2nd Quote of the Day: 3rd Wednesday of August 2015

Self is back to reading Howard Jacobson’s novel, The Act of Love.

Oh, the places this book has traveled!

When she really likes a book, she cannot stand to finish it.

She’s on p. 247, when she encounters this fabulous sentence:

All the men in our family my father’s age had themselves whipped as a matter of course.

After self reads that fabulous sentence, she simply can’t stand to read anymore, so many FEELZ to process, so instead she turns to the books she has lined up to read after she finishes The Act of Love:

  • George Eliot’s Middlemarch
  • Leon Werth’s 33 Days, translated from the French by Austin D. Johnston
  • Richard Norton Taylor’s The New Spymasters: Inside Espionage From the Cold War to Global Terror
  • three books by Ruth Rendell (British mystery writer, one of self’s favorites. She passed away May this year): A Judgment in Stone, Tree of Hands, and A Sight for Sore Eyes

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Haruki Murakami Food Hit List

Two days ago self had to return Alan Furst’s Dark Star to the local library. She was 3/4 of the way through, and two weeks overdue, and someone had put a hold on it, boo.

And self realized it was really a very good book.  Probably the best spy story about pre-World War II she’s ever read.

But she had to return the book. And she felt it would be disrespectful to rush through the last 50 or so pages. Or to take a peek at the end. So she simply returned it to the library, unfinished.

So, onward!

She’s reading Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Strangely, though this book is static where Furst’s was anything but, she feels much more tension in Murakami’s book.

(She’s also been reading Catherine Dunne’s The Things We Know Now. And re-reading Hunger Games: Catching Fire. And she’s wondering about that new Liam Neeson movie.)

Well, it’s been a long time since she’s read Murakami.  There was a year of her life when it seemed she read nothing but.

So it’s interesting that Murakami appeals to her once again.

And this time, she has a sure-fire way to make sure she remembers what she reads.  She’ll list down every single food Murakami mentions, and throw in page #s.

There are much worse games to play. Thank you, Katniss.

  • p. 1:  “boiling a potful of spaghetti”
  • bottom of p. 2: “a glass of water”
  • bottom of p. 9: the narrator’s wife is “picking out fish bones” from her dinner plate — so obviously they must have had fish for dinner.
  • p. 10: The narrator rips open “a plastic pack of tofu.”
  • p. 14: The narrator removes “a lemon drop” from his pocket and starts sucking on it. It fills his mouth with “sticky sweetness.”
  • p. 17: A girl about fifteen or sixteen offers the narrator “a cold drink”: beer
  • p. 18: The narrator has somehow managed to fill his mouth with another lemon drop, even though earlier he had spit the original lemon drop onto the ground, and in between then and p. 18, there’s been nary a mention of his retrieving another one from his pocket. But all is forgiven when the girl offers the narrator a Coke.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

How Could You Possibly Expect

How could you possibly expect writing like this in a spy thriller?  Alan Furst’s writing is so good it is impossible to skim:

Spring died early that year, soft rains came and went, the sky turned its fierce French blue only rarely, a mean little wind arrived at dusk and blew papers around the cobbled streets.  The end of April was generally admitted to be triste, only the surrealists liked such unhappy weather, then summer came before anybody was really ready for it.

—  Dark Star, p. 111


Paris in DARK STAR/ It is 9/11, Where Do the Years Go

On this day, 13 years ago, self woke ahead of everyone else in her household, and turned the TV on to CNN.  Some stupid pilot — maybe someone who was distracted or who had covered up his incompetence and managed to get a job flying planes anyway — had crashed into one of the World Trade Center buildings. Later, a second plane crashed, and it was at that moment that self went running to the bedrooms and woke up The Man, woke up Son, and told them, “Something’s happening.” And then all three of us stayed watching in front of the TV, until it was decided that Son would go to school.

Self was teaching a night class in USF, and only much later did she get word that the class would be canceled.

*     *     *     *     *

On pp. 109 – 110 of Alan Furst’s superlative spy novel Dark Star:

The Parisian spring flared to life — one hot morning and all the women were dressed in yellow and green, on the café terraces people laughed at nothing in particular, aromas drifted through the open doors of bistros where the owner’s briard flopped by the cash register, a paw over its nose, dreaming fitfully of stock bones and cheese rinds.

The OPAL network was run from a three-story building near the quai of the canal Saint-Martin and the canal de l’Ourcq, at the tattered edge of the nineteenth arrondissement where the streets around the Porte de Pantin turned to narrow roads leading into the villages of Pantin and Bobigny.  A pulsating, sleepless quartier, home to the city’s slaughterhouses as well as the stylish restaurants of the avenue Jean-Jaures, where partygoing swells often ventured at dawn to eat fillet of beef baked in honey and avoid the tourists and taxi drivers down at Les Halles.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.


2nd Wednesday of September (2014): DARK STAR, p. 86

Our hero encounters Renate Braun, a woman “last seen slicing up a dead man’s pant cuffs with a razor blade in an Ostend warehouse.” She is accompanied by an American man.

Herb, Renate tells Szara, is “an editor with a new American magazine. A very important undertaking. You’ll know him, of course, from when he was with the Nation and the New Republic.”

“You are liking Russia?” Szara asks Herb.

“Never the same place two days in a row, things go wrong, but there’s a strength in the people that’s irresistible.”


Self’s Belated Discovery of Alan Furst

She hasn’t even finished reading Dark Star, but oh it is so delicious, to lose oneself in that carefully constructed world.

So here she goes, trolling the net for articles and interviews.

This article in New York Magazine mentions: Dark Star, The World at Night and The Polish Officer.

She doesn’t think she’s been this gaga over an American writer since —  Martin Cruz Smith? When she read Gorky Park.

Here’s an interview with Furst in a site called Crime Time.

And now, self must continue reading.

Stay tuned.

Alan Furst’s Dark Star

Dark Star is the first Alan Furst book she’s ever read, and it’s a mighty good one.

By 1917, when he was 20 years old and had attended three years of university in Cracow, he was a confirmed writer of stories, one of many who came from Odessa — it had something to do with seaports: strange languages, exotic travelers, night bells in the harbor, waves pounding into foam on the rocks and always distance, horizon, the line where sky met water, and just beyond your vision people were doing things you couldn’t imagine.–  p. 56, Dark Star

Is there such a thing as a lyrical spy story? This must be a first. At least in self’s reading life.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

DARK STAR, by Alan Furst

Book Jacket, Inside Flap:

1937. Paris. Moscow. Berlin. Prague.

Oooh, self likes!

The next book on self’s reading list after she finishes this one (Hopefully, she will finish this one. Her brain is a little limp right now. She had to return Richard Price’s Lush Life to the Redwood City Library after trying and failing to get past p. 75, for three months) is Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, which she hopes isn’t as depressing as Norwegian Wood. Then she’ll tackle a Donna Leon Inspector Brunetti mystery (which are all set in Venice, and why she didn’t manage to read one last year before she was actually in Venice is yet another mystery), then Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone (Mr. Fallada doesn’t have to rub it in: Self knows she will die alone. She’s still alive, but it feels as if she’s alone. Alone in her head, that is. Then self starts wondering where her final resting place will be. Not Manila, as it’s simply too polluted. Not Bacolod Memorial Park, because she doesn’t have a plot there. The plots must be expensive. Not Redwood City, her current abode, because no one will visit. She’ll be in a vase, The Man will mis-lay the vase, and then someone will buy their house from son and in cleaning out the garage, will discover the vase, and her ashes will be tossed out, so the vase can be used for something else. Niiiiice!)

Mr. Furst — HALLELUJAH — is a very good writer. Even though Dark Star is labeled a thriller, there is tons of atmosphere. There are urine-soaked allies, and ships moving through storms, and indifferent captains, and all that Bourne-type stuff.

In one scene, our hero (a man named Szara, who so far hasn’t shown any tendencies towards criminality, but whose backstory at this point in time — p. 12 — is still opaque) encounters a mysterious woman. It is always nice to have the option to hang out with mysterious (and also good-looking) women while waiting in some European city to receive one’s next assignment. This is what Tom Cruise does all the time in those Mission Impossible movies:

Szara liked women and they knew it.  All he wanted to do, as the tension left him, was chatter, maybe make her laugh. They were just people, a man and a woman, but she wasn’t buying.  Whatever this was, he thought, it was not an arrest. Very well, then a continuation of the business he did with the NKVD from time to time.  Every journalist, every citizen outside the Soviet Union, had to do that.

The NKVD must be something like the Soviet KGB. Perhaps a precursor?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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.

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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