Wednesday, 21 June 2017

summertime 2017 | new books

The longest day of the year is upon us and on the west coast of Scotland we have clouds and some rain. The ideal weather for mentioning new books, don't you agree, and for inhaling the scent of the peonies on my desk. I ordered two of these titles from the local library and hope I can add them to my next reading list:

· The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (Hamish Hamilton). After twenty years, finally, a new fiction from Roy! Her novel The God of Small Things, winner of the Man Booker Prize in 1997, is one of the most memorable books I have ever read.
· Theft by Finding: Diaries: Volume One by David Sedaris (Little, Brown). Quite recently he was a guest on The NYT Book Review podcast, talking about and reading from it, and there I was in the kitchen laughing out loud. He is simply hilarious.
· House of Names by Colm Tóibín (Viking). An author I still haven't read. On my to-read list is his novel Brooklyn, which I wanted to read before seeing the film (2015), starring Saoirse Ronan. Couldn't wait and am so glad I didn't. It's a beautiful film that I can watch over and over again.
· The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich (Penguin). She received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2015. This is the long-awaited English translation of her classic oral history of Soviet women's experiences during WWII. Published in July.
· Friend of My Youth by Amit Chaudhuri (Faber). About a man, interestingly named Amit Chaudhuri, who returns to Bombay, the city of his childhood. Published in August.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

The Tale of Genji translation by Seidensticker

'In a certain reign there was a lady not of the first rank whom the emperor loved more than any of the others.' So begins The Tale of Genji, written in the beginning of the 11th century by Murasaki Shikibu, a Japanese lady of the court (the Heian period). Two translations were on my № 9 reading list, the one with Japanese literature only - at the time I wasn't sure which one I would read. Now I'm the lucky owner of an unread, second-hand copy of the Edward G. Seidensticker translation, published by Everyman's Library. Even the ribbon marker hasn't been pulled out.

I have almost finished reading the other works on the list and may share another reading list soon. I like reading multiple books at a time and given The Tale of Genji 's 1184 pages, I find it likely that I will read the first 250 pages or so and then a chapter or two daily alongside other books until I finish. Unless I become completely immersed in it.


Thursday, 1 June 2017

№ 9 reading list: Japanese literature I

Months ago the idea of a Japanese reading list started sprouting in my mind, and once I began writing down authors and titles in my pocket notebook I realised that there would be more than one list. Despite the word snow appearing in one of the titles below, it somehow felt right to ease into the summer reading Japanese literature. This first list is slightly shorter than intended, for the simple reason that one of the books I ordered hasn't arrived and at the last minute I decided not to include two works by the same author. It means that a novel by Yasunari Kawabata, who received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1968, will appear on the next list. My blog readers will recognise Tanizaki, but his novel The Makioka Sisters was on an earlier list. I love the fact that at least one blog reader read and enjoyed it as much as I did.

№ 9 reading list:
· First Snow on Fuji  by Yasunari Kawabata
· The Temple of the Golden Pavilion  by Yukio Mishima
· Some Prefer Nettles  by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki
· The Tale of Genji  by Murasaki Shikibu (translated by Edward G. Seidensticker)
· The Tale of Genji  by Murasaki Shikibu (translated by Dennis Washburn)
· My Neighbor Totoro: The Novel  by Tsugiko Kubo (illustrated by Hayao Miyazaki)

As you can see, there are two unabridged editions of The Tale of Genji and I still haven't decided which one to read. The Washburn translation is a new paperback edition by W. W Norton & Co, the other an Everyman's Library edition. I'm trying to order the translation by Seidensticker through my local library, which is the main reason I have postponed sharing the list. If it fails to arrive I'm not sure at this point which one I will purchase. On my Instagram account you may have noticed that I'm already reading The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Mishima. He fictionalised the story of the monk who in 1950 set fire to the Golden Pavilion of Kyoto, erected in the 15th century (the American airplanes spared the temples during the war). This was a shocking event. During the trial the young monk said he was protesting against the commercialisation of Buddhism. However, scholar Donald Keene writes in the introduction that 'he may have been directly inspired by nothing more significant than pique over having been given a worn garment when he had asked the Surperior of the temple for an overcoat'! I'm more than halfway through the book with the pavilion still standing, and troubling the mind of the rather repulsive protagonist.

Have you seen the animation My Neighbour Totoro (1988) by Hayao Miyazaki? It's one of the Japanese favourites in our home. Last year my son and I were sitting at the café of our local Waterstones when he spotted the book on a shelf. We didn't even know it existed and learned then and there that the film had been turned into a novel, featuring Miyazaki's illustrations. It's a beautiful book and of course we walked out of the bookshop with a purchased copy. My son loved reading the story and now it's my turn.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

reading journal 2017 | Lessing, Athill, Borges ...

The other day I came across a fantastic word you won't find in a dictionary: readlief. It means when you finally get around to start a book you have been meaning to read for years. My reading lists have led to many readliefs. It's rewarding to cross a book off the list, more so when it's a good read. My to-read list doesn't get any shorter, though, as I'm constantly coming across books to add to it. The book lover's dilemma. Below I'm sharing some thoughts on books from my № 7 reading list, which I posted in February. I have created a new category for these kinds of blog entries that I call Reading Journal (the year in the title indicates when that particular list appeared on the blog).

№ 7 reading list (6 of 9):

· Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges. This short story collection, described as original, is literary and philosophical, and not for everyone. I have never read anything like it. The first two stories didn't quite grab me but as soon I started the third one, I was hooked. That one is called 'Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote' (appeared in the Argentine literary journal Sur in May 1939), about a man who rewrites Don Quixote by Cervantes, line-for-line. The idea is brilliant.

· The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing. When I finished the book my first thought was: powerful. Since then I have heard other people use that same word about the book, which was Lessing's first novel, published in 1950. It starts with the murder of the main character Mary Turner and as you read on you learn about her background and what led to the tragedy, basically the disintegration of her life on a farm in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Lessing grew up there and masterfully describes the African landscape. It's been months since I finished the book and I'm still thinking about it. A good psychology study.

· The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. This one has become a classic but it's not for everyone. There were parts that I struggled with, parts that I found either repetitive or too long, and it took me quite some time to finish it. However, one cannot argue with the fact that this is an influential literary work. Its good parts have really stuck and I'm glad I finally took the plunge and turned it into a readlief.

· Captain Corelli's Mandolin by Louis De Bernières. I read somewhere that this was a novel with heart and that is exactly how I would describe it. The only thing that bothered me just slightly during the first 100 pages or so were the character introductions (each gets a chapter), which were unavoidable because the novel has so many. Bernières made up for them with delightful, and often comic, details, especially descriptions of life in the village (it takes place on a Greek island during WWII).

· Instead of a Book: Letters to a Friend by Diana Athill. I'm fond of reading letters but towards the end of this collection I was growing a bit weary. Athill and her friend were getting old and the later letters had too much talk about health issues, which is perfectly normal between close friends but isn't a fun read. She comments on this in the postscript and it's the reason she didn't include more letters in the book. Her work Stet is on my to-read list and I have heard nothing but praises, so perhaps you should consider starting with that one if you would like to read something by Athill.

· Local Souls by Allan Gurganus. I decided to postpone the reading. In my blog entry I wrote that I wanted to read his book Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All  before reading this one, and that is what I decided to do.

· In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and Modernism in Paris, 1900-1910 by Sue Roe. I'm not an art historian but I think this book was well researched. I found it interesting but I would have preferred more photos of the art pieces (I was constantly looking up the works in the text online to make sure I had the right ones in mind or to see the ones I didn't recognise). I enjoyed reading about Picasso, Matisse and other artists but sometimes there were stories about people related to them that, in my opinion, were of no importance. Each time I came across these stories, more like snippets, I felt the book could have benefitted from another round of editing.

Have you experienced any recent readliefs?

Currently I'm finishing the books on my № 8 reading list and will be writing two reviews, about Astrid Lindgren's war diaries, A World Gone Mad, and the novel Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

Monday, 17 April 2017

remembering Karen Blixen

Happy Easter! Today is the birthday of Karen Blixen (b. 17 April 1885, d. 7 September 1962), a Danish author who wrote many tales under the pseudonym Isak Dinesen (Babette's Feast and Other Stories, Shadows on the Grass, Seven Gothic Tales, Winter's Tales, and Last Tales). She was a gifted storyteller, best known for her book Out of Africa, often described as a lyrical meditation on her life in Kenya, where she had a farm, a coffee plantation (the book has no chronological order). Most people know of Blixen because of Sydney Pollack's film adaptation: While the film may give you an idea of Blixen's life in the stunning African landscape, only by reading the book will you experience its true atmosphere. For me it depicts an Africa I will never experience. A bygone era.

In one of my journals there is a quote by Blixen. Once she was asked how a story begins for a writer and this was her reply, in Danish:
Det begynder med atmosfære, et landskab, der for mig er vidunderligt skønt, og så – så kommer menneskene pludselig ind i billedet. Med det er de der, de lever, og jeg kan lade dem leve videre i bøgerne.
Basically, she is saying that first comes atmosphere, a landscape, which she finds wonderful and then, suddenly, people enter the scene. With that they are there, they live, and she can let them live on in the books. (I found the quote on the FB page of Karen Blixen Museet.)

In February came great news for Karen Blixen fans when it was announced that her book Out of Africa will be turned into a TV series.

image by me | the photo of Karen Blixen appears in the book Letters from Africa 1914-1931