September 27, 2010
Reading diary: May 2010
May must be my lucky month. I read the most number of books on May: 11 in all. Granted, most of them are short ones, but I was able to read for the first time authors like Ōe, Rulfo, and Lispector.
24. Two Novels: J ; Seventeen by Ōe Kenzaburo, trans. Luk Van Haute
It's my introduction to Ōe and he certainly had an interesting take on the interplay of sex/politics and private/public life. The two novels deal with sexual perverts and how they become entangled with the politics of the day. They were said to cause a sensation when they were first published in Japan in the early 60s. They still maintain their shock value in terms of graphic descriptions. I'm hoping that Ōe will allow the publication of "A Political Youth Dies", the sequel to Seventeen, which he apparently suppressed because it angered extreme right-wingers and he was uncertain about the style and content of the book. He was like Murakami Haruki in the self-censorship aspect, but they have different motivation for censoring their own works. Haruki's motivation was aesthetic (he thinks his two early novels were too juvenile) while Ōe's was aesthetic and political (the rightists threw stones at his house, the leftists accuse him of betrayal).
My full review of this book can be found here.
25. The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald, trans. Michael Hulse -- reread
This novel is an amalgam of memoir, travel, and literary biography. On the surface of it, it recounts a man’s journey into Suffolk County, England, observing the destruction of countryside around him. The pervading tone is melancholia, but with small doses of black humor. A quirky novel and a sublime reflection on history. Its deeper currents intersect with horrible acts in history.
I wrote several blog posts and chapter summaries on this book:
The Rings of Saturn: The anatomy lesson
The Rings of Saturn: Somerleyton Hall
The Rings of Saturn: Herring, swine here, sand martins
The Rings of Saturn: Theater of war
The Rings of Saturn: Heart of darkness
The Rings of Saturn: Very the last stop
The Rings of Saturn: Silk
26. Maigret and the Madwoman by Georges Simenon, trans. Eileen Ellenbogen
Having sampled one of Simenon's romans durs (The Engagement), I tried one of his Maigret mysteries. It's a police procedural that courts the literary fence with its gritty portrait of human motives. Based on this novel alone, Inspector Maigret is a multi-layered character, without the foppish frills of a Monsieur Poirot. I would like to see more of Maigret on the page.
27. The Mirror of Ink by Jorge Luis Borges, trans. Andrew Hurley
This is one of those 70 Pocket Penguins anniversary editions which are culled from longer works. It's a sampling of a few short stories from Collected Fictions. Borges is better absorbed in small doses. Some of the memorable stories included here are "The Lottery of Babylon" and sudden fiction like "Ragnarök." It's just a pity that the name of the translator was not recognized in any of its pages.
28. The Lost Painting by Jonathan Harr
It's about the search for the missing 400-year old painting "The Taking of Christ" by Caravaggio. I can't tear myself away from it as it's so full of suspense and revelations. Overall, a goodly entertainment for a nonfiction.
29. Poem Strip by Dino Buzzati, trans. Marina Harss
This comic strip has been called "avant-garde." It's a play on the myth of Orpheus descending. I like how the chorus of sexy girls suddenly break into poem and dance numbers.
30. Therefore Repent! by Jim Munroe and Salgood Sam
This completely lost me. A version of the end of times that is as depressing as its illegible drawings.
31. The Burning Plain and Other Stories by Juan Rulfo, trans. George D. Schade
Very exacting stories. Rulfo wrote only two books in his lifetime. The other is the acclaimed Pedro Páramo. This collection of 15 short stories is an excursion into an inhospitable environment. Rulfo immerses you into the ugly and banal side of human nature. It's full of conflicts and peopled by criminals, adulterers, and rebels. The strange thing is that despite the ugliness described, the beauty of the writing comes across very well. It must be hard to balance this kind of thing.
A collection of 15 well-crafted stories about the human-landscape nexus. The setting is the Plain of Mexico, a barren wasteland where the drama of human conflicts play out. It's man against man, often with ugly consequences. It's also man against the environment, where natural elements are impossible to tame. The writing is altogether beautiful even if the descriptions are of the ugly and banal side of human relationships.
32. Dreamtigers by Jorge Luis Borges, trans. Mildred Boyer and Harold Morland
A mix of short poems and sudden fiction that blend in a mysterious harmony. The writing of Borges in Dreamtigers is charged with the same fire as the flaming tiger of William Blake. Not a minor work by any means, it aspires to a fearful symmetry of ideas, the stripe of dreams.
33. Monsieur Pain by Roberto Bolaño, trans. Chris Andrews
Early Bolaño that is not at par with the latter books. The book is soaked in an atmosphere of light and darkness, fear and dread. Disorientation.
I wrote a short review here.
34. The Stream of Life by Clarice Lispector, trans. Elizabeth Lowe and Earl Fitz
My first book by Clarice and I'm not impressed. Plotless. It's an experimental short novel about a painter writing whatever thought comes her way. One can interpret it as a manifesto on embracing freedom, happiness, and spontaneity. Well and good. Only this kind of stream of consciousness narrative can be a bit jarring. Yes, poetic, more like an outpouring of fine writing, a stream of soul. But in places it just registers empty words. It is very self-conscious and very aware of that fact. I don't like it. But I'm not closing my doors on Clarice yet. The Stream of Life is just an overwhelming introduction.