Reviewing the Reading List

So, last year self read nine books. Nine.

The only reason she knows this is, she decided to keep tallies by posting on Goodreads.

There was a time when she averaged reading 60 books a year.

That was as recent as five, six years ago.

The book she’s almost done reading (only about 20 pages to go!) Hakan Nesser’s Woman with Birthmark, is indeed very exciting, but she decided to look ahead, to the books she plans to read for the rest of the year, and none of them are light reading. In fact, some sound downright depressing. But depressing books do not depress self, go figure (though they may very well depress the readers of this blog, since she always blogs about what she is currently reading). Here are the books on her plate for 2015, after she’s done with Woman with Birthmark:

  • Silas Marner, by George Eliot (She took an advance peak: gulp. Though the Everyman Library edition only has a little over 200 pages, the text is so dense. Hardly a line of dialogue. It’s going to take her forever.)
  • Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin (This is about Irish immigrants. Self expects her visit to Ireland last year will definitely come in handy)
  • 2066, by Roberto Bolaño (The last time she read Bolaño was in Bacolod. And did it ever unleash a flood of work from her. She thinks Bolaño and Murakami are her go-to authors for angst-y narrative)
  • Tree of Smoke, by Denis Johnson (Much about drinking and other macho high jinks)
  • Excursions to the Equator, by Mark Twain (Self is really looking forward to this one, as she loves Mark Twain. And loves travel books)
  • The Third Reich at War, by Richard Evans (Self has a definite weakness for World War II and Holocaust literature. She remembers forcing son to take an elective called Literature of Witness when he was in Sacred Heart, simply so that she could have access to the class reading list. This one’s a whopper of a book: the paperback is 656 pages. Which means it will probably take her the rest of the year to finish. And she’ll be trundling it all over the place, which will put undoubtable strain on her shoulders and forearms. But it’s been a long long time since her last World War II book. She feels a definite almost-nostalgia for the period)

P.S. Self was on her way to order take-out fish and chips from Patterson’s Pub, but she mentioned her destination to someone who said Trillium’s fish and chips were better. It’s only about a block away. Exciting!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

NYTBR Holiday Books Issue (2013)

Did self ever mention how humongous her PILE OF STUFF is? LOL. Self has no clue how it got that big.

Nevertheless, she is making inroads.

Today, she finally gets to the huge December 2013 issue of The New York Times Book Review.

It is, naturally, full of reviews of interesting books self wants to add to her reading list. And it has the annual “100 Notable Books List.” A couple of selections from that list:

Fiction

  1. Bleeding Edge, by Thomas Pynchon (Penguin, $28.95)
  2. The Color Master: Stories, by Aimee Bender (Doubleday, $25.95)
  3. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, by Anthony Marra (Hogarth, $26)
  4. Dirty Love, by Andre Dubus III (Norton, $25.95)
  5. Duplex, by Kathryn Davis (Graywolf, $24)
  6. The Good Lord Bird, by James McBride (Riverhead, $27.95)
  7. The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, by Andrew Sean Greer (Ecco/HarperCollins, $26.99)
  8. The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton (Little, Brown, $27)
  9. A Marker to Measure Drift, by Alexander Maksik (Knopf, $24.95)
  10. Submergence, by J. M. Ledgard (Coffee House, $15.95)
  11. Want Not, by Jonathan Miles (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26)
  12. Woke Up Lonely, by Fiona Maazel (Graywolf, $26)

Nonfiction

  1. The Barbarous Years, The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600 – 1675, by Bernard Bailyn (Knopf, $35)
  2. The Boy Detective: A New York Childhood, by Roger Rosenblatt (Ecco/HarperCollins, $19.99)
  3. The Faraway Nearby, by Rebecca Solnit (Viking, $25.95)
  4. Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, by Sheri Fink (Crown, $27)
  5. A House in the Sky, by Amanda Lindhout (Scribner, $27)
  6. Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death, by Katy Butler (Scribner, $25)
  7. Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery, by Robert Kolker (Harper, $25.99)
  8. Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures, by Mary Ruefle (Wave Books, $25)
  9. Miss Anne in Harlem: The White Women of the Black Renaissance, by Carla Kaplan (Harper, $28.99)
  10. Thank You for Your Service, by David Finkel (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26)
  11. This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America’s Gilded Capital, by Mark Leibovich (Blue Rider, $27.95)
  12. Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala (Knopf, $24)

There’s also:

  • The Most of Nora Ephron, a collection of her essays (Knopf, $35)
  • A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London, and New York, by Anjelica Huston (Scribner, $25)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Monday Pile of Stuff: New York Review of Books, Dec. 13, 2013

The Pile of Stuff is mythic: it contains missives from — who knows — years back.

This morning, the first thing self pulls out of it is a New York Review of Books from Dec. 19, 2013.

Self adores poetry in translation, here’s one on NYRB p. 34, a Charles Simic translation of Radmila Lazic’s Psalm of Despair (Following is the opening verse):

PSALM OF DESPAIR

by Radmila Lazic

I dwell in a land of despair
In the city of despair
Among desperate people
Myself desperate
I embrace my desperate lover
With desperate hands
Whispering desperate words
Kissing him with desperate lips

And here are a few of the books reviewed in the issue:

Levels of Life, by Julian Barnes (Knopf, $22.95) — “It is, not surprisingly, a marvel of flickering Barnesian leitmotifs . . . ” (Reviewer Cathleen Schine)

American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell, by Deborah Solomon (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28)

Undisputed Truth, by Mike Tyson with Larry Sloman (Blue Rider, $30)

My Lunches with Orson: Conversations between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles, edited and with an introduction by Peter Biskind (Metropolitan, $28)

Orson Welles in Italy, by Alberto Anile, translated from the Italian by Marcus Perryman (Indiana University Press, $35)

This is Orson Welles: Conversations between Peter Bogdanovich and Orson Welles

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Ian Frazier for The New York Review of Books (Nov. 7, 2013)

Today is a great day. Sun is shining, after two days of almost non-stop rain.

Tomorrow, self is meeting Connie C. for lunch in downtown Palo Alto. Connie was the Program Administrator in East Asian Studies when self was a grad student at Stanford. And she is still the Program Administrator in East Asian Studies. Not only that, she doesn’t seem to have aged at all.

Self is making some headway into her mighty Pile of Stuff. As she mentioned in a preview post, one pile is mostly New Yorkers. The other is mostly back issues of The New York Review of Books (She ended her subscription to The New York Times Book Review this year, which helped)

She’s begun reading Ian Frazier’s review of Cotton Tenants: Three Families, by James Agee and Walker Evans (Published by The Baffler/Melville House). His review is absolutely engrossing. Here’s the opening paragraph:

Amazing to think that in 1936 the editors of Fortune magazine cared enough about the hard lives of tenant farmers in the South’s Cotton Belt that they sent a reporter and a photographer to Alabama to do a story on them. One explanation is that the magazine was going through a weird period. Henry Luce, who founded Fortune as a business magazine with a target audience of tycoons and millionaires, had recently noticed the Depression. The then-widespread notion that straight-ahead, free-market capitalism did not always work had begun to make inroads upon his mind.

It’s a fascinating essay, dear blog readers. Try looking it up on-line.

Stay tuned.

 

The Wall Street Journal’s Holiday Books Issue (Weekend, Nov. 22 – 23, 2014)

The following list is made up of the books self felt most interested in reading after perusing the Wall Street Journal’s Holiday Books (2014) issue:

Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life, by Hermione Lee (Knopf, 488 pages, $35)

Offshore, Penelope Fitzgerald’s Booker-Prizewinning novel of 1979

Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History, by Rhonda K. Garelick (Random House, 570 pages, $35)

Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, by John Lahr (Norton, 765 pages, $39.95)

Updike, by Adam Begley (Harper, 558 pages, $29.99)

The Novel: A Biography, by Michael Schmidt (Harvard University Press, 1,172 pages, $39.95)

The Age of the Vikings, by Anders Winroth (Princeton University Press, 320 pages, $29.95)

Napoleon: A Life, by Andrew Roberts (Viking, 926 pages, $45)

The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns (Knopf, 528 pages, $60)

The Mantle of Command:  FDR at War 1941 – 1942, by Nigel Hamilton (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 514 pages, $30)

George Marshall: A Biography, by Debi and Irwin Unger (Harper, 352 pages, $35)

James Madison: A Life Reconsidered, by Lynne Cheney (Viking, 564 pages, $36)

Rendezvous with Art, conversations between the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Philippe de Montebello and Martin Gayford (Thames & Hudson, 248 pages, $35)

Frans Hals, by Seymour Silve (Phaidon, 400 pages, $125)

My Favorite Things, by Maira Kalman, a catalogue of 40 items in the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum (Harper Design, 160 pages, $35)

The Only Way to Cross, by John Maxtone-Graham

SS United States, by John Maxtone-Graham (Norton, 245 pages, $75)

Surf Craft, by Richard Kenvin (MIT University Press, 192 pages, $29.95)

The Art of Things, an anthology of essays on good design, edited by Dominique Forest (Abbeville, 592 pages, $150)

Globes: 400 Years of Exploration, Navigation and Power, by Sylvia Sumira (University of Chicago Press, 224 pages, $45)

Me, Myself, and Us, by Brian R. Little (Public Affairs, 288 pages, $26.99)

Hope: Entertainer of the Century, by Richard Zoglin (Simon & Schuster, 565 pages, $30)

The Beatles Lyrics, edited by Hunter Davies (Little, Brown, 376 pages, $35)

The John Lennon Letters, edited by Hunter Davies

Mephisto, by Klaus Mann

 

 

First NYTBR Post in Forever: 15 December 2013

Do not look a gift horse in the mouth.  It’s been nearly a year since this issue came into self’s hands. She has since suspended her New York Times Book Review subscription (in case dear blog readers were wondering. It was just too depressing seeing the book review in her mailbox every week, and not being able to read for months and months and months.)

It just so happens that the By the Book interview is with Michael Connelly, and he has many, many interesting book recommendations, which include the following:

  • Act of War:  Lyndon Johnson, North Korea, and the Capture of the Spy Ship Pueblo, by Jack Cheevers
  • The Public Burning, by Robert Coover
  • The Little Sister, by Raymond Chandler

This issue also has the list of Ten Best Books of 2013, and since self is well aware that time is a river, and self is disappearing quick, she has to be choosy about which of the Ten she really really wants to read, and it is these:

In Fiction

  • Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Flamethrowers, by Rachel Kushner
  • Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson
  • Tenth of December: Stories, by George Saunders

In Nonfiction

  • Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, by Sheri Fink
  • Wave, by Sonali Deraniyagala

One of the highlights of this issue is a review (by Anthony Doerr) of Brown Dog: Novellas, by Jim Harrison.  Self doesn’t know why exactly but she’s loved Jim Harrison for a long long time. His books are violent, they are pungent, they are precise, and they are very, very funny.

And here’s a round-up of a burgeoning sub-genre, the cookbook as memoir:

  • Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland, by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau
  • Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal, by Abigail Carroll
  • Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie: Midwestern Writers and Food, by Peggy Wolff

And here’s a sub of a sub-genre, the fate of elephants in America:

  • Topsy: The Startling Story of the Crooked-Tailed Elephant, P. T. Barnum, and the American Wizard Thomas Edison, by Michael Daly
  • Behemoth:  The History of the Elephant in America, by Ronald B. Tobias

And one about elephants in Africa:

  • Silent Thunder, by Katy Payne

Finally, much thanks to Rivka Galchen and Pankaj Mishra for recommending (in the end-paper, Bookends) two books by authors self hasn’t yet read:

  • My Struggle, by Norwegian writer Ove Knausgaard
  • Zibaldone, by Giacomo Leopardi

Whew! Finally self has arrived at the end of a monster post. Stay tuned.

 

 

Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition, June 21-22, 2014

It is the 100th anniversary of the start of The Great War, as self was being constantly reminded when she was in the UK, a few weeks ago.

Those kinds of commemorations seem to get lost in the welter of American politics — Are we going back into Iraq?  What should/can we do about Putin?  — but the Review section of the June 21-22, 2014 Wall Street Journal is entirely devoted to articles about the Great War.  On p. C3, at the bottom right corner, is a tiny article by Amanda Foreman on “The Poets of Devastation.”

All the familiar names are there:  Rupert Brooke (gorgeous), Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon.

After a few mentions of these poets’ iconic works, Foreman delivers the meat and potatoes:

“. . .  the war poets’ greatest contribution wasn’t their rediscovery that war is truest hell, but their reinvention of poetry as a democratic mode of expression.”

She mentions the “broadening of the canon” with works like Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front.

“. . .  there is no other war in history,” Foreman writes, “. . . with the exception of the Trojan War, whose poetry has so shaped a nation.”

(Self thinks the Vietnam War definitely served a similar function for American literature.  Think Philip Caputo’s A Rumor of War.  Think Frances Fitzgerald’s Fire in the Lake.  Think Michael Herr’s Dispatches.  Think Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.  Think Robert Stone)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Split-Second Story 4: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

Today’s edition of “Split-Second Story” comes to you from Oxford, England, where self spent the day on the grounds of Christ Church, one of Oxford’s largest colleges, founded by King Henry VIII in 1532 (Self watched a 15-minute video at the Visitor Center).

Here are a few things she learned from the video:

The chapel is Norman, built in the 11th century.

Saint Frideswide, “England’s first saint,” became renowned for her chastity by rejecting the advances of an amorous king.  Since the king was absolutely relentless, Frideswide took refuge in the woods of Oxfordshire, and became the center of a cult of devotees which included Catherine of Aragon.

And now to the pictures which, of all the dozens she took today, feel most evocative of “story-in-a-single-frame”:

A knight in full armor lies in state in Christ Church Chapel, Oxford.

A knight in full armor lies in state in Christ Church Chapel, Oxford.

Self saw ducks feeding on bread crumbs left by visitors.

Self saw ducks feeding on bread crumbs left by visitors.

Father Haslam, Dublin native:  He is 92, self knew him in the Philippines. He is here regaling the waitress with a story.  He is a fabulous raconteur.

Father Haslam, Dublin native: He is 92, self knew him in the Philippines. He is here regaling the waitress with a story. He is a fabulous raconteur.  We were dining at St. Kyran’s in Ireland.

A Poem from TAKING MESOPOTAMIA, by Jenny Lewis

Jenny Lewis’s collection, Taking Mesopotamia (Oxford Poets, 2014), is such a powerful book.

It is part memoir, part excerpts from family history, part interview, everything written out in the tersest of poetry.  From the Preface, self learned that Jenny’s father, Second Lieutenant T. C. Lewis, participated “in the Mesopotamian campaign of World War I as a Second Lieutenant in the 4th Battalion, the South Wales Borders, now the Royal Regiment of Wales.”

The Hawthornden reunion with two of her fellow writers (who self hasn’t seen since June 2012, but who remained in touch) in Hawthornden was at the British Museum, April 27, when Joan and self caught Jenny’s passionate and altogether mesmerizing reading (She’s the ex-girlfriend of Michael Palin, and self kept looking around the theatre on the off-chance she’d get to see this Monty Python regular in the flesh. But no dice.)

Here’s the poem “October 1916″:

Two lots of mail from home with some letters
for me, at last, giving news from Glamorgan.
Mother unwell for the past few weeks, although
she puts on a brave face as usual. Sister Betty is
still on her drive to collect wool for the knitting
of balaclavas: I said they’ll be back to front no doubt!
Here we are stuck in the desert while their lives
keep on almost as usual there in dear old Wales
except it’s now a place where there are no young
men and people tell each other no news is good news.

Self makes a promise: Next time she is in London, she will make it a point to visit the Imperial War Museum.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

An Excerpt from THE HISTORY AND TOPOGRAPHY OF IRELAND

Woods, Annaghmakerrig, Spring

Woods, Annaghmakerrig, Spring

Written by Gerald of Wales (12th century), translated by John O’Meara:

Shortly before the coming of the English into the island a cow from a man’s intercourse with her —  a particular vice of that people — gave birth to a man-calf in the mountains around Glendalough.  From this you may believe that once again a man that was half an ox, and an ox that was half a man was produced. It spent nearly a year with the other calves following its mother and feeding on her milk, and then, because it had more of the man than the beast, was transferred to the society of men.

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