Juicy Reads for janeajones
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Books Read in 2016
1. Edward St. Aubyn, Lost for Words, novel, British, 2014: 1/2
2. Radclyffe Hall, A Saturday Life, novel, British, 1925:
3. Per Petterson, Out Stealing Horses, trans. by Anne Born, novel, Norwegian, 2003:1/2
4. Marie Slaight, The Antigone Poems, poetry, Canadian, 2014:1/2
5. Virginia Woolf, Melymbrosia, edited by Louise DeSalvo, novel, British, 1912/2002: 1/2
6. Giulio Leoni, The Mosaic Crimes, trans. Anne Milano Appel, novel, Italian, 2004/2006: 1/2
7. Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out, novel, British, 1915: 1/2
8. James Anderson, The Never-Open Desert Diner, novel, American, mystery, 2015:
9. Joy Williams, The Changeling, novel, American, 1978/2008:
10. Kathrine Kressman Taylor, Address Unknown, epistolary short story, American, 1938/2001:
11. Kathy Hepinstall, Blue Asylum, historical novel, American, 2012:
12. Siri Hustvedt, The Blazing World, novel, American, 2014:1/2
13, Miroslav Penkoff, Stork Mountain, novel, Bulgarian, American, 2016: 1/2
14. Barbara Ann Hillman Jones, OUR SCANDINAVIAN HERITAGE: A Collection of Memories by The Norden Clubs Jamestown, New York, memoirs, American, 2012:
15. Penelope Fitzgerald, Offshore, novel, British, 1979:1/2
16. Louise Erdrich, The Plague of Doves, novel, American, 2008:
17. Ursula Leguin, Lavinia, historical novel, American, 2008:
18. Iris Anthony, The Ruins of Lace, historical novel, American, 2012, Kindle:
19. Gregor von Rezzori, The Snows of Yesteryear (Blumen in Schnee),trans. H.F. Broch de Rothermann, memoir, Austro-Romanian, 1989: 1/2
20. Arnaldur Indridason, Silence of the Grave,(Grafarthogn), trans. Bernard Scudder, mystery, Icelandic, 2002: 1/2
21. Sylvia Townsend Warner Lolly Willowes, novel, British, 1926:
22. Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child, novel, American, 2012:
23. Deborah Larsen, The White, historical novel, American, 2002: 1/2
24. David Liss, A Conspiracy of Paper, historical mystery, American, 2000: 1/2
25. Gertrude Stein, The World Is Round: 75th Anniversary Edition, children's tale, American, 1939/2014:
26. Alexander McCall Smith, Dream Angus, retold myth, British, 2006:
27. Eve Laplante, American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans, biography, American, 2005:1/2
28. Camilla Läckberg, The Stranger, (Olycksfageln), trans. Steven T. Murray, mystery, Swedish, 2006/2013:
29. Margaret Atwood, Hag-Seed, novel, Canadian, 2016:1/2
30. Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, novella, American, 1962: 1/2
31. Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping, novel, American, 2004:
Statistics on my 2015 reading:
52 books read
32 by female authors
21 by male authors
(one was co-authored by a male and female)
16 books in translation
1 @ Cuban, Hungarian, Czech, Albanian, French, Austrian, Japanese
36 books in English
22 American (4 African-American)
5 s -- 9
4-4 1/2 s -- 30
3-3 1/2 s -- 10
2-2 1/2 s -- 3
4 1/2 or 5 star reads of 2015:
Doris Lessing, The Grandmothers, 4 novellas
Michael Ondaatje, The Cat's Table, novel
David Bajo, The 351 Books of Irma Arcuri, novel
Halldor Laxness, Under the Glacier, Kristnihald undir Jökli, trans. Magnus Magnusson, novel
Halldor Laxness, The Fish Can Sing, trans. Magnus Magnusson, novel
Heather O'Neill, Lullabies for Little Criminals, novel
Ismail Kadare, Spring Flowers, Spring Frost, Lulet e ftohta të marsit, trans. David Bellos, novella
Vita Sackville-West, The Edwardians, novel
Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries, novel, historical fiction, Man Booker Prize
Marilynne Robinson, Lila, novel
David Herter, The First Republic Trilogy: On the Overgrown Path, The Luminous Depths and One Who Disappeared, heterocosmic novels
Elena Ferrante, Neapolitan Novels: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child, trans. Ann Goldstein, Bildungsroman
Jacqueline Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming, memoir, narrative poetry
The Confessions of Lady Nijo, trans. and edited by Karen Brazell, diary, memoir
Tove Jansson, Sculptor's Daughter: A Childhood Memoir
Patti Smith, M Train, memoir
Jack Weatherford, The Secret History of the Mongol Queens, history, biography
Szilvia Cseh, Ferenc Gosztonyi (Editor), Judit Pokoly (Translator), Hungarian National Gallery: The Collections - Guide, museum catalog
Hope 2016 is as good a reading year!
You had a great 2015 reading year. I see several authors/books that I hope to get to soon: Laxness, Robinson, etc. I keep picking up The Luminaries, but just can't yet seem to commit to it.
Here's to another good year!
Hi Thea. The Luminaries looks daunting, especially in book form. I read it on my kindle -- I think that subconsciously made the heft of it less obvious. It finally got five stars from me.
I don't really have any reading goals for the year, other than I'd like to get started on reading all of Virginia Woolf's novels in chronological order. Last year's reading looks pretty Western-oriented, I think I'd like to read more Asian and African books. I have books all over the house beckoning to me, and plenty on my kindle to pick up when we go travelling. I continually resolve to buy fewer books, and then one of you posts an enticing review, and I immediately find myself on Amazon. Ah well, c'est la vie.
Of course I'm following here. : ) Following you through Woolf sounds wonderful. Happy New Year Jane.
M Train by Patti Smith, 2015
I finished this one on New Year's Eve, so it was my last book of 2015, but since it's 2016, I'll comment on it here.
I loved M Train; not quite as much as I loved Just Kids, but almost. Although Smith is my contemporary, I never really hooked into her music or performances -- she peaked in the punk-rock scene when I was going to graduate school, having babies, and into folk-rock. She's a wildly restless, wildly adventurous romantic soul with deep connections to the Beat world of Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs. We do share enthusiasms for William Blake, Frida Kahlo, Bertolt Brecht, and favorite children's books like Daddy Longlegs and Anne of Green Gables.
M Train is a journey into the head of Patti Smith -- her memories, her obsessions, her present as a poet/artist in her late 60s. The picture on the cover of the book was taken by a casual acquaintance, passer-by, with Smith at her corner table of the Cafe 'Ino, on the day the cafe was closing. It is iconic of the voice of the book -- the watch-cap, the cup of black coffee, the Polaroid camera, the deeply ruminative gaze.
She invites us on her trip to Devil's Island to gather stones for Genet, to Reykjavik for a meeting of the exclusive Continental Drift Club honoring Alfred Wegener, on her drives through Detroit with her husband Fred, to the Dorotheenstadt Cemetary where Brecht is buried, to her cottage in Far Rockaway dubbed "My Alamo" which survived Hurricane Sandy.
She pushes her way through a persistent malaise with work, black coffee, beloved detective shows, and travel. Always in the background is an apparition of a philosophic cowpoke prodding her thoughts. The book is dedicated "for Sam." One cannot help but reference her onetime lover and collaborator, Sam Shepard.
M Train is the memoir of a purposeful, persistent wanderer through life. I admire both the writing and the writer.
I also really enjoyed Just Kids but I don't think I will take on any more Patti Smith just yet.
I might just read M Train this year. I have a copy. Just Kids is one of my favorite books.
Hi Jane! Happy New Year! It's interesting to see all your favorite books from 2015 listed together. They make a sort of picture in the mind's eye. Everybody's picture is different, like faces.
Looking forward to your reading this year.
Hi Suzanne -- glad to see you here. Do you have a thread?? I can't find it.
No thread yet. A thread assumes I am actually reading a book, and for some reason I am in a reading slump --as to books anyway. It's just a matter of time . . . ;-)
I'll be reading several Woolf novels this year, as well, though not in chronological order. Good luck!
Happy New Year!
Lost for Words by Edward St. Aubyn
Lost for Words is a wild satiric romp through the machinations and chicanery of the British book prize world. A new chair has just been appointed head of the committee that awards the Elysian Prize.
A quick look at the members of the committee and the authors of some of the books submitted will suffice for a commentary:
Malcolm Craig, chair, a political back-bencher in Parliament, with a penchant for Scottish novels. He accepted the position as a means to raise his public profile.
Jo Cross, a columnist and media personality who is looking for relevance in the list of nominees.
Vanessa Shaw, an Oxbridge academic who does value literary quality.
Penny Feathers, a retired foreign service employee, who writes detective novels with the help of a software program called Ghost.
Tobias Benedict, an actor, who because of his schedule can't attend the meetings, but favors an historical novel featuring William Shakespeare.
Sonny, an Indian pasha, who has written a tome titled The Mulberry Elephant.
Aunty, his aunt, whose cookbook, Palace is mistakenly substituted for the competition in place of the debut novel by
Katherine Burns, author of Consequences, a stunning young writer who counts among her many lovers --
Alan Oaks, her editor, and hapless agent of the mistaken submission
Didier Leroux, a French semiotician
Sam Black, who has written the short-listed Bildungsroman, The Frozen Torrent, to gain enough recognition so that his skeptical, pain-driven manuscript False Notes might be published.
It's not great literature, but over-the top, good fun with parodical excerpts from contemporary novels. Very entertaining.
>18 janeajones: I have that in my TBR pile and hope to get to it soon. So many books . . .
The only thing I know about Patti Smith is Because the Night, really, but that's one of the songs that has been with me all my adult life. Her name keeps popping up once in a while and I keep meaning to find out more about her. I added Just Kids to my wishlist.
>18 janeajones: gosh, quite a change of tone from the series of novels about Patrick Melrose, which are excellent but gruelling.
23> This is the only St. Aubyn I've read (it was a Christmas gift), so I don't have any basis for comparison.
Lost for Words was fun. Several of my friends have read the Melrose series and have praised his writing mightily, but found the subject matter grueling, indeed. I may have to wait until I can emotionally gird myself, given what they've told me about it.
Nice review of M Train. I still have to read Just Kids.
>24 janeajones: he's probably best known for the Patrick Melrose novels, I think. They are semi-autobiographical and tell the story of a young man growing up in a monstrously dysfunctional family. Phenomenal, but a tough read because of the subject matter.
Thanks for reminding me about Lost for Words, Jane. I bought a copy of it in 2014, and I'll move it higher on my TBR list.
Looking forward to following your reading this year Jane. I have Just Kids on the TBR shelves so in light of all this praise it appears to be worth my while to get to it soon.
I read one of the Patrick Melrose novels and didn't care for it, so didn't read the others. Lost for Words sounds like it might be fun, though.
A Saturday Life by Radclyffe Hall, 1925
' According to an Eastern tradition, whose origin is lost in antiquity, there are certain spirits who incarnate seven times only on Earth. The seventh incarnation of such a spirit is known as "the Final Path", but among those in the West who hold this theory it is sometimes referred to as "The Saturday Life".
'People who are living a "Saturday Life" are said to have no new experiences, but to spend it entirely in a last rehearsal of experiences previously gained. They are said to exhibit remarkable talent for a number of different things; but since they have many memories to revive, they can never concentrate for long on one. This also applies to their relations with people, which are generally unsatisfactory.'
Sidonia Shore is the daughter of the widowed Lady Prudence Shore, who is devoted to the memory of her husband Sir Godfrey, an Egyptologist. Lady Shore busies herself with his papers -- writing his biography and a commentary on his beloved scarabs. But then there is Sidonia, a beautiful, willful child beset by instinctive talents to which she becomes passionately attached one after another. Her mother and her mother's devoted friend, Frances Reide, cossett Sidonia with private tutors and lessons as she flits from one passion to another, trying to find "the thing that's inside me to get out -- my talent, my genius -- whatever it is."
Hall's early novel is amusing, but wildly uneven. While it seems to be set in the Edwardian and Georgian periods (near the end of the novel there are automobiles that can reach the breakneck speed of 60 mph), there is no sense of any of the social or political upheaval in Britain and Europe at the time. Only Frances, with her mannish costumes and monocled eye hints at the sexual tension underlying the period (and Hall's own life). There is gentle satire of the privileged, wealthy lives that the characters lead, but it is satire with no acid.
In sum, a short, pleasant read, but rather perplexing as to the author's purpose, even as the dedication reads "To Myself."
One warning -- if you pick this up, read the novel before the introduction which is full of spoilers.
>30 janeajones: I'm not sure I will get to this one, Jane, despite your good review. It seems I've packed my unplanned year with "unplanned" books. As for spoilers in Introductions, I've given up reading introductions until I'm finished with a book. Everyone seems to add spoilers.
Interesting quote to open your review. Enjoyed your review... even if I'm very unlikely to read the book.
>30 janeajones: I too find the opening quote intriguing. Is it from the novel itself?
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, trans. by Anne Born, 2003
At 67, three years after the deaths of his wife and sister, Trond Sander has retreated to a small house on a river in the sparsely populated far east of Norway. He has determined to live alone with only his dog Lyra as a companion.
All my life I have longed to be alone in a place like this. Even when everything was going well, as it often did. I have been lucky....I could suddenly get a longing to be in a place where there was only silence.
He has not completely cut himself off from civilization; he goes into the nearby town for supplies and he has a car and a radio, though he chooses to eschew television and is ambivalent about hooking up to the telephone service. He spends his days getting the place in order, fishing, and walking his dog until one night his peace is disturbed by a neighbor whistling for his straying dog, and he goes out to assist him. He recognizes the neighbor as someone from his distant past, and the recognition sets into motion the opening up of his memory-hoard, and we encounter a man reaching for his adolescence, his experience during the Nazi occupation, his parents, and an old friendship.
The novel unfolds as a series of revelations, some shocking, some subtle -- it has the quality of a investigative mystery, but a highly lyrical and beautifully written one. It is also a meditation on the rites of passage of adolescence and of aging. As in much Scandinavian writing, a focus on the struggle to live within nature, always tending carefully to one's tools, is central to the gestalt of the book.
Only a few loose ends took a half star off my perfect rating. Highly recommended.
I loved Out Stealing Horses when I read, but didn't like the other Petterson I read (which, like Chris, I don't remember the name of).
Out Stealing Horses has been on my shelf for a while now - hoping to get to it this year. Thanks for the push!
Hadn't heard of Out Stealing Horses, but it sounds interesting. Now that I am an old person --- and finally admitting it! --- I really enjoy reading about them. Interesting that events triggered thoughts about his adolescence, as opposed to his twenties or thirties. I may have to look for this.
Thanks all for stopping by. Out Stealing Horses was completely under my radar until it arrived as a Christmas gift.
I just picked up Out Stealing Horses at a favorite used book store haunt. Glad to see that I got a good one!
A Saturday Life sounds like a novel I would like to read. Great pick and nice review.
Out Stealing Horses jumped onto my Wishlist based on your review!
>38 janeajones: Two books added to my wishlist, and we've just started February.
The Mosaic Crimes by Giulio Leoni, trans. Anne Milano Appel
Baswood's (Barry's) review of this one piqued my curiosity, so I picked up a copy.
Set in Florence in June 1300, two years before the Black Guelphs defeated the Whites, and Dante was permanently exiled from Florence, a sense of prevailing doom hangs over The Mosaic Crimes. Dante is serving as one of the six Priors elected to rule the City of Venice. When a master mosaicist is murdered in a gruesome fashion, he is bidden to investigate the crime. His investigations lead him to a group of non-Florentine scholars, known as the Third Heaven, who have come to Florence at the behest of Pope Boniface to found a studium, a university, in the city. The tavern where the group meets is also frequented by an exotic Eastern dancer, Antilia, who enchants all who look upon her.
The novel is dense with allusions to Dante's works and full of conversations about late medieval theology, philosophy, and theories of art, which may seem arcane to the modern reader, but certainly lend authenticity to the locale and time. Although Leoni's Dante is a bitter man, beset by recurring migraines -- arrogant, vengeful, self-righteous, but always curious -- not a particularly sympathetic protagonist, I did find The Mosaic Crimes a satisfying read.
Melymbrosia and The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf completed Melymbrosia, her first novel in 1910, but she did not publish it until 1915 after two complete redraftings and retitling it as The Voyage Out. Louise DeSalvo, a Woolf scholar, spent seven years at the Berg Collection piecing together the early manuscripts until she established the text of Melymbrosia, and the New York Public Library published it in 1982 with a description of her methodology. That book, long out of print, was re-released by Cleis Press, with a new introduction by DeSalvo, in 2002.
The basic plot line and characters of the two versions are the same, but the writing in The Voyage Out is more highly refined and somewhat more oblique than in Melymbrosia. The protagonist of the story is Rachel Vinrace, a young woman in her early 20s, daughter of the owner of a fleet of ships that trades in South America. Her mother died in childbirth, and she was raised by her two maiden aunts in Richmond, outside of London. Like most privileged young women of the time, her education was spotty, but she is a talented pianist, who has not really been afforded the training to make her a serious one. She has embarked upon a South American voyage on one of her father's ships along with her maternal uncle and aunt, Ridley and Helen Ambrose. When the ship arrives at the Ambroses' destination, a villa in Santa Rosa, an European tourist spot, Helen convinces Rachel and her father that she should stay with them until her father completes his business further up the Amazon. In the village near where the villa is located is a tourist hotel. The interaction of the denizens of the hotel and the villa and the growing awareness by Rachel of the expectations of English society and her place within it define these rites-of- passage novels.
There is a ship of fools quality to the picture of this microcosm of privileged British society caught in a colonial getaway for a few weeks. Woolf chronicles the male privileging, the female frustration, the sexual hypocrisy and the basic uselessness of most of the members of this society. The two forays made by the adventurous ones in the troupe, up a mountain trail and down the river to a native village, are completely managed by local guides and laborers who are utterly ignored by those they lead. I was reminded of the river voyage into the interior described by Aphra Behn in Oronooko, and some critics have referenced Joseph Conrad.
In both versions, the writing is exquisite, but Melymbrosia is more savagely satiric, funnier, less inhibited in its depictions of characters and their thoughts, and generally more alive than The Voyage Out. It's certainly not necessary, and indeed somewhat repetitive, to read both versions -- either is revealing as a first novel by a great novelist. Personally, I preferred Melymbrosia.
>58 janeajones: Thanks for posting that - I vaguely knew about the long gestation period of The voyage out, but I hadn't realised that Melymbrosia existed. Interesting! But the trouble with that sort of thing is that if you want to read both, unless you're extremely familiar with one version of the book you really need to do it the way you did and read them close together, otherwise the differences in the texts are masked by all sorts of other influences. And the way I felt when I got to the end of The voyage out, I don't think I could have faced going back to the Thames and starting again...
The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson
After reading two versions of Virginia Woolf's first novel, I needed something quick and easy when this LTER arrived in the mail. How could I not read it -- the author has the same name as my father, and the protagonist, Ben Jones, shares his name with my son.
This first novel is a noir mystery which owes much to its forefathers as the author acknowledges in his dedication to Ross MacDonald, John D. MacDonald, James Crumley, Robert B. Parker, Stephen J. Cannell and Sterling Watson.
The laconic protagonist-narrator drives a delivery truck along Route 191 in the stark, but beautiful Utah desert. The denizens along his route are few, scattered, and as little prone to casual conversation as is the narrator himself: Curiosity usually wasn't a problem for me. I treated it like a sleeping junkyard dog. As a general rule I didn't hop the fence.
The mystery unfolds slowly as Ben meets the mysterious Clair who has fled her husband to an abandoned house in the desert near The Never-Open Desert Diner owned by the reclusive, ancient Walt Butterfield.
Although the requisite number of deaths occur, they are peripheral to the mysterious presence of Clair and strangers who want to get close to Ben and the knowledge he has of those along his daily route. The leisurely plot development belies the violent inescapable consequences at the climax of the novel. My curiosity as to the unfolding of the plot and appreciation of the author's vivid descriptions of the desert landscape kept my attention riveted to the pages of the book.
Yes, I'm tempted to add The Never-Open Desert Diner to my wishlist.
>62 janeajones: I like you're review as a couple of the mentioned 'forefathers' are favorites of mine. It definitely sounds like Ross MacDonald with a heft dose of James M. Cain. Perhaps a little dark for my Robert B. Parker taste.
The Changeling by Joy Williams
The Fairy Tale Review Press of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, reprinted this 1978 novel in a 30th Anniversary Edition. It is a strange and wondrous breed of tale, part parable, part fairytale, part cautionary tale written in tantalizing elliptical language.
While shoplifting, Pearl, the protagonist of the novel, is herself shoplifted by Walker, who takes her off to his family-owned island, Saddleback, inhabited solely by him, his siblings, their spouses, and a dozen children, most of them adopted. The eldest brother, Thomas, is in charge of the children's education until they reach adolescence when they are sent off to boarding school. All the children are remarkable; they read by the age of four and have quirky talents and personalities, and are allowed the run of the island.
After Pearl's son, Sam, is born, she tries to escape with him to Florida -- she wanted him to be "normal" -- but they are quickly retrieved by Walker to be brought back to the island. She and Sam miraculously survive a plane crash in the Everglades, in which Walker is killed, and she is reunited with the baby in the hospital. Or is she? There is something strange about the child. Returned to island by Thomas, Pearl retreats into a haze of wine thoughout the afternoon and gin in the evening, becoming the favorite of the children. But strange things are afoot:
She knew that the children were not what they seemed. She knew that many of the things that visited her in the long wasted hours of the day were not children at all. They were phantoms, aspects only of her fatuous, remorseful and destructive self.
Once Pearl had wanted death but since she had come to the island she realized death was hopeless reolution at best. The soul separated from the body at last, yet still retaining memories and having hungers. That's the way she saw it. Yes. And what would be the use of it -- to be dead yet still to have the hungers -- the different hungers for love.
on recommendation of edwinbcn
Address Unknown by Kathrine Kressmann Taylor
Address Unknown was originally published in Story magazine in 1938 and immediately became a literary sensation, being reprinted in book form the next year in both the US and Europe.
The plot unfolds in epistolary form as a a series of letters between partners in an art gallery in San Francisco. Martin Schulse has returned to Germany with his family, while his Jewish partner Max Eisenstein remains in California to run the business. The letters begin as missives between two dear friends, but begin to take a turn as Martin is drawn into local political office and seduced by the message of the rising power of the Nazi party.
When Max receives a return letter from his actress sister marked "Addressat unbekannt," he pleads for Martin's assistance for her (she had been at one time Martin's lover). But Martin, now part of the Nazi apparatus refuses and tells Max to cease all contact. However, Max continues to write cryptic business letters to his former partner and friend.
Today, of course, the story seems predictable, but at its publication the story called attention to what was unfolding in Germany in the 1930s.
Last night I saw a production of the Pulitzer Prize winning play, Disgraced, by Ayad Akhtar, which chronicles the destruction of the career of a secular Muslim because he spoke up in court for an imam accused of terrorism. The message of the play was chillingly not so different from the message of Taylor's story.
on recommendation of cariola
Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall
Having tried to escape from her husband's Virginia plantation with a band of runaway slaves, Iris Dunleavy is declared insane and sent to an exclusive asylum on the isolated Sanibel Island off the west coast of Florida. As the Civil War rages on outside the confines of the island, Dr. Henry Cowell, the founding physician of the asylum, specializing in the madness of women, goes about his mission of "putting them (the patients) back on the path to clear thinking and normal relations with their communities."
Hepinstall creates a believable scene of a generally benevolent institution inhabited by well-developed characters, including a deeply troubled Confederate soldier, Ambrose Weller, who becomes Iris's friend and confidante. While there are no easy solutions to the problems presented in the plot, the story remains engaging throughout with a deeply humane spirit.
Enjoyed your reviews. Blue Asylum will go onto my wish list - sounds great.
Thanks, Darryl -- it was an interesting play, but not without its flaws.
The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt
This is a very smart novel about a very smart artist-protagonist by a very smart author. First off, I thoroughly enjoyed it and was engrossed by the journey of artist Harriet Burden, the recent widow of an famous art dealer, who decides to test and tease the NYC art world. The novel may be too clever by half for many readers who are impatient with stylistic devices and games, but I found Hustvedt's writing amusing and entertaining.
The novel is told from multiple perspectives, opening with an Editor's Introduction, which explains that the text is composed of a series of journals kept by Burden as well as as other commentary on and criticism of her work and testimony of significant people and family members in her life.
After her husband has died, Burden decides to present her installation works under a series of male pseudonyms -- she calls her work "Maskings." Each of the three installations garners increasing critical attention, until the third culminates in a crisis of identity and ownership. The relationships that Burden has with the three artists she hires or co-opts as fronts mirror certain aspects of her personality.
The Blazing World is probably not a novel for everyone, but if you're interested in the art world, feminism or literary experimentation, I highly recommend it.
>75 janeajones: I've had that on the TBR since someone else in Club Read recommended it. Thanks for the reminder.
>70 janeajones: >73 kidzdoc: >74 janeajones: I saw Disgraced on Broadway before it closed and would also categorize it as "an interesting play, but not without its flaws," despite its Pulitzer. Perhaps I would even call it an interesting and deserving idea; the play, less so.
Just starting to catch up Jane and it looks as though you're having a good reading year. So many things here I'd like to follow up with.
I really liked The Blazing World
An interesting story from my brother- he went to the new Whitney Museum and saw a painting by Lee Krasner ( painter but in the fifties know as the wife of Jackson Pollock) The work was in a very prominent place in the gallery. There was a Jackson Pollock work in the space as well- Krasner's work was dominant- Pollock's less so. That would not have happened a number of years ago- the woman painter would have been ignored. I think that the idea in The Blazing World where a male work was considered more important is valid. The barriers are breaking down. A year ago I saw a great documentary on a woman artist- ( Carmen ?-) who was in her 90's and painted great works- she is just getting recognized now in her 100th year- I think that the Whitney is giving her a major show this year?
I saw Disgraced last month in Toronto- very powerful work-
Here's an interesting article on female detectives for all you aficionados: http://lithub.com/women-detectives-in-fact-and-fiction/
76,77, 78 and 81> Lola, Florence, Rebecca and Barry -- I think you'd enjoy the Blazing World. It's also full of philosophy and the Duchess Margaret Cavendish seems to be Burden's presiding muse: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Cavendish,_Duchess_of_Newcastle-upon-Tyne
79 and 82> Thea -- It has been a good reading year, when I get to the reading.
79, 80 and 82> Thea, Darryl and Cyrel --Disgraced is not a play that I'd put amongst my most memorable theatre-going experiences, but it is timely.
80> Cyrel -- I'd love to see the Krasner exhibit. I hope the barriers are breaking down -- they seem to crack and crumble and then get rebuilt.
I read The Blazing World when it came out a year or two ago and still think about it. It was a challenging novel to read, but it has kept me thinking and I love that. Glad you enjoyed it too!
The Blazing World sounds very interesting. I'll keep my eye out for it. Did you find it more arts commentary or literary (if that makes sense)?
86> women in the art world and philosophy -- if that makes sense ;-)
I've neglected reviewing books the past month and am about to go off on a road trip, so these reviews will be short.
Stork Mountain by Miroslav Penkov
This is a magical novel narrated by a young man returning to the Bulgarian Strandja Mountains, as the storks return yearly, to find his grandfather and claim his inheritance. He has gone deeply into debt in America and plans to sell his ancestral land to bail himself out. Instead he is drawn into a tangled society inhabited by Christian and Muslim neighbors, a maze of dreams and half-truths built by his grandfather, pagan myths and an ancient society of fire dancers. I found the novel, by turns, enthralling, quite funny and poignant, until the ending which didn't quite work for me. It's an intriguing first novel by a writer best known for his short stories.
OUR SCANDINAVIAN HERITAGE: A Collection of Memories by The Norden Clubs by Barbara Ann Hillman Jones
An engaging collection of personal memories of Swedish immigrants and their descendants who found their way to settle in Jamestown, NY, my hometown. Edited with an introduction by the older sister of a childhood friend of mine, it is obviously a labor of love, but probably only of local interest.
(Don't know why the picture doesn't appear).
Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald
Offshore won the Booker Prize for 1979. In a rather Chekhovian manner, Fitzgerald tells the story of the gradual dissolution of a community of houseboat dwellers on the Battersea Reach of the Thames. They are a motley crew -- a retired naval officer and his wife, who would rather be landside; Maurice, a friendly prostitute; Willis, a marine artist who must sell his leaky boat, and Nenna with her two daughters who refuse to go to school. Although I enjoyed the book, it hasn't stuck with me very well.
>90 janeajones: Although I enjoyed the book, it hasn't stuck with me very well.
That's pretty much my reaction to Offshore too. I really love the mid-century British novel written by women writers, but this one wasn't a favourite. The year it won the Booker, the other short listed books were Joseph by Julian Barnes (no touchstone although there are many completely unrelated options), Confederates by Thomas Keneally, A Bend in the River by Naipaul, and Praxis by Fay Weldon. I haven't read any of those to compare.
The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
After having read a review of Erdrich's latest novel, LaRose, and discovering it was the last in a trilogy containing The Plague of Doves and The Round House, I decided to start with the first novel.
It's vintage Erdrich, a family/community story told by three narrators: Evelina Harp, a young girl; her grandfather Mooshum, the historian of the family; and Judge Antone Coutts, in love with Evelina's aunt, Geraldine. Their stories interweave and offer different perspectives on the Ojibwe and Anglo inhabitants of Pluto, ND, a dying town, and its neighbor the Ojibwe reservation.
The theme of the trilogy, according to Erdrich, is justice. In the case of this novel, the justice has to do with the murder of a family and the subsequent lynching of three Ojibwe by vengeance-seeking citizens of Pluto.
This interview with Erdrich reveals her intent and other interesting aspects of her writing life: http://therumpus.net/2016/05/the-sunday-rumpus-interview-louise-erdrich/
Lavinia by Ursula Le Guin
Lavinia is the tale of the end of The Aeneid told by a voice silent in the epic poem. Lavinia is the daughter of the king of the Latins, destined by Virgil (and the gods) to become the wife of Aeneas and the mother of the Roman empire.
As daughter of the king and priestess in the sacred rites, Lavinia is gifted with visions -- a series of which are conversations with the poet Virgil as he is dying. She ascertains the immediate future and takes her destiny into her own hands, even as rivals, including her cousin Turnus, are vying to marry her and inherit the kingdom.
I appreciated the mythic revisioning of this tale and enjoyed LeGuin's creation of an early Italian society. While it's not quite up to the standard of The Left Hand of Darkness, for anyone who knows The Aeneid, this is an interesting and well written adjunct.
I enjoyed The Plague of Doves too, after not reading Erdrich for many years.
Behind on the reviewing again. So one a day for the next few days.
Ruins of Lace by Iris Anthony (Kindle)
As distraction reading, this historical novel worked just fine. Ruins of Lace, set in the 17th century, tells a tale of lace production and smuggling from Flanders into France. The lace was made in the earliest sweat shops, by young girls and women who were often blind and bent by the age of 30, and then turned out on the streets. Sometimes these workshops were housed in convents and run by nuns, under the guise of providing for the poor. The lace was coveted and treasured by French aristocrats who paid exorbitant prices for it. The trade was tightly controlled by the monarchy of Louis XIII, so smuggling was rife, by any means possible, including trained dogs.
Obviously well researched, the novel, however, is loosely structured around multiple viewpoints. Although (or perhaps because) Anthony uses 1st person narrations, none of the characters is well-developed -- I only recall snatches of their characters which were connected to their sufferings.
If you're interested in lace and 17th century fashion politics, the book is informative. I gave it 3 stars.
The Snows of Yesteryear: Portraits for an Autobiography (Blumen in Schnee) by Gregor von Rezzori, trans. H.F. Broch de Rothermann, memoir
This is a gorgeous memoir written as series of portraits of the author's family: Cassandra (his nurse), The Mother, The Father, The Sister, and Bunchy (his governess). It is also a memoir of a dissolving world and culture, set in the Bukovina and Vienna, in the years between the first and second World Wars.
Bukovina, Rezzori's birthplace and homeland, had been populated by a widely variegated mix of tribes, ethnicities and religions, administered under the control of the Austrian Empire.
According to the website of the Bukovina Society of America:
"Bukovina, on the eastern slopes of the Carpathian mountains, was once the heart of the Romanian Principality of Moldavia (Moldova), with the city of Suceava being made its capital in 1388. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Painted Monasteries of Arbora, Dragomirna, Humor, Moldovita, Putna, Sucevita, and Voronet were constructed under the patronage of Stefan the Great and his son Petru Rares. With their famous exterior frescoes, these monasteries remain some of the greatest cultural treasures of Romania, today.
Along with the rest of Romania, Bukovina fell under the control of the Ottoman Turks. It remained in Turkish control until it was occupied by the Russians, in 1769, then by the Austrians, in 1774. With the Treaty of Constantinople in 1775, control of Bukovina was given to the Austrian Empire. Administered as a district of the province of Galicia between 1786-1849, Bukovina was granted the status of an separate crown land and duchy in 1849. When the Austrian Empire was reorganized into the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary, in the Compromise of 1867, Bukovina, like Galicia, remained under Austrian administration, while the neighboring province of Transylvania was placed under Hungarian rule.
During World War I, Bukovina became a battlefield between Austrian and Russian troops. Although the Russians were finally driven out in 1917, Austria would lose Bukovina with the war, ceding the province to Romania in the Treaty of St. Germain.
On June 28, 1940, northern Bukovina was occupied by troops from the Soviet Union. It would change hands again during the course of World War II, but this half of Bukovina ended back in Soviet hands, and is today the Chernivetska oblast of Ukraine. Southern Bukovina is now part of Suceava county, Romania." http://www.conflicts.rem33.com/images/Ukraine/bukovina.htm
Rezzori's family belonged to the ruling Austrian bourgeosie. His father continued to capably administer the oversight of the Painted Monasteries with the transition to Romanian rule, although his obsessive passion was for hunting. His mother, displaced from her genteel Viennese family, was neurotic and unreliable, with a guilt-ridden sense of duty and germophobia. Four years older than her brother, his sister, adored by her father, at times succmbed to a mocking superiority, although the siblings shared a sense of their absurd situation:
We lived in Bukovina -- more radically than would have the case elseshere -- as the flotsam of the European class struggle, which is what the two great wars really were. Our childhood was spent among slightly mad and dislocated personalities in a period that also was mad and dislocated and fille with unrest. And where unrest leads to grief and grief gives rise to lament, poetry blossoms.
The Snows of Yesteryear is a haunting and haunted vision full of exquisitely observed details and nuances.
Silence of the Grave (Grafarthogn) by Arnaldur Indridason, trans. Bernard Scudder
This is the second book in Indridason's Inspector Erlendur series, 11 of 14 of which have been translated into English. It's the first I've read, so I have no comment on how it fits into the series.
When human remains are found in what appears to be a grave on a construction site, the Reykjavik homicide squad, led by Inspector Erlendur, is call to investigate -- as is a team of archeologists from the National Museum and a geologist from the university. By examining the soil strata, the geologist determines the grave to be about 70 years old -- so the mystery becomes who was buried there and why.
The story of the investigation is interwoven with chapters revealing the harrowing life of a family terrorized by the father during the wartime occupation of Iceland, first by the British and then by the Americans.
The plot is more focused on character than procedures or revelations. It certainly belongs to the Scandinavian-noir genre -- a fast, but not particularly pleasant read.
Catching up with your reviews and I enjoyed your review of The Snows of Yesteryear
Terrific review of Snows of Yesteryear. You've certainly left me fascinated by Bukovina, which I had never heard of. It makes me wonder what Moldova is if it doesn't include it's historical heart.
Really intrigued by Snows of Yesteryear. I'll definitely be looking for it.
I have been reading some, but not reviewing the last few months. But I did get an LTER, so I feel obliged. Maybe it will inspire me to review some of the past read books.
Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
Atwood’s retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest is absorbing, clever, but finally a bit disappointing. Having recently lost his wife and small daughter, Miranda, Felix Phillips has been deposed of his Artistic Directorship of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival by the machinations of his trusted assistant, Tony Price, and the Heritage Minister, Sal McNally. After a decade of self-imposed exile in the Canadian backwoods, he answers an advertisement for a teaching position for the Literacy through Literature program at Fletcher County Correctional Institute. He sets up a performance course with his medium-security prisoners creating video productions of Shakespearean dramas.
He’d chosen the plays carefully. He’d begun with Julius Caesar, continued with Richard II, and followed that with Macbeth. Power struggles, treacheries, crimes: these subjects were immediately grasped by his students, since in their own ways they were experts in them.
But this year, he’s plotting his revenge with a production of The Tempest.
Atwood’s research into both the techniques of Shakespearean acting and directing as well as prison college programs teaching literature and drama serves the novel well. Her details of prison bureaucracy and regulations and the challenges of theatrical production give the story a necessary grounding in authenticity. As always, she draws the reader into the world of the novel with lucid, precise writing and an intriguing premise. Anyone familiar with The Tempest will admire her skillful manipulation of the play’s twists and turns into the novel’s plot. And she adds her own bit of magic with the inclusion of the spirit of Miranda, who has grown in a young woman, haunting Felix in his woodland retreat.
So why was I a bit disappointed? I wanted to know the prisoner-actors more fully, especially 8Handz/Ariel and Leggs/Caliban. Felix is a fully-developed character as is his chosen Miranda, a dancer-actress named Anne-Marie Greenland. Tony and Sal are appropriately slimy politicians. But the people on the inside of the prison seem merely agents for Felix’s grand plan. And perhaps that is justifiable given that The Tempest is Prospero’s final magic.
I'm not crazy about these imposed themes on fiction writers. Seems like it will emphasize the craft over substance, if that makes sense - well, don't ask me to back that comment up with anything.
miss you Jane, but nothing fun about forcing a review. But still...whatcha reading?
I've been going back on forth on whether or not to read Hag-Seed. I'm so utterly attached to The Tempest, it was my proper gateway into Shakespeare as a kid (my dad directed a high school performance of it and I ended up being at all the rehearsals and idolized the girl playing Miranda). So maybe that means I *should* read it, but if I know I probably won't enjoy it...? I'm leaning away at the moment.
107> I'm attached to The Tempest too. I understudied and played Miranda one night in a college production, and it's one of my favorite WS plays -- I taught it for years. You probably will enjoy Hag-Seed. I can't imagine reading it without knowing the play pretty well -- though Atwood does provide a summary at the end of the book.
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson and We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
I recently read these two short novels back-to-back never suspecting that they would have so many elements in common. First of all, there is the wonderful lyrical writing -- both Robinson and Jackson are full of vivid, precise descriptions of both nature and interiors. But more intriguing are the characters and plot. Each novel is told by a first person narrator, an adolescent girl, one of a pair of orphaned sisters. Their lives are circumscribed by their outsider status; they don't fit into the tight small town societies they find themselves in. In each story a close relative intrudes into the sisterly dyad, disrupting the harmony and closeness of the sisters.
The end results of the disruptions are quite different for Ruth and Lucille in Housekeeping and Merricat and Constance in We Have Always Lived in the Castle, and each novel has its own distinct angle of vision. Robinson is exploring the ephemeral, and Jackson is more concerned with gothic possibilities. But the convergence of the two tales was wonderfully serendipitous. I highly recommend both books.
Dan -- I think you'd enjoy them, and it's definitely a nice distraction from the current reality.
American Jezebel by Eve LaPlante
This biography of Anne Hutchison relies heavily on the transcript of her trial for heresy in Boston in 1637. Hutchison was an advocate of the "covenant of grace" or "free grace" theory as opposed to the "convenant of works" advocated by most of the Puritan clergy. Wikipedia has a good explanation of the ins-and-outs of the controversy (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Hutchinson), so I'm not going to go into it here.
Suffice it to say, that this is a well-constructed story of a woman who refused to be silenced and bravely stood up against the misogynistic, narrow-minded authority of colonial Massachusetts led by Governor Winthrop. LaPlante interestingly claims that Hutchison was the midwife to the birth of Harvard University, as it was in reaction to her influence that the clergy of Boston decided that a University was necessary to train future clergy in proper doctrine.
It's a timely book for the current political scene.
>114 janeajones: Sounds interesting, Jane, I thought her large gatherings of womenfolk might have been more threatening than her doctrine.... :-)
I did read LaPlante's editing of Abigail May Alcott's diary, which was quite good. And I do have her biography of Samuel Sewell though haven't read it (I lost interesting in the story of a repentant judge). And I didn't really have interesting in her more recent Marmee & Louisa as I have read several Alcott-related books, including one bio of Abba May (perhaps too much of a good thing, you know?)
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