This is genuinely a delightful book. And it’s such an original concept. I mean, how often do you think of islands? Really think of islands? Not very oThis is genuinely a delightful book. And it’s such an original concept. I mean, how often do you think of islands? Really think of islands? Not very often? Me either.
Judith Schalansky however, has thought about islands a lot, and she shares it with the world in this beautiful book. Each island takes up two pages, one with a small description and one with a simple, but wonderful illustration of the island. The description is not a description per se, it’s more a selected story about the island itself, a piece of its history or a story that relates to the island in some way.
I know that islands exist, of course, but I had no idea that so many of them were so inaccessible, or that some of them have got such a rich, weird, grotesque or down right horrible history. Turns out islands can be terribly interesting.
Some of the stories Schalansky shares are incredible in their awfulness or ridiculousness. Some of these islands contain so much mystery, and events we’ll never learn the truth of. Some of them have inhabitants and societies with rules, laws and norms that directly defy what we think is right, or thought possible. There’s Tikopia, for instance, with a population of 1200 and not more, because this is the number of people the island can feed. Population control was of utmost importance and apparently involved people voluntarily killing themselves, killing babies if they knew they couldn’t feed them down the line, celibacy etc. I don’t think they do this anymore, but still. Holy shit. There’s the Floreana island, where a school teacher and a dentist moved to live alone and naked (it would seem), then another woman and two of her lovers arrived as well and this new woman terrorizes the island. Everyone ends up dead, but the schoolteacher who returns to the mainland, the skeleton of one of them is found on an entirely different island; no one knows what happened. Some of it is downright unbelievable. There’s a story about a boy who learns a language through dreams that’s only spoken on a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean where he’s never been. Some guy gets eaten by penguins? It’s incredible.
The stories go from descriptive, to be about historical events, recent events, events that are curious, mysterious, events we recognize, or it’s things we, most likely, have no idea ever took place. Schalansky captures what it is that makes islands, to her, so captivating and interesting. They’re vastly different, there are islands from all over the world, with different nature, size, animals, accessibility, histories. One island had had, until recently, less people on it than there had been on the moon. It’s such a delightful way to show how odd and weird and incredible the earth is. And islands, in their isolation, in their disregard for what happens all over the rest of the world, feel removed, foreign and strange, it’s seeing earth in a new way, a reminder that there’s so much that’s wild, untamed, untouched and mysterious on this planet still.
I wish she’d been more precise in the descriptions sometimes. She could have added a few dates to let us know if the story is new or old, and sometimes the stories were a little sparse on information, making it difficult to figure out exactly what she was trying to tell. I always would have liked her to include, in a few instances, more about the actual island and not just some vaguely related story (they were still interesting stories though). All island illustrations also had these yellow markings, but nowhere is it described what they're for. Sometimes you can figure it out, sometimes not, so maybe that should have been added.
But my critique is minimal, and honestly, it’s a beautifully illustrated book of 50 islands with peculiar, fascinating stories. Definitely the sort of book you’d like for your coffee table. Or if you want islands to be cool again. Or if you like maps, islands or pretty books. It's really very versatile. ...more
‘In Search of Lost Time’, and ‘Swann’s Way’ (the first part of which I’ve now read*), is about remembrance; memories and recollections. In fact, nothi‘In Search of Lost Time’, and ‘Swann’s Way’ (the first part of which I’ve now read*), is about remembrance; memories and recollections. In fact, nothing much happens in this when you look at it story wise. There’s no plot, no clear, connecting narrative. It’s a continuous stream of recollections, starting from one point and spiraling outwards, at times returning to itself, to its starting point, only to depart again for some other place, over and over. A spiraling outwards and inwards, like an endless hourglass, memories streaming through, dislocated from time, recovered accidentally, from a smell, a place, a look, where it was stored, separate from us, but now brought back to remind us of moments, people and feelings we’d forgotten.
Once I walked past a pizza place and something about the smell reminded me, almost violently, of time I spent in Nepal and suddenly I missed it awfully, something I never thought I’d do, but there I was; I’d stopped in my tracks, and stood completely still caught up in the memory of how the light hit the hallway in the morning as we woke up in Kathmandu and made tea after breakfast. Always the same tea and always placed on a small table in the hall, between our bedrooms and everything else. I’d forgotten completely, and suddenly there I was. My entire recollection of my time in Nepal hasn’t been the same since that moment, it brought back memories of light and happiness, of a habit I hadn’t realized I’d made and that I, in that one second, missed more than anything.
The spiral of ‘Swann’s Way’ starts from a moment with our narrator in bed and spirals outwards towards Combray, his mother, his aunt, his father, his first loves, Swann, all centered on the place Combray, spiraling in and out of each other, connecting and disconnecting, you’re constantly forgetting where you just were, all you remember is where you are right now. It’s a collection of memories that feel immediate, like they’re, for the duration of reading, memories we share, that are, in part, our own as well. It’s a poetic mosaic of moments suspended in time, waiting for someone to pass them by, open them up and let them live again.
It is through experiences of the senses that we are thrust backward in time, to moments we had no recollection of before, and still, right then, it’s like being in it again, as if no time has passed, no years between now and then. You’re aware it’s a memory, but for a second it’s so vivid, so strong, so full of emotions you can’t fully decipher, that all you can do is exist in it, and enjoy it in all its glory. These memories that belong to the past but through which, we realize, we will know the future, our actions and feelings ruled as much by what we have forgotten as what we’ve remembered, as what we’ve overcome and as what we’re not aware we’ve brought with us.
There’s no denying the narrators complete dismissal of the present, however, and the complete submersion in the past hints at a future that is either very bleak or perhaps not very long. Is there a better, more opportune moment to look back at the past than at the end of a life? Where we see each memory with all the pain and joy it brought us later on, where we can fully compare who we were then with who we are now, where we can see both the past and the future in one glimpse, what has been, and what is yet to come for our young self.
Nothing happens in this book, yet I found it difficult to stop reading, despite the dense prose, the beautiful, impossible, confusing sentences that insist on running on into the sunset. You’re carried effortlessly and imperceptibly from memory to memory, from place to place, so quiet and discrete you hardly known you’ve changed time and place till you’re halfway through it. It’s languid, insisting prose, that savors each moment, drags it on endlessly, wanting to remember everything significant about this one hour or day or year in time. It’s specific memories, memories of feelings that span years but can be boiled down to one event. It’s so impossible and so true and I’m in love.
*(The version I’m reading is a Danish translation and it consists of 13 books, all but one of the original 7 books are split in two. I may move this review to a review of ‘Swann’s Way’ at some point, writing 13 reviews for 7 books seems dumb.) ...more
I don't know how this works or what exactly I'm supposed to do with it, but I like the idea! 2015 was a pretty strong reading year for me, I've read mI don't know how this works or what exactly I'm supposed to do with it, but I like the idea! 2015 was a pretty strong reading year for me, I've read more than ever and got through some pretty hefty books as well. I will at some point (hopefully) add how many books by women and men I've read, but it'll have to wait a little. I can tell you I've read more men than women, and I hope to rectify that in the year to come.
Let's start with the books I read because of university. January had me reading both Ulysses by James Joyce and Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. I was prepared to hate Ulysses, but ended up loving it in a very odd, tender way. It hit me right where good books are supposed to hit, and I had to reluctantly admit it was gonna go in my favorites pile.
I also made my way through Paradise Lost by John Milton, and ended up with another book I unexpectedly fell in love with. My love for Ulysses is odd and sort of strange, but the love I have for PL is a bright, pure light. I love that book in the truest, purest sense of the word. We also read The Monk by Matthew Lewis, lots of bloody, gothic horror and it was some of the most fun I've ever had reading a book. It was amazing. And I got the opportunity to re-read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, unsurprisingly it remains one of my favorite books.
My summer consisted of reading books by women. I participated in the 500 Great Books By Women groups challenge 'The Summer of Reading Women', and I got through about 18 books (I think). Only a few books really fell through and sucked, but mostly it was a summer of brilliant reading experiences. I made my way through treasures such as Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin, Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, the stunning memoir Testament of Youth from Vera Brittain and so many others. It was perfectly glorious and I'm doing the same thing in 2016.
For some general excellent books I read there's three by Patrick Ness (who has yet to disappoint me), The Rest of Us Just Live Here and A Monster Calls. Both left me a weeping, sobbing mess, so I count it a success. I read More Than This as well, which was wonderful too, but the others left a bigger impression, I must admit.
Ice by Anna Kavan was a chilling revelation and breathtaking in it's unrelenting narrative. I can thank my goodreads friends for putting it on my radar, I'm very grateful.
I finally read The Princess Bride by William Goldman after having loved the movie for many years and the book was equally fantastic. So, so glad I got around to it. I also continued my Kurt Vonnegut acquaintance with God Bless You Mr. Rosewater and he was as witty, intelligent and brilliant as always.
I also had the pleasure of starting some really great graphic novels, both Rat Queens and The Wicked + The Divine have me hooked - and I've continued with Saga, which is still fabulous.
After seeing an art installation at my local art museum titled "Women Without Men", I found out via goodreads it's based on a book by Shahrnush Parsipur. I acquired the book from my library and finished it in December. Another really excellent experience, and it's my desire to read more books as diverse as this in the year to come.
All in all, I'm happy with 2015, although I wish I'd made it to 100 books. I'm ready to see what 2016 brings. ...more
“It is almost like being a god. We create what it is to be human when we stand fifty feet tall on a silk screen.”
I never really got into this book. I“It is almost like being a god. We create what it is to be human when we stand fifty feet tall on a silk screen.”
I never really got into this book. I never felt compelled to pick it back up, because I needed to know what happened. I wanted to know, but I didn’t need to know. I continued reading, because it was interesting enough, but at no point did I feel that drive you sometimes get with a book, where you lose yourself in it.
I think the problem is it worked a little too hard at being pretty, and not enough at having a story to tell, which is not a fair statement really, because there is a story; the mystery of the disappeared Severin Unck. I just felt we were constantly circling the story, and never quite getting to it. It’s not a continuous story, each chapter takes a different form, some are movie scripts – from Severin’s movies, from her father’s, from her father’s personal videos – some are recordings from an interview, some are news paper columns, some are… I don’t know, they read like chapters from a proper book, but that’s not it.
It’s a documentary, a documentary on paper, that someone’s put together from whatever pieces they could find to tell the story of Severin Unck. It’s clever and most of the time it works. But I have to admit the ending didn’t really satisfy me. (view spoiler)[Mostly because I didn’t feel like I was given a real ending at all. See end of review for an explanation. (hide spoiler)]
This is a story about telling stories. It’s the story other people have told of Severin disappearing, not the actual story of Severin disappearing. It’s about how everything is staged, to some degree; even documentaries aren’t honest depictions of what happened, everything always has a perspective, someone telling the story, someone cropping the picture. And everyone tells it different, everyone tells it with a different beginning and ending, everyone’s got a different point to make. It’s about the comfort we find in stories, the way they shape our universe, how they can be both devastating and beautiful. They can show us cruel truths and gentle lies. It’s a book about storytelling – about movies, in particular.
Valentes universe is glorious. Imagine a parallel universe where we’ve advanced enough technologically to travel to other planets in the solar system (they’re a lot closer here than in our real world), but where Edison sits on the patent for sounds in movies. A world where we inhabit planets, but are still stuck in the 20s. The aesthetic of such a universe is breathtaking, and Valente describes it perfectly. Every planet is closer to earth, it’s habitable, each its own sparkling world of possibility. Pluto is gothic, a bridge of flowers connecting it to its moon, Venus is wrapped in twilight, a day as long as a year. The care and effort Valente has put into the universe she presents is astounding. More than anything this book is worth reading for the world it creates in your mind. It’s beautiful, but a decadent beauty, one that maddens and corrupts, but also invigorates. A universe so open, so friendly, so staggeringly fantastical, it’s almost too good to be true.
“When I looked upon that new world, splendid in every way and in every way terrible, I looked upon a tiger with stars falling from his striped tongue. I looked and saw my true bridegroom, but would it also be my grave?”
Being in it was a pleasure. That’s the 4 stars. Because I didn’t care much for the story itself. I loved the mixing of genres, I loved the imitated Hollywood-setting on the moon, I loved the idea. But I never cared much for any of the characters, perhaps because what we’re given is, again and again, imagined versions of them. It was difficult to get a grasp on the real Severin, or the real Anchises, because they were always seen through a lens, through someone’s imagination. They didn’t seem real to me, like people I should care about. I felt extremely detached from the story because of it.
Unsurprisingly I felt the story worked best when nothing was staged, when we saw the real characters, without any sort of filter, but sadly that didn’t happen very often. I’m still gonna give it 4 stars, because it’s entertaining, mixing mystery and noir, Old Hollywood, romance, philosophy, children’s stories, radioplays and documentary storytelling, and there are enough mysteries and secrets to uncover that I wanted to keep going. Sometimes it got a little too flowery with the descriptions, a little too honeyed and exaggerated, but the vision? Breathtaking. I’ll repeat: it’s worth reading for the world it creates alone.
(view spoiler)[I didn’t feel there was a particularly satisfactory ending either. I thought the story of Anchises was the real story of him, but of course it’s only the version of him Percival comes up with trying to tell Severin’s story. There was a kind of resolution, but I didn’t trust it to be true. I know that’s most likely on purpose, that it’s part of point of the story, you know, some times people get answers, sometimes not. This is not a novel about answers, it’s about stories, and the stories we tell when we don’t have answers. How stories help us move on.
I still didn’t feel satisfied. Somewhere in the book they talk about mysteries, they say if you give the audience a mystery you have to present a solution. Well, Valente, you give us a mystery, but never a solution that felt real. I had a hard time with that. The very last scene I didn’t trust either – was it real? Or another imagined scene from Percival’s movie? I don’t know. The mystery of Severin Unck wasn’t solved, I feel, and that bothers me. I know, it’s the point that it's unsolved and all (the mysteries of the universe and such) but still. I can’t get over it, I felt a little cheated. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
"I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone's heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when t"I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone's heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark."
What do we talk about when we talk about love? This book is, contrary to its title, not very forthcoming on the subject. I’d say this is rather a collection of all the things we don’t talk about when we talk about love. You know, the loneliness, the miscommunication, the hurt, the regret. All the terrible things that lie in wait in the shadows, while we focus on the light.
There’s something almost grotesquely normal about Carver’s stories, something oddly realistic, as if you’re looking at a something you can’t believe you actually believe.
For instance; someone puts up all their furniture for sale in the yard – but not by just throwing it out there, no by carefully arranging everything so it looks the way it did inside, even connecting the lights and all. Who the hell would do that, I mean, who in real life would do such a thing? Possibly no one and quite possibly all of us, given the right (or rather wrong) circumstances.
This is a collection of stories about everyday people, who’ve reached the end of their rope one way or another. It’s middle-class people looking back at middle-class lives, through a lens of alcohol, cigarettes and regret. It’s obsession with the present to avoid looking at a bleak, disappointing past and possible future.
Carver is precise and yes, razor-sharp in his language and his observations. He cuts to the core of human relationships – especially the failed kind. He pours out dish after dish of disenchanted characters, story after story of middle-age regret and failure. Yet it remains vivid and fresh, there isn’t a dull story in there. There’s an air of unpredictability, like you can never trust a story to go where you expect it to; sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t, but you’re never certain of anything. It’s an atmosphere of unease, something is constantly just about to snap, could be your neck, could be a twig, you don’t know.
What puzzles me the most is that it didn’t make me sad. Perhaps it’s that I can’t really identify with anyone in it, it’s all very recognizable, but like something I’ve seen in a movie or in other people, never myself. I’m still young, I’ve got years ahead of me to make mistakes that I can look back on with bitter regret and longing, but for now I’m still hopeful.
Carver presents something that is at once familiar and strange. There’s something terrifyingly normal in all of it that makes you go “could this be me?” and yet at the same time you know it isn’t you. That it’s too staged to be real – which makes you believe in it even more.
It’s honestly about all the things we do when we’ve given up and that are somewhat abnormal, but don’t seem that way. They’re just what we need to do, regardless of how odd it looks to anyone outside the experience. Carver makes unreasonable human behavior seem reasonable, the insensible sensible. I don’t know how, it just happens.
Here’s a comparison that some might find unsavory, but it’s a bit like if Kurt Vonnegut and Charles Bukowski had a lovechild while piss drunk. A very eloquent, but ultimately hopeless lovechild.
I don’t know. I’m not good with short story collections. But I liked this one, I liked it a hell of a lot.
"There was this funny thing of anything could happen now that we realized everything had." ...more