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, December 31, 2010

"The Disappearance of Christina Umberleigh" by Saki-Brief reflections on Saki

Saki-1870 to 1916
"The Disappearance of Christina Umberleigh" by Saki (3 pages, 1908)

I did not really plan to read another short story by Saki (Henry Munro-1870 to 1916-UK) this year.   Most days I check to see what the short story of the day is on East of the Web: Short Stories.    Today it was a very brief short story "The Disappearance of Christina Umberleigh" by Saki so I decided to read it.    (There is some background information on Saki in my prior posts on his work.   If you are an American  he is the English O Henry and vice-versa.)

I really enjoyed this story and found the very brief period of time I spent reading it well rewarded.    Based on the five of his stories I have posted on I think all of his stories are at least well written (if mannered in an Edwardian style) fun stories with a cute twist at the end.     Saki is not great literature but he a pleasant read and draws sharp pictures of his subjects in just a few pages.   His stories have a bit of an edge to them,  they are not dark works and are not going to greatly strain your mind.      I will read more of them in 2011.  
Christina Umberleigh is the very domineering of one of the leading politicians of the time, Edward Umberleigh.   I have not quoted from Saki at any length in a previous post so I will do so here so you can get a feel for his style.

Some people are born to command; Crispina Mrs. Umberleigh was born to legislate, codify, administrate, censor, license, ban, execute, and sit in judgement generally. If she was not born with that destiny she adopted it at an early age. From the kitchen regions upwards every one in the household came under her despotic sway and stayed there with the submissiveness of mollusks involved in a glacial epoch. As a nephew on a footing of only occasional visits she affected me merely as an epidemic, disagreeable while it lasted, but without any permanent effect; but her own sons and daughters stood in mortal awe of her; their studies, friendships, diet, amusements, religious observances, and way of doing their hair were all regulated and ordained according to the august lady's will and pleasure.

One day Mrs Unberleigh shows up missing.    I do not tell anymore of the plot of this story.   I think you will like the ending.    It is not conclusive but there is reason to include him as a GLBT writer.

It can be read online here.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

"The Dark Room" by Junnosuke Yoshiyuki

The Dark Room by Junnosuke Yoshiyuki (1970, 170 pages, translated by John Bester from the Japanese)

The Reading Life Japanese Literature Project

The very first book I reviewed in 2010 was The Tales of Ise by Arihara no Narihara, a collection of short poetic works written in the late 10th century.    These poems deal largely with the ritual of courtly love in medieval Japan.     We learn of the elaborate conventions a man had to use in attempting to court a Nobel lady. A man might hope after months of courtship to be given a   flower that had been touched by the object of his affections.

Things are quite a bit different by the time we get to the post WWII world of   The Dark Room by Junnosuke Yoshiyuki. (1924 to 1994- Yoshiyuki was a professional writer and journalist who won several prestigious literary awards. )     In this autobiographical novel our courtly hero utters such romantic lines as
"pull off your pants promptly, I only have a few minutes on my lunch break".   What courtly lady of the late 20th century could resist the  enthralling flattery inherent in "your sexual skills are on a par with a lesbian prostitute I see regularly".  

There seems a near obsession with prostitutes in contemporary Japanese literature.    We see this in the work of Natsuo Kirinio and in The Rivalry by Nagai Kafu .     In some of the works of Junichiro Tanizaki we also see relationships between the sexes treated as fetish based economic encounters.   Haruki Murakami  gives prostitutes a large part in many of his novels.    Junnosuke Yoshiyuki loved prostitutes and the world of the pleasure quarters.     The central character of The Dark Room sees his lose of traditional values as a result of the Japanese defeat in WWII.   Japanese values were based on the belief in the sacredness of the Emperor and the Samurai Code.   Neither of these faiths could be sustained after the Japanese lost the war and the Emperor announced he was but a man.

There are a lot of interesting conversations between the central character and the women he encounters.   As is the cliche, the narrator (the book is told in the first person)sees  the prostitutes  as women who were abused by men at an early age.   This leads them to become lesbians and to seek power over men through prostitution.    There are x-rated descriptions of all sorts of sexual encounters.    There is no sense of condemning any of the characters in the plot of the book.   This is a not a book about a sun lite world.    There seems no possibility of long term meaningful human relations in the world of The Dark Room.    There are a lot of conversations about the feelings of gay women toward men, each other and child rearing.

One of the things I learned from One Man's Justice by Akira Yoshimura  (a really wonderful novel about immediate post WWII Japan that deserves a wider readership) is how hurt and shocked Japanese were when after WWII many Japanese women had little choice but to prostitute themselves to occupying troops.    This really had a long lasting effect on the Japanese moral code.    One of the very dominant themes of the post WWII Japanese novel is the treatment of the effect of the WWII defeat on Japanese culture.    I think it was much worse than the effect of the defeat on German society.    Germans could simply say "It was all caused by bad leaders who they personally never liked anyway".    In Japan their core beliefs were destroyed.

The Dark Room is an interesting book.   I am glad I read it but was also glad it was short!  It was perhaps the enjoyment of reading the sex scenes that I liked best, I must admit..     The central character is really not a bad person but you feel no great sympathy for him or anyone else in the novel.   This is, as far as I can tell, the only one of his several works that has been translated into English.  

If you are just getting into the Japanese novel, you can wait a long while until you read The Dark Room and if you never do it is not a great loss.     It is not a bad novel it is just that there are so many really great works that you should read first.   On the other had, if you are nearing your 100th Japanese novel and enjoy some occasional x rated escapist reading (this is for sure an adults only book) then this might work for you.

Mel u

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Favorite Short Stories in 2010- The Year I discovered I was wrong about short stories

"I need a break from the stress of coediting this blog"-Charles
For many years, like a lot of other bloggers, I have not been interested in reading short stories.    I told myself that I needed a work with more scope than a short story.   I like to enter into the worlds created by authors and I felt I could not really do this through short stories.    The short story seemed somehow like an unsubstantial literary form.       Then in March of this year Suko of Suko's Notebook  suggested I join a short story reading event.  One thing followed another and I saw that my prejudice against the short story was very much a mistake.   In 2010 I have so far posted on  172 short stories.

I began to look at lists of the best short stories of the world to find the highest regarded stories.   Most, but not all, of them were by authors I was already familiar with.    There are also a number of excellent web pages that produce a daily selection of short stories.    The best of them, to me, is East of the Web:Short Stories.   There are 1000s of short stories that can be read online for free. has a great selection of short stories.    A lot of the short stories online are older public domain works but there are also 1000s of 21th century short stories online.   This is important to me as there are no public libraries where I live and I also want my readers to be able to read the stories I post on also.   Of the 172 stories I posted on, 85 of them were by one writer, Katherine Mansfield.   This post will focus on the best of the short stories I read in 2010 other than those by Mansfield.   Here is my list of 2010 short stories, with a brief comment on some.   In those cases where I think the work is part of the canon I will say so also.    The stories are listed in the order I read them.

  1. "Bartleby, The Scrivener" By Herman Melville-a strange marvelous story-for sure canon status work
  2. "Heaven and Hell" by Jhumpa Lahiri -great writer-huge potential-Pulitzer Prize winner
  3. "A Doctor's Visit" by Anton Chekhov-all his stories are part of the canon
  4. "The Yellow Wall Paper" by Charlotte  Perkins-very interesting work-should be read for sure-maybe canon
  5. "The Queen of Spades" by Alexander Pushkin-an easy way to read your first Pushkin work-canon work
  6.  "The Gift of The Magi" by O Henry-one must read a few O Henry stories-maybe canon
  7. "The Open Window" by Saki-either he is the English O Henry or vice versa-also a maybe
  8. "The Withered Arm" by Thomas Hardy 1888-Hardy has real power-canon work
  9. "The Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka -1915-very high canon status work-Life time reading plan work
  10. "The Dead" by James Joyce 1914-a work of great beauty-high canon status work
  11. "Squeaker's Wife" by Barbara Baynton -she should be a canon status writer-outback stories
  12. "Hungary Stones" by Rabindranth Tagore  1916-first Asian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature-canon
  13. "Stick Fighting" by Olufemi Terry-2009 Caine Prize Winner-this is a really well done story
  14. "Hands" by Sherwood Anderson-deserves a wider readership-GLBT story
  15. "Boule de Suif" by Guy de Maupassant 1880-canon status work-best known of his stories
  16. "The Model Millionaire" By Oscar Wilde -have to have one of Oscar's stories on my list
  17. "The Nose" by Nikolai Gogol  -canon status-just below "The Overcoat"
  18. "The Overcoat" by Nikolai Gogol-life time reading plan work-super high canon status
  19. "A Haunted House"  by Virginia Woolf 1921-have to have a Woolf on the list
  20. "The Demon Lover" by Elizabeth Bowen-50/50 on including this
I left out Kate Chopin.   I like her work but I have not made up my mind on her yet.   The stories listed are just from the 85 or so non-Mansfield short stories I read in 2010.   I am sure there are many more wonderful short stories still waiting out there for me to read them!.

If anyone has any suggestions for short stories for 2011 please leave a comment.   I will be doing another post on Katherine Mansfield soon.    I already have plans in 2011 to read the complete short stories of James Joyce and a large collection of stories by Collete.  

Of these stories the highest canon status works are "The Overcoat" and "The Metamorphosis" (tied basically) followed "The Dead" by James Joyce and "Bartleby the Scrivener" by Herman Melville.

Mel u

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lytton Strachey by Michael Holroyd

Lytton Strachey by Michael Holroyd (1994, 780 pages)

Michael Holroyd is the author of biographies of George Barnard Shaw, Hugh Kingsmill and Augustus Smith.   He lives in London and is married to the novelist Margaret Drabble.

Lytton Strachey is a central figure in the Bloomsbury Group.    He is credited with having introduced Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf to one another.    He was primarily a writer of biographical pieces on English literary and historical figures.    Some say he was the father of the modern biography in works like Queen Victoria and Eminent Victorians.     I did a book blog search of works of Strachey and there are very few posts on his works.     In his time, Strachey (1880 to 1932-UK) was a best selling author in both The U. K. and  America.    He was among the very first biographers to use psychological theories to help readers understand his characters and was not afraid to comment in a negative way about perceived Icons of English culture.      Some claim he was the father of modern biography but this seems to me an exaggeration of his influence.

I  have wanted to read this Holroyd's biography of Strachey for some time.    It has been praised as  an excellent  literary biographies,  a genre I enjoy a lot.      In my readings by and about Virginia Woolf I am coming to see her as a very social group oriented person.    If Katherine Mansfield looks forward to the  lone central figure that dominates much of post WWII literature, then Woolf looks back to a social era where a woman simply did not go anywhere alone.     I hope Holroyd would help me to understand the atmosphere of the literary times.     If one wanted to give a one line cynical subtitle to studies of Bloomsbury it would be "Gay male writers and the women who maybe loved them".  

One of the dominant themes of this biography is the love life of Strachey and others in his circle.   A lot of the romantic entanglements seem to of the stereotypical English boarding school type.     There is a great deal of detail about the family background of Strachey.    We learn a lot about English education along the way.      Just among the philosophers of the time (all Cambridge figures) we encounter G. E. Moore, Bertrand Russell and even Ludwig Wittgenstein.     The famous economist John Maynard Keynes also frequently wanders in and out of the book.      All of the people in the book are very well read.    Most have a bit of a rebellious streak but nobody wants to really give up having servants for the sake of social justice.    

Lytton Strachey is a very information rich book.   It is a long book (the print in my edition is small).   Many of the central figures, including Strachey,  sometimes seem figures of their time only, not for the ages.   If you are interested in Lytton Strachey then you have probably already read this book and are grateful for the huge amount of work that Holroyd put into it.    If you are quite into the period of English life covered in detail by the book (say 1900 to 1932) then you will really enjoy and profit from this book.    If  you are into Bloomsbury it is a complete must read.    Some of he characters do, sorry for those this offends, seem like they are out of a Monty Python skit I saw long ago called "Twit of the Year".

It is not an oppressive book.   It is very well written and in fact quite funny at times.   I laughed out loud while reading the introduction.  

I  highly recommend this book for those interested in the era and its people.    I am very glad I read this book.  

Mel u

Monday, December 27, 2010

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (1981, 533 pages)

Every since I read The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie I knew I wanted to read a good  more of his work.   A bit of research seemed to indicate the consensus best work by Rushdie is Midnight' Children (1981, 531 pages).    The novel won the very prestigious Booker Price in 1981 and in 2008 was voted "the best of the Booker award books".   Rushdie has won nearly every award short of the Nobel Price for literature.    When Jov of Bibliojunkie announced she would be hosting a Read Along from 12 November to 13 December I decided this was my push to read Midnight's Children.   

This will be my second and final post on Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie.      (My first post is here.)
I began reading this book in conjunction with a read-a-long being hosted by Jovenus of Bibliojunkie.    I finished the book about  a week ago but then my primary Internet carrier, Sky Cable of The Philippines, went down for a week.   We still have service here in the house but it is at a rate too low for me to wish to post using it.   I now have two other completed books waiting to be reviewed and plans to write a number of year end/first of the year type posts so I am keeping my final post on this wonderful novel simple and short.

I am keeping this post very brief.   In my first post on the book I saw Midnight's Children  as kind of a meditation on the nature of historical truth, a commentary on ancient Indian Metaphysical systems and a look at post WWII Indian history from the ground floor

Reality is a question of perspective;  the further you get from the past the more concrete and plausible it seems, but as you approach the present, it inevitably seems more and more incredible...illusion is itself reality.
The prose in Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie is a marvel itself.   A lot of the point of the book is in the trying to experience it,  not in the trying to come up with a  paraphrasing of the novel one could put in a term paper or literary journal.

I really enjoyed this book and will look forward to reading more of Rushdie's novels in the years to come.

There are a number of great posts that can be found via the link to the read-along that will help you enjoy the novel.

Mel u

"The Lull" by Saki

"I hope I can stay awake while I pretend to read this post"-Charles
"The Lull" by Saki   (1911, 6 pages)

Hector Munro (1870 to 1916)  writing under the pen name of Saki is considered a master of the very short story (under 5 pages)and is often mentioned as an English O Henry.   Saki was born in Burma (I prefer the old name) in 1870 where his father was serving as inspector general for the Burmese police.   Burma was part of the British Empire at that time.   At age two Saki is sent back to England to be raised by his grandmother when his mother died as a result of an incident with a cow.   His father later retired to England and he and Saki appeared to have had an amiable relationship as perhaps indicated by Saki also joining the office of the Burmese police inspector at age 23.   Saki caught malaria at age 25 and returned to England where he would become journalist.   He worked for a couple of years as foreign correspondent in Russia where he witnessed the infamous bloody Sunday episode.   He also gave that up and for about the last ten years of his life he was not formally employed on a regular basis  and was supported by family wealth.   It is during this period that he wrote most of his work. 

Saki is famous for his satires of the upper classes in Edwardian England.   The two stories  (I also read "The Philanthropist and the Cat" and may post on that also) of his I read did remind me of P G Wodehouse's "The Man With Two Left Feet" in that both have the same subject matters and are writers of what can be see as light works of short fiction written in a very refined gentle  mannered style about the foibles of humanity in a way that allows us to see the flaws in the characters of the subjects of the stories without invoking contempt for them.  Saki, based on the two stories I read, also seems to rely on the use of a twist at the end to conclude his stories.    There is a wicked edge to Saki that may not be in Wodehouse and his writing does have a more educated tone than O Henry.      Some see him as a GLBT author.

I have already posted on three short stories by Saki this year and even though I enjoyed all three stories I did not plan to read a fourth one in 2010.    However, once East of the Web picked his "The Lull" as the classic short story of the day I decided I might as well invest the few minutes it would take to read it.     Saki is  a    surprise ending  short story writer and the ending of "The Lull" was a great fun surprise.    Our central character is a very stressed out young man running for political office.    He has stopped for the night at the house of an aunt who sees he needs to badly forget politics for at least one night.     All the rest of the plot is part of the surprise so I will not spoil it.    

I know surprise ending short stories are looked down upon by many highly literate readers.     To me a well done one can be a lot of fun and that is how I see the stories of Saki.  

Almost all of Saki's short stories can now be read online as they are in the public domain.  

Mel u

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Read A Myth Challenge-Reading Challenge Number 1-2011

Last year I signed up for 46 reading challenges and completed 44 of them.   2010 was my first full year as a book blogger.    I enjoyed being in all of these challenges, I learned from about a lot of goods books from other participants and I also expanded my  contacts way beyond my January 2010 expectations.    As the year went by, I began a number of my own reading projects and have more in mind.    I will still be joining in reading challenges and other events in 2011 but I am going to try to limit my participation in reading  challenges to 10.   

The Read a Myth Challenge is hosted by Jovenus of Bibliojunkine and Bina of If You Can Read This.    Jovenus and I did joint posting in Honor of Malaysian Independence Day (celebrated on August 31) during which I posted on three excellent short stories by Malaysian authors and Jovenus told us a bit about the literary culture of Malaysia.    I know based on that experience that this challenge will be a great one with excellent support

The full rules for the challenge can be found in the challenge blog.    Basically the idea is to read books based on classical myths.     Most of the examples given on the challenge web page are from Classical Greek myths, which is perfectly logical.    Of course there are many other mythological systems which still reverberate in world literature.   Here are the levels of participation:

Level 1 Athena: That’s a Myth!
Read any two (2) books about myths.
Level 2 Erlang Chen: Demystify the Myth!
Read any four (4) books about myths.
Level 3 Mimir: World Myth!
Read any six (6) books from the myth series must covers 2 different countries, including any one from the following list:
  • non-fiction book on the study of mythology (figure), or
  • Karen Armstrong’s A short history of myth, or
  • The original text of myth (many to choose from the Greek Mythology)
Level 4 Ogma: The God of all Myths!
Mix and match of any eight (8) books from the myth series or any mythology books, with the following conditions:
  • Must cover more than 3 countries.
  • Must contain at least 1 non-fiction book on mythology study.
I am going to participate at the Athena level.    I pretty much for sure will read and post on The Bacchae by Euripides (405 BC).    If you watch the American TV program True Blood  (I do) then you will recall there was  a character from this myth in the show, Mary Ann who was determined to be a maenad.
I also thing I will post on a couple of short stories by authors from the Philippines based on Filipino myth.

This looks like a fun challenge with the potential to be edifying.     I look forward to reading all the posts this challenge will generate and thank Jovenus and Bina for hosting it.

Mel u

Saturday, December 25, 2010

2010 in The Reading Life Non-Fiction Review

2010 in The Reading Life
Non-Fiction Review

I am going to do several posts looking back on 2010.   I read and posted on just over 100 book  (so far, I have a few more to post) in 2010 and around 170 short stories and essays.     Among the books,  25 or so are Japanese novels, 15 are works of non-fiction and the rest are by novelists from all over the world.     I think now in addition to this post on non-fiction,  I will do one on short stories, one on Japanese works and one  on the other works I have read this year.     I do enjoy looking back at my reading year.    I  think and hope people just "getting started" in the reading life who as a result of blogs end up with life time records of their reading will find it incredibly gratifying  to have such a history available.   Long term this might be the one of the  best benefits  of having a book blog. 

As I did not read that much non-fiction in 2010 I will just list the books I did read along with a brief comment on them.     If  you have read any of these works please leave a comment on your feelings on the book.

They are listed in order read.

  1. The Yellow Light Bookstore by Lewis Buzbee.    This is an account of the author's work in book stores and his life time love of reading.   I would say it is kind of interesting but see no urgent reason others should read it right away.     
  2. The Journal of a Tour to The Hebrides by James Boswell-A canon status (OK my canon!) travel book that is sort of a pre-read getting us ready  for the world's best biography.
  3. Pinay:Autobiographical Writings of Women 1926 to 1998 by Cristina Hidalgo-If the topic interests you then this is a very good well done collection of articles by highly intelligent women.
  4. Songs of Ourselves:  Writings by Filipino  Women edited and introduced by Edna Manlapaz-more of a literary work than selection 3 but very worth reading
  5. The Broken Tower:   The Life of Hart Crane by Paul Mariani-First rate literary biography-I recommend it highly to anyone interested in the subject.
  6. Living with the Enemy:  A Diary of the Japanese Occupation by Pacita Pestano-Jacinto-this diary my a doctor's wife set in Manila during WWII is  required reading at the University of the Philippines and should be read by anyone interested in WWII in Asia.
  7. The Tobacco Monopoly in the Philippines 1766 to 1880 by Edilberto C de Jesus-the very model of a post colonial work of history of the Philippines 
  8. Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee-just a great biography period.
  9. Katherine Mansfield:  A  Secret Life by Claire Tomalin-a good book but not the best biography of Mansfield
  10. Vita-A life of Vita Sackville-West by Victoria Glendinning-a very interesting biography about the woman who was the model for the lead Character in Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  11. Leonard Woolf -A Life by Victoria Glendinning-a  must read for those interested in Virginia Woolf and her circle-about a man who was more than Mr Virginia Woolf
  12. Mrs.  Woolf and the Servants by Alison Lively-a very entertaining and informative book
  13. The March of Literature by Ford Madox Ford-a magisterial history of literature-a great resource-a quirky work by a genius 
  14. Lytton Strachey, Michael Holroyd- if you have a serious interest in Bloomsbury then this book is  a must read.   It is also very entertaining.
  15. Katherine Mansfield:   The Story Teller by Kathleen Jones-a MUST read for anyone into Katherine Mansfield-
Mel u

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Welcome to all Literary Book Blog Hoppers-Dec 23-

To me the Literary Book Blog Hop is a great event. I read and post on mostly classics, short stories, Asian Fiction and what I see as literary novels.    Lately I have been very into the work of Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf but I am also reading through the work of Kenzaburo Oe and Junichiro Tanizaki, for example. I admit sometimes I have felt out of place on events where it seems almost all the other bloggers post on young adult books, paranormal and vampire books.

"Merry Christmas to all, my fellow book blogger cats-we rule!"-Charles
I will follow back all who follow me and return all visits.

Merry Christmas to all!!

 Every week the Literary Book Blog asks that participants answer a question-here is the question for this week

  What literary title (fiction or non-fiction) do you love that has been under-appreciated? We all know about the latest Dan Brown, and James Patterson isn't hurting for publicity. What quiet masterpiece do you want more readers to know? I return all follows from fellow literary book bloggers 

This is an interesting question 

My neglected master work is set in the jungles of Burma during WWII.    It is about the special mission of a Japanese soldier brought on by the conflict of the war with his Buddhist faith.   It is Harp of Burma by Michio Takeyama.    This book, by a Japanese soldier, is a hauntingly beautiful anti-war classic, first published in 1948.    Soon there will be no one left alive who fought in WWII.   This book will show us how one man faced the horrors he saw and at the same time tried to be a good soldier.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why I started The Reading Life-

Why I Started this Blog

This is my very first ever blog post,  from July 2009-I am reposting  this(slightly edited from the original) so that people who began reading my blog in 2010 can see a bit of my reading life background and so longer term readers can see how my blog has evolved.   When I first began  my blog a very experienced blogger told me in time if I kept it up my blog would somehow take on a life of its own.    My blog has taken some big side trips through Japanese Literature and Katherine Mansfield but the anchor of my blog will always be about the literary treatment of  people who love reading and live, at least in part, a reading centered life.
      I have been a constant reader all my life .   Many things have changed in my life over the years but reading has been a constant.   I traveled around the world alone for years.      One of  the purposes of my blog is to try to share with those I can what reading means to me.    I expect a lot of the books I read and I try to give them my best efforts in return.

In 1973 I read Gravity's Rainbow and I became convinced that I would never read another  contemporary novel I liked as much.    I stopped reading new fiction at that point and began to read history, literary and  biographies, and the great poets.   I read many philosophical works from the western canon and some of the wisdom books of Asian.    I also pursued my interest in 18th century history and culture to a world wide perspective.

  I embarked on some large scale reading projects. I read all the novels of Charles Dickens, the complete Boswell Journals, the Diary of Samuel Pepy's, most of the Russian classics, and a good bit of Samuel Johnson. Thirty five years went by and almost the only non classic literature I read were subsequent books by Thomas Pynchon. Somehow about a three years  ago I got a news alert suggesting Roberto Bolano's Savage Detectives was a great book about people lives were centered on reading, people that don't quite fit into life in an easy way.   I read the book and I loved it.   I then read 2666 and two other shorter works by Roberto Bolano. I had already began to follow a number of blogs on topics that interested me.   I was asked to become a contributor to Vegetarian Wednesday which was my first experience as a blogger.   I subscribed to a growing number of book blogs. I learned from them to find 21th Century novels I would probably like.   So far two of those 21th century books read in 2009 are among my very favorite books, The Elegance of Hedgehogs and The Book Thief.      Both of these books dealt with how what I have come to call in my mind "The Reading Life" shapes a person and more largely the world we see.   So I decided to make the focus of my blog books that show people whose life is centered around reading. This has been a powerful theme in novels from Don Quixote, to Madame Bovary right up to the Elegance of Hedgehogsand The Book Thief. 

 Mel u

Katherine Mansfield: The Story Teller by Kathleen Jones-Give-a-Way of a great biography

Katherine Mansfield:  The Story Teller by Kathleen Jones (2010, 524 pages)

Read to the end of the post for information on the author sponsored give-a-way on this book.

I feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity to read shortly after its publication what I am sure will be the definitive biography of Katherine Mansfield,  Katherine Mansfield:  The Story Teller by Kathleen Jones.    There have been four other major biographies of Katherine Mansfield (the last one was Kathleen Mansfield:   A Secret Life by Claire Tomalin published in 1989.)     Only Kathleen Jones has had full access to the vast correspondence that has been published  since 1989 as well as the full notebooks of Katherine Mansfield.

  Kathleen Jones spent more than ten years working on Katherine Mansfield:  The Story Teller during which she spent a great deal of time in New Zealand studying archives there and meeting with people who had actually known Katherine Mansfield or her family.     She traveled extensively in England and France visiting the places where Mansfield lived out her life.    She has also written highly regarded biographies of Margaret Cavendish, The Duchess of Newcastle (A Glorious Fame),   Christina Rosetti (Learning Not to Be First); and an account of the lives of women who lived with the English Lake Country Poets (Passionate Sisterhood)..    More information on the background and career of Professor Jones can be found at her web page.)

My history with Mansfield began in May of this year when I read her story "Miss Brill" when it was selected as the classic short story of the day on  a web page I follow.    I confess I had never heard of Katherine Mansfield prior to that day.    I was  very taken by  "Miss Brill".    I thought it was a brilliantly illuminating look into a sad and lonely life.    I did a bit of research and read a few more of her stories.     I like to know something of the lives and import of the writers that matter to me and I soon discovered many consider Katherine Mansfield the best ever female writer of short stories.     She is considered to have radically altered the nature of the short story.    I then decided I wanted to read and post on each of her 85 or so short stories individually.   As I posted on the stories I tried to gradually learn something about Mansfield and her life and background.     Virginia Woolf famously said of Mansfield that she was the only writer that ever made her jealous.    Mansfield has clear ties to Joyce and Woolf but unlike them she is also a writer for lonely people who never quite fit in anywhere, for people who retreat into visions of beauty,  for those happy to sit for hours alone in a cafe watching people walk by with no hope of understanding them.        I think Woolf was also a bit afraid Mansfield saw into the roots of her madness.   Anyway, I thought I should explain a bit why I am interested in Mansfield.   I will talk more on it when I shortly post my The Reading Life Guide to getting into Katherine Mansfield.

When I first received my copy of Katherine Mansfield:  The Story Teller I was very impressed by the very high production values of the book (published by Penguin/Viking).    It includes a lot of wonderful photographs of Mansfield, her parents and siblings, her husband John Middleton Murry, and others that were close to Mansfield.  

One of the dominant themes of Katherine Mansfield:  The Story Teller is the acknowledgement of the very deep   impact of the beauty of New Zealand on Mansfield's  mind and sensibility.   As I read Mansfield's stories   I tried to get to know at least a little the person behind them, to see beyond the mask.   I saw a woman caught up in an ugly time in England and France.     I saw a woman used to being taken care of (her father was the chairman of the Bank of New Zealand) reduced to trying on occasion to figure out how to pay for her meals.    I also saw a woman with a very powerful sensuous nature.    She liked beautiful exotic to her women and handsome near fey young men.    Mansfield is considered to have had affairs and brief encounters with both men and women.    As she lived in the days before people felt comfortable disclosing their full sex lives in public on talk shows, the Internet, and in tabloids and tell it all autobiographies we have no precise knowledge of her exact sexual preferences and proclivities.

Jones gives us beautiful descriptions of the natural beauty of New Zealand.    Unlike any other writer I am aware of, Jones talks about the influence of the Maoris on Mansfield.    Mansfield had a relationship with a Maori princess that many felt was a romantic one.    We do not know if this was simply a school girl crush or if it was an intimate relationship.     I confess I did not know much concerning the culture of the Maoris in early 20 century New Zealand and was a bit surprised to learn that one of the cousins of Mansfield's  father  married a rich Maori woman.   Jones writes in a very interesting way about the colonial roots of Mansfield.    She made me see what a backwater New Zealand must have seemed like to people in London and Paris and how much Mansfield felt initially liberated when she moved to London.    Later Jones made us see how Mansfield often seemed to long to return to New Zealand.  

Jones gives us a good look at the day- to- day struggles of Mansfield to feed and house herself.   Mansfield got a  modest allowance from her father that she could have lived on if she lived very modestly.   Jones tells us in a very clear fashion of all the various men and women with  whom Mansfield was linked with romantically.   Jones spends a lot of time talking about D. H. Lawrence's and Frieda Lawrence's relationship to Mansfield and her husband.   Jones also helped us understand  Mansfield's relationship with Virginia Woolf but does not exaggerate it.    The relationship was close but there was no real intimacy and their times together were more like meetings than two friends spending time together.    We learn a bit about various Bloomsbury figures (Mansfield was not for a number of reasons a member of the Bloomsbury set).     The general atmosphere of the set Mansfield moved in can be described as erotically charged.     Mansfield was attracted to guru - like men ranging from her second husband John Middleton Murry to D. H. Lawrence.     Mansfield went through a "Russian phase" also.   Jones deals with the issue of the claim that Mansfield plagiarized a Chekhov story.     Basically Jones says the whole matter is much ado about nothing and I agree completely.

Jones goes into enough details about the terrible effects of tuberculous on Mansfield so that we understand it.   We see how an effort to cure it while at the same time ignoring it dominated the last few years of Mansfield's  short life.

Jones also spend a lot of time helping us understand the role of Ida Baker in Mansfield's life.    I would say I still do not quite understand fully the relationship of Baker and Mansfield but I understand a good bit more than I did before I read Katherine Mansfield:  The Story Teller.    This relationship shows us an ugly side of  Mansfield where she would use Ida when she needed her and push her away when she did not.

Jones takes two risks in Katherine Mansfield:  The Story Teller.   One of the risks is a stylistic one.   Most of the book is written in the present tense as if it were happening now.   Some reviewers of the book have not liked this.    To me it is brilliant touch on the part of Jones to let us live in the present with Mansfield, not see her as remote long -dead woman from an era we can barely relate to.    Jones brought Mansfield very much to life for me.     Many of the backgrounds and autobiographical nature of the most important stories are  explicated in a very illuminating fashion by Jones.  

The second risk is her treatment of the life of John Middleton Murry (1889 to 1957) who lived on long after Mansfield died.   Mansfield and Murry had an odd at times difficult relationship.   Mansfield was not nearly as good a husband as Leonard Woolf.    I think Jones has seen that one of the keys to understanding Mansfield may be in trying to understand why Murry meant so much to her.   Jones deals in sort of interlude chapters in Katherine Mansfield:  The Story Teller with each of Murry's  three post Mansfield marriages.   One of the wives looked very much like Katherine and I admit I got chills when that wife, Violet,   was happy to learn that she had Tuberculous just like Katherine Mansfield did.    Each of the three other women seemed to embody a part of the full psyche of Mansfield.    We can decide for ourselves how we feel about the way Murry handled the literary estate of Mansfield and the wealth it brought him.

Katherine Mansfield:  The Story Teller will be the definitive  Mansfield biography for a long time, I think.    Jones knows Mansfield well and has read deeply and widely in her work and era.   Katherine Mansfield:  The Story Teller is not just about Mansfield.   It has a lot   to teach us of the historical period it deals with and the  diverse set literary figures  in Mansfield's world.   It tells us a lot about the state of relations between the sexes in the period.   We get  look at life in Edwardian England from the ground up through the eyes of an outsider who never really fit in anywhere.  Jones also lets us understand a lot about how the creative process works by letting us see the struggles of Mansfield.

Kathleen Jones has very generously offered to send a copy of her wonderful book to a reader of my blog, anywhere in the world.   If you are interested please leave a comment.    The winner will be selected at random December 27.

Mel u

Friday, December 17, 2010

Welcome to all Book Bloggers-June 10 to June13

"Hi, Welcome to our Blog"-Yoda and Charlie

Welcome to all Book Blog Hoppers

I will follow back all who follow me-

Every Friday Jennifer of Crazy For Books hosts The Book Blogger Hop-The Book Blogger Hop is a great chance to meet new to you bloggers, find some new blogs to follow and gain some great readers for your own blog.   Every week about 275 or so bloggers from all over the world participate.    I have found some excellent new blogs this way and gained some wonderful readers.    I follow about 500 book blogs  and am always happy to find more.   If you follow me I will follow you.


   My blog for the last few months has been one third Asian literature, one third classics and one third short stories but I do read contemporary fiction also and even some YA once in a while.    I have various reading projects I am working on also.    My latest one is South Asian Short Stories.   I am very into Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf.  

If you visit me please leave  a comment so I can return the visit-

I will follow all who follow me-

Every week Jennifer asks participants in the Book Blogger hop to answer a question-here is this week's question-

Every week the host of the Hop asks us to answer a reading related question-here is this weeks question


Limiting my answer to living writers, I think I would like to meet Kenzaburo Oe, the great Japanese author.   

Mel u