Ah, Murakami. My first challenge in writing this review is finding one of my esoteric little cyber-shelves on which to place this. Poetry? Almost. LifeAh, Murakami. My first challenge in writing this review is finding one of my esoteric little cyber-shelves on which to place this. Poetry? Almost. Life-changing? Hardly. I hesitate over "arty-art-art" and skip it over in exchange for "heart-breaking," which is almost true. How to categorize his works?
Just like The Wind-up Bird Chronicles, a number of themes (re)emerge in the lovely, poignant, lucid-sleepwalk that is Kafka on the Shore: an efficient, neatly dressed young man of indeterminate sexuality acting as assistant to a mysterious and elegant middle-aged woman; lost cats; people having sex together only in dreams; accidental clairvoyance; deep, dark wells. This is the stuff Haruki Murakami's dreams are made of.
"Riveting" seems like a word best left to courtroom dramas and spy fiction, not to surrealist tales of precocious 15-year-old runaways and libraries, yet Murakami's mastery of fiction is so complete, the most abstract and vaporous of events becomes seat-of-the-pants storytelling in his hands. Credit should go, too, to his translator, Jay Rubin, who turns the endless cultural references of his subject into flawless English phrase without missing a beat, making Japan seem as natural and accessible as the reader's own thoughts.
While I don't share the fanatical interest his work often inspires in readers, I find his realities are quickly becoming one of my favorite vacation sites. He is in complete control, which is more than I can say for most writers of fiction - and his reveries incite longing in the most unexpected ways....more
In a stellar (and readable) example of interdisciplinary historical research, Davis lays bare the skeleton underlying many of the popular conceptionsIn a stellar (and readable) example of interdisciplinary historical research, Davis lays bare the skeleton underlying many of the popular conceptions regarding the nature of the "Third World" and its economies. Drawing from sources as diverse as scientific accounts of El Nino and La Nina cycles at the turn of the last century, missionary writings, accountancy notes, travelers' journals, newspaper clippings, and other exhaustive primary and secondary works, Davis describes how the British empire, along with other colonial forces, took advantage of periods of what would have been survivable drought in India, China, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Brazil, and used the circumstances of need to crush the local structures of governance and food-sharing networks and create a horror show of poverty, disease, and the starvation deaths of millions upon millions of people, while simultaneously setting the stage for a further century of economic privation and authoritarian control....more
This is one of those odd little books that I struggle to find the right label for on my virtual "shelves." Somewhere between the lines, when you add tThis is one of those odd little books that I struggle to find the right label for on my virtual "shelves." Somewhere between the lines, when you add together your in- and out-boxes of "children's," "heart-breaking," "poetry," and "women-gender," what mysteries those flimsy titles may or may not contain, you run into something like this: sweet, savory, often bitter morsels of young life, vignettes of Chicago - though no Chicago known to me - memories stacked one inside the other until they fit into other people's stories, each a page and a half, images so similar to ones of my own, they begin to blur.
This book has been on my mental shelf for years. Bits and pieces, shreds, chapters have turned up in creative writing prompts, English classes, brainstorms, and poetry slams, but I never managed to sit down and read the whole thing. When I did, it took one sitting. A ravenous, juicy hour and a half. It made me want to wear yellow high heels and drink papaya juice out of a can.
This copy was sent to me by my mother-in-law, an avid reader and member of book groups in her native Chicago. The mayor apparently picks a novel a year and the whole city takes it up like a royal fairy-tale decree: classes and chatrooms and coffee houses and community colleges buzz with it, its discussion, its implications. (As an aside - I wonder if the mayor really picks it, or if its some gem of a side job shuffled off to an eager intern underling, an English major whose dreams of artistry were long since stuffed into a cheap attache case and crammed under the filing cabinet. I hope that's the case. What a darling superpower: picking the city's books.)
Cisneros speaks softly and in anthems - her language never full of itself or its own mission, always real, always more like the awkward voice of diaries than the polished drone of "lit-rih-chuh" - yet in so doing, her voice carries high and clear and far over the heads of her imitators and peers....more
Audrey Niffenegger totally won me over with The Time Traveler's Wife:, and I've since been digging around for more work of hers that I can fall in lovAudrey Niffenegger totally won me over with The Time Traveler's Wife:, and I've since been digging around for more work of hers that I can fall in love with. Her other picture book, The Three Incestuous Sisters:, did little for me. This, on the other hand, I thought was wonderful.
Stark and strange and nearly incomplete, this series of images is stitched together with the briefest thread of a story, at once haunting and oddly warm. The afterword explains that the book dates back to the mid-80s, when Niffenegger was a student at the Chicago Art Institute, working on printmaking and other fiber arts (much like her character, Claire). The artwork was produced from a labor intensive-sounding process involving etchings and plates, and the original publication consisted of fewer than a dozen handmade volumes.
I would recommend reading this without the text - let the pictures work their own magic, and sit with it for a while.
This novel is both spare and rich, quick-moving and richly imagined. It is also devastating.
In the tradition of animals-as-protagonists, The White BoThis novel is both spare and rich, quick-moving and richly imagined. It is also devastating.
In the tradition of animals-as-protagonists, The White Bone relies the least upon clever and familiar anthropomorphic mannerisms and worlds, relative to other classics of the genre, like the weirdly wonderful Duncton Wood, about moles, or the fantastically creepy Watership Down, (whose portrayal of rabbits left me with a permanent fascination and mild fear of the fluffy creatures). Barbara Gowdy creates, instead, a definite and partly alien culture for her characters, complete with kinship structures, celebrations and rituals, hymns, cosmology, care-giving practices, hierarchies, and time/space measurements, all distinct and largely unrelated to our own. What makes this work so beautifully is the research upon which these speculative systems are based, and the genuine love and wonder she has for the species. The other element that makes it all so powerful is her gentle but pointed interweaving of the destructive influence humans have had upon this culture in the "real" world.
The White Bone serves not only as an excellent example of an alternative fiction, but also as a clear statement of protest against the ivory trade and poaching practices in general. Gorgeous, sad, strange. Very highly recommended....more
I read this in one sitting, and it was the best little vacation I've had in months. The praise on the cover is, for once, precise: this beautiful grapI read this in one sitting, and it was the best little vacation I've had in months. The praise on the cover is, for once, precise: this beautiful graphic novel does an unsettlingly good job of recalling the thrill and torture of first loves, the hounded slog of public schools, and the confusion and shame that so often go along with fundamentalist religious upbringings.
Craig Thompson is a wonder; he walks the fine line of emotional honesty and poignancy without becoming precious or trite. His images are tender and lovingly wrought. His characters are familiar and drawn close to the bone. The story itself moves quickly and surely from moment to moment and scene to scene; while it drew more quickly to its end than I was ready for, I felt satisfied and complete once it was finished. I look forward to reading more of his work.
I've been making fun of Victorian literature for so long, I'd completely forgotten that I'd never actually read any. Being in ChinWell, shut my mouth.
I've been making fun of Victorian literature for so long, I'd completely forgotten that I'd never actually read any. Being in China was the worst, where young women currently derive 98% of their impressions of female Western culture from Jane Austen novels, and are subsequently using slang and household vocabulary from the 18th and 19th centuries, with romantic notions to match. "Teacher, I cannot come to class because I have chilblains and ague; oh, I suffer so." And then they swoon over a charged look from a member of the opposite sex, an experience that makes them "flush and reel with unknown passions." Luckily, the other 2% seems to come from the Internet, so they dress like Japanese hookers with a fetish for fantasy novels. It's all very confusing.
In any event, I realized that, if I am to continue to mock my friends' taste in BBC period specials (12-hour versions of Pride and Prejudice and the like), then I should probably familiarize myself with the material. Lo and behold, I can - without pride, OR prejudice - say that Jane Eyre tore me a new one.
Seriously. I was hooked. 545-some-odd pages of wistfulness, swishing skirts, orphanages, and severe Christian morality, and I devoured it in a couple of days. What I hadn't counted on was the deep undercurrent of rebellion that runs through Bronte's work: the unlikely struggle of a woman holding her own against both class and gender inequities, and having her fire and faith in self ultimately rewarded. It doesn't get much better than that! Brava, Miss Charlotte. I'll read more - one of these days.
This edition is a great starter-kit for doubters such as myself, as it's illustrated by the self-proclaimed neo-Victorian hipster extraordinaire, "Dame Darcy," a cartoonist with a delightful body of work best typified by Meatcake, and with a jagged, big-eyed style that dances neatly between Tim Burton and an attack of a 12-year-old with a box of markers.
Leonard Cohen often makes me cry. I sat on the floor of a bookstore with my hair streaming rain and collecting the smells of coffee and ink and read hLeonard Cohen often makes me cry. I sat on the floor of a bookstore with my hair streaming rain and collecting the smells of coffee and ink and read his book of poetry, Stranger Music, almost cover to cover, mostly in tears. I heard his words in my head long before I remembered he sometimes sang them; I like his voice, and forget to like his music.
This book was strange - at first I wanted to hate it, to be bored by the leaping into the past and the Algonquins and the endless fucking and wailing and madness. I wanted to get tired with page after page of the interiors of a broken man and his bouncing, syphilitic friend. I didn't. Instead, I stayed up nights, marveling at further evidence that the world is exactly as beautiful and perverse as I often suspect it to be; wondering at the bravery and small kinks that make relationships what they are.
Whole pages would trundle on before I'd realize I'd read something remarkable, that I was holding my breath. I'd skip back and look for its beginning, like chasing a thread through a darkened closet to find a sweater quietly unraveling itself. I filled pages of my journal with passages carefully copied word for word. Personal, messy, often not at all a truth that I would claim, sometimes exactly what I would have wanted to say or think or feel, if I'd had the chance or had realized sooner.
What begins as a self-congratulatory, self-destructive exercise in some kind of parallel universe of writing ends as something gentle and lovely, something delicate and whole. I was impressed.
"People sneeze, F., that's all, don't make such a damn miracle out of it, it only depresses me, it's a depressing habit you have of loving to sneeze and of eating apples as if they were juicier for you and being the first one to exclaim how good the movie is. You depress people. We like apples too." ...more
I have a special thing for Molly Gloss. Her books "Jump Off Creek" and "Outside the Gates" were both startling finds for me in high school. She even vI have a special thing for Molly Gloss. Her books "Jump Off Creek" and "Outside the Gates" were both startling finds for me in high school. She even visited my English class once - an unusual bit of luck for a girl stranded in the smallest of small-town isolations - 19 people in my class, 17 of them boys. My English teacher took her and me out to lunch and she showed Gloss some of my writing. I was mortified, but she, at the very least, pretended to be impressed, inscribed a book for me, and urged me to carry on with my writing. One of these days I'll track her down again and thank her. Even if the 16-year-old girl wasn't ready for the encouragement, the 32-year-old reminds herself of it daily.
This book is what reviewers often call "richly imagined." In a seemingly short number of pages, she unearths whole complex worlds full of introspective and believable humanity, the sort not often found in science fiction. Her meditation is less one of technology and more one of universals, of the persistence of human tendencies, human fears and loves and works, in the most unlikely of settings.
The plot is an escape from a broken world, a flight from a dying planet to a new one that spans hundreds of years and generations of humans aboard a living spaceship full of streams and fields and insects and all the necessary trappings of an agrarian existence. The most interesting aspects are that these people 1. are Quakers, and 2. speak Esperanto, an artificial language that never quite took root anywhere since its creation as a hopeful global lingua franca in the late nineteenth century.
I have little background in the beliefs and practices of the Quakers, other than a vague familiarity with their meeting styles and a consciousness of their contributions to civil rights and peace movements. I am impressed with their practice of shared silence, and the weight Gloss gives this form of consensus-shaping as a political and community model. I love that, even in fiction distant from our own contexts we still find reflection for our practices.
This is a heart-breaking book, in the way that life is heart-breaking. It is full of questions and rolling continuity rather than neat answers and ends. It is both very complete and totally open-ended, in a hopeful sort of way.
I think I loved this podcast as well as I loved the book itself...
I don't often read other people's reviews of a book after I've already read it myselI think I loved this podcast as well as I loved the book itself...
I don't often read other people's reviews of a book after I've already read it myself, but this time was an exception. I feel strangely put-off by the conversation at hand, and my only real thought is that if you can provoke such a variety of strongly-held opinions with your work, you must be doing something right.
I felt neither belittled nor bored by Delillo's prose. I found the entire thing in turns lucid, endearing, lonely, and clever. Some of the dialogue occurred to me as brilliant. I would most definitely be inclined to say a woman of a particular sort had "important hair." I don't know that literalism is always the best form to represent the tension and revelation of real conversations. I thought his stylized exchanges were right on the mark, in effect if not in verbatim delivery of the things one overhears in daily life. I don't expect novels to reproduce life as I see it, only to share the feeling of how another might. I fully expect my future 14 year-old to serve as my moral and intellectual whipmaster, even if the guilt and thoughtfulness it achieves is only in my own mind.
I think it is important, too, to recall that this book is almost 25 years old, and was written well before Prozac, Chuck Palahniuk, and Bret Easton Ellis became household phrases.
It's worth referring to the Wikipedia page just to read a little more about the history of the title. Brilliant, I think.
"Each man's destiny is personal only inso as it may resemble what is already in his memory."
This quote is from Eduardo Mallea, and it begins The Shelt"Each man's destiny is personal only inso as it may resemble what is already in his memory."
This quote is from Eduardo Mallea, and it begins The Sheltering Sky with that strange act of framing that so many authors employ, using the words of others to summarize or introduce the feelings that they are about to try to invoke in their readers. Above this quote is another phrase: "Tea in the Sahara," a chapter title, now-familiar but difficult to place. This was taken by none other than the band The Police, to introduce their own work, a song of the same name that recreates a story from The Sheltering Sky. It's an interesting little web - and indicative, I think, of the kind of impact that this book seems to have on people, or at least on those who love it.
I did strange things because of this book. I bought leather-bound antique tomes written by T.E. Lawrence, and read them to a friend while wrapped in blankets and candlelight, hiding from a snowstorm, which we both pretended was sand and not ice. I became obsessed with the notions of breath and spirit that are espoused by the Touareg people of the Sahara desert. I planned films. I devoured the works of Isabelle Eberhardt, an early pioneer of female-gender-bending and exotic adventure. And finally, I bought a one-way ticket to Morocco to see Mr. Bowles, himself.
What happened after that is a long story, and a large part of my psychic history. Bowles died three days before I arrived, although Fate did land me at his wake, and I became friends with many of his, most notably the famous Moroccan novelist, Mohammed Choukri. I also ended up living in North Africa for about two years, and spending a good deal of time in the desert, undergoing indeed what Bowles translates as the baptism of solitude.
This is a long-winded way of saying that there is something special in this book, something that has the ability to get into you and never let you go. It makes you do things, it shakes you up and reminds you of emotions and fears that you had forgotten to give names to. And as the Mallea quote suggests, this book does nothing to you that you haven't already in some way done to yourself, or brings out nothing that wasn't already there, some other, wilder experience, some other collision with the real, and the you that you have forgotten or think you have lost.
For those who have watched or loved the film adaptation, I cannot speak to it as I've never been able to bring myself to see it. I am not a big fan of Bertolucci's work, although he does do some interesting things with silence. Bowles' comment on the film was something to the effect of, "How can you make a movie when all the action takes place inside people's heads?"...more
Another book that changed my life. Or, one that arrived just in time for me to want to change it myself.
I like to sensationalize this story a bit by gAnother book that changed my life. Or, one that arrived just in time for me to want to change it myself.
I like to sensationalize this story a bit by giving it credit (in part) for my marriage to the most amazing and well-suited partner I ever could have dreamed of. In fact, I hadn't dreamed of it, not before this book, which was why, when I read it, I was in the wrong relationship.
Besides being a brain-twisting, breath-shattering, sexy, aching, dreamwalk of a novel, this book does a damn good job of showing what love can look like. It was so well-written, I actually believed Niffenegger when she said the things she did; I wanted a Henry and a Claire all-in-one, for my very own.
I was getting close to ready before I read the book. I knew it was coming, but wasn't sure what it looked like or how I was going to find the strength to get myself out of where I was. And then I read The Time Traveller's Wife, and I stayed up until 3 AM, sobbing, to finish it. The next day, I washed my face, smoothed my hair, and got myself out of my wrong situation.
Soon thereafter, I found my partner. And he read the book, too.
It's really that good. Don't let the bookclub fame turn you off....more