Thursday, December 29, 2022

Books in Translation challenge complete!

 I committed to reading 10 books in translation in 2022, and just two days ago I finished my tenth translated book. 

  1. The Vikings (Danish)
  2. Uncertain Glory (Catalan)
  3. The Trial (German)
  4. The Double (Portuguese)
  5. Death with Interruptions (Portuguese)
  6. War Music (ancient Greek)
  7. Civil Wars (Latin)
  8. Three Novels (Russian)
  9. By Night in Chile (Spanish)
  10. Drive your Plow over the Bones of the Dead (Polish)
I'm not sure which book I liked the most. Uncertain Glory hit my pleasure centers, my love of war literature. The two Saramagos were just incredible. Never would have thought I'd like that weird stream of consciousness or stream of no paragraphs (or barely any). But his writing is just wonderful. War Music, though. This is the second time I read this book, this time in Audible version, which was simply amazing. The Tokarczuk, wow. Could The Books of Jacob be next for me?

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Death with Interruptions, by Jose Saramago

 Wow, what a book. Again, why do I not just read all his books. Another Vonnegut. 

Granted this is only book #2 of his I've read, so maybe it's a fluke that I picked his two best? (The first I read was The Double.) This one is just so good.


So death (lower-case) takes a holiday. For more than seven months! No one in the unnamed country died during that entire time. But people were still dying. Undertakers were worried. Old folks homes. The maphia (with /ph/). Laws were changed. 

An enterprising family tried an experiment: Take practically dead grandpa across the border and if he dies, you no longer have to care for him. And take your dying child, too. The maphia decides this is a good business practice, arranges with the government to run these cross-border trips, then is all semper gumby when death gets back to work. 

Death does get back to work. With a new twist to her (yes, her) modus operandi: Each person would get a letter, written on violet paper and wrapped in a violet envelope, warning them they have a week to live, so get your shit in order!

This violet mail goes on for a while until suddenly, one of death's letters gets returned. But how!? Death delivers the letter the next day. Also returned! This mystery is what sets death on her mission for the last third of the book, to discover why some unknown 1st chair cellist isn't getting her letters. 

And then, one of the loveliest, most moving falling-in-love I've read in a long time. And yes, the following day, no one died.

Spoilers done.

I'm thinking my next Saramago must be Blindness

Thursday, December 22, 2022

The Fellowship of the Ring, by Tolkien

 What can be said that hasn't already been said about the first volume of the Lord of the Rings trilogy? We've all seen the movies, yes? I mean the Lord of the Rings movies, not that horror that is Peter Jackson's Hobbit movies. 

I won't have spoilers here. If you haven't seen the movies or read the books, look away. But I have to say that Jackson did a good job. He kept fairly close to the books. This first book is great. You don't have to have read The Hobbit to learn about hobbits or other races of Middle Earth. They're all here, and explained/described well in this first book. 

Tom Bombadil. I mean really. Why not in the movie? And his girlfriend, Goldberry. They were great. And the ponies the hobbits rode in on. Wonderful. 

I will read the next two, just not right away. I like Tolkien. I've read some others of his, but except for The Hobbit, they were not in the Middle Earth world: his Beowulf and The Fall of Arthur. Both were great. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The Names, by Don DeLillo

 Great book! This is the fourth book of his that I've read. All weird. Frankly, this one is the most normal. 


James is a risk analyst, or so we are led to believe. He's separated from his wife Kathryn. They have a precocious son named Tap. He's a writer of non-fiction fiction. The last chapter of The Names is one of Tap's stories. Very strange.

About 2/3 of the way through the book I thought the main character might be a spy. By the end, I'm still not sure. He does save, kinda, one of his many friends. The scene where he's jogging and a Greek guy is following him, running with a gun, was shocking. 

And there's the languages (not to mention the cult). For a language lover like me, the blurb for this book had me immediately.

...a moving examination of family, loss, and the amorphous and magical potential of language itself...

So many languages listed in the book, it had me going to the Wiki machine. Very intriguing, especially the prof learning Sanskrit to read the 1000+ line poem around that lake (is that even real?!). 

And the cult. No real resolution on that one. Well, kinda, but did the starving, wasting-away woman...did she get killed? Was she the final one? Whoa!

Spoilers? What spoilers?

Two great lines in the novel. "Is hell a lack of awareness? Once you know you're there, is this your escape?" and "To be back again among familiar things and people, alive to the levels of friendship a man enjoys with married women of a certain kind, the wives he is half in love with." Lovely.

I will read more from DeLillo. I think Underworld might be my next one. Want to read a weird one? Zero K. Read that one first.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Magical Realism

 Wife and I have been talking about Magical Realism, as my recent choice for the family book club was Woolf's Orlando. A wonderful example of magical realism. 

Found somewhere else, magical realism should be set in the real world, have supernatural things happening (not explained), and literary elements. Orlando of course, but what other novels out there? Especially, prior to Woolf? Certainly I can point to Midnight's Children and Satanic Verses by Rushdie, Ballad of Black Tom and The Changeling by LaValle, Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Bradbury. But what about novels before 1928? (I'm not literate with poetry, but "The Goblin Market" by Christina Rossetti and "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" by Robert Browning could be called magical realism, yes?)

You know what's hard to find? A list on the internet of magical realism novels prior to 1928. I just spent over 20 minutes searching but can only find lists of current or recent magical realism novels. But dear reader(s) do know I love lists. So from the lists I have found, I've got some new books on my TBR shelf: 

  • The House of Spirits, by Allende
  • Kafka on the Shore, by Murakami
  • The Salt Roads, by Hopkinson
  • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by Schwab.
  • The Tatar Steppe, by Buzzati. When I was studying Italian, the great literary critic, Andrei, recommended Buzzati's short stories, one of which I attempted (but wasn't ready for).
  • The Girl with Glass Feet, by Shaw.
  • Sharks in the Time of Saviors, by Strong Washburn. 
And there's probably more. But that's the initial list, and wow, some of them sound great. (Scientifically, at least two of those have to suck. Probability, science. Proven.)

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Kvazaŭ ĉio dependus de mi, de Trevor Steele

 (English below)

Kvazaŭ ĉio dependus de mi estas bonega libro, en la temo kiu al mi tre plaĉas: milito kaj ties influo je homoj. 

Fuŝaĵoj sube:

La romano sekvas la vivon de Kurt Lenz, ĵurnalisto kaj judo, kiu skribis kontraŭ la registaro, kreskante al nazia. La rakontisto estas Erich, la amiko de Kurt. Ili plenkreskis kune, kaj kiam Kurt iĝis ĉefredaktoro de nova ĵurnalo, Erich kunlaboris. Unufoje, Erich intervjuis Adolf Hitler mem. Mi ne scias se estas vero ke Hitler havis furzan problemon (verŝajne ĉar li estis vegeterano), sed la "malodora" sceno dum la intervjuo estis tre humora. 

Bedaŭrinde, Kurt estis arestita, dufoje, kaj la lasta estus la plej malbona, kaj fina. Li estis en malliberejo dum kelkaj semajnoj, batita tage, ostoj rompitaj, lia "juda" nazo multfoje. Sed en tiu horora ejo estis savinto: gardisto kiu esperis ankaŭ eskapi. Li proponis al Kurt eliron: morto.

Fuŝaĵoj estas elfaritaj.

Mi tre rekomendas ĉi-libron. Kaj eĉ se vi ne povas legi Esperanton, estas angla versio de la libro!

As Though Everything Depended on Me is a great book, in the subject I very much like: war and its effect on people.

Spoilers below:

The novel follows the life of Kurt Lenz, a journalist and Jew, who wrote against the government, growing to Naziism. The narrator is Erich, Kurt's friend. They grew up together, and when Kurt became chief editor of a new journal, Erich and Kurt worked together.

Once, Erich interviewed Adolf Hitler himself. I don't know if it's true that Hitler had a farting problem (probably due to him being a vegetarian), but the scene during the interview was quite funny.

Unfortunately, Kurt was arrested, twice, and the last time would be the worst, and final. He was in prison for several weeks, beaten daily, bones broken, his "Jewish" nose multiple times. But in that place of horror was a savior: a guard who hoped to escape. He offered Kurt a way out: death. 

Spoilers done.

I highly recommend this book. And even if you cannot read Esperanto, there's an English version of the book!

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Orlando, by Virginia Woolf

 So let's talk Orlando. 

I had first seen the movie, many years ago. Probably only a year or so after it came out in 1992. I'm a big fan of Tilda Swinton. She's an incredible actress, and beautiful. 

Spoilers hence.

When I saw this movie I was surprised. I'd never expected a movie about a sex changing immortal. I don't remember much about the movie now, but will rewatch it.

But the writing: glorious! So well done. I was struck by Ms. Woolf's descriptions, and her playing with time. She never explicitly told the reader what year we were in, which I appreciated. The entire section where Orlando gave birth was so incredibly described. We aren't even properly introduced to the child, but it's there nonetheless. (IIRC, we see the kid in the movie.)

Spoilers done.

This is the 9th classic I've read this year from my list of 50 classics to read over 5 years. 

Monday, December 5, 2022

Classics Spin #32

 Classics time again! Spin #32. Here's my list from which I have to pick my next Classics read:

  1. Dark Star Safari
  2. The Fellowship of the Ring
  3. Dead Souls
  4. The Groves of Academe
  5. Homage to Catalonia
  6. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists
  7. American Pastoral
  8. In Patagonia
  9. Solaris
  10. The Good Soldier Schweik
  11. King Lear
  12. King Soloman's Mines
  13. The Talented Mr. Ripley
  14. The Stories of J.F. Powers
  15. Love's Labour's Lost
  16. Pride and Prejudice
  17. One Hundred Years of Solitude
  18. The Monk
  19. The Turn of the Screw
  20. Kidnapped
We'll see on Sunday, 11 December, what book I have to read next! (Edit: #6!)

Saturday, December 3, 2022

November 2022

 November is done. Where the hell did 2022 go?

Books read:

  • The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty. Wow. Great book. So well done. Haven't watched the movie yet, but want to. 
  • Quick Service, by PG Wodehouse. Book for the month.
  • Sea and Sardinia, by DH Lawrence. Great travel book. 
  • Black Knight in Red Square, by Stuart Kaminsky. #2 in the Porfiry Rostnikov series. Excellent.
  • The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury. Dated. Some good parts, but mostly meh.
  • Galapagos, by Kurt Vonnegut. The master.
  • By Night in Chile, by Roberto Bolano. My ninth translated book. This one was good and weird.
  • Old School, by Tobias Wolff. Excellent addition to those school books lists.
  • Agaves, by Jeff Moore. Need. More. Agaves.
Not too bad, and on the first day of December I finished Orlando, but that'll come in the December 2022 post.

Books bought:
  • Handbook of English Grammar & Usage, by Mark Lester. For my editing class in January.
  • Woe is I, by Patricia O'Conner. If you're going to be an editor... Two dollar Kindle deal.
  • The Devil in Silver, by Victor LaValle. Liked the two of his I read. Six bucks.
  • A World Beneath the Sands: The Golden Age of Egyptology, by Toby Wilkinson. Loved his Egyptian history I read years ago. This looks good. Kindle deal for six bucks.
  • Portnoy's Complaint, by Philip Roth. Wife's next pick for family book club, bought early due to two dollar Kindle deal.
  • A Fine Red Rain, by S. Kaminsky. #8 in the Rostnikov series, for three bucks.
  • Silverview, by John LeCarre. His last. Two dollars.
  • Walking English: A Journey in Search of Language, by David Crystal. His language books are excellent. 99 cents.
  • The Martian Chronicles, as discussed above. 
  • The Stuff of Thought, by Steven Pinker. Two bucks.
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