28 February 2011
There is a giveaway somewhere in this post.
And then, like a gift from Nancy Pearl, The Guardian runs a top 10 list of the best neglected literary classics. I clicked on the link quite skeptically, sure that it would be a lame list with all the usual authors. But much to my surprise the list was strikingly sympathetic to the likes of My Porch and my bloggy friends. No doubt this is still a list to be quibbled with. There are so many forgotten classics it would be hard to believe that any list of 10 could even scratch the surface let alone find the best 10. But at least this one is interesting (and different) with the likes of Barbara Comyns, FM Mayor, and Marghanita Laski. And I have actually read three of the novels, Olivia Manning's School for Love; The Wife, perhaps the best of Meg Wolitzer's enjoyable output; and one of my own personal NYRB breakout hits, Darcy O'Brien's A Way of Life, Like Any Other. I think the only author on the list who has any broad recognition is probably H.G. Wells.
I decided to come up with a list of titles that I would like to nominate to a top 10 list of the best neglected literary classics. I only chose books that I have read, and that I think don't get enough notice in the blogosphere. So even though some of these titles may be easy to find and some may not be that old, they all deserve more attention.
In no particular order:
As for Me and My House by Sinclair Ross
Such a wonderful, sad, short novel that takes place in Dust Bowl-era Saskatchewan. This is a quiet book where there isn't much action, but it seems like so much happens. If you like this kind of book, have a blog, and are willing to read and review within three months of receipt of the book, I have an extra used copy of this hard-to-find book. Just include the following pledge in your comment: "I have a blog and am willing to read and review the prize book within three months of receiving it." I will ship anywhere in the world EXCEPT for Canada. I love Canadians, but I feel like you owe it to your native son to find and read your own copy of this book.
Stoner by John Williams
I have talked about this one every chance I get and it has been getting a fair amount of notice in the blogosphere. But it is one that should definitely be more widely read.
On the Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin
Chatwin traveled widely in his life and wrote about his adventures including the rather famous Patagonia. But in this beautiful novel, no one goes anywhere. Identical twin bachelors spend their Spartan lives on a farm on the English-Welsh border.
Reunion by Fred Uhlman
Two German boys, one Jewish, become friends in the early days of the Third Reich. I really liked this novel and haven't really seen much about it elsewhere.
The Student Conductor by Robert Ford
Takes place in Germany in the time just before the wall comes down and one of the few books that I have read that expertly weaves in classical music without sounding pedantic or name-droppy. And so far as I can tell, the only novel by Robert Ford has written.
The Rise of Silas Lapham by William Dean Howells
If Anthony Trollope had been an American and less verbose, he may have written The Rise of Silas Lapham. A tale of money and status in 1880s America. A bit of a rags to riches to rags story.
The Game of Opposites by Norman Lebrecht
Lebrecht has written two novels and is a rather well-known critic in England. His fiction doesn't get the attention it deserves. His first novel Song of Names won a Whitbread First Novel award.
I would have put Elinor Lipman's The Inn at Lake Devine, but I don't think the title is as forgotten here in the US as they may be in the rest of the world.
What would you like to nominate? And don't forget to enter the giveaway if you meet the criteria and are willing to take a solemn oath.
27 February 2011
As it happens the only Persephone in my TBR nightstand was The Mystery of Mrs. Blencarrow by Mrs. Oliphant. It is coupled with another story Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamund.
I enjoyed both stories, but as I am still feeling unbloggy, I am going to let others speak for me. A rare occurrence indeed. (I will say that I caught the Brown reference in the Mrs. Blencarrow almost immediately.)
Hayley at Desperate Reader
Claire at Paperback Reader
25 February 2011
|The Return of Persephone [Reading Weekend]|
Fewer Lesses and More Fewers
Literacy is a never-ending journey. It wasn't until I was getting my second Master's degree that I began to understand that the words "less" and "fewer" were not interchangeable. Simply put, the word "less" applies to things that are uncountable and "fewer" applies to things that can be counted. So something may have "less fat" by virtue of having "fewer grams of fat". Once I fully took this concept on, I couldn't keep myself from correcting people (in my head) every time they used "less" when they should have used "fewer". But now I have gotten myself to the point where anytime anyone uses the word "less", even when it is being used correctly, I change it to "fewer" in my head. It is like it has become an OCD (ah, mentioned twice now in this post) Mad Lib game for me. The other day on TV I heard someone say "I am less concerned about that" and in my head I changed it to "I am fewer concerned about that". I've gone mental.
23 February 2011
Earlier this month I wrote a post called Seen on the Bus about books that I had seen in the course of my commute. It was based on a feature that Karen, of the now shuttered blog Bookish NYC, used to do on a weekly basis. Based on all the encouraging comments I got on that post, I thought I would give it a whirl.
Here are my ground rules:
- I probably will not post weekly. I am too busy reading on my commute to get a glimpse of what everyone is reading. As soon as I have at least three sightings worthy of a noting, I will post them.
- In general I won't comment on anything to do with vampires, girl with the Steig Larsson books, or on blockbuster authors like Patterson or Koontz or other books too ubiquitous to be interesting.
- Even though I am calling this Seen on the Subway, I will post about books I see anywhere on my commute whether it is bus stop, bus, subway platform, or subway.
So here goes the first installment.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Veghese
The Reader: Twenty-something blond woman with briefcase and Lulu Lemon bag travelling on the Red Line. I must admit I actually had to follow this reader for a while before I could catch a glimpse of the title. I finally managed to catch it on the escalator. (We were both making the same transfer to the Green Line, so it isn't like I went out of my way. I am trying hard not to be a book reader-stalker here.)
The Book: Publishers Weekly summarizes: "Lauded for his sensitive memoir (My Own Country) about his time as a doctor in eastern Tennessee at the onset of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s, Verghese turns his formidable talents to fiction, mining his own life and experiences in a magnificent, sweeping novel that moves from India to Ethiopia to an inner-city hospital in New York City over decades and generations."
The Verdict: It sounds interesting especially since I am feeling a bit more international these days. But I don't think I will go out of my way to find this one.
All Other Nights by Dara Horn
The Reader: Rather nattily dressed man with round spectacles, tweed jacket, sweater, and a rep tie waiting for the Yellow Line at Gallery Place.
The Book: A novel about the U.S. Civil War from a Jewish perspective.
The Verdict: A fascinating topic (and one I had never before considered) but not one I am likely to want to read. I would however watch a documentary on the topic or see the film adaptation.
State of Fear by Michael Crichton
The Reader: Stocky guy with a Federal Highways Administration lanyard waiting for the Green Line.
The Book: This one appears to be a novel about how wrong the scientific community is about global warming.
The Verdict: I liked Crichton's The Andromeda Strain, and long before the disappointing films I liked Jurassic Park, but this one seems to be an attempt to discredit the notion of global warming. Certainly helps explain why he was a "science" confidante of George W. Bush. I have no interest whatsoever in reading this one.
20 February 2011
The European setting of Bernhard Schlink's Homecoming, which I reviewed earlier today, made this painting seem appropriate for my Sunday Painting.
|Study for The City, 1909-10|
Robert Delaunay (1885-1941)
In my reading, Bernhard Schlink is now 2 for 2. I thought The Reader was amazing, and while I don't think the plot of Homecoming is as tight as The Reader, it is still a compelling, well-written novel that encouraged all the appropriate emotional reactions. And like The Reader, Homecoming deals with the Nazi legacy in Germany. Regular folks trying to deal with (or forget about) their individual or collective culpability in genocide. Unlike The Reader, however, Homecoming takes a more philosophical look at good and evil and never really broaches the details of Nazi barbarism explicitly.
In Homecoming Schlink weaves the tale of Peter Debauer who attempts to track down the ending of a novel. He has an incomplete proof copy of a novel that his Swiss grandparent's edited that is missing not only the ending but also any indication of author or title. Peter's search for the ending and the identity of the author lead him not only to find love but also to discover more than a few secrets about his past. (As Peter tries to track down people and publications all I could think about was how much easier it would have been if Google had been around. It was to the point where I found myself having a hard time imagining how he could even attempt his searches without the Internet. Amazing how the "old" ways can disappear so quickly.)
I am tempted to say that Schlink writes historical and legal fiction, but I am not sure if his work would really fit into those genre. It seems too readable for that. His writing is never pedantic nor pedagogical. The points of history or law introduced into his novels are expertly woven into the emotional, relationship-oriented drama. His characters and their motivations, while sometimes alien to the reader, are wholly believable. And you find yourself caring quite a bit about the characters. As I mentioned earlier, the plot in Homecoming wasn't as tight as it could have been. There are a few twists and turns that are too pat. And there are others that seemed rather clumsy. Like Schlink had too much he wanted to say. Still, there is nothing in this criticism that should keep you from reading Homecoming. There is much here that makes you think, and perhaps more importantly for a novel, makes you feel.
[It is hard to mention The Reader without mentioning the amazing film adaptation. I really thought that was a fantastic film. And Kate Winslet is easily one of the best actors of our time.]
17 February 2011
The original tech boom quickly went bust because the thousands of Internet start-ups knew how to have fun but didn't know how to make money. Now that Internet commerce has come of age, the bricks and mortar stores that thought that abundance and fun, fun, fun would help save them are feeling the death blow from the Internet and perhaps the advent of the e-book.
15 February 2011
And there were three scenes that I found stretched my willingness to suspend disbelief to the breaking point. Not surprisingly for my OCD mind, they weren't the quasi-ghost stories sprinkled here and there. It had more to do with details that I just didn't find plausible. The scene where Stephen thinks he has found his daughter would never have played out the way that it did. Even in the relatively innocent days of 1987 a strange adult would never have been allowed access to a nine-year old student even if in the presence of the headmaster. The scene where the Prime Minister comes to visit read like a bad Hollywood movie. And the scene where he hops a ride in the engine of a train. Yeah right.
I forgive anyone who finds me a bit thick for not getting this book. I am sure there is something important here. McEwan is a great writer and I have enjoyed many of his books, and indeed I found some parts of this book very compelling and enjoyable. But overall it was just a little tedious and precious. I am not prepared to say that I absolutely did not like it, but I came close.
13 February 2011
So what is this book about? The whole of the narrative follows the trial of a father and son who have been arrested for setting fire to an army vehicle. I think part of my disappointment in the book is that I was expecting a different kind of book. I thought that there was going to be some great reason for their action and expected more of a plot. Instead End of a Mission is like a tableau of personalities. Taking place in a small village every character is truly a character. All of the quirkiness of village life and relationships are played out in the descriptions and actions of everyone from judge to bailiff, to lawyers, police, witnesses, innkeepers, observers, the press and of course the accused father and son. It also took me a while to realize that much of the book is meant to be humorous. Throughout the book Boll shows the somewhat absurd juxtaposition of a society that likes rules at the same time that it seems to be rebelling against them. Perhaps it is in the wake of World War II and the role of law and order in the Holocaust that prompts these small town Germans to want to thumb their noses at authority. But even then there is an almost orderly quality to their small acts of rebellion. Being at least one quarter German and one quarter control freak, I often feel an affinity for the stereotype of German precision and linear thinking. I had a history professor in college who abhorred any attempts to define a national character, either for individuals or for the collective society. But darn if it isn't satisfying to trade in generalities sometimes.
There were moments that I enjoyed, and there are many aspects that would make End of a Mission a good book for discussion. But not a book club discussion. I think it would do much better in a more academic setting, and one that was focused more on German post-WWII history rather than one specifically about literature. For these reasons I am wavering between giving this book a 5 (ambivalent) on the My Porch Scale or a 6 (almost liked it).
12 February 2011
I first read The Professor's House by Willa Cather in 2003. At the time I was captivated by the novel and ranked it as one of my all time favorites. Since then I have recommended it widely and have been happy to see it crop up with some frequency on various book blogs. Most recently Karen at Books and Chocolate read it during Virago Reading Week. Reading Karen's review made me want to go back and re-read the book to see if my initial love of the book would stand. Thankfully I had a paperback edition of it in my nightstand so I could remain true to the TBR Dare.
In the latter days of his academic career at a small university on the western shore of Lake Michigan, Professor Godfrey St. Peter decides he isn't quite ready to leave behind his quirky old study when he and his wife are meant to be moving into their new house. He contemplates his career, his wife, his grown daughters and their husbands, and most significantly, his relationship with Tom Outland a protege who was much like a son to St. Peter and who was killed in World War I. After convincing his wife, daughter, and son-in-law to go off to Europe without him, St. Peter means to edit Outland's diary. As he prepares an introduction to the diary, St. Peter recounts Outland's life before they met. A major chunk of the book is about Outland's life in New Mexico, where among other things, he discovered a group of abandoned cliff dwellings. St. Peter's summer alone with his thoughts brings new clarity to his life, both past and future.
When I first read The Professor's House back in '03, I saw it mainly as the story of someone who wanted a little solitude. Being quite independent myself with a tendency toward being a loner, I really identified with that. Now seven years later, I can still see that in the book, but it seems like a minor detail given all of the other thoughts and emotions St. Peter processes. Through Outland's story St. Peter comes to terms with what his own life has turned out to be and how different it is from what St. Peter thinks is truly important. There is much that could be considered melancholy in this book, but I find that the overall feeling is really about hope and possibility. As the blurb on the book notes, St. Peter turns emotional dislocation into renewal.
I feel an affinity for St. Peter's intellectual and emotional outlook. He is someone I would like to know, or be. For that reason alone, The Professor's House is wonderful. But their is also something about the section on Tom Outland's life in New Mexico that I find breathtaking at times. Cather does a brilliant job evoking the beauty and spiritual timelessness of New Mexico. Several years ago I was lucky enough to spend two weeks in Las Cruces in southern New Mexico. While I was there I went up into the Gila National Forest alone and saw some cliff dwellings for myself. Set on a green wooded mountain, on a beautifully crisp, sunny February morning, I felt like I had been transported to another time, and not just in an intellectual and historical sense. There was something about the dry, clean air, the brilliant blue sky, and the amazing quiet that I found quite moving. The contemplation of geology and nature, and geologic time in particular, is perhaps the closest I come to any sort spirituality. I find something oddly comforting in the fact that my life is just an infinitesimal blip in the billions of years of geologic processes that happened before me and will happen after me. And that my body will become part of that geology. I should be clear that I am conflating Tom Outland's story with my own experience in New Mexico. Cather's text doesn't really strive to be so lofty, but it does say important things about what is truly ours and what is important in life. Having said that, one does not need to find or even want to find something spiritual in this book to thoroughly enjoy it.
There is one scene as Tom contemplates the cliff dwellings that reminded me of the A Month in the Country, the last book I read. In that book, Tom Birkin feels a certain connection to the the painter of a work he is uncovering five hundred years after its creation. Tom Outland's experience discovering the cliff dwellings is similar:
To people off alone, as we were, there is something stirring about finding evidences of human labour and care in the soil of an empty country. It comes to you as a sort of message, makes you feel differently about the ground you walk on every day.
For a interesting analysis of this book and some great photos check out Nearly Lucid.
10 February 2011
Bookish NYC, I used to love reading Karen's weekly post about the books she saw people reading on the subway that week. I have often contemplated doing something similar on my blog, but I know I wouldn't be as good as Karen was at describing the people who were reading the books.
And then part of me didn't want to do it here in DC because it seemed that most folks on the Metro here read either non-fiction, bibles/daily devotional books, or news periodicals. Non of which I find interesting enough to blog about.
But, since moving to our new neighborhood, I have been surprised to see people on my local bus to the Metro reading lots of interesting fiction. No "Girl with the Whatever" books, no vampire books. Instead I have seen things like Anita Brookner and Elizabeth Bowen and even a Barbara Pym. And sure, there are still plenty of people reading the previously mentioned stuff I don't feel like blogging about. But given the rather wonky make up of my new neighborhood (25% have bachelor's degrees and an additional 36% have graduate degrees) rather than the de rigeuer copies of The New Yorker or The Economist that are everywhere in DC, you see things like Meteoritics and Planetary Science. And, although it may be non-fiction I saw a young woman reading Mad World, the story of Evelyn Waugh and the writing of Brideshead Revisited.
I still don't plan to follow in Karen's footsteps, but on Monday on the morning bus I couldn't help but note the following:
Trim, tidy, forty-something gentleman with briefcase reading Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos. If MT is anything like Dos Passos' USA trilogy, I wouldn't exactly call it light reading.
Casual thirty-something guy who looks like he has young kids and who usually has an e-reader had a wonderful. slightly ratty old Penguin Classics edition of V.S. Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas.
And then there was me with my copy of Heinrich Boll's End of a Mission.
Through Birkin's experience we meet the people of Oxgodby and are introduced to their various quirks and natural distrust of a city boy from the South. We learn the value of vocation and art for their own sake. And we see Birkin slip almost imperceptibly into the life of the village. He takes up Methodism despite working and literally living in an Anglican church, becomes close friends with Charles Moon a fellow WWI vet who has been hired to unearth the grave of the ancestor of an important local family, becomes an honorary member of the Ellerbeck family, and falls in love with the vicar's wife.
09 February 2011
Fascinating book overcomes deep-seated reading quirks.
As gloomy as some of the scenarios can be, they are not without beauty and humor. And Mueenuddin paints a vivid picture of life in Pakistan. One can almost feel the heat and smell the food. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders was a National Book Award finalist and it is easy to see why. I am glad I overcame my natural disinclination to read this book. Had I not, I would have missed out on a fascinating world and a well written book. And it will make me less resistant the next time someone hands me a book. (But don't do it until after April 1st when the TBR Dare ends.)
*TBR = to be read
06 February 2011
If you are like me you couldn't care less about football and the Super Bowl. So I thought I would try a different kind of super bowl Sunday. Also check out this week's Sunday Painting, and my TBR Dare update.
|Footed Bowl by Frances Palmer|
|Hammered Stainless Steel by Simon Pearce|
|Ceramic bowl made by a friend.|
|Urchin Bowl by Element Clay Studio|
|A bowl in the spa at our hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand|
|Basalt bowl by Wedgwood|
|Ancient Celtic bowl|
|Beautiful, simple ironstone bowl found on Faded Plains|
|Lots of bowls at John Derian|
|And how could I forget hotty Jeremy Northam holding this golden bowl from |
the movie adaptation of Henry James' The Golden Bowl
|The Bronze Horses of San Marco, 1876|
Charles Caryl Coleman (1840-1928)
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts
05 February 2011
01 February 2011
The cover contest also turned into a random draw since everyone who sent me an email got all four titles correct. It must have been easier than I thought. How did you all do it? What was your technique?
Thanks to all who entered. It was a lot of fun.