Saturday, June 3, 2023

Look at the Lights, My Love (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)

Look at the Lights, My Love (The Margellos World Republic of Letters)Look at the Lights, My Love by Annie Ernaux
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nobelist Ernaux has written an initially compelling study of a superstore in France called Auchan (think, Walmart) and every aspect from the standpoint of an observer on marketing strategies, product placement, pricing, sociological implications, customers, staff, departments (i.e. fish, pharmacy, bakery, bookstore, etc.) and the satellite stores such as McDonalds, a bowling alley, a news and tobacco shop along side. She kept a journal of her observations for many months and ends this eighty-page journal with
"As the months went by, I was able to measure the controlling force exerted by mass production spaces in real and imaginary ways. By provoking desires at dictated times, its violence equally present in the colorful profusion of yogurt flavors as in the gray everyday deals aisles, and by reinforcing social stigmas through the accommodation of individuals with low incomes. The items purchased whether in a little heap or a toppling mountain on the conveyor belt, are nearly always among the cheapest. Upon leaving the superstore, I was often overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness and injustice. But for all that, I have not ceased to feel the appeal of the place and the community life, subtle and specific, that exists there."
Alas, I ceased to feel the appeal of her book midway and put it down.

View all my reviews

Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Guest Lecture

The Guest LectureThe Guest Lecture by Martin Riker
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Guest Lecture was mildly interesting when the narrator talked about and with John Maynard Keynes or mentioned Rhetorician Aspasia, "portrayed as both a sexualised and sexually liberated woman and as a feminist role model fighting for women's rights in ancient Athens." Or even economics or philosophy, all wrapped in heavy musing, almost all musing on the narrator's part in preparing her lecture and pondering her failure to get tenure. I read half the book carefully, then skimmed wearily. Enough. Perhaps if it was the only book on my stack, but the competition is heavy. The writing, by the way, is very fine and I am impressed that the author, Martin Riker, is the publisher of feminist press Dorothy with its stunning list of titles in handsome wraps.

View all my reviews

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Birnham Wood

Birnam WoodBirnam Wood by Eleanor Catton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Skilled writing in this elaborate story of an earnest guerilla gardening collective beguiled by donations from an American billionaire doing his own guerilla work in rare earth mining in New Zealand. The book is heavy with introspection and exposition and I grew weary of much of it wanting to get on with this "literary thriller". Not for me.

View all my reviews

Monday, May 1, 2023

Poet in Spain

Poet in SpainPoet in Spain by Federico García Lorca
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stunning to explore Spain's explicator of poetic duende in this new translation from Sarah Arvio reviewed by Dwight Garner in The New York Times:
"Lorca’s poems from Spain are a poetry of dreams and journeys and glimpses from balconies, of sunbaked meadows and realms of erotic yearning. He went to the well often for the same elemental imagery: the sea, the wind, the moon, flowers and trees. His mind worked feverishly enough to induce hallucinations."

Having a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish, I was troubled by some of Translator Sarah Arvio's decisions to drop punctuation. Garner offers samples:
Lorca has been tamped down. His poem “Cazador” (“Hunter”), for example, begins with these words: “¡Alto pinar!” Arvio translates this, with a vast diminution in energy, as “High grove of pines.”

Lorca wrote in an exclamatory style that gave his work a flamenco brashness missing from some of these translations. García Lorca uses exclamatory sequences to mimic the effect of a chorus singing and beating their palms to the music of a flamenco performance.
Look at the first stanza of “Árboles” (“Trees”) from 1919:

¿Habéis sido flechas
Caídas del azul?
¿Qué terribles guerreros os lanzaron?
¿Han sido las estrellas?

Per Garner, "Arvio renders this in telegraphic yet somewhat lobotomized fashion:"

Were you once arrows
falling from the sky
What terrible warriors shot you
Were they the stars

Lorca's fascination with 14th-century Persian poetry in The Tamarit Divan to his idealization of Andalusia’s Romani history in Gypsy Ballads may be questioned nowadays, but overall these English translations stand up and render the book invaluable to any English-speaker smitten by Lorca’s work. and

View all my reviews

The Dog of the North

The Dog of the NorthThe Dog of the North by Elizabeth Mckenzie
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Dog of the North had some fine reviews and a Women's Prize nomination, but I found the writing and dialog clunky, although the story buzzed right along and the humor and certainly the Santa Barbara setting reminded me of early Sue Grafton. At the mercy of every character in the book, the protagonist bounces back and forth in her efforts to help everyone and avoid her soon-to-be ex-husband, her cantankerous, creepy father and her erratic mentally challenged grandmother while trying to find her missing parents who disappeared years ago in Australia. Age is well represented in this story with Arlo, the 93-year-old grandpa game to scour the outback with her and avoid his first wife and his shrewish second wife. There is also a cardiac event and a sinkhole and a mysterious corpse and a piñata to keep you turning pages, pages which for me were a bit ho hum.

View all my reviews

The English Understand Wool

The English Understand Wool (Storybook ND Series)The English Understand Wool by Helen DeWitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The English Understand Wool's take on the writing/publishing game is easily one of my top books for this year for writing, topic, size (67pp), plot and wit "like a dry cork," as a blurb pointed out. Dewitt is at her best.

View all my reviews

My Phantoms

My PhantomsMy Phantoms by Gwendoline Riley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not my favorite book this year due to the poisonous relationship between mother and daughter which made me want to look away, it was painful to be there for their infrequent meetings, but the writing is stellar. It is a slim, spare novel which moves right along.

View all my reviews