Reading: 2008

Total Items = 123

Dust — Arkadii Dragomoshchenko
Very interesting and absorbing collection of narrative essays which, as the publisher suggests, are more like a journey through language and memory.

The Day I Wasn’t There — Hélène Cixous (+)

Meatless Days — Sara Suleri

The Fountains of Neptune — Rikki Ducornet (+)

The Kingdom of This World — Alejo Carpentier (+)

The Conformist — Alberto Moravia (+)

Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens #8 — Bradley Sands, ed.

Le Chiendent — Raymond Queneau (+)

Man in the Dark — Paul Auster

Snuff — Chuck Palahniuk

Real World — Natsuo Kirino

Satan Burger — Carlton Mellick III

The Sandglass — Romesh Gunesekera

Dormitory — Yoko Ogawa
Short novel from new author.

Massacre River — René Philoctéte (+)
A magical, often lyrical text.

Pregnancy Diary — Yoko Ogawa

To Live — Yu Hua

Entering Fire — Rikki Ducornet (+)

The Maimed — Hermann Ungar (+)

The Diving Pool — Yoko Ogawa

The Activist — Renee Gladman

Wise Children — Angela Carter (+)
Just a little quirky but one hundred percent delightful. Are you a twin?

Bruges-la-Morte — Georges Rodenbach (+)
Another variation on the “man makes woman” theme. Well done.

Closely Watched Trains — Bohumil Hrabal (+)
A short novel by one of Europe’s best authors with an excellent introduction by Josef Skvorecky. Although this text is considered a “prettied-up” version of earlier, more unforgiving hard-edged stories, it still has an impact on the reader. I have already been seeking other writing by the author. Excellent.

The Voice in the Closet — Raymond Federman (+)
A small book that is itself an interesting narrative. The reader can flip over the book and read it in French as La Voix dans le cabinet de debarras.

Un Grand homme de province a Paris — Honoré de Balzac
The second part of Lost Illusions.

Les Onze mille verges — Guillaume Apollinaire
Pushing the edge of sexuality this later day disciple of Le Marquis and proud pornographer presents a rather naughty picture at the beginning of the last century.

Omon Ra — Victor Pelevin (+)
Heroism, smoke, and mirrors … otherwise known as the Soviet Space Program, or at least as Pelevin presents it in this dark comedy. Quite entertaining but there are still some thought provoking moments in the text. Capricorn One with Cosmonauts?

The Complete Butcher’s Tales — Rikki Ducornet (+)
“… splendid little nightmares.” Like all collections, some are better than others, but there are also a few that just stopped me cold. Wow!

Foop! — Chris Genoa 
Very bland and derivative. For Bizarro fiction, this one is rather conservative. The trope is a commercial establishment providing wealthy patrons with excursions, not around the world, but through time. At first it is assumed that interaction with past events cannot effect the future but then things start going wrong and I kept wondering when Joe (Dent?) was going to whip out The Guide. Otherwise, competently written without being too wild or too referential so it may hang around more than a few years before the novel seems dated and unexciting.

Holy Terror — Terry Eagleton
A very interesting philosophical investigation of the relationship between religion, as the ultimate “law giver,” and terrorist, as the response to that control.

Monsieur Vénus: A Materialist Novel — Rachilde
The feminist answer to Venus in Furs by a naughty lady of her time, challenging the way sex and gender are viewed.

Appaloosa — Robert B. Parker
Spencer and Hawk clean up the old west.

Donadieu’s Will — Georges Simenon
One of the author’s psychological novels (no Maigret).

The Piano Teacher — Elfriede Jelinek (+)
Fine writing by a Noble Prize laureate, although one often wonders if the imaginative avoidance of cliché phrases is the author or the translator? This novel comes close to being on the naughty list and I’m sure de Sade would have appreciated it.

Go Tell It on the Mountain — James Baldwin (+)
One of the Modern Library Top 100 and definitely deserving.

Resolution — Robert B. Parker
After reading awhile I realized that I must have missed an earlier Parker western. If I had read the inside cover I would have realized … “After the bloody confrontation in Appaloosa” … now I have to go find Appaloosa.

Accidental Species — Kass Fleisher
A wonderful collection of prose pieces from an author interested in The New Narrative and expressing herself in a Feminist language, eschewing the historical masculine language that creates a de-facto superiority in the masculine at the expense of the feminine. You might call these short stories or prose poems or fictions or narratives … whatever … they’re good, no matter what you call them.

The Stain — Rikki Ducornet (+)
The first volume of the author’s tetralogy based on the elements. Here a girl is born with the mark of Satan on her face and the thematic element is Earth.

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders — Vitezslav Nezval (+)
Quietly weird. A surrealistic amalgamation of several influences from pulp fiction to vampires, sometimes scary, often erotic, always interesting.

Murphy — Samuel Beckett
Reread quickly for comparison while studying O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds.

Stranger in Paradise — Robert B. Parker
Jesse Stone and the return of Crow.

Never Come Morning — Nelson Algren (+)

The Chase — Alejo Carpentier (+)
Political violence and psychological suspense from an important Latin American writer that should be read more.

Pocket Full of Loose Razor Blades — John Edward Lawson
Bizarro fiction. The short stories allow an author to present a strange conception without being forced to work out all the details. Some interesting stuff here.

Les Deux Poetes — Honoré de Balzac

Neverwhere — Neil Gaiman (-)
What stinks worse than an open sewer? This simplistic, derivative novel should have been a comic book done in black and white. The characters were flat, the plot, scene, and characters were faint echoes of much better novels and the themes were non-existent.

Pedro Páramo — Juan Rulfo (+)
A masterpiece. A small novel that gives the reader a lot to think about. Definitely a highlight of this year’s reading.

At the Wall of the Almighty — Farnoosh Moshiri (+)
Although I found this novel rather long and reading it I had a tendancy to pause and read something else before going back to it, I did very much enjoy the author’s work, both as a statement from the oppressive country of Iran but also as an interesting narrative with plenty of complexity to keep the reader on their toes. Worth the effort.

At Swim-Two-Birds — Flann O’Brien (+)
This is one to start re-reading immediately. The narrative is somewhat complex — a novelist creates a character who writes this book about a writer who is writing a book about characters that don’t seen to want to stay in the fiction … and then it gets complicated. There is a wealth of thematic material in this novel, from the Irish identity, the Irish folk tradition, the metanovel, complex narratology, humor, language, etc etc etc. You have to love it.

The Assistant — Robert Walser (+)
The author is excellent and this novel is almost perfect. In some ways you might think of Walser as a Kafka that writes less obscurely and finishes his work.

School’s Out — Christophe Dufossé
Pretty good. A psychological pedagogical thriller.

Giovanni’s Room — James Baldwin (+)
Varieties of love with an American in Paris. Exquisite.

Graceland — Chris Abani
A story of postcolonial Nigeria and of a sons relationship with his father.

This Blinding Absence of Light — Tahar Ben Jelloun (+)
He was in the army and under orders went on maneuvers which turned out to be a failed coup which brought him a slow death — eighteen years in a coffin-shaped cell dug in the earth of the dungeon, fed only fetid water, hard bread, and a starch, infested by cockroaches, scorpions, sickness, and death. The author writes a terrifying and yet amazing story out of real-life events that shows a very different side of the human spirit and the efficacy of the moslem religion.

Mahu, ou, le matériau — Robert Pinget
The narrator starts out at the beginning suggesting that he might be real or he might be a character in a novel one of his friends is writing. The author then proceeds to interweave layers of fiction without any strong plot line. I thought it read easily and was sufficiently complex that I was never sure if I was confused or not. I like Pinget a lot.

Another Country — James Baldwin (+)
The Black experience in America and the redeeming value of love told by an author with extraordinary sensibilities and excellent prose styling. Definitely worth looking into a few other titles by the same author.

Vain Art of the Fugue — Dumitru Tsepeneag (+)
Following closely on the Robbe-Grillet, this novel is even more of a tour de force or style and variation over actual substance. Here the story is even simpler: a man takes the bus to meet a woman at the train station. The author then proceeds to look at this simple situation from different angles and under different circumstances, from different viewpoints at different times, emphasizing some elements but ignoring others, and then tossing it all in the dice cup and seeing how it works the next time. I especially like how the author morphed his metaphors into realities. A very very interesting and worthwhile reading experience.

Le Voyeur — Alain Robbe-Grillet (+)
Possibly the novel I have read the most in my lifetime. Even this time I see more and more in the technique and style of the writer which I admire. You can read this novel so many ways starting with confusion and branching out into alternate interpretations. My recommendation, however, is to read the first four novels by the author in order — Les Gommes, Le Voyeur, La Jalousie, and Dans le labyrinthe — before making too committed a statement about the author. He’s my favorite.

The Bridegroom Was a Dog — Yoko Tawada
A new author’s collection of shorter works that deal with everyday experiences with a twist. Wonderfully written and entertaining. Worth looking into.

When the Rainbow Goddess Wept — Cecilia Manguerra Brainard
Simply written but more powerful for it, this is the story of a young girl and her family that are faced with the Japanese conquest of their country, The Philippines. The author interweaves fascinating folk tales from the country with often brutal scenes of the horror and destruction of war. Well worth reading.

Facino Cane — Honoré de Balzac

Sonny — Mary Burger
An imaginative review of the man that brought us the atomic bomb and the day with two suns. Really a long prose poem.

Le Grand Meaulnes — Alain-Fournier (+)
An excellent study into the way we seek out our happiness and how it sometimes surprises us when we think we have found it. They call this a “coming of age” novel but I think it is different and more. I especially enjoyed the almost fantasy aspects of some of the novel. I think I’ll put this on the list to reread in French.

Le Colonel Chabert — Honoré de Balzac

Le Message — Honoré de Balzac
Short and predictable but poignant.

The Wyvern Mystery — J. Sheridan Le Fanu (-)
Not terribly mysterious nor very well written. Fundamentally a chore to read and like too many novelists, solves many intricate plots and questions in the last two pages ending with “and they lived happily ever after.” Take the time and read something better.

Phosphor in Dreamland — Rikki Ducornet (+)
Should fiction give us a representation of reality or should it give us something more? Ducornet, like Andrew Crumey, gives us more and the writing is enchanting. I need to read all her novels and stories.

L’Enfant maudit — Honoré de Balzac

Ferragus, Chief of the Devorants — Honoré de Balzac
Some of these stories are just not filled out enough to hold my interest.

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz — Mordecai Richler
Perhaps a little dated and not terribly original, this was still a decent story of a young man that grew up fast, hustled ever chance he got, and kept focused on his grandfather’s advice. There is some concern for the often non-pc elements of the text but they were entirely consistent with the time being depicted after the war; in fact, I thought the almost off-hand representation of the United States as being a place of dangerous witch hunts during the McCarthy era was rather effective.

Jack the Modernist — Robert Glück
The author is involved in the West Coast Narrative movement and there were many interesting twists in the telling of this very gay love story that kept it interesting. Unfortunately, I will remember this one more for what might be the most vividly awful metaphor I have run into in many a day: “Jack’s c*ck was the toothpick in my club sandwich of being and nothingness.” That could cause nightmares.

Pnin — Vladimir Nabokov
There’s a lot of Nabokov’s life in here but ultimately, it’s a very pleasant, well-written novel but not one of the big ones.

Fatelessness — Imre Kertész (+)
Better than average Holocaust story with a much more realistic structure. Unlike so many other novels of this type that try to be both a history lesson and an exposé of the villainous Germans, this one concentrates on the thoughts and feelings of a young boy caught up in the Nazi concentration camps. As many people laid up in a hospital will tell you, they don’t think about the administration of the unit or the qualifications of the doctor — they notice the sunshine in the window, the sound of the lunch cart outside their room, the feeling of their toes … the world that matters is close and inside. So too the extra broth, the seconds of rest gained by a slightly more bowed return route to the work line, clean straw, a word overheard in your own language … these are the things that are memorable and have meaning, especially in times of extreme stress.

Three Men In a Boat — Jerome K. Kerome
Fun with lots of sharp, although often clichéd, observations … but ultimately a fairly light weight entertainment.

The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead — Max Brooks
Very imaginative and exhaustive in its fiction, but ultimately too repetitive and even boring.

Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? — Harold Bloom
The Venerable Bloom explains literature but I’m still not sure what Wisdom Literature is.

A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland — Samuel Johnson
I was immediately reminded of W. G. Sebald. The author is excellent at portraying the elements of this journey without getting bogged down in minutia. He also is able to toss in a few editorial comments here and there which spice things up. I realize that this is taking place in 1773, but I still was fascinated at how distant the civilization Johnson describes is from the civilization in Scotland today. At one point Johnson comments that they were on a road that had never seen a single wheel … I expect that has changed a lot over the years. The wonderful volume from Barnes and Noble Essential Reading Series also contains Boswell’s version of this excursion — The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides.

Moravagine — Blaise Cendrares (+)
Here is one of the more interesting characters in literature.

The Invention of Morel — Adolfo Bioy Casares (+)
Borges considers this short novel by his friend and countryman a masterpiece. The influence of this author and this oeuvre are rather interesting and I am surprised that he is not more well know. I agree with Borges — this work is just about perfect.

Adieu — Honoré de Balzac

The Exquisite — Laird Hunt (+)
The 9/11 incident is in there, but this noir is not what you might expect. The author gives us a convoluted, confusing, surreal narrative filled with dead people, ersatz murders, drug induced visions, and a clear understanding that no matter what, you will never know what was real. I appreciated the references and allusions to Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn and, of course, to Sir Thomas Browne’s often overlooked classic Hydriotaphia (Urne Buriall).

Sarrasine — Honoré de Balzac
A little gender-bender.

My Paris — Gail Scott
The author is French-Canadian and has a very interesting narrative technique. Anyone looking for complete, flowing sentences might have trouble with this one. I appreciated the style and by the end of the novel was really having no trouble with it so that the underlying sentiments were not lost in a dizzy attempt to puzzle-out the text.

Diary of a Bad Year — J M Coetzee (+)
The author gives uses an interesting structure to provide two of three texts at any one time, overlapping and interleaving. How best to structure this? How about just separating each page into three section and use each section for a different narrative? I think it works well but there were times that I read down the page and other times that I read across the pages, but it is bad to read each narrative separately. The first narrative is a collection of deep thoughts that the author (who is presumably Coetzee himself, but this is fiction) is writing for a German publisher; the second narrative is what the author is dong and thinking during the period of his writing which includes meeting and hiring a beautiful young woman to type his manuscripts; and the third narrative is the young woman and her lover. It all works and there is a lot of meat in the text. Note that the author’s deep thoughts are closer to essays than to fiction, covering the rise of Conservatism, Terrorism, the Bush debacle, etc. I found this text moving and engaging in ways that the earlier Coetzee didn’t attempt. Good read.

The American Woman in the Chinese Hat — Carole Maso (+)
American author living in France, missing the companionship of a lover. The author’s prose uses many of the techniques from poetry and it very effective. Note that this doesn’t mean it sounds flowery and beautiful (which most people think when they hear that the prose is like poetry) but that it uses cadences, images, leitmotifs, etc. You might also consider that it is cinematic in the sense that it uses several visual images to tie the text together. Recommended, not because is is tremendously good but because it is an interesting experience in reading.

Slow Learner — Thomas Pynchon
The author’s preface to these early stories is probably more interesting than the stories themselves unless, as Pynchon suggests, they be used in a course on how not to write short stories.

L’Eve future — Jean Marie Mathais Auguste, Le Comte Villiers de l’Isle-Adam (+)
This author gets a big plus for creating a detailed science fiction story in the mid-eighteenth century without having too much knowledge of science but a lot of imagination, wit, and insight into human nature and spiritual values. It is a tragedy that this fine work is not better known (although don’t expect a master crafsman when it comes to the prose).

Grotesque — Natsuo Kirino
The latest thriller from Ms. Kirino but I understand that she was forced to rewrite the ending to appeal to American audiences since the original was considered too Japanese. I don’t think that’s right.

Le Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu — Honoré de Balzac
Compare with Zola’s L’Oeuvre.

4 By Pelevin — Victor Pelevin (+)
Four shorter works (a short novel and three small stories) by a new author to me. Pelevin is Russian and I have noted a couple of his novels for immediate reading.

Incubation: A Space for Monsters — Bhanu Kapil
Definitely experimental.

Ghost Dance — Carole Maso
More conservative than her later works but still keeps you paying attention. At times I was totally involved with this text but at other times I had the unfortunate impression that the author, whose text is somewhat disjointed, wasn’t tossing in a bit too much and should have kept the threads to her story a bit more limited. Otherwise, an excellent start for a darn good author.

62: A Model Kit — Julio Cortázar (+)
You have to keep on your toes with this one. I would like to go back and work out the various levels of narrative. The author shifts the narrative in time, in location, and in viewpoint. If it suddenly doesn’t seem to make sense as you read, you probably missed the point when the character narrating the action changed … or the time … or the location. I liked it a lot.

Grandeur et Decadence de Cesar Birotteau (+)
A classic story of how everything can go horribly wrong.

Detective Story — Imre Kertész (+)
A short treatment from the point of view, not of the victims, but of the monster that perpetrated the atrocities in a fictitious country ruled by a tyrant. Some interesting parallels to the situation today.

Mr. Vertigo — Paul Auster
Okay, the kid can fly … well, he can hover and move around a few feet off the ground. No, it’s not David Blaine. Entertaining; reasonably well written. Nothing special.

The Art Lover — Carole Maso (+)
A new author for me who deserves some attention.

Under Western Eyes — Joseph Conrad
A suspenseful little number that projects an interesting picture of the situation in Russia after the turn of the century. I, as usual, am not easy with reading Conrad but this text was actually quite good.

Blow-up and Other Stories — Julio Cortázar (+)
Excellent collection of short stories (and a couple of long ones).

The Atlas — William T. Vollmann
This is one of the author’s texts that really has no continuous structure but rather appears to be a collection of vignettes and stories from his experiences around the world, The metaphor which holds it all together is the atlas itself which at times seems to be a magical book that you can open to any page and actually step through to the location you have selected. Of course, it’s all a metaphor for memory and some of the stories that Vollmann relates are quite engaging and ofter very powerful. Because of the loose structure, I was able to read this for several weeks whenever I got a few minutes. It wasn’t great but it was good enough to have me looking forward to the next Vollmann title.

Hard Luck — Banana Yoshimoto
The second short novel in the volume. This one is less fantastic than the other story and deals more in the love between two people. Banana always seems to be right on the edge of simple but important emotions. I always feel a little closeness for her characters.

The Swallows of Kabul — Yasmina Khadra
This was a very disturbing but not terribly revealing look at the atrocities being perpetrated in Afghanistan in the name of religion. I recommend you read it for the treatment of the subject, although the author is very competent. I do think the novel itself is somewhat unimaginative but maybe it’s just understatement?

Hardboiled — Banana Yoshimoto
One of my favorite authors, Banana has followed the design of the publication of Kitchen and married two shorter works together in one volume. I would call this vintage Yoshimoto — spare prose that draws you into the lives of her characters. This short novel is actually a modern ghost story in the tradition of all those wonderful Japanese ghost stories of yore.

JPod — Douglas Coupland
It’s the Microserfs many years later, still running code but now looking back at the ‘90s as being embarrassing. Fast and fun entertainment.

The Torture Garden — Octave Mirbeau (+)
Once considered the world’s most disgusting novel.

Shamp of the City-Solo — Jaimy Gordon (+)
This one has to be read to be appreciated. I understand that its origin was as American Samizdat and if you read it you will understand. The influence of R. Crumb seems rather apparent. If you read closely, it’s amazing how many allusions and even quotations the author has worked into the text.

The Locked Room — Paul Auster
The third novel in The New York Trilogy. The author steps into his text in this final novel, referencing the two earlier texts. It seemed to me to be an addition that was designed to tie the three short novels together into a trilogy when other than the similar subjects, they really stood on their own.

Ghosts — Paul Auster
The second novel (short) in The New York Trilogy. My one complaint would be that this second short novel is just an alternate telling of the story of the first novel.

City of Glass — Paul Auster
The first novel in The New York Trilogy.

The Gum Thief — Douglas Coupland
The author returns to the fast moving fiction of his early novels in this title which is called by some Microserfs 2.0. The story is about an older man who is working at Staples but also writing a novel in the stock room which is about an author who meets another author who is writing a story about a man who is working at Staples … and it’s all done in letters, notes, and manuscript pages. Slick and fun with just enough social importance to make it interesting too.

Meat Puppet Caberet — Steve Beard
This was probably better but it didn’t lock-in on my imagination so reading it was more of a chore that a delight. Classed as Science Fiction, Beard writes of a time when Ukania is again a power through trafficking in drugs and a link to the Sirius system. Some good, imaginative stuff in here and many will love it, I’m sure.

L’Oeuvre — Émile Zola (+)
The little boy from L’Assommoir has grown up and entered the life of the artist in Paris. The conflict, however, is between a passion for art and a passion for his wife. A bit melodramatic but Zola often goes that way.

Tlooth — Harry Mathews (+)
Vintage Mathews, full of games, puzzles, arcana, and stories within stories. The novel is ostensibly about a violinist who escapes from a Russian prison camp in Siberia to pursue the doctor that amputated his fingers in error. Very inventive and fun to read.

Mumbo Jumbo — Ismael Reed (+)
Move over Da Vinci Code, Hinckle Von Vampton explains that all religions start from a family feud in ancient Egypt. Not only that, but the suggestion is that what we consider Christianity may actually be a political action against the true church which is today best seen in the Voodoo religion. Well, I guess that’s one part of Reed’s wild postmodern view of western civilization with an excursion through white-black relations through the ages. This is fun, biting, and thought provoking … what more do you want of a novel!

Of Human Bondage — W. Somerset Maugham (+)
A little too traditional for me but definitely worth reading.

L’Assommoir — Émile Zola (+)
My opinion is that Zola is a better read than either Balzac or Dickens or Hardy, for that matter. The makes Gissing and Zola my favorite authors of the period. This novel rather vividly portrays the poverty and squalor on the less pleasant neighborhoods of The City of Light. I’m thinking that I have to read the entire novel cycle Les Rougon-Marcuart.

La Place — Annie Ernaux (+)
A wonderful, open account of the relationship with her father. Read in French.

The Year of Magical Thinking — Joan Didion (+)
Award winning, well written, often moving. Sometimes I wonder why we even need fiction.

A Man Without a Country — Kurt Vonnegut (+)
Not long before his death, KV wrote this short essay on the state of the world today and, despite a wonderful level of humor, the final analysis isn’t good … not good at all. Vonnegut, a life-long Humanist, makes a very interesting comment on religion and creationism — one that makes a lot more sense than is heard in the churches throughout the land. Simply put, he suggests that religion only made one mistake … the assumption that it was God that created the world when the evidence is overwhelming that it was actually Satan.

Invisible Cities — Italo Calvino (+)

The Flight of Icarus — Rayond Queneau (+)
When the author in this text forgets to secure his manuscript, the main character — Icarus — escapes into the real world where he encounters new experiences and absinthe. Later, when the character is returned, the author realizes that the character has more knowledge and experience than the author had previously given him. Then things begin to get interesting in the rather breezy treatment that allows the world of fiction to interact with what some people might consider real life … but where is the demarcation line?

Mouchette — Georges Bernanos
This title gets a double entry because I read it in both English and in French (which took a lot longer). Reading in French brings a pleasure that we probably all had when we were young but have forgotten — the pleasure of just understanding the language of the narrative. I remember when my daughter used to painfully read her Little Golden Books, working out pronunciations and meanings both in her head and out-loud with Dad’s help. She would often squeal or pop up and down clapping her hands when she successfully interpreted a particularly difficult passage or recognized a new word. You should hear me squeal …

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