Monday, March 31, 2014

March 2014 Reads

This looks like a lot of reading. It was even though there are two I didn't finish (the first two on the list).

Not crazy about these three:
My Struggle: Book Two: A Man in Love; Knausgård, Karl Ove; translated by  Don Bartlett.
  I only made it to page 200 before I decided I'd had enough.
In the Night of Time; Molina, Antonio Muñoz; translated by Edith Grossman
  Just couldn't really get into this.  I think I'll try it again in a couple of months. (I might also give the Knausgård another try.)
The Islands; Gamerro, Carlos; translated by Ian Barnett
  Read on Kindle (my copy). Long passages on the development of a computer game really distracted from the story. All that techie stuff may have been fascinating a few years ago when this was first published, but now it seems dated and unnecessary.

These two were very heavy, glad I read them but they were disturbing.
Back to Back; Franck, Julia; translated by Anthea Bell       
The Dark Road; Jian, Ma; translated by Flora Drew 

Discussed these two in an earlier post (March 22, 2014)
The Golem and the Jinni; Wecker, Helene (Kindle from library) 
The Hakawati; Alameddine, Rabih

Of this next group Live Bait and Wake were the best, but all were good                    
Live Bait; Genovesi, Fabio; translated by Michael Moore (Advance electronic review copy)
 This was a fun coming of age story. Epub is my least favorite way to read an ARC.  
Wake; Hope, Anna
  Am enjoying the World War I novels currently being published. 
A Circle of Wives; LaPlante, Alice
  A mystery-who killed the bigamist trigamist?
Attachments; Rowell, Rainbow (Kindle from library)
  Chickish lit
The Moon Sisters; Walsh, Therese  (Advance review copy)
  Didn't like this at first but it kind of grew on me. 
Belle Cora; Margulies, Phillip
  Can't resist historical novels set in San Francisco- this was a good one.    
The Wind Is Not a River; Payton, Brian
  World War II in the Aleutian Islands.   
Little Bee; Cleave, Chris
  Nigerian girl in UK   

Two that were disappointing:
Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story; Setterfield, Diane
  Was so-so on her The Thirteenth Tale  and decided to give her another chance-shouldn't have bothered.
A Burnable Book; Holsinger, Bruce                                
 Interesting subject, he knows his stuff but I don't care for his writing style.

Short Stories
Three really good collections.
Bark: Stories; Moore, Lorrie Excellent review of this by Joyce Carol Oates in NRB
Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge; Orner, Peter      
Snow in May: Stories; Melnik, Kseniya  (review copy from Library Thing) 

A Taste for Intrigue: The Multiple Lives of François Mitterrand; Short, Philip  (Advance review copy from Goodreads)
  Excellent!  I'd say it was my best read of the month, but it actually took me a couple of months to read. (Over 600 pages)
Dear Abigail: The Intimate Lives and Revolutionary Ideas of Abigail Adams and Her Two Remarkable Sisters; Jacobs, Diane
  I do like Abigail...and her sisters.  Nice to learn more about them.
Uprising: A New Age is Dawning for Every Mother's Daughter; Armstrong, Sally
 (Advance review copy from Goodreads) This was ok. It should be read by people who probably won't read it. 
George Washington's Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution; Kilmeade, Brian  (Kindle from library)
  Not very well written.

Unless otherwise noted, books were physical copies from public libraries.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Once Upon a Time Challenge, or Serendipity Strikes Again

Yep, Yesterday I posted about those two novels that contain myth, legend, and fantasy and in this morning's email there was a new post from Annabel's House of Books about a related challenge.  Of course, like Annabel, I rarely do challenges but...

The thing is, the two books I posted about yesterday re-sparked my mind to read more fantasy so I checked out the challenge and it's really quite flexible and I think the posts by the participants will lead me to some interesting reads.   

So here it is Once Upon a Time VIII
      "Friday, March 21st begins the eighth annual Once Upon a Time Challenge. This is a reading and viewing event that encompasses four broad categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology, including the seemingly countless sub-genres and blending of genres that fall within this spectrum. The challenge continues through June 21st and allows for very minor (1 book only) participation as well as more immersion depending on your reading/viewing whims."

There are several levels, and I'm not sure which I'll aim for.  I'm not even sure it makes much difference since my goal is to see what everyone else is reading.  Still, I should share.

Think I'll go for
Quest of the First: "Read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time categories. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology…or your five books might be a combination from the four genres."

and (since I love short stories)
Short Story Quest: "This quest involves the reading of one or more short stories that fit within at least one of the four genres during the course of any weekend, or weekends, during the challenge. Ideally you would post about your short story readings on Sundays or Mondays, but this is not strictly necessary."

As usual for me, the Reading is not the Challenge. The posting is.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Serendipitous Reading

Sometimes these things just happen. Two (or more) books that just seem to go together appear on my reading stand at the same time. This can be an uncomfortable coincidence (see my last post) or it can be fun.

Here's a fun one.  At the library a couple of weeks ago I picked up The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine because I liked his Unnecessary Woman so much. At about the same time The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker showed up on my online library holds. So there they sat, one on my Kindle and one on my side table, both with similar due dates.

So when I finished my grim IFFP reads, I turned to these two sensing that they would be a little lighter.

These two books go together. I alternated between them until I got a notice that the Wecker book was almost due. So I finished it first because it can't be renewed and the other one can. I'm halfway through through The Hakawati.

The similarities:
Both books deal with Middle Eastern legends and magic. Jinni and other mythical creatures abound, often out of their elements.

The differences:
The Wecker book is a pretty straightforward fantasy novel, set in New York in the late 1800s with flashbacks to earlier times in the desert. Alameddine's novel is somewhat autobiographical and is set in modern day Beirut with the old tales interspersed with the narrator's family history. The narrator has come to Beirut from his current home in Los Angeles to see his dying father.

The verdict:
A Hakawati is a story teller and these two authors are really good story tellers. This is Wecker's first novel (she took seven years to write it) and it is a well polished debut novel. I hope to see more from her.

Alameddine had already made his mark when he wrote this novel. It was written before An Unnecessary Woman and, other than both being set in Beirut, there is little similarity between the two. Hence, it is impossible to say one is better than the other. But this variety is what makes me want to read more of his work.

Both books are great reads and provided the hoped for relief from the darkness of Back to Back and The Dark Road.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

About Those Longlists

Whew!  I've just finished two of the books from the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.  Two very bleak and dark tales.   

Back to Back by Julia Franck and translated from the German by Anthea Bell (Harvill Secker) and  The Dark Road by Ma Jian and translated from the Chinese by Flora Drew (Chatto & Windus).

I'm too spent to make comment about either one, except to say that of the two I thought The Dark Road was more well written.  

It didn't help that I was also finishing Uprising: A New Age is Dawning for Every Mother's Daughter by Sally Armstrong. This is a discussion of the progress on women's rights around the world.  Another difficult read.

These were such heavy narratives  that it was a relief to take breaks and read the pretty much plot-less  A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard and translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Harvill Secker).  This  one is on both the IFFP list and the BTBA list.  I'm taking it in small doses and probably won't finish it before the library reclaims it.  Knausgaard tells me more than I ever wanted to know about one man.  I find him much more interesting when he writes about literary topics than when he writes about himself and his rather mundane day-to-day activities.

I've made no progress on the Baileys Women's Prize longlist.  Right now I want something light and fluffy.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Ancient History

Maybe not "ancient" in terms of human history, but I'm talking Internet here.

Here are the remnants of something I started back in the late 1990s when I was still a working librarian. It was in response to a recurring school assignment. I can't remember if it was a high school or community college assignment but students kept asking for books translated into English from another language. No specific language, but the book had to have literary merit.

At that time, there was no Google , no search engines, there was barely an Internet, I  started this before graphical interface.  See what I mean by "ancient"?

These requests usually came to me because I was the person on the staff who read the most "foreign" fiction. I remember having a difficult time getting the rest of the staff to agree to ordering translated works. So this was a tough assignment since the material had to be accessible as well as literary. So I started a list and as soon as free web sites were available I put it on Tripod (now Lycos).

Fast forward a few years and the list was no longer necessary since we had an online catalog, better search engines, etc.  And then I retired.  So I updated it sporadically. It was no longer necessary to limit it to books available in a specific library system. Nor did the books have to be of interest to a specific student group.

Now it's a real mess, since  Goodreads, Library Thing, Riffle and other such sites make it much easier to do this sort of thing. But it's still a list of translated works, geographically arranged, that may be of interest.  So I won't totally erase it.  But I probably won't bother to add to it or correct the typos and poor formatting. 

So here it is for what it's worth: The Geographical Reader

Friday, March 14, 2014

Best Translated Book Award Longlist

Read six, loved three of those, didn't like three. Have one more in hand to read. Have easy access to six more. That leaves twelve that I might not see for months, if ever.

The ones I've read:

 Tirza by Arnon Grunberg - Liked it, 5 star liked it.
 The Missing Year of Juan Salvatierra by Pedro Mairal - One of my favorites- 5 star
 The Infatuations by Javier Marías - A real struggle
 A True Novel by Minae Mizumura -  Loved it! 5 star
 In the Night of Time by Antonio Muñoz Molina - Slogged through, not a favorite
 City of Angels, or, The Overcoat of Dr. Freud by Christa Wolf  - Don't understand the fuss, just not my kind of thing

Next to read:
 My Struggle: Book Two by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Just got from library, haven't started it.

Available from local libraries:
 Horses of God by Mahi Binebine
 Textile by Orly Castel-Bloom
 The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante
 Seiobo There Below by László Krasznahorkai
 Autobiography of a Corpse by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky 
 The Whispering Muse by Sjó

If I want to read any of the rest, I'll have to beg, buy, or search libraries out of local system. Which are worth buying or tracking down? Maybe a couple will show up in local library now that they are on this longlist.

Blinding by Mircea Cărtărescu
Sleet by Stig Dagerman
Her Not All Her by Elfriede Jelinek
The African Shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa
Through the Night by Stig Sæterbakken
Commentary by Marcelle Sauvageot
Leg Over Leg Vol. 1 by Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq
The Forbidden Kingdom by Jan Jacob Slauerhoff
The Devil’s Workshop by Jáchym Topol
The End of Love by Marcos Giralt Torrente
Red Grass by Boris Vian

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Another longlist--Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2014

I read a lot of fiction in translation, so I've heard of most of these. Most are on my TBR list. What surprised me is:  I have read only one of them, The Infatuations (I didn't especially like it). Part of why I haven't read any of the others is accessibility: local libraries don't have very many of them.

Will wait for Best Translated Book Award longlist and then start with books I haven't read that are on both lists. I have probably read three or four on the BTBA list.

    A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard and translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Harvill Secker)
    A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli and translated from the French by Sam Taylor (Portobello Books)
    Back to Back by Julia Franck and translated from the German by Anthea Bell (Harvill Secker)
    Brief Loves that Live Forever by Andreï Makine and translated from the French by Geoffrey Strachan (MacLehose Press)
    Butterflies in November by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir and translated from the Icelandic by Brian FitzGibbon (Pushkin Press)
    The Corpse Washer by Sinan Antoon and translated from the Arabic by the author (Yale University Press)
    The Dark Road by Ma Jian and translated from the Chinese by Flora Drew (Chatto & Windus)
    Exposure by Sayed Kashua and translated from the Hebrew by Mitch Ginsberg (Chatto & Windus?
    The Infatuations by Javier Marías and translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa (Hamish Hamilton)
    The Iraqi Christ by Hassan Blasim and translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright (Comma Press)
    The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke and translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch (Peirene Press)
    Revenge by Yoko Ogawa and translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder (Harvill Secker)
    The Sorrow of Angels by Jón Kalman Stefánsson and translated from the Icelandic by Philip Roughton (MacLehose Press)
    Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami and translated from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell (Portobello Books)
    Ten by Andrej Longo and translated from the Italian by Howard Curtis (Harvill Secker)

Friday, March 07, 2014

Comments on The Baileys Women's Prize longlist

First of all I don't read something just because it is on one of these lists. But if I'm trying to decide whether to read a book a list like this may tip the scale--or not. This list has a few I've read, a few I've already rejected, I few already on my TBR list, and some I know little (or nothing) about.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah (Fourth Estate)
  I've been considering this one, still not sure about it
Margaret Atwood, MaddAddam (Bloomsbury)
  Part of a series? I haven't read the others...probably won't get to this
Suzanne Berne, The Dogs of Littlefield (Fig Tree)
  I'm drawing a blank. Must look into this.
Fatima Bhutto, The Shadow of the Crescent Moon (Viking)
Claire Cameron, The Bear (Harvill Secker)
  Wavering because of a couple of iffy reviews. I'll probably give it a try
Lea Carpenter, Eleven Days (Two Roads)
   The first I've heard of this one.
M.J. Carter, The Strangler Vine (Fig Tree)
   Another unknown to me.
Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries (Granta)
   Someday I'll probably read this.
Deborah Kay Davies, Reasons She Goes to the Woods (Oneworld)
   Uhh? Why haven't I heard of these books. 
Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things (Bloomsbury)
   I loved this book!
Hannah Kent, Burial Rites (Picador)
  Maybe I'll read.
Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers (Harvill Secker)
   Read a description, several reviews, thumbed through it at library. Decided it's not something I want to read.
Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland (Bloomsbury)
   I read part, didn't like it, set it aside, won't go back to it
Audrey Magee, The Undertaking (Atlantic Books)
  Another blank.  Will investigate.
Eimear McBride, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing (Gallery Beggar Press)
  What is this? the title sounds coming of ageish. Will follow up.
Charlotte Mendelson, Almost English (Mantle)
   Another blank.  Is it because I'm in the USA?
Anna Quindlen, Still Life with Bread Crumbs (Hutchinson)
  Been meaning to read this one.
Elizabeth Strout, The Burgess Boys (Simon and Schuster)
  I really liked this. Enough to checkout and read some of her other books.
Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch (Little, Brown)
  Worst book I've tried to read this year. Made it to page 200. 
Evie Wyld, All The Birds, Singing (Jonathan Cape)
  Want to read.

So.  Seven I never heard of, two I read and loved, two I tried to read and rejected, one I consciously decided not to read, and eight I've been considering. This is pretty typical of my experience with long lists for prizes.

Humm...I just read in The Guardian that only four of these (Carter, Davies, Mendelson, and Wyld) are British authors. That accounts for three of the seven that were unfamiliar to me.

I like this list but I don't choose books by the gender of the writer.  I won't choose one of these just because the author is a woman, but I'm glad this list is drawing attention to these titles. 

Saturday, March 01, 2014

FEBRUARY 2014 READING: brief notes

I did read a lot during February, but some of these were started in December and January but were finished in February. Each grouping is listed in more or less the order I liked them. Tough to give a preference for such diverse titles.  Some of these were "fluff" but they were good fluff. "Take a break" type reading, so I inserted fluff breaks.
An Unnecessary Woman; Alameddine, Rabih
   Maybe the best of the bunch but the next two were very close. And the three after those. 

The Good Luck of Right Now; Quick, Matthew
  A quirky surprise. 

All Russians Love Birch Trees; Grjasnowa, Olga; translated  by Eva Bacon
When I finished this I said, "Wow!" 

Fame: A Novel in Nine Episodes; Kehlmann, Daniel; Translated by Carol Brown Janeway 
   The author calls it a novel so I will too, but it's close to being a linked short story collection. (see The Greatest Show below.) 

Ways of Going Home;  Zambra, Alejandro; Translated by Megan McDowell
 Not sure why I liked this, but I did. 

At Night We Walk in Circles; Alarcón, Daniel
 So good, so very good. 

Boy, Snow, Bird; Oyeyemi, Helen
  I must read more by this author.
---fluff break---
Bite Me; Moore, Christopher
  San Francisco, vampires, why not? 

The Turtle-Girl from East Pukapuka; Alpaugh, Cole 
 Improbable, but I can willingly suspend my disbelief.
---back to more serious reads---     
& SonsGilbert, David
 I liked this, it reminded me of everything I didn't like about those "Eastern, boarding school, establishment, Waspish, writers" that I loathed when I was growing up in the 50s & 60s in California.  Auchincloss, Cheever, and that lot exposed.

My Two Worlds; Chejfec, Sergio; Translated by Margaret B. Carson
  This one gave me trouble, I missed something.  Will give it another try in a few months.

 These last four were huge disappointments, I want my time back.
The Invention of Wings;  Kidd, Sue Monk 
Under the Wide and Starry Sky; Horan, Nancy
Strange Bodies; Theroux, Marcel
Pioneer Girl; Nguyen, Bich Minh    

The Selected Stories of Mercè Rodoreda; Translated by Martha Tennent
  I've been reading this off and on since early December.  The stories are unrelated. Excellent.
The Greatest Show: Stories;  Downs, Michael   
  These stories are so closely linked that it reads almost like a novel. They need to be read in order. The link is the Hartford Circus Fire (1944).  Of interest to me because I live near Hartford and have met a survivor of the fire.  But I would like this even if I knew nothing about the disaster. 

Fantastic Women: 18 Tales of the Surreal and the Sublime from Tin House;  Spillman, Rob, editor. Introduction by Joy Williams.
  Strange, weird, but not horror.

---fluff break---
The Buck Pass; Whittier, T.R. (Ebook) 
  Not as good as the other two fluffs, but OK and the price was right. These are also linked stories, the link being a dollar bill.
---end fluff break---

Twelve Years a Slave ; Northup, Solomon (Ebook) 
 Not exactly pleasure reading but a necessary read. I will not see the movie.
Churchill's First War: Young Winston at War with the Afghans; Coughlin, Con
 Interesting background material on Churchill's career and the Afghan situation.

How Architecture Works: A Humanist's Toolkit; Rybczynski, Witold
 Nothing special here,  an overview. 

America's First Subway The Race Underground Most, Doug
 The title and the promo make this sound as if there was some sort of competition to see who would finish first. That really wasn't the case.  The drama was more in the politics of each city.

 These next two were interesting subjects, but not particularly well written, too many extraneous details.  I skimmed. A lot.
Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World; Goodman, Matthew (Ebook).
The Demon Under the Microscope; Hager, Thomas (Ebook)
All books were library books except:  Boy, Snow, Bird and the Churchill (ARCs); the Rodoreda story collection and The Buck Pass (my personal copies).