Monday, April 30, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - Z is for BalZac

And now we come to the end.

Honoré de Balzac was one of the founders of the realism movement in Europe. Which is why it took me a long to get around to reading him. I still have nightmares from my experience reading Tale of Two Cities by Dickens in high school. I found realism tedious and eye roll inducing. Someday I will give Dickens another try but until then I have Balzac.

The first book I read was Lost Illusions just as I was beginning a job that brought me back to magazine publishing. It was good timing. It tells the story of Lucien Chardon as he moves from the provinces to Paris to try to make it as a poet and then eventually falls into journalism and then disgrace.

I hope you've enjoyed the A to Z Blogging Challenge. It's been an interesting experience for me. It's been a good past time while waiting for hiking season.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - Y is for pYnchon

P was already pretty full but I couldn't leave Pynchon out of the list.

 The second to last of authors who have books that could stun an ox. I try to read a big book every summer. Pynchon has been a summer read for me quite a few times starting with Mason & Dixon. I fell in love with his ability to create a complete world that is close to ours but yet not quite. I like encountering the anachronisms and flights of fancy. I have to block off chunks of time to read Pynchon to give me a chance to immerse myself in the prose.

Recently I read The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes. In it he talks about Nevil Maskelyne who was one of my favorite minor characters in Mason & Dixon. To be honest, I had no idea he was a real person until I read Holmes' book.

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. I encourage you to click through and explore some of the links to what other bloggers are doing.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - X is for ProulX

Have you ever had an author you didn't like but yet somehow continually get stuck reading their books either for book club or because you've forgotten you don't like them and someone you trust has thrust a book of theirs into your hands? Annie Proulx is that author for me. I think I've read about 3 of her books. One I think I even ended up reading twice because a bookclub was involved.

I realize I have a picture of a book that won a Pulitzer Prize so obviously my opinion is going to be in the minority. However, I always get the feeling reading her books that she's constantly asking herself, "What would make this story or character more depressing?". Hopefully she isn't actually asking herself that but that feeling that I get as I read ends up making the story feel very artificial to me. And I say this as someone whose favorite living author wrote a book about a guy who wakes up to a world where chimps have won evolution.

So you can put your hate comments below or let me know you agree and we can sit in the corner at parties together when Proulx comes up.

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. I encourage you to click through and explore some of the links to what other bloggers are doing.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - W is for Wodehouse

Certain books I don't read while in public. It's not that I'm embarrassed by them. It's that they are very funny. It's one thing to be reading a book where you burst out laughing and someone asks you "What so funny?" and you can read them the paragraph that made you laugh and they will laugh, too. However, these certain books, have a fatal flaw. When I burst out laughing while reading Wodehouse and you ask me, "What's so funny?" I could read you the paragraph that made me laugh but it wouldn't make you laugh. Really for you to laugh I would have to go back 20 pages and read you all 20 so you could see the build up to the punchline.

Bertie Wooster gets involved in rather convoluted and intricate situations, occasionally made more twisted by a vengeful Jeeves, that it's really quite impossible to explain it to someone not reading the story as well. However, this will not prevent you from laughing out loud even if it causes questioning looks from those around you.

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. I encourage you to click through and explore some of the links to what other bloggers are doing.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - V is for Vowell

 Sarah Vowell is the woman who makes history fun. Assassination Vacation is the first book of hers I read. Basically she goes on a road trip visiting historical sites of presidents that were assassinated. While it may not be your ideal vacation it did inspire The Husband and I to go and visit the birthplace of Chester Arthur here in Vermont. He became president after the assassination of James Garfield.

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. I encourage you to click through and explore some of the links to what other bloggers are doing.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - U is for pUllman

We now come to the first of 4 letters where I've cheated slightly. All of them have the letter in their last name. It just seemed better to go with authors I actually like or in once really dislike instead of looking for tenuous connections.

I'm not sure I could say enough nice things about the His Dark Materials trilogy. I read all of the books but we also listened to them over the course of 1-2 summers worth of road trips. The audio books make the books even more amazing. They're a full cast with the author, Philip Pullman, narrating. Actually the audio books are so wonderful I'm too afraid to see the movie. Partly for the usual reasons why films are never as good as the books and partly because I fell in love with all of the voices in the audio books.

The books are controversial because of their religious views. However, I've always been suspicious about how strong a person's religious beliefs might be if they can't withstand a few questions about them. Plus the books have Panzerbjorns. You got to love books that have Panzerbjorns.

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. I encourage you to click through and explore some of the links to what other bloggers are doing.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - T is for Tolkien

We've now come to another book, well really series of books, I read in exchange for someone reading Madame Bovary. I read the The Hobbit and then all of The Fellowship of the Rings. I did greatly enjoy these. I find it a little strange that I tended to skip through the songs while reading but was rather disappointed that Tom Bombadil was left out of the filming of it.

Currently The Husband is reading The Fellowship of the Ring the The Girl. They recently finished The Hobbit in preparation for the film this Christmas and The Girl was eager for more Hobbit adventures.

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. I encourage you to click through and explore some of the links to what other bloggers are doing.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sunday Break

In case you're thinking of reading a classic novel here's how to determine what kind might interest you.

Via McSweeneys

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - S is for Self and Sebald

Way back at A I talked about 2 of my former favorite living authors now with S we get to my current favorite, Will Self. I originally fell in love with his collections of short stories, Grey Area and Quantity Theory of Insanity whose titular story's theory I often use to describe group dynamics. But it really wasn't until How the Dead Live that he was named my favorite author.
How the Dead Live tells the story of Lily Bloom (Joyce allusion intentional) who dies after a battle with cancer and finds out that the afterlife involves moving to a boring part of London with your spirit guide.

At this point I could tell you how much I love his prose and how it makes me feel like I have a fever. How while I was reading his last book Walking to Hollywood it colored every conversation I had for a fortnight. However, to be honest, I think long and hard before I recommend Will Self to anyone because selfishly I don't want you coming back and telling me you don't like his writing.

I will recommend that you read this review of a film about W. G. Sebald.  What I really wanted to do was link to an extensive excerpt of Will Self's Sebald Lecture I once read but I'm unable to find a suitable link. Much like the reviewer, after reading Will Self's praise of Sebald I suddenly saw Sebald's name everywhere and was compelled to pick up Austerlitz. I have Rings of Saturn as well but I'm waiting for a good time to read it.

I read Austerlitz on the long trip back from Indiana after my grandmother's funeral. A state of affairs that I think only highlighted the dreaminess and meditative qualities of the book. I think I won't say much more but encourage you to read the review and some of the links and watch the trailer for the film as well.

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. I encourage you to click through and explore some of the links to what other bloggers are doing. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - R is for Rushdie

Salman Rushdie is one of those authors who run hot/cold with me. Either I like the work immensely or it spectacularly fails. I love The Moor's Last Sigh but felt meh about The Ground Beneath Her Feet and so on. Actually I can't think of another author that I'm willing to consistently read who I feel is so inconsistent. Probably because when his writing works it's well worth waiting for.

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. I encourage you to click through and explore some of the links to what other bloggers are doing.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - Q is for Qays ibn al-Mulawwah

Bet you thought I couldn't pull off Q.

You may think you don't know who this is but you probably do in an indirect way. If you've ever heard Eric Clapton's song "Layla" then you've heard of Qays. Layla and the Majnoon is the poem cycle that tells a rather Romeo and Juliet type story hundreds of years before Shakespeare. Layla and Qays were friends from childhood who fell in love. Her father refused to let them marry because of the scandal it would cause and Qays descended in to madness when Layla married another. Also his name change to al Majnoon which mean "madmen" in Arabic.

This is where things get interesting because in that descent, beautiful poetry was written. She eventually died and many more poems were written until Qays himself died. This story has been adapted over and over through the ages. One version I saw included a prince from a neighboring area who had fallen in love with the Majnoon's story and poetry and offered to invade his village to help him get Layla for himself. Majnoon refused, of course. For Qays having loved and lost was the source of his poetry and that had become more important than actually being with Layla.

We have another Qays at our house.

He's not pining for his Layla and doesn't write poetry but we love him just the same.

As a footnote there actually isn't a Q in the English sense in Arabic but the letter qaf is transliterated as Q and sounds like the cou in "cough".

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. I encourage you to click through and explore some of the links to what other bloggers are doing.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - P is for Powell (squared) and Proust

There are a surprising amount of authors I like that begin with P. This is the only triple author post.

It is also the letter of very long books or romans fleuves as the French would say. Everyone knows about the madeline that starts the memories and the story. It's of course so much more than that. Meditations on time, writing, love, social morality, etc., etc. It set the novel format on its head and opened the way for modernism.

My favorite scene is in the last volume when M has been taken to a library to rest, as he looks through the books memories are sparked of what was happening in his life when read a particular book. There are certain books I have read that are inextricably linked to what was happening at the time. In Search of Lost Time reminds me of commuting from NJ to NYC during 2000/2001. I was about to start Time Regained when 9/11 happened. It took me quite awhile to pick it up again but it was actually a paragraph in Anthony Bourdain's A Cook's Tour about his meal at French Laundry and the memories evoked that enabled me to pick it up again and finish the book.

Even the British have their Proust. Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time.  Despite being a roman fleuve with a long overarching story that examines the morality of the times it covers, it's quite the opposite of In Search of Lost Time in that the narrator isn't the principal character of the story. It's really Time that is the main character as see through the cast of characters that wander in and out of the novel.

I think I like multi-volume novels because I tend to read a volume and then read another book or two before proceeding to the next one. Sometimes interesting coincidences can happen. During this one I read The English Patient before starting Temporary Kings in both books the same story from Herodotus of Candaules, his wife and Gyges. It eventually led me to read Herodotus only to discover that this story happens within the first 100 pages or so leaving me dubious that either author has read all of Herodotus.

"A novel must be a rich forest known at the start only by instinct." - Dawn Powell

Of course if you're looking for something with less of a commitment or something to read between volumes of one of the above, there's Dawn Powell. She's relatively obscure but an author that grew up in Ohio and moved to New York. I'm always a little surprised after I read one of her books how early they were written. So much of them ring true even in the present day. She nails the experience of someone from the midwest moving to NYC and the unique viewpoint you get. If you were going to read just one novelist from my A to Z posts, I would like it to be this one.

This blog post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Click through to see what other bloggers are doing like Armchair Squid where he's doing baseball's 2nd basemen for the alphabet.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - O is for O'Connor

I have a love of Southern Gothic writers. Well I like Southern writers whose prose drips with the heat and indolence of what I picture the south being like. I also love short stories. The husband says all short stories are about death and thus doesn't have much patience for them. I, however, couldn't care less if the all are, death takes many shapes and forms.

Flannery O'Connor wrote 32 short stories and 2 novels. Her stories have Christian themes and often deal with the issues of the day from the Holocaust to racial integration. Her stories are also wonderfully sardonic as her characters speed to their fate that they don't see coming.

Since this is O I'd also like to a wonderful blog that is publishing George Orwell's diaries from 1938-1942 as blog posts - The Orwell Diaries.

This blog post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Click through to see what other bloggers are doing like Courtney Pearson's SketchBlog where she's doing Legos for the alphabet.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - N is for Nabokov

As if N could be for anything else.

Once you get past the fact that Humbert Humbert basically married a woman so he could be with her underage daughter, Lolita is really a good book. It's a love letter that Nabokov wrote to America. As only a peculiar Russian could write. I spent a summer reading Nabokov and fell in love with his use of language.

However, I'm not certain I fully appreciated his use of language until one summer when the hubby and I listened to Lolita read by Jeremy Irons while we went back and forth from NYC to Pennsylvania. As unsettling as some passages are, the book really shines when read aloud. I think because we were driving through America the passage of Humbert Humbert and Lolita driving around rang true. To this day, when I see a non chain motel on the side of the road, I think of the book. Which may or  may not be a good thing.

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Please click through and check out some other great blogs including Empty White Pages.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - M is for Melville

I thought I'd end the week with a heavyweight. Moby Dick is actually one of the books I read in exchange for someone reading Madame Bovary. I love the narration of Ishmael and I love Queequeg among other characters int eh book. Admittedly, Melville's meticulous attention to detail can sometimes cause the book to drag. But overall it's a great book. Someday I'll read more Melville which I think will make another friend of mine happy.

Of course one of the advantages of reading Moby Dick is that the references to it are just that much more enjoyable. One of the recent ones I read that was quite good was Captain Casket's search for the pink whale in Nightbirds on Nantucket. I always appreciate things in books I read to The Girl that she might not get but that I as an adult will.

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Instead of giving your direct links today, I'm going to encourage you to click through and explore some of the links.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - L is for Laurie and LeCarre

I probably really shouldn't be putting the author of one book that is the parody of James Bond novels with a master spy storyteller who writes books that are the anti-Bond but here goes -

One weekend at my grandparent's house growing up I read all of my grandmother's James Bond books. They're quite enjoyable and better than the movies mainly because James Bond is a little more human in them. There are disadvantages to the books though, any woman that eats or sleeps with James Bond dies, except for two of them. And later I found out Walther PPK's are horribly bulky, inefficient guns that no respectable spy would carry and vodka martinis, really? Vodka martinis are just shots of vodka in a fancy glass which when you combine that with all the trouble Bond causes MI6, it's easy to take the leap that really he's a double agent for SMERSH.

Which brings us to John LeCarré, who actually worked for MI5 and MI6. In the books we're shown that spying can be hampered by politics, personal vendettas and ideals that are too black and white. Not to mention spying is nowhere near as glamorous as Bond would have you believe even when it goes to exotic locales. Triumphs in The Quest for Karla are often Pyrrhic victories. It's hard not to want to wrap George Smiley in a warm blanket and bring him a cup of tea. If you don't want to read the books, I highly recommend the TV miniseries of the first and third books. I also recommend the recent movie of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy but I do worry that the movie is better if you've read the book or seen the miniseries first.

Yes, that Hugh Laurie. The Gun Seller is his only novel. It's James Bond if James Bond were more human, cynical and witty. You may have noticed that I like parodies. The book is filled with paragraphs like the following -
They said it was a sitting-room, but I don’t know why they’d decided to confine its purpose just to sitting. Obviously, sitting was one of the things you could do in a room this size; but you could also stage operas, hold cycling races, and have an absolutely cracking game of frisbee, all at the same time, without having to move any of the furniture. It could rain in a room this big.
If you end up reading LeCarré, you may want to read this afterwards to cheer you up.

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Take a scroll through the signup list and click on some other participants for this year. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - K is for Kurlansky

I love histories of things. Well really I love histories of things because of Mark Kurlansky. You wouldn't think salt was that important. It is so easy and cheap for us now to get but that wasn't always the case. Salt traces its history throughout history. I learned things about soy sauce, fish sauce and Worcestershire sauce. And you get to find out how important the Basques are to world history.

I have also read Cod: A Biography of a Fish That Changed the World which is just as amazing in its scope as Salt. I highly recommend both if you're interested in a history of the world with a rather focused scope.

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here's a couple of photography blogs that are participating in the challenge -

Oak Lawn Images

La Fotografía Effectista Abstracta

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - J is for Jabès

I'm not usually one that goes for a lot of poetry. I like poetry well enough but I don't just sit down and read it very often. I discovered Edmond Jabès through an essay about him written by Paul Auster.

The Book of Questions is a response to Theodor Adorno's assertion that "one can no longer write poetry after Auschwitz." Jabès' response was that one must. The Book of Questions is basically a midrash on writing. Sorry to use an obscure term but it fits what the book is. It's not really poetry or prose it's a series of questions about writing, sentences, words, white space, etc. that Jabès tries to answer through different methods and forms. It ends up being a series of thought provoking meditations.

In the Paul Auster essay what caught my eye and made me buy the 2 volumes was this quote -
(What difference is there between love and loss? A fricative taken away, two sibilants added. I have lost it forever my lovely v. I got in exchange the cruelest sound.) 

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. A couple more light-hearted participants that you might want to check out are -

The Eagle's Aerial Perspective

Star Trek - Sci Fi Blog

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - I is for Ionesco

Eugene Ionesco was my introduction to the Theater of the Absurd. Plays that ridicule authoritarian figures and turn the world on its head exposing the meaningless of existence. Which sounds like a real downer but his plays are very funny at the same time. I highly recommend all 4 plays listed on the cover above.

The Bald Soprano is perhaps my favorite. Ionesco was inspired to write it after trying to learn English through an "assimilation" method that Ionesco felt rendered the language meaningless. The play pokes fun at the meaninglessness of language and the common routines of life.

In many ways Ionesco was my introduction to existentialism, Surrealism and Dadaism all in one fell swoop.

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. You can check out some of the other participants through the link or here's a couple I've been following -


Yes, This Will Be on the Test

Monday, April 9, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - H is for Highsmith

There really should have been a female author before H. You may not have heard of Patricia Highsmith before but you have heard of her work - Strangers on a Train or The Talented Mr. Ripley.

But The Price of Salt is the first novel I ever read of hers. It tells the tale of a romance between two women. The novel was rare for the time not because the main characters were lesbians but because the book has a happy ending or at least a relatively happy ending for both of them. Most pulp novels at the time that had lesbian characters usually had unhappy endings for them.

Turning conventions on their head is sort of par for the course for Highsmith though. In a good deal of her crime novels, the bad guy doesn't pay. Tom Ripley being the most prominent example of that. The body count piles up, he feels slightly guilty about it but not enough to turn himself in.

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. You can visit a couple of others who have taken the challenge through the links below -

The Armchair Squid
Empire's 5 Star 500
Exclamation Point (!)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - G is for Greene

Graham Greene was always one of those authors I felt I should read but took a long time to get around to. I knew him mainly from the film The Third Man. Finally one day when we were traveling and looking for additional reading material we ended up buying the only Graham Greene available which was Travels with My Aunt. I'm not sure it's really the best one to go with if you've never read any Greene before.

It is an unusual book for me in that, now, almost 9 years since I read it, I'm still mad about the ending. I'm not mad at the author, what he wrote was true to the character. I'm mad at the main character for making the decision he did. I'm not sure I've ever been so disappointed in the actions of main character. Up until the very end, at least for me, I could see him going either way and I really thought he was going to go in A direction but he ended up going in B. That's relatively rare for me in reading. Usually characters, for the most part, are set on their paths and while you not even be able to predict anything about their actions in retrospect it usually is on the path.

 I have read more of the traditional Greene novels since - The Quiet American, which you should read if you haven't, Our Man in Havana, quite hilarious and The End of the Affair. They're all quite wonderful and really diverse in their stories.

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, it's not too late for you to sign up and let me see how you handle the letter Q.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - F is for Flaubert and Fforde

If I ruled the world, everyone would have to read Madame Bovary before reading any novel that came after it. You'd also have to watch Citizen Kane before watching any film that came after it. To me, they're two works of art that have had such a profound influence in what comes after that it can be difficult not to see them as full of cliches. Two of my less popular ideas admittedly but there would be other good things if you put me into power.

I love all of Flaubert's work butMadame Bovary holds a special place. Although I don't love it because Emma was a "victim of the patriarchy". I actually don't think she was. She made a lot of bad choices on her own accord.

I love her because as Flaubert himself said, "Madame Bovary, c'est moi." She reads too much, a trope I love in novels. She's rather shallow. However, it's hard not to see yourself in her. There but for the grace of growing up go I, so to speak.

If you've never read it, I do occasionally make the offer to read the book that you love that no one else will read in exchange for you reading Madame Bovary. We'll come to two occasions of this as we go through the alphabet so feel free to leave a comment with your swap offer.

When I first read The Eyre Affair it was hard not to feel like Jasper Fforde looked at my bookshelves and decided to write a funny book just for me. It has classic literary allusions, bad puns, detective book themes and a bit of science fiction thrown in. Oh and it has a production of Richard III done in the manner of a Rocky Horror Picture Show event. The subsequent books in the series are a bit hit or miss but the first one is a classic.

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, it might be too late for you to sign up but you can still tell me how you would handle the letters Q, X and Z.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - E is for Eco

I came to Umberto Eco through Name of the Rose which given my love of mysteries makes sense. Plus his books have ox stunning powers so it shouldn't be a surprise that E is Eco.

My favorite book though is probably Foucault's Pendulum particularly when Lia finally tells Casaubon off to bring him down from his conspiracy theories. And really if you've ever read Middlemarch you probably already firmly believe anyone named Casaubon should be told off. Here's a quote from it, she's rather frank so please forgive some of the language.

"We move on to the magic numbers your authors are so fond of. You are one and not two, your cock and my cunt is one, and we have one nose and one heart; so you see how many important things come in ones. But we have two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, my breasts, your balls, legs, arms, buttocks. Three is the most magical of all, because our body doesn't know that number; we don't have three of anything, and it should be a very mysterious number that we attribute to God, wherever we live. But if you think about it, I have one cunt and you have one cock, shut up and don't joke, and if we put these two together, a new thing is made, and we become three. So you don't have to be a university professor or use a computer to discover that all cultures on earth have ternary structures, trinities.

"But two arms and two legs make four, and four is a beautiful number when you consider that animals have four legs and little children go on all fours, as the Sphinx knew. We hardly have to discuss five, the fingers of the hand and then with both hands you get that other sacred number, ten. There have to be ten commandments because, if there were twelve, when the priest counts one, two, three, holding up his fingers, and comes to the last two, he'd have to borrow a hand from the sacristan.

"Now if you take the body and count all the things that grow from the trunk, arms, legs, head, and cock, you get six; but for women its seven. For this reason, it seems to me that among your authors six is never taken seriously, except as the double of three, because it's familiar to the males, who don't have any seven. So when the males rule, they prefer to see seven as the mysterious number, forgetting about women's tits, but what the hell."

After reading the book a friend and I spent a whole semester looking for conspiracy theories on campus. We had our own "The Plan" for the hierarchy of academic offices in Ballantine Hall at Indiana University that I won't go into here but suffice to say that it was no mistake that the French and Italian offices were on the 6th floor.

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, it might be too late for you to sign up but you can still tell me how you would handle the letters Q, X and Z.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - D is for Davies and Dahl

I'm going to cheat a bit and have this post do double duty for A to Z and 12 Books in 12 months. This is my author with the same initials as you post except it's not my initials, it's my grandmother's.

One summer in college, I made the terrible mistake of reading 3 books in a row by German authors whose main characters were rather whiny. In fact, 2 of the 3 main characters were really worried that they were bourgeois throughout most of their respective books and talked about it constantly. I won't tell you the three books because one is by an author I actually like a lot and one of the other three I've vowed to read again at some point because I feel circumstances did not give his book a fair reading. The third book I will tell you was Herman Hesse's Steppenwolf which I've always believed to be the root of all this trouble.

Which actually brings us to Robertson Davies. After all that whining I really needed an author who was a cranky old man who wouldn't take all the bourgeois whining seriously. And who might actually box one of their sets of ears. I'm not entirely certain Robertson Davies is all that cranky but The Lyre of Orpheus was just the trick.

And so this winter I turned to Davies again after reading frankly quite a lot of depressing books. This time it was The Deptford Trilogy. A history told through three novels and various viewpoints, it tells the story of the aftermath of a snowball with stone hidden in it hitting by accident a pregnant woman in a small town in Ontario. Apparently the genre is "Southern Ontario Gothic" and while there are gothic elements to the trilogy Davies seems to have his feet too firmly planted on the ground to go for true gothic qualities.

There's really not that much I think I need to say about Roald Dahl. I discovered him as a child through Danny The Champion of the World which for some reason was the only Dahl book my elementary school library had. It's one of his more gentle books that I read over and over as a child. I love his dark, dark short stories for adults and with the Girl have read about every other children's book of his. Time and time again I hear about kids who had no interest in longer books until their parents pulled out Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, it's not too late for you to sign up and let me see how you handle the letter Q.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - C is for Chandler and Carey

"The doorman at the Kilmarnock was six feet two. He wore a pale blue uniform, and white gloves made his hands look enormous. He opened the door of the Yellow taxi as gently as an old maid stroking a cat." - "Smark-Aleck Kill" - Raymond Chandler

It's hard not to love writing like that. I fell in love with detective novels at an early age starting with Nancy Drew and moving on to Agatha Christie, Sherlock Homes, etc.

Then I discovered the hardboiled detective novel and film noir and never looked back. Raymond Chandler is the master of the form. I read his work and marvel at all the attention to detail that never seems to get tedious and wish that I knew people that spoke like characters in his stories do so I could talk like that, too.

The best homage to him I think is the film Miller's Crossing which to me is Dashiell Hammett's The Glass Key (which is very good) rewritten by Raymond Chandler. Snazy dialogue, great details and an anti-hero who gets beat up just as much as the not so black and white bad guys.

I have to admit I decided to read Oscar and Lucinda primarily because I knew a film was being made of it with Ralph Fiennes and Kate Blanchett and it sounded interesting. I fell in love and have read quite a few of his novels. Sort of historical fiction and yet not that at all. Actually that "sort of x but not that at all" describes all the novels I've read. All the stories seem at first to be familiar tropes but not that at all. I'm thinking specifically of My Life as a Fake and True History of the Kelly Gang.

Another aspect I like about them is the Australian-ness of them. To me as an American it's familiar but not familiar enough that I don't end up learning something about my American-ness and the American ethos in the process.

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, it's not too late for you to sign up and let me see how you handle the letter Q.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - B is for Bolano and Buford

I enjoy books that make me feel like I might have a fever. Maybe enjoy isn't the right word but I do like books that live with me even when I'm not reading them. To the point where my clothes and skin seem to have their smell. Roberto Bolano's work and Bill Buford's seem to have that quality for me.

Savage Detectives was the first book I read by Roberto Bolano. I probably should also mention that I like books that would stun an ox if you threw them at one. I felt like I had a fever for days as I moved through his world of an underground literary movement. It's one of those books where you could read the outline of the plot and have no flavor of the world the book creates and thus why it's worth reading.

I try to think of myself as aware of the world beyond the borders of the US but the sad truth is I'm woefully unaware of most things south of the US. And even if you are aware of it, it's easy to categorize South American literature as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and "magical realism" (which Bolano abhorred). Bolano's writing reminds one that a culture's Nobel Prize winning author is only the tip of the iceberg of a much more complex and amazing literary tradition.

Bill Buford is kind of the direct opposite of Bolano. Where Bolano writes fiction, Buford writes nonfiction. Where Bolano is detached, Buford throws himself in wholeheartedly. Yet there's some quality of their writing styles that I think makes them a good pair for this.

Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany is he first book by Buford that I read. It blows any other narrative about "working a restaurant line" out of the water. What makes Buford's books good and well rather frightening is that as he researches he gets drawn into his topics in ways that frankly always makes me surprised that he's married.While I understand and even identify with the train of thought that can lead one down a rabbit hole, I'm not entirely certain I could live day to day with someone who was given a very good excuse to live that way for long periods of time.

Among the Thugs is my favorite of his two books. It examines soccer hooliganism, crowd psychology and violence. Yes, to the point where he went around with the soccer crowds.  What the in depth obsession ends up doing is painting a extremely detailed portrait for the reader of what it's like and Buford then lets the reader make their own conclusions. For Among the Thugs I came away with a much deeper understanding of crowd psychology and violence which left me rather unsettled in how easily I could apply to much more than soccer hooliganism.

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, it's not too late for you to sign up and let me see how you handle the letter Q.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge - A is for Auster and Amis

Welcome to my attempt at the A to Z Blogging Challenge. My theme is authors mostly inspired by the library wanderings of M in Proust's Time Regained (how's that for a pretentious way of saying, "It's really all about me"?).

I have a favorite living author, well actually I'm on my 3rd favorite living author and we'll get to him later in the alphabet. But before that Martin Amis was my favorite living author and before him Paul Auster was my favorite living author. All it really means to be my favorite living author is that I will buy your books in hardcover as soon as they come out and I'll go to see you read, if I can.

Paul Auster's New York Trilogy was my introduction to his work. I love the combination of existential novel with hardboiled detective story. The sparseness of the prose. The Kafka-like situations. His novel, In The Country of Last Things, permeated walks I took around lower Manahattan when I lived there in the early 90's.

My introduction to Martin Amis was the book, The Information. And then I quickly devoured in short order London Fields and The Rachel Papers, etc., etc. I love the quick witted, slightly disgusting and always intellectual timber of his prose.

The first book reading I ever went to was to see Martin Amis. While waiting for it to begin I was sitting next to a couple he was American and she was British. At one point he remarked that there were an awful lot of Brits in the audience. She asked how he knew and he said, "The shoes." I looked around and realized he was right.

Oddly enough both authors stopped being my favorite living author in the same way - mediocre book(s) and then a memoir about their father issues. And then of course strong books by their successor.

Honorable mention: Joan Aiken. Arabel's Raven was one of my favorite books growing up and her Wolves Chronicles have been a favorite of the Girl's and mine now. We both say "Croopus!" all the time.

This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, it's not too late for you to sign up and let me see how you handle the letter Q.