Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The Details

The DetailsThe Details by Ia Genberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up The Details because it was prize-winning translated fiction and originally written in Swedish. While reading it, I learned it had been chosen for the International Booker Shortlist. A women bed-bound with malarial fever reminisces in four chapters of people influential to her: a couple of intense love affairs, friendships, her parents and children.
"We live so many lives within our lives--smaller lives with people who come and go, friends who disappear, children who grow up--and I never know which of these lives is meant to serve as the frame...That's all there is to the self...traces of the people we rub up against."
It's been described as a quiet book and it is, but filled with wisdom and stories while including numerous references to Swedish authors as well as books which recall relationships in the past. I love a well-written tale with a booklist.

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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Alix's Journal

Alix's Journal (French Literature)Alix's Journal by Alix Cléo Roubaud
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Alix's Journal has a certain addictive quality for me: I was captivated by her reading references to some seventy-odd writers and poets plus music and art, and took notes. Alix Cléo Roubaud was a Canadian living in Paris who kept sad daily journals which talk of insomnia, suicide, depression and her concerns about ailments, drinking, smoking, weight gain and clothes as well as her work as a photographer and her frustrated creativity. She died at the age of thirty-one from a pulmonary-embolism. Examples of journal entries will give an idea:

I read nothing but the TLS.
Every night I fear reading my journal; fear of finding nothing there; or the phrases of an entirely despicable
impossibility of writing, married to a poet.
The smell of big hotels and deckchairs, when people are having aperitifs: a mixed scent of amber, cigarette smoke, wax polish; and those meats cooking in wine.
Seurat did a good job with Grande Jatte.
48 hour visit from my parents.
I forget more and more.
Beautiful weather.
In playing with God, one loses every round.
--fear of madness. of egocentricity; of everything.
--the moment arrives to put cream on my hands. I wish, intensely, that the scent of mimosa will not die off.
. was it worth all that psychoanalysis to see me melted like butter in the sun and to die of fear.

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Friday, May 24, 2024


KairosKairos by Jenny Erpenbeck
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kairos' International Booker win was no surprise. The book is a significant achievement of original story and translation weaving the "May-December" affair of Hans and Katharina in mid-eighties East Berlin through to the fall of the Wall and the changes to them, their lives and the country. Music accompanies every aspect of their lives together listening to Mozart, Chopin, Bach, in their trysts to avoid his wife, her career moves as a theatre set designer, dalliances and ensuing abuse from him (difficult to read), while political machinations mirror their liaison's end.
"When Katharina walks around in the West, she feels like a bad copy of the people who live there, an imposter, a cheat, liable to be exposed at any moment. With her eyes, which in this other half of the city are a stranger's eyes, she sees how every conceivable need is catered for by some product or other in the shops, the freedom to consume seems like an India rubber wall to her, separating people from any yearnings that might transcend their personal and momentary wishes.
269 Coca-Cola has succeeded, where Marxist philosophy has failed, at uniting the proletarians of all nations under its banner." Kairos is the god of fortunate moments.

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Monday, May 13, 2024

Grief is for People

Grief Is for PeopleGrief Is for People by Sloane Crosley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A sprightly book about grieving and loss, full of snappy lines and trenchant observations, arranged in the Kubler-Ross stages of grief (Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression and Acceptance) although the last is simply Afterward as Crosley never really accepts her loss. Drawn in from the first page by the burglary of her jewelry, as I've had the same happen to me, I admired her chutzpah in pursuing leads to find the missing pieces as well as the hollow feelings, the frustration.
But most of the book describes her friend Russell, who was also her publicist boss at Knopf Vintage, and her grief at losing him: "I am disgusted by the universal truths of grief, by the platitudes. I don't want to make my way through the coming stages..." Her losses left a hole in her heart which "was like a wind tunnel that whistled straight through until dawn."
The end of the book describes New York City in quarantine and any urban dweller can identify with it ("What about the cabdrivers? What about the umbrella guys who manifest at the first drop? What about the theater? What about zoos?..flea markets?") making her feel like her "life had been petrified in ash."
She's a smart, talented writer and I read her book straight through, but, for me, her "trademark wit" interferes with the story.

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Sunday, May 12, 2024

Knife: meditations after an attempted murder

Knife: Meditations After an Attempted MurderKnife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder by Salman Rushdie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A measured, well written assessment of Salman Rushdie's vicious assault by an assassin wielding a knife, his recovery, love of his wife and sons, and his supportive friendships and medical team. In the second part of the book, he imagines a conversation with his unrepentant attacker which is an education in itself coming from such a knowledgeable nonbeliever.
"When the faithful believe that what they believe must be forced upon others who do not believe it, or when they believe that nonbelievers should be prevented from the robust or humorous expression of their nonbelief, then there's a problem. The weaponizing of Christianity in the United States has resulted in the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the ongoing battle over abortion, and women's right to choose...the weaponizing of a kind of radical Hinduism by the current Indian leadership has led to much sectarian trouble, and even violence. And the weaponizing of Islam around the world has led directly to the terror reigns of the Taliban and the ayatollahs, to the stifling society of Saudi Arabia, to the knife attack against Naguib Mahfouz, to the assaults on free thought and the oppression of women in many Islamic states and, to be personal, to the attack against me."

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Wednesday, May 1, 2024


JamesJames by Percival Everett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After initial resistance to the dialogue in dialect, those sentences became an ironic and amusing twist along with many in this story of the slave, Jim, now James, and Huckleberry Finn and their fraught travels on the Mississippi River. The book hummed along with occasional references to his reading (John Locke, Voltaire, even Kafka) as James is a stealthy literate whose most prized possession is a pencil. Brilliant, scary and funny.

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The Prophet Song

Prophet SongProphet Song by Paul Lynch

2023 Booker Prize Winner was intense, beautiful and devastating. I wish that I could unread it.

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The Upstairs Delicatessen: On Eating, Reading, Reading About Eating, and Eating While Reading

The Upstairs Delicatessen: On Eating, Reading, Reading About Eating, and Eating While ReadingThe Upstairs Delicatessen: On Eating, Reading, Reading About Eating, and Eating While Reading by Dwight Garner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I devoured this book. Despite its title, The Upstairs Delicatessen: On Eating, Reading, Reading About Eating, and Eating While Reading is not a meaty book. Divided into separate sections like Breakfast, Lunch, Shopping, Drinking, Dinner, it is larded with anecdotes, salted with literary quotations and references and peppered with humor. The index is pure gravy.

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Martyr!Martyr! by Kaveh Akbar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Poet author has written a beautiful book about a grieving young Iranian migrant to the U.S. who lost his mother as a baby. He plans a life and work centered around the lives and attitudes of martyrs over time as he contemplates his own demise until he meets an artist who is actually dying. Bleak but the writing buoyed this reader through to its fitting finale.

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