enheduanna's 2009 book list
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1. Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit by P.G. Wodehouse
While I was reading this, I noticed to my astonishment that I had allowed an entire year go by without reading a Jeeves and Wooster book. It was appalling. I think they're fantastic. I've got two more here that I haven't read yet. I especially like the Overlook hardcover editions, and I'd love to get them all. They cost more than the cheap paperbacks, but it makes sense to spend the money on them because they're so re-readable and Matt loves them, too, so they'll see a lot of use.
2. Black Orchids by Rex Stout
I always think it's terribly amusing when Archie gets mad or jealous. These were particularly good stories, but I'm a big fan, so of course I'd like them.
3. Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan
This was absolutely fantastic. All Tan's books are excellent, the combination of art and story is better than almost anything I've seen, but I especially liked this collection. Two of the stories made me cry, a couple of them were a little political (not really a book for hard-core neo cons, if you ask me), and no child would be able to appreciate the beauty of them the way an adult would. But of course, anything with pretty pictures and few words is a children's book by definition. I felt like I did a good deed by buying this book.
suslyn: no, I haven't read that one. I've read several of her books in the past, but I've sort of given her up, not because she's not an excellent writer, but because I had fallen out of interest with her themes, and there's so much else to read, you know? What about it made it different for you? Or, what did you like about it? The same exact thing happened to me with Gail Tsukiyama. If you've not read anything by her, I'd recommend The Samurai's Garden.
Thx for the recommendation. Did I ask you before if you've seen the movie Thousand Pieces of Gold (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100774/)?
>6 dk_phoenix:: Isn't it great?! I completely agree with you.
>7 digifish_books:: Ha ha, well it was sort of a criminal omission. No, I haven't read anything other than Jeeves, but I definitely want to read some of the others. My problem is that the bookstores around here don't carry much of his stuff and it's hard to tell without getting a look at them which would be good ones to order. So what I really need is a fan to tell me which to get first. :)
I must have seen it shortly after its release in 1991 and not again since, so my recollections are spotty at best. An independent film, it won one award and was nominated for another.
The Devil in Love is a short 18th century book about a man who summons the devil who duly appears as an ambiguously gendered page and who then professes love for him. Troubles obviously ensue. It was interesting. The author was eventually guillotined in the French Revolution.
5. The Recently Deflowered Girl by Mel Juffe & Edward Gorey
This is a spoof of etiquette manuals, this one giving advice on how to handle the many possible situations a girl might find herself in upon being deflowered. It's ludicrous, of course, and mildly amusing, but I don't think I would care much about it if it wasn't for the Edward Gorey illustrations. I read this online, and sadly do not own it, except for the scans of it that now reside on my computer.
6. Peony in Love by Lisa See
Peony in Love was in fact a solid book. Good writing, meaningful themes, but I just couldn't bring myself to really care. It is about the composition of the Three Wives Commentary on The Peony Pavilion, which I read last year and greatly enjoyed. I'm not really sure why I'm so ambivalent about it. I suppose it's because it is predicated on the same absurd concept of love that I couldn't accept in The Peony Pavilion. But it does talk a lot about the significance of women writers in China in the 17th & 18th centuries, and the social conditions that allowed it or suppressed it, and these are important topics. Still, I got bored with it and really just forced myself to finish it so I could move on to something else. I think I found the afterword to be the most interesting part of the book.
7. The Bloody Countess by Valentine Penrose
The Bloody Countess was bloody awful. It purports to be a non-fiction account of the crimes of the Countess Bathory, she who bathed in the blood of young women to retain her beauty, but it was more nonsense than non-fiction. A more melodramatic biography I have never read: infected with overwrought prose, confused organization (if one wants to permit that it had any organization at all) and endless neo-pagan speculation. For example, just one of a million such examples, while freely admitting that the day and hour of the countess's birth is unknown, the author nevertheless proceeded to concoct an extremely detailed astrological chart for her, explaining the significance of each attribute on her personality and ultimate destiny. I could barely read the book for the constant eye-rolling it inspired. Somewhere toward the end the author seems to have forgotten who the book was about and inserted an entire chapter on the trial of Gilles de Rais. I can't imagine how this rubbish got published as serious history to begin with, much less how it got translated and then published again. As a work of disposable dark fantasy it was bad; as a work of scholarship, it was monstrous.
8. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
I read Coraline when it first came out, but as that was more than six years ago, I honestly remembered hardly any of it: just buttons, a horrible mirror world, bizarre neighbors, a cat and the fact that I liked it. Several times I thought I should read it again, but wasn't motivated to do so until now, with the movie finally ready to be released. The advertising for the film makes it look like some sort of pixar/disney happy children's fantasy, which I wasn't expecting, and Coraline herself resembles nothing so much as the lost member of the Incredibles, which really threw me off and convinced me that my recollection of the book must be wildly inaccurate. But no, it is just as I remembered it, dark and creepy, and this does not bode well for the film. I will therefore assume that the advertising is misleading, as it often is. Otherwise, I won't be able to go see it, and I did really want to. The plot of the book is actually fairly thin, but really it wasn't meant to be extremely complex or anything so that's ok. I had completely forgotten about the ghost children.
9. At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances by Alexander McCall Smith
This is the third book in the von Igelfeld series by the author of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books. I suppose this is the reason it is always shelved in the mystery section though it is certainly not of the genre. In fact, they are short, affectionate spoofs of academia, and are really very funny. This one was the most absurd of the three, and not my favorite, but still quite enjoyable.
Well, The Confessions of Lady Nijo, written by a late thirteenth century lady-in-waiting, is not as elegant as the Heian-era diaries, but it's certainly more revealing. Scandalous is really the only word for it. But the quality is actually pretty high, so it's an enjoyable read on several levels. An added interest is that it describes her life after her fall from grace and her many travels as a nun.
11. Novels in Three Lines by Felix Feneon
Novels in Three Lines is a collection of news blurbs written by an anarchist criminal (his mug shot graces the cover) with literary interests and big name literary acquaintances over the course of a year for a French newspaper. He never published any of his own work, and even these little gems would have been lost had his mistress not collected them. They're fascinating bits of information and his compositions are remarkable.
Some things I've learned about France in 1906: the surprising regularity with which people could be counted upon to throw themselves out of windows; the unsurprising frequency of jealous spouses or lovers maiming, disfiguring or killing the ungrateful objects of their affections; the disturbing array of gruesome injuries a person can sustain in the vicinity of a streetcar; the popularity of acid as a weapon ("Love, obviously"); and the astonishing number of possible times one can shoot oneself in the head without fatal result.
Noticed on someone's thread (but don't ask me which one) yesterday their review of Saving Fish From Drowning. They liked it okay, but preferred the pace (faster, they said) of Tan's other books. Fascinating since my take was the opposite :) Just thought you should know my pleasure level (high) was not shared by some others. Of course, it they went into it as a Tan fan (i like the sound of that :) they would be disappointed. My starting point, as you know, was "Tan's ok" and the change in style delighted me.
While I have not read this book by Lady Nijo, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon has an unshakable position in my all-time top 5 favourite books. I can think of no other book I've ever read that so completely bridges 1000 years as this book does. I finished it feeling as if I knew the author as intimately as one of my own family and that she were as flesh and blood, rather than a memory imprisoned in print. I hope one day to obtain the 1967 2-volume version of the book as translated by Ivan Morris - the only complete translation available in English. But that's by-the-by - regarding The Confessions of Lady Nijo, I must make an effort to read it someday soon. Thanks for the review.
#20: the Pillow Book was the second Heian book I read and went a very long way toward establishing my obsession with the era. I, too, would LOVE to get the two-volume translation (I have the abridged in the Columbia edition) but I haven't run across it yet. :(
I actually thought this was pretty good. I liked the themes, the narrative approach, and the characters. It was set in a sort of Dickensian world (though I do hesitate to use such a silly word). I'll probably look into getting the other book that's out that takes place in the same world. I think they'd be good adventurous tales for kids, though I'm not sure how they would fare as an extended series, which from certain indications appears to be the intention.
13. The Seal in the Bedroom and Other Predicaments by James Thurber
This was, despite the enormous reputation of the author, only moderately entertaining.
I hate to even count it in my book list, since I don't count manga (or rather, count it separately) and even the most brain-dead sports manga has way more words than this did. But I don't count pages or words, I count books so in it goes. I won't get any extra credit when I read War and Peace later this year, so it all balances out in the end, I suppose.
14. The Key by Junichiro Tanizaki
The first thing you should know about The Key is that every character in it is utterly and completely depraved. The second thing you should know is that you can't believe a word any of those characters say. But the most important thing you need to know is that it is an excellent example of the literary art.
The story is set out in the diary entries of a husband and wife. Every relationship depicted is deeply, almost pathologically dysfunctional, but fascinating nonetheless. They lie to themselves, they lie to each other, and they know they're lying--and each would be disappointed if either told the truth. And that's just the starting point. One of the characters described the story best when toward the end she wrote: "By comparing entries from that time on (and filling in what we left out), I ought to be able to see how we loved, how we indulged our passions, how we deceived and ensnared each other, until one of us was destroyed."
15. The Kiss Murder by Mehmet Murat Somer
I really liked this. It was highly entertaining. The premise is ridiculous, of course (computer geek-martial arts expert-drag queen solves murders that occur in her general vicinity), but so are those of nearly all mystery novels whose detectives are amateur. Can anyone really imagine any possible scenario in which Miss Marple would actually in real life be able to do any of the things she does? No. So this particular set up is really just an exaggeration. Well, the entire thing is an exaggeration, but it works surprisingly well. The one small issue I had with it is that the voice of the narrator wasn't completely consistent from beginning to end, but it was minor and could be due to a number of factors, and honestly I am convinced that the author was not going for high literature with this scenario. But you can't really get bored with it. It explores as much of the Istanbul underworld as it can manage in just one book. I am very impatiently awaiting the next book in the series.
***A couple of these touchstones are wrong but it won't load the other options so I'm giving up.
Ah, the gothic novel. They get a lot of bad press, but I enjoy them. But defending them is sort of like trying to defend the romance novel genre: anything you might say to explain their excesses seems to make the flaws appear much worse than they really are. They are melodramatic and unrealistic, but this can be said of many a more respectable genre, and at least gothic novels have wonderful scenery. Radcliffe is especially good at painting emotionally evocative scenes of nature. She rarely says it as often as Heian writers do, but one cannot help but think of the phrase "one would have liked to paint the scene".
I was surprised by the assertion in the introduction to this book that the novel's preoccupations were heavily influenced by the monstrous turn the French Revolution took shortly before it was written. The gothic novel as contemporary social commentary? I was dubious. But I kept it in mind as I read and while I can't say I'm completely on board with that assertion, I can at least see it as more than plausible. The most obvious symbol for the violent excesses of the revolution is the Inquisition, which plays a central role of menace in the story. A lot of things about the book surprised me, and I have to admit it is a more complex, far less frivolous novel than I am accustomed to expect from the genre.
17. The Book of the Bizarre by Varla Ventura
I do like reading collections of miscellaneous facts but I sometimes wonder why I indulge myself. The Book of the Bizarre ranges from odd or little-known facts to ghost stories to outright nonsense. One of the first blurbs is recounting as possible or even true a well-known hoax; later it claims that a coven of witches saved England during WWII. I suppose what it really is is a collection of oddities and folk tales, related with complete indifference to what is true and what isn't. I can't really recommend it, but it is not entirely a waste of time, particularly when one considers that it is kept in the bathroom...
18. Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! by Laura Amy Schlitz
This was a good idea. But having read it, I don't really understand what all the amazement was about back when it first came out. It's a solid example of how dramatic narrative can be used as an educational tool, but having attended two different performing arts schools growing up, this does not come as such a revelation to me, so perhaps I am missing something necessary to get as excited about it as everyone else did. But bless that librarian for putting so much effort into encouraging her students.
*another wrong touchstone. they're STILL loading, so if you want to know about The Italian, you'll have to look it up by hand.
Thus Was Adonis Murdered was absurdly entertaining. I giggled almost all the way through it. I read another book in the series, The Sybil in Her Grave, some years ago, and enjoyed it--and had decided that the book following Cantrip was the most appealing installment to read next, only I never got around to it and it was the one in which the almost impossibly silly Julia gets accused of murder in Venice that chance threw in my way at a recent library sale. I will certainly seek out Cantrip's story next.
20. Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers
This was the first (and will likely be the last) Dorothy Sayers mystery novel I have read. Well, Lord Peter Wimsey became considerably more tolerable once his personality had been significantly subdued by a minor nervous breakdown, but he irritated me so much prior to that event that I cannot imagine I would ever be willing to seek him out again. However, I can say nothing at all against the writing; I'm sure if I didn't find the main character to be such a painfully frivolous ass I would have been able to enjoy the book, despite some of its unpleasant biases. But this is just further evidence that it's not that I dislike mystery novels, as I once believed, but that if I dislike the detective, I can't make myself like the story. Up to a certain point in my life I had only read mystery stories with detectives I could not abide, and only gradually did it dawn on me that the character was everything. Well, not everything; I can't make myself like something that is miserably written, even if I don't find the main character intolerable. But in general it is a true statement.
21. Riverside Counselor's Stories: Vernacular Fiction of Late Heian Japan
I actually finished this a while ago. I thought the translator was a little preoccupied with attempting to establish the gender of the individual authors, and on grounds little better than pure speculation or stereotypical gender bias, but the stories were quite readable, the notes were good, and the method of giving, in addition to a general introduction, separate introductions for each story was quite effective. A solid and informative addition to my Heian library.
22. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
I'd been wanting to read one of these for a long time, and it didn't disappoint. I really liked it--the hard-boiled dick, the slick prose, the whole milieu. It was even well plotted. I didn't like the anti-gay comments in this one any more than I liked the Jewish comments in the Sayers novel, or, say, the insinuated misogyny in Nero Wolfe, but I overlook it as a product of a different time, and in this case an ultra-macho culture in which being homosexual was actually criminal. So, whatever. But otherwise I was extremely pleased with it.
Edited cause I had the wrong message number -- that just won't do!!
This is the one volume I have from a set of Casanova's memoirs translated by Arthur Machen. Although I don't doubt it falls into the category of those memoirs of somewhat dubious veracity that regularly become such an embarrassment to Oprah (his astounding memory for dialogue raises eyebrows, if nothing else)---yet one cannot deny that it's a lively, entertaining read. I was expecting to be rather disgusted with him, but oddly, I'm not. Not that I can condone his obsessive sexual mania or his often creative self-justifications, but I also have to admit he doesn't shy from relating some of his less flattering escapades. One thing I can say without any hesitation is that it sure isn't boring. Well, whatever else he is, Casanova is a great writer. I'm definitely going to get the complete set whenever I run across it. It's a damn entertaining story. It's also a fascinating record of an era, and I think everyone could benefit from reading at least some of it.
24. Curios by Richard Marsh
Curios is an early twentieth century collection of a series of loosely connected short stories about two competing collectors, one a shameless hypocrite, and the other... just shameless. The stories were told either by one or the other, and related various adventures, ranging from the criminal to the paranormal, in the pursuit of the most unusual or valuable curiosity. It's really rather funny and a lighthearted read, but absolutely not worth the $16.95 they want to charge you for it. As I paid considerably less and only wanted it to read while on the exercise bike, it was satisfactory.
Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata
You know, Casanova really surprised me, and I honestly do think that his skill as a writer is undeniable. It's really a very enjoyable book. It might not be worth it to you to read the whole thing, but I'd be surprised if you ended up regretting having read some of it.
Notes From Underground was not an enjoyable book to read. So I was surprised to find myself flagging sections, taking notes and just generally being unable to put it down. It was like watching a train wreck. In the first half, the narrator seems to be setting out his general theory, his approach being similar to Pessoa's doctrine of inaction. He seems chiefly interested in proving that man is inherently perverse, inevitably acting in ways that thwart his own interests just because he can; and that this perverse quality cannot be extracted from human nature by the progress of science and reason. In the second half of the book, the narrator appears to be using himself as an object lesson on that same human perversity. If I thought the first half was unpleasant, the second half was much worse. He paints himself as a tortured victim of frustrated vanity, which he unquestionably is, but what is interesting about this is the question of with what skewed or clarity of vision he sees himself. The preoccupation with the era-specific social implications of the theme have largely passed us by, but it's interesting to think about nonetheless. The humor is rather too grim and uncomfortable for me to really appreciate. It was all so grotesque that I found myself thinking that I could not understand why the man did not shoot himself. It is definitely an excellent book, but if you read it, be prepared for a main character who is "a scoundrel ... the most vile, the most ridiculous, the most petty, the most stupid, the most envious of all worms on earth". And he isn't kidding.
26. The Kalahari Typing School for Men by Alexander McCall Smith
Only teared up once this time. I do love these.
ETA PS I'm glad you're finding them helpful or at least not a waste of time ;-> Sometimes I have a knack for things like that. One friend hated shopping. Soon after helping her choose the outfit for her first date with a fellow, she'd just go wait in the fitting room while I brought her clothes -- up to and including the wedding dress to wear with the aforementioned guy.
You obviously do have talent, and a wise friend to let you do the shopping for her!
28. The Seven Lucky Gods of Japan by Reiko Chiba
While I was at the beach this week I was able to go to my favorite bookstore where I bought about 14 books, two of which were these short little books.
The Ansari book was magnificent. I don't know how else to describe it. I'd love to find more of his work. The main attraction of The Seven Lucky Gods of Japan is that it is bound in the traditional manner (though oriented in the western fashion). It's very pretty, and the content is fine, but it's not something that anyone would be likely to seek out especially.
29. Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess
Well, I know I am going to be in the minority in this opinion, but I was a little disappointed with Blueberry Girl. I didn't hesitate to pre-order it because I had read and deeply loved the poem back when Neil posted it on his blog, and I almost always like Vess' artwork, so how could it go wrong? I think what happened is that the poem and the illustrations competed for my attention, rather than complementing each other. The poem was spread out to the point that it was difficult to get a sense of its beauty as a whole, and while the illustrations were fine on their own (well, except for the somewhat disturbing expression of the girl on one of the early pages), I think they tended to overwhelm the content. But I still think it's a great little book, just not to my personal taste.
I've read most of Patricia McKillip's books; she writes simple fantasy stories filled with magic-- nothing too dramatic or pretentious--which I have always enjoyed as a light read. I took this with me to the beach, because it is set on a coast very much like the ones out here that I love so well and at which I spend as much time as I can manage. The magic in this book was rather vague and never explained, but that was less of an issue for me than the fact that the narrative threads weren't really tied together well enough. It was easy to see what she was trying to do with the character of Gwenyth and her writing, but I just don't think it was entirely successful. But I liked it nevertheless; it was a perfect diversion. And of course it has beautiful K.Y. Craft cover art, which is what drew me to her books to begin with all those many years ago.
31. Traveler's Guide to Ancient Egypt by Charlotte Booth (ISBN: 9781435101869)
The Traveler's Guide is really rather charming. It's a general introduction to ancient Egypt, or at least, Thebes in the New Kingdom, written as a travel guide. Its focus is therefore extremely limited, but this allows for more specific detail than is usually given, considering the broad expanse of Egyptian history. The voice of the travel guide is friendly, and it covers everything you'd expect, from points of interest to local history to food and accommodations. I've not read (and am not likely to read) any others in the series (unless they write one for, say, Bronze Age Hattusas) so I can't say whether they're all of a piece, but I suspect they are.
32. Schizophrenia: A Very Short Introduction by Christopher Frith and Eve Johnstone
This is one of Oxford's Very Short Introduction series. I love these. Between the two of us, Matt and I have a dozen of them, and sure to increase in number. This one drops you right into the subject and doesn't waste much time on preliminary remarks. It's very scientifically oriented--this is no Schizophrenia for Dummies. In fact it reminds me vividly of the language of my psychology textbooks in college, but if you're really interested in the subject, it's great stuff. It has the enormous benefit of being co-authored by a very well known clinical psychologist, one instrumental in the study of the treatment of the disease. I had to read her work in school and it's fascinating. So obviously, when I saw who wrote it, I had to get it. But they're both authorities in the field. My interest in schizophrenia, and in psychology in general, stems from the fact that my mother was seriously mentally ill; she was never treated, so a diagnosis of schizophrenia is conjecture but she certainly had a personality disorder and whatever names her several afflictions officially went by, they definitely had psychotic features. Even though she's passed on now, my interest in her illness remains. I have always believed that severe mental illness has a biological, somatic basis, and I am so glad that the trend in clinical study is finally focusing in that direction. This book was published in 2003, and so doesn't include some of the most recent research findings, but it's still a very solid overview of the disease, its history and and current theories.
I love that you've taken personal adversity (or familial adversity) and turned it into something positive.
McKilip! Love her stuff as a rule (but there have been exceptions) -- haven't read this one. And you're right! Her covers are often sooo amazing :)
When I was sick and feverish I found that this is no condition in which to process even an introductory book about schizophrenia. And so I turned to Molesworth, which in my semi-delirious state I could just barely follow. It had a bit of a learning curve, being very much a product of its time--Britain in the 1950s. Luckily, I began reading it before I got sick and so had all my faculties about me. But once the slang had been deciphered, it was not difficult to enjoy all the wonderful satire. It really is very funny... at least I think so. Matt thinks it's deranged. Once I got to the section where Molesworth is imagining himself in the future as a fashion designer making dresses from road kill I began to agree with him. But it's so funny. I thought that in the last book it got rather disorganized and lacked the unifying focus of the earlier books... something I would not have believed it to possess until I missed it.
34. The Princess of Cleves by Madame de Lafayette
I did not read The Princess of Cleves to spite the French president, though I do think that's a brilliant way to protest against your government. I had it at the top of my reading list even before I found out about that but I did think it was pretty funny. I know I've read at least part of it before, if not the whole thing, but I'm beginning to think I should reread everything I last read as a teenager anyway because nothing is at all the same for a 15 year old as it is for a thirty-something. Sometimes it's as though they're completely different books. Plus my memory stinks.
I had sort of an unusual experience with The Princess of Cleves. First, I couldn't help but notice the similarities between the way the Duke de Nemours was described and Murasaki's descriptions of Genji. Later I was able to make a further connection in that they both concern themselves with the proscribed personal and social space of women in high society, using relationships with men as the catalyst for introspection. This is a much more individual experience in Lafayette's book than in Murasaki's. But despite their similar concepts, a textual comparison of the two works leads exactly nowhere. (Though it is difficult not to see a clear parallel between the Princess' actions after her husband's death and Ukifune's struggle...) A more profitable investigation is into the circumstances of the two major choices the main character makes in the course of the novel: first, to tell her husband that she was in love with another man, and then when she becomes free to marry that man, declines to do so. The historical discussions seem to be preoccupied with whether or not the Princess should have made the decisions she did, and secondarily, how realistic those choices were. But the text seems to invite the reader to wonder rather why she made them. The book is filled with various examples of women in society, related as tales or gossip (all inserted into the narrative before she makes her pivotal choices) and these have a strong impact on the Princess. They are clearly included for a reason, and I think the examples of virtuous or less-than-virtuous women, compared with the moralistic intentions of the Princess, is where to find the answer. It seems to me she chose to remain consistent with, and in control of, herself. It wasn't as much that she believed that she couldn't trust Nemours specifically, but that the wisdom she gained led her to the conclusion that she couldn't trust the nature of the relationship itself. She prized her own peace of mind above all else. She wanted an ideal, and finally came to believe that the ideal couldn't survive reality: "she decided it was better to live with the doubt than to take the chance of discovering the truth." It's interesting as a psychological novel, but it's also pretty good historical fiction--written in the 17th century and set in the 16th. But if it was just historical fiction, the princess would have made the opposite decisions.
35. Prince Bantam by May McNeer
Prince Bantam is a fantastic book. It's a retelling of the Yoshitsune legend, taken largely from the 15th century collection of stories about him and Benkei, various Noh plays and other old legends. It was written by May McNeer in 1929 and illustrated by her husband Lynd Ward. He is most well known for his wordless novels, but he did illustrations as well. His work is wonderful. I was lucky enough to find a copy of this book in excellent condition and while I at first did not think I needed yet another version of the later Yoshitsune legends, I was so struck by the art that I just could not leave it behind. It is also wonderfully written, and the edition itself is lovely: well-bound with a decorated cover, watercolor dust jacket, thick stiff paper, beautifully printed. I think the only flaw in this is that it includes the legend that Yoshitsune escaped to north Asia and became Genghis Khan. But I can't really blame it for that; it was a popular legend, and it's appropriate material to use as an epilogue, but I just thought it jarred.
I really liked this one. Shoryu and Enki were the most intriguing characters from the first book, and I loved getting to read a whole book focused just on them. She really did a good job with this. I enjoyed the second book, but not as well. And I still think the first one was the best. The usual sloppy proofreading on Tokyo Pop titles applies here, but I'm just glad the series wasn't a casualty of their down-sizing.
37. A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich
I really wanted to like it, but I couldn't help but notice a few things from the very beginning. First, there were several errors in the chapter on Egypt--obvious mistakes, things that were well-known even in the thirties when this was written--which made me wonder about the general accuracy of the rest of the book. But they were minor flaws and even I would venture to say, pretty inconsequential. I pass over the apparent belief in the historicity of the bible in silence, which brings me to a more general concept that I'm not comfortable with presenting to children as a universal truth, that being the insinuation that "hero" always equals "warrior". And I'm not reading anything into it: the chapter title says "Heroes and Their Weapons". Which basically says it all.
I'm not sure I can fault the book for this, particularly considering its age, but it seems to me to be a full endorsement of the classical approach to history: those who kill the most are the most important. I suppose I had hoped for more in a publication intended to interest young children in world history. It illustrates for me the dangers inherent in relying on only one source. This is a bad source. Not the worst, certainly, but even setting aside for the moment its factual errors, it's annoyingly skewed. For example, all of Alexander's wars of conquest were wonderful, "thrilling" even, but those of almost everyone else were very bad. Historical rapers and pillagers that the author admires are good, and those that he doesn't are bad. He's obviously in love with ancient Greece (hardly a unique bias, it is true), and I learned from him that everything they did was magnificent, especially the Athenians; that ancient Rome's best feature was that they "instinctively" knew that ancient Greece was way better; and that there is nothing positive in all of human history since then that did not come from looking back to Greece. There's little to no reality injected into this survey, and where he can't help but get too close to the miserable truth of certain events, particularly those that don't reflect well on his own culture, they get specifically passed over, as he admits himself. The rest get utterly ignored as if they didn't exist. I realize this is for children, and also that anything so enormous as the entire span of human history cannot possibly be condensed without being at least a little misleading, but I do not believe that this is the best we can do.
And this is not a history of the world. This is a history of Europe, primarily the western part. Very little is said about anywhere else. Perhaps people are so besotted with this book because there are few even halfway readable general history books for children, but I wouldn't give it to my child, if I had any, without spending a lot of time in discussion with them about questions of accuracy, skewed viewpoints, cultural egotism, and the dangerous temptation to ignore unpleasant mistakes of the past, to name just a few. All of this makes it sound like I have animosity toward the book, which is untrue. I almost don't care a thing about it. My response is instead a reaction to the general adulation the book has received. It is this that I object to. Philip Pullman is a perfect example. I really love his writing, but I must disagree with his opinion of this book: he found it to be brilliant, irresistible and a wonderful surprise, and even if I were willing to agree with that opinion I would have to counter that it is also inaccurate, skewed and unreliable.
38. The Black Death: A Personal History by John Hatcher
This isn't strictly history, nor is it exactly fiction. Therefore, the historian author spends the entire introduction attempting to excuse himself from what is arguably the greatest crime a historian can commit: making things up. Personally, I think he's worrying too much. What he's done is take one town in England that has really excellent records, and combined with his own extensive knowledge of the period, tries to give the reader an idea of what it was like for the average medieval person to live through the devastation of the plague. If you look at it as history that is slightly more engaging than usual, it's pretty good, but as a work of imaginative fiction it falls flat. However, as historical fiction was expressly not the author's goal, that's fine. The character of the narrator as a clerical chronicler living shortly after the plague is totally unconvincing beyond the first chapter--it reads more like the author himself in his brief preface to each chapter--but the characters of the townspeople are believable enough to convey the author's intention of a moment of history as experienced by individuals. Really it's not bad for someone obviously unskilled in the writing of fiction.
Just remembered that someone somewhere has done a genius parody of the Harry Potter novels in the style of Molesworth which had me absolutely crying with laughter.... wonder if I can find the link.
ETA: Hurrah! Ho for hoggwarts...
I almost never do this, but I decided to abandon it. I've just decided to start giving myself a break and not force myself to finish something for no better reason than the fact that I began it. I have previously read all of the stories in this book except the last one. I got about halfway through it before I realized that I was bored with it and would rather be reading something else. It's not that the writing is bad; I just don't care. I'm not in the mood for it. The title story is a sort of allegory for the journey of the soul's evolution, but it just had too many symbols for my personal taste. The second story, The Sandman, is bizarrely fascinating, and suggested to me that I would probably have been able to maintain my interest if the collection had included more of his darker stories. The third story--more of a novella, really--I remembered from my past reading to be interminable, and this is where I gave up. I thought about just skipping ahead to Master Flea, also novella length, which I remember that I liked, or only reading the last story, but by then I just didn't care anymore.
A note about the edition: This copy is one of the Oxford World's Classics series. They've recently redesigned them, and I was initially pleased about this because I like the new cover style, but when I opened it up, I felt like I had suddenly become roughly 85 years old. The print is so tiny! I thought maybe I was mistaken, I am getting older, after all, and my vision is not what it used to be, but I checked in my other books in the series and the old print was much more readable. I got used to it fairly quickly, but was that really necessary?
40. Tokyo Year Zero by David Peace
The problem with adopting an unusual narrative style is that it will inevitably irritate somebody. In this case, I'm that somebody. But however annoying it may have been on occasion, there's no doubt that it was highly effective. So, I suppose all this really means is that no matter how well I end up liking it, I could never be persuaded to read it a second time. And I did really like it. It was not pleasant, but it was absolutely riveting. I originally noticed it because it concerned the crimes of a serial killer in Japan just after WWII that I had heard of before, but the book is about more than that; it's about the psychology of a nation in defeat, the society twisted and warped from what it had been, about the pressures on the individual in the upheaval, the difficulties of identity in chaos. So, appropriately, the two main figures in the book, the killer and the detective, are insane in one way or another. If the constant use of present tense, endless repetition and prolific use of Japanese sound effects aren't enough to keep you away, it's a solid book and I'd recommend it.
41. The Selected Poems of Po Chu-i (or Bai Juyi)
I took the opportunity to observe National Poetry Month and read the only book I've been able to find of Po Chu-i's work. Now, I have little to no interest in ancient Chinese poetry, nor am I competent to evaluate it. The only reason I sought this out is because he was popular in the Heian period and I thought it would be good to get an idea of his work since it's referenced all the time. I'm not sure this book actually assisted me in that goal. The agenda of the editor was to bring together poems that illustrated Chu-i's interest in what seems to me to be a combination of Taoism and Zen-like Buddhism. Most of the poems focus on that, and a tiny little bit of his work that is politically critical, and that's it. His most famous poem, The Song of Unending Sorrow, isn't even in here. I had to go look it up in the Columbia Anthology of Classical Chinese Literature.
42. Jeeves in the Offing by P.G. Wodehouse
43. Vampire Hunter D: Pale Fallen Angels books 3 &4
The Jeeves and Vampire Hunter D books were more of the same, but I thought the Jeeves was a little loose this time--unusual to find even a small plot hole in one of those books.
44. Medea by Euripides, translated by Robin Robertson
Medea has always been one of my favorite plays, so when I saw a new translation of it in the bargain bin, it seemed an excellent excuse to read it again. I am always highly dubious about translations into the "vernacular". I just do not think a great work of art is likely to be improved by translating it into the utterly impoverished and degenerate English most of us use on a daily basis. While I do not think this translation was insulting to the work or to the intelligence of the reader, I just don't see the point of it. The old Penguin edition I have of it is totally readable as English, and the syntax isn't even complicated or confusing, and I'm sure it's not the only one available, so, why? Why do this? As usual, I sound more hostile to the book than I really feel, but it did make me want to go read a less bald translation.
45. The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime
On the evidence of The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime it would appear that I do not care for caper stories. Most of the plots are painfully obvious, but some are entertaining. When I first saw it, I was disappointed that it was so thin, but now I'm glad it's not longer. At least the introduction wasn't needlessly academic: a description of the genre, the extremely specific guidelines for inclusion in the collection, and a quick overview. I thought I would really enjoy these but maybe the fault lies more with the editor's personal choice? I don't know.
46. The History of the West Wing
This is stunning. It's a beautiful graphic novel adaptation of a classical Chinese play about two young lovers, and the pictures are absolutely gorgeous. Wow, wow. The story and the characters are nothing special, but there's nothing wrong with them either, and it's worth it just to look at.
47. The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
I've read this about half a dozen times but now I have my own copy of it. It's just a sweet story.
48. The Miracle of Water by Masaru Emoto
This inspirational book was a nice idea, so long as you focus on the message of love and gratitude and the pretty pictures of water crystals and pass over all the nonsense about bad vibes causing natural disasters. The reasoning is largely bogus from a scientific point of view, but it's still a nice idea that the words we use carry with them vibrations that have an effect on ourselves and our environment, and that by being more careful, and changing the way we express ourselves we can also change our lives. Plus, the pictures are pretty.
49. The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith
I loved The Vicar of Wakefield and its benignly hypocritical narrator. While the plotting was obvious (as was the secret identity of one of the characters), it was well done, and the humor--I would venture to call quite a bit of it satire-- was gentle and unselfconscious. I think I was most surprised by what an expert piece of writing it is. I will definitely read it again.
50. Playing for the Ashes by Elizabeth George
I wasn't as bowled over by Playing for the Ashes as many of the author's fans seem to be. What I like about her stories (apart from how exquisitely she tortures Lynley) is how real her secondary characters are and the veracity of her depictions of their circumstances, and that was very strong in this book. But I had zero respect for Olivia, and ended up disgusted with her for never ever managing to take responsibility for herself or her actions, not even once. Whatever her personal growth, she never deviates from her pattern of thrusting responsibility onto someone else, relieving herself of making the hard decisions. So, as a result I think I was unable to really get into the emotional drama of the novel. Well, that, and the fact that the identity of the murderer was obvious at once...
I think it's rather a convenient--if not actually a cheap--trick to have Lavinia believe so strongly in oracles that she's more than willing to marry a total stranger, a foreigner, an enemy. Making her a willing pawn doesn't make her any less of a commodity. It's highly unrealistic... forcing you to view the entire tale, along with Vergil, as total fabrication. What I don't understand is how that concept furthers our understanding of Lavinia? Of the poem itself? Of Vergil and his ideas about Octavian and the Roman state? It's a nice enough story--though it did bore me occasionally--I just don't see what she's trying to say with it. Maybe nothing. Or rather, maybe it's nothing more than a desire to give more screen time to a character that got shortchanged in the poem. Maybe I just expected too much of it.
52. Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
I LOVED Farewell, My Lovely, and I will bless the man for the rest of my life for that one crack about Hemingway. Bless him, bless him. I am very excited about reading more of his books.
53. The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon (translated by Meredith McKinney)
This is a new translation of the Pillow Book. It's quite good, and doesn't leave anything out. She uses some different texts than Ivan Morris did, and I think it's a good addition to his translation for someone who loves the work.
54. Moomin (book 4) by Tove Jansson
I guess Moomin is one of those things that you either love or think is monumentally silly. I love it.
55. The Magician by W. Somerset Maugham
The best way I can describe The Magician is as a gothic folly. It is almost convincing as a sort of hybrid Poe/Lovecraft horror, but not quite. You just don't believe in it consistently. Still, he has created an impressive, classically evil villain, and even managed to give the whole thing a society flair. Fun, I suppose, but not great. I enjoyed it as a diversion.
56. Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale
Oh, I really liked this. I even got a little teary at the end. I read The Princess Academy and I did like it but I wasn't so crazy about it that I had to go find her other books. I got the impression that as an author she was probably hit-or-miss in terms of my interest in her work. Nothing else grabbed my attention until I saw this, and the blurb reminded me of one of my favorite fairy tales. Upon further investigation it seemed I was correct in thinking it was an adaptation. I've enjoyed every reworking of the story that I've ever read, so I was excited about it. I just think it has so much potential, and it's very interesting psychologically: a girl refuses to marry a man who changes into a beast and she gets locked up in a tower. Rather than exploit that particular approach, Hale created a very endearing character in the maid to the lady who is imprisoned, and the story is really about her. I thought it was great. I was also pleased to see that Hale made arrangements to donate a portion of the proceeds to Heifer International, an organization that I also support.
57. The Tale of Murasaki by Liza Dalby
I can't help but think I would have enjoyed it more if it didn't strike me so strongly as being primarily a vehicle for the author's own interpretation of the Genji: what it means, what Murasaki intended. She fills the narrative with her own experience of writing, heavily clichéd, and attributes it to Murasaki. She takes a similarly unoriginal approach to Murasaki's creativity and has her life populated with acquaintances and circumstances almost identical to those of the Genji, thereby conveniently "explaining" how she came up with them.
While I don't object to the idea of Murasaki having homosexual tendencies, I just don't understand the point of it. It's an interesting choice, but what is the author trying to suggest by presenting the author of the Genji as a lesbian?
It's not truly a bad book. The problems I have with it are exactly those that I expected: when you have a real person and a substantial body of work, any fictionalizing you do to them are likely to turn some people off if it differs from their own impressions. I can accept that her ideas on the subject are quite different from mine, it just means that I can't identify with it. I would like to say that it would be a good read for someone who hadn't read any of Murasaki's writing if I wasn't afraid of it prejudicing the perception of those who might read it in the future.
But in the end it bored me nearly senseless. I just can't help but feel that it was totally unoriginal. However, one can hardly write even a fictional biography of someone who in fact wrote their own diary without using large quantities of it. I know I can't blame her for that. I can't even blame her for similarly pillaging other sources (making one of Murasaki's friends identical to a character in The Lady Who Loved Vermin, for instance). I think all this was meant to either (1) lend credibility to the account for people who have not read Murasaki's diary or poetic memoir, or (2) give a little pleasant thrill of recognition to those who had. Or both. It did not give me a pleasant thrill. I found it tiresome. I was insulted when Dalby gave credit for some of the best choices Murasaki made in the writing of her novel to her fictional friends: how to end the Asagao storyline; adding in her daughter Tamakazura to use later; how to handle the death of Genji; and many others. Dalby has Murasaki follow the apparently brilliant suggestions of her friends and associates, rather than come up with any of these ideas herself. This shouldn't be surprising since she also didn't give Murasaki credit for coming up with a single original idea for characters or plot lines.
I declined to read the epilogue in which Dalby takes it upon herself to "finish" the Genji. I knew nothing she could write would fail to disgust me so I skipped it.
I came away from this with two conclusions:
1. I'd rather read a book about Izumi Shikibu. She was just more interesting.
2. Anyone who wants to read about Murasaki's life should read her own words on the subject. There are many more words in Dalby's novel but they do not add anything to the original material and certainly do not improve upon it.
And while I've got you on the line, thanks for your thread. I always enjoy your reviews.
58 - 59: Cirque du Freak books 5 & 6 by Darren Shan
I had taken quite a long hiatus from this series, but it wasn't difficult to pick up again. I thought book 5 (Trials of Death) was just ok, but book 6 (The Vampire Prince) was much more interesting as it finally gets the story moving again.
60. The Kiss of Death by Marcus Sedgwick
This is the sequel to My Swordhand is Singing. It was not as good as the first one, which was pretty solid, and it would not have been able to stand on its own merit, but I did quite enjoy it.
61. The Black Doll by Edward Gorey
I had never read a silent screenplay before. It did not tax my imagination, but as usual with Edward Gorey, I liked it a lot. It was an excellent edition, attractive to look at and reprinting an interview with him on the subject of the screenplay, but what I was most pleased by was that I finally had the source of the references to the black doll in his other books. The Willowdale Handcar, for instance.
62. The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe
This is less a review and more just some of the notes I made while I was reading it. I can't bring myself to actually organize it any further, and you wouldn't want to read it anyway, as this is only about one-fifth of what I actually wrote about it.
The translator suggested in the introduction that based on the word used in the original German, a more appropriate rendering of the title would be The Suffering of Young Werther. After reading about half of it, I propose a further modification to the title: The Totally Self-Inflicted Sorrows of Young Werther. Oh, I know he's supposed to be the embodiment of the pure artistic temperament and everything but to me he just seems classically bi-polar.
On the whole, he's delusional, fanatic, lunatic. He is utterly unreal, and his challenge is to exist within, or maybe rather co-exist with the mundane world of life as it really is. He embraces the patriarchal ideal as a sort of pastoral perfection, but he is not willing to take upon himself the practical responsibility that such a social system places on the male. He insists upon existing in some sort of fantasy land, unencumbered by the toil and necessity of normal life. All this is supposed to illustrate that the fully artistic, inner life is totally incompatible with everyday existence, but he comes off as a maniac. I think that rather than impressing me with the positive strength of a character filled with transcendent passion, I am left with the opposite idea: the deep wisdom of enforcing control over one's passions and the danger of surrendering to them.
63. Cousin Kate by Georgette Heyer
Oh, what a bunch of nonsense. I hadn't gotten more than a few chapters into it before I thought that if one more person told Kate what an unusual girl she is, I was going to fling the book to the floor and refuse to touch it again. Well, it was an experiment, and one I do not mean to repeat. It was alright, I suppose, for what it was, but I would have stopped reading it if Philip hadn't appeared just when he did to give the narrative some badly needed reason. Some blurb on the back matter says that it's impossible to dislike Kate, which possibly may be true; I didn't dislike her exactly, but I couldn't like her either. At any rate, I'm certainly not capable of enduring another of Heyer's high-spirited heroines, of that I am convinced. One more flashing eye and I'll lose my lunch. I never found the book more annoying than when Kate and her nurse were trying to outdo each other in nattering on in the most lively, high-spirited, flippant, utterly empty-headed and superficial fashion. But at least it had an excellent villain that came to an appropriately bad end. Honestly, I read a lot of high-calorie, low-nutrient fiction (see the vampire novels above), so it's not that I object to it on that account, and probably I wouldn't mind watching it as a tv movie or something, but I think to enjoy something like this it really has to be right up your alley and this just wasn't for me.
64. The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner
I really liked this. It drew me in from the very beginning, which I was not expecting at all. It is wildly implausible, and it just didn't matter. The story centers around a gypsy boy who ends up helping his aristocratic sweetheart escape the clutches of an evil villain. I am very much looking forward to the sequel, where Yann is apparently going to set himself up as a sort of Scarlet Pimpernel, trying to help people escape the French Revolution. I liked it right away, which surprised me, and I ended up reading it in little bits to make it last as long as possible.
65 - 66: 靴下にゃんこ―毎日なんだかシアワセ and
Ok...ordinarily I would never count books with so little actual text, but these are different. First, they're in Japanese. My Japanese is so poor as to be practically non-existent, which explains why completing them is such an achievement in my mind. And second, they are undoubtedly two of the most exciting books I will read all year. Well, they are to me, because I love them so much. They are about a black cat who likes to wear socks, and his excruciatingly cute kitten friends. Oh, my God, they are so cute you could actually expire from saccharine overload. Anyway, the characters are from a line of San-X merchandise, and is my very favorite. Ever.
67. Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things . . .: That Aren't as Scary, Maybe, Depending on How You Feel About Lost Lands, Stray Cellphones, ... So Maybe You Could Help Us Out
The title of this book pretty much tells you everything you need to know about it--literally, of course, but also figuratively. Because the name is clearly trying to be oh, so amusing and clever, but isn't quite, and you could say the same for most of the stories in it. Not all, which is, in my opinion, its only saving grace. Truly, I would like to be rid of it, but I will keep it, if for no other reason than one day I might acquire a small nephew, who would be far more likely to enjoy it.
68. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor
Elizabeth Taylor is the most accomplished poet of quiet desperation I have ever read. This was not the best book by her that I've read, but it did absolutely nothing to diminish my considerable esteem for her work. I can understand why some people can be put off by her books; there's rarely anything even remotely resembling what could be called "action", and if there is, it happens off screen. And she will usually involve some adolescent characters that are wonderful parallels and contrasts to the adult characters and relationships, but that in and of themselves can be annoying despite being sympathetically portrayed. And this book seemed to wander around in a way the others I've read didn't, a contrast to her usually tight narrative. It was confused and dilatory, but that seemed only to perfectly mirror the inner state of the two main characters, seen in Vesey's aimless existence and Harriet's isolated and untethered inner emotional world. I made this last nearly two and half weeks because I was so enjoying it, even the physical experience of reading it. My copy is a special edition Virago Modern Classics, hardcover, with a textile pattern over the covers. It was a true pleasure to read, and I savored every page.
69. Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
This was grotesquely fascinating. The tension was so strong, the fascination so compelling and yet repellent, that I actually had a hard time reading it. I found myself really wanting to read it, but had to force myself to actually finish it. I was drawn inexorably on but didn't actually want to look at the devastation sure to come at the end, so strongly did she make me feel the emotion, the neurotic strain. I thought her portrayal of the two main characters was excellent, individually complex and yet connected to each other. The semi-unconscious attraction Charles felt for Guy was at once obvious and understated. It was absolutely uncomfortable to read, but this is an effect of how superbly the story is rendered.
70. Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn
This is exactly the sort of book I would have loved when I was about ten years old. I was surprised to find it so engaging even now. It's just a simple, rather traditional ghost story, but it was much more effective than I was expecting. Short and quick, it makes me want to try another of her books.
71. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey
This was so funny--sort of a character comedy--and I actually burst out laughing more than once. But by the time I finished it, I couldn't decide if I thought it was even better tragedy than comedy. You could easily describe it as either--the events of the book revolve around a household preparing for a wedding, the bride requiring half a bottle of rum to get down the aisle--but reading it is an unmistakable mix of both. It's definitely worth the small amount of time it takes to read it. The one unfortunate thing about it is that the bride's mother reminded me so much of my own mother-in-law and I felt just a little bit guilty for laughing at her. ...But only the tiniest bit. ^_^
Also may I suggest The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler its my favourite after Farewell My Lovely.
I have The Red Necklace home from the library at present, I've enjoyed all of Sally Gardner's books. I've read all the Darren Shan vampire books and loved the initial ones, further along there are good reads and ok ones, but I was keen to see how he tied up the series. I've also read a lot of his Demonata series and am keen to read the adult ones he wrote under D B Shan. My 15yr old is a keen Shan fan. The Cirque du Freak movie trailer just came out yesterday, though it is only loosely based on the first couple of books. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJL2wP1GagI
Yay for The Story of Ferdinand as well, I've got an early edition of this and it's one of my favourite children's stories.
I've not read the Ripley books and I've not seen the film either, because the blurbs just didn't catch my interest. But now that I've read one of her books, lackluster blurb be damned--I'm going to read it!
>62 avatiakh: When I read the first Cirque du Freak book I really thought it was probably one of the best books ever written for younger boys. Not that I've ever been one, of course, but it just seemed to have everything. I thought it was completely brilliant. I have the first book of the Demonata series sitting here, but I've not gotten around to it yet. Even when I'm sort of ho-hum about one of his books, I still think he is an excellent writer for the audience, and I really respect his approach. I read the introduction he wrote for an edition of Huckleberry Finn and it was so good, I even got a little teary. It made me almost want to read it again, and I've never liked that book.
I think the possible associations with nationalist Irish literature are really just too vague and ambiguous to be of any interest or impact in the reading of this. It is an excellent lesbian vampire tale, certainly the best I've ever read, without trying to give it the trappings of a political statement.
73. Diary of a Mad Old Man by Junichiro Tanizaki
**Those of a Puritanical persuasion ought to skip this review as sexual depravity, fictional and non, is discussed. Just remember, I warned you!
Ah, jeez. Another depraved old geezer literally killing himself for a few sexual thrills. This is a sort of companion to The Key, and also told in diary form, but this time the thrills are largely vicarious, as this old guy is impotent. He's infatuated with his daughter-in-law, who lets him... uh, how to put this... caress her in various ways while she's in the shower in exchange for money, gifts, and him keeping his toothless mouth shut when she brings her lover home on the odd afternoon. (I bet you want to read it now, huh?) Those two are the only utterly depraved characters in this book, rather than the entire cast in The Key, but otherwise there's not that great a difference between them. The major themes are largely the same. It doesn't surprise me at all that these days they are published together in one book. Mine are really old individual paperbacks. In different circumstances I'd think that a novelist's obsession with old men who are themselves unhealthily obsessed with sex to the point that it actually precipitates their demise was more of an artistic interest he wanted to explore and not actually representative of the general population. Except that my father is one of those men. Actually, he could be both of them. He's married to a nymphomaniac and had a major stroke, much like the guy from The Key, and when I lived with him for a couple of years when I was 18 and 19, he used to stand outside my bathroom door when I was in the shower, monitoring my bathing habits. (I moved out as quickly as possible.) So these books have for me an "ick" factor that they wouldn't otherwise have. I'm not sure I could actually stomach them if it weren't for the excellent writing. But he's such a good author, it is even worth feeling like I'm reading about my own father's geriatric sex life.
74.The Convict's Sword by I.J. Parker
I thought this particular Akitada novel was more of a soap opera than a mystery, but it was alright. The murder mysteries seemed to take a backseat to melodrama and were eventually solved by the characters practically falling over the answers at the last minute more than anything else. And Tamako was such a heinous bitch in this one that now I hope she gets killed off or replaced by a secondary wife or something further on in the series. I was not expecting her to be a character I'd end up disgusted with. Also, just as a technical aside, there were some unusual sloppy proofreading issues, which surprised me. I really like this series in general, and this one was certainly interesting, but I'm sorry I can't agree with the author that it's her best work so far.
75. The Story of Gio by Ridgely Torrence
First, I have to explain what this is and how I acquired it. This book was printed in 1935 in a print run of only a thousand copies. It is an adaptation of the first chapter of the Heike monogatari, that work with which I am inexplicably and totally obsessed. I was in Powell's yesterday to finally use a $100 gift card I had stowed away, and I made my way to the Japanese literature section, without high expectations because they rarely have much in the way of unusual Heian books. It may have been because of students selling their Japanese Classical Literature required reading at the end of the semester, but I ended up with a dozen books (and overspent my gift card by $150....). This one is very tall and thin, and the title isn't written on the spine, so it was from nothing more than a desire for completeness that I pulled it off the shelf to see what it was. Upon reading the title, I knew exactly what it had to be, and got a little choked up. (As I mentioned before---totally obsessed.) It is a beautiful book physically, and this one is in pretty good condition for its age. The inside pages are pristine. The adaptation is lovely, and only occasionally a tiny bit awkward in the wording. In fact, it is almost total perfection. I had to read it right away, and then I read it again later. However, what should have been the crown jewel of my haul turned out to be only an especially delicious appetizer because I also found an older translation of the Heike that I don't already have and that is astonishingly engaging. I am partial to McCullough's translation, but I admit I was feeling mighty disloyal as I stood in the aisle totally engrossed in this edition. I cannot wait to read it. What heaven is this!
And there it is! 75 books!
It was such a pleasure to read Catherine's story, however self-serving her version may have been, that I dragged it out for more than a week. The introduction was excellent, the notes were good, and the translation was clear. I have found myself over the years more and more interested in memoirs, but only of people or about events that were truly extraordinary. This one obviously conforms to that requirement, but it's something I've wanted to read since I was a teenager. I've always been fascinated by her, and now I am particularly interested in the events and literature of the eighteenth century in general and this work covers both nicely.
77. The High Window by Raymond Chandler
I think these are some of the best books ever written. They are so perfectly what they are, totally without flaws, that they almost elevate the dirty noir crime novel to the level of literature with a capital L.
78. Tales of Yamato
A good translation, in general. As far as the text goes, it's not Tales of Ise, but then, what is? I find it odd that the oldest versions, the Rokujo line, known to differ quite significantly from the later line, are not the texts most widely studied or published, despite clearly being the closest proximity we have to the original work as it was known in the Heian period. The extra contextual information given in this volume was excellent.
79. Ten Thousand Leaves: Love Poems from the Manyoshu translated by Harold Wright
I was not impressed with it. I disagree with the practice of trying to force a translation into the meter of the Japanese form; the poems are so difficult to translate to begin with, and they are always filled with double meanings, so I tend to think it is unconscionable to so severely limit them. And I found the whole book a little annoying, not least because the translations were not ideal. They were often awkward, sometimes almost silly. The authors of the poems were given (when known), but only in the back, in a list, with notes that I consider to be marginal. The book was copiously illustrated, with apparently random Japanese images, only occasionally having relevance to the poems near where they are placed and almost never even remotely near the appropriate period. I obviously am aware that not a lot of painting has survived from 8th century Japan, but probably they could have found images closer in time than the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Personally, I think they should have limited themselves to natural images, as the poetry is lousy with them, they are era-neutral except to the expert in Japanese painting, and it would have prevented, for instance, the unpleasant jarring that was the result of being confronted with the image of an eighteenth century prostitute totally out the blue, apparently for no other reason than the translator/editor/publisher liked it. I have previously read a wonderful book of love poems from the Manyoshu (Love Songs from the Man'yoshu: Selections from a Japanese Classic featuring the magnificent art of Miyata Masayuki), and I found them to be extremely compelling and astonishing in their immediacy. These, however, I could not begin to care about. I have yet another book of Manyoshu poems, so I will try again later and I hope next time the translations will have more respect for the content than for the form.
80. Kwaidan by Lafcadio Hearn
I already knew or have read almost all of these stories before, but I enjoyed them anyway. He's just a good story-teller.
81. Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
I had no idea this book existed until I saw the previews for the movie. I was surprised that I'd never read it so, now I have. It was cute.
82. Gilles de Rais by A.L. Vincent and Claire Binns
A general history book on Gilles de Rais from 1924. The psychobabble is pretty much nonsense and should be overlooked. The claim was seriously made that all alcoholics are homosexuals. Well, it's old and they really believed that stuff back then. But as a basic biography it's pretty fair. They omitted all references to sodomy in the partial excerpt of the trial transcripts, but I have a full copy of that somewhere else. Really, I did not buy this as an educational book, and it certainly can't be treated as an authority; I got it because I really enjoy reading old books of various kinds. I just think it's interesting.
83. East of the Sun and West of the Moon by Kay Nielsen
I have wanted this book for the better part of my life. I am thrilled that they have finally republished it, and in an edition that does it justice. It is simply wonderful.
84. The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet by Arturo Perez-Reverte
I love this series. They are quick, engaging adventure stories set in 17th century Spain, by an author that usually spends his time writing much more serious literature. He obviously loves writing these just as much as his fans love reading them, and that lends them even more charm. The books have always been as much about Inigo and Angelica as they are about Captain Alatriste himself, and this installment really cements that, finally giving us several of the dramatic events that have been promised from early on in the story. I'm not a fan of swashbucklers, so my initial interest really took me by surprise, but it has been justified through five books with consistently excellent story-telling.
85. Lesley Castle by Jane Austen
While the stories/fragments in this collection are not exactly works of staggering genius, it truly is astonishing to see how phenomenal her talent was even as a teenager. I obviously prefer her more mature and sophisticated later novels, but I did quite enjoy these. I don't know that anyone who isn't a particular fan of hers would care much about them, though.
86. Kappa by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
This is a novella by one of my favorite authors, more known for his superlative short stories. It was an amusing satire, but I will want to read it again in a more modern translation. This one was produced in Japan just after WWII by a translator who, while obviously skilled, was not an expert in English. It's a great little edition with a lot of history that I am quite pleased to have, but it's not exactly an authoritative text, and I'm fairly sure it was at least slightly censored.
87. Cybele's Secret by Juliet Marillier
This is the sequel to Wildwood Dancing and follows Paula on a trip to Constantinople. It's a nice fantasy and a good follow-up. The one problem with it I had was that Paula's character wasn't as individual as I would have liked; apart from different props, it was sometimes hard to see any difference between her and the protagonist from the last book. The other characters were strongly defined, though. I assume she will write another one of these for Stella. It was strongly hinted, anyway.
88. Abhorsen by Garth Nix
It was a great series and I made it last for as long as I could stand it. I am truly impressed with the whole thing. I have a hard time believing anything else he's written could possibly be as good.
89. The Miscellany of a Japanese Priest by Kenko
This version of the Tsurezuregusa (more well-known by the title of a later translation: Essays in Idleness) was translated in 1914 by the same guy who did a version I previously read of Tosa nikki. I didn't worry about getting an old translation because I thought his rendering of that was fine. I did a quick of comparison between this translation and a partial one I have in an anthology and it's certainly more immediate and has more personality than the newer translation. I've not read Donald Keene's translation yet, so I can't compare it with that, but it's quite an enjoyable read. The only negative is when he eliminates various sections as "not suitable for English translation". Every time I hit one of those I became totally indignant. Oh, it's so annoying. But obviously I will obtain Donald Keene's translation one of these days and remedy the issue. I also found it annoying that he felt the need to introduce rhyme into the translations of the poems, which simply doesn't exist in the original, but compared with other crimes perpetrated against Japanese poetry in English translation, it's actually not that bad.
90. The Sin of Father Amaro by Eca de Queiros
This was excellent. It was so much more than satire, though it was unquestionably brilliantly satirical. It had everything, including one of the most pathetic scenes I've read in quite a long time, where Joao Eduardo is leaving the house with a roll of wallpaper patterns to show Amelia, when he gets her letter breaking off the engagement. I felt so sorry for him I nearly cried, and I didn't even like him at that point in the novel. It was all brilliantly done, right down to the end when we finally get a counterpoint to the corruption of the church in the person of the pure, but still human, village abbot. I'd love to read more of his books.
91. The Empire of Darkness by Christian Jacq
I got this because I wanted to read historical fiction set in ancient Egypt from someone who would not insult my intelligence or make gross historical errors, and in this, at least, I was not disappointed. Unfortunately, the characters didn't really have quite enough depth for my taste, and the entire narrative was abrupt and just didn't have any personal relevance. It was rather like reading a historical narrative from a modern biography or history book, instead of being compelling immersive fiction. Also... I did have a little bit of a problem with the plot turning on the actions of a donkey and a dog; it's not that there were preternaturally self-aware and intelligent animals involved, as a staple of fantasy fiction, that didn't throw me off, but that without them the rebels would have been doomed. I don't want to make a big deal out of it, but it was rather silly. I may read the rest of the series, but not in the foreseeable future.
92. Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
Well, apart from the fact that there was only one frost giant, I thought it was quite a nice little story. I think it is damn-near criminal that they tried to charge $15 for it, particularly when it was originally given away for free, but that's publishing, I guess. I've always thought that some of Gaiman's best work is in his children's books. You can't get away with as much in a kid's book; you can't go on endless digressions, you can't take forever developing characters, you can't shortchange the plot in favor of theme, it's just a much less forgiving genre. I think it brings out the best of his talent. Of course, it's not what the majority of his adult fans are really interested in reading, so...
93. Only the Ring Finger Knows: The Ring Will Confess His Love
Smut. Angsty smut. You'd have to already be a fan to care.
94. The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Proof that popular fiction doesn't have to be so awful that it could "render a donkey catatonic in less than a paragraph". If I didn't already own the other novel of his that has been translated, I would have gone out and bought it by the time I finished page 10 of this one. It started off with lively realism and became more and more strange until finally it the went right off the deep end. But in a good way. I wouldn't say it's a perfect novel, or anything, but it certainly was enormously entertaining.
more to come...
First, I should acknowledge (admit?) that I am not really into food. I regard eating as a chore one must accomplish at least once a day if one wishes to continue ambulating around. Honestly, if it was possible to get my nutrients by taking a daily pill, I would do so with relief. Such an awful lot of bother it would save! And when I do eat, I tend toward vegetarian fare almost entirely devoid of fat, grease, or butter. So one might justifiably wonder why I wanted to read this book or what I could possibly have to say about it that would be of relevance. When I was younger, I used to love to watch her old tv episodes, not because I was interested in the food but because she was so much fun to watch. She overflowed with personality and it was so obvious how much she loved what she was doing, and I really enjoyed that. I can appreciate her enthusiasm even though the thought of actually eating the food she cooked makes me rather ill. I missed the book when it was first published, so I didn't know about it until the recent film. It is just exactly what I thought it would be, and completely charming. For the reasons mentioned above, I am utterly incompetent to comment on anything food-related in her book--and naturally, a great part of the text was taken up with it. I leave it to those who actually like to eat to judge that part. But her experiences, her expansive personality, and her fearlessness could hardly fail to fascinate just about anybody.
96. The Poems of St. John of the Cross
These were lovely, but then I can't think of any mystic poetry that doesn't appeal to me. I don't know enough Spanish to be able to comment on the translation but I can say that I didn't notice anything gravely amiss.
97. Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell
Well, I was involved enough in Faceless Killers to stop everything else I was doing in order to finish it, but I think the series must get better than this for them to be as popular as they are. Ordinarily I wouldn't assume such a nonsensical position, considering how much garbage is rampantly popular apparently for no other reason than that it is actually awful. But this was not bad and I think has a lot of potential. If it's good AND popular, it probably gets better than this. That's my theory, anyway. I have wanted to get into the series for a while, but it wasn't until the PBS adaptation aired that I finally was motivated to sit down with one of them. What I think I liked about the book was that he wasn't afraid to face the bleak reality of hatred and violence--that he didn't need to find a clean psychological explanation of brutality so that it somehow made sense. It wasn't overblown, and it wasn't safe and tidy, either. I think that made the social and personal conflicts credible in a way that most of these crime novels don't. They may have murders and crime but they're still escapism. This was unsettling, and it stayed that way. So, too, is life.
98. Perfume by Patrick Suskind
That was quite a strange book. It had the most astonishing method of escaping an execution I've ever read, a rather bizarre resolution, and a suicide that has to be unique in all of literature. A very convincing portrayal of human-as-devil. I think it's very tight thematically and mechanically. If you can get over how strange the whole thing was, it's quite good.
I felt much the same way as you did about Faceless Killers - and can also add, having gone on to read the next two, that they do get better; The White Lioness really felt like Mankell had finally found both his feet and a better balance between the character-based drama and the geopolitical scale he wants to set things on. I'm definitely going to carry on reading.
99. Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier
Her books are wonderful, and I love them, but I never actually like her heroines. Personally, I mean. They are perfect creations for the stories they are in, and I wouldn't wish them to be different than they are, but I just can't connect with them. This was a surprisingly good novel in the gothic style, using elements that are sort of an odd fusion of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. What I found most fascinating was the descent of Mary Yellan from rough farm respectability to the not exactly legal wife of a horse thief. But rather than this descent being a degradation leading to dissolution and destruction, as it was with her aunt, it seems rather to be a release which leads to freedom--an impression emphasized by the boundless opportunity suggested by the final scene of the two of them on the open road heading toward their future together. Of course, I don't buy this for a minute, never having been convinced of the viability of the lovable rogue as a potential mate. In my experience, anyone who acts like an ass IS an ass and to believe otherwise is to indulge in massive denial. So you will not find me sighing over Mr. Rochester or Heathcliffe (my God, what a psychopath) or Jem, and I can't really believe that Mary will end up that much better off than her aunt or Jem's mother. Especially so when the entire narrative traced Mary's struggle to not be dominated by the men in her life; that she voluntarily chose to be so dominated at the end does not invalidate the submission from my point of view. So while I thoroughly enjoyed this, I'm not sure I understood it as it was meant to be understood. The villain was an excellent creation, and it was almost as though he actually belonged in a different book. My favorite part of the book was the various descriptions of the moors during that last trip at the end. It was brilliant.
100. In the Presence of the Enemy by Elizabeth George
t wouldn't have been as easy to guess the identity of the murderer in this one as it was in the last one if the title hadn't given it away. But I did like the variety of sociopaths in the novel. Eve was an especially good portrait; Robbie's mother was a chillingly common example. I thought Lynley's personal dramas were given awfully short shrift this time, but that wouldn't have bothered me if he and Helen hadn't made the final decision to get married while on the phone right in the middle of a child murder/kidnapping case. wtf?? Oooohkay. Whatever. And frankly, I'm tired of Deborah's emotional agony. I mean, I get it already. I feel sorry for Simon. After all that complaining, you'd think I didn't like it but I actually did. After all, it's Lynley. ^_^
101. An Introduction to Japanese Court Poetry by Earl Miner
I would like to say that this is a good introduction to Japanese court poetry, but I can't quite manage it. I think it should be called "The Experience of Japanese Court Poetry" rather than an introduction to. Because it makes a pretty good attempt to explain the intentions and the effects of the poetry, and treats in a rather vague fashion the trends of each period and their causes, but it barely touches upon the history or the mechanics of the poetry itself. Also, in many instances I only knew what Miner was talking about because I had already learned it experientially from my own previous reading. So, this is only a good introduction if you already have some knowledge of Japanese poetry. If you've never heard of it before, this book will not help you.
102. The Child Thief by Brom
A dark fantasy retelling of Peter Pan. It's actually pretty good, as these things go. I often find new versions of fairy tales and so on to be boring or not really that imaginative. He clearly has some social agendas going on in the book, but it wasn't too heavy-handed. Maybe a bit awkward here and there. And it just had too many words. I found myself tempted to just barely scan whole paragraphs, especially toward the end. But I liked his vision of the story, and I love his art, so I was happy with it.
103. The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins
I like Wilkie Collins in general, and this very short book was ok but I thought really he was trying to be a little too clever in it. Maybe his style just works better in the endlessly verbose constructions of his novels.
104. Thirty-six Immortal Women Poets
I loved this. I like the whole idea of imaginary poetry competitions in general; I thought the use of such a volume as advertising for calligraphy schools was ingenious; and this new edition is simply gorgeous.
105. Huntsman, What Quarry? by Edna St. Vincent Millay
A first edition, with pristine dust jacket, of my favorite poet makes an excellent gift, thank you very much, Matt. ^_^
106. Adolphe and The Red Notebook by Benjamin Constant
I think this particular pairing of texts makes an interesting comparison between art and life. His insights into the workings of human relationships as he displays them in Adolphe, and derived from his own experience, is studied and compelling, but The Red Notebook was more affecting precisely because of the lack of fictional distance he employed in composing it. It has an immediacy that makes you present with him in many of the scenes he relates, several of which are laugh out loud funny and all narrated with an air of honesty rather than artifice.
107. Love and Friendship by Jane Austen
More juvenilia but even so better than the mature work of many a modern writer.
108. The Lord of Musashi and Arrowroot by Junichiro Tanizaki
Tanizaki, despite his fetish for the sex lives of decrepit old men, is one of my favorite writers. I preferred The Lord of Musashi over Arrowroot, because it has all the grotesque details and conspiracy plotting that I love so well in a historical setting. But what I really want to read is Captain Shigemoto's Mother.
109. Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Cholderos de Laclos
Love. Love love love this book. I had recently been longing to read it again but as I have roughly 522 books in the house that I have never read at all, I had strictly forbidden myself to pick it up. But then at Powell's the other day I found a big hardcover printed in 1933 and illustrated and that pretty much settled it. All I had previously was an Oxford paperback. Perfectly serviceable but lacking in character. I had actually hoped to find a nice old hardcover of Charlotte Bronte's Villette, which is my first favorite book to reread, but this, being only my second favorite, will do nicely in the interim. Oh, and the cashier randomly decided to cut the price from ten dollars to one dollar. Yes, one dollar. I nearly did a little dance.
110. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos
Oh, my God, Lorelai is horrible! Just perfectly awful. But fun to laugh at. I enjoyed all the jokes but I was also glad to leave her behind, despite my fantastic not-quite-first 1926 edition. I got that damn song stuck in my head and it was almost as insufferable as she is.
111. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Well, the talent of Henry James is undisputed in my opinion but I have to admit his heroine struck me as more than a little hysterical.
112. Madame Butterfly by John Luther Long
Pinkerton is a comprehensive bastard in any medium and I hate him with a passion. But my edition is gorgeous.
113. Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein
How close one comes to being consumed by the dark side while fighting it. I read a lot of yakuza books but this was unusual, and unusually good. If he ever gets sick of earning his place on gangster hit lists, he could probably do a comfortable trade in writing crime novels. His style and construction would translate perfectly, and he clearly has enough material to work with.