Status Report: the 2018 Reading List

There was a stretch of months where all the authors self was reading or had read were male: That’s because a lot of the books she read the first half of the year were by Philip Pullman, who she read for the first time EVER this year. Shame! Shame! Shame!

Then she read Treasure Island, then Lord of the Flies.

She finally tackled Jean Rhys (another first, despite the fact that she’s been hearing about this author since the year she entered grad school) and ended up wanting to strangle her male character in Wide Sargasso Sea.

She discovered the luminous Norwegian writer Tove Jansson in The Summer Book.

She read an excellent first novel (by Julie Lekstrom Himes), Mikhail and Margarita.

After she’s done with Travels with Charley, she re-reads Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White. She read this book over a decade ago but Faber’s name came up again when she found an old list (from the time she was a Hawthornden fellow, in June 2012) of book recommendations from her fellow Hawthornden writers.

Her next authors are all women:

  • Elizabeth Strout
  • Tatiana de Rosnay
  • Daphne du Maurier
  • Jenny Allen
  • Magda Szabø
  • Rosemary Sutcliff

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

Dawdling Over Travels with Charley

Self has been reading blazing fast, ever since she began Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage, vol. 1 of The Book of Dust, in late March. The last week of March, and through April and May, she was on such a tear. After La Belle Sauvage, she read all of His Dark Materials, then moved on to childhood classics like Treasure Island and Lord of the Flies, Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey, Tove Jansson’s exquisite The Summer Book, two first novels (As Lie Is to Grin by Simeon Marsalis and Mikhail and Margarita by Julie Lekstrom Himes, both excellent), and two books by Tim O’Brien (In the Lake of the Woods gutted her. In fact, she can’t stop thinking about it)

Since beginning Travels with Charley, however, she’s been moving at a glacial pace. It took her forever just to get through the Jay Parini introduction, and she’s just on p. 17.

She almost put the book aside last night, because it suddenly struck her that the kind of problems a man might encounter while traveling alone through America are very different from the kind of problems self experiences when she travels alone — self has traveled through not just America, but through Asia and Europe — and she is usually alone. It gets harder with every passing year. Security seems more suspicious (so many stamps on her passport!), people are less kind (or maybe self has just become more paranoid), and she’s definitely become more impatient. For one thing, she hates delays of any sort, and she hates flying because it’s so dehumanizing.

On p. 17, Steinbeck shares one of his underlying reasons for undertaking this trip, and she understands:

  • A kind of second childhood falls on so many men. They trade their violence for a small increase of life span. In effect, the head of the household becomes the youngest child. And I have searched myself for this possibility with a kind of horror. For I have always lived violently, drunk hugely, eaten too much or not at all, slept around the clock or missed two nights of sleeping, worked too hard and too long in glory, or slobbed for a time in utter laziness. I’ve lifted, pulled, chopped, climbed, made love with joy and taken my hangovers as a consequence, not as a punishment. I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage.

Travel is one way to resist the gravitational pull of age. It’s like being young again because everything is new, and you can still be surprised, on a daily basis.

(Note: Self was taken aback that Steinbeck viewed himself as a kind of Ernest Hemingway manly man. She’s always thought of him as ‘gentle.’ He might even be insulted by that description.)

Onward!

Self can’t believe summer is officially here. Time moves so fast. Soon, she’ll have a harvest of figs and plums from her backyard:

Stay tuned.

Mother of All Lists (May 2018)

  • Best book self has read so far this year: The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman, Book 2 of His Dark Materials
  • The book it has taken self the longest to read so far this year: Banana Yoshimoto’s Moshi Moshi (33 days)
  • The longest story self has written so far: Alex (27 pages)
  • The number of literary contests self has joined so far this year: 7
  • The fastest rejection self has received so far this year: Rhino (8 days)
  • Number of pieces self has placed so far this year: 1
  • Number of novels self has read so far this year, including the one she is currently reading (Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea): 10
  • Most Fabulous Food Discovery of the Year: Hot Buttered Popcorn, Stanford Theatre, downtown Palo Alto, CA

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Spooky: The Amber Spyglass, p. 264

Steeling herself to just get it over with, she knows the ending already, wherefore all these wimpy hesitations?

So, the Land of the Dead or the Not-Quite-Dead.

Since reading that section, self keeps looking over her shoulder, like maybe she’ll catch a glimpse of a shadow (What good would that do, self? Honestly)

Lyra and Will enter a creepy house, where an old woman lies on a mattress, and a hand comes creeping out behind her, and that is the woman’s “death.”

Aaargh!!@@##

Lyra and Will have to catch a ferry to the Land of the Really Dead. But in order to do so, they have to meet their own individual deaths (!!!!)

Philip Pullman is such a wizard with the personifications!

  • “You must call up your own deaths. I have heard of people like you, who keep their deaths at bay. You don’t like them, our of courtesy they stay out of sight. But they’re not far off. Whenever your turn is ahead, your deaths dodge behind you. Whenever you look, they hide. They can hide in a teacup. Or a dewdrop. Or in a breath of wind.”

One thing about this section, Will Parry almost completely disappears from the narrative (except for Lyra being super-aware that he is listening intently to her tale-spinning). Shouldn’t sensible Will be saying, “No, Lyra, it’s too big a risk — ”

Since she’s heard that Vol. 2 of The Book of Dust is Lyra at 20, and Will Parry apparently (sorry for onomatopeia, whatever) is not IN IT, does that mean some harm has befallen him?

Next chapter begins with Mary Malone, and let me tell you, dear blog readers, that of all the sections of The Amber Spyglass, the ones with Mary are the least interesting, at least they are in self’s humble opinion. She reads them simply because she’s read on Twitter that Mary becomes the instigator of Lyra’s temptation. Maybe, though, these Mary scenes are responsible for the fact that yesterday, self hied herself off to the San Francisco Zoo, and looked at every animal under the sun (except, come to think of it, elephants).

She saw prairie dogs and cassowarys, giraffes and lions, black bears and grizzly bears, lemurs and rhino, hippopotamus (underwater) and parrots, owls and penguins, flamingos and red frogs, cockroaches and spiders (including tarantula), but NO ELEPHANTS or PINE MARTENS.

As she wandered from area to area, she kept thinking: Could this animal be my daemon? Am I a black-necked swan or a peacock? A parrot or an anteater? A gorilla or a python?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

Lyra Silvertongue: The Amber Spyglass, p. 262

Lyra tells how Will Parry had

DSCN0228

His Dark Materials, vol. 3: The Amber Spyglass, p. 261

fallen overboard as a baby from the side of his father’s ship and been washed up on a desolate shore, where a female wolf had suckled him and kept him alive.

The people ate up this nonsense with placid credulity and even the deaths crowded close to listen, perching on the bench or lying on the floor close by, gazing at her with their mild and courteous faces as she spun out the tale of her life with Will in the forest.

Sly Lyra knew Will was listening with rapt attention and it only spurred her on to greater heights of invention. Because this was the best part of her. And she was offering it to her truest companion and best friend.

Please please please please let there be a Will Parry in The Book of Dust trilogy. Just one teensy mention.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

Also Still Reading: The Amber Spyglass, By Inches

pp. 263 – 264:

“I’ll tell you all about it,” said Lyra.

As she said that, as she took charge, part of her felt a little stream of pleasure rising upward in her breast like the bubbles in champagne.

Dying.

Katy Waldman’s Review of THE BOOK OF DUST, VOL. 1 Is Everything

This:

Post-flood, La Belle Sauvage becomes an intoxicating and dreamy thing, a mixture of The Odyssey, the Bible, The Red Book, and The Faerie Queene, with its eldritch encounters and wild Englishness. Tender feelings start to unfurl between Malcolm and Alice, who is more complex and gentle than she appears. Meanwhile, the children are pursued by one of the most appallingly hypnotic villains I’ve ever encountered in literature, a handsome madman with a three-legged hyena daemon. — Katy Waldman in The Slate Book Review, 18 Oct. 2017

It’s like Waldman plumbed self’s brain, because the above captures exactly what self was thinking, and why she just had to tear through His Dark Materials — which up until this year, she had absolutely no interest in reading (and for that you can blame the movie)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Unerring Rhythm

There’s this thing that the best writers have — a rhythm?

Philip Pullman had it in spades. Each of his elegantly paced deaths — aargh — still kill self.

And Robert Louis Stevenson has it, too.

Here’s an excerpt from Chapter VII (“I Go to Bristol”), p. 53

The mail picked us up about dusk at the Royal George on the heath. I was wedged in between Redruth and a stout old gentleman, and in spite of the swift motion and the cold night air, I must have dozed a great deal from the very first, and then slept like a log up hill and down dale through stage after stage; for when I was awakened at last, it was by a punch in the ribs, and I opened my eyes, to find that we were standing still before a large building in a city street, and that the day had already broken a long time.

She thinks we can agree that the above is a fine example of sentence rhythm.

Stay tuned.

Sentence of the Day: From a Re-read of THE SUBTLE KNIFE by Philip Pullman

Isn’t it a bit soon, self, to do a re-read of Book 2 of His Dark Materials?

Newp! It is never too soon to do a re-read of Pullman. She simply alternates between her current reading (Treasure Island) and Pullman. That is all.

From The Subtle Knife:

  • The witches flew above to spy out the best routes, because the hilly land soon gave way to steeper slopes and rocky footing, and as the sun rose toward noon, the travelers found themselves in a tangled land of dry gullies, cliffs, and boulder-strewn valleys where not a single green leaf grew, and where the stridulation of insects was the only sound.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Adding to the Reading List: A Process

Self is back home in Redwood City, California. About a mile from her house is a Barnes & Noble (in the Sequoia Station shopping center). She spent about an hour in there today, updating her reading list (The list is her ne plus ultra, her be-all and end-all, her secret game plan, and her whole raison d’etre as a writer).

She’s newly arrived from Mendocino, California (which has a pretty fabulous bookstore: Gallery Bookshop on Main Street), and her first stop is, of course, a bookstore.

Gallery Bookshop had on hand: The Old Man and the Sea (Ernest Hemingway); Lord of the Flies (William Golding); Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys); The Emily Wilson translation of The Odyssey (Homer); Utopia (Thomas More); As Lie Is to Grin (Simeon Marsalis); Lincoln in the Bardo (George Saunders); Mikhail and Margarita (Julie Lekstrom Himes); and The Summer Book, by Finnish writer Tove Jansson.

This afternoon, in her Redwood City Barnes & Noble, self went in with a long list of about 20 authors who published novels in 2017. She found two of the 20. She moved on to her next list, the list of books recommended by her fellow writers in Hawthornden, Scotland, June 2012. She struck out on all the names on p. 1 (The list is three pages long, single-spaced), except for Tim O’Brien, all of whose books are available in-store. She was kinda hoping it wouldn’t be O’Brien because his books, though very well written, are depressing. Self asked if they had any of Tamar Yoseloff’s poetry collections, but they did not.

So that’s what her reading list looks like for the remainder of 2018. She doesn’t think anything can top Philip Pullman, though. She was such a mess yesterday that a fellow fan fiction writer had to reach out and say, about The Amber Spyglass: It is safe to read “mid-way on p. 419 to 420. Then put the book away forever.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

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