Wednesday, February 20, 2019

February Reading Update

 If you ever peek at my other blog or at my Instagram feed, you might already know that I was at a veritable Book Mecca last week, when I spent some pleasant and tempting hours at Powell's Books in Portland Oregon
 Rooms and rooms filled with stacks and stacks of books new and used. . . .


I did not leave empty-handed. . . .
 But before I dive into that pile, time to up-date here on the blog. I'm enjoying my new approach to recording and sharing my reading. Jotting down a few notes as I read or finish each book seems more immediate and minimizes the dangers of procrastination. Similarly, the ease of posting a photo of a book cover or page on Instagram requires so much less work than writing a post here.

As I've said before, however, I still value very much the community that we've built here, and I think this platform might be better both for sharing your recommendations and for finding each other's recommendations later.

So with the aid of my little notebook, let me catch you up with my reading, and then perhaps you'll tell me about yours. (I do realize that this notebook approach means that my comments on what I've read will tend to be more fragmentary, but at least this way I might end up posting more regularly.)
 N.K. Jemisin's Fifth Season  is the first volume of her Broken Earth trilogy, which I gave Paul for Christmas (don't worry, I waited for him to finish it before I borrowed it ;-)

Transcription: Fantasy -- post-apocalyptic/dystopian. Cohesive imaginative world. Great characters.

Actually, this is perhaps more science fiction than fantasy -- Speculative fiction?
It's frighteningly easy to imagine this as a post-apocalyptic Earth, although the orogenes and stone-eaters might be an extrapolation too far. They work so well as analogy, though, and allow so much to be explored re race and class and caste, individuals and communities, power, politics, respect for the environment, what survival means and what values survive the focus on survival. . . 

Also, the layers and layers of history, the regular annotations from the books that lay down foundational stories, rules for survival etc., And then the stories (written and oral) that question or counter these . . . 

Gender, sexuality, erotics -- imaginative and credible. Horrifying control of "Breeding" but/which applies to both genders.
 6. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa's The Leopard -- about which I wrote a fair bit, in green ink you can see above and below.  After a very brief synopsis of the novel -- a modern classic about the effects of Italian unification on Sicily, through the eyes of a Sicilian aristocrat, Don Fabrizio Corbera--I've copied a few passages that seemed worth considering.
 I also posted favourite passages from the book on Instagram: here and here and here.
 7. I returned Paul Auster's 4 3 2 1  to the library yesterday, and I will admit with only the teeniest bit of shame or regret that I returned it without having read the last 400 pages, stopping at around 470 pages.  The book has a fascinating structure, tracing four possible lives of a single protagonist growing up in post-war America in a non-religious Jewish home. We realize at a certain point that new chapters might locate us in a different life, so that some re-orientation is necessary, as I explain briefly in my notes.
 I also comment on the sentences -- their length and energy are astonishing, impressive, admirable, although they sometimes require a deep breath beforeheand.

And as you'll see, above, on February 13th I admitted that I'm not going to finish the book, and below I declare that decision was made without regrets. Hmmmm.
 I apologize for the pink ink and readily concede that it's not legible enough. Let me know if you'd like me to transcribe a particular passage. . .

8. Philippe Georget's Summertime: All the Cats Are Bored is the first in a French noir series I highly recommend (I'd love to be able to find at least one of the series in the original French and will keep an eye out when I'm next in France; our library doesn't have a copy, although it does keep a decent French collection).

and then
9. Anna Burns' stunning Man-Booker-prize-winning Milkman
I recommend this highly. An amazing tour-de-force,  a sort of misbildungsroman, if you will. (A country/community/culture like the one depicted in this novel -- clearly Northern Ireland during The Troubles, although identifying names or landmarks or military forces are never given except in generalities such as "the country across the water" and "the country across the border" and "the state" and "renouncers of the state" -- is not capable of "bildung" -- of "building" or "educating" its young to adulthood). The young female protagonist is the most compelling mix of perception and naïveté and humour and impetuousness and caution and mutism and resistance. . .

And the writer -- wow! -- stylistically and structurally this book invites analysis and deserves marvel. Her mastery of long divergences that prove themselves inarguably relevant, and the litanies, catalogues, pilings-on of analogies in the protagonist and her community's attempts to get closer to saying what they mean (in a culture with a disposition to use language well, to tell stories, but in a time and place where muzzling is a dominant force, gossip a terrifying and potent discursive element).

 This section below, when the narrator's mother inquires if her daughter's been "fecundated" by the eponymous Milkman -- and then goes on to offer alternatives to that "singular" word. . .
and
10. I've just finished Terese Marie Mailhot's Heart Berries: A Memoir to the library where there were 14 people waiting for a copy (and 65 copies out being read -- and it deserves all that attention, this brilliant, lyrical, searingly honest, beautiful, painful memoir about a First Nation (Coast Salish) woman who breaks away from the poverty and family dysfunction that are a direct result of colonialism -- but, in breaking away, in making a place for herself in the academic world of creative writing, also struggles with mental illness, with motherhood, with negotiating a healthy relationship with the man she . . . nope, no spoilers here. This one you will want to read for yourselves. 

13 comments:

Eleonore said...

My February reads (although the month is not quite over yet):
1. Ursula LeGuin: No Time to Spare. You recommended this book quite some time ago, but it took me several months to get hold of a copy in English. I enjoyed the sharp look at power structures and gender relations, the clear reasoning, the open-mindedness when it comes to relations between mankind and nature. (As a confessed allurophile, I particularly liked the "Annals of Pard" and even tried to translate the "doggerel" into German. Not quite finished yet.) The book led the way to LeGuin's website, where I started reading those blog posts which did not make it into the book.
2. "Blutorangen" (blood oranges) by a young German author. She follows the histories of two Spanish families from Valencia through the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War, post-war Spain under Franco, post-war Germany and into the present. I was a bit reluctant at first, fearing some kind of reconciliation- and-let's-face-the-future-together thing - but no. She is quite clear on the question of guilt.
Next on my list is "Hillbilly Elegy" by J.D. Vance.

Mary said...

Interesting to read your commentary on what captures you (or not) in your reading. Haven't done that myself, but I probably should write down my thoughts as I have found some recent material has been quite impactful. Seem to be in memoir mode recently. Two that were particularly gripping were Inheritance by Dani Shapiro and In Pieces by Sally Field (listened on CD to her reading which I think really enhanced the experience). Both books were by women coming to grips with aspects of their life. Found both to be very moving. Reread The Shepherd's Life by James Rebanks--a gifted writer. Then, The Glass House by Jeanette Walls. You can see why each of these had me thinking about how I grew up (loved and fairly secure even though we moved around the world a great deal so I was frequently the new kid) versus some whose lives are filled with insecurity and struggle early on--and the pain that never quite leaves. Lots of other reading accomplished, but none quite as moving as those listed above.

materfamilias said...

How funny that a German who speaks English as a second (third? fourth?) language should teach me a new word -- "allurophile"! I wouldn't call myself one, particularly, but I like cats well enough and really enjoyed LeGuin's writing about hers.
I'm always leery of novels set in WWII and onward for similar reasons to yours (although no doubt for you as German) -- sounds as if Lamberti's would be good to read should it get translated.
I'll be curious to see what you think of Hillbilly Elegy. . . I had some reservations, but found it compelling.

materfamilias said...

I've been reading more memoir lately as well, but I haven't read any of the titles you mention (yet). And yes, I think that any memoir, really, gets us thinking about how we might construct a narrative of our own lives, or of a limited period or a single event in them. And comparing lives lived. . .

Mary said...

I think Sally Field's book will surprise you. Definitely not a 'celebrity' book. She is unflinching in her assessment of her past behaviors. It is a book about pulling apart the pieces (as the title implies) of a life to gain understanding and, perhaps, some peace.

Anonymous said...

Your Instagram/ Blog combination works very well-it is not so demanding for you,as you said,and I've often wondered in-between posts: What does Frances read-now I know
Different ink colours-such a lovely touch!
And Milkman. Wow,what a novel,what a narrative,what a language,what litanies....really stunning! Such a strong novel,a marvel....I'm still reading (and have a feeling that I want to start over and over,from the beginning,if you understand)....sometimes loud,as you did,because,it really gets a new dimension
Highly recommend
(I've read Handmaid's tale some thirty years ago and have forgotten almost everything and didn't watch the series,so I can't clarify,even for myself,why is something here that sounds,reminds.......?)
And if you've read some of the reviews,there are always only some of the quotations from the beginning of the book,funny,no?
As for the memoirs: I've read Lisa Brennan Jobs Small Fry-very interesting,her relations with Steve,her father,and mother ......a lot to think about
I've finished Edugyan's Washington Black and Tommy Orange's There,There,both excellent and poignant books-I think you understand that I have to read a lot of WJ Burley's Wycliffe books in-between
Dottoressa

Mardel said...

I have to agree with Mary about Sally Field's book, although I admittedly also listened to it as read by the author during a period of eye strain when I was not allowed to read. She is unflinching, and although the story is at times quite painfully honest and upsetting, the author does not spare herself either. I found it powerful and encouraging.

Mardel said...

My February reading was mostly occupied with popcorn fiction, either read walking on the boring old treadmill in my apartment complex while it poured outside, or late at night on an airplane when I just wanted mindless stuff: Dan Brown, Stuart Woods. I just finished Lee Childs recent Jack Reacher Novel, Past Tense, and the opening paragraph really captured my attention, with its wonderful evocation of migration and hope and yearning, and the sharp, almost a literary slap, of the interruption. Otherwise memoirs, Sally Field's, mentioned above, and Sara Westover's. Looking at what I read, including the two non-fiction volumes, White Fragility and Violent Borders, I can see why I yearned for mindless escape. They play hand in hand those books, on the micro and macro levels, revealing the cracks in our assumptions, what we take for granted, and what we need to change.

Anonymous said...

Mardel,I assume that you've read Dan Brown's latest book-for a light read,is it worth to read? I've read all of his other books and was a little bit saturated,but maybe would try again
Dottoressa

materfamilias said...

Thanks for this, Mardel. I agree with you so much that it's necessary to include "popcorn fiction" to leaven the heaviness of the more challenging reading. And if we're lucky, the so-called popcorn fiction can often yield resonances that bring us back to what the tougher stuff illuminated. I haven't yet read White Fragility nor Violent Borders.. .

materfamilias said...

I'm glad you find the combination is working -- I find it more manageable as a way of keeping a conversation going without having to write so much, and it's fun to try different ways to communicate about books.
Like you, I was bowled over by Milkman -- still thinking about it and may have to buy my own copy as it's one to reread, as you say. It's been a while since I've read The Handmaid's Tale also, but I see why you could connect the two. Both are dystopic, both anti-feminist/patriarchal settings, both protagonist/narrators are very judicious in their resistance/rebellion. But I've probably already misspoke about the Atwood, so I'd better read it again before saying any more. Thanks for that insight.
Yes! And to quote only from the beginning of that book is not to represent it well at all -- do you think the reviewers got all the way through?
Haven't read Small Fry or There There yet -- but yes, I can see what you'd need palate cleansers in between (why don't I know these Wycliff books? Should I add them to my list?)

materfamilias said...

Duly noted re Sally Field's memoir -- and I've admired her acting throughout most of her career.

Anonymous said...

Sue has written about them-it is an old fashion setting (with all the old fashion relations and values ,with old fashioned murders) and I find it charming and soothing (somewhere between A,Christie and Ann Cleeves sideline George and Molly Palmer Jones or Inspector Ramsay novels )
I think I'm infected with Cornwal,its beauty and people,too
I've bought the first of Susan Hill's Simon Serrailler's novels (lucky me,there are a plethora of them,thank you for the recommendation)
D.