Reading: 2009

Total Items = 106

The Savage Detectives — Roberto Bolaño (+)

Claudine and Annie — Sidonie Gabrielle Colette

The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun — Sébastien Japrisot

Claudine Married — Sidonie Gabrielle Colette

Aureole: An Erotic Sequence — Carole Maso (+)
Sometimes poetry, sometimes prose, always evocative and decidedly lesbian.

Metropole — Ferenc Karinthy (+)
On his way to a linguistics conference in Finland, Budai, a Hungarian etymologist, sleeps through the flight and lands in an unfamiliar city where everyone, apparently, speaks a different language — none of which are in any way recognizable or decipherable. Add to this a level of overpopulation that has everyone standing in long lines for everything and roads that are so packed with cars that you can’t cross the street safely, and Budai finds himself gradually degrading until he is almost an animal, unwashed and sleeping behind some crates at the marketplace. I think the language aspects of the narrative might have been a tad too long, but I’ll accept them in this fascinating depiction of a Hell that looks and sounds a lot like home, but it isn’t.

The King — Donald Barthelme
The story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Table Round and their experiences in the Second World War. Throw in Lord Haw Haw and loney Ezra for fun and this is an enjoyable romp, worthy of the author but at the same time, reasonably easy to assimilate.

Overnight to Many Distant Cities — Donald Barthelme
Another early collection of stories.

Come Back, Dr. Caligari — Donald Barthelme
Another early collection of stories.

Homo Faber — Max Frisch (+)
Max Frisch is arguably one of the great twentieth century European authors. A pervasive thread that runs through his novels and plays is the question — How do we recognize identity? In Homo Faber, we have a thoroughly rational engineer traveling in the Americas to oversee the installation of technical equipment. Through a series of remembrances, we learn that he was about to marry his one true love when WWII intervened, and, although she was pregnant with his baby, she refused to go on with the marriage and decided to get an abortion. Faber was forced to the middle-east by his employer and left without knowing the resolution to his relationships. Now twenty years later, rather than fly back to Europe, Faber decides to take a more leisurely cruise where he inadvertently becomes friendly with a young lady thirty years his junior. An amazing novel written by a master and translated from the German for our benefit.

Vathek — William Beckford

Wearing Dad’s Head — Barry Yourgrau
A somewhat surrealistic collection of stories, some real quick ones. Pleasurable but not exciting.

Claudine in Paris — Sidonie Gabrielle Colette

Phone Rings — Stephen Dixon
Here Dixon takes the history of a large family leading up to a major tragedy. But if you are familiar with Dixon, he doesn’t tell the story in any sequence. Instead he relates 3 separate stories about the family and the reader builds his understanding through arranging, comparing, and imagining these separate events as if they were a string of beads … but with Dixon, it’s not a string of beads … more like a bag of marbles, spilled out on the ground, telling the complete story, but not in any discernible order. Well done.

The Professional — Robert B. Parker
Not a bad Spenser although it twists and turns a bit and ends up being the hard boiled version of Of Mice and Men.

The Ravishing of Lol Stein — Marguerite Duras (+)
Duras is exquisite and this novel is a strong contender for one of her best.

Things in the Night — Mati Unt
The Estonian Haruki Murakami. It’s interesting to see the juxtaposition of a country many of us know little about and the pop references the author makes. I recommend reading the afterward first, not to spoil the story, but to give you an understanding of some of the typically Estonian points in the novel that you will probably miss if you read the text first.

Long Made Short — Stephen Dixon
A nice collection of Dixon’s short work with a few stories that seemed a-typical of the author (well, the prose is the same, just the subject and the form differed).

Family Ties — Clarice Lispector
A very interesting collection of shorter fiction. The author tends to build a quite realistic observation of life and at the very end throws a hook that makes you think back through the entire story in a more thematic, almost philosophical way. Definitely worth reading and possibly rereading.

The Humbling — Philip Roth
Does Roth telegraph the suicide right at the beginning? Well written for the most part but no edge.

Ghosts — César Aira (+)
Aira’s dry understatement is certainly at work here in the story of New Year’s Eve ato a building under construction. Did I mention the ghosts?

A Heaven of Others — Joshua Cohen
You have to read carefully here as the narrative jumps around a lot. Oh, the narrator is a young Israeli boy who is blown to pieces by a suicide bomber and ends up in the wrong heaven.

Herodias — Gustave Flaubert
A little adjunct piece to Salammbo, I assume.

The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitaller — Gustave Flaubert
This is certainly one for the new fabulists to pick up on. Flaubert can tell a good story.

A Simple Heart — Gustave Flaubert
Some of Flaubert’s short fiction as collected. Excellent.

Chasing the Bear: A Young Spenser Novel — Robert B. Parker
Part juvenile, part back-story. Fun but predictable and a little trite.

The Anthologist — Nicholson Baker
I enjoyed this (despite Baker’s recent bombs), Probably because it was all about poetry and my man Ted Roethke was a prominent figure.

The Golden Buttons — Violette Leduc
A little strange.

Madame Bovary — Gustave Flaubert (+)
It gets better every time you read it. I was able to do about the first third in French this time before the collapsing schedule forced me to concentrate on the translation since I read English much faster than French. The complexity of Flaubert’s narrative and the accuracy of his prose is amazing. I found that each time I read through a passage I found additional references, links, comparisons, to other passages in the novel. Readers that just see the story of an unfaithful wife are missing the real pleasure of this novel.

Over the Blue Mountain — Conrad Richter
A tidy little tale for adults and juveniles.

The Woman with the Little Fox — Violette Leduc
A very intimate and disturbing story of a poor woman of the streets.

Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts — Donald Barthelme
A wonderful collection of short fiction, many collected in 60 Stories but not all.

The Old Maid and the Dead Man — Violette Leduc
An old, lonely woman finds a dead man to care for.

Sadness — Donald Barthelme
One of the original collections of stories that were later collected in 60 Stories, etc. but if you don’t read the orignal, you miss half the stories. Excellent; fun; mind stretching.

The Hour of the Star — Clarice Lispector (+)
A short, exquisite meditation on life which the author wrote not long before cancer ended her own life. Read on many levels, this one demands multiple readings.

The Return of the Carvels — António Lobo Antunes (+)
A blending of Portugal as it is loosing its colonies and and dreamlike representation of the more glorious days of the country as they navigated the globle and engaged those colonies. The blending of the disperate times is masterful. An excellent text. This one demands the reader to pay attention, so take notes.

The Young Assassins — Juan Goytisolo
I believe this is the author’s first novel and, as so often happens, it is a fairly straightforward narrative without the stylistic elements that we now associate with Goytisolo. The themes, however, are there fairly early. Even though this text might be seen as highly derivative, it was a good start.

Clear Light of Day — Anita Desai
Traditional, well done, ultimately unexciting.

Makbara — Juan Goytisolo (+)
I love the way Goytisolo writes (much like Antunes but possibly more surrealistically). You have to read this one carefully or you’ll get confused … but it’s well worth it.

Trap for Cinderella — Sébastien Japrisot

I’m Not Stiller — Max Frisch
Certainly a candidate for one of the top European novels of the last century. Richly thematic with an interesting narrative, I could hardly pause in my reading and might have wore out a couple of markers on all the great passages and quotations throughout the text. Highly recommended.

How I Became a Nun — César Aira (+)
An amazing parable from an amazing author. At one point we have a six year old girl (boy?) that mentally creates a world populated by irrational oddities, even though she is too young to understand them as the adult world seems to. And then she mentally allows the clockwork of this world to operate in here head, keeping track of each imaginative variation and responding to it in kind. It’s actually a simple little book centered around strawberry ice cream but it opens a huge rift in the common understanding of the reader and leaves off with questions and possibilities.

The 10:30 from Marseilles — Sébastien Japrisot

An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter — César Aira (+)
Here is a very short book that could keep the reader occupied think about the text for months and even years. It is probably the closes thing I have ever read to working the philosophical argument for are and creative experience into an almost perfect narrative. Everyone should read this one.

The Yellow Arrow — Victor Pelevin
Very short. What if the world was just a long train speeding across an empty countryside? Pelevin is both imaginative enough to envision the concept and adept enough to make it come alive in his fiction. Definitely one of the best writers around today.

Going Down — David Markson
For those familiar with Markson, be advised that despite the late publishing date, this is an older attempt at a novel by the author and it shows. First,there is a plot of sorts (it is something of a murder mystery); and second, the writing is perhaps a bit experimental, but not necessarily successful. I did enjoy Markson’s small insertions of literary erudition (which were subtle and apparently not intended to slam the read with the breadth of the author’s reading knowledge), but the technique of showing some sense of hesitancy in a character’s dialogue by never finishing a sentence began to irritate me. Markson also does not tell the story sequentially. His narrative leads up to a point of question and then falls back in time to provide the backstory. This is, of course, a very old cinematic technique so we won’t give the author too much credit here. Overall, Markson has too many good titles to spend time with this one.

Nectar in a Sieve — Kamala Markandaya
The Indian version of The Good Earth.

The Diary of a Chambermaid — Octave Mirbeau (+)
This was not only a well known naughty French novel but it was also a darn good novel, French or not. There’s a lot of thematic material in this one and I recommend it to all.

Bust Down the Doors and Eat All the Chickens #9 — Bradley Sands, ed.
The latest collection of Bizarro mayhem.

Meyer — Stephen Dixon
Very typical Dixon (although not quite as misogynous as usual) but despite the easy, engaging narrative, one wonders what the point of this novel was.

Inverted World — Christopher Priest
Engaging science fiction that presents a fascinating view of a post-apocalyptic world. My one problem was that, like the original King Kong, the “city” seemed to be both too big and not really so big at the same time, but this was made up for by a open ending that leaves the reader with questions about their own existence. From the 1970s and still good stuff (relevant too).

State of Siege — Juan Goytisolo
Goytisolo has written both a novelist’s view of the tragedy in the Balkan war and the destruction of Sarajevo, but also a nice little tour de force in narrative technique that presents several views of the reality of the situation and the way facts can be interpreted in different ways.

Senselessness — Horacio Castellanos Moya
The story was almost perfect but I found myself more impressed by the prose style of the author. It’s not long and I highly recommend reading this novel. Unfortunately, the author has written many books but this is the only one (so far) that has been translated into English.

Meatless Days — Sara Suleri

Mountain R — Jacques Jouet
I’m not sure I got this one but it’s overall analogy seemed very apropos to the situation in this country at this time (perhaps it is universal?).

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union — Michael Chabon
Very entertaining with a nice imaginative twist (that is never treated as other than reality, which is how it should be in fiction). I do have some problems with the author’s writing where some elements of his prose seem forced and inexact, and I attribute this to his Creative Writing School background.

Mobius Dick — Andrew Crumey (+)
The author outdoes himself in conflating music and mathematics and fiction and reality in this, possibly his best novel. You might appreciate the author’s progression more, but I think this might be the book to read if Crumey is new to you.

The Natural Order of Things — António Lobo Antunes (+)

La voix dans le cabinet de débarras — Raymond Federman
Dual-language short novel … very non-traditional.

Black Swan Green — David Mitchell
A cross between David Sedaris, Irvine Welsh, and Andy Hardy; full of up-to-date slang and product placements that will keep this novel on the wire rack at the drugstore for many, many months. Entertainingly written but without depth or literary adventure of any kind.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan — Lisa See
Told with enough empathy to keep you reading but ultimately a great fall from a large pile of clichés. Are we supposed to learn from the sexist lessons of 19th century China or to wonder why they never spread to the Western World? Then again, is foot binding that much different than breast augmentation and porn-star tattoos?

Zuleika Dobson — Max Beerbohm
A broad satire or a fantastic farce? Is Zuleika the Lamia or just just Marie Wilson with cups and balls? But you have to make the decision, so don’t miss the rather masterful writing of Max Beerbohm.

Brimstone — Robert B. Parker
The further adventures of the boys out west (does he call his eight-guage Hawk?).

Manhattan Transfer — John Dos Passos (+)
A novel on many levels with, for its time, a fascinating new narrative style. A joy to read.

The Feast of the Goat — Mario Vargas Llosa (+)
Masterful narrative technique. Vargas is a great writer. My one concern was that much of the narrative was strong, rushing forward to a conclusion but then the author doubled back on the story which seemed to undercut some of the earlier power of the narrative. And why at this time do we have so many treatments concerning Trujillo and the DR?

The Pleasure of the Text — Roland Barthes
Confusing in translation but I understand it’s the nuances of French that make it more clear … nuances that those with only a slow knowledge of the language might miss anyway.

The Sorrow of War: A Novel of North Vietnam — Bao Ninh (+)
“The past without end, a never-ending story of loyalty, friendship, brotherhood, comradeship, and humanity.”
Comparing favorably with All Quiet on the Western Front, this novel gives a raw picture of what it was like to be a citizen and soldier of North Vietnam. Although it might jump back and forth in time a bit, the narrative does blend the main character’s life, his loves, his combat experiences, his MIA experiences, and his writing life after the war into a very poignant and satisfying narrative.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies — Seth Grahame-Smith
Surprisingly well done and a lot of fun and gore in Regency England. I see a hit movie if the right people do it.

The Violent Bear It Away — Flannery O’Connor

Samedi the Deafness — Jesse Ball

Night and Day — Robert B. Parker

Cosmicomics — Italo Calvino (+)
My new favorite Calvino. As a member of OULIPO, Calvino is interested in restrictive prose but this collection of related stories exhibits an totally unbounded imagination. Worth reading over and over.

AVA — Carole Maso (+)
A huge recommendation with the caveat that both the subject matter and the form is somewhat experimental and might not appeal to everyone. But if you think about it, Maso’s internal narrative of the last hours in a woman’s life if really quit remarkable, easily approachable, and powerfully felt.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao — Junot Diaz
Some good parts; some just silly. Entertaining until the end the novel made a dramatic point that was never earned

La Nausée — Jean-Paul Sartre (+)
Although a reread for me, this novel is as strong and powerful as it was over forty years ago.

Exercises in Style — Raymond Queneau (+)
Take a simple narrative and tell it in many ways. Fascinating, inspiring, a must read (but bring your rhetoric manual).

Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down — Ismael Reed (+)
Loop Garoo, Voodoo, and the Pope meet in the little western town of Yellow Back Radio … bring your imagination!

Bust Down the Door & Eat All the Chickens #6 — Bradley Sands, ed.
A fun and stimulating Bizarro journal.

Submission — Marthe Blau
A contemporary alternative to L’Histoire d’O.

Le Con d’Irène — Albert de Routisie (+)
Eroticism and surrealism — what a combo!

Les Libertines — Adolphe Belot
Four short fictions involving those Other Victorians over in Paris.

The Virgin in the Garden — A. S. Byatt
Very traditional, exceptionally dense, a super-observant and talkative omniscient narrator, a good read and just the first volume of the tetralogy.

Machine — Peter Adolphsen (+)

Indignation — Philip Roth
Roth writes a nice story but it really has no edge. He is becoming the O’Henry of contemporary American writers but the surprises are tepid at best.

Love — Angela Carter
I read a lot of discouraging remarks about this novel before I picked it up. I liked it but it wasn’t great and I have no idea what all the detractors were whining about.

The Abyss — Marguerite Yourcenar (+)
A fascinated and meticulously written historical novel covering the life of Zeno and the dangers of being inquisitive and free thinking in a world that demands strict obedience to the norms, especially in religion.

Clock Without Hands — Carson McCullers
Excellent prose; superb structuring; interesting story; but … I have a new theory that some novels are just longer, more complex short stories — it is the story that is important, not the actual writing, no matter how good it might be. This novel is as vivid as a motion picture, gives a good view of the South in transition, and raises questions (albeit dated) about the racism in this country, but beyond that, it’s just a good, well-crafted story, pleasant but never challenging..

Gerald’s Party — Robert Coover
Coover writes so you have to pay attention and try to work your way through the verbal mazes. This novel tells of a party where a murder is discovered. You might call it John Cheever meets the Marx Brothers. Recommended, but not his best. Gaddis does this much better.

Never Come Morning — Nelson Algren

Camera — Jean-Philippe Toussaint (+)
The style and effect of this novel was fascinating. I am ordering it in French to study some more.

Syrup — Maxx Barry
Excellent entertainment. A satirical send-off of corporate machinations, especially marketing, using a fictional Coca-Cola company as the brunt of the satire.. I would say a fun read that most people will enjoy but nothing to cry about if you miss it.

Bob, or Man on Boat — Peter Markus
A novel length version of those short, evocative narratives that Markus does so well. There is a bit more activity here — more characters, more locations, more thematic elements — but it is the magic of the prose style that makes it all good. Should we be pondering symbolism? Too clichéd?

Man In the Holocene — Max Frisch
Geologically, the Holocene is today and the man in question is getting old and more and more alone. I thought the interplay between the injected “real” material (cut and paste from the encyclopedia, etc.) was very effective although at times the narrative was a little choppy as a result. A short read and well worth it.

Gazelle — Rikki Ducornet (+)
More approachable than many of the author’s works but very effective in evoking the mystery of Egypt as well as the realities of unwrapping dried-up old bodies. Ducornet’s common theme of transformation is definitely strong in this text.

Heartsnatcher — Boris Vian (+)
A rollicking romp with loads of verbal adventure.

In Memorium to Identity — Kathy Acker (+)
The author explores memory and identity through the poet Rimbaud, a woman called Airplane, and a fictional character named Capitol. Along the way there are the familiar Acker adventures in smut and degradation. This is certainly one of her best works.

The Jade Cabinet — Rikki Ducornet (+)
I seem to like just about anything Ducornet writes. Here I especially enjoyed the Alice element that intertwined with the basic narrative.

The Singing Fish — Peter Markus
Very similar to Good, Brother and I suspect this is the earlier text which was then followed by Good, Brother.

Onitsha — J. M. G. Le Clézio
An obviously superior work but I tripped over some of the author’s figurative language and my thoughts left Africa in search of a pattern of metaphors.

The Slynx — Tatyana Tolstaya
A gentle and engaging approach to the resurrection of a simple society a couple of hundred years after the bomb. Gives you a new appreciation for mice.

The Day I Wasn’t There — Hélène Cixous

Slaughtermatic — Steve Aylett
Bizarro and not too bad. I liked the use of terms from VR and graphic arts (CGI) that were used to describe the real world. But then, a major part of this novel dealt with trying to discover what was the real world, what was virtual reality, and what was an alternate reality.

The Bathroom — Jean-Philippe Toussaint
This was different but I think I need some more experience with the author to better understand his approach to the fiction.

Splendide Hôtel — Gilbert Sorrentino

Good, Brother — Peter Markus
Two reasons why I am reading this author: first, I did share some of my own writing with him in a fiction course and began to see that he was not a fan of overly intellectual or florid prose; and second, the author’s own narrative style is intriguing, especially with my love of Alain Robbe-Grilet and the Nouveau Roman. The author writes in very deliberate, repetitive phrases. In this novel you can’t go more than a sentence or two without a reference to mud, rust, fish, etc.

Dust — Arkadu Dragomochchenko

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