Saturday, March 25, 2017

March (fourth week) 2017 Reads

Two super great novels, a non-fiction, a couple of literary journals, a Gutenberg find, and my weekly short story made up this week's reading.

 “Deal Me In 2017!”
In this week's short story, Ministry of the Interior by Louise Kennedy, a man in Beirut buries his pet cat with the help of some women friends. It's a rather sad affair and although he has prepared a nice buffet, the women can't wait to leave.
It is online at Short Fiction, a print and online journal, featuring excellent short stories from around the world.

This week's card, The Five of Hearts, is from the Marshall McLuhan Distant Early Warning (D. E. W.-Line) Card Deck, A deck of playing cards designed to be used as a problem-solving device. Published in 1969.

An essay about the deck may be found here and a complete set of DEW Line cards can be seen on Flickr at

from my "owned-but-unread" shelf...

A Spare Life
by Lidija Dimkovska, Christina E. Kramer (Translation from the Macedonian)
The separation of conjoined twins serves as a metaphor for the breakup of Yugoslavia, but it's a very strong story even if read as a straight narrative without the metaphorical stuff.

From my subscription to Two Lines Press

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
In this collection of linked short stories, Strout expands on the lives of several people mentioned in My name is Lucy Barton. It stands alone, you don't have to have read Lucy Barton to appreciate these stories of small town life, love, and loss. Strout is one my favorite authors and this one does not disappoint. Loved it.

Advance review copy through GoodReads.

Riding the Black Cockatoo by John Danalis
The author gives an account of the process of returning a skull of an Australian Aborigine to its tribe. He goes into the difficulties encountered which include convincing his father of the necessity of repatriating the skull, finding the right authorities to receive it, working with elders to assure that the proper ceremonies are observed, and dealing his own psychological reaction to the atrocities that the native people of Australia have suffered over the years.

Not the greatest writing, but it does help to raise awareness.

My copy from a blog win at The Bookshelf Gargoyle

Literary journals...

Two Lines 26 by CJ Evans (Editor)
More information and Table of Contents  Some selections from this and previous issues are available online 
I am a subscriber.

New England Review, Vol. 37, No.3 (2016)
Publishes fiction, poetry, non-fiction, drama. This issue features a section of translations of current German poetry. Some material from past issues is available online (pdf). I rec'd this copy from a blog win at LitHub Daily.  More Information and Table of Contents 

Gutenberg find...

The American Railway : Its Construction, Development, management, and Appliances by Bogart, Clarke, others, and Voorhees (Originally published by Scribners' in 1889)
Over 400 pages of essays, pictures, charts, statistics, and more. A lot of it is rather dull, but there is plenty of interest especially to a researcher. It's worth a look just for the sketches, drawings, and photographs.
The chapter on "The Every-day Life of Railroad Men" is a gem with such insights as "Brakemen have had the reputation of doing a good deal of flirting, and many a country-girl has found a worthy husband among them; but there is not so much of this method of diversion as formerly; both passenger and freight men now have to attend more strictly to business, and they cannot conveniently indulge in side play. There are still, however, enough short branch-lines and slow-going roads in backwoods districts to insure that flirting shall not become a lost art in this part of the world."

Saturday, March 18, 2017

March (third week) 2017 Reads

This week, except for being snowed in on Tuesday and unable to get my car out on Wednesday, was a lot of fun. Or maybe it was fun because of the snow. Everything I read was rewarding--each in its own way.  Planes, trains, and automobiles in three of the four novels I read this week. The fourth was a math problem and the "story" of the week was a poem. Great cover art for all four novels.

 “Deal Me In 2017!”
This week's story is a poem:  ROY-G-BIV B/W by Charlie Clark (in Bat City review #8, published in 2012)
The title is made up of the initial letters of the colors in the color spectrum plus black and white. The poem has eight sections, one for each of the seven colors and one for B/W. In some sections the connection between the color and the text was clear to me, others, not so much so. I keep working on my understanding and appreciation for poetry, but it is still my hardest kind of reading.

Bat City Review "is an annual literary journal run by graduate students at the University of Texas at Austin, supported by the English Department and the James A. Michener Center for Writers." Poetry, Fiction, Non-fiction and Art are included.  I have two copies (#8 and #10) which I enjoy dipping into now and then. Good stuff.

This week's card: 5 of Clubs
I selected this card to go with this poem because it is so colorful and so hard to figure out.

It is by Mengying Wang, an artist and student in Beijing, China who goes by the user name overflow8 on Deviant and also on Tumbler.

One Hundred Twenty-One Days by Michèle Audin, Christiana Hills (Translation)
A wonderful debut novel by mathematician and Oulipo member Michèle Audin. It tells the story of French mathematicians over several years (through WW1 & WW2) in a variety of ways: diaries, medical records, news reports, and other material from archives. Fictional and actual people are mingled (that led me to a few Googles). It's not necessary to know a lot of math, though that may help in some spots. I'm no math whiz and I loved the book. My copy from Deep Vellum subscription.

Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
How great to have a novel of Kenya's history written by a Kenyan. This one is told from the prospective of the men (both the British overseers and the Kenyan and Indian workers) building the railroad from the coast to Lake Victoria. It's filled with well drawn characters and is a joy to read.
Advance review copy form LibraryThing

Cover Art Jitterbug II, 1941 by African American artist William H. Johnson   (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

The Lauras by Sara Taylor
A confusing road trip by a mother and her teenager. Two unreliable narrators as Alex, the teenager, tells the story including retelling the stories the mother tells along the way. Alex is not always a good listener and the stories aren't chronological. But it's not as much of a muddle as it could have been and it flows surprising well. Advance review copy won on LibraryThing.

Jacket design unattributed (this is an uncorrected proof copy so info is incomplete)


Crossing the Horizon by Laurie Notaro (Kindle ed)
Fictional account of the exploits of several pioneer women aviators (and passengers) as they attempted to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. An interesting and fun read although some of them didn't survive the trip. Notaro sticks fairly close to the facts. Each chapter is headed with an historic photo and they are fun.

Library book

Reading may be a bit sparser next week because of basketball...

Saturday, March 11, 2017

March (second week) 2017 Reads

As I expected this was a "library reads" week with Travels with Herodotus, two Modiano novels, The First Wife: A Tale of Polygamy by Paulina Chiziane,  Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney, and a cookbook (on Kindle).

 “Deal Me In 2017!”
Oh good, this week's card for Deal Me In is the King of  Diamonds. It's always fun to search the Net for a face card. This week's story comes from Project Gutenberg:  An Occurrence at Owl Creek, by Ambrose Bierce
A moving story of a military execution during the American Civil War.

The card: I looked for something from the period of the story, but most of the Civil War decks (for example this King of Diamonds) were commemorative ones produced on various anniversaries.

I kept looking for something more interesting and something actually printed in the 1860s. I found lots of pictures of soldiers playing cards, but few images of the actual cards.

Then I found this deck which was produced during the War, but it has no K of Diamonds because this deck was "...produced by the American Playing Card Company in 1862. The backs had an image of four American flags while eagles, flags, stars, and shields represent the suits.  Revenue stamp inside box dated May 7, 1863"
Text and image from Bid Square where its sale is archived.

From the public library....

Villa Triste by Patrick Modiano, John Cullen (Translation)
Unlike much of Modiano's works, this is not set in Paris. It's set in 1960 at an unnamed French lakeside resort near the Swiss border (Lac d'Annecy, perhaps). The protagonist, Victor, is a stateless young man (Russian?) who meets up with a mysterious woman and her even more mysterious friend. Everything is Modiano vague; forgotten names, faces, places. Although Victor is not in Paris, he is constantly comparing streets, bars, houses to those he remembers from Paris. Along with Modiano vague, we have Modiano specific: street names, details of furniture, clothing, cars.

The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano, Mark Polizzotti (Translation)
This one is set in Paris. The narrator, with the aid of an old notebook, looks back to the 1960s when his girlfriend was somehow mixed up with a group of mysterious Moroccans. It's all very shadowy and and I love that much of it takes place in neighborhoods where I too have roamed. But this is a Paris that I can only see through Modiano's writing. He shows a dark side of the "City of Light."


The First Wife: A Tale of Polygamy by Paulina Chiziane, David Brookshaw (Translation)
Not just about polygamy, but about what it is to be a woman. An amazing book. Five women in Mozambique share a husband. When the social traditions of polygamy get to be too much for them, they plot their revenge. Excellent.

Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuściński, Klara Glowczewska (Translator)
From the title one might think that Kapuściński traveled following in the footsteps of  the Greek. That is not the case, he traveled throughout Asia, the Middle East, and Africa as a foreign correspondent for a Polish new organization with a copy of Herodotus' Histories. He reads and reflect on it when he has time. In this book he relates what he reads to contemporary events and ponders the meaning of history as we see it and as Herodotus saw it. He contends that the Greek historians method was more like the modern journalist methods than those of the modern historian.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
An old woman takes a walk around Manhattan on New Year's Eve 1984 and reminisces about her life. This book was inspired by a real person, Margaret Fishback, who was an ad writer for Macy's and a poet. Although Rooney worked with Fishback's papers (archived at Duke University) this book is fiction, not fictionalized biography. Parts (especially her encounters with the locals) are a bit improbable but it's a very human story and a good read.

Cooking for Jeffrey: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten (Kindle edition)
Once upon a time I collected cookbooks and actually used them. Now I pretty much cook from memory with occasional forays onto the Internet to find recipes. I now look at cookbooks as much for the pictures as for the recipes. I do watch TV food programs and enjoy Ina Garten's show. So I borrowed this for the chatty stuff about the couple and the food and for the pictures. The food photographer is Quentin Bacon (one of those wonderfully apt names) and his work does not disappoint. Garten is a fun cook who is not afraid to simplify and take shortcuts. Her recipes are easy to follow and there are a couple I might try. This Zucchini and Leek Frittata sounds good.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

March (first week) 2017 Reads

Still trying to limit myself to reading only from my "owned-but-unread" shelf, but I will start one library book this week: Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuściński, Klara Glowczewska (Translator). I intend to take my time with this because it will probably cause a bit of Googling and other research. The Deal Me In story this week is online. 

Recitation by Bae Suah, Deborah Smith (Translator)
This is the most difficult book I've read so far this year. A Korean actress has left the stage to wander around the world (mostly in Berlin, Vienna, and Seoul) meeting up with various other ex-patriots. It is told as a third person narrative, but at times it seems like her interior monologue. There is a vague story line which is disjointed and hard to follow. The cities all seem to overlap and there is much discussion of how the foreigners in these cities have more in common with one another than they have with their compatriots in their various homelands.
The language is rich, with elements of the mystery and dreaminess. Is it post-modern? magical realism? Is there such a thing as "fantastical realism"? There is much to ponder. The ending makes me want to go back to the beginning and start over. Definitely worth a closer read.
From my subscription to Deep Vellum Publications.

 “Deal Me In 2017!”

This week's stories are from Words Without Borders: Fog and Fire  (two very short fictions) by Nenad Joldeski; Translated from Macedonian by Will Firth.
Poetic and atmospheric--Fog begins "Fine rain is falling outside. One half of the city is under water, the other floats wounded on the city lake." The narrator goes out into the damp night.

Fire, the longer of the two stories, is a story of grief which begins "The summer that came after the death of my grandfather gave birth to a fiery well inside my father. The red chasm that he claimed was melting his soul and heating it to incandescence came out through his eyes and spewed flames at anyone who looked at him. He found no way to quench that fire."

These two stories along with Recitation by Bae Suah (see entry above) made me want to go through my shelves for a nice cozy, perfectly obvious, plot driven mystery or family saga. I'm brain dead.

This week's card: Five of Spades designed by Mexican artist Pedro Molina, which in this illustration seems to be a standard sized playing card, but...for a different view see this.

This is done in black and white which nicely fits the mood of the story Fog. For the second story, Fire, imagine the background swirls as red-orange and they become flames.

Back to the "owned-but-unread" shelf...

Away by Amy Bloom
Still reeling from my adventures with the post-modern Recitation and the two surreal short stories, I was looking for something with a clear strong narrative. This fit the bill, even though it jumps back and forth in time it is easy to follow.
After her family is killed in a massacre of Jews in the 1920s, Lillian emigrates to New York. She gets a job as a seamstress in a theater and becomes the mistress of the owner. When a cousin arrives and tells her that a village couple saved Lillian's daughter Sophie and took her to Siberia, Lillian starts on a journey to recover Sophie. She decides to head west to get to Siberia by crossing from Alaska.

During her travels, Lillian is befriended by a group of strange characters of dubious backgrounds. I liked the way Bloom follows through by telling what happens to these people after Lillian moves on and leaves them behind. There is a lot of violence and sorrow in the lives of Lillian and her friends; they have suffered unbearable losses. There is also hope, humanity, and humor. A fine book.

This was published in 2007. I received a free copy from the publisher in 2014 as part of a promotional for another of Bloom's books. (About time I got around to reading it.)

Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang
I went from reading about a mother looking for her daughter to a daughter looking for her mother. This one takes place in Shanghai from 1908 to 1920. Jialing is a Eurasian child whose mother abandons her when she is seven years old. She is taken in as a bond servant and is given an opportunity to attend a mission school. Even with this education her future is not promising; with a few exceptions she is despised by both Chinese and Europeans. She does manage to earn a little money which she uses to search for her mother.

She eventually becomes the mistress of a wealthy Chinese man, but they get mixed up in political intrigue. There is an element of fantasy as she is continually befriended by a fox/woman who protects and guides her. Somehow this worked in an otherwise straightforward narrative.

I enjoyed the book but felt that there too many twists and turns and the ending seemed even less plausible than the shape-changing talking fox/woman.
I received a review copy through a LibraryThing giveaway.

Next week looks like a "library reads" week with Travels with Herodotus, two Modiano novels, The First Wife: A Tale of Polygamy by Paulina Chiziane,  Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney, and a cookbook (on Kindle).

Saturday, February 25, 2017

February (fourth week) 2017 Reads

This week I tried to limit myself to reading only from my "owned-but-unread" shelf. The exceptions were online and associated with the Deal Me In short story challenge and research related to the books I read.

Two novels of life in Russia in the post-Soviet era. These are lyrical and haunting, full of family and national myths. Both are from my subscription to New Vessel Press.

Oblivion by Sergei Lebedev, Antonina W. Bouis (Translation)
A man travels to a former prison camp in search of the story of an odd neighbor who was a sort of adoptive grandfather to him.

The Year of the Comet by Sergei Lebedev, Antonina W. Bouis (Translation)
Coming of age in Moscow as the USSR collapses. Impossible to put this down.

Some  background by Sergei Lebedev on the New Vessel Press blog:
A biographical essay North and East
A biographical poem Two Red Stars

Seeing Red by Lina Meruane, Megan McDowell (Translation)
In this (somewhat autobiographical) novel a Chilean writer becomes blind from a complication of Diabetes. While there is description of the clinical progression of her condition, it is much more about her sense of self and her relationships, particularly with her lover and her mother, as she becomes (or is perceived by them to become) dependent on them.
Another excellent book from my subscription to Deep Vellum Publications.

The Game We Play by Sooze Lanier
There is a lot of variety in these stories. There are a couple of misses, but most are quite good. Most are set in Washington, DC. How Tommy Soto breaks you heart is a girl-loses-boy high school story; In Cat and bird two college freshman girls get to know each other; Over Shell Drive is a puzzling father-daughter tale; Raz-Jan deals with an immigrant father-son relationship; Sophie Salmon has an eating disorder; Felicia Sassafras is fiction is about a writer bored with a character she has created; Night hawk is a drug deal gone bad; Selflessly, with pleasure is a mercifully short (two pages) bit about a sex toy; Now that all danger is averted has a couple dealing with loss; At bat tells of a crucial ninth inning at bat from two points of view: batter and fan. (I've highlighted my favorites.) My copy from a blog win at The Quivering Pen.

The Pirate by Jón Gnarr, Lytton Smith (Translation)
The second book in the three-part memoir of the Icelandic actor, comedian, and politician. This one deals with his teenage years when he tried to start an anarchist punk band, avoided school, and endured a great deal of bullying.
Gnarr is really fun to read although he deals with serious topics of a difficult childhood. The first book was The Indian which I read in August 2015. The final book is The Outlaw which should arrive any day now. (They have already sent me the ebook but I prefer to wait for the print edition.)
Another book from my subscription to Deep Vellum Publications.

Justine by Iben Mondrup, Kerri A. Pierce (Translation)
Justine is an artist who loses everything--her house, her work, all her belongings--in a fire. She has also recently split with her lover. As she tries to rebuild her life and prepare some pieces for a scheduled exhibition, her story is revealed in layers of out-of-sequence memories. This is a dark tale, with frantic sexual exploits, misogyny, jealousy, as she searches for artistic expression in the male-dominated world of Denmark's art scene.
One of my subscription books from Open Letter Books

Cutting Back: My Apprenticeship in the Gardens of Kyoto by Leslie Buck
The title almost says it all--except it doesn't explain that Leslie Buck was a thirty-five year old American woman serving as a tree pruning apprentice in an almost all male workplace. Adjusting to the cultural differences between being her own boss in California to taking orders from everyone on her work crew in Japan wasn't always easy. The tools were new to her so her body ached, there was no stopping work because of rain and snow, and it was a six day work week. She got through it with grim determination, a sense of humor, and a love for her art. A very enjoyable account.
I received Free advance review copy.

 “Deal Me In 2017!”
This week's story:  The Eyes Have It by Philip K. Dick
This was published in  Science Fiction Stories 1953 and is now free on Project Gutenberg. It is a tongue-in-cheek account of an odd group of alien life forms. The first sentence: "It was quite by accident I discovered this incredible invasion of Earth by lifeforms from another planet. As yet, I haven’t done anything about it; I can’t think of anything to do. I wrote to the Government, and they sent back a pamphlet on the repair and maintenance of frame houses."
Quite short and fun to read. Hard to say more without spoiling.

This week's card: Ace of Diamonds. This one is part the Odd Bods deck from Art of Play. "When they first appeared in 2012 for the exclusive enjoyment of members of the prestigious Folio Society, the design world fell in love. Odd Bods were playful, charming, elegant, and above all else, a joy for the eyes."
This woman on the ace catches the whimsical spirit of Dick's story, but a scroll through the samples provided by Art of Play brings up the Ten of Spades, which better illustrates the story.

The Faithful Soldier, Prompted by Saladin Ahmed
Much of the pleasure of the Deal Me In short story challenge is discovering what others are reading. I read this story because of a brief review by participant Katherine at The Writerly Reader.