January 26, 2012
The following new and relatively new books are sitting on my desk, only they’re not physically present on my desk. They’re represented by pieces of paper torn from pages in book review publications. I consider this growing handful of paper a reading table of sorts. Actually, it’s a control measure due to books now living on the floor in my house, something I said I would never allow. Clearly, books on the floor is a sign I need to control my literary acquisitions. Hence, this style of reading table that gathers paper as a first step versus impulsively acquiring at first love.
I share these books because readers who don’t comb book review journals, especially those from London, may not be aware of them.
Act of Passion by Georges Simenon
NYRB Classics recently published this Georges Simenon novel, Act of Passion, about a successful doctor who abandons his comfortable married life to pursue and attempt to possess a love interest. Sounds like a common plotline; however, in the hands of Simenon, creator of Inspector Maigret, the story’s probably a well-crafted stunner. The Times Literary Supplement writes, “Simenon creates a character both compelling and repulsive, clear-eyed and deluded at the same time.” The novel was originally published in 1947 in France as Lettre à mon juge, a more fitting title to the story, considering it’s written as an apology letter from the doctor to the magistrate in his murder trial. Act of Passion is translated by the late Louise Varèse.
Julia by Otto de Kat
Perhaps it’s unfair to list this novel because it’s not published (yet?) in the U.S., although you can still purchase it online. I’ve come across it a few times in U.K. reviews, and it’s one I’ve got my eye on. Julia by Otto de Kat was originally published in Dutch in 2008 and recently translated into English by Ina Rilke. This slight, 168-page novel concerns a Dutchman’s encounter with a woman (Julia Berger) for a brief time in Germany, 1938. From The Independent: “De Kat’s ambition of theme is served by astonishing tautness of construction and spareness of language, beautifully rendered by Ina Rilke. And, most movingly, the novel offers us glimpses of uncompromising virtue, not always in expected places.”
The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue
Canadian author Emma Donoghue may bring to mind her best-selling Room, a ripped-from-the-headlines story about a kidnapping. She also wrote The Sealed Letter. It was published in the U.S. and Canada in 2008, before Room. It’s historical fiction based on a scandalous Victorian divorce in 1860′s London. Picador recently published it for the first time in the U.K. It was reviewed in The Times Literary Supplement, where it got my attention. On Donoghue’s website, a quote from the Daily Mail says it’s ”a page-turning drama packed with sex, passion and intrigue.” Also, according to The New York Times review in 2008: “the plot is psychologically informed, fast paced and eminently readable.”
The Manuscript of Great Expectations: From the Townshend Collection, Wisbech by Charles Dickens
This book intrigues me because of the opportunity to experience an author’s decision-making, word by word, sentence by sentence, as he brings a story to life. It’s an exact reproduction in color and size of the hand-written manuscript of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. The museum that owns the 1860 manuscript collaborated with Cambridge University Press to produce the original papers in book format for the first time (according to this article in The Guardian). I love that The Guardian provides a gallery view you can click through for a taste of what’s inside the book. What a wonder to think this is how books used to be written. Pen and ink seems so much more of an intimate, demanding experience with words than typing.
The New Granta Book of Travel
edited by Liz Jobey, introduction by Jonathan Raban
This collection of travel narratives will be available in the U.S. April 2012. It’s been a while since I’ve indulged in travel memoirs. One of my long-time favorites is Mary Morris’s Nothing to Declare. More recently, I wanted to read but didn’t Ian Frazier’s Travels in Siberia. And so here, a collection of diverse travels essays calling to me. From The Independent: “What’s particularly interesting is how it illuminates the diversity of modern travel. In ‘Arrival’ we have an asylum seeker’s first experience of coming to Britain. Albino Ochero-Okello’s poignant tale turns the idea of travel for pleasure on its head. For a refugee, travel is a means of survival.’” Also, reading the book’s introduction via Amazon’s preview option, Jonathan Raban describes an essay about a Victorian-style imperial expedition into the heart of the Congo as well as a walk in East Ayrshire – ”Her journey lasts an hour or so, and covers perhaps a mile, but one need not travel far or for long to travel deep…”
How It All Began by Penelope Lively
I became a Penelope Lively fan with her Booker Prize-winning Moon Tiger, so a new book always gets my attention. How It All Began is getting positive reviews by the major U.S. papers, a story that starts with the mugging of a retired schoolteacher in London and then unfolds with the resulting consequences. The publisher’s website says, “Through a richly conceived and colorful cast of characters, Penelope Lively explores the powerful role of chance in people’s lives and deftly illustrates how our paths can be altered irrevocably by someone we will never even meet.” Sounds like another good one — How It All Began is Lively’s 20th work of fiction.
December 14, 2010
Several weeks ago, a local bookseller suggested I read Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret crime novels. We were discussing fictional crime inspectors one could follow in an ongoing series, and Simenon’s Maigret came up as one inspector who does not require such following. He doesn’t have complicated relationships and personal problems that evolve through the books. Hence, a good prospect for one-offs.
During my recent trip to New York, I blithely went to the bookshelves at Three Lives & Company, thinking I’d likely find a Maigret book, which I did. Two, in fact: The Friend of Madame Maigret and Inspector Cadaver. I figured I’d also find a comprehensive list of the series’ titles in the front of the books. Why not start with the first book anyway? No such luck on that list.
Little did I know what I was getting into: Simenon wrote 75 Maigret novels and 28 short stories. Even as I type that number, I’m aware of variations, such as the New York Times Simenon obituary stating this Belgian author wrote 84 Maigret “adventures”. Also, I picked up Patrick Marnham’s biography The Man Who Wasn’t Maigret: A Portrait of Georges Simenon, and it says 76 Maigret novels were written between 1931 and 1972. That’s only a “selected works” list, making one wonder what’s not included.
None of this would seem to make much difference to a new Simenon reader like me, pulling one of his mysteries off a shelf to purchase and read. And yet, it does matter. Development isn’t just about the inspector but also the writer. What if the earlier books are better than the later books? Or the later ones better than the earlier ones? How did Simenon’s crafting of Inspector Maigret change as he became a more seasoned writer?
The voluminous output of Georges Simenon (1903-1989) came from his ability to write a book in 11 days (via The Guardian). He became one of the 20th century’s most significant crime/mystery writers in European literature, writing in the vicinity of 400 books, including 136 non-Maigret novels, plus 200 novellas under pseudonyms, according to his NYT obit. No wonder it’s hard to find the best starting point in his literary oeuvre.
The bookseller at Partners & Crime in New York’s Greenwich Village told me one of his favorites is Maigret and the Man on the Boulevard (1953), so that became my starting point. Hallelujahs once again for the knowledge and helpfulness of independent booksellers. I’m closing in on the last page of that recommended mystery as I write. Maigret’s intellectual means of sniffing out clues as he searches for a murderer in Paris neighborhoods has got me hooked.
December 6, 2010
It’s been ten years since my last visit to New York City, so I jumped at the chance to go when a frequent traveler to Manhattan invited me to join her on a trip this past weekend. Being the holiday season, Times Square and department stores were overwhelmed with the predictable crush of holiday shoppers. But all of that holiday madness was a far cry from the West Village and the Flatiron/Murray Hill districts where I experienced joy and peace visiting independent bookstores, including this one, with its fabulous name:
Here are the other bookstores I visited:
Three Lives & Company, a classic bookshop with a staff that is passionate about connecting readers with good books, stacking their display tables with fiction and non-fiction rare to be stumbled upon in the mega-stores, such as 03 by Jean-Christophe Valtat, one of my purchases.
Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks across the street from Three Lives, a store the size of a bedroom hallway where my traveling companion and I walked in on two women from Texas finishing up a three-hour spending spree.
The Complete Traveller Antiquarian Bookstore on Madison at 35th, where I purchased a 1927 Blue Guide for Paris streets; how cool to see the city’s layout during a less motorized age. Afterwards, we visited the famous Morgan Library with its vast collection of rare and old books a few doors away.
The Argosy, selling antiquarian books since 1925, located in Midtown around the corner from large department stores; I hung out with the modern firsts on one of their upper floors, including a first edition of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies priced in the thousands. I walked away with much less costly items, such as a first edition of E. L. Doctorow’s Book of Daniel, filling a hole in my Doctorow holdings.
Partners & Crime Mystery Booksellers in Greenwich Village, where I shared with the shop owner my desire to read a mystery crime series, starting with the first book, so I can follow the development of the detective. I’m not well-read in crime mysteries and valued his thoughts and recommendations via discussion by a display already set up of such “here’s where to start” crime mysteries. I walked away with Peter Robinson’s Gallows View, the first Inspector Banks mystery, and Henning Mankell’s Faceless Killers, the first Kurt Wallander mystery. Also, a Georges Simenon Inspector Maigret mystery went into the sack.
Such wonderful experiences can be had in these atmospheric NYC literary environments. I’ll share more soon. Up next: How to decide which book to buy and the Georges Simenon runaround.