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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Monday, June 29, 2015

June 2015 The Reading Life Review

I offer my great thanks to Max u for the Amazon Gift Cards and most importantly for his suggestions.


June brought the tragic passing of Bonny Norte.  Bonny, father, husband, son, brother, teacher, uncle and man of God was  devoted above all to his family and faith.  We will all miss him deeply and look forward to seeing him again.  

Late this month The Reading Life passed the 3.5 million page views mark.  The six most viewed posts are all on classic short stories by Filipino authors.  The most searched for authors are Katherine Mansfield followed closely by R. K. Narayan.  The top visitor home countries are the U S A, the Philippines, India, Germany and Russia.  The most frequent city of residency for visitors is the metro- Manila area.

As of today there are 2638 posts on my blog.  I have 4068 Twitter followers.  

The big reads for the month were Job by Joseph Roth,  a reread of Katherine Manafield's first collection of short stories, In a German Pension, and a book I placed on my TBR list back when the Romonavs, The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyesky,  still ruled.  

I read The Collected Short Stories of Clarice Lispector and posted on a number of her stories.  She is a writer with a great and powerful range.  I will be posting on more of her stories as I reread them.



I continued reading short stories.  I pushed on with my project of reading the full Comedie Humaine by Honore de Balzac.  I have completed 68 of 91 works.  



Future plans and hopes.  Basically more of the same.  I will begin rereading Proust very soon.  I now have 138 collections of short stories on my E Reader, easy 2500 plus stories.  I will never get to all these but I keep accepting more free collections anyway.



Review Policy.  I don't have one.  I look at any thing I am sent.  

I will continue, I hope, to be able to publish quality guests posts like the one done by Shannon Young this month.  I have now done over 100 Q and A sessions and hope to do more.  If anything on my blog is of lasting value, it is these posts.





Saturday, June 27, 2015

Extinction by Thomas Bernard (1986, translated by David Mclintock)


I give my great thanks to Max u for the Amazon Gift Card that allowed me to read this work 


Extinction is the third novel by Thomas Bernhard (1931to 1989) I have so far have had the strange experience of reading.  Prior to this I first read his Wittgenstein's Nephew then his Concrete.   Like both of these novels, Extinction is basically a long interior monologue.  The narrator is completely convinced of his own intellectual, cultural, and moral superiority to everyone else pretty much in the world.  The narratives are fascinating complex commentaries on society.  The narrator is very rich through ancient Austrian money.

Extinction is divided into two chapters.  The first chapter is our narrator having it seems an imagined conversation with his pupil, telling him of his experience growing up on the incredibly wealthy very ancient estate Austrian estate of Wolsegg.  He launches into vitriolic attacks on his parents, especially his mother,his  older brother, and his two sisters.  He hates everything about Austrian society.  His narrative is full of contradictions and self-deception.  As he was going on and on I was some how fascinated but I had to fight the urge to scream out "shut the heck up".  He is teaching his one pupil German literature.  The only author he admires without reservation is Kafka.  He comes close to saying all German literature is trash.  The narrator seems like an arrogant twenty something but he is forty eight. 

His father was involved with the Nazis during the war, not such much as a believer but just to go along.    His mother may have had a sexual affair with an archbishop.  The only person in the family he has any esteem for is his uncle Gustav, his mother's brother.   Lots of very fascinating observations are made.

In the second section he gets a telegraph saying his parents and his older brother have been killed in an auto wreck.  He had vowed never to return to the estate, he lives in Rome, but he must go to the funeral and he is now the sole owner of all the property, vast wealth.  We follow him back and listen to his thoughts as he deals with the return and the funeral preparations.  The house is a three story monstrosity.  It has five separate libraries to house bought for display never read books.  The narrator is very into the reading life, greatly admires Scopenhauer.  He prefers French literature, he adores Proust and the great Rusiians to all others.  I liked and was shocked by the ending.  

Extinction is a masterwork.  At times reading it felt like I was  being scourged with a cat of nine tails, at other times as if was an exquisite pleasure available only to the very dedicated reader.  

Bernhard wrote nine novels.  I see no legitimate way out of not putting the remaining six on my to be read list.   

Please share your experience with Bernhard with us.

Mel u

Thursday, June 25, 2015

"Writing Like a Reader" by Shannon Young - A Guest Post by the Author of Year of Fire Dragons

Today I am very proud to present a guest post by the multitalented Shannon Young.  This is her second Guest Post on The Reading Life.


The world is becoming more and more dominated by the Internet and social media. I find the work of Shannon Young and the authors she talks about in her post  of great importance as they urge the importance of understanding and respecting a vast range of cultures.  Ancient cultures can be maintained and cherished in high tech mega cities.  It takes some effort as Shannon knows but it provides an anchor in dark times and a source of joy in good times.  A while ago I read that the last thing an immigrant will give up is their home country food and Shannon and her mentioned authors understand this deep human instinct.  

Mel u







Guest Post for The Reading Life


Writing like a Reader

By Shannon Young



This summer marks the fifth year that I've been living in Hong Kong and the first anniversary of when I quit my job as a teacher to write full-time. Five years ago I had never written anything other than school assignments, sporadic journal entries, and letters. I never thought my own stories were worth telling.

But when I moved to Hong Kong from the US, I found myself needing to process my experiences in a new way. I started writing about the place, the sensations, the buildings, the food. I wanted to describe the festivals and the crowds and the sounds in this world that was all new to me. Those awkward typed pages became the first layer of a travelogue that would eventually grow into a coming of age memoir about how I moved to Hong Kong to be with my long distance love. The resulting book has just been published under the title Year of Fire Dragons.



Originally, I had no intention of writing about my life or my relationships. I wasn't yet ready to insert myself intodescriptions that would fit more comfortably in a travel brochure than in a story.

As my first year in Hong Kong unfolded, I read travel memoirs and books set in Asia. Experts, people who studied those cultures and had valuable and informed opinions to offer, were the authorsAt first this was discouraging to my own writing efforts. I wasn't an authority on Hong Kong or Chinese culture, and I didn't want to offend with my efforts to interpret a city where I was a newcomer and a culture where I was a daughter-in-law, not a blood relative. 

But I still felt compelled to write, to process. The one area of expertise I could claim was being myself in a strange new world. My writing needed a personal touch, a story that would resonate with other wide-eyed newcomers like me. I'm not an expert on Hong Kong, but I know exactly how it feels to be an outsider here.

In looking for inspiration and guidance, I turned to the works of other "others" writing through foreign eyes. In particular, I gravitated to the works of other women.

First, Elizabeth Gilbert helped me through the confessional nature of her work, baring her soul in a way that I doubt I'll ever achieve. Peter Hessler impressed with his compassion and attention to both detail and character. Next was Susan Jane Gilman, writing about China with the joy and trepidation of a young woman on her own for the first time. Then it was Torre DeRoche, structuring a travel memoir like a novel, with all the romance, drama, and uncertainty of the best fiction. 

Later, I followed the careers of writers who were a bit closer to me, women discussing their works in progress, signing book deals, finding audiences. I cheered for Susan Blumberg-Kason and Jane Cornelius. I was honored to select future stars like Dorcas Cheng-Tozun, Sharon Brown, and Christine Tan for publication in the expat women anthology How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit?



 Finally, I joined forces to cross-promote with Tracy Slater and Leza Lowitz, who are publishing their own stories of love, life, and finding a home in Asia this summer. 



The works of these writers, coupled with those struggling alongside me in my writers' groups, pushed me to write the best book I could, not just for myself but for the readers who are looking for their own ways to process their experiences in an unknown land, a different sort of life than they might have anticipated. 

Year of Fire Dragons is a book about love, but it's also about coming of age, about traipsing wide-eyed through a foreign landscape, about coming home. For me, it's a journey of discovery. It was through writing this book that I figured out I like to write. And it was through writing about Hong Kong that I figured out how to make this city my own.

Shannon Young is an American author living in Hong Kong. She is the author of Year of Fire Dragons: An American Woman's Story of Coming of Age in Hong Kong and the editor of the expat women in Asia anthology How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit?

You can learn more about Shannon Young and follow her career on her excellent webpage




Here's a bit more about each book:


In 2010, bookish 22-year-old Shannon follows her Eurasian boyfriend to Hong Kong, eager to forge a new love story in his hometown. She thinks their long distance romance is over, but a month later his company sends him to London. Shannon embarks on a wide-eyed newcomer's journey through Hong Kong—alone. She teaches in a local school as the only foreigner, explores Asia with other young expats, and discovers a family history of her own in Hong Kong. The city enchants her, forcing her to question her plans. Soon, she must make a choice between her new life and the love that first brought her to Asia.
Susan Blumberg-Kason, author of Good Chinese Wife, has called Year of Fire Dragons "a riveting coming of age story" and "a testament to the distance people will travel for love." I 

found several books I would love to read on the webpage of the Hong Kong based publisher, Blacksmith Books.



The Good Shufu:  Finding Love, Self, & Home on the Far Side of the World

By Tracy Slater




The Good Shufu is a true story of multicultural love, marriage, and mixups. When Tracy Slater, a highly independent American academic, falls head-over-heels in love with the least likely person in the world--a traditional Japanese salaryman who barely speaks English--she must choose between the existence she'd meticulously planned in the US and life as an illiterate housewife in Osaka. Rather than an ordinary travel memoir, this is a book about building a whole life in a language you don’t speak and a land you can barely navigate, and yet somehow finding a truer sense of home and meaning than ever before. A Summer ’15 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection, The Good Shufu is a celebration of the life least expected:  messy, overwhelming, and deeply enriching in its complications.



Here Comes the Sun:  A Journey to Adoption in 8 Chakras

By Leza Lowitz





At 30, Californian Leza Lowitz is single and traveling the world, which suits her just fine. Coming of age in Berkeley during the feminist revolution of the 1970s, she learned that marriage and family could wait. Or could they? When Leza moves to Japan and falls in love with a Japanese man, her heart opens in ways she never thought possible. But she’s still an outsider, and home is far away. Rather than struggle to fit in, she opens a yoga studio and makes a home for others. Then, at 44, Lezaand her Japanese husband seek to adopt—in a country where bloodlines are paramount and family ties are almost feudal in their cultural importance. She travels to India to work on herself and back to California to deal with her past. Something is still not complete until she learns that when you give a little love to a child, you get the whole world in return. The author’s deep connection to yoga shows her that infertile does not mean inconceivable. By adapting and adopting, she transcends her struggles and embraces the joys of motherhood.


Stonebridge Press is a Berkeley, California based publisher with a diverse range of titles focusing on Asian culture.  They offer very interesting works on Japanese literature I have not seen elsewhere. 


End of guest post

I offer my great thanks to Shannon Young for this very interesting guest post.  I hope in the coming years Shannon will often return.







Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Job by Joseph Roth (1930, translated by Ross Benjamin)

I offer my great thanks to Max u for the Amazon Gift Card that enabled  me to read this book.




Job - The Story of a Simple Man is the ninth book by Joseph Roth (1894 to 1939) I have so far read.  My goal is to read all his translated available as a Kindle works.  Sadly about six of his novels that I have not yet read that were just a couple of months ago available as Kindles are no longer on Amazon and the print editions are listed as temporarily out of stock with no idea when they will be available.  I don't know if this is from a publisher dispute with Amazon or if the publishers no longer have them in print.  I know I wished when I saw this that I had already acquired the unread Roth books on Kindle.  With the reading of the very powerful Job, I have now  read, hopefully just a temporary issue, all the works by Roth available in English as a Kindle edition.  

While reading Roth I have also been reading a bit of Yiddish literature, primarily  in the wonderful Yale Yiddish Library Collection.  It struck me as I read Job that it seemed more like Yiddish literature than any of his other works.  Inspired by the biblical character of great suffering Job, Mendel Singer, the lead character undergoes incredible loss and suffering, loses his faith in God and at last regains the wisdom to partially understand why God mad him suffer so much. 

Mendel Singer lives with his wife, his daughter Mariam and his two sons.  His wife gives birth to another son who has severe learning disabilities.  Mendel makes a modest living as a teacher.  Roth does a marvelous job of letting us see how the struggle to survive.  It is also a portrait of a marriage. We see how the birth of the new son puts a terrible strain on everyone in the family.  He causes conflict within the marriage.  His daughter Mariam becomes promiscuous, going so far as to sleep with the dreaded vehicle of Tsarist oppression, a Cossack, to her parent's great shame.  One of their two sons is drafted into the Russian army, almost tantamount to a death sentence for a Jew.  The other finds the means to move to New York City where his letters tell of his growing prosperity.  At about midpoint in the novel an American friend of their son, there on a business matter, tells them that their son is working on bringing the whole family to America.  The big issue is the handicapped son.  American authorities will not let him in the country.  The Singers at great anguish make arrangements to leave him with a couple, giving them their house in exchange for care of the son.

Now we begin a classic tale of immigration.  The ship passage is wonderfully told and the arrival in America and the reunion with their now married to an American woman son is very moving.  At first everything is wonderful then one terrible thing after another begins to happen.  Mendel is thrown into such despair that he curses God.  He descends further and deeper into despair and indifference to life until something completely miraculous happens.

The translator Ross Benjamin states that  Job is the second best work by Roth, after his acknowledged by all master work, The Radetzky March.


Joseph Roth is a person of great wisdom.  I wish he would have immigrated to New York City and given the world a novel a year for a long time.  

Mel u
                                     




Monday, June 22, 2015

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1869, translated by Eva Martin)


"The contents of Dostoyesky's  Idiot pursue me. Lapdogs interest me greatly. I’m not searching for someone as lively as an Aglaya. Unfortunately, she would, of course, take someone else."  Robert Walser - 1925



If my memory serves the Romanov's were in power when I first placed Fyodor Dostoyesky's The Idiot on my To Be Read List.  It was pushed to the fore by my recent reading of Robert Walser's feuilleton on the novel.  

The dominating character of the novel is Prince Lev Myshkin, 28 years old and just returned from a long treatment in a Swiss sanatorium for epilepsy.  He was considered simple minded by some.  He returns to St. Petersburg, planning to meet a distant relative.  When he goes to her palace her business manager assumed by his inexpensive clothes that he was there to ask for money.  He ends up meeting the woman's husband who offers him a place to stay.  There is a decent plot summery on Wikipedia so I will spare you that.  

I found it very interesting that both Hamlet and Don Quixote are referenced.  Both are characters that transcend the works in which they originated and both are figures of great and profound symbolic resonance.  There is a lot of conversations about the nature of the "Russian Soul" in The Idiot.  

The Brothers Karamavov and Crime and Punishment are on all lists of world's greatest novels. I think these works are among the greatest literary works, as do most others.  The Idiot is, my guess only, is a perhaps a more loved work.

I read thus in a translation by Eva Martin.  I tried to find information on her but could find only refrences to this translation.  

I am so glad I at last read The Idiot.



Mel u



Sunday, June 21, 2015

In a German Pension by Katherine Mansfield (1911, a collection of 13 interrelated short stories)





Katherine Mansfield (1888 to 1923) is a very important figure in my reading over the last six years and in the development of my blog.  Before I began read her stories I never really appreciated or had much interest in short stories.  Like many, I thought they did not provide the substantially I sought in serious literary fiction.  I first read her famous story "Miss Brill" because a short story web page I had begun to follow endorsed the work.  I was so taken by it I decided to read and post on all,of her short stories.  From this I met others into her work, was asked to write an article for The Katherine Mansfield Society, and to this day even though it has been years since I posted on her, people come to read my posts upon her everyday, most I speculate are college students.

Last week my Brother-in-Law Bonny Norte passed away and my family returned to our ancestral home in northern Zambales.  We are situated on a very peaceful tract of land with giant mango trees, a beautiful lake in the rear where the air is so clean it is a pleasure just to breath.  While there I began reading, among other works, the 13 interconnected stories in Mansfield's first collection of stories,  In a German Pension. Mansfield was sent by her mother to a pension (boarding house) in Bavaria to have her treated at a nearby spa for various issues and Mansfield is thought to have used these experiences in her stories.

I think on second my reading of In a German Pension that you will get most out of the collection if you read it over just a few days, if not straight through.  With this I was able to appreciate more how the stories tie in with each other.  Most of the other pension guests are affluent Germans, including a Baron.  The other guests assume, in a very quick aside you will miss if not alert, that the female narrator is English but she is not.  Germans come of the worst here, especially German men, but thevGermans get in some good jabs also.  The semi friendly jostling can't help but now be read in the light of the forth coming World War.  There are a lot of class and social status markers in the small world of the pension.  There much humor in the stories but also terrible pain as in "The Child Who Was Tired" focusing on a young helper girl at the pension.  Married women look down on unmarried females, in one funny conversation a German woman tells the narrator that she does not see why any man would marry a typically cold English woman.  There are romances, intrigues and even a murder to keep you very interested.  We get a real feel for the day to day life of the pension.

I greatly enjoined my reread of In a German Pension.  I suspect I will reread all her stories.  Mansfield is a true master of the short story.

Mel u


Friday, June 19, 2015

"The Elixir of Life" by Honoré de Balzac (1831, A Short Story Component of The Human Comedy)





66 of 91

In his preface to this story Balzac acknowledges he got the idea from a story by Hoffman.  In his defense he says he has created enough original stories in The Comedie Humaine so his subscribers cannot really complain.

I prefer Balzac's works about ordinary people in contemporary France to his fictions on the nobility of Italy set in the 15th and 16th century.  Maybe this was what the Paris reading public wanted in 1831 but I find these works can be tedious.  I hope there are not too many more of them to go��

"The Elixir of Life" centers on a ninety year old Italian Duke, set in the 16th century, and the son of his old age.  The father is a man of sober habits, financially prudent in everything but his indulgence of the prolificate  ways of his 25 or so year old only son.  The son indulges in what goes for debauchery in the period, beautiful aristocratic women, fine wines and rich food.  He longs for the death of his father so he can have full control of the vast estate.  Thinks take a turn for the supernatural when he tries to poison his father.  The ending is kind of intriguing and I will leave it untold.  

Ambrosia Boussweau