’s quit with the digressions and get to the excerpt from Greene:

This was a land of rebellious barons.  It was like Europe in the Middle Ages.  But what were the Americans doing here?  Columbus had not yet discovered their country.  I said to Phuong, “I like that fellow, Pyle.”

“He’s quiet,” she said, and the adjective which she was the first to use stuck like a schoolboy name, till I heard even Vigot use it, sitting there with his green eye-shade, telling me of Pyle’s death.

I stopped our trishaw outside the Chalet and said to Phuong, “Go in and find a table.  I had better look after Pyle.”  That was my first instinct — to protect him.  It never occurred to me that there was greater need to protect myself.  Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we would be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it:  innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.

Swoon, swoon, swoon.

Stay tuned.

SISTER CARRIE

Self finished reading it today.  Afterwards, early evening, she sat and watched two brown birds fighting each other over the bird feeder.

SPOILER ALERT!

The last 100 or so pages of Sister Carrie were excruciating, because it took such a long time for Hurstwood to die.  First, the man became completely passive, child-like, wanting Carrie to cut down food intake so as to make it possible for them both to live off her salary as a member of a chorus line.  Carrie, being a creature of some perspicacity (and also beauty: almost all her advantages are somehow derived from that), loses all respect for him, but what makes the last fourth of the book so painful is watching how passively Hurstwood takes her rejection.  Thankfully, Carrie is not the brooding sort:  after she makes the decision to leave him, she doesn’t bother herself with thoughts of his fate.  (But, self couldn’t help wondering, what will happen when Carrie herself grows old?)  So we just follow along, watching Hurstwood’s descent.

At the same time that self found the disintegration of Hurstwood’s personality truly appalling, she couldn’t look away.  She had to read all the way to the bitter end.

Self tends to read the classics at odd moments in her life.  For instance, soon after she’d started in the Stanford Creative Writing Program, she decided that she must read Lord Jim and Moby Dick, while everyone else was reading Raymond Carver or Flannery O’Connor.  Then, while she was pregnant, she remembers reading (and loving) War and Peace and wanting to name son after Prince Andrei Bolkonski. Then she carted along to Stanford Hospital, where she delivered Sole Fruit of Her Loins, Bleak House. In retrospect, what woman in her right mind chooses to read Bleak House at such a moment?  Just as well she had no visitors.  She was able to read for two whole days.  The nurses simply could not believe how self could read with such dedication.  Later, while son was a mere infant, she remembers reading (and loving) Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker.  She gave a copy to son when he was 12, but though appropriately grateful, he declined to crack the cover.  It sits now, in virginal pristine condition, on a shelf in son’s room.

And now to 2013:

In the cold of February this year, she tackled Graham Greene’s The Human Factor.  Self has read Greene before, but this time, a slim novel that would usually take her a few days to get through ended up taking almost two weeks (Loved it)

Her next classic was Anna Karenina.  Holy cow, that book took her a whole month to get through.  Strangely, she did not find herself loathing Vronsky.  Afterwards, she rented the Keira Knightley movie from Netflix.  Awful.  The most ludicrous movie she has ever seen.  Worse even than The Lair of the White Worm, directed by Ken Russell.  She can’t even begin to describe . . .

But, onward!

She was going to re-read War and Peace, but that would have taken half a year, and she was shortly to leave for Venice.  Instead, she tackled Don Quijote, finishing just two days before leaving on her trip.  That was the most incredible novel.  At first, she didn’t think she’d like it, because everyone has decided (from the very beginning) that Don Quijote is mad.  And she doesn’t like reading 900-page novels about people who’ve already been diagnosed.  But things got interesting when Sancho Panza entered the mix.  Then, the book became a work of pure pathos.  And on almost every page, self found herself laughing out loud.  Just ask The Man, he’ll tell you.

The next book on her reading list is The Leopard, by Giuseppe di Lampedusa.  What a title!  She loves it almost as much as she does the title of the Kafka story, “The Hunger Artist.”  In the foreword to The Leopard, di Lampedusa grumbled that he couldn’t “do a Ulysses.”  So he decided to set his sights on a more attainable goal:  describing “twenty-four hours in the life of my great-grandfather, the day Garibaldi landed.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Self’s Reading Life (February 2013 Edition)

Self finished Graham Greene’s The Human Factor last night.

BTW, the words “the human factor” never occur at all in the book.  But they so aptly sum up the story.

Every word of this novel is absolutely necessary.  Not a bit of flab anywhere.  It is as hard and tight as a drum.

Before this, the best mystery self read was Morag Joss’s Half-Broken Things (which, strangely, Blackwells didn’t carry.  Self was so confused:  she kept telling the salespeople at Blackwells how much she loved Morag Joss, who is Scottish though she teaches in England).  She read Half-Broke Things several years ago, and never read a “genre” book that came close (though Ruth Rendell has been closing).

Gad, did Graham Greene ever nail it, though.  He nailed it!  Self forgot everything while she was reading the closing pages, and when she read the last sentence, it caught her heart in a vice.

Then, self began reading the next book on her shelf, which was The Black Count, by Tom Reiss, about the general who fathered the writer Alexandre Dumas, and who was the model for the Count of Monte Cristo.  Of course, it was so fascinating to read the opening pages and to realize that the author of such swashbuckling tales as The Three Musketeers was a mulatto (His father, a general who fought alongside Bonaparte, was the son of a French marquis and a slave.)  But she kept itching to put the book aside in favor of Anna Karenina (which self has never read –  no, never)

This evening, self took a quick peek at Anna Karenina (the Modern Library version).  She skipped the Intro and the Preface, as she doesn’t want anything to spoil her response to the work itself.  She went to Chapter 1 and read:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Everything was in confusion in the Oblonsky household.  The wife had discovered that the husband was carrying on an affair with their former French governess, and she had announced to her husband that she could not go on living in the same house with him.

Tolstoy is such a card.  Though the events described above are supposedly tragic, there is such wry humor in the way he phrases “she had announced to her husband that she could not go on living in the same house with him.”  As if, duty demanded no less of the wife, though it seems all for show.  For if no one else had noticed, the wife probably wouldn’t have been able to muster such a definitive break.

Reading this, self determines to return to The Black Count, for she wants to put off the pleasure of beginning Anna Karenina, for as long as possible.  Self is a devoted practitioner of the Art of Delayed Gratification.

Other classics self hopes to tackle in 2013:

  • War and Peace (She read this aaaages ago.  When she was expecting)
  • Don Quixote (She made several half-hearted attempts to begin this book while growing up in Manila.  Maybe now that three decades in America have cleared her head, maybe now she can actually finish it)
  • The Portrait of a Lady (She read this after she got to the States.  But would like to refresh her memory)

Self hardly reads novels anymore; last year, she read only 20, and most of them happened to be mysteries (except for Ian McEwan, Nicholson Baker, and F. Scott F).  But this year’s gotten off to a tremendous start, for The Human Factor positively slayed her.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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