September 28, 2009
One would expect a present from Paris to be something fashionably unique or distinctively European; however, I knew the gift on its way to me would be nothing of the sort, rather of literary interest. In an advance, foreshadowing email, LS said, “You won’t believe what I found!”
La Nudiste Navarée, published in the U.S. as The Case of the Sun Bather’s Diary, and
La Vamp aux Yeux Verts, published in the U.S. as The Case of the Green-Eyed Sister.
Perhaps you’ll stop reading now (ho hum, eh?), but for me they produced a squeal of delight greater than any French perfume or bauble would evoke.
I collect Perry Mason crime novels written by Erle Stanley Gardner. Raymond Burr as Perry Mason on TV from 1957 to 1966 coerced the guilty to confess on the stand, and I watched the black and white drama addictively. I never read the books, though. I didn’t realize they even existed until a year ago when I stumbled upon The Case of the Deadly Toy. That’s when the hunt began.
At this point the collection is a messy, unsorted stack of paperbacks with a few tattered hardbound copies. The addition of two French editions now gives it some class. I never imagined Perry would be found in Paris.
On a final note: Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor cited the TV drama “Perry Mason” as a childhood inspiration during her confirmation hearings.
September 25, 2009
“I have a terrible fear that I write dark novels whether I want to or not. I fear the world is a dark place. That’s one side of the equation. The other side is that when I am writing a novel I so intensely enjoy writing that the world is a very bright place, with lots of beautiful pots and wonderful trees, and people running in the woods. I think I’m extremely double, and I think the novel is double….” – A.S. Byatt on her new novel, The Children’s Book
My interview with A. S. Byatt about The Children’s Book is now live. It’s approximately 13 minutes. Dame Byatt speaks from across the pond in a soft, scholarly voice, so you’ll need to turn up the volume.
Some notes as reminders:
The Children’s Book spans the Victorian era through World War I. It centers on the life of a famous children’s author and the passions, betrayals, and secrets that affect the lives of her family and friends, especially the children. Published in the U. K. early this past summer, it will be in U. S. bookstores in October.
A.S. Byatt will speak at Mees Hall, Capital University, on October 13 at 7:30 pm.
September 24, 2009
For 15 minutes today I spoke by phone with British author A. S. Byatt in London. Preparations for the interview — lots of reading — consumed the blogging time this week. Hence, no new entry since Monday.
I learned that A. S. Byatt is to be addressed “Dame Antonia” and that if she wins this year’s Man Booker Prize for The Children’s Book (something I’ve blogged about in previous posts), she’ll be the first woman to win the prize two times.
You’ll be able to hear about this and more when the interview is posted next week on the WOSU Arts Blog (currently scheduled for Monday, Sept. 28) and airs on the Friday WOSU 820 AM/89.7 FM Friday arts feature at 8:50 am (currently scheduled for October 2). Thanks to the wonderful Christopher Purdy, who made it happen and produced the segment. I’ll update this post with specifics when I get them.
September 21, 2009
It’s been a while since I’ve been as disturbed by a story as I was by the one told in The Collector.
This is John Fowles first novel, published in 1963. Fowles is best known for his third novel, The French Lieutenant’s Woman.
The plot of The Collector centers on Frederick Clegg and his obsessive love for an art student, Miranda Grey. A butterfly collector, Clegg kidnaps and then imprisons Miranda in his basement – like one of his specimens – hoping it dawns on her that he’s a kind, caring man worthy of her love.
Considering Jaycee Lee Dugard’s recent discovery and release from Clegg-like captivity, this chilling novel is deeply unsettling. I struggled to relate to The Collector as fiction.
Fowles said the point of The Collector was to “show that our world is sick.” (Reported in his obituary in The New York Times)
Perhaps I’m getting too advanced in age for this kind of literary suspense. I’m not saying I didn’t appreciate Fowles’ beautiful writing, let alone his extraordinary evocation of a psychopath’s inner world – it’s a brilliant creation – rather that I may have reached a point in life where I’ve read so many times about sexually motivated abduction or heard about it in the news, the topic is not enjoyable in a novel.
The Collector was an instant success and put Fowles on the literary map as a formidable talent. It was made into a film in 1965. The book is still in print. The true first edition — the U.K. hardcover in black boards – sells for several thousand dollars.
Fowles died at the age of 79 in 2005. A Life in Two Worlds by Eileen Warburton is a biography of his life, published in 2004.
September 16, 2009
That probably depends on how much you want it.
For $235.00, you can own The History of Paris in Painting, created by seven authors. Here we go: Georges Duby, Guy Lobrichon, Father Guillaume de Berteier de Sauvigny, Geneviève Brunel, Paul-Louis Rinuy, Daniel Russo and Pierre Vaisse.
There are 496 pages with 350 illustrations and four gatefolds in the book. Seven illustrations are available for viewing on the publisher’s website, as well as the table of contents and an excerpt.
This book indeed appears to be gorgeous and fascinating. According to Library Journal, The History of Paris in Painting is “a thoughtful collection of paintings (and some photographs) paying homage to the city’s changing character and the ever-inspiring collective consciousness of its masses.”
As I read and snooped around online about it, this 11 x 17 art tome stirred my book coveting and impulsive purchasing senses for that which is beautiful and an intellectual feast.
From the introduction to The History of Paris in Painting:
“This book does not aim to present an inventory of the paintings that have been made in honor of Paris, nor to offer a guide to the Musée Carnavalet, whose mission it is to bring such works together. It is rather to reveal the long adventure of a city and its inhabitants through a local history of painting.”
On a closing note: I post this on the eve of a friend’s arrival in Paris. To LS, enjoy the City of Light and the ever famous Shakespeare & Company.
September 13, 2009
Coffee House Press releases Sam Savage’s new novel this month, and it more than lives up to expectations for this sharp-witted, amusing author of Firmin.
The narrator is Soap Editor Andy Whittaker, who also manages a few rental properties inhabited by combative, non-paying tenants.
The time is pre-email 1970s with a few mentions of Nixon in The White House. Andy writes hilarious letters of advice, want and ridicule to Soap’s contributors, his ex-wife, friends, local arts organizations and those difficult tenants. These missives create the tart, animated narrative along with a few excerpts from Andy’s unfocused novel-in-progress.
Responses to the letters aren’t included, and we don’t need them. Andy’s self-pitying and smartly-quipped effusions are enough to illustrate Savage’s clever take on self-aggrandizing writers, snobbish arts organizations and the scrabbling life of aspiring writers.
Hope for salvation lies in a Soap festival of literature and the arts. Andy attempts to lure authors by telling them it will be big. “‘How big?’ you ask, as well you should,” he writes to Mr. Mailer, whom we can safely assume is Norman. “Let me drop this small hint in lieu of an answer: There will be elephants.”
The more desperate Andy’s situation becomes, the more he uses his wit and mockery to beg, inform and deceive. His letters showcase a shrewd, spirited personality that’s high entertainment.
September 10, 2009
I’ve never been officially bird-watching. I do, however, keep binoculars on my desk and through them I’ve seen a Cooper’s Hawk on my backyard fence and a Great Blue Heron on my neighbor’s garage roof. I’ve watched blue jays and finches perched on the telephone and cable wires beyond the window.
Such minor experience let alone interest in bird-watching doesn’t equal the number of bird books I’m accumulating.
Another odd aspect: I don’t read the books front-to-back. I snack on them. I read random sections, sometimes a paragraph or two, or maybe a chapter. I’ll look at the illustrations. This happens while waiting for dinner to cook or for a few minutes before I start reading a novel. Something like that.
Here are two bird books, recently published, that have caught my snacking appetite. They’re written with the personal, inclusive touch of a bird-watching, bird-loving author.
The Armchair Birder: Discovering the Secret Lives of Familiar Birds
by John Yow
The University of North Carolina Press.
35 essays recount the author’s backyard sightings. His observations provide easy-to-digest insights on the behavior of common birds. Illustrations are from Audubon’s The Birds of America. I’ve read about the Whip-Poor-Will, Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, American Crow, Osprey and Pileated Woodpecker, plus other birds. Yow’s essays are interesting without overwhelming us with technical details.
Crow Planet: Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness by Lyanda Lynn Haupt
Little, Brown and Company
Haupt writes in a memoir-like style as she shares her insights on this black bird that’s as common as grass. She invitingly reveals its unique behaviors and, also, through its everywhere presence, our urban ignorance. She writes: “This is a guarantee: Select a subject, obtain a proper field guide, study it well, and you will see more than you ever have of your chosen subject — and more than that besides.” This is a thoughtful book about our connection (or lack of it) to the natural world as we charge through busy city lives.
Another book by Haupt I’ve enjoyed is Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds, published by Sasquatch Books in 2001.
September 8, 2009
Below are six novels that made the shortlist for the United Kingdom’s 2009 Man Booker Prize. They were selected out of a longlist of 13.
Right now, The Little Stranger is the only one currently published in the United States.
Three others have U.S. publication dates coming up (as noted). The remaining two currently are not scheduled for U.S. publication.
The winner will be announced October 6.
A. S. Byatt, one of the contenders, is scheduled to speak at Capital University on October 13 in Mees Hall at 7:30 p.m.* If she’s awarded this prize for fiction, then we’ll have the 2009 Man Booker winner in Columbus, Ohio.
A S Byatt: The Children’s Book
Scheduled for publication in the U.S. by Random House 10/6/09
J M Coetzee: Summertime
Scheduled for publication in the U.S. by Viking 12/24/09
Adam Foulds: The Quickening Maze
Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall
Scheduled for publication in the U.S. by Henry Holt and Co. 10/13/09
Simon Mawer: The Glass Room
Sarah Waters: The Little Stranger
Already available in the U.S., published by Riverhead
*The 7:30 p.m. time added 9/9/09 as an update to this post.
September 7, 2009
Annie is my six-year-old Pembroke Welsh Corgi. She likes my reading chair and jumps into my place the moment I get up for something. When I return, we engage in a scootch-over tango so we can both fit in the chair. Webster, my Cardigan Welsh Corgi, doesn’t care about the chair, yet he knows about the power of books in the house. Often we get ready for a walk, the dogs hooked to their leashes, and I sit down to read a few pages in a book. “In a minute,” I say, and Webster slumps to the floor. Annie sits and patiently, steadily stares at me.
Not all dogs are patient with reading habits. I house-sat for friends in Chicago who owned a Dalmatian named Spencer. One night he wanted me to toss the ball for him, but I wanted to stay in bed and read The Stories of John Cheever. Clearly, he was annoyed by that choice because I came home from work the next day and found Cheever chewed like a rawhide bone.
Reading resentment (or is it bibliophilia resentment?) happens. I’ve had people in my life who resented my hours of reading like Spencer, although they didn’t destroy the book. They emitted heavy, resentful sighing or made comments about books being more important than them. The habit is consuming. Corgis, though, seem to adapt fairly well. But then, they know how to jump into the chair and get right in there beside you for the reading hours. They’re smart dogs.
9/10/09 addition: Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain imparts the wisdom of a dog named Enzo. While it’s “best-seller lite” fiction, not the type of book I gravitate toward, I found it a delightful respite from my usual, more intense literature picks. Enzo observes his master weather misfortunes with a steadfast spirit. “The car goes where the eyes go” is the message. It has nothing to do with patience for those who love to read. It’s just a good dog story.
September 4, 2009
Summer Beach Reads behind us now, the fall brings with it new books to read by the fire or tucked in bed before turning out the lights. Here are a few I have on my radar screen.
Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays by Zadie Smith (Peguin Group)
Kirkus Reviews says, “Rarely does a book that seems to promise so little deliver so much.” It’s divided into four sections: Reading, Being, Seeing, and Feeling and covers a range of topics.
The Price of Love and Other Stories by Peter Robinson (HarperCollins)
This is Robinson’s first collection of stories. He’s got a fan base for his best-selling Inspector Alan Banks novels, described as “perceptive novels that probe the dark side of human nature.” I haven’t read then. I’m thinking this might be a good entry into his fiction.
City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and ’70s by Edmund White (Bloomsbury)
Publisher’s Weekly has given this autobiography a starred review. Bloomsbury’s website says, “A memoir of the sociel [sic] and sexual lives of New York City’s cultural and intellectual in-crowd in the tumultous 1970s, from acclaimed author Edmund White.”
Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr (HarperCollins)
The HarperCollins website says Lit is about, “getting drunk and getting sober; becoming a mother by letting go of a mother; and learning to write by learning to live.” Library Journal claims it will be the memoir of the season.
The Humbling by Philip Roth (Houghton Mifflin)
The Chicago Tribune says this novel will find favor with Roth fans. From the synopsis, it appears to be in keeping with Roth’s current fictional focus on illness and death, featuring an aging actor.
Family Album by Penelope Lively (Viking)
The Guardian says Lively’s new book ”should be rated as one of her most impressive works.” It also says Lively ”plunges us into an entirely convincing world of bustling family life, yet at the same time keeps her distance with lethally sharp observations.”
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (HarperCollins)
Kingsolver’s first new novel in nine years gets a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. The protagonist Harrison Shepherd embarks on a journey that begins in Mexico in the 1930s, connecting him to artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.
Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro (Alfred A. Knopf)
10 new stories from this Grande Dame of short storywriting.
Invisible by Paul Auster (Henry Holt & Co.)
From the Holt website: “Sinuously constructed in four interlocking parts, Paul Auster’s fifteenth novel opens in New York City in the spring of 1967, when twenty-year-old Adam Walker, an aspiring poet and student at Columbia University, meets the enigmatic Frenchman Rudolf Born and his silent and seductive girfriend, Margot. Before long, Walker finds himself caught in a perverse triangle that leads to a sudden, shocking act of violence that will alter the course of his life.”
Devil’s Dream: A Novel About Nathan Bedford Forrest by Madison Smartt Bell (Pantheon)
A fictionalized story about a Confederate Civil War General. Pantheon’s description: “Considered a rogue by the upper ranks of the Confederate Army, who did not properly use his talents, Forrest was often relegated to small-scale operations.”
September 2, 2009
New books have been added to My Reading Table with reasons why.
Also added, a brief explanation of how this table works; likely a description for how all reading tables work.
The additions to My Reading Table:
- The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
- Scoundrel Time by Lillian Hellman
- Katherine Mansfield Notebooks: Complete Edition edited by Margaret Scott
- Prague in Danger The Years of German Occupation, 1939-45: Memories and History, Terror and Resistance, Theater and Jazz, Film and Poetry, Politics and War by Peter Demetz
- Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo (This was briefly removed from My Reading Table and on the Currently Reading list. Now it’s back on.)
The removals from My Reading Table:
The Collector by John Fowles
I picked this up last night, after reading The Cry of the Sloth. The first novel by the author of The Magus and The French Lieutenant’s Woman published in 1963.
The dust jacket flap of the fourth edition says, “Rarely does a publisher introduce a novel of such devastating power.” This is now on the Currently Reading list.
Putting books to be reviewed on My Reading Table doesn’t mesh with the way the table works; hence the removal of these two new releases, soon to hit Currently Reading:
- Ulysses and Us: The Art of Everyday Life in Joyce’s Masterpiece by Declan Kiberd
- The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt
September 1, 2009
New York City’s Collyer brothers are the subject of E. L. Doctorow’s new novel. He’s taken the folklore of their early 20th Century lives in a Fifth Avenue mansion and turned it into a gorgeous and affecting tribute to eccentricity.
Check out this b&w photo from The New York Times/Paper Cuts when authorities got into the house after the reclusive brothers died: It’s a pack rat’s heaven, with floor to ceiling stuff.
In Doctorow’s fictional rendering, the older brother Langley saves all the newspapers he reads every day. His goal is to figure out how to create one universal edition that will remain eternally current and always up to date.
He also brings home mountains of junk to hoard, from useless furniture to miscellaneous machine parts, and even dismantles a car and puts it back together in the dining room.
The younger of the two, Homer, blind from childhood and a professional pianist, narrates the story with forgiveness of his brother’s oddity — Langley is mentally changed from exposure to mustard gas in WWI.
Doctorow uses major 20th Century events to move Homer & Langley forward. Homer narrates from Prohibition to the Depression to WWII and so on. The obvious stepping-stone effect at first felt cheap, but I forgave it because the brothers’ bizarre life is so invitingly imagined.
What I loved about these hermit, junk-loving brothers of upper class heritage is here, in what Homer says: “After all, we were living original self-directed lives unintimidated by convention – could we not be a supreming of the line, a flowering of the family tree?”
The real Collyer brothers died in 1947. There’s a park now where their house used to stand.
Random House provides an excerpt of Homer & Langley on their website.