Sunday, November 28, 2010

October and November Reading Roundup

I set aside October and November for reading books from Indie publishers and it was great. I may not have read as many as I would have liked to, but that's okay.  Here's the lineup (a * indicates Indie Publisher):

crime fiction
Here Comes a Candle, by Frederic Brown* -- Millipede
The Pale Horse, by Agatha Christie

general fiction
Panopticon, by David Bajo -- Unbridled Books*
The Singer's Gun, by Emily St. John Mantel -- Unbridled Books  (read, not reviewed)*
A Geography of Secrets, by Frederick Reuss -- Unbridled Books*
The Sentimentalists, by Johanna Skibsrud -- Gaspereau Press*
The Stray Sod Country, by Patrick McCabe (read, not yet reviewed)

translated fiction
The Wrong Blood, by Manuel de Lope -- Other Press*
The Dark Bride, by Laura Restrepo  (read, not reviewed)
Needle in a Haystack, by Ernesto Mallo -- Bitter Lemon Press*
Hygiene and the Assassin, by Amelie Nothomb -- Europa Editions*
The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery -- Europa Editions*

Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius, by Colin Dickey -- Unbridled Books*
Acid Christ: Ken Kesey, LSD and the Politics of Ecstasy, by Mark Christensen -- Schnaffner Press*

favorite book of the month: 
Needle in a Haystack

Other book-related stuff:
1) My book group read and discussed Muriel Barbery's Elegance of the Hedgehog. 

2) Added to the Amazon Wishlist:
 - Our Lady of the Assassins, by Fernando Vallejo 
 - Delirium, by Laura Restrepo
 - The Caves of Perigord, by Martin Walker
 - Red Plenty, by Francis Spufford
 - Popular Hits of the Showa Era, by Ryu Murikami

3) From Librarything's Early Reviewer Program came Stray Sod Country, by Patrick McCabe and Sunset Park, by Paul Auster.  Thank you to Sonia and the powers that be!  And thanks to all of the publishers for the many ARCs these last couple of months. 

4) Books bought this month:
- The Redeemer, by Jo Nesbo
- How the Dead Live, The Devil's Home on Leave, and I Was Dora Suarez, by Derek Raymond
- Ghosted, by Shaughnessy Bishop Stall
- Lord of Misrule, by Jaimy Gordon
- Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House, by Valerie Plame Wilson
- Decision Points, by dubya
- The Tiger, A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, by John Vaillant
5) Between freecycle, donations and book trading sites, approximately 45 books left the house for new homes over the last couple of months.

6) Coming up in December: to further clear out my shelves,  I'm going to read books I bought throughout 2010 with the best of intentions, but never got around to.

that's it. My special thanks for the recommendation of The Dark Bride. I didn't review it yet, but it's amazing.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

*Hygiene and the Assassin, by Amélie Nothomb

Europa Editions, 2010
Translated by Alison Anderson
original French title: Hygiene de l'assassin, 
   1992, Éditions Albin Michel
167 pp.

Hygiene and the Assassin probably qualifies for my "strangest book read this year" award (up there with Little Hands Clapping)  but at the same time, there's something unique between the covers of this small novel. The setup for the story is that a Nobel Prize-winning author by the name of Prétextat Tach is about to die.  He is the author of twenty-two novels, is extremely reclusive, and has never granted an interview over his long career. Now that he is dying (from Elzenveirverplatz Syndrome -- a long name for a rare cartilage cancer), Tach's assistant has granted a select few journalists the rarest of opportunities for an interview.  One by one they come in, tape recorders ready to capture every word, and one by one Tach makes proverbial mincemeat out of them and tosses them out.  But the meat of this book begins with the entrance of Nina, an intriguing young woman who isn't about to join her predecessors.  After only a short while, and after Tach makes a remark about enjoying watching people crawl at his feet, Nina offers an intriguing wager:

 You said something about crawling. I suggest identical stakes for both of us. If I crack, I'm the one who'll crawl at your feet, but if you crack, you'll crawl at my feet.  I like to see people crawling at my feet too.

Tach takes the bet, noting that he loves "squashing people," and that "humiliating pretentious airhead females" is something that brings him "extreme pleasure."  And thus begins the verbal fencing match between the two, which lasts for the book's remaining 74 pages. There is absolutely no redeeming quality in the character of Tach; he is one of the most odious characters ever imagined.  He's self-obsessed, feels he has risen above the rest of the world, cares nothing for the rest of humanity (especially for women).  But what makes this book work and work well is the often brutal repartee between Tach and Nina, as she manipulates the conversation which eventually leads back into his past -- but to say more would be to ruin it.

This book is not for everyone; it is odd and very quirky with a main character that is, quite frankly, a disgusting pig. If that doesn't bother you, it is one of those novels that will entice you with its beginning and keep you reading until the last page.  And although the core of this story consists only of dialogue, it is extremely well done -- it is not clumsy or out of step, and stays solidly grounded within the inherent qualities of both characters.  IMHO, this is the mark of a talented writer, but also of a skilled translator.

I would recommend it for those who want more of a challenge in their reading. It's often difficult, and there are many literary references that many people may not get, but which are important to an understanding of Tach's character. I spent a great deal of time on Wikipedia, but a lot of readers want a straightforward novel with linear plot, resolution and a clearly-explained ending.  For those people, this may not be the book for you. But if you're up for it, and want something unique, you'll enjoy it.

fiction from France

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

*Here Comes a Candle, by Fredric Brown

Millipede Press, 2006
Originally published 1950, by E.P. Dutton
297 pp.
If you're interested, my take on this very different and often bizarre noir crime fiction novel is over at the crime segments part of my reading journal. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

the longlist to end all longlists: The Dublin IMPAC award for 2011

Here it is, in all its lengthy glory from this website; tomorrow I'll comb through it in some more detail to see what I actually want to read.

Milena Agus   The House in Via Manno translated by Brigid Maher
Niccolo Ammaniti   As God Commands translated by Jonathan Hunt
Kalinda Ashton   The Danger Game
Margaret Atwood   The Year of the Flood
Paul Auster   Invisible
Paolo Bacigalupi   The Windup Girl
Vladislav Bajac   Hamam Balkania translated by Randall A. Major
Tiffany Baker   The Little Giant of Aberdeen County
Nicholson Baker   The Anthologist
Ferenc Barnas   The Ninth translated by Paul Olchváry
Mark Behr   Kings of the Water
Gioconda Belli   Infinity in the Palm of her Hand translated by Margaret Sayers Peden
Maissa Bey   Above All, Don't Look Back translated by Senja L. Djelouah
Mikkel Birkegaard   The Library of Shadows translated by Tiina Nunnally
Marie-Claire Blais   Rebecca, Born in the Maelstrom translated by Nigel Spencer
Giles Blunt   Breaking Lorca
William Boyd   Ordinary Thunderstorms
T.C. Boyle   The Women
Anita Brookner   Strangers
Dan Brown   The Lost Symbol
Diana Fitzgerald Bryden   No Place Strange
A.S.Byatt   The Children's Book
Peter Carey   Parrot and Olivier in America
Massimo Carlotto & Marco Videtta   Poisonville translated by Antony Shugaar
Nick Cave   The Death of Bunny Munro
Dan Chaon   Await Your Reply
Tracy Chevalier   Remarkable Creatures
Hélène Cixous   Hyperdream translated by Beverley Bie Brahic
Philippe Claudel  
Brodeck's Report translated by John Cullen
Ann Cleeves   Red Bones
J.M. Coetzee   Summertime
Michael Crummey   Galore
Ron Currie Jr.   Everything Matters!
Maurice G. Dantec  
Grand Junction translated by Tina A. Kover
Rana Dasgupta   Solo
Pete Dexter   Spooner
E.L. Doctorow
Homer and Langley
Glen Duncan   A Day and a Night and a Day
Jean Echenoz   Running translated by Linda Coverdale
Kim Echlin   The Disappeared
Dave Eggers  
Ilsa Evans   The Family Tree
Roopa Farooki   The Way Things Look to Me
Fiona Farrell   Limestone
Sebastian Faulks   A Week in December
Laurence Fearnley   Mother's Day
Adam Foulds   The Quickening Maze
Julia Franck   The Blind Side of the Heart translated by Anthea Bell
Patrick Gale   The Whole Day Through
Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza   Alone in the Crowd translated by Benjamin Moser
Jane Gardam   The Man in the Wooden Hat
Maurice Gee   Access Road
Paolo Giordano   The Solitude of Prime Numbers translated by Shaun Whiteside
Glen David Gold   Sunnyside
Hiromi Goto   Half World
Jessica Grant   Come, Thou Tortoise
Wolf Haas   The Weather Fifteen Years Ago translated by Stephanie Gilardi and Thomas S. Hansen
Marion Halligan   Valley of Grace
Marié Heese   The Double Crown; Secret Writings of the Female Pharaoh
Nicole Helget   The Turtle Catcher
Nick Hornby   Juliet, Naked
Michelle Huneven   Blame
Ameena Hussein  
M.J. Hyland   This is How
John Irving   Last Night in Twisted River
Tahar Ben Jelloun   Leaving Tangier translated by Linda Coverdale
Paulette Jiles   The Color of Lightning
Laleh Khadivi   The Age of Orphans
Khoo Kheng-Hor   Sifu: An Unusual Teacher in the Turbulence of the Malayan War
Rachael King   Magpie Hall
Barbara Kingsolver   The Lacuna
Ayse Kulin   Farewell: A Mansion in Occupied Istanbul tattranslated by Kenneth J. Dakan
Reif Larsen   The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet
Norman Lebrecht   The Game of Opposites
Siegfried Lenz   A Minute's Silence translated by Anthea Bell
Jonathan Lethem  
Yiyun Li   The Vagrants
Jim Lynch   Border Songs
Annabel Lyon  
Alain Mabanckou  
Broken Glass translated by Helen Stevenson
Linden MacIntyre   The Bishop's Man
David Malouf   Ransom
Hilary Mantel   Wolf Hall
Javier Marías  
Your Face Tomorrow: Poison, Shadow and Farewell translated by Margaret Jull Costs
Simon Mawer   The Glass Room
Colum McCann   Let the Great World Spin
Liam McIlvanney   All the Colours of the Town
Zakes Mda   Black Diamond
Patricia Melo   Lost World translated by Clifford Landers
Philipp Meyer   American Rust
Thando Mgqolozana   A Man Who is Not a Man
Anne Michaels   The Winter Vault
China Miéville   The City And the City
Alex Miller  
Wu Ming   Manituana translated by Shaun Whiteside
Shandi Mitchell   Under this Unbroken Sky
Lisa Moore   February
Lorrie Moore   A Gate at the Stairs
C.E. Morgan   All the Living
Marcel Moring   In a Dark Wood
Kate Mosse   The Winter Ghosts
Peter Murphy   John the Revelator
H.M. Naqvi   Home Boy
David Nicholls   One Day
Audrey Niffenegger   Her Fearful Symmetry
Elizabeth Nunez   Anna In-Between
Joyce Carol Oates   Little Bird of Heaven
Vida Ognjenovic   Adulterers translated by Jelena Bankovic / Nicholas Moravcevich
Kristina Olsson
  The China Garden
Amos Oz   Rhyming Life and Death translated by Nicholas De Lange
Orhan Pamuk   The Museum of Innocence translated by Maureen Freely
Jacques Pauw   Little Ice Cream Boy
Eva Petric   They All Ate Sushi
Caryl Phillips   In the Falling Snow
Jayne Anne Phillips   Lark & Termite
Claudia Pineiro   Thursday Night Widows translated by Miranda France
Kate Pullinger   The Mistress of Nothing
Anthony Quinn   The Rescue Man
Kim Stanley Robinson   Galileo's Dream
Santiago Roncaglio   Red April translated by Edith Grossman
Jane Rusbridge   The Devil's Music
Suhayl Saadi   Joseph's Box
Maryam Sachs   Without Saying Goodbye translated by Sara Sugihara
Gill Schierhout  
Raphael Selbourne   Beauty
Erick Setiawan   Of Bees and Mist
Kamila Shamsie   Burnt Shadows
Laurie Sheck   A Monster's Notes
Daniel Silva   The Defector
Craig Silvey   Jasper Jones
Colleen Smith-Dennis   Inner-City Girl
Kathryn Stockett   The Help
Mari Strachan   The Earth Hums in B Flat
Bahaa Taher   Sunset Oasis translated by Humphrey T. Davies
Boston Teran   Giv: The Story of a Dog and America
Colm Toibín   Brooklyn
Jean-Philippe Toussaint   Running Away translated by Matthew B. Smith
William Trevor   Love and Summer
Thomas Trofimuk   Waiting for Columbus
Dubravka Ugresic   Baba Yaga Laid an Egg translated by Ellen Elias-Bursac et al
Chika Unigwe   On Black Sisters' Street translated by H. Van Riemsdijk
Srdjan Valjarevic   Lake Como translated by Allice Copple Tosic
Abraham Verghese   Cutting for Stone
Esther Verhoef   Close-Up translated by Paul Vincent
Dimitri Verhulst   Madame Verona Comes Down the Hill translated by David Colmer
Pinki Virani   Deaf Heaven
Jorge Volpi   Season of Ash translated by Alfred J. MacAdam
Abdourahman Waberi   In the United States of Africa translated by David and Nicole Ball
Kate Walbert   A Short History of Women
Jeannette Walls   Half- Broke Horses
Pieter Waterdrinker   The German Wedding translated by Brian Doyle
Sarah Waters   The Little Stranger
Colson Whitehead   Sag Harbor
Tommy Wieringa   Joe Speedboat translated by Sam Garrett
Manuka Wijesinghe   Theravada Man
Damien Wilkins   Somebody Loves Us All
Alison Wong   As the Earth Turns Silver
Evie Wyld   After the Fire, a Still, Small Voice
Michael Zadoorian   The Leisure Seeker
Carlos Ruiz Zafon   The Angel's Game translated by Lucia Graves

*The Sentimentalists, by Johanna Skibsrud

Gaspereau Press Limited, 2009
218 pp.

The Sentimentalists is not a long book, but within its 200+ pages, the author examines the relationship between fathers and daughters as well as friendship and the often intangible and little-understood consequences of war. However, the main theme that carries through all of these topics is the imperfection and frailty of memory -- and the role played by the passage of time and circumstance in how and what we remember.

The basic story follows the narrator, a woman whose father can no longer live on his own.  She and her sister take him from his Fargo, North Dakota home, a structure "pieced together from two and a half aluminum trailers and deposited in a lot" to the home of Henry, the father of Owen, a childhood friend, in a small town called Casablanca in Ontario, "just twenty miles from the border of New York."  This little town was where the family spent many summer vacations when the narrator and her sister were children, and the group referred to Henry's residence as the "government house," after the flooding of his boyhood home caused by the course of the construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway in the late 1950s.  In the present, for reasons of her own, the narrator/daughter has come back to Casablanca to stay with her father, where she attempts to gain some understanding of this man about whom she knows so little -- a man whose complicated and unspoken past in Vietnam interrupted the lives of his family, and who spent years trying to connect back to a more simple, less complicated past and the dreams that were part of it.

The first half of the novel is the basis for the main story, which doesn't really appear until about just past the halfway point of the book, at which point things began to get really interesting. In the meantime, there were several paragraphs scattered throughout the novel that made me have to stop, put the book down, and take some time to parse and mull over what I'd just read. After doing this way too often and getting frustrated at the lack of narrative flow this created for me, it dawned on me that I was seeing the poet rather than narrative writer in Skibsrud, especially in the ways she often opted for a more metaphorical bent:
Overall, I would have to say that it had come as a disappointment to live within the particularities of a life; to find that the simple arithmetic of things -- which I thought I had learned by rote, but was now unsure from whom, or what is was that had been learned at all was not so simple. That it was not, in fact, combination alone that increased the territory of living in the world. And that love did not, of its own accord, increase with time...And that there was nothing to do when it left you but bite your tongue and wait for its return. As though it were a small bird, which sometimes thought to wing itself across the city -- but would, almost always, thinking better of it, arrive again in a rush, to the sill. Oh, I would have waited like a dog for seven lifetimes for that bird to appear, if I knew that it would continue to come!  If I knew that it would continue to look in again with fondness at the small room, which it had thought to leave behind; at a life of knowing; of closeness, and foibles. Of regrets, misdeeds, and small, personal ecstasies.
This is not to say that I didn't like this book -- because I did, especially the last part. It's not that I don't appreciate the beauty of the English language in the hands of talented authors, because I do,  but I think this book would be most fully appreciated by an audience inclined to the more complex aspects of the writing craft, quite possibly by people who are writers themselves.  As for me, although I always ponder whatever it is I'm reading at the moment, sometimes the reading process in this case was just a bit more work than it needed to be, although I will say that toward the end of the novel, things picked up and became a little more straightforward, using less of the detail that tended to bog down the first half of the novel in parts and less effluvient language. One thing that still puzzles me is that I'm still not sure exactly why the author chose to set up the epilogue of the book the way she did -- it was quite an abrupt change -- but it is what it is. If anyone has figured it out, maybe you can clue me in.

Overall -- it's a fine first novel, sometimes a bit bogged down with what I would consider superfluous detail and metaphor, but one still worth the time you put into it, and one I'd recommend.   


I consider myself quite fortunate to have bought my copy early on in the book's lifetime (drawn in by the Vietnam aspect of the novel) before Amazon sellers brought the prices up exorbitantly.  Now, as it turns out, there's going to be another run to help keep up with the demand (from today's issue of Shelf Awareness): 

Douglas & McIntyre is publishing a trade paperback version of Scotia Giller Prize-winner The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud, which has been in short supply since it won the award last Tuesday. Gaspereau Press, the novel's publisher, prints and binds its books in-house, a process that cannot keep up with demand for The Sentimentalists. The first printing was 800, which is sold out, and the second printing of 2,300 is spoken for....Douglas & McIntyre plans to ship 30,000 copies of the new edition of the book by this Friday, November 19, from printer Friesens in Manitoba. Another printing of 20,000 will follow immediately. The book will be priced at $19.95.

The article goes on to say that the book is already available on the Kobo e-reader, and that Douglas & McIntyre is also planning to make it available for other e-reader formats as well.  So for those of you waiting, it shouldn't be too long.