Saturday, February 25, 2017

February (fourth week) 2017 Reads

This week I tried to limit myself to reading only from my "owned-but-unread" shelf. The exceptions were online and associated with the Deal Me In short story challenge and research related to the books I read.

Two novels of life in Russia in the post-Soviet era. These are lyrical and haunting, full of family and national myths. Both are from my subscription to New Vessel Press.

Oblivion by Sergei Lebedev, Antonina W. Bouis (Translation)
A man travels to a former prison camp in search of the story of an odd neighbor who was a sort of adoptive grandfather to him.

The Year of the Comet by Sergei Lebedev, Antonina W. Bouis (Translation)
Coming of age in Moscow as the USSR collapses. Impossible to put this down.

Some  background by Sergei Lebedev on the New Vessel Press blog:
A biographical essay North and East
A biographical poem Two Red Stars

Seeing Red by Lina Meruane, Megan McDowell (Translation)
In this (somewhat autobiographical) novel a Chilean writer becomes blind from a complication of Diabetes. While there is description of the clinical progression of her condition, it is much more about her sense of self and her relationships, particularly with her lover and her mother, as she becomes (or is perceived by them to become) dependent on them.
Another excellent book from my subscription to Deep Vellum Publications.

The Game We Play by Sooze Lanier
There is a lot of variety in these stories. There are a couple of misses, but most are quite good. Most are set in Washington, DC. How Tommy Soto breaks you heart is a girl-loses-boy high school story; In Cat and bird two college freshman girls get to know each other; Over Shell Drive is a puzzling father-daughter tale; Raz-Jan deals with an immigrant father-son relationship; Sophie Salmon has an eating disorder; Felicia Sassafras is fiction is about a writer bored with a character she has created; Night hawk is a drug deal gone bad; Selflessly, with pleasure is a mercifully short (two pages) bit about a sex toy; Now that all danger is averted has a couple dealing with loss; At bat tells of a crucial ninth inning at bat from two points of view: batter and fan. (I've highlighted my favorites.) My copy from a blog win at The Quivering Pen.

The Pirate by Jón Gnarr, Lytton Smith (Translation)
The second book in the three-part memoir of the Icelandic actor, comedian, and politician. This one deals with his teenage years when he tried to start an anarchist punk band, avoided school, and endured a great deal of bullying.
Gnarr is really fun to read although he deals with serious topics of a difficult childhood. The first book was The Indian which I read in August 2015. The final book is The Outlaw which should arrive any day now. (They have already sent me the ebook but I prefer to wait for the print edition.)
Another book from my subscription to Deep Vellum Publications.

Justine by Iben Mondrup, Kerri A. Pierce (Translation)
Justine is an artist who loses everything--her house, her work, all her belongings--in a fire. She has also recently split with her lover. As she tries to rebuild her life and prepare some pieces for a scheduled exhibition, her story is revealed in layers of out-of-sequence memories. This is a dark tale, with frantic sexual exploits, misogyny, jealousy, as she searches for artistic expression in the male-dominated world of Denmark's art scene.
One of my subscription books from Open Letter Books

Cutting Back: My Apprenticeship in the Gardens of Kyoto by Leslie Buck
The title almost says it all--except it doesn't explain that Leslie Buck was a thirty-five year old American woman serving as a tree pruning apprentice in an almost all male workplace. Adjusting to the cultural differences between being her own boss in California to taking orders from everyone on her work crew in Japan wasn't always easy. The tools were new to her so her body ached, there was no stopping work because of rain and snow, and it was a six day work week. She got through it with grim determination, a sense of humor, and a love for her art. A very enjoyable account.
I received Free advance review copy.

 “Deal Me In 2017!”
This week's story:  The Eyes Have It by Philip K. Dick
This was published in  Science Fiction Stories 1953 and is now free on Project Gutenberg. It is a tongue-in-cheek account of an odd group of alien life forms. The first sentence: "It was quite by accident I discovered this incredible invasion of Earth by lifeforms from another planet. As yet, I haven’t done anything about it; I can’t think of anything to do. I wrote to the Government, and they sent back a pamphlet on the repair and maintenance of frame houses."
Quite short and fun to read. Hard to say more without spoiling.

This week's card: Ace of Diamonds. This one is part the Odd Bods deck from Art of Play. "When they first appeared in 2012 for the exclusive enjoyment of members of the prestigious Folio Society, the design world fell in love. Odd Bods were playful, charming, elegant, and above all else, a joy for the eyes."
This woman on the ace catches the whimsical spirit of Dick's story, but a scroll through the samples provided by Art of Play brings up the Ten of Spades, which better illustrates the story.

The Faithful Soldier, Prompted by Saladin Ahmed
Much of the pleasure of the Deal Me In short story challenge is discovering what others are reading. I read this story because of a brief review by participant Katherine at The Writerly Reader.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

February (third week) 2017 Reads

More short stories, a mystery, a foodie, a writer's journal,

Library books...  

Can't and Won't: Stories by Lydia Davis
I could read Lydia Davis all day.
In fact, I did read Lydia Davis all day.
(Except when there were other things I had to do)
I didn't finish the book today.
I may read Lydia Davis all day tomorrow too.
If this were my book I could read Lydia Davis whenever I wanted.
I finished the book by Lydia Davis.
I should buy a book by Lydia Davis.
I returned the book to the library.

So I went online and read a January 2008 Interview with Lydia Davis

The Risen by Ron Rash (Kindle ed)
An OK read, a swift moving narrative, with some suspense, part mystery, part puzzle. What brothers will do for each other.  All the characters in this book are flawed but they all stay within character.

Slipping: Stories, Essays, & Other Writing by Lauren Beukes
Twenty-one short stories and six essays from a South African writer. Many of the stories are futuristic and/or scifi. In the introductory blurbs Beukes is compared to Stephen King. I don't know about that because I've read very little King. I do know that I liked most of these stories even though several were the sort of thing I don't usually read (giant menacing hair balls, super powers, weapons gadgetry). In both the fiction and essays, Beukes deals with social issues--particularly those dealing with the status of women. This is one of those books that makes me want to read everything else she has written.
Good news--my favorite library has a couple of her novels

Rice, Noodle, Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan's Food Culture
by Matt Goulding
This was interesting reading, but it didn't make me want to go to Japan to experience the upscale food culture. This makes it seem more cultist than culture. The parts I found most interesting were when he talked about the post WW2 changes to the Japanese diet during the American occupation.
I didn't enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed Goulding's Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain's Food Culture

The Journals: Volume II: 1966-1990 by John Fowles, Charles Drazin (Editor)
My requests for these journals got filled in backwards order, but I couldn't wait for Volume I (which is still on its way). Fowles is always good reading and this is some of his best writing. He's gossipy at times, very opinionated (and I don't always agree), very human. I liked the background of the various literary and film-making processes. I loved the back scenes of the judging process for the 1971 Booker Prize. But the real meat of this is his reflections on his marriage and his and his wife's bouts of depression. It's amazing that they stayed together, especially when they seemed to be surrounded by the disintegrating marriages of many of their friends.

from my "owned-but-unread" shelf...

The Anger Meridian by Kaylie Jones
Merryn has problems--her husband, Beau, was a philanderer who died in a car wreck leaving his wife and daughter in a financial and social mess. They flee to Mexico where Merryn's mother lives. Merryn tries to rebuild her life, but her mother is an abusive schemer, the FBI shows up with lots of questions about Beau's business dealings, and Merryn's daughter also has some difficult questions. There's plenty here to keep you reading...and it is all told against a backdrop of San Miguel de Allende, one of Mexico's loveliest settings.

Advance review from publisher via  LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.

Gutenberg finds...

London at Night by Frederick Carter
A fun sketchbook from 1914.
Twenty-four London scenes. Love the automobiles in some of these.

A Sketch-Book of R. Caldecott's by Edmund Evans [engraver and printer] and Randolph Caldecott [artist]

Over forty sketches  grouped by seasons of the year. Many in color, they are delightful.

 “Deal Me In 2017!”
This week's story...   Bird man by Kaja Malanowska (in Best European fiction 2015)
A young girl in a Polish village is fascinated by an outcast who lives in a ramshackle hut outside the village with his "deviant" parents. The girl imagines him as a bird.

This week's card: Jack of Spades
This unbelievably obvious selection is from a British artist and student:

Crow Playing Card (Jack of Spades) by JackSephton
His gallery is neat to browse. Cards are just a small part of his work.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

February (second week) 2017 Reads

This week, among other things, I read about printing in Venice, journeying through the Bardo, sailing with Conrad, and a new fictional look at a California institution. There was a little poetry, some short stories, and much less online surfing than usual.  For the Deal Me In 2017 short story challenge, I drew...The King of Clubs.

Why is it that when we have a storm predicted we feel the need to go to the library and stock up on reading material? A dozen shelves of "owned-but-unread" books aren't enough to tide us over for a couple of days? Nope, Wednesday was a massive safari to three libraries...and a used bookshop in one of them.

from my "owned-but-unread" shelf...

The Freedom in American Songs: Stories by Kathleen Winter
An enjoyable collection from a Canadian author. Part 1 is set in Newfoundland, the rest are scattered around Canada and the rest of the world. My copy from a blog win at The Quivering Pen.

Contents: Part 1. The Marianne stories. A plume of white smoke -- The Christmas room -- Every waking moment -- Part 2. The freedom in American songs -- Of the fountain -- You seem a little bit sad -- The Zamboni mechanic's blood -- Anhinga -- Madame Poirer's dog -- Flyaway -- Knives -- His brown face through the flowers -- Handsome devil -- Darlings' kingdom. (My favorites are highlighted.)

The Arbitrary Sign by Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé
Twenty-six short poems from a Singaporean. It has a sort of subtitle "The Most Misunderstood Alphabet Book in the World," so I won't say I understood it. It's difficult to say I've "finished" it, because if I like a poetry collection I keep going back to it and never really finish it. I've been reading this little book for over two years.

Bardo or Not Bardo by Antoine Volodine, J. T. Mahany (Translator)
Nine somewhat related stories of souls wandering in the Bardo--the Tibetan Buddhist after-life sphere. These souls are confused, some not even aware that they are dead, and the living who are speaking to guide them are not always in control. It is both touching and, at times humorous.

Bound in Venice: The Serene Republic and the Dawn of the Book by Alessandro Marzo Magno; Gregory Conti (Translator}
Venice as the center for the early book publishing business, where the Serene Republic was the first in a number of printing and distribution innovations. This is a bit dry at times, but mostly it is an interesting study.

From the library

Monterey Bay by Lindsay Hatton
Not sure what to say about this one. It's a highly fictionalized account of Monterey California, some of its well known characters (marine biologist Ed Ricketts & John Steinbeck), and the eventual founding of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I enjoyed it as a novel, but is takes a lot of liberties with historical detail. But, then again, Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday aren't exactly true stories either.

Ourika by Claire de Duras; John Fowles (Translator and Foreword); Joan DeJean and Margaret Waller (Introduction)
Originally published in France in 1823, this short novel tells the story of a black woman raised by an aristocratic woman in Paris during the late 1700s.
When Ourika is about fifteen years old, she realizes that there is no place for her in the society she has grown up in. She falls into a deep melancholy.
The introduction gives an interesting account on how the book came to be written, the attitudes toward race on France at the time, and the book's remarkable reception.

Everything I Don’t Remember by Jonas Hassen Khemiri; Rachel Willson-Broyles (Translator)
Memory is strange. In this novel people seem to be remembering their friend Samuel, who died in a car accident. But are their memories true? Samuel claimed he had a terrible memory, but did he understand just how selective memory is? The narrator is a writer interviewing Samuel's friends and family. How does he chose which memories to share? I really enjoyed this book.

Project Gutenberg find... 

The Mirror of the Sea: Memories and Impressions by Joseph Conrad
Musings on the sea, seamen, and ships. Writing worth reading.


No Direction; drama by Miguel Alcantud, Santiago Molero; Sarah Maitland, translator
"...the mysterious call-and-response of a nameless man and the woman who appears to be holding him captive." Mysterious? It's downright puzzling...and re-reading makes it even more of a puzzle.

A Link to the music mentioned in the play Coque Malla - No puedo vivir sin ti (I cannot live without you).

This week's card: 

Since the story is translated from the Spanish, I looked something related to Spain. I found this card designed by Salvador Dali in 1972.

Because the play has a repetitive element, I wanted a reversible face card. I love that this isn't exactly a reverse image.

It's perfect! Surrealism is the right fit for this micro-play.

The Diver by Chris Beakey
A former athlete, suffering from illness, contemplates giving it one more try. Author Chris Beakey (novel Fatal Option to be released 2/21/17) has this and other of his stories freely available on his blog A Heartbeat Away.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

February (first week) 2017 Reads

While there was still a little bit of January left I tried to trim my "owned-but-unread" shelf but too much came in the mail. Actually the shelf now has 409 books which is exactly one less than it had on the First of January.

I read my fifth short story for the  “Deal Me In 2017!” challenge; in fact, I ended up reading the entire collection that contained it. I also picked up a couple of library books, surfed a bit, and started a couple of books.

From the library...

Mister Monkey by

The Tree by


Party Headquarters by Georgi Tenev; Angela Rodel (Translation) 

My copy via a subscription to Open Letter Books.

On the Run with Mary by Jonathan Barrow
Read halfway through...skimmed the rest...not going to spend any more time on this. Overkill, a little bit was kinda amusing (almost), but 100+ pages of shit in the face? No thanks. (The same way I felt about  Paul Beatty’s The Sellout.)

My copy via subscription to New Vessel Press.

Whispers from the Tree of Life by

The Collini Case by Ferdinand von Schirach; Anthea Bell (translator)
An excellent read. The mystery in this crime novel isn't who did it, we know that from the beginning. But, even though he confesses, the murderer refuses to provide a motive. A novice lawyer is assigned to the case as public defender. He is able to discover the motive, but there is a larger question: it has to do with German law, war crimes, and the statute of limitations--all still serious concerns in today's Germany.

My copy from a library book sale

 “Deal Me In 2017!”
This week's story:  Night drive by Rubem Fonseca (The Taker And Other Stories) Clifford E. Landers (Translator)
Once again I unknowingly selected a very short story. It is only two pages but it is complete with an interesting character, some suspense, and a dark surprise. I originally chose it because it is the first story in a collection I own.

Since the story was so short, I read the next story--the title story. It is about a rather vicious killer and I found it extremely unsettling (think American Psycho without the brand names--only this is set in Brazil).

I, somewhat reluctantly, read on thinking "I paid for this book!" The next story, Betsy, about a gentle death was easier to take. In Angels of the Marquees a lonely man tries to help homeless derelicts with dire consequences. In Enemy another lonely man seeks out his old high school buddies. It is both funny and sad. Account of the Incident concerns an accident between a bus and a cow. Pride is about a man who refuses to die because he has a hole in his sock. Notebook is a tale of seduction, with an amusing twist. Eleventh of May is the name of a terminal facility for the aging. In Book of Panegyrics a man becomes a live-in caregiver to a dying man in order to use the place as a hideout, but we don't know exactly what he is hiding from. Trials of a Young Writer is the story of a man more interested in his press image than he is in his writing or his live-in girlfriend. In Other a busy man is harassed on the street by a beggar. Things got (more) violent again in Happy New Year; Dwarf is about an unemployed bank clerk with woman trouble; and Flesh and the Bones didn't make much sense to me.
All in all, it turned out to be a varied collection, most on the dark side, some macabre, some noir, all very readable. I'm not sorry I bought it. I've highlighted the ones that worked best for me.
This is also from my "owned-but-unread" shelf.

This week's card - Nine of Spades is from Oracle - Mystifying Playing Cards created by Chris Ovdiyenko. I found it on their Kickstarter Page  but  the sale of their cards is on Dead on Paper. The Oracle deck seems to be sold out, but they have other interesting decks and also prints, books, and specially designed coins.

I selected this card because it is dark and mysterious like Fonseca's stories.

Continued auditing Modern Japanese Architecture: From Meiji Restoration to Today. This course is from Tokyo Tech.

A suggested reading from the above course:

Kiyonori Kikutake: Structuring the Future by Mark Mulligan
"In the postwar decades, young Japanese architects confronted the challenge of rebuilding the devastated nation. Kikutake was one of the most gifted." Mulligan looks at two of Kiyonori Kikutake's masterpieces: the Izumo Grand Shrine Administration Building and the Hotel Tōkōen.

The Record Company Headquarters that Revived 1950s Hollywood with Iconic Architecture by Alan Hess
Some background on the design and building of the Los Angeles landmark.

Essays from The Destruction of Cultural Heritage project
Artfare: Aesthetic Profiling from Napoléon to Neoliberalism by Kirsten Scheid
The Thing We Love(d): Little Girls, Inanimate Objects, and the Violence of a System by Talinn Grigor
Modernity as Perpetual War or Perpetual Peace? by Esra Akcan
Appendix: A Selection of News Articles on the Destruction of Cultural Heritage in the Middle East by Pamela Karimi