More Bears

w204While reading Yoko Tawada’s Memoirs of a Polar Bear I was immediately reminded on another recent read: The Bear Went Over the Mountain by William Kotzwinkle. Both stories involve bears which step into very human roles or interact with humans in a very human manner, but Kotzwinkle’s novel is much funnier.

in both novels the bear is involved with writing: in one the bear actually writes its memoirs but in the other a bear in the wild finds another writer’s work hidden under a tree and passes it off as his (its?) own.

Except for involvement with conferences in the early part of Memoirs, the polar bears in Tawada’s novel tend to be in realistic environments for a bear: zoos and circuses. However, in Kotzwinkle’s novel the bear is accepted into human society, dresses in custom suits, dines in fine restaurants, sits in on late-night talk shows, and even has an affair with his publicist. Although it’s all very unbear-like, the bear still recognizes the inherent difficulties of being a bear in Manhattan (like fitting into pret-à-porte)..

Memoirs of a Polar Bear is a serious work, albeit flawed; The Bear Went Over the Mountain is a lot of fun and possibly much better written. Read them both and make sure you put both authors on your near-future reading list.

We’re All Mammals

download.jpgMemoirs of a Polar Bear by Japanese/German author Yoko Tawada is a study into both what it is to be human and also into the often strained relationships between humans and other mammals. It narrates the history (memoirs?) of three generations of polar bears and the humans they interact with, whether in the circus, at the zoo, or at an international conference. The polar bears themselves are at one time creatures of the great northern wilds and at another time balancing on a large blue ball and even, without any anthropomorphic explanation, excelling at a corporate “desk” job and attending important conferences around the world.

Who knew that a polar bear could write a best-seller based on memoirs from the circus?

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More Summer Reading From Tin House

TH72-cover-467x600In case you need a steady supply of excellent reading material, look no further than Tin House Magazine. The Summer Reading issue is just out and here’s what the editor has to say about it:

In this issue, Tracy K. Smith captures a kind of awakening, via her young daughter, in her stunning poem “Dusk.” In Carmen Machado’s story “Blur,” the protagonist sees the future clearly despite losing her glasses. In a previously untranslated story, “Pride,” by Albert Camus, God wonders “In a world where seeking is impossible and everything is known, why then have the mind?” And Alexander Chee delivers gin-inspired revelations discovered on his global search for the perfect Martini.

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