Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, September 25, 2020

The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women and The Artists They Inspired by Francine Prose - 2002

 The Lives of the Muses:  Nine Women and The Artists They Inspired by Francine 

Prose - 2002

After recently Reading Reading Like a Writer - A Guide for People that Love Books by Francine Prose i recalled I had snother of her books on my E reader, The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women and The Artists They Inspired.

These  are the Muses and their Artists:

Hester Thrale - Samuel Johnson 

Alice Liddell - Lewis Carroll

Elizabeth Siddal - Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Lou Andreas Salomé - Rilke and Nietsche

Gala Dali - Salvador Dali

Lee Miller - Man Ray and other photographers

Charis Weston - Edward Weston (photographer)

Suzanne Farrell - George Balanchine 

Yoko Ono - John Lennon

Prose begins with an account of the place of the Muses in ancient Greek Mythology.  Each chapter on an individual Muses also begjns with a lead into her account of the relationship of the Muses and their Artists through a digression into ancient Greece.

Of  the artists covered I am most familiar with Samuel Johnson whom i first began to read about fifty years ago.  Once on a two week excursion to London I visited fhe Johnson House Museum.  While there i read his poem London” everyday.  I stopped and had lunch at the historic Old Chedder Cheese Pub where he often dined.

Of course like every one else I have read the two Alice books. In 2014 I read a biography by a leading authority, Lewis Carroll The Man and His Circle by Edward Wakeling.  Like his subject Wakeling is an Oxford Don.  Carroll’s muse was about ten when he met her. The relationship ended when she turned 13, as directed by Alice’s mother.  Prose deals with the big question here- what is up with the nude and erotic photographs of pre-adolescent girls?  

“He was very into photography for many years and now the big question about Carroll comes up.  What is behind the many, about 1500 photographers of young girls, including nude photographs.  Why did a mature Oxford Don love to socialize with young girls?” Edward Wakeling

Wakeling tries to defuse the long raging controversary concerning whether or not Carroll was sexually interested in young girls by telling us several times he also photographed young boys and socialized with them also. I found that a tremendously poor defense

The answer is still unknown.  Carroll never married and never had any sex of any kind.  He took a vow of celibacy on becoming a Don. No one suspected him of being a pedophile, just odd, though he made Alice’s mother uncomfortable.

I have been to the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida and read a bit of Rossetti and have viewed jmages of pre-Raphalite art.

On the rest i have no knowledge.  I was never into post Beattles John Lennon music.

I found her thoughts on Johnson and Thrale to challenge my conception of their relationship.

One issue is of course do  the Muses sleep with their artists?  The modern answer would be “it’s complicated”.  The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women and The Artists They Inspired was consistently fascinating.

I was left with a question- are there any male muses to well known female artists ?



Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon - 2007


The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon - 2007

Winner of The 2007 Hugo and Nébula Award for Best Novel

In February of last year I read Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavilier and Clay.  I got bored with it about half way through but because of the creative power of Chabon I completed the work.  

This year I decided to read his Multi-Awarded alternative history novel The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.  I have been Reading in Yiddish literature and associated history for almost eight years now.  I was intrigued by idea of Alaska having been turned into a refuge for Jews during the early years of World War Two, the premise of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.  Because of this four million mostly Yiddish speaking Jews were saved from from the Holocaust.

The Jewish state was initiated in 1941 with a sixty year mandate after which time unless the American government makes it a state ths Yiddish capital, a Yiddish speaking city with, in 2001, several million residents, will become part of Alaska.

Chabon mentions in brief allusions other changes in history.  In 1942 The Germans defeated Russia, in 1946 the war ended when Berlin was totally destroyed by nuclear bombs.  The state of Israel was wiped out in 1948.  

The plot line centers on a detective plot, a murder mystery.  The detective is a member of the Yiddish Policemen’s Union.  Chess plays a big part in the story line.  We encounter lots of sorts of individuals.  We see how the Yiddish speakers and Alaskan Indians interact.  They even marry.  There are a lot of Yiddish words employed.  There is even a glossery included.

This seems to me a book for those intrigued by the alternative history presented.

Michael Chabon (b. 1963) is an acclaimed and bestselling author whose works include the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000). Chabon achieved literary fame at age twenty-four with his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988), which was a major critical and commercial success. He then published Wonder Boys (1995), another bestseller, which was made into a film starring Michael Douglas. One of America’s most distinctive voices, Chabon has been called “a magical prose stylist” by the New York Times Book Review, and is known for his lively writing, nostalgia for bygone modes of storytelling, and deep empathy for the human predicament.  .from Goodreads

Friday, September 18, 2020

At Mrs Lippincote’s by Elizabeth Taylor -1945

 At Mrs Lippincote’s by Elizabeth Taylor -1945

Short listed for the Booker Prize 

July 3, 1912 Reading,  England

November 19, 1975 Penn, England 

At Mrs. Lippincote’s was Elizabeth Taylor’s debut novel.  Prior to this I first read her A View of the Harbour and then Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, my favorite so far.  I have also read and posted on four of her short stories.  

I hope to read in the next few months these additional novels:

A Wealth of Roses 1949

The Sleeping Beauty 1953

The Soul of Kindness 1964

Blaming 1976. Published posthumously

Set during World War Two in a rooming house owned by Mrs Lippincote, Julie, her husband Rodney, and their son Oliver are kind of riding out the war there, not sure who will win.  Rodney is an officer in the Royal Air Force.  The social atmosphere of the British Air Force is very rank conscious.  With her lovely understated comic sense Taylor has produced a very interesting book.  You can see everyone is trying to keep an “English Stiff Upper Lip” while hiding their fear of the future.  

Taylor’s sentences are sometimes just such a joy to read, pure happiness on a page.

I loved these lines about the son Oliver:

“OLIVER DAVENANT did not merely read books. He snuffed them up, took breaths of them into his lungs, filled his eyes with the sight of the print and his head with the sound of words. Some emanation from the book itself poured into his bones, as if he were absorbing steady sunshine. ..... If this passion is to be called reading, then the matrons with their circulating libraries and the clergymen with their detective tales are merely flirting and passing time. To discover how Oliver’s life was lived, it was necessary, as in reading The Waste Land, to have an extensive knowledge of literature”.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Reading Like a Writer - A Guide for People that Love Books by Francine Prose - 2006

Reading Like a Writer - A Guide for People that Love Books by Francine Prose - 2006

An Autodidactic Corner Selection 

This delightful book is perfectly described by the title.  Writers, aspiring and advanced will be given ideas from the great masters and everyone will get lots of reading ideas.  Prose strongly advocates very diverse reading for aspiring writers.  Included is what is designated as a list of “essential readings”. A vision of deep reading as a partnership emerges vividly in Reading Like a Writer - A Guide for People that Love Books.  What also emerges is the great love and knowledge Prose has for both novels and short stories.

Prose starts out pondering a question:  can creative writing be really taught.  

“Can creative writing be taught?

Which may be why the question is so often asked in a skeptical tone implying that, unlike the multiplication tables or the principles of auto mechanics, creativity can’t be transmitted from teacher to student. Imagine Milton enrolling in a graduate program for help with Paradise Lost, or Kafka enduring the seminar in which his classmates inform him that, frankly, they just don’t believe the part about the guy waking up one morning to find he’s a giant bug.”

Prose having taught this very subject in universities and workshop does have an answer.

Study the works of the great writers and apply them to your own efforts.

Prose structures her book around different aspects of literary creation.  From the table of contents you can see her strategy:

ONE: Close Reading TWO:Words THREE: Sentences FOUR: Paragraphs FIVE: Narration SIX: Character SEVEN: Dialogue EIGHT: Details NINE: Gesture TEN: Learning from Chekhov ELEVEN: Reading for Courage.

Among the writers she studies, Chekhov taking pride of place, are short story masters such as Katherine Mansfield, Flannery O’Connor, John Cheever,  Donald Barthelme, Raymond Carver, Paul Bowles, Deborah Eisenberg and Dennis Johnson.  In each chapter she illustrates her thoughts with quotations which she carefully analyzes for us.  In the chapter on Dialogue she makes use of Henry Green, a perfect choice.  In the chapter on sentences she uses one from Samuel Johnson, a more than perfect choice.

She devotes a single chapter to Chekhov, telling us how in her younger days as a teacher she read his stories while waiting for a bus in a very grim station.  I love these lines

“As soon as I was settled and had finished my soda and cookie and magazine, I began reading the short stories of Anton Chekhov. It was my ritual, and my reward. I began where I’d left off the week before, through volume after volume of the Constance Garnett translations. And I never had to read more than a page or two before I began to think that maybe things weren’t so bad. The stories were not only profound and beautiful, but also involving, so that I would finish one and find myself, miraculously, a half hour or so closer to home. And yet there was more than the distraction, the time so painlessly and pleasantly spent. A sense of comfort came over me, as if in those thirty minutes I myself had been taken up in a spaceship and shown the whole world, a world full of sorrows, both different and very much like my own, and also a world full of promise. It was as if I had been permitted to share an intelligence large enough to embrace bus drivers and bus station junkies, a vision so piercing it would have kept seeing those astronauts long after that fiery plume disappeared from the screen. I began to think that maybe nothing was wasted, that someday I could do something with what was happening to me, to use even the New Rochelle bus station in some way in my work.”

I strongly endorse this book.  I left with two immediate additions to my read soon list, First Love by Ivan Turgenev and a short story by Anton Chekhov “A Woman’s Kingdom”, about a rich lonely woman.

Prose has exquisite literary taste.  

Francine Prose is the author of 20 works of fiction. Her novel A Changed Man won the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Blue Angel was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent works of nonfiction include the highly acclaimed Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife, and the New York Times bestseller Reading Like a Writer. The recipient of numerous grants and honors, including a Guggenheim and a Fulbright, a Director's Fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library, Prose is a former president of PEN American Center, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her most recent book is What to Read and Why. She lives in New York City. From The Literary Hub.

I hope to read her essay collection, What to Read and Why from 2018 soon.  A few years ago I read her intriguing novel, Lovers at the Chameleon Club. I have a copy of her 2002 book, The Lives of the Muses: Nine Artists and the Women Who Inspired Them and plan to post on it next month.

Mel u


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Mo Laethanta Saoire: Up In Smoke - A Short Story by Billy O'Callaghan - 2020


Mo Laethanta Saoire: Up In Smoke - A Short Story by Billy O'Callaghan - 2020

Published in The Irish Examiner - September 6, 2020

You may read today’s story here 

Gateway to Billy O’Callaghan on The Reading Life, including two Short stories by Billie O’Callaghan

Billy O’Callaghan loves and is deeply read in the genre.

I am pleased to be able to present his Q and A session to the Reading Life World.

I have been following the literary career of Billie O’Callaghan since March 10, 2013. My main purpose today is to let people know they can have the pleasure of reading a new short story of his recently published on in The Irish Examiner.

Today’s story is set in Cork in 1984 on Bonfire Night.  Bonfire Night has very old roots in Cork, Ireland going back to pre-Christian times, as I learned from Wikipedia:

“On the city of Cork and many rural parts of the Republic of Ireland "Bonfire Night" refers to 23 June, St John's Eve night. It has its origins in a religious celebration and originally featured prayers for bountiful crops. The night is linked to the summer solstice or Midsummer's Eve. Originally fires were lit to honour the goddess Áine as part of a Celtic celebration; the Catholic Church took over the pagan festival and linked it to the birth of St John.In the city of Limerick, "Bonfire Night" is held on May Eve, 30 April, on the eve of the Celtic festival of Bealtaine.”

In 1984 in Cork Bonfire Night is now just a reason to set a huge fire.

Young men spend weeks collecting material for the fire.  The story is narrated by a young man very into preparing for the fire.  Part of the tradition includes a burning man figure.

I love how this story shows us how very old ways still inform contemporary Irish life.  I don’t want to relay much of the plot action but in order to set the stage and give you a feel for the elegant prose of O’Callaghan I will share the opening of the story

“By the time I was nine years old my grandfather's suit, a chocolate-brown pinstripe with big shoulders and baggy legs, had already gone a lifetime past its prime, the elbows and knees turned paper-thin, the cuffs frayed, the seams beginning to split. 

For all its many and obvious flaws, though, it remained his most treasured possession – ripe, he liked to claim, with the flavours of every significant moment he'd ever known, the gloriously sunlit days as well as the most tearful ones.

My mother hated the sight of the suit, and was forever at him about getting rid of it.

“We're the talk of the place,” she used to say, shaking her head in exasperation. “Tramps don't look as far gone as you do. There can't be anything more than dirt holding it together.” 

But such arguments were lost on him. 

He'd worn it to a dozen weddings over the years and to a hundred dances; had it on him the first time he stole a kiss from the woman who'd become his wife, and when each one of his six children (my mother being the last) were dragged into the world, and he'd stood broken-hearted in it at gravesides for the burials of his parents, siblings and friends.”

Billy O’Callaghan was born in Cork in 1974, and is the author of three short story collections: In Exile (2008, Mercier Press), In Too Deep (2009, Mercier Press), and The Things We Lose, The Things We Leave Behind (2013, New Island Books, winner of a 2013 Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Award and selected as Cork’s One City, One Book for 2017), as well as the bestselling novel The Dead House (2017, Brandon/O’Brien Press and 2018, Arcade/Skyhorse (USA)).

His latest novel, My Coney Island Baby, was published by Jonathan Cape (and Harper in the U.S.) in January 2019 to much acclaim.

Billy’s latest short story collection, The Boatman and Other Stories was released in January 2020.

Billy is the winner of a Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Award for the short story, and twice a recipient of the Arts Council of Ireland’s Bursary Award for Literature. Among numerous other honours, his story, The Boatman, was a finalist for the 2016 Costa Short Story Award, and more than a hundred of his stories have appeared or are forthcoming in literary journals and magazines around the world, including: Absinthe: New European Writing, Agni, the Bellevue Literary Review, the Chattahoochee Review, Confrontation, the Fiddlehead, Hayden’s Ferry Review, the Kenyon Review, the Kyoto Journal, the London Magazine, the Los Angeles Review, Narrative, Ploughshares, Salamander, and the Saturday Evening Post.

I look forward to following the work Billy O’Callaghan for many years.  I predict one day people in Dublin, London, NYC and beyond 

may wonder who was this book blogger who predicted great success for him long ago.  

Mel u

Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Extraordinary Life of A. A. Milne by Nadia Cohen - 2018

The Extraordinary Life of A. A. Milne by Nadia Cohen - 2017

Alan Alexander Milne

January 18, 1882. - Hampstead, London, England

Winnie the Pooh - 1926

The House at Pooh Corner - 1928

January 31, 1956 Hartfield, Sussex, England 

The characters created by A. A. Milne in his two Winnie the Pooh books, Winnie-the-Pooh, Christopher Robin, Piglet, Eeyore (my favourite), Kanga, Roo, Tigger, Oslo  and Rabbit have obtained the status World Wide of folk characters.

  Millions have these characters as their first remberances of stories.  Many a senior Oxford Don still smiles when she thinks of The Hundred Acre Woods just like ten year olds all over the world do when they watch the Disney Cartoons.  Six year olds scream when they get a stuffed Winnie The Pooh character at Christmas.  Some sixty Plus year olds still have theirs on display.  As Cohen tells us, the books made Milne very rich.  Long after Milne’s passing huge revenue is still generated from merchandise, book sales (now translated into a growing multitude of languages), film rights.  Disney hit the Jack Pot when they bought the rights to the books.

“The rights to the characters were sold to Disney in 1961 and boosted profits for the US conglomerate more than anyone could have predicted. Alan knew Pooh was popular but he had no idea the vast scale of what imagination had created. Disney merchandise sales still continue to rake in an astonishing $3 billion a year today and rising – second only to Mickey Mouse. In 1966, Disney artists animated a Pooh story for the first time, called Winnie The Pooh And The Honey Tree. It smashed box office records, and scores of films and television adaptations have followed.” From the book

The characters are kind, gentle, and loving.

Milne based the stories on the stuffed animals of his son Christopher Robin.  Cohen explains the extreme popularity of the books bothered his son throughout his life, he never accepted everyone being curious about him.  This created a lingering rift between  Christopher  and his father.  Milne was a very prolific multi-genre writer and a highly succesful playwright.  He fought for England during World War One, seeing intense battlefield action in France.  From this experience he wrote works condemming war.  Cohen shows us how his growing awareness of the atrocities of Hitler changed his mind.  It was very interesting to learn that he never forgave his one time close friend P. G. Woodhouse for doing prooganda broadcasts from France for the Nazis.

Cohen goes into problems in Milne’s marriage.  He and his wife both had long term affairs, Milne with an actress in several of his plays.  There was big money from plays and Milne made more money than he knew what to do with.  They stayed married partially out of internia but they lost any sense of intimacy.

Milne half way resented the success of the Winnie the Books, no one paid any attention to his many other works.

If you loved the stories then The Extraordinary Life of A. A. Milne then this is a biography for you.  I am glad I read this book.

“Nadia Cohen is an author who has written more than a dozen historical and contemporary biographies. 

The Real Beatrix Potter will be the latest in a series of fascinating in-depth biographies about apparently whimsical children’s story tellers who actually hid a darker side behind the public facade. Others already published include The Extraordinary Life of AA Milne, The Real Roald Dahl and The Real Enid Blyton. 

In a previous incarnation as an entertainment reporter she worked at various newspapers and magazines in London including Grazia, The Daily Mail and The Sun, covering showbiz news, film festivals, premieres and award ceremonies around the world. She was headhunted to join the launch of US magazine In Touch Weekly and spent several years working in New York and Los Angeles before returning to London to produce a series of documentaries for ITV.

Nadia lectures in Journalism at University of Winchester and is the editor of digital lifestyle magazine Box Ibiza”. -

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Graceful Burdens - A Short Story by Roxane Gay - 2020

Graceful Burdens - A Short Story by Roxane Gay - 2020

This story is include in the Kindle Unlimited Program or can be purchased for $1.95.

This is the third short story by Roxane Gay I have had the pleasure of reading.

In this story women are tested  at age 16 to see if they are genetically suited to bear children.  Only those who past the test are allowed to have children.  In this world women still have an urge to have children.  That is why public libraries have babies, up to three years old, that women can check out for two weeks.  It is never made clear where the babies come from.   After age three the babies are either sent to the Center for Disease Control or, for a purpose you are better off not knowing, turned over to the government.

In a way women  declared unfit to give birth have more freedom that the elected.  They are free  to have sex with men declared unfit fathers.  No one really cares what they do.

We follow Hadley during her two weeks with a baby.  We learn of her frustrations.  Her temporary borrowed life launches her on a journey of self-discovery.

Graceful Burdens is a lot of fun and made me think.