M Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Stoner by John Williams (1965)


I have been wanting to read Stoner by John Williams (1922 to 1994, USA) for couple of years.  It was the Guardian book of the year for 2013. I am kind of reeling now from the impact of the telling of the life of William Stoner, trying to decide if is a work of terminal sadness or if there is redemption under the pain of Stoner's life.  My blog is in theory about literary works devoted to people who lead reading centered lives and this is just what Stoner did.  Stoner started college at The University of Missouri around 1908 or so.  He grew up on a simple farm owned by his parents.  He goes to college to study agriculture science, planning on returning to the farm on graduation.  He takes a class in literature and starts to love reading classical texts above all else.  I don't feel like telling the plot.  Stoner makes a terrible marriage, sticks with it for life, has a daughter but above all he loves reading.  He never leaves the university, teaching there for forty plus years.

Stoner is an excellant view of the petty world of academic politics.  Pedagogical professionals may be made to feel uncomfortable by the reasons offered as to why people choose to teach  at universities.

It is also a historical look at life in America from around 1908 to 1945.  We see the impact of World War One and Two on the campus, the depression and all is portrayed with great subtly.  

I love the prose style of Williams.  The characters are brilliantly done.  The portrait of the marriage is just harrowing in its understated intensity.  

I add my voice to the chorus of those who see this as must reading.  It is a very powerful work and many will find it depressing.

Please share your experience with Stoner with us and let us know if you have read other works by John Williams.

Mel u



  

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Square by Choi In-Hun (1960 in Korean, to be published in translation 2014 by Kim Seong-Kon)




The Square by Choi In-Hun (born in North Korea in 1936, moved with family to South Korea in 1950) is an award winning work of Korean Modernism.  Dalkey Archives Press has recently begun publishing translations of highly regarded post World War I I Korean novels and short stories.  They have kindly given me review copies of a number of them, including The Square.

The Square focuses on a young man, Lee Myong-Jun whose life reflects the divisions in Korean society.  He struggles to decide if North Korea with its Marxist society and militant nationalism represents what is best for Koreans or if the capitalistic industrial Western looking South Korea is the right path.  When the Korean War  (1950 to 1953) starts Lee joins the North Korean Army and ends up being taken prisoner.  After the war he is released and decides to leave Korea, not being able to decide which side is in the right, for India.  I was delighted to see the ship was called "The Tagore".  The story is told through a series of somewhat fragmented interior monologues while he crosses  the Indian Ocean.  


I enjoyed my first venture into Korean modernism and will endeavor to read more works this year.

I offer my thanks to Dalkey Archives (dalkeyarchives.com) for a generous gift of books.  They publish lots of great books and have a very multicultural catalogue.


Sunday, July 20, 2014

Secrets of The Princess de Cadignan by Honore de Balzac (1839, A Novella, A Component of La Comedie Humaine )


I am currently reading Christoper Isherwood's Berlin Stories, about his years in Weimer Germany.  In the added much latter preface he said at first he wanted to do a grand novel based on all the people he met in Berlin but he soon realized it would take a writer with the power of Balzac to write it.  

I like large scale reading projects.  I am nearing the end now of the twenty novel Rougon Macquart Cycle by Emile Zola, heavily influenced by Balzac.  Balzac's La Comedie Humaine, in the edition I have, contains 91 works.  Included are novels, short stories and novellas.  Reading the full project is not perhaps as daughting as it sounds at first.  I am approaching La Comedie Humaine cautiously for now, reading short stories and novellas.  There are something like thirty five full length novels in the cycle, I have read five of them so far.  I am reading older public domain classics in The Delphi Edition of the Works of Balzac. It does purports to be the full Comedie but not all of Balzac's incredibly huge output. It is organized along the final ideas of Balzac.  

I do intend to post individually on each component of The Comedie Humaine I read, mostly to help me remember them.   

Secrets of the Princess de Cadignan (reading time maybe 75 minutes) focuses on a woman once part of the aristocracy whose but lost her husband in  The July 1830 which overthrew the Bourbon King.  Her husband fled France with King Charles.  She once had a reputation as a "coquette", I admit I am not quite sure what this was a euphemism but she was still quite a beauty.  Since her royal connections were displaced she has been keeping a low profile.  The action of the work  centers on her developing relationship with a famous writer.  It is set in Paris.  I enjoyed reading it.

I am including this written and set in Paris short story as part of my participation in Paris in July, 2014

Mel u




The Dream by Emile Zola (1888, work 16 in The Rougon Macquart Cycle)




The Dream is very different from the prior fifteen novels in Ths Rougon Marquart Cycle.  It set in rural France among mostly  decent people.  My post read research revealed that in The Dream Zola set out to show he could write a successful work that did not depend upon sensationalism and depravity for its power.  

It centers on a young girl we first meet as an orphan, Angelique.  She is a fourth general Rougart.  She is adopted by a happily married couple in their early forties whose only child died while an infant, long ago.   I sense in Zola an antagonism toward sexual activity, a feeling that sex is inherently corrupting.  His ideal female is very beautiful, falls in love while quite young and dies a virgin.

The family in the novel make their living by producing grand embroidered tapestries and gowns.  The testify to the glory of the saints.  Angelique is very into the love of Catholic Saints, especially Saint Agnes.  Agnes died in Rome around 300AD at 13.  She was very beautiful and had many suitors but she had made a vow of lifetime chastity, declaring her love of God overrides any possible earthly attachment.   A high ranking Roman official had her tortured and executed when she refused to renounce God and marry him.  There is a lot of powerful religious imagery in The Dream.

Angelique and a rich very handsome man of great character meet and fall in love to everyone's delight, especially her adoptive parents.  

A beautiful wedding ceremony takes place in this fairy tale like story.  The ending will not come as much of a surprise to Zola readers.

The next novel is The Human Beast.



Mel u

Saturday, July 19, 2014

"The Black Square" by Chris Adrian (2011, an O Henry Prize Story)



A few days ago I read "A Tiny Feast", a wonderful dark fairy tale by Chris Adrian (there is a link to the story, from The New Yorker, in my post where you can and should read this really creative work).

I was happy to find two more short stories by Chris Adrian in short story anthologies I have on hand, one in the O Henry Prize Stories 2011.

"The Black Square" is a very interesting combination of a story about a Gay man vacationing on the very affluent island of Nantucket going over half bitter half poignant memories of his relationship while he contemplates stepping into what seems to be a very mysterious black square that seems to lead to either another dimension or just oblivion.  The central character is trying to decide if he should step through the black square or not.  He has given 100s of men, some he knows and some he doesn't, blow jobs.   You wonder if all this frantic sex is a search itself for oblivian.  The depiction of the sexuality of the man is handled in a matter of factual kind of way.

I liked this story, not as much as "A Tiny Feast" which I just loved.

Chris Adrian, M.D., M.Div., M.F.A. 



Chris Adrian has written three novels: Gob's Grief, The Children's Hospital, and The Great Night. In 2008, he published A Better Angel, a collection of short stories. His short fiction has also appeared in The Paris Review, Zoetrope, Ploughshares, McSweeney's, The New Yorker, The Best American Short Stories, and Story. He was one of 11 fiction writers to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2009.Adrian completed his Bachelor's degree in English from the University of Florida in 1993. He received his M.D. from Eastern Virginia Medical School in 2001. He completed a pediatric residency at the University of California, San Francisco, was a student at Harvard Divinity School, and is currently in the pediatric hematology/oncology fellowship at UCSF. He is also a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. 

There is a story by Adrian in 20 Under 40.  - from The New Yorker and I am looking forward to reading it soon.

Mel u



Concluding by Henry Green (1948) - with my suggestions for those new to Green




Henry Green (1905 to 1973, Yorkshire, England, real name Henry Yorke) is widely described as a "writer's writer".  His friend Elizabeth Bowen said he was a consummate master of dialogue.  He published eight novels and a few short stories and a bit of journalism.  (You can find background information on him in my prior posts.)   I am happy and sad to say I have now read all of his novels.

Concluding is set in a girl's school in an alternative future England.  The job of the school is to produce future civil servants.  For reasons we never learn, all the first names of the students begin with an "M".  Some sort of mildly oppressive regime is running England though we never learn what happened or much about it.  One morning two students are reported missing.  Much of the undertone of the novel centers on the sexual awaking of the girls.  The principals think 16 to 18 year old girls have no consciousness at all about sex.

The central characters, all partially ciphers, are an elderly man who lives with his granddaughter in a cottage on the ground and two female school leaders who want to kick him out.  Everything is very understated as Green readers would expect.  This is a novel for a Green believers.

I would strongly suggest anyone wanting to begin to read Green, start with the collection of three novels sold as a bundle, Loving, Living, and Party Going. My guess these works will send you, as it did me, on a journey through complete novels of Green.  Most are about 200 pages.

Green is a modernist writer.  His conversations are wonderful.  


Mel u





Friday, July 18, 2014

"Roast Beef, Medium" by Edna Ferber. (1913 an early short story by Pulitzer Prize Winning writer of Show Boat and So Big






Edna Ferber (1885 to 1968, winner of the Pultizer Prize in 1924 for Show Boat got her literary start with a series of short stories centering on Emma McChesney, a traveling saleslady specializing in petticoats with a very independent with it kind of "with it" attitude.  Traveling sales ladies were rare in 1913 and Emma has heard more than her share of propositions and such in her years on the road.  

The story starts out in the dining room of hotel.  Emma orders a solidly predictable meal, Roast Beef Medium.  A man much younger than Emma also dining at the hotel, most of the guests are traveling sales men, once a big part of American retail, younger by decades than Emma strikes up a conversation with Emma.  Now Emma is a lady but life on the road can get lonely so she agrees to go for a walk with him.  The best part of the story were Emma's comments about life.

There is an interesting moral in this story, the title tells it.

I liked this story and am glad I read "Roast Beef, Medium".

I read this in this well done anthology.


Mel u