Friday, 14 December 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes

Books of truly great writers sometimes feel as if they were written just for the person who is reading them. They deeply touch our souls and drag us straight into the stories told, while the author remains in the background, virtually invisible although every word, every phrase, even every punctuation carries the unique imprint of her or his personality. Some writers even manage to make us feel close to them as if they were our soul mates. Reading their books may make us long to know them in person and to make friends with them beyond the realm of literature. Most of us content ourselves with reading biographical trivia about our favourite writers, probably their memoirs and biographies, too, but the retired protagonist of Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes, another one of my bookish déjà vu, sets out to fathom the character of the late Gustave Flaubert whom he adores.

Read my review»

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Share-a-Tea 2018 Reading Challenge

The Summary

click on the image to go to the
challenge post on Becky's Book Reviews
1 January – 31 December 2018

My Teatime Reads of the Year

December has arrived and there isn’t much left of 2018. Since these happen to be the busiest days of the year, I reckon that I won’t be able to add any more books to this list for Becky’s Share-a-Tea 2018 Reading Challenge before we start the new cycle of months. It’s true that every day I’m having tea – kukicha from Japan, Longjing from China, occasionally infusions of rooibos, of fruit blends, or of medicinal herbs to treat some ailment –, but now I prefer to experience it with all my senses much in the zen way. A book would only be a distraction, however much I use to enjoy reading in general.

In the end, I compiled the following list of twelve books that I read for the greater part with a pot of hot tea or infusion on the table by my side. I discussed most of them here on Edith’s Miscellany during the course of the year, but I also put on my list a novel by my Italian writer friend Marina Di Domenico, an Austrian classic that I’d like to present one day, and the French classic by Voltaire that served David Allan Cates as model for X Out of Wonderland that I reviewed.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Poetry Revisited: I Heard a Bird Sing by Oliver Herford

I Heard a Bird Sing

(from B.J. Thompson (ed): More Silver Pennies: 1938)

I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.

“We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,”
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.

Oliver Herford (1860-1935)
British-born American writer, artist, and illustrator

Friday, 7 December 2018

Book Review: Monique by Luísa Coelho
It can be a big shock to realise that it’s absolutely impossible to know any person inside out, not even closest relations like a spouse, children or parents, sometimes not even ourselves. Some people have learnt well to hide their nature because they fear – often rightly – to risk their status and dignity showing the world who they really are. The more shattering it is when they finally muster up the courage to come out. After fifty years the protagonist of Monique by Luísa Coelho answers to the letter that her husband wrote when he abandoned her and their son. Because the homosexual pianist could no longer bear living a lie and thus chose to defy social conventions, he turned her well-ordered and idealistic world completely upside down overnight. The French noblewoman looks back on her sheltered youth that didn’t prepare her for suddenly being on her own.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Poetry Revisited: The Wind Frost by Susanna Moodie

The Wind Frost

(from Enthusiasm and Other Poems: 1831)

I come o'er the hills of the frozen North,
To call to the battle thy armies forth:
I have swept the shores of the Baltic sea,
And the billows have felt my mastery;
They resisted my power, but strove in vain—
I have curbed their might with my crystal chain.
I roused the northwind in his stormy cave,
Together we passed over land and wave;
I sharpened his breath and gave him power
To crush and destroy every herb and flower;
He obeyed my voice, and is rending now
The sallow leaves from the groaning bough;
And he shouts aloud in his wild disdain,
As he whirls them down to the frozen plain:
Those beautiful leaves to which Spring gave birth
Are scattered abroad on the face of the earth.
I have visited many a creek and bay,
And curdled the streams in my stormy way;
I have chilled into hail the genial shower:—
All this I have done to increase thy power.

Susanna Moodie (1803-1885)
English-born Canadian poet and writer

Friday, 30 November 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Nada by Carmen Laforet

When a young person sets out to conquer the adult world, it’s usually with great expectations and high-flying dreams because everything seems possible to someone no longer subject to childhood limitations. Alas, the yearned for unlimited freedom inevitably proves an illusion given that “no man is an island”. Unless we withdraw to the back of beyond where no human creature ever shows up, we aren’t spared dealing with our fellow beings in daily life and to make compromises in order to live in peace. In Nada by Carmen Laforet, which I picked as bookish déjà vu, eighteen-year-old Andrea comes to Barcelona to enjoy the liberties of student life, but only roaming the big city and in the company of her well-to-do friends she escapes the stifling atmosphere of her late mother’s once important bourgeois family with whom she lives sharing the all-pervading penury and hunger after the Spanish Civil War.
Read my review »

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

GOODREADS Bookcrossers *New* Decade Challenge 2018

The Summary

click on the image to go to the
challenge post on GOODREADS

1 January – 31 December 2018
(Nearly) A Century in Ten Books

When 2018 still was fairly new, I signed up for the *New* Decade Challenge that a member of the GOODREADS Bookcrossers Group initiated. Meanwhile, the year has grown visibly old and I’m through with a book for each of the past ten decades – five written by women, five by men, five originally written in English, five in other languages. As usual, my list of completed reads is consciously diverse regarding genres and styles. It includes a holocaust memoir – The Pianist by Władysław Szpilman – and a semi(auto)biographical portrait of French-Polynesian life since the arrival of European discoverers – Island of Shattered Dreams by Chantal T. Spitz – as well as epistolary fiction from the pens of two en-NOBEL-ed writers, namely the French classic Vipers’ Tangle by François Mauriac and modern Chinese Frog by Mo Yan. The novels The World My Wilderness by Rose Macauley, The Unicorn by Iris Murdoch, The Door by Szabó Magda, and Open City by Teju Cole in very different ways and to varying degrees satisfied my need (not just longing) for intellectual challenge, but with Jalna by Mazo de la Roche and The Road to Gandolfo by Robert Ludlum there are two considerably lighter reads on my list, too.

And here’s my chronological list of books reviewed for this challenge:

1920-29: Mazo de la Roche: Jalna (1927)
1930-39: François Mauriac: Vipers' Tangle (1932), original French title: Le Nœud de vipères
1940-49: Władysław Szpilman: The Pianist (1946), original Polish title: Śmierć miasta 
1950-59: Rose Macaulay: The World My Wilderness (1950)
1960-69: Iris Murdoch: The Unicorn (1963
1970-79: Robert Ludlum: The Road to Gandolfo (1975)
1980-80: Szabó Magda: The Door (1986), original Hungarian title: Az ajtó
1990-99: Chantal T. Spitz: Island of Shattered Dreams (1991), original French title: L’île des rêves écrasés
2000-09: Mo Yan: Frog (2009), original Chinese title:
2010-18: Teju Cole: Open City (2011)