Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Talk to the Hand by Lynne Truss

Read this last night. Yep. Picked it up at 7ish and finished it at 10ish.

So, it's a quick read.

That's probably the best thing I can say about it.

I'm not sure if it's because I'm not of the right generation (ie, my elbow skin doesn't pucker enough) or because I'm not from the right country (read, not English) but I found this book highly annoying.

I read the book feeling like the woman in the dentist's waiting room who shocked and outraged Truss when she said she was listening to the "hi-fi" that Truss wanted to turn off. There was so much of Truss' rant that I just didn't get.

There was a preoccupation with class that also escaped me. Probably the whole not being British thing.

Truss rants about rudeness but then disparages people who are "pro-social." She fusses about people who call her cell phone when she has bad reception but somehow can't come up with the solution of turning it off.

I guess I'm just not in tune with the Grumpy Old Lady school of thought.

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Great Quotation

I flipped on the TV and caught an episode of Judging Amy that I'd never seen. The themes were grief, and finding the strength to trust or love again. In one scene Amy visits her brother who's in the hospital. Previously, she'd chewed him out accusing him of retreating and giving up. She finds he's been reading the Collected Prose of Samuel Beckett. (See TV can be erudite, accessible and entertaining.) This quotation struck me as poignant and true:
“Memories are killing. So you must not think of certain things, of those that are dear to you, or rather you must think of them, for if you don’t there is the danger of finding them, in your mind, little by little. That is to say, must think of them for a while, a good while, every day several times a day, until they sink forever in the mud. That’s an order.” - Samuel Beckett, “The Expelled” (1945)

To find the exact quote, I searched google. (I don't usually watch TV with a steno pad on hand.) This blog had an interesting essay on this episode.

All aspects of memory are on my mind as I read Proust--even during my Proust hiatus.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

Winner of the 2006 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.


This book is aptly titled. All of the characters struggle with difficult circumstances and these struggles are portrayed in a way which is riveting. The novel takes place alternately in India and in New York City and deals with people who hail from a multi-generational history of loss.

In this way, it is disheartening.

And yet,

There are glimpses of joy. Amidst all the struggle, there are uplifting moments.

I come away, depressed by the intractability of the poverty, the culpability of the players in their circumstances, the conspiracy of history and colonialism but also encouraged by the human skill and desire to survive, to find solace and comfort in the small details even while the big picture seems overwhelming.

See also: The Christian Science Monitor's review which provides more details regarding the plot itself.

There's also an interesting video of Kiran Desai speaking on this book at Meet the Author.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

How Cool!

If you want to save on books, go to addall.com. This website allows users to enter the title or author of a book, and then specify shipping details. Click a button and in a few seconds, a list of all the versions of the book (hard cover, trade, etc.) appear. Click your preference and you get to compare which websites, e.g. Half.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Alibris and some others on price and shipping time.

What a great idea.

More Words from Marcel

Here are more words from Proust:
  • parturition p. 631 - the action or process of giving birth to offspring
  • cit p. 634 - not in the 2 dictionaries I checked.
  • mene, mene Tekel Upharsin p. 636 - in the Bible, the mysterious riddle written by a hand on the wall at Belshazzar’s feast. These Aramaic words may be translated literally as, “It has been counted and counted, weighed and divided.” Daniel interpreted this to mean that the king’s deeds had been weighed and found deficient and that his kingdom would therefore be divided.
  • ephebe p. 637 - a young man
  • convolvulus p. 645 - any of a genus (Convolvulus) of erect, trailing, or twining herbs and shrubs of the morning-glory family
  • calcareous p.811 - 1 a : resembling calcite or calcium carbonate especially in hardness b : consisting of or containing calcium carbonate; also : containing calcium
    2 : growing on limestone or in soil impregnated with lime
  • dalmatic p. 834 - a wide-sleeved overgarment with slit sides worn by a deacon or prelate
  • torse p. 834 - not available in the free dictionary

There are more, but I can't find the papers that I wrote them on.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

About Alice

Calvin Trillin's book about his beloved wife Alice was an interesting book to read after finishing book 4 of In Search of Lost Time. Readers of About Alice come to feel they know her and see how much he loved her. We learn that she hated groups, believed parents should go to every performance of any school play they were in (or the county would pick up the poor abused children), pioneered teaching English in college programs that began to admit lower income minority students in the 60s. She was witty, intense, engaging, courageous, sincere, caring, self-effacing, intelligent. A great writer, teacher, mother, wife. At 50 bartenders still carded her. She was beautiful, fashionable, and yet seemingly not vain.

Though she never smoked, she had and fought lung cancer for about 25 years with grace, spirit and courage. She wrote articles on being a cancer patient, including one for JAMA that's still used in medical schools.

The book not only tells us about Alice, but about Trillin's love and appreciation for her, his desire to impress her even after 35 years of marriage.

After the first couple of chapters, I really wish I had gotten a chance to know Alice or at least meet her at a party. I'm not complaining, but it's such a contrast to reading about doomed love of a woman I think Proust's narrator sees only aspects or shadows of.

Here's a New Yorker article Alice wrote:Betting Your Life

My favorite new word from this book: aperçus

A literary evening

Our bookclub, which we once called "Lila's Bookclub" due to its lack of a formal moniker, has been revived. See, Lila moved to Las Vegas (we all wondered why) for a while and without her, the bookclub kind of foundered. But she's back and so is Lila's Bookclub. (She hated that name; maybe that's why she left?)

Our first book (in our most recent go-around) was March by Geraldine Brooks. Due to Steve's calendar dyslexia, I missed that discussion but highly recommend the book.

Most of us were not looking forward to the discussion of our second book, The Shadow of His Wings by Gereon Goldmann. Since bookclub is predominantly made up of co-workers, we have the opportunity to engage in pre-discussions and the consensus was that this book sucked.

However, being that none of us had picked the book, we were unsure as to whether this month's hostess (who had picked the book) would agree with our assessment.

There was an almost audible sigh of relief from all around the table when she started the conversation by remarking on how utterly disappointed she was with the book. She had been enticed by a jacket blurb which we all agreed made the book look promising.

We spent the rest of the evening lambasting the book and the author. It did, however, make for a spirited conversation and provided an opening to veer onto tangents about living in Germany, visiting Japan, and the emotional repercussions of war.

Immediately prior to rushing over to bookclub, Rachel and I went to see Lisa See, the author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I found her style and rapport with the audience engaging. She provided some great details about her family background and how it lead her to her storyline choices.

Next bookclub book is The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, which I've already read but I am eagerly anticipating the discussion.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Volume 4 Finished

I finished "Cities of the Plain"(called "Sodome et Gomorrhe" in the original) from In Search of Lost Time! In other words, I've completed an in depth study of the social circles in Proust's France and I've learned a lot about how important one's view of the Dreyfus affair was to one's social life and what military service was like for young officers.

"Guarmantes Way" and "Cities of the Plain" present the narrator's thoughts and experiences of French society with an emphasis on the higher echelons, the long vacations of the period, (I never cease to be amazed at how people pre-20th century could travel for months). Baron Charlus' sexual orientation and short temper with a bit on Albertine (I'd expected more).

One thing about Proust's descriptions of women like Albertine, we're told they're dark haired, yet I keep picturing them as blond and ethereal (like a Renoir figure - though a did see a brunette Renoir recently). All the characters are presented through the filter of the narrator's mind, while this is always the case in fiction, the filter itself is quite interesting so I'm more aware of it, I trust the narrator less, thinking that what he tells me the characters are like and what they really are like are two different things.

It's curious to read about Charlus' sexual orientation and Proust's attitude toward homosexuality, since that was his orientation. He's quite suspicious and labels homosexuality as a vice. It isn't shown as a correlative of positive characteristics like say creativity or humor as it is today frequently. It's a secret thing the narrator thinks about a lot. According to Carter's Proust biography, he also was fascinated with homosexuality and discussed it a lot with his friends, but distanced himself from "inversion" as he called it. He'd get very upset when someone suspected him of homosexuality.

I found the end of "The Guermantes Way" when the grandmother dies so interesting in a culturally anthropological way. Death in this era was so much more social and communal than it is now in the USA at least--lots of visitors and the emotion seemed more open.

Again the book ends with a "zinger" but by now we expect it and we know that once the narrator declares he won't marry Albertine, that that's how Proust will end this book.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Language of Threads by Gail Tsukiyama

Another enjoyable read.

Set in Hong Kong before and during World War II, this book, like Snow Falling on Cedars, gave me a here-to-fore unseen (by me) glimpse of people dealing with the consequences of war.

The Language of Threads follows Pei and Jei Shin, whom we met in Women of the Silk, as they flee the Japanese in China for Hong Kong. We watch as the two women settle into their new life, only to have their lives disrupted again as the Japanese follow them to Hong Kong.

Pei reminds me of Celie in The Color Purple, a lowly woman surviving and then triumphing. The parallels include, but aren't limited to, the lost sister and the means to success.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Complete Maus

I had never read a graphic novel before, but this caught my eye at Sogang's bookstore. Last year I read Part One and this year I got the complete book to read Part 2. To my surprise, I found this to be a sophisticated reading experience.

Art Spiegelman tells the story of his parents experience as Jews on the run and then in German concentration camps. It's a moving, detailed story of their experience within a frame of a cartoonist son, often impatient with his father's frugality, long windedness and desire to have his son live with him, who records his father's and his family's history. It's realistic and riveting. The illustrations capture the feel of time, place and emotion. It did win the Pulitzer Prize so any library should have it.

An exhibit about the writing of Maus

Monday, February 05, 2007

Marie Sévigné

Today, according to the Writers' Almanac, is the birthday of Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, marquise de Sévigné. The funny thing is she's on a list of people I was going to look up as her name appears in In Search of Lost Time. Born into a noble family in 1626, Marie's famous for her letters to her daughter which were so wonderful they were circulated and eventually published. She knew the letters were circulated so she wrote knowing the public would see them.

wikipedia.org on Marie Sévigné