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Showing posts from 2009

Another Appalling Cost--Pulped Books

The numbers of pulped books are for Great Britain alone--77 million--a great many of them "literary fiction."  If someone begins to actually look at these numbers it may eventually dawn that literary fiction just isn't a lucrative proposition in the old tree-pulping world of publishing.  But, if we could consider, if only for a moment, Bookify, we might find ourselves in a position to continue to support the best writing today while also better serving the economy, the environment, and in many cases the reader.

I love books.  I love the feel, the smell, the tactile sensation, the heft, everything about them; but it has long since become time to consider viable alternatives that treat our resources and our economies more gently.  That booksellers fail to recognize this, is simply the blind panic of those who have not yet figured out how to make the business models work.  This will happen, and the publishers that make it happen are the ones who will succeed in the coming y…

Geoffrey Hill and J. F. Powers

A Poetry Meme from Dylan

The Answers to some questions:

1. The first poem I remember reading/hearing/reacting to was ..... either "A Skeleton in Armor" or "The Wreck of the Hesperus"

2. I was forced to memorize "The Village Blacksmith" in school and I loved it and made fun of it ("And the muscles of his brawny arms were as strong as rubber bands.)

3. I read/don't read poetry because I like it; I tend to shy away from much modern poetry because the things I like best--rhythm and rhyme are often absent, but I also tend to shy away from poems in which these elements are too facile, too slick.

4. A poem I'm likely to think about when asked about a favorite poem is there are several: "Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock" ( T S Eliot), Holy Sonnet XVI (John Donne), "To His Coy Mistress" (Andrew Marvell), "The Hunting of the Snark" (Lewis Carroll), and "The Owl and the Pussycat" and "The Jumblies" Edward Lear.  And I don't sup…

Yiyun Li on Tang

My favorite writer of the year in a small gem discovered in a book of small gems.

from "Orange Crush"
Yiyun Li
in Eat, Memory: Great Writers at the Table (ed. Amanda Hesser)

Even though Tang was the most expensive fruit drink available, its sales soared. A simple bottle cost seventeen yuan, a month's worth of lunch money. A boxed set of two became a status hostess gift. Even the sturdy glass containers that the powder came in were coveted. People used them as tea mugs, the orange label still on, a sign that you could afford the modern American drink. Even my mother had an empty Tang bottle with a snug orange nylon net over it, a present from one of her fellow schoolteachers. She carried it from the office to the classroom and back again as if our family had also consumed a full bottle.

In addition to the delightful essay from which this is excerpted, there is a superb piece by George Saunders-- "The Absolutely No-Anything Diet"--and writing from Billy Collins, Tom…

The Passport--Herta Müller

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I should start this review by being as fair as possible to Ms. Müller: despite its brevity, I'm not certain The Passport is a good place to start within Ms. Müller's oeuvre.  If one should choose to begin here, one might be well advised to set aside considerably more time than one would normally invest in a 90 page novella and attempt to swallow the work whole--take it in one large dose.  My feeling, and it is only a feeling, because I did not choose to partake of it in this way, is that it would enhance the experience of the work.  I found as I read the larger part of it while in a hospital waiting room, that the unnerving weirdness recounted in the post yesterday began slowly to work in favor of what would otherwise be a very slight, very overdone tale.

A summary of the mainline of the story suffices to prove the point.  A miller, Windisch, a member of a German ethnic minority in the plains of Romania wants to leave Romania.  To do so, he must obtain a passport--a work requ…

Surrealism in Literature: Herta Müller--The Passport

I'm reading, among other things, Herta Müller's The Passport and finding it very rough going--not because it is difficult to understand, complex, or in any way semiotically thick.  No, rather, my difficulty stems from what I think is a major problem with surrealism from the get-go.  Surrealism, to achieve its affect properly, enforces (to put it in Aboriginal terms) the dreamtime into the present reality.  This is essential a visceral, visible experience.  The attempt to capture it in words must be succinct, precise, and with purpose.  Too often, from Les Chants de Maldoror and Nadja on what happens is merely very worked up weirdness.  In the novel I am reading now, Ms. Müller pauses her narrative to relay the significant fact that "His pupil was cold."  How was it cold?  Did he feel it?  Was it projected outward and thus give other a cold feeling?  Even in this odd novel, how is that a significant datum?

I say this advisedly because surrealism may be my very favorit…

What Do I Read Next?

Once is a reminder, twice is synchronicity, three times confirms.  I have been reminded recently of the necessity to distinguish want from need.  Then I picked up a small book by Marietta McCarty titled How Philosophy Can Save Your Life.  The first chapter is dedicated to the simple life to the philosohy of Epicurus (amongst others) and to the idea of prudently distinguishing between what we want and what we truly need.  And finally I went today to see with wife and son, The Princess and the Frog. Besides being a delightful, colorful, musical film, it also imparted an essential message--go after what you need, not what you want.  Add to this that I was watching Up! again and something that had slipped by me the first time struck me upside the head.  In order to get his house to fly at a crucial point in the film, the old man needs to discard everything within--everything that is unnecessary to do what is necessary.  Now, I tend to be somewhat slow on the uptake, but this many things c…

Season's Greetings

For those of us in the Catholic and related liturgical churches, Christmas season has at least 12 days (although this is highly debated in some circles--those who hold that it continues until The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord.  Given the great length of Lent, I tend to side with those vying for a longer Christmas season.

Nevertheless, we are merely now a day after, and I trust that all of those who celebrated this great feast had a wonderful celebration.  I was stirred to momentary envy when I thought of my brothers and sisters overseas, who having the foresight and diligence to create what has been called elsewhere their "fruit composts," were able to bring to the Christmas tables their plum puddings with whatever sauce (Devonshire cream, hard sauce, brandy sauce) they chose.  (I'm afraid that one of the places that I do fall victim to the English cuisine is in the area of sweets--plum pudding, stick toffee pudding, spotted dick, any of those sweet cake-like bre…

Talking About Detective Fiction--P. D. James

In several post over the last few days, I've exposed some of what I've considered the weak points of this short and lively survey of part of the world of Detective literature.  Ms. James admittedly confines much of her work to a consideration of the British Detective novel, though truth to tell, this intent does not emerge until late in the book.  So there is no mention of Rex Stout, Ed McBain, or any number of American authors.  All those mentioned tend to be in the mode of the Noir Detective--Raymond Chandler, Ross McDonald, Dashiell Hammett, and so forth.

However, once one realizes and and adjusts to the scope of the work, much of what Miss James has to say about individual works and contributions seems accurate, if laden with a certain amount of chronological bias.  Her comments on the Golden Age female writers and treatements of women,while balanced does betray a preference for the "modern" treatment. However, her comments on Agatha Christie, as I pointed out, a…

W. H. Auden "The Guilty Vicarage"

W. H. Auden's study of Dectective Fiction (referenced in P. D. James's Talking About Detective Fiction) is available online at the Harper's Archive.

Ms. James and Mr. Brown

For all her insistence upon reality and the fact that the reading public has rejected the "ingenious" mystery in favor of "psychological depth," Ms. James does not pay much attention to what people are actually reading.

from Talking About Detective Fiction
P. D. James

There is one way in which Dorothy L. Sayers was very much a writer of her own time, and that is the ingenuity of her complicated methods of death.  This is one aspect of her talent which ahs had little influence on modern novelists, and one which we have largely outgrown.

We have not now, and will not outgrow the clever puzzle. This is demonstrated time and again in what sells well both in book and cinema. It is my contention that Dan Brown's books do as well as they do based largely on the ingenuity of the built-in puzzle factor.  (They certainly don't take any awards for good writing.)  And the National Treasure series of films succeed (if they have been deemed a success) on the clever constr…

P. D. James Talks About Talking About. . .

A P. D. James interview thanks to BooksINQ.

Bookstores of Conveyance

Shorn of its snobbery, the following passage might work well in describing the bookstores of a more modern form of conveyance.

from Talking About Detective Fiction
P. D. James

In 1851 The Times complained:

Every addition to the stock [of the bookstalls] was positively made on the assumption that persons of the better class who constitute the larger portion of railway readers lose their accustomed taste the moment they enter the station.

P. D. James--A Lapse in Judgment?

I was a bit disappointed to read the following critical judgment from P. D. James:

from Talking About Detective Fiction
P. D. James

Agatha Christie hasn't in my view had a profound influence on the later development of the detective story. She wasn't an innovative writer and had no interest in exploring the possibilities of the genre. What she consistently provided is a strong and exciting narrative, the challenge of a puzzle, an accommodating and accessible style and original detectives in Poirot and Miss Marple, whom readers can encounter in book after book with the comfortable assurance that they are meeting old friends. Her main influence on contemporary crime writers was to affirm the popularity and importance of ingenuity in clue plotting and of surprise in the final solution, thus helping significantly to set the limited range and convention of what were to become the books of the Golden Age.

My argument is mostly with the first sentence here; although, much depends upon …

Merry Christmas to All

And God bless us, every one.

No matter how often heard, nor how badly played, the thought and the feeling behind the words is eternal.  May you be blessed this Christmas with the blessing God has prepared for you from eternity.

And now, for something completely different--a less well known Night Before Christmas c/o Laudator Temporis Acti.

More Insight from P. D. James

Ms. James continues to define and analyze the detective genre. 

Talking About Detective Fiction
P. D. James

A distinguished novelist, Reginald Hill, . . . wrote in 1978, "Let me be clear. Without a police force there can be no detective fiction although several modern writers have, with varying degrees of success, tried to write detective stories set in pre-police days." The opinion seems rational: detective fiction is unlikely to flourish in societies without an organised system of law enforcement or in which murder is commonplace. Mystery novelists, particularly in the Golden Age, were generally strong supporters of institutional law and order, and of the police. Individual officers might be portrayed as ineffective, plodding, slow-witted and ill-educated, but never as corrupt. Detective fiction is in the tradition of the English novel, which sees crime, violence and social chaos as an aberration, virtue and good order as the norm for which all reasonable people strive, and …

Little Pitcher remarks on "The Kindly Ones"

Last night I was talking with my wife about The Kindly Ones, saying basically that I needed to buy it because it was going to be a long haul and I wouldn't get through it all.  As I was saying something about it I heard fromt he back seat of the car, my son, say, "That's a name for the Furies."

I was astonished.  I had forgotten that it was such until I read some of the reviews and was reminded, but here is my eleven year-old telling me that the Furies and the Kindly Ones were one in the same.

"Words have power, so while they were the Furies, they were called the kindly ones so they would be nicer."

And how did he come by this treasure-trove of understanding?  A YA/Children's series (the first of which is destined for the silver screen soon) called Percy Jackson and the Olympians. It shows the power of myth even in today's world--it was wonderful and refreshing.

Yiyun Li's Favorite of the Year--Tinkers--Paul Harding

While browsing yestereve, I stumbled upon an article at Granta more a blurb, that listed favorite books of 2009.  To my surprise and pleasure the person featured was Yiuyun Li and the book she chose was one that I happened to snatch off the shelves in my historic look for short novels tour a few days back.

Naturally, given that Yiyun Li has captured my reading heart this year, I had to take a look at what captured hers and almost right off fell into this:

from Tinkers
Paul Harding

But he was nearly a ghost, almost made of nothing, and so the wood and metal and sheaves of brightly printed cardboard and paper (MOVE FORWARD SIX SPACES TO EASY STREET!  Great Grammy Nodden, shawled and stiff and frowning at the camera, absurd with her hat that looked like a sailor's funeral mound, heaped with flowers and netting), which otherwise would have crushed his bones, dropped on him and fell away like movie props, he or they facsimiles of former, actual things.

There he lay among the graduation p…

Favorite Reads in 2009 and Lists Elsewhere

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So I'll give you two--well actually one and my pick for the best this year.  Let's start with the latter.  It should come as no surprise to anyone who has spent time here that my pick for best of the year goes to Yiyun Li.  If it had to be for a book published this year, I would choose The Vagrants, but it's my blog and my rules, so I'll just pick Yiyun Li and list both of her books--A Thousand Years of Good Prayers.








And another list, which incidentally features Yiyun Li's novel, has on it Zoe Heller's The Believers.  When I glanced at it in the library it seemed like another "how I survived my divorce" saga so common to what people today think comprises great literture.  However, I have now seen it on two separate lists by people I respect and I know my own prejudices well enough to try to set them aside and read what better informed folks (those who have read the book) have to say about it.  Oh, and add to that, that the compiler of this list felt mu…

Mills and Boon

A chance line in P.D. James sent me to Google to figure out precisely what Mills and Boon referred to.  From there I went to the site.  It turns out that they have quite a generous library of online romances in the Silhouette/Harlequin mode (it would seem--I haven't indulged).  I thought there might be some readers out there who would be interested.

Free on-line reads from Mills and Boon.

Insights from Reading

There are many things that give me great pleasure in reading.  First among them is innovative and interesting use of the language--not language designed to be obsure or obscurantist, but designed to be read and to do something new--it can be difficult and challenging, just not to the point of lunacy.  In this realm both Ulysses and A Clockwork Orange spring to mind as particularly successful experiments in a kind of joie de langue which is found all too seldom.  Second to this are sharp insights into the nature of things as they are.  While I haven't decided about the first criterion, on the second Hilary Mantel delivers powerfully, again and again.

from Wolf Hall
Hilary Mantel

Why are we so attached to the severities of the past? Why are we so proud of ourselves for having endured our fathers and our mothers, the fireless days and the meatless days, the cold winters and the sharp tongues? It's not as if we had a choice. Even Liz, once when they were young, when she'd seen h…

P. D. James on Detective Fiction

When I was wandering through one of the many bookstores that permeate my existence I happened upon a book by P. D. James about Detective Fiction.  I am not a fan of Ms. James's writing, but the book was intriguing to me and I thought about buying it.  However, I always have recourse first to my library and I was surprised to walk in and find it on the shelves.  It will be worth owning if it lives up to the promise of this passage.

from Talking about Detective Fiction
P. D. James

Although the detective story at its highest can also operate on the dangerous edge of things, it is differentiated both from mainstream fiction and from the generality of crime novels by a highly organised structure and recognised conventions. What we can expect is a central mysterious crime, usually murder; a closed circle of suspects, each with motive, means and opportunity for the crime; a detective, either amateur or professional, who comes in alike an avenging deity to solve it; and, by the end of the b…

Silent Night Internet Duet

I love it when people come up with new means of collaboration.  I know, this isn't new, but it never failes to amaze me--the world, whether we like it or not, is transforming before our eyes, and we can choose to be part of the transformation and shape it in the way we would like it to flow, or choose to be obstructions and it will flow around and perhaps eventually over us.  When one can see the good uses technology can be put to, it makes the decision just a trifle easier.

Wow! A Really Great Best of List (Mystery and Detective edition)

Can be found at Novels, Stories, and More.  I'm sorely tempted to copy out the entire thing so that I'll have it to hand.  And perhaps I shall after the break.  Even if you stay here and read on--please visit the original site to get the details of how the list was compiled.  The least we can do to show appreciation for this enormous amount of work is to stop by and say hello.

A Review of The Kindly Ones

A nice consideration of it here.  I had to give up, knowing that there was no way that I would get through the library copy in time and I wouldn't go and purchase the hardcover or e-text--so I'll wait for what is likely to be a quite-large remainder sale or for the paperback edition.

Planning our Reading

I'm noticing something called "The Sunday Salon" and the topic for the past week is planning the next year's reading.  Here's an excellent example. 

And while this sounds like a really good thing to do, I know myself well enough to know that any sort of plan I make is likely to be discarded by the mood I'm in at the given time.  Being a very mood-driven reader, I seriously doubt I could do much other than broadly categorize what I intend to read over the next several months--relative proportions of library, e-book, and to-be-read materials on my shelves.  And if I'm lucky, the thousands of publishers who are knocking down the internet to get at my blog will be sending me hundreds of things to read--so many I couldn't possible stand up under the torrent.  Well, one can have one's dreams, yes?

Reflections on Literary Criticism

Mr. Myers's post on Categories of the Novel gives me the excuse I hardly need to spout off about my own thoughts on literary criticism.  I have had much training in the matter, but never much took to it because I rejected some of the basic axioms that are implied in the course of analysis.  Or perhaps I did not understand them as well as I thought and I rejected what they seemed to be rather than what they were. 

My central objection to most literary criticism is a series of beliefs or myths that seem intractable and provoke a certain flurry of consternation when addressed directly.  One of these is the idea that there is some objective criteria by which the value of a work can be weighed and measured--hence--in the article discussed "novels which call for serious literary criticism" and "novels which are beneath serious criticism."  The problem I have with this is that such a call is entirely arbitrary and entirely a sign of the times in which the work is don…

A List of the Best Debuts of 2009

New talent, great writers are always wonderful to find.  When you stumble across one, it's amazing.  It's especially nice if you happen on one who you haven't encountered before in a list or in discussion elsewhere.  Yiyun Li was like that for me.  She's probably been discussed to death in the blogosphere, but I picked her up off the library shelf and discovered something new, different, wonderful for myself.

Here's a list of promising new writers whose first books came out in 2009.

A Short Story from William Trevor

Mark Strand on Winter

For those experiencing winter weather--a nice poem from Mark Strand.

On-Line Poetry

20  Poems of Georg Trakl translated by James Wright and Robert Bly

An Interview with Amelie Nothomb

Delete Your On-Line Presence

Not for me, but The Web 2.0 Suicide Machine may be useful to those hopelessly addicted. (I consider myself hopefully addicted.)

A Bernanos Retrospective

Shapely Sentences and Lovely Moments

I love the gentle flow of the prose of Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni. 

from "The Lives of Strangers"
in The Unknown Errors of Our Lives
Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni

Aunt Seema sits at one of the scratched wooden tables with a group of women, all of them swaddled in bright shawls they bought for this trip. From time to time they look down at their laps with a startled expression, like sparrows who have awakened to find themselves plumaged in cockatoo feathers.

I probably would have opted for something like "enplumed" rather than "plumaged,"  but the simile is just wonderful and startling without being strained.

The women smile, pleased at having had the foresight to leave sweaty Calcutta behind at the height of summer for a journey which is going to earn them comfort on Earth and goodwill in heaven. They hold their chins high and elongate their necks as classical dancers might. Plump middle-aged women. . . already they are transformed into handmaids of Shiva. . .…

More Personal Best of Lists

I have to post this one just because of the category into which Ann Patchett's Bel Canto falls.  Oh, and Rabbit, Run.  These two alone have earned the writer a permanent link.

And this one has a great deal of literature in translation

A Dissenting Opinion on Murakami

And one that I find myself largely in agreement with.  Tried The Wind Up Bird Chronicles and Kafka on the Beach several times to no avail.  That doesn't mean I won't try again, but I've come to the conclusion that Murakami is a specialty taste.  I'll stick with Oe, Akutagawa, Kawabata, Tanizaki, Murasaki, Basho and Issa, and Soseki if I need a dip into Japanese literature (for the moment).

The Background on The Spare Room

As much as I love my Kindle, I still carry around a number of books in a separate bag--a book bag.  Among them presently is Helen Garner's The Spare Room; there because a great many have recommended it and dipping into it at the library I found the prose remarkable.  Now, thanks to Times Flow Stemmed we have a bit more information about the whys and the wherefores.  I'm uncertain of whether or not I should read this before the book, so I'm posting the link without having read the article.  I can return to it once I've finished the book.

The [NT] Tin Drum

I had wondered whether the new translation of Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum was worth the time and effort, given that the old one has sustained us up until now.  This reviewer reports that it is.

Fear of Objects on the Right Side

A visitor stopped by and asked for the technical term for fear of objects.  I said I didn't know of one that referred to fear of objects or things by themselves--I knew pantophobia which is fear of everthing.  However, doing a little research I found The Phobias Page, which presents a lengthy list of named fears.  Among them are fear of things on the right side of the body--dexterophobia and fear of things on the left side of the body--levophobia.

Isn't language wonderful.  If you're pathologically fearful of almost anything, you can find or make up a word for it.

What a delight.

Crowdsourced list of what's to come

See the Difference Engine Work

I grew up as a fan of science fiction.  As such, Charles Babbage and the Difference Engine loom large in my imagination--as large as the book by Gibson and Sterling, as large as Lady Byron and her program for it.  So it is a great pleasure to me to be able to see, even if only in video, a working example of the difference engine.

A Penchant for Personal Bests

As you've seen by now, I have a penchant for personal bests--lists not compiled by one or more editors sitting around and agreeing about what they liked that year, but solid recommendations that come from a single reader's experience of books.  This list is just that; and additionally, it seems to be a list the coincides with, complements, and challenges my own taste (always helpful).

Tool Use Amongst Cephalopods

If you linger around here very long, one of the many tics you will be subject to is my deep love of the invertebrate world.

Witness this video of the Veined Octopus's use of half coconut shells.  A more complete story here.

A Measured Evaluation

D.G. Myers gives us a nice list of the best books of the decade.  It is only a list, so there isn't much in the way of explanation; however, the site is deep and though I haven't searched thoroughly, I suspect that many of the works on the list are treated in greater depth in individual posts.

Places of variance--I was disappointed to note that Russo's Empire Falls ranked so highly in his evaluation of works--but then de gustibus non est disputandum.  Likewise with The Dying Animal; I could see nothing that would rank this work with the timeless--but there I'll admit my own fault--Roth's brilliance often eludes me. And finally the less said of the vastly overhyped Let the Great World Spin, the better; I've rarely encountered a less readable, less interesting, less linguistically diverting work receiving so much praise.  Again, I always must point out that the fault may not lie with the author but may rest solely with me--nevertheless, I've gotten tired enou…

For Future Reference--Neologisms of the 00's--Noughtyisms

New phrases--I love new phrases.

Trout-pout
Picasso porn

Lovely--Reader's Regrets

A nice list at Good Reads--go and gnash your teeth and tear your clothing with the many mourners.

Catholic Church Sinks His Dark Materials Sequels

To quote from some of my favorite philosophers, as if.

Yes the Pope of Bill Donahue frowns and Hollywood trembles and hastens to kowtow.

Rilke in Translation

More on Lydia Davis

Another I have somehow managed to overlook for some time--a review here.

Live Chat with Lydia Davis today from 3:00-4:00.  Link here.

"The Exotic Flavour of Literary Food"

Here

I had always wondered why Turkish delight would be a temptation to any sane child; however, the article tells us, that's mere intrusion of reason into the literary world.  Although I'm very, very partial to plum pudding myself (and stick toffee pudding, and almost anything the British call a pudding on the sweet side--there are some pretty unsavory-sounding savory puddings), I love the description of it as "compacted fruit compost."

Literary Math

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This is just gorgeous; I hope the excerpt shows well.  Analyzing language in metabooks.  And as they say in the math books--This is intuitively obvious to the most casual of observers; the proof is left to the student.

from "The meta book and size-dependent properties of written language"
in The New Journal of Physics
Sebastian Bernhardsson1, Luis Enrique Correa da Rocha and Petter Minnhagen
The second assumption (equation (3)), with γ > 1, gives the relation

The last case in equation (7) (β < 1) can be disregarded as impossible since γ needs to be smaller than one for the integral to be positive, which means that α is also negative. This would give a book where the number of different words decreases as a function of the total number of words.
I have to admit to being very partial to the intrinsic beauty of the integral symbol--and indeed to much of the symbology of mathematics in general.  Even when I don't fully comprehend the mathematics being expressed, I can pond…

Serendipity--Kaye Gibbons

I've never been interested in Kaye Gibbons--not because I haven't been interested in her, but because she was one of a myriad of names my eye would speed past when looking for something to read--nothing in the packaging or titles of her books made me want to pick them up and sample.  As I explained in my "Library Gambit" post, I was looking for short books and stumbled upon one of Ms. Gibbons's.  I noted that many of them seemed short and the one I had in hand led me to her first novel--a taste of which I offer below.

from Ellen Foster
Kaye Gibbons

Oh but I do remember when I was scared. Everything was so wrong like somebody had knocked something loose and my family was shaking itself to death. Some wild ride broke and the one in charge strolled off and let us spin and shake and fly off the rail. And they both died tired of the wild crazy spinning and wore out and sick. Now tell me if that is not a fine style to die in. She sick and he drunk with the moving. They f…

A Unique Libary Gambit

Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall is taking some time to get through--it is worth the time, but I'm also itching to move on to other things, so I need to fill in the interstices in my reading--time enough for something short, but not for the sustained attention that Wolf Hall is requiring. So I wandered through the library looking for the thinnest books on the shelves, plucking off promising books of 100-200 pages.  With this I found Kaye Gibbons Ellen Foster, Helen Garner's The Spare Room (recommended in several personal lists), Rebecca Lee's The City Is a Rising Tide, and a book of short stories by Lauren Groff with an absolutely irresistable title: Delicate Edible Birds.

I dipped into Ellen Foster, and more about that tomorrow.  Lee, Garner, Gibbons, all are most promising.  I'll get through them rapidly.

What the Common Reader Thinks the Best Books Were

Here

I have had to let it simmer and stew for a while, but I've come down on Yiyun Li as my favorite reads of the year.  A Thousand Years of Good Prayers plus The Vagrants made for two of the most memorable and most promising reads of the year.  The next time I see Ms. Li's name, I will be certain to pick up the book.  She is for me this year what Jhumpa Lahiri was the year of The Interpreter of Maladies.

Joseph Pearce on J. R. R. Tolkien

A nice review at The Silver Key.

Another Writer Heard From

This book sounds lovely.

The excerpt below features a translation provided by the writer at Incurable Logophilia, but the French, to my relatively unexperienced eye, reads very fluidly, very smoothly.  I may have to look into getting this.

from Incurable Logophilia
citing Le Canapé Rouge
Michèle Lesbre

Voir un homme se rouler une cigarette, le perdre de vue très vite, me souvenir de lui toujours. Aujourd’hui encore, il m’arrive de penser à la brève apparition de cet inconnu surprise dans son intimité, à d’autres aussi qui de façon mystérieuse se sont installés dans ma mémoire, comme des témoins silencieux de mes errances.


[To see a man roll himself a cigarette, lose sight of him quickly, remember him forever. Still today I find myself thinking of the brief appearance of this unknown person caught in his private moment, and of others who have mysteriously taken up residence in my memory, like so many silent witnesses to my wanderings.]

Innumeracy and the False Positive

I did not read this article in the same way as some of those who have cited it, possibly because I'm infinitely fascinated by mathematics and mathematical reading (I'd refer that to aleph null inifintiely).

from "Mammogram Math"
John Allen Paulos

A little vignette with made-up numbers may shed some light. Assume there is a screening test for a certain cancer that is 95 percent accurate; that is, if someone has the cancer, the test will be positive 95 percent of the time. Let’s also assume that if someone doesn’t have the cancer, the test will be positive just 1 percent of the time. Assume further that 0.5 percent — one out of 200 people — actually have this type of cancer. Now imagine that you’ve taken the test and that your doctor somberly intones that you’ve tested positive. Does this mean you’re likely to have the cancer? Surprisingly, the answer is no.

To see why, let’s suppose 100,000 screenings for this cancer are conducted. Of these, how many are positive? On av…

Important: Reflections on Grinchness

Just in time for Christmas: here.

Writing While Irish: Universality and Parochialism

I'm fairly certain it isn't a criminal offense, at least in most countries. . .

from Excursions in the Real World
William Trevor

Being Irish is complicated, in my case, by the fact that I am a writer of fiction. One circumstance influences the other; nationality seems irrelevant in the loose, uncharted world of art, then suddenly raises its voice; fiction insists on universality, then equally insists that a degree of parochialism can often best achieve this. A muddle of contradiction prevails, but since the practice of any art has to do with establishing order, muddles should be grist to the artistic mill. Or so at least you can pretend.

Writing is a professional activity, yet when fiction is the end product it must necessarily also be a personal one. As you engage in it you cannot escape the person you are.

I think the critical point here is how universality is achieved.  It seems to me that it is almost always achieved in the particular.  Hamlet is not the prince of anywhere at…

Favorites from Conversational Reading

Here

Includes Gertrude Stein and Thomas Mann, so another eclectic, wonderful list.

More Authors Pick Their Favorites

"And Now for Something Completely Different"

The Christianity Today List of Favorite books.  The only book I saw on the list that I've seen mentioned in any other list or presentation is Thomas Pynchon's Inherent Vice--a rather surprising choice from the above-mentioned source.

Colm Tóibin on Sign and Symbol

Here

via Wooden Spoon

an interesting excerpt:

The pigment that made them – there were thirteen of these paintings done altogether – is not pure; it is made from the ashes of a copy of Jacques Derrida’s The Truth in Painting. When they had finished burning and painting, the artists wrote to Derrida and offered him one of the paintings.

I can't imagine anything better than a work made from an unread copy of Derrida (read the post to find out more.)

Tournament of Books Long List--Where is Tolstoy?

Here

Which leads me to some thoughts.  Of the making of lists there is seemingly no end.  And I would not wish for an end.  It is in the reticulation, the warp and the weft of multiple lists that I often dredge up the finest things to read.  But even reading some of these very fine things, I'm left with a kind of questioning longing--where is our new Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Joyce, Conrad, James.  No--I'm not looking for a replica, I'm not looking for anyone whose style is similar or who rights on similar themes.  I'm looking really for the best of the best--the works that in our present foreshortened judgment constitute lasting work.

I enjoy reading.  I don't always have to read the very best of the very best.  I like to read some bad books--things no self-respecting admirer of literature would be caught dead with.  I'm a reader, not a classicist (in a very bowdlerized sense of that word--substitue the snootier sounding "literateur").  But I do long for…

Best Short Story Collections of the Decade

Here.

I haven't read them all, and I disagree on the Jhumpa Lahiri, who while talented seems to have fallen into something of a rut in the story-telling realm; however, worth looking into.  (from BooksINQ)

A Great Appreciation of Ikiru

Here.

A film that should be in everyone's repetoire--and not the kind of thing Kurasawa is best known for, which is odd, considering how many very different kinds of things Kurasawa did.

Another Best of the Year List

Unique, idiosyncratic, a breath of fresh air.  But then, I find all such lists interesting, and I look for some of my reading in the convergence of  titles from various sources.  Looks like Powers's Generosity may be joining the list.

You Can't Speed Read Literature. . .

Dr Myers Gives Us a Preview of 2010

NPR's Best "Foreign" Fiction

"Foreign" to whom?

Here.

Another View of Lydia Davis

The Law of Praemunire

You better watch out, you better not pout. . .

from Wolf Hall
Hilary Mantel

The law of praemunire dates from another century. No one who is alive now quite knows what it means. From day to day it seems to mean what the king says it means. The matter is argued in every talking shop in Europe. Meanwhile, my lord cardinal sits, and sometimes mutters to himself, and sometimes speaks aloud, saying, "Thomas, my colleges! Whatever happens to my person, my colleges must be saved. Go to the king. Whatever vengeance, for whatever imagined injury, he would like to wreak on me, he surely cannot mean to put out the light of learning?"

Poet of the Year: W.S. Merwin

Here.

from BooksINQ

Giving Back to the Community

As Stephen King does

Yes, considering his wealth, it's small--but it's wonderful considering there is no obligation to do anything at all.

A New On-Line Story

The Two Lönnrots-Gabriel Josipovici

I just love electronic sources--if you're inclined to, Go!  Enjoy!

(Haven't read it yet myself, just found it thanks to: This Space.)

Ten Notable books of Criticism

Here

There is a notable bias toward the more recent, which is to be understood as criticism often doesn't stay in print for long periods. But it seems like a great list for one just starting to read criticism or for the more experienced. And its interest is heightened by the fact that it is personal.  Personal recommendations are always more meaningful to me because they have greater context and so can be weighed appropriately.

A Post with Resonance for Some of Us

The commonwealth is sick of their own choice;

From Henry IV part II, but perhaps applicable in other, more modern situations?

The Beauty of the Anomalous

Groined Vaults in Public Works.

Fascinating and wonderful.  I love how we differ and how different our eyes see the same things.  It's wonderful to have someone point this out from time to time.  Enthusiasms can be contagious.

The Round and Other Cold Hard Facts J. M. G. Le Clézio

Perhaps it would be a good idea for me to contextualize how I came to finish this book to forestall any complaints or misapprehensions about the insufficiency of my review.  Yesterday, I took Sam (my son) to Disney Hollywood Studios so that he could ride Rockin' Rollercoaster a record (for him) 21 times.  The park was crowded, more so than is expected for a week this far from Christmas in December, and the waits were long (at first) and even though we ended up with six fast pass rides and two cast-member accompanied entrances, it took the whole day to finish the challenge.  And so, I had the leisure to sit and read. (On good days, because of my sinuses, I can manage that particular Roller Coaster once--on bad days it's better not to think about it.)  Because Wolf Hall is something of a tome to haul about, I opted for M. Le Clézio's slender volume.

The Round and Other Cold Hard Facts consists of 11 short stories, each superb in its own right, all bound together by a set of t…

For Those For Whom There Will Never Be Enough Updike

Short Novels

Did I already comment on this list of short novels?  If not, it is worth your time to take a look.  Some remarkable, compact literature.

Retroactive E-Book Rights

Here.

I guess the appropriate line here is, coming from an erstwhile favorite, Lord Vader, "You have paid the price for your lack of vision."  Or if not, soon will.  All of publishing is up against the wall--Gutenberg has reentered the building, but we still think it's peachy keen to go on illuminating manuscripts while felling forests.

I love books.  I own way too many of them myself.  But I'm ready to embrace a way to carry my library with me wherever I go.  If publishers can't get that, they will perish--they are trembling on the rim of extinction as it stands--a breath either way and they are gone.  And I speak from within the industry itself--admittedly a small side-shelf, but nevertheless, one that is fully aware and feeling the press of recent developments.  Sometimes we excuse ourselves with the idea of waiting for the victor in the e-book race--but we should be setting the standards or contributing to the standards that will formulate the new e-book.  Ra…

A Top 10 0f 2009

I love lists.  Individual lists, group think, professional, or amateur--I love the fodder they provide for my own reading.

I especially love the lists produced in blogdom by people I've come to trust with regard to their opinions.  To my mind, the opinions of people like me hold greater weight and validity in helping me decide future reading than two dozen academic critics.  (Which is not to say that I don't respect academic critics--merely that having narrowly escaped from that world, I'm aware of how it is shaped and how little of it actually has to do with the quality of the book and how much of it is based on the importance of appearing high-brow.)  High-brow, middle-brow, low-brow, uni-brow, no-brow--I don't care, what I'm interested in is what people enjoyed.

And what I like about this list is that while it is dated 2009, that merely refers to the reading year; there is much here from 2009, but we also encounter My Cousin Rachel.  Chronological boundaries for…