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.



Shadowed 6: Shadows Are Self’s Weakness

Afternoon, Lansing Street, Mendocino

Afternoon, Lansing Street, Mendocino

Reading Swedish mystery writer Hakan Nesser's WOMAN WITH BIRTHMARK (Grrrreat)

Reading Swedish mystery writer Hakan Nesser’s WOMAN WITH BIRTHMARK (Grrrreat)

In Visual Artist Kim Thoman's Studio, Early Yesterday, at the Mendocino Art Center

In Visual Artist Kim Thoman’s Studio at the Mendocino Art Center, Early Yesterday Morning

Hakan Nesser’s WOMAN WITH BIRTHMARK (Spoilers Galore)

It was a bee-yoo-ti-ful day in Mendocino.

The sun was shining, the sea was sparkling. Self went back to Mendosa’s market on Lansing Street and got another bowl of that sinfully delicious clam chowder.

Then she went back to her apartment and continued reading Hakan Nesser’s Woman With Birthmark.


Despite the weird title (and the fact that she’s only about 80 pages to the end and has no idea what birthmark has to do with anything because it’s never been mentioned, not even once), she really enjoys the author’s style. The main character, Inspector Van Veeteren, is about 80% less moody than Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander, but self thinks it’s about time she stumbled on a Swedish mystery writer who doesn’t feel the need to be so glum.

And there are all these little side-stories, and quick glimpses of the home lives of the detectives working the case, and it’s very enjoyable. The first break comes from the girlfriend of one of the detectives who remarks, almost in passing, that the person who killed three men (by shooting their privates) was probably a woman. Of course, that may seem obvious, but the way the girlfriend tosses off that statement, at an early stage of the investigation, is the first clue (Of course, one could say that it’s not the first clue; the first clue is the title: Woman with Birthmark)

The next break comes when the next-door neighbor to the suspect turns out to be a very thoughtful, fastidious woman, not prone to exaggeration or attention-grabbing, who gives the detectives a clear picture of what her mysterious new female neighbor was doing on the night(s) of said murder(s).

And the third clue is a crime scene photographer named Klaarentoft (all the minor characters have names, which is delightful) who takes pictures at the funerals of the murder victims, pictures which seem odd because he took so many (no less than 12 pictures) of just one person, the clergyman. Inspector Van Veeteren decides to take a closer look at the photographs and has an epiphany:

“I need enlargements of these two, can you do that?”

Klaarentoft took the pictures and looked at them.

“Of course,” he said.  “Is it . . . ”


“Is it her? Maria Adler?”

“You can bet your life it is,” said Reinhart.

“I thought there was something odd about her.”

“He has a keen nose,” said Reinhart when Klaarentoft had left.

“Yes indeed,” said Van Veeteren. “He took twelve pictures of the clergyman as well. We’d better arrest him right away.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


Donna Leon’s ABOUT FACE, p.237

Here the main character, Inspector Brunetti, meets a mysterious woman with a face carved-up from the effects of a bad plastic surgery. They meet in Campo Sant Magherita, one of these little neighborhoods in Venice with its own plaza, it’s own coffee shops, its own wine bars, its own sunken artesian wells, its own pigeons, its own newspaper stands, its own gelato places, its own churches.

Self was always getting lost in campos, and wandering around in circles. She may have been in this particular campo.

Inspector Brunetti asks his companion, “Do you come here often?”

She replies: “In the summer I do. We live quite close. I love ice-cream, she said. She glanced out of the large plate glass window. “And I love this campo. It’s so — I don’t know the right word — so full of life; there are always so many people here.” She glanced at him and said, I suppose this is the way it was years ago, a place where ordinary people lived.”

Yes, this is definitely light years away from Death & Judgment. By this, her 18th book, Donna Leon feels more at home in her adopted city, and her characters speak more about their surroundings.

Highly recommended.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.   Stay tuned.

How the Truth Resembles a Donna Leon Novel

Excerpt from an article published in The New York Review of Books, March 20, 2014. The subject is the city of Pompeii and the adjoining city of Herculaneum, but it doesn’t take much to realize that the same conditions also apply to Venice:

Today there are other cataclysms affecting the region and the buried cities, less spectacular, perhaps, than Vesuvius in full pyroclastic glory, but no less destructive: pollution, climate change, greed, ignorance, poverty, political corruption, organized crime. The industrial area of ancient Pompeii lies outside the old city walls, and therefore outside the archaeological site, which has been under government protection since the eighteenth century.

*     *     *     *

. . .  Pompeii, like every other museum and historical site in Italy, has struggled on alone, suffering both from the drastic budget cuts imposed on the Ministry of Culture during the two decades (1993 – 2013) when former prime minister (and convicted felon) Silvio Berlusconi and his party were in power, and from the gross corruption of some of Berlusconi’s local appointees. Notoriously, Marcello Fiori, the special commissioner for Pompeii who arrived in 2010, now faces trial for embezzlement and a “restoration” of the ancient theater that local papers have characterized as “an avalanche of modern cement.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


Donna Leon’s ABOUT FACE, pp. 81 – 82

Self very cognizant of the fact that she seems to be moving backwards (her last quote from About Face was pp. 115 – 116) rather than forwards. But anyhoo:

What was Guarino doing in Venice, and how did he know about the bar at the bridge? Brunetti did not want to return to the bar, he did not want another coffee, he did not want a sandwich, nor another glass of cold water, nor even a glass of wine. But then the idea of a glass of hot punch came to him, and he got his overcoat from the armadio and left.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Donna Leon, 14 Books After DEATH & JUDGMENT

Donna Leon’s descriptions of Venice and it relation to the rest of Italy seem much more confident in this book than in the only other Donna Leon book self has read, Death & Judgment.

One of self’s biggest complaints about Death & Judgment was that there were so few actual descriptions of Venice, the physical setting. 14 books later, the same cannot be said of About Face.

Here’s an excerpt from p. 68:

“I suppose I shouldn’t say this, but I’ve always been suspicious of Sicilians,” she said. Claudia Griffoni, like many upper-class Neapolitans, had been raised speaking Italian, rather than dialect, though she had picked it up from friends and at school and would occasionally use Neapolitan expressions. But they were always spoken within ironic quotation marks, set linguistically apart from the Italian that she spoke as elegantly as Brunetti had ever heard of it spoken. Someone who did not know her would therefore believe that her suspicion of Southerners came from the mouth of a person from the North, certainly from someone who lived above Florence.”

Brunetti was aware that she had offered him the remark as a test: If he agreed with her, she could place him in one category; if he disagreed, then she could put him in another.

And that is really excellent.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Very Briefly: Some Books Reviewed in the April 24, 2014 Issue of The New York Review of Books

Pile of stuff, people.  Pile of stuff.

Self is thinking of adding the following books to her reading list (Publisher information, when available, will appear in parentheses)

  • The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms, by Charles Darwin
  • Jelly-Fish, Star-Fish, and Sea-Urchins: Being a Research on Primitive Nervous Systems, by George John Romanes
  • Dept. of Speculation, by Jenny Offill (Knopf, $22.95)
  • Middlemarch, by George Eliot
  • My Life in Middlemarch, by Rebecca Mead (Crown, $25)

*     *     *     *

As for what self is reading currently, it’s Donna Leon’s About Face, which she is enjoying much more than the previous Donna Leon she read, Death and Judgment.

She’s decided to add Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 and Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke to her 2015 reading list, which currently includes these books:

Woman With Birthmark, by Hakan Nesser (a new Swedish mystery writer — that is, new in the sense that she’s only just discovered him)

Silas Marner, by George Eliot

Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.



You Appear, Unexpectedly . . . in Donna Leon

You, Filipina, you appear in the most unexpected places. In novels or mysteries written by bestselling authors, for instance.

Today, on p. 234 of Donna Leon’s Inspector Brunetti mystery, Death and Judgment (which was actually a re-print of a book that first appeared in 1996), the Philippines is mentioned in the course of Brunetti’s investigation of a prostitution ring.

Self decides to make a note of it. Apropos of nothing. Except that prostitution is bad and she wishes it didn’t happen — to anyone, regardless of nationality.

In all self’s decades of reading novels and mysteries, she can tick off on the fingers of one hand the number of books she’s read that have to do with prostitution, and now she’s read two of them, back-to-back: Death and Judgment, and Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Which means that her November reading has been dark, dark, super-dark. That, coupled with the Mockingjay, Part 1 movie, has just about killed her. Yes, self is aware that Thanksgiving is tomorrow. You’re welcome. The bird is being picked up later.

Euro-Employ was only one of the many agencies engaged in the trade in young women, and it was hardly the worst. All of the papers the women signed before they went off to “work” in Europe were entirely legal. The fact that the papers were signed with the X by an illiterate or by a woman who didn’t speak the language of the contract in no way compromised their legality, though none of the women who managed to return to the Philippines thought or sought to bring a legal claim against the agency. In any case, so far as Linchianko knew, very few returned.

And that’s it.

The tale is indeed very sordid, but it’s sensationalistic, too. A shipment of girls from Eastern Europe crashes and all the “cargo” is killed. Hmmm, wonder if there are really rings that do this: ship girls by truck. She remembers watching a Rachel Weisz movie about a similar subject, years ago. Naturally, it was dark and etc. And all the victims came from Eastern Europe. Self wonders whether it really is as cut-and-dried as this, or whether the mechanism is more complex, less predictable, and she concludes that it must be so.

Anyhoo, onward.

Stay tuned.

She’s Finished the Murakami, Hurrah!

This evening, self ripped through the last third of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.  She thinks the narrator might have come out of the well.  But does he ever find his wife Kumiko?

The reader learns that a character named Nutmeg, along with her mother, “escaped from Manchuria to Japan, their only valuables the jewelry they were able to wear on their bodies.” (p. 470)  There’s a description of horrible atrocities.

What. A. Downer.

Self may have to re-read the last hundred or so pages. She wants to be absolutely clear about who did what to whom.

While trying to make up her mind about whether to go back over the last hundred pages of the Murakami, she tries beginning Donna Leon’s Death and Judgment. Just so that she can anticipate what she’s in for.

P. 10:

After the meeting, which he had arranged to coincide with his next appointment, Trevisan met for a weekly dinner with a business associate.  They had met in Venice the previous week, so tonight they met in Padua.  Like all of their meetings, this one was marked by the cordiality that results from success and prosperity.  Good food, good wine, and good news.

Trevisan’s partner drove him to the train station where, as he did every week, he caught the Intercity for Trieste, which would get him to Venice by ten-fifteen.

Self thinks she might have taken this same train in May last year, when she left Venice and did a two-night stay in Trieste.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.


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