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Showing posts from July, 2009

Man-Booker Prize 3: And here it is...

The longlist comprises:

A S Byatt The Children's Book (Chatto)
J M Coetzee Summertime (Harvill Secker)
Adam Foulds The Quickening Maze (Jonathan Cape)
Sarah Hall How to Paint a Dead Man (Faber)
Samantha Harvey The Wilderness (Jonathan Cape)
James Lever Me Cheeta (Fourth Estate)
Hilary Mantel Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate)
Simon Mawer The Glass Room (Little, Brown)
Ed O'Loughlin Not Untrue & Not Unkind (Penguin - Ireland)
James Scudamore Heliopolis (Harvill Secker)
Colm Toibin Brooklyn (Viking)
William Trevor Love and Summer (Viking)
Sarah Waters The Little Stranger (Virago)

I've read the Byatt, so I'm rooting for her currently. Many of the books have not yet been published in the U.S., so this further limits my vote. Coetzee's Summertime is being published in September or October, and that's a book I could get excited about - though he's won twice already, and perhaps someone new should get a try. Really, there's no time to read current contenders when there's sti…

Man-Booker Prize News 2

And I keep thinking: London is, what, nine hours ahead of Pacific Time? Or eight? So, at the very least, it should be Tuesday 28 July already in England and the longlist should have been released. Perhaps the British are much better behaved and waiting patiently to receive the news. I on the other hand, am hopping around from foot to foot waiting to see who's on and who's not.

Murderous Madmen

Finished American Psycho yesterday, and am more terrified than ever to go down to our hole-in-the-wall basement laundry room with the eerie lockers that I am convinced contain bodies and flies and bones and chain saws. American Psycho is a horrifying novel, not only because of the gruesome, explicit, senseless actions of the psychopathic Patrick Bateman, but because of the meticulously artificial approach to life – the Evian bottles, the restaurant reservations, the manicures for men, the fake tans, Rolexes, the conversations about cummerbunds and waistcoats and cocaine and “hardbodies” etc.



I can not read it again, but I could not put it down. I think that Bret Easton Ellis’s portrayal of Western decadence and societal disintegration is pitch perfect, and there are moments that Patrick breaks through his materialistic psychobabble to confront his painfully pampered and heartless way of life, the human disconnect which enables him to sever all bonds with humanity, and these are moving…

First Books

The first book I remember reading besides the book teaching me to read (F-O-X) was the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. I was five and my mother was pregnant with my youngest brother Joel, on bed-rest and bored. I can’t remember the act of reading, although I know I did read it, so much as looking over my mother’s shoulder at one of Pauline Baynes’ illustrations of Aslan awaiting his death at the Stone Table, surrounded by the Witch’s minions. It still gives me the creeps just thinking about it.



After that, I was hooked on the Chronicles of Narnia and would go every day to the dinky little library Holy Cross Convent had. This was where I discovered Enid Blyton, queen of books about boarding schools, Wishing Chairs, Magic Faraway Trees, British mysteries for children, and - of course - Noddy, a spacey Pinocchio-like doll who American children may not know about but a figurehead that formed a very large part of our cultural literacy as South African kiddies. Noddy is still used as a pe…

Thought had while making bed

Question: Should good literature - good, true writing - transcend gender, like some say androgynous Shakespeare did? Or should it remain true to one's own experience? (ie. Jane Austen is writing clearly as a woman; Cormac McCarthy as a man.)

Mischief Managed

Just try and keep us away from a Harry Potter opening night. This past Tuesday night, a few friends and I rushed downtown to brave the crowds to watch the midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Dressing up was half the fun. The last one was during my sophomore year of college. We're such dorks:



Less of us this year, but still excited, and exhausted. Still dorks.



Fawkes, the phoenix.



Hephzibah Smith (a memory in the book, does not make it into the film), collector of trinkets, murdered by V.



Bellatrix Lestrange - you should have seen her Dark Mark.



Merope ( a memory in the book but not making an entrance in the film), heavily pregnant with Voldemort. Pillow was wonderfully comfortable to hold in the theatre, though it made driving very difficult. Also walking up stairs. Being pregnant is hard, man!



We saw several Gryffindor students, some Harries, Hermiones, a Professor Trelawney, Death Eaters (whose masks were terrifying), a house elf or two...

So by and large, we…

Death in the City of Dreaming Spires

Zuleika Dobson (“zuleeka”) is the Oxford novel, alongside Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. I had been looking for a copy ever since I was in Oxford and eventually, I found one several months ago in Magus Books (best place to shelter from a hail storm, haven for out-of-print books and scholarly texts).

A woman, the eponymous heroine, comes to Oxford to visit her grandfather, the warden of the fictional Judas College. She is an amateur conjurer and a professional enchantress, having never failed to captivate a man. Wherever she goes (Berlin! Paris! New York! San Francisco!) she drives men to utter distraction, but it will be in Oxford that she reaches her heights: “A new city was a new toy to her, and – for it was youth’s homage that she loved best – this city of youths was a toy after her own heart.”

Zuleika is in love with no man but the man who is indifferent to her. As no man can be indifferent to her, she is constantly thwarted in her desire to find love. What a predicament. Being snub…

No More Waving at Mailmen

Maybe this is common opinion, maybe this is my own hang-up, but I think Charles Bukowski is an idiot. I wanted to like him. This week I checked his first novel, Post Office, out of the library because
a) I’d never read him
b) The books are attractive
c) I might be harboring the dream of being a postman (or woman, I suppose. Post-person)

This was a mistake because now

a) I know he’s an idiot
b) The books are still attractive but I can’t justify buying one
c) My dreams of being a post-person have been squashed




In the novel, a thinly-disguised autobiography, Henry Chinaski gets a job at a post office and keeps it on and off for the next eleven years. At the beginning the job is promising – “But I couldn’t help thinking, god, all these mailmen do is drop in their letters and get laid. This is the job for me, oh yes yes yes” – this quickly changes to apathy, and then to hatred. Though he hates his job, he can’t save enough to leave it (but he ultimately does). Bukowski’s Chinaski is racist and tr…

English Ladies

This week I began my acquaintance with two grand dames of British domestic literary fiction from the first half of the twentieth century: Ivy Compton-Burnett and Barbara Pym. Both have the advantage of being ironic, witty novels that move briskly along and are each roughly one-sixth the size of Middlemarch.

A House and its Head by Ivy Compton-Burnett (1935) involves the sequence of tragedies that befall the Edgeworth family through nature, folly, and convenience. Duncan, the Head of the Edgeworth house, is the petty dictator that governs with great opinion the smallest dealings and conversations of the home. He rules over wife, Ellen, his daughters Nance and Sibyl, his affable philandering heir and nephew Grant, and the servants. Following his wife’s death, Duncan unexpectedly leaps into a second marriage with unexpected results.

Duncan responds to the female influence in his house with his very liberal views - “Women talking, women walking, women weeping…Doing all they can do…Your c…

Familiar Faces

Ever thought about the characters you liked? Not just like – but Like?
So many of my favorite books, when subjected to a microscope, have very few characters to Like. The books are enjoyable because they involve specific people doing specific things in a specific world at a specific time. The book’s flavor, scenery, dialogue, and the artfulness of the writing combine and contribute to its being beloved. But however much I love Mrs. Dalloway, I think Clarissa is too…Clarissa to truly Like her. Virginia Woolf's books are prized for their phrases, for her shimmering technique, but I don't particularly care about Mrs. Dalloway, or Mrs. Ramsay, or Lily Briscoe.

There are characters which are likeable: Charles Ryder from Brideshead Revisited, Elizabeth Bennett from Pride & Prejudice, Mercutio from Romeo and Juliet, etc; but we are expected to like them. I feel too strongly led to believe I am acting of my own inclination. For example, one cannot escape the feeling that Liking Ha…

Lost Libraries Found

Several days ago I came across Aaron Lansky's Outwitting History. It looks so much like the A.J. Jacobs book (The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World) in which Jacobs spends attempts to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. Both books have a single towering (leaning?) stack of books on their front covers; both have long subtitles. Lansky's is "The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books." (Note: I have not actually finished either book.)

The subtitle piqued my interest and I began to read Lansky's introduction in which he describes his adventures as a young graduate student, how he became interested in the culture slouching towards extinction, and began his Yiddish studies. A scholar estimated that there were only 70,000 remaining works in Yiddish, and Jacobs made it his mission to rescue those works, illegible to many and regarded by few, and preserve them on behalf of the culture he found…

Reading on the 66

Despite being hot (for Seattle), crowded (holidaymakers), skint (typewriter's fault), Saturday was the day that my car could no longer run on no oil and no engine coolant - which is both fair and mechanically sound but quite inconvenient. I should have changed the oil weeks if not months ago, but it's hard to go out and do something unless you have done that something before and can picture yourself doing it again (at least, that's how I work.) When I started the car, it began to shiver and squeak and I decided to leave it in the driveway, and I have thus ridden the bus to work for the past two days.

This riding the bus business can be entertaining: I feel as though I am being chauffeured around (with another 25 people). But these pleasures wear off quickly, especially as sweating is the result of the heat and the close ratio of people to bus. I do, however, read on the bus which enables me to transcend the body odors and move forward on my reading list. Lately I've be…