06 July 2011

Reading diary: 2nd quarter 2011

A list of what I read in the second quarter of the year. This brings me to a total 25 books read since January - much less than the 38 books I read in the same period last year.

Marxism and Literary Criticism by Terry Eagleton (review)

I picked it up as it's a short book. It's an academic survey of the topic's basic concepts. Some interesting arguments in it even though the author mentioned a lot of Marxist critics and books I'm not familiar with.

Borges and the Eternal Orang-utans by Luis Fernando Verissimo
translated by Margaret Jull Costa (review)

Entertaining whodunit, with more than passing references to Borges (a major character here), Poe, and Lovecraft.

My Kind of Girl by Buddhadeva Bose, translated by Arunava Sinha (review)

Four men, strangers to each other, were stranded on a train. They met a young couple who appeared very much in love. This led to them reflecting about love and sharing stories with each other. Each of the stories that followed was beautiful. They were all simple tales, but together they form a subtle whole.

South of the Border, West of the Sun by Murakami Haruki
translated by Philip Gabriel (review)

Love story. A boy fell in love with a girl. Many years later, when the man was already married, they met again. I usually hate Murakami's stories. But this was one of his good efforts. There's a surprising depth in his characterization.

2666 by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Natasha Wimmer (review; reading guide)

My second read of this posthumous epic-length book consisting of 5 discrete parts. Bolaño left instructions before his death for the five parts to be published one at a time, but his literary executor and family decided to put out a single book. There's a panoply of stories, and stories within stories, in 2666. At the center of it is the real-life murders and rapes of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. The lasting impression I take of the book is its exploration of serious stuff - violence, cruelty, intolerance. Technically, the writing is inventive, swimming in many registers. It is atmospheric and replete with mystery, symbols, metaphors, and forceful scenes. Its best quality is perhaps the creation of a convincing atmosphere of lurking evil. How evil operates through time and how a portrait of it can be investigated in literary terms in many ways, in many realms - culture, economy, politics, ethics.

Journey Into the Past by Stefan Zweig, translated by Anthea Bell (review)

A well written novella about love tested by years of physical separation. It reminds me of Henry James in the depiction of inner passions and conflicts, but with a more fast paced and electric prose.

Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney (quasi-review)

An entertaining graphic-epic. The ancient world is shaken by the appearance of a monster with a pure evil heart. Everybody cowers in fear. Thankfully, a hero appears, bent on ridding the world of monsters. The fight scenes are eye-popping, the energy as pure as electricity, the testosterone filled to the brim. There is probably a hint of comedy in the translator's language, the hyperbolic humor shooting like skyrockets.

Underground by Murakami Haruki,
translated by Alfred Birnbaum and Philip Gabriel (review)

A book of terrorism reportage. It tells of what happened in the Tokyo subway on March 20, 1995. Five men, members of the religious cult called Aum Shinrikyo, punctured sarin nerve gas in plastic bags using the sharpened tips of their umbrellas. The poison gas released killed a dozen people injured hundreds. Nine months after the incident, the novelist Haruki Murakami began to interview the victims in order to understand what actually happened. The book followed the template of Murakami's fiction: the story of ordinary men and women thrust in an abnormal situation. The narrative has two self-contained parts, divided into short sections focusing on one person and his part in the gas attack. The accumulation of the stories portrayed a kind of hell, a nightmare experienced in broad daylight, underground.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz (review)

Pulitzer Prize winner that didn't pull me in. It was good and funny in parts but did not make a wondrous whole. Homeboy Díaz disappoints after his promising debut collection Drown. However sketchy some of the pieces in Drown are - my favorite is the last story, "Negocios", which is also the longest - they are linked together in a subtle way, almost allowing the stories to coalesce into a novel. Unlike Oscar Wao, the less overreaching Drown is truer in its depiction of the mental and physical hardships of the Dominican immigrants in the US and of the familias they left behind in the country. 

The Old Capital by Kawabata Yasunari, translated by J Martin Holman (review)

Chieko, a young woman, was in search of her identity. She was a foundling, left behind by her true parents when still a baby. Her adoptive parents treated her like their own, but her broken connection from her biological parents seemed to weigh on her more and more. It was as if there was something lacking in her, a part of her nature that was also reflected in her seeming disconnect from and yearning for the natural world. Kawabata writes in a sequence of haikus. Reading it is like meditating on beauty and man's broken relationship with nature.

The Ubu Plays by Alfred Jarry,
translated by Cyril Connolly and Simon Watson Taylor (review)

The three core texts of Ubu form a trilogy of sorts. They are the best of satires; their comedies are without let-up. Pa Ubu is an amoral character, "crappy creature". In the first play, he and Ma Ubu, his equally base partner, usurped the throne of the king of Poland. As new king, he pursued acts of cruelty and greed, satisfying all his base appetites. When Ubu Rex was originally performed in Paris in 1896, the utterance of the first word of the play (Merdre) provoked a riot of its audience which lasted for 15 minutes. Read it to find out why.

What's in store for July?

I've finished two books, Wisława Szymborska's Poems New and Collected and W G Sebald's Austerlitz. I've started Rizal's El Filibusterismo and Marías's Your Face Tomorrow 3: Poison, Shadow and Farewell for the Your Face Tomorrow Group Read, led by Richard (Caravana de recuerdos). I'm due for a book of nonfiction (literary criticism or science), more poetry from the infinity of riches The Ecco Anthology of International Poetry (a long excerpt from the introduction can be read here), and a Shakespeare play.


  1. not bad thou rise ,I d say non of them were easy reads all these books need to be read slowly ,eagleton in particular I tried him but just didn't grab me ,all the best stu

  2. Loved both the Murakami's especially Underground, The Bolano, great fan of Heaney, bought the Borges & the Eternal Orang-utans based on a previous post & Kawabata I want to read more of. What can I say, but it's a fantastic list.

  3. I suppose you're right, Stu! 2666 alone is 5-books-in-one. And there are actually 3 Ubu plays.

    Gary, I guess we'll be mining the same ore, this quarter and in some.

  4. I find that about a book a week pace is about all I'm comfortable with reading and blogging about, Rise, so 25 books finished for 6 months doesn't sound too bad to me even if it's a dropoff from last year for you. And, of course, 2666 takes longer than most! Your past and future reading choices always seem to be among my favorites among the dozens of other bloggers I try and follow, so happy reading and please keep the updates coming (your Asian author coverage is particularly great for me since that's a reading shortcoming/gap on my part I hope to rectify someday).

  5. Likewise, Richard, likewise. I find myself snatching titles from your excellent, expansive reading list. Books that more than stoke the reading interest. Books that slay, as you would have it.

    I guess a book a week is practical. I'd like to stick to this pace too, notwithstanding the ever-lengthening TBR, the great titles calling out. They will have to standby and wait for their magical turn. :p

  6. A very interesting and inspiring set of reads-I have read maybe 25 percent of them

  7. Hi, mel. I expect we would have more overlaps later, especially with the Japanese literature genre.