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





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 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

"Muttsy" by Zora Neale Hurston (1926, first published in Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life)




I was recently given a review copy of a very interesting anthology published by Dover Press, Great Short Stories by African American Writers, edited by Christina Rudisel and Bob Blaisdel.  The writers included range from contemporary stars, authors of classics like Raplh Ellison and Zora Hurston and writers who most likely will only be familiar names to specialists in the field.  The more I read on in short stories the more I see an endless ocean of yet to be explored wonderful works.  

I have read and posted on several of Hurston's wonderful short stories and her powerful novel Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937).  I was delighted to find one of her stories included in this new anthology.


Zora Hurston (1881 to 1960-Alabama, USA) was one of the leading writers of the  Harlem Renaissance.   Hurston had a very interesting life.     Born in relative poverty she attended   Howard University until she was offered a scholarship  to attend Barnard college, an elite women's college at which she was the only person of color in attendance at the time.    She graduated, along with her very famous co-student Margaret Mead, with a degree in anthropology.     Her anthropological focus was on  the customs and speech of African-Americans living in the rural south of the USA.    Hurston studied and wrote about people from small towns in the Alabama and Florida very much as her mentor and former professor, Ruth Benedict did in her famous studies of the customs of the people of Polynesia.    Hurston wrote and published a number of short stories and novels.    Her most famous work was her novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. ( Halle Barry played the lead character in a recent movie based on this novel.    It is too bad Hurston who died in poverty did not live to see this book made into a movie and to get rich.

I know from my blog stats there is a significant world wide interest in her short stories.   There has been controversary concerning her portrayal of African Americans, the men in her work come across really bad.  Done by a Caucasian author in 1926, I think they might seem racist creations.   Hurston was trained as an anthropologist and that is how she approached the people in her stories, mostly set in small towns in Florida in the 1920s.  These stories are a very valuable resource for anyone interested in African American life in small town Florida in the 1920s and 30s.

The story of "Muttsy"  is to a large extent carried through dialogue and for most, including me, will find it necessary to slow down a bit to understand what is being said.  The story is about what happens to a young country girl, Pinkie, when on her first day in Harlam, she takes a room in a house that she does not realize is run by a once well known hooker.  Muttsy is a frequent visitor at the house, he is in the numbers game though he has work as a foreman over stevedores.  He becomes infatuated with Pinkie.  The story is very smart, very funny and a lot of fun to read.  I loved the ending.

Mel u





Tuesday, June 16, 2015

A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor (1947)


"Taylor’s sentences are like Renaissance jewelry, intricate, composed, flawless." From the introduction by Roxana Robinson





"‘A man,’ she thought suddenly, ‘would consider this a business outing. But, then, a man would not have to cook the meals for the day overnight, nor consign his child to a friend, nor leave half-done the ironing, nor forget the grocery order as I now discover I have forgotten it. The artfulness of men,’ she thought. ‘They implant in us, foster in us, instincts which it is to their advantage for us to have, and which, in the end, we feel shame at not possessing.’ She opened her eyes and glared with scorn at a middle-aged man reading a newspaper. ‘A man like that,’ she thought, ‘a worthless creature, yet so long has his kind lorded it that I (who, if only I could have been ruthless and single-minded about my work as men are, could have been a good writer) feel slightly guilty at not being back at the kitchen-sink.’ ". From A View of the Harbour

I completely agree with Roxana Robinson's assessment of the sentences of Elizabeth Taylor, "Taylor’s sentences are like Renaissance jewelry, intricate, composed, flawless."  My first experience with Elixabeth Taylor (1912 to 1975, England) was last year when I read her delightful story about infidelity, "Blush".  I was very grateful when The New York Review of Books offered me a review copy of her 1947 novel, A View from the Harbour.  The novel is set in a run town coastal town in England.  It is a very gossipy novel that focuses on the lives of the residents.  

Taylor is a very acute observer of small details.  I think her remark, from a female novelist who is one of the book's characters, that I quote above will ring painfully true to legions of writers.  

The characters in the story are all connected in one way or another.  Several are working through the consequences of recently failed relationships.

It is the exquiste sentences and the many wonderful observations that made A View of the Harbour such a delight to read.  


Mel u

Monday, June 15, 2015

Reading by the Road in Candelaria (June 12 to June 15, 2015) A Post in Honor of Bonny Norte



Last week my wife's youngest brother, age 43, Bonny Norte, tragically  passed away.  The ancestral home of the family is in Candelaria in Northern Zambales, a town of about five thousand.  Bonny was a teacher, a father and husband and a dedicated family member. Bonny was a calm, gentle person  who loved being with his family above all else.   My wife, me and three daughters and a niece and nephew all traveled up from Manila to Candelaria.  Manila is the epitome of a S. E. Asian Mega City, Candelaria is a very relaxed place where it is a pleasure just to breath.  Sitting out in the veranda of the main house on the family property, I almost feel like I could be back 100 years in time, if I let my mind run free I can imagine watching the Spainish first arrive.



I find being there very conductive to deep and extended reading.  You can see the white carabao pulling a cart on the highway in front of the family property.  I had just read E. F. Forster's wonderful story about the reading life, "The Celestial Omnibus" and I wondered if the carabao could really be pulling the celestial omnibus through Zambales.  

While in Candelaria I completed Elizabeth Taylor's excellent 1947 novel, A View from the Harbour, read in Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe's most recently translated novel and read about a third of a book on my life time must read list, The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky.  I also read and reread a number of short stories, some by favorite authors I knew I could count on for quality art and some by writers totally new to me.  I will list them with sometimes a comment.  

The German Pension by Katherine Mansfield.  I read and posted on all these stories about five years ago.  The stories were among her first published works, she was to later call them immature, are interconnected works set in an elite German boarding house where people go to take water cures in hot springs for various illnesses.  I wanted to see if I would like her work now after five years of reading short stories as I did years ago.  I found I liked them much more.  The characterizations are very subtle and the wit so dry.  Set just before W W I the houmourous jibes between the Germans and the English woman narrating the stories take on a dark under tone.  The stories are really funny at times, at times very sad.  The stories have lots of subtle class markers.  I reread about half the stories and will reread the rest again soon.

I also read or reread six  short stories by a contemporary writer I have admired for a long time, Ethel Rohan, all from her newest collection Goodnight Nobody.  Rohan writers about death and pain in a very illuminating fashion.  Her stories are a pure joy to read and I am greatly looking forward to her first novel.  The Irish know Death.

"The Celestial Omnibus" by E. M. Forster (1911) belongs on your must read list.  It is brief but may keep you pondering for a long time.





"Slight Rebellion off Madison" was my first  J. D. Salinger short story.  I liked it a lot.

Robert Walser is on my list of holy writers.  I read the very prototypical Walser story "Heblinger's Story".

"His Mother" by Mavis Gallant, anyone who has read Mavis loves her work and so do I.

"The Silk Hankerchef" by Sait Faish Abasiyanh, Turkey's highest regarded short story writer.  My first of his work.  I was given a while ago an anthology of his stories and will soon read more, I hope.

"Barren" by Saadat Hasan Manto.  Literary works about the dark side of the Indian mega city are very trendy now, Manto was there first.

"The Way Things are Going" by Lynn Freed.  First read a Freed story in 2011, glad to have read a second.

"High Belt Over Coat" by Mikhail Shishkin (2012, Russia).  I liked this story and maybe I will overcome my aversion to post- Romanov Russian fiction one day, though I do like Gorky a lot. 

"The Semlplica Girl Diaries" by Geroge Saunders.  My second of his works, a strange very interesting quite creative story. 

Bonny, we all miss you.  See you again.

Mel u




Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"Will You Be Quiet, Please" by Raymond Carver (1967, reprinted in 100 Years of the Best of American Short Stories)




Raymond Carver (1938 to 1988) is considered one of the masters of the minimalist short stories, a genius at getting as much as you can out of as few words as possible.   I have only read a few of his short stories because of a limiting prejudice.  Much of his work seems devoted to stories about people who lead alcohol centered lives.  I do not find much sympathy with the problems brought on by this and maybe this is why I have not yet got into Carver extensively.   

"Will You Be Quiet, Please", published in the 1967 Best American Short Stories Anthology, is a brilliant portrait of a sad marriage, where a mistake made years ago ruined everything but the partners cannot really just walk away or forget what happened.  Alcohol is an important part of their coping mechanism.

About two years ago the wife had a one night relationship with an acquaintance of the husband.  When he came to realize what happened, the man hit his wife in the mouth, blooding her and knocking her to the ground.  Years go by and the husband cannot forgive or let it go.  (As a husband, I could not either.). He keeps quizzing his wife about why she cheated on him.  It seems she just got carried away in a moment.  After one very gut wringing quarrel he storms out of the house and ends up in a tavern.  He cannot help but think over and over on the infidelity of his wife, he cannot get the image of his wife having sex with another man out of his mind.



The story is divided into three sections.  In one interesting incident, he is hit in the mouth and robbed by a black man (then called a "negro") who knocks him down just as he did his wife.  

I admired the very real technical mastery of this story.  Carver truly made me feel the pain in this marriage but also the deep love from which a terrible hurt is born. One day I hope to read the full body of Carver's short stories.  They are just in fact being published as Kindle editions.  

Do you have any favorite Carver stories?


The story is included in the collection above.  I was given a copy of this very well done anthology. 

Mel u


Sunday, June 7, 2015

"A Man Like Him" by Yiyun Li (A Short Story by the Winner of the 2005 Frank O'Connor Prize, from Golden Boy, Emerald Girl: Stories)



I was very happy to find included in a D R C, New American Short Stories, I was recently given a story by one of my favorite writers, Yiyun Li.  I have previously read both of her novels and several of her wonderful short stories.  

"A Man Like Him", set in Maoist era China, centers on a forty six year old male teacher, never married, who lives with his very elderly mother, caring for her.  Twenty five years ago his father was a high level professor of philosophy.  For expressing criticism of the government, he was reassigned as a trash collector for some twenty years.   He lives in an environment in which you have to be very careful who you trust.  Long ago the teacher was accused of looking in a sexual way at his young female students.

The beauty of the story is in the great sadness conveyed in the subdued prose of Li, in the relationships stifled by the miasma of distrust.

I have a few more stories by Yiyun Li in anthologies I have been given and hope to read them soon.





Yiyun Li is the author of A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, The Vagrants, Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, and Kinder Than Solitude. She is the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation fellowship, the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award, and the Guardian First Book Award, among others. Granta named her one of the best American novelists under thirty-five, and The New Yorker named her one of twenty American writers under forty to watch. Her work has been translated into more than twenty languages and has appeared in The New Yorker, A Public Space, The Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Prize Stories, and elsewhere. She teaches writing at the University of California, Davis.

Mel u

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Last Leopard A Life of Giuseppe Tomasi dí Lampedosa by David Gilmour (1988)


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




Giuseppe Tomasi dí Lampedosa (1896 to 1957, Sicily) is the author of what many consider the greatest of all Italian novels, The Leopard.  Set in Sicily in the 19th century, it focuses on a nobleman who see his way of life being destroyed by social changes, historical forces he cannot control.  It focuses on the decline of a decadent aristocracy.  

I am very fond of biographies of authors and this is up there with the best of them.  Lampedosa was a minor nobleman from a family of ancient lineage.  For generations the Lampedosa's lived upon the rents from their properties.  Gilmour does a marvelous job of letting us see how the family background shaped the mind set of Lampedoda.  I don't quite know how to talk about this book but I loved it, especially the extensive details given about the reading life of Lampedosa, who loved nothing more than reading.   He treasured physical books, he kept a copy of his favorite book, The Pickwick Papers by his bed and carried an edition of Shakespeare with him when ever he traveled.  He loved being in his library above all.  Lampedosa was an inward directed man.  He married a Ukrainian psychoanalysis with  whom he had a sometimes long distance relationship.  He was a man of very deep culture, erudition and historically very learned. Gilmour says he looked like and acted like an old man by the time he was fifty, perhaps weighed down the decline of his beloved Sicily.  After World War Two Lampedosa felt obligated to help with the post war rebuilding of the island and took an administrative job with the Italian Red Cross.  He soon became Red Cross director for Sicily and was subsequently asked to resign when too many complaints were raised about how things were going.  I got the feeling it was not really Lampedosa's fault, it was just not a job for him.  A lot of space is devoted to the composition of his only novel, The Leopard and his inability to get it published.  After posthumous publication, it went on to become one of the bestselling and highest regarded Italian novels of all time.

David Gilmour’s books include award-winning biographies of Rudyard Kipling and Lord Curzon. He is also the author of The Ruling Caste: Imperial Lives in the Victorian Raj and of several books on Spain and the Middle East. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a former Fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford, he is a contributor to the Spectator and the New York Review of Books. He is currently writing a book on Giuseppe Verdi and the unification of Italy. The Last Leopard won the Marsh Biography Award in 1989.

I would certainly want to read more by Gilmour.  

I will reread The Leopard soon and will be helped by the insights of Gilmour.

Mel u

Friday, June 5, 2015

"A Permanent Member of the Family" by Russell Banks (2013, included in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2015)





I was recently very kindly given a D R C of The O. Henry Prize Stories 2015 edited by Laura Furman.  This almost 100 year old series of books draws from short stories published in Canadian and American journals.  Inclusion is a great honor.  This year's edition looks great with a very multicultural author base.  

"A Permanent Member of the Family" by Russell Banks is my introduction to his work.  I really liked this story centering around an older man's memories of a critical incident of thirty five years ago in the family history.  The parents are divorcing, amiably as can be possible.  They have three daughters and the man has a daughter from a prior relationship.  They have lived in a big house bought with her parents money.  He moves out and gets a small place not to far away.  He is a college professor.  They get joint custody of the girls, they stay with him half the time.  No real issues over this.  The issues come from who gets the family elderly family dog.

Banks does a wonderful job with all of the relationships and with the telling of the story.  I will leave much of the plot unspoiled.  



Russell Banks was born in Massachusetts. He is the author of eighteen works of fiction, including the novels Continental Drift, Rule of the Bone, and Lost Memory of Skin, as well as six short-story collections. Banks is a member of the American Academy of Arts.





Mel u

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Catherine de' Medici by Honore de Balzac (1846, A Novel, A Component of the Human Comedy)




65 of 91






Stefan Zweig and Eric Auerbach both felt that Balzac's work on the aristocrats of France was secondary to his work on ordinary contemporary people.  Balzac nearly worshipped the nobility and this shows in his work.   Catherine de' Medici was first published in three parts and published as a whole in 1846.  It is considered very much modeled on the work of Sir Walter Scott.

Catherine de' Medici lived from 1519 to 1589.  As the wife of King Henry II she was queen of France from 1547 to 1555.  The novel is close to a biography in format.  

Over all I see no reason for most to read this book.  

Ambrosia Boussweau 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

"The Prospectors" by Karen Russell (June 8, 2015, in The New Yorker)





Prior to reading "The Prospectors" I have read and posted on four delightful short stories by Karen Russell and her novella Sleep Donation.  I was very happy to learn the current issue of The New Yorker has a new story by Russell.  My main purpose today is to let my readers know of the opportunity to read a Karen Russell short story for free and to keep a reading journal for it.


The story is set in 1931, the terrible economic down turn known as the depression has  just begun. Our central characters are two young women from Florida.  One is from a prosperous hotel owning family and one used to be a maid the hotel.   They decided they might find better times in Oregon and moved there.  They make a living by stealing things from the houses and parties their good looks gets them invited to.  They are also border line prostitutes at times.  It is kind of an adventure and the girls are very bonded to each other.  The big thing in the town they are staying at is the construction of a new giant ski resort.  The government has programs to give jobs to all kind of workers.  The big day comes for the opening night party at the new ski.  Every big whig in the state will be there and the girl figure it could be a great opportunity for them.

They get on the ski ramp to the hotel, or do they?  Now things take a turn for the very strange.

I greatly enjoyed this story.

My Prior Posts on Karen Russell


Read the story here

Mel u