Saturday, June 24, 2017

June (fourth week) 2017 Reads

Still working through those slow reads. This weeks section of The Invented Part  was a short one so I  found plenty of time for a lot of other reading, most of it very good.

and, of course, the Deal Me In story.
 “Deal Me In 2017!”

The card this week is the two of hearts which turned out to be impossible to use to illustrate the story of isolation, abuse, and anger that was somewhat randomly assigned to it when I set up my roster. So here's the story and the collection that contains it.

The Pedersen Kid by William H. Gass (in In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, and Other Stories)
Wow! This story left me more confused than anything I've read so far this year. And that's saying something since I'm currently reading Ricardo Fresán's thoroughly confusing The Invented Part.
So to help me figure out just what happened in this story (or find out if I missed something) I searched for some commentary on it. Here are a couple of things I found, both pretty thorough and both convinced me that I actually "got" the story. 
Let Me Make a Snowman: John Gardner, William Gass, and “The Pedersen Kid”  by Nick Ripatrazone
The True Intruder in William H. Gass’s “The Pedersen Kid”  by Ted Morrissey

Then I reread it for the writing: the amazing complex sentences that often lead to surprises; the sometimes devastating character descriptions; and the poetic, masterful prose.
I followed up by reading the other four stories in the collection: Mrs. Mean, Icicles, Order of Insects, and the title story. The Pedersen Kid appealed to me because of the interactions among the characters and its puzzling aspects. The title story had the richest language and was spot on in its descriptions of a dinky town. Mrs. Mean was, well, mean with a passel of (justifiably) ill behaved children and odd-ball neighbors (including the narrator). Icicles was cold and lonely. Order of Insects about a housewife and her fascination with an infestation of bugs was my least favorite.

The card: Can I find a Two of Hearts that fits a post modern story about a strange journey in the icy cold of North Dakota? Not really.  But I did find an interesting deck. 

MADDECK Playing Cards By Ozlem Olcer. "a series of playing cards which feature cubist illustrations..... The deck was created for PAG, an Istanbul based design company developing projects and manufacturing products in collaboration with graphic artists and illustrators."
"The name Maddeck - short for ‘Magicians, Astronauts & Dancers’ - is given after the first 3 dream jobs of the designer as a child."

The two of hearts is typical of the number cards in the deck, but the face cards are quite different in design--almost as if they are from a different deck.

more reading from my shelves.... 

Two Lines 23, by C.J. Evans (editor) The Fall 2015 edition of this bimonthly journal of The Center for the Art of Translation. It has fiction and poetry translated into English from eleven different languages. My favorite from this issue is The Piper by Yoko Tawada; translated from Japanese by Margaret Mitsutani. It is a retelling of the legend of The Pied Piper of Hamelin told from several points of view. The author is a Japanese writer currently living in Germany. She writes in both Japanese and German. Here is a link to the full Table of Contents for this issue.

The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman
An interesting survey of recent worldwide research in ornithology with particular attention to the function of the brains of birds. Not too technical, she is an entertaining writer.
Advance review copy.

Coincidentally, I ran across this online article  Power to the Bower: A Bird’s Architectural Method of Seduction by Osman Bari. Bowerbird (family Ptilonorhynchidae) building habits is one of the topics Ackerman discusses.

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink; Carol Brown Janeway (Translator)
Coming of age in Post World War 2 Germany. A young man is scarred for life by an inappropriate first affair. In later life he must face the collective guilt of his nation as his former lover is tried for war crimes.

(A library book sale bargain from their clear the tables day-- Five bucks for all the books you can fit in a large paper grocery bag. Yes, sir, yes, sir, two bags full.)

Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb, Len Rix (Translation)
A Hungarian on his honeymoon in Italy leaves his wife and wanders off perhaps to find some companions from his lost youth. Or maybe he's trying to escape the bourgeois life that is closing in on him. While he slinks around Italy (ending up in Rome) his abandoned wife joins a friend in Paris and tries to restart her life. All this is set in the period between the two world wars. A good story with lots of angst, strange characters, and touches of wry humor

What are the Blind Men Dreaming? by Noemi Jaffe, Julia Sanches (Translation), Ellen Elias-Bursać (Translation) 
I'll admit to being a bit disappointed when this came with my Deep Vellum  subscription in September (2016). I just didn't want to read another concentration camp diary, so I set it aside (for nearly a year). I picked it up the other day and I'm glad I did; it is such a great book. Jaffe presents her mother, Lili Stern's diary which is brief and was not written in the camp. She wrote it immediately after she was liberated and was living in refugee camps in Sweden.

The real strength in the book is the daughter's commentary on the diary. She treats it as a memoir and as a springboard for a discussion on how her mother's ordeal affected her own life. But what I really found valuable was how she expanded the personal and specific into a more general discussion of how human traits and activities survive and are altered by horrific experiences. This is presented in a series of essay style entries on such topics as fate, cold, hunger, love, anger, desire, money, memory, desire, and others. She draws both on her mother's diary and writings of other survivors.

The book finishes with an essay by Jaffe's daughter Leda Cartum on how the legacy reaches into yet another generation.

The Last Boy and Girl in the World by Siobhan Vivian
A teenage girl copes with with family, boyfriend, and BFF troubles against the backdrop of a community that must be abandoned because of a new dam. An uneven read. The characters were fairly well drawn. Unfortunately at the end everyone behaved totally out of character. The wrap-up was too simplistic for a complicated situation.
My least favorite read this week, but not a total waste of time.

Advance review copy.

And Only One Library book.... 

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (Kindle edition)
What a great way to survey the history of Communist Russia! This novel begins in 1922 when Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to house arrest for life--in the elegant  Moscow Hotel Metropol and ends in 1954. Although he can't leave the hotel, a cast of interesting characters--hotel employees and guests--keep him well informed about the goings on in the world. Rostov is a charming fellow and this is a charming book. 

Shortly after I finished this book I found this delightful art work in The Calvert Journal. Witnesses to history: The turmoil of 1917 captured in children's drawings Text by Samuel Goff; Images taken from the book Moscow, 1917: Drawings by Child Witnesses. From the collection of the State Historical Museum in Moscow. 

         Other online reads...

Imagining the Future of Suburbia, From “Freedomland” to “McMansion Hell” by Kate Wagner

Georgia wins at Cannes for 6 Millionth Tourist Campaign
A great video from Georgia the country, not the US state.

Come for the Obscure Canadian Sport, Stay for the Buffet by Julie Stauffer
Who knew there is a sport called  Crokinole?

The 'Mystery Boats' of Tresco Island  essay by Mike Williams.
A bit of British WW2 espionage.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

June (third week) 2017 Reads

Because I am slowly reading The Invented Part with Chad Post's Two Month Review  project and have a couple of other slow reads going, I decided to devote this week's other reading and posting to whatever source or format the card of the week indicates. If it is Spades it will be translated into English; Hearts--original language English; Diamonds--found on Project Gutenberg; Clubs--different format (narrative poem, short play or skit, graphic, clever title, narrative essay, etc.); Jokers--Pick something from another participants roster.
 “Deal Me In 2017!”
And the winner is
Since it is a translated story in an online journal and is a four, I will highlight four online sources where I regularly read translated works and works about translation.

This week's story:  Cafés Morts by Maïssa Bey; translated from the French by Hodna Bentali Gharsallah Nuernberg
A young girl inadvertently catches glimpses the culture of Algeria's "Moorish cafés" which at the time were men only gathering places.

This story is from the October 2016 issue of Asymptote a free quarterly online journal founded in 2011. They have published " from 105 countries and 84 languages, all never-before-published poetry, fiction, nonfiction, drama, and interviews by writers and translators such as J. M. Coetzee, Patrick Modiano, Herta Müller, Can Xue, Junot Díaz, Ismail Kadare, David Mitchell, Anne Carson, Haruki Murakami, Lydia Davis, Ann Goldstein, and Deborah Smith."

The layout is attractive. The stories and articles are illustrated and are available in the original language as well as the English translation. Many also have sound files of authors or translators reading in the original language. There are bios and translators notes. Past issues are archived. There is a map which shows the locales of the works.
The Buenos Aires Review  "presents the best and latest work by emerging and established writers from the Americas, in both Spanish and English [also some Portuguese]. We value translation and conversation. We publish poetry, fiction, essays, criticism, visual art, and interviews."
Guernica/a magazine of global art & politics, a non-profit free online magazine founded in 2004. "A home for incisive ideas and necessary questions, we publish memoir, reporting, interviews, commentary, poetry, fiction, and multimedia journalism exploring identity, conflict, culture, justice, science, and beyond."
Material includes both translated and original English language works.
Words Without Borders is a free monthly online magazine. Started in 2003, WWB publishes eight to twelve new works, in English translation, by international writers. Works include fiction, poetry and nonfiction, often related to a geographic or topical theme. Past issues are archived.

This week's card is from Playing Arts Edition Zero, a deck for which "each card  has been individually designed by one of the 55 selected international artists in his distinct style and technique."

The Four of Clubs was designed by Anton Repponen, a New York based interactive designer with architecture background.

I selected for today's post because it strikes me as a kind of translation from the usual playing card, giving us a new way to view a familiar object.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

June (second week) 2017 Reads

For my Deal Me In card this week I pulled the Eight of Clubs. This was originally assigned The Bronze Horseman: A Petersburg Tale by Alexander Pushkin (narrative poem). I forgot it was on the list and read it in January when I was on my Pushkin jag, so I made it a WILD CARD.  On my roster, Clubs are supposed to be something "different" (narrative poem, short play or skit, graphic, clever title, narrative essay, etc.) I chose a couple of news stories and an essay related to an important local event.

 A new bookstore opened in our town

 Wesleyan R.J. Julia Bookstore.
This is the bookstore for Wesleyan University and also a general indie bookstore. For more on this see: New Wesleyan Bookstore By R.J. Julia Now Open To Public In Middletown and for a little more background on the space see: Wesleyan partners with R.J. Julia Booksellers to open new bookstore in downtown Middletown.

The very first special event at the store was an appearance by Andrew Blauner editor of  In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles Songs.  He was joined by three of the book's contributors: Amy Bloom, Peter Blauner, and Nicholas Dawidoff. Of course I attended. Of course I bought the book. Autographs?  All four of course. And some swag: a very nice tote.

It was a good discussion, they didn't do readings. It was a conversation that ranged from  lyrics, the sequence of songs in the albums, and how the songs had different meanings at different times in their lives.
(Local note: Peter Blauner and Amy Bloom are Wesleyan grads. Bloom is now Wesleyan University’s Distinguished University Writer in Residence. Nicholas Dawidoff also has Connecticut connections: he grew up in New Haven and now lives there. He is a Fellow of Yale's Branford College.)

 “Deal Me In 2017!”
So in honor of this event I chose an essay from the book by a contributor who was not at the event. I selected this one because it is available online.
Remembering My Father Through My Favorite Beatles’ Song  Elissa Schappell revisits Octopus’s Garden.

During the week I read the rest of the book. Even though I've never been a huge Beatles fan it was fun to see what songs the writers chose and how they wrote about the choices. Most were personal and some went in to detail about the technical aspects of the music. I don't have a favorite Beatles song and I didn't listen to any while reading this book, but I guess I heard the music in my brain because I ended up with a four-day earworm. Finally got "Yellow Submarine" out of my mind by listening to classical guitar. Other than that It was a very enjoyable collection of essays.

And the card: A tiled design in homage to that amazing ceiling in the bookstore. (Do click on the picture above for a better look).

This is from the Piatnik: Jugendstil Art Nouveau Playing Cards deck. This is a gorgeous deck, the face cards are awesome, even the box is a work of art. Google it, there are vintage decks for sale online and the prices are not all outrageous.

Like last week's card,  I found this image on

Poetry online...
Emoticons and Pros by Najat Sghyar
"Born and raised in Casablanca, Morroco, Najat studied corporate law in France and worked as a journalist in her hometown before moving to Istanbul in 2014 to focus on writing. Fluent in six languages, she writes short stories in darija- the Moroccan dialect-, poetry in English and Arabic and is currently working on a novel in French. She is a founder member of the Istanbul writing club Yirmi Yedi."

Lots of clever word-play for this world of social networking. These two excerpts lose the poem's visual appeal because I can't duplicate the formatting and spacing, but the language is a delight.

So I daydream in virtual blur
of good old smileys:
That naughty yellow face
On MSN messenger
Laughing silent hi hi hi's

Or the classic semicolon
resting on its side
With a bracket for a smile
Half asleep
winking deep
Minimal style
Of sarcasm quizz.

And later she speaks of 

Clogged in blogs and vlogs
in filigran
Of snapshit
and vine.

from my shelves..

The Magician of Vienna (Trilogía de la memoria/Trilogy of Memory #3) by Sergio Pitol, George Henson (Translation from the Spanish); Mario Bellatin (Introduction); Margo Glantz (Afterword)
This is a mixed bag--literary criticism, personal anecdotes, travel stories, and passages on his own writing processes. I really liked the material on writing short stories.

When I read the first two volumes of the trilogy, I spent a lot of time Googling all the people and places that weren't familiar to me.* This volume was different because I recognized most of the authors he discussed. He talks about Chekhov, there are essays on Evelyn Waugh and Henry James, and many others--international in scope. His discussion on the Irish writer Flann O'Brien caused me to order At Swim-Two-Birds.

"On When Enrique Conquered Ashgabat and How He Lost It" (p.204-230) is a very funny episode that took place when Pitol and Enrique Vila-Matis managed to get together in Turkmenistan. It involved crashing a wedding party, a crazy opera singer and his crazier wife, embarrassed interpreters, and Vila-Matis being rushed out of the country.

Now that I've read all three volumes, I wish I had an index to them, there's so much to go back and reread. These came to me through my subscription to Deep Vellum and it includes both paper and electronic editions, so maybe I'll get some use of the Kindle search feature.

*See: Pitol readings and More Pitol readings, I didn't do a readings page for this volume.

Death of an Airman by Christopher St. John Sprigg
There were some surprises in this mystery from this British Library Crime Classics reprint. An Australian bishop signing up for flying lessons whilst in the UK made a lot of sense and he was a fine character. There were an assortment of eccentric women, a sappy American judge, a brief appearance by a German aviator, a French connection, some white powder, etc... What fun!
The motives for the crimes seemed rather modern for a book written in 1934.
I love this series. My copy is an advance review copy from Poisoned Pen Press, the USA publisher.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

June (first week) 2017 Reads

Since I usually post on Saturdays and this Saturday is June Third, I'm labeling this June even though the week has more May days than June ones.

 “Deal Me In 2017!”
Story: The Relive Box by T. Coraghessan Boyle (in Watchlist : 32 stories by persons of interest)
What would you watch if you had a magic box that allowed you to relive episodes from your past?  Would you choose happy times, bad times, erotic times? And how addictive could it be?

Card: Four of  Hearts
In the story, the box display "...isn't a computer screen or a hologram or anything anybody else can see--we're talking retinal projection, two laser beams fixed on two eyeballs. Anybody coming into the room...will simply see you sitting there silently in a chair with your retina lit like furnaces."
(Card found on playingcard collector)

some stories online...

The Scent of Paradise and Oussama Two stories from Another Morocco by Abdellah Taïa; translated from the French by Rachael Small. "These are stories of life in a working-class Moroccan family, of a writer's affair with language, & much more."

Toward Marzahn: A Story by Bae Suah ; translated from the Korean by Annah Overly
From the translator's introductory paragraph: "With its shifting timeframes, ambiguous narrator, and apartment empty except for small traces of previous inhabitants, Bae’s “Toward Marzahn” perfectly depicts a hypnagogic atmosphere unlike any other. Marzahn is not in Korea but rather a corner of Berlin, a city where Bae has spent long stretches of time, and her words give life to this realm far removed from her Korean readers’ homeland. Yet the loneliness of these characters never feels foreign or unfamiliar. Rather, it transplants Bae’s readers to her reality, which her critics have hailed as “a world of dreams . . . through which lost voices drift.” 

The Size of Things, by Samanta Schweblin; translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell
A toyshop keeper acquires an unusual helper.

Labrador by Daniel Dencik; translated from the Danish by Mark Mussari
"We’d always put off any proper introduction to each other’s parents, because we had enough problems of our own without complicating matters even further. If you’re going to introduce someone to your family, you better be sure."

other online reading...

Lessons in Slowness  by Susanna Basso; translated from the Italian by Matilda Colarossi
An essay on the role of patience when doing literary translation. "I began to wonder if translation was, in fact, a waiting game."

A Brief History of a Decline: The Iranian Novel at the Dawn of the Millennium by Amir Ahmadi Arian an Iranian novelist and journalist.

Read Dozens of Historical Architecture Books for Free Online Thanks to New Library Exhibition,© Buffalo and Erie County Public LibraryRead Dozens of Historical Architecture Books for Free Online Thanks to New Library Exhibition 
"Buffalo and Erie County Public Library of Buffalo, New York, has recently opened a new exhibit at their Central Library titled Building Buffalo: Buildings From Books, Books From Buildings. The exhibit will feature a large selection of rare, illustrated architectural books from the Library’s collection dating from the fifteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. The bonus for those who are geographically distant from Buffalo is that, as part of the exhibit, the Library has also made dozens of historical architecture books available online, completely digitized and free to the public." Article includes highlights and photos of the exhibition. The list of online books (with links) can be found here. (warning: PDF)

Inside the Bizarre Personal Lives of Famous Architects by Megan Fowler
Gossipy paragraphs about five mega-star architects with some links to more information. Fun illustrations.

Most of the World’s Bread Clips Are Made by a Single CompanyA brief history of the Kwik Lok Closure. by Eric Grundhauser 
Twist-Ties vs. Plastic Clips: Tiny Titans Battle for the Bakery Aisle
by Paul Lukas

from my shelves...

Landscape in Concrete by Jakov Lind; Ralph Manheim (Translator); Joshua Cohen (Introduction)
A tragic/comedic tale of the absurdity of war told from the prospective of Bachmann, a WW2 German soldier, the survivor of a devastating battle where almost his entire regiment was lost in the mud of the Eastern Front. He is declared mentally incompetent  and is set for discharge. He runs away and tries to find his regiment. Strange adventures ensue with an assortment of odd characters: a poisoner/deserter, a homosexual officer, a deranged former schoolteacher turned double agent, Bachmann's large girlfreind, an odd judge, Gypsy musicians....  I must read more by this author.

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
In 1978 the Bui family left Vietnam in a boat to Malaysia and a refugee camp. Eventually they made their way to relatives in Chicago and then to California. Their story is well told by one of the daughters who searches for her family identity. The graphic format works well for this story.

Advance review copy.