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 30, 2011

Welcome to All Book Blog Hoppers-Sept 30 to Oct 3

Welcome to The Reading Life
Follow Me and I will Follow you Back

I have been an on and off participant in The Book Blogger Hop hosted by Jennifer of Crazy for books for a long time.   I have found it to be a great place to discover new to me blogs and meet some great book bloggers.    

My blog and my reading focus on  ever evolving genres of literature but for now I am very into South Asian Short Stories, Japanese fiction, classics, Katherine Mansfield, Flannery O'Connor, Elizabeth Bowen and Virginia Woolf.   I also read a wide variety of short stories and review an occasional carefully selected new work.

My blog is the home of Irish Short Story Week centered around St Patrick's Day as well as Indonesian Short Story Week.   I am open to book blog events.  

Every week Jennifer poses an interesting question for us-here is the one for this week:

“In honor of Banned Books Week, what is your favorite “banned or frequently challenged book”?

Two I have recently read and enjoyed are The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers and To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee.

Feature and Follow Friday

I am also and on and off again follower of The Feature and Follow Book Blog Hop.   Here is the question for the week

Q. What book that hasn't been turned into a movie (yet) would you most like to see make it to the big screen, and who would you like cast as your favorite character?

Tough question for me.     I would say Ruffy's The Manly Man's Mediterranean:   A Guide to the Ports by Ruffington Boussweau with Johnny Deep as Ruffy.

Follow Me and I will Follow you Back-leave me a comment if you follow me or if you just stop by so I can see what your answer might be.

Mel u

The Oxford Book of Irish Short Stories ed. by William Trevor

The Oxford Book of Irish Short Stories ed.  by William Trevor (567 pages, 1989)

Have you ever liked a book so much you kept it on your nightstand just so you could see it first thing in the morning when you woke up?     That is how I feel about The Oxford Book of Irish Short Stories edited by William Trevor (1928, County Cork, Ireland).   Trevor is widely considered one of the best living short story writers in the world.   He has published 100s of short stories and several highly regarded novels.  (There is more background data on Trevor in my post on two of his short stories which I did for Irish Short Stories Week for 2011).

There are thirty nine stories as well as several folk tales in the collection.   Trevor has provided a beautifully written and illuminating introduction to the book.

The most famous one is "The Dead"  by James Joyce.   There is a long story by George Moore.   There are scary paranormal and ghost stories by Sheridan Le Fanu and Gerald Griffin.  The oldest story  is from 1760 by Oliver Goldsmith.   There are stories by lots of new to me authors whose work I really liked.   There are stories of the terribly poor and the vulgarly rich but mostly the people in the stories are just ordinary people struggling to live and take care of their families through hard times.
There are lot of priests, poverty and  pubs in these stories.   There is a good mixture of stories by male and female authors and all regions of Ireland are represented.    There is a lot of guilt in these stories also.  A lot of people die in these stories.   Some of the stories are so wonderful and brilliantly written as to be almost amazing.   I liked every story a lot.

To all  future editors of short story anthologies, please include the first publication date for each story.   Please also include a two or three sentence biography of the authors.

This book would be a great companion to The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories.

If you love short stories or Irish Literature you will, I think, love this book.  There are lots of collections of Irish short stories but this is the highest regarded one for sure.

Mel u

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

"Beckoning Fair One" by Oliver Onions

"Beckoning Fair One" by Oliver Onions (1911, 23 pages)

One of the wonderful benefits of having a book blog is learning about new to you authors from the great people who leave comments on our posts.   Fred of Fred's Place suggested I try one of the paranormal stories of  Oliver Onion (1973 to 1961-UK). Fred's blog has been a very consistent source of inspiration for me for a long time.   I have been having a lot of fun reading paranormal stories for Carl V's R I P reading challenge (Sept 1 to Oct 31-the simple rules for this fun event are on Carl's blog).   I read the  most famous story by Onions, "Beckoning Fair One" this morning and Fred was spot on as usual in his recommendation.   (There is a good article on Onions here.)

"Beckoning Fair One" can be read either as a haunted house story or the story of an author, very isolated from people with only one friend, working on a book he has been at for many years and now descending into madness.

The author in the story fears he has lost the ability to produce quality writing and he knows it.   He has only one friend, a lady.   It seems he has had a relationship, perhaps a romantic one, with her for a long time.   She seems to always come to him.   He decided maybe if he moves he will be jolted out of his creative doldrums.  He finds a place in a bad part of town, this does not matter to him and I am not sure he even knows it.   He speaks to someone about the property and tells him he wants to rent one of the floors.   He is referred to an attorney to close the matter. The attorney offers to sell him the whole house on very favorable terms so the man agrees to it and moves in.

The man, of course, begins to hear sounds others do not and begins to feel the presence of a perhaps malevolent but very feminine spirit.   His lady friend is given "the creeps" by the house and begins to tell him she will not keep coming there forever.   The mental state of the man begins to badly degenerate.  He ends up in a near coma like state, but not before something very terrible happens.  I will leave the rest of the plot unspoiled.

This story can be read as an examination of a mental breakdown brought on by creative exhaustion and isolation or it can be taken literally as a haunted house story.  The part of this story I think I liked best was a passing reference which suggests the author will one day be a haunting ghost himself.   This was a very subtly done story and I enjoyed read it a lot.

Here is a small sample of the prose of Onions:

" Formerly, Oleron had smiled at the fantastic thought that, by a merging and interplay of identities between himself and his beautiful room, he might be preparing a ghost for the future; it had not occurred to him that there might have been a similar merging and coalescence in the past. Yet with this staggering impossibility he was now face to face. Something did persist in the house; it had a tenant other than himself; and that tenant, whatsoever or whosoever, had appalled Oleron's soul by producing the sound of a woman brushing her hair."

Thanks again Fred.

You can read the story HERE.    It seems to be considered the master work of Onions, who did publish over forty novels and short story collections.

I am greatly appreciate and respect any reading suggestions from readers for additional older paranormal short stories that can be read online.

Mel u

Monday, September 26, 2011

Hard Boiled Wonderland and The Edge of the World by Haruki Murakami

Hard Boiled Wonderland and The Edge of the World by Haruki Murakami (1985, 416 pages)

My Prior Posts on Haruki Murakami

The Reading Life Japanese Literature Project

I think it is a safe bet that one or maybe even the most blogged about new book in translation for the rest of 2011 will be IQ84 by Haruki Murakami (1949, Japan).  It is coming out in October and is nearly 1000 pages long.   I have posted on a number of his novels and short stories over the last two years.   He is one of my favorite writers and his picture is featured in my header collage.   Reading Hard Boiled Wonderland and The Edge of the World almost completes a read of all of his in print translated novels for me.    If he does not win the Nobel Prize for Literature soon, it can only be because the committee does not want to give it to a  Japanese writer so soon after Oe Kenzaburo won in 1994.

Hard Boiled Wonderland and The Edge of the World  could almost be subtitled A Tale of Two Cities.   The odd  number chapters are set in a place called Hardboiled Wonderland.   It is narrated (none of the characters are given names) by a human data encrypter who has been taught how to use his subconscious mind as a key to decoding encryptions.    He works for some sort of government like organization whose work is in turn opposed by a shadowy underground group of people called semiotics who try to steal data from the organization.   It is all very Kafkaesque with strange meetings in odd buildings with officials who both make little sense and seem to have the key to unlocking the secrets that will explain your seemingly senseless life to yourself.

The even numbered chapters are set in a strange very isolated town which is The End of the World.   This section of the novel is very much in the tradition of magic realism and is really brilliantly done.   It is a scary place but for sure an interesting one.   The town is surrounded by a wall nothing can get through in either direction.   The nameless narrator is in the process of being integrated into the very strange life of the town.   His job is to be a dream reader.   There are also lots of unicorns in the town.  One of the common things that does link up both worlds is unicorn skulls.

The puzzle of this novel, among many others, is to see what the structural and thematic connections of the even and odd numbers sections can be seen to be.  If  you know please leave me a comment!

Hard Boiled Wonderland and The Edge of the World is really a fun read.  Like most of his work, there are some sex scenes and Murakami is a master at describing the bodies of women.   In most all of his works, you will find a woman who for no clear reason throws herself at a "nerd" like central male character in the book.    There are all sort of really enjoyable references to mostly American movies and music and western Literature in the book.   People who went to college in the late 1960s will relate well to the Bob Dylan references.

I read both this and The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann on my PC, switching back and forth.   Once I thought I was reading Mann's work when I was in fact reading Murakami and admit I was very shocked by what I thought was the quite explicit sex scene that seemed so out of place in Mann.  I laughed at my reaction when I figured it out!

I endorse this book for all Murakami fans (most of whom probably read the book long ago).   I do not suggest it as a first Murakami.    It was translated in 1991 by Arthur Birnbaum.

Will you reading IQ84 soon?

Mel u

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (1924, 720 pages)

"Only the exhaustive can be truly interesting".  

"This is one of those works that changed the shape and
possibilities of European literature. It is a masterwork, unlike
any other. It is also, if we learn to read it on its own terms, a
delight, comic and profound, a new form of language, a new
way of seeing."  A. S. Byatt

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (1875 to 1955-Germany-Nobel Prize 1929) is one of the major works of 20th century European literature.    It has been on my to be read list ever since I first learned of it as a young teenager when I read Clifton Fadiman's The Lifetime Reading Plan.   It is a huge, I must say it, mountain of a book that does its best to capture the full spectrum of knowledge, philosophical attitudes and culture found in Europe in the opening decades of the 20th Century.   

Thomas Mann left Germany for Switzerland in 1933 when Hitler came to power.  In 1939 he moved to the USA, teaching at Princeton.   In 1944, while living in California, he became a USA citizen.   He was married and had six children.

The story opens around 1910.   A young man, Hans Castrop is about to enter his career in the shipbuilding business but first he wants to make a two week visit to his cousin staying high up in the mountains at a sanatorium for the cure and housing of affluent people with tuberculous.    There are all sorts of people from lots of countries there.   Sadly it turns out he has consumption (as TB was once called in a kind of hiding from death euphemism).   He ends up spending seven years there.   While staying there he has extensive conversations with characters that are representative of the major competing philosophies of the time.   He also receives an extensive education in many cultural and scientific matters.   Magic Mountain is really almost an encyclopedic work from which one could nearly reconstruct the knowledge of Europe in the first decades of the 20th century.    It also gives is a good look at the business side of the treatment of tuberculous and at times it did seem the institute was keeping people, maybe even Hans, there primarily to make money from them.

The words from Mann's preface to the book let us see what he was aspiring to in The Magic Mountain.

The exaggerated pastness of our narrative is due to its taking place before the epoch when a certain crisis shattered its way through life and consciousness and left a deep chasm behind. It takes place—or, rather, deliberately to avoid the present tense, it took place, and had taken place—in the long ago, in the old days, the days of the world before the Great War, in the beginning of which so much began that has scarcely yet left off beginning. Yes, it took place before that; yet not so long before...

We shall tell it at length, thoroughly, in detail—for when did a narrative seem too long or too short by reason of the actual time or space it took up? We do not fear being called meticulous, inclining as we do to the view that only the exhaustive can be truly interesting.

Some might exchange the word "exhausting" for "exhaustive" but this really is a fascinating work for those of us who like novels that turn on ideas.

There are some interesting kind of quirks in  the book.  Mann does not portray Russians in at all flattering way, treating them almost as sinister orientals speaking a "guttural language" and representing a degenerate phrase in Oswald Spengler's cycles of civilizations.    The Russians seems to always sit to together at their own tables at meals.  I can see why Vladimir Nabokov did not speak highly of Mann at times.    Meals, by the way, were quite spectacular affairs and I admit I would not mind being a guest for a couple of weeks as everything is totally taken care of for the patients.

The Magic Mountain is a wonderful, very rich  book.   It ends on a note of futility as Hans now that his years on the mountain have transformed into a person of real cultural depth is going to be drafted to fight in WWI, probably to be killed in a  senseless war.

The Magic Mountain is a complex work of art full of layer upon layer of meanings and deep irony.   I profited a lot from reading A. S. Byatt's introduction to the book (in another edition than the one I read).

The edition I read was translated by Helen Tracy T. Lowe-Porter who had exclusive rights to translate Mann for many years and first made his work available to readers of English.   This edition of the translation was first published in 1927.

You can read Byatt's  essay HERE.

I am glad I finally read The Magic Mountain.  

Mel u

Saturday, September 24, 2011

John Buchan- Two Stories from a Great Scottish Author and a Governor General of Canada

"The Rime of True Thomas"  (1922, 8 pages)
"The Riding of Ninemileburn"  (1925, 7 pages)

One of the very best things about being a book blogger is discovering great new to us writers from the comments of our readers.   I owe my discovery of John Buchan to Geranium Cat.   Her blog is very interesting and focuses on Y.A. and children's literature from before 1950 as well as Canadian literature.   We came in contact with each other through our mutual participation in Carl V's R I P reading event (Sept 1 to Oct 31-the easy rules are on his blog) devoted to paranormal literature.   

John Buchan (1875 to 1940-Perth Scotland) was a very successful person in all respects.   He began a career in the British diplomatic service after graduating from Oxford and ended up in 1935 as Governor General of Canada.   He did all he could to promote a sense of cultural pride in Canadians.   He published over 100 books (his only still famous one, I think, is 39 Steps, you might have seen the Alfred Hitchcock movie based on it).   In  addition to serious historical works he wrote 30 novels and had seven collections of short stories.  

Buchan was deeply influenced by his Scottish background.   Both of the stories by him I read make use of Scottish dialect for the speech of the characters.   One of the stories has elements of Scottish paranormal folklore and the other is very moving story reflecting the extreme poverty of the country Scots in the 1920s.  (There will be a link where you can read these stories at the end of this post.)

"The Riding of Ninemileburn" opens on a tragic no doubt all too common scene at the time.   A woman has recently given birth to a much wanted son but she has no milk to give him because there is little but gruel for her to eat and the family cow has been given to their hard as nails cousin as security for a loan.  The country people of the area are under an almost feudal like obligation to support the laird of the area.  The woman's husband sets off to see his cousin in the hope of some help.   Along the way he is ordered to join in a bounty hunt for a group of cattle thieves who have raided the holdings of the laird.   I saw the violent undertones of the culture of the man when I saw how much he was drawn into this and his savage delight in killing one of the  thieves.   His cousin is along on the hunt also.  The cow that was put up as collateral for his loan has been killed in the fighting.    The cousin forgives the debt but the man still has no cow.   He is so excited over the fight he cannot wait to get home to tell his wife about what happened.   Only when he gets home and sees her and the baby starving to death does he understand what his fight has cost him.   This story gave me a vivid look at the life of the very poor in Scotland.   

"The Rime of True Thomas"  is a really interesting story letting us see some of the Scottish paranormal folk traditions and their place in rural culture.  I think this story is also about how the poverty of the Scottish Highlands produced a culturally destructive outflow of population to America and elsewhere that the Scots tried to understand through their folklore.   This is a very good story.  It required I put aside my perhaps normal narrow minded dislike of "country" dialect in literature and am very glad I did.  Just slow down your reading speed a bit and the dialect is easy to follow and it was really quite a lot of fun.  I admit I loved it when a group of birds were referred to as a "feathered clan".   The story is basically structured as a conversation between a rural man, Tom, and a bird. As he begins to converse with the bird (there is even a conversation about whether animals have souls) he learns of "The Rime".  It is a vision or a way of seeing under the veil of surface appearances.   It allows Thomas to see into the deep past of Scotland through accessing his cultural memories.   Here is a sample of the wonderful prose style of Buchan:

Then the melody changed to a fiercer and sadder note. He saw his forefathers, gaunt men and terrible, run stark among woody hills. He heard the talk of the bronze-clad invader, and the jar and clangour as stone met steel. Then rose the last coronach of his own people, hiding in wild glens, starving in corries, or going hopelessly to the death. He heard the cry of the Border foray, the shouts of the famished Scots as they harried Cumberland, and he himself rode in the midst of them. 

The bird tells Thomas that many a man (men are most influenced by the rime) are driven to leave Scotland by the terrible reevaluations the rime can produce in those sensitive to its power.

There is a lot more in this story but I will leave it untold for the new reader to have the same pleasure in discovery that I did.

You can read both of these stories (along with a lot more of Buchan's work) here

Once again, my thanks to Geranium Cat for her great suggestion.   

I recommend these stories to anyone, as long as you can have the patience to read the dialect (and a lot of people love dialect stories).

The next classical paranormal writer I will read is Oliver Onions, suggested by Fred of Fred's Place.  

I will also soon, I hope, post on another classic Irish paranormal writer.

Mel u

Friday, September 23, 2011

Welcome All Book Blog Hoppers-Sept 22 to Sept 25

Welcome to The Reading Life
Follow Me and I will Follow you Back

I have been an on and off participant in The Book Blogger Hop hosted by Jennifer of Crazy for books for a long time.   I have found it to be a great place to discover new to me blogs and meet some great book bloggers.    

My blog and my reading focus on  ever evolving genres of literature but for now I am very into South Asian Short Stories, Japanese fiction, classics, Katherine Mansfield, Flannery O'Connor, Elizabeth Bowen and Virginia Woolf.   I also read a wide variety of short stories and review an occasional carefully selected new work.

My blog is the home of Irish Short Story Week centered around St Patrick's Day as well as Indonesian Short Story Week.   I am open to book blog events.  

Every week Jennifer poses an interesting question for us-here is the one for this week:

As a blog reader, what information (besides the book review) do you like to see in other bloggers’ reviews of books? (For example – Author bio, social media links, book synopsis from Amazon/Goodreads or one written by the blogger, page count, ISBN number, link to purchase, etc.)”

I like to see a brief  author biography, a page count, and links to other posts on the same book the blogger thinks are really good.   
Feature and Follow Friday

I am also and on and off again follower of The Feature and Follow Book Blog Hop.   Here is the question for the week

Q. Do you have a favorite series that you read over and over again? Tell us a bit about it and why you keep on revisiting it?

I know lots and lots of people will give this answer but the world of the Harry Potter books is my response.  (As long as I am not a muggle!)  I keep revisiting it as it is the perfect escape world and it has a lot of depth to it.

Follow Me and I will Follow you Back-leave me a comment if you follow me or if you just stop by so I can see what your answer might be.

Mel u

"Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" by M. R. James

"Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" by M. R. James (1904, 8 pages)

Montague Rhodes James
Early English Master of the Ghost Story

I have been having a lot of fun reading and posting on stories for Carl V's R I P reading event (Sept 1 to Oct 31-the easy rules are on his web page) devoted to paranormal and Gothic literature.   

A lot of paranormal and Gothic stories have as one of their central characters a professor.   He is often a bachelor (as one said in the old days "a confirmed bachelor"), very learned in some completely obscure topics such as Third century Anatolian ceramics, sheltered from the ways of the work a day world and off on a holiday or a trip somewhere as the story opens.   This is no accident.  Several of the authors that first made the ghost story a popular genre in England exactly fit this description.   

Montague Rhodes James (often designated as M. R. Janes-1862 to 1936-UK) attended Kings College,  Cambridge as an undergraduate and basically never left.   He lived there most all his life, never married, and became Provost of the college.   He was also a very highly respected medieval scholar.   His specialty was medieval Latin and English church history of the period.   He also wrote a popular guide book to English abbeys.  He is still read widely today for his wonderful ghost stories most of which he originally wrote to be read aloud to friends at college.   His first published collection of ghost stories was Ghost Stories of an Antiquarian (1904 in which "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" first appeared).   I was very happy when I read Professor James held Sheridan Le Fanu in such high esteem that he wrote an introduction to two of his books.  

The central character in "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad"  is Professor Parkin of Cambridge who is on a solitary holiday at a hotel somewhere on the east coast of England.   Professor Perkins is given to long walks and as he is walking through an overgrown unkempt cemetery he notices something protruding from one of the graves.   He assumes it is an old bone but when he uncovers it he finds a whistle.    As he begins to walk back to the hotel he notices a dark figure way in the background that seems to be watching him.   

Back in his room he looks the whistle over.   It has an inscription, in Latin, that translates as "Who is this who is coming".   That evening he cleans up the whistle and blows it.   It produces a strange and unearthly sound.    Later that evening he will be awoken by strange sounds.  When he is at breakfast one of the other guests asks him if he believes in ghosts and Parkin basically says the whole notion is silly.    He is, however, very disturbed when the chamber maid tells him that someone slept in the second bed in his room last night.    He begins to wonder who the phantom that seemed to follow him from a long way off after he took the whistle was.  (Spoiler alert)   That night he awakes in terror as the sheets in the second bad begin to flap and he sees the shadowing figure that followed him after he took the whistle arise from the other bed.   

"Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" can be read online here.   Many more of his ghost stories can also found online.

I really like his prose style.   Here is a good sample:

The speech served to remind Parkins of his little discovery of that afternoon. It was with some considerable curiosity that he turned it over by the light of his candles. It was of bronze, he now saw, and was shaped very much after the manner of the modern dog-whistle; in fact it was - yes, certainly it was - actually no more nor less than a whistle. He put it to his lips, but it was quite full of a fine, caked-up sand or earth, which would not yield to knocking, but must be loosened with a knife. 

I enjoyed reading this story and I think most other people will also.  It is a gentle work meant to entertain, not terrify.   I hope to read more of his stories in the future.

The next older paranormal writer I will post on will be James Buchan.

Mel u

Thursday, September 22, 2011

"The Vampyre" by John Polidori

"The Vampyre" by John Polidori (1819, 12 pages)

Is This the First Appearance of the Vampire
in English Literature?

I am having a lot of fun reading Gothic and paranormal short stories for Carl V's R I P reading event dedicated to these themes.   I am sort of focusing on some of the early masters of the genre (if one may call it that) like Arthur Machen, Sheridan Le Fanu, Algernon Blackwood and Gerald Griffin.   I have also posted on a paranormal story by an Indian and a Japanese writer.    The literary fixation on the paranormal is hardly a new trend.

"The Vampyre" is by John Polidori (1795 to 1821)  who was born in London.   His father was an Italian emigre who was a well known scholar of Italian political history.   His mother was a governess.    He became a physician at age 19.   He was the uncle by marriage of Dante Rossetti, from his sister's marriage.  

It appears Polidori first became interested in writing after he became the personal physician for Lord Byron.   He was paid by a publisher to keep a journal of the trip.  At one point they spent some time with Mary and Percy Shelley.    Byron suggested one evening that they all should try their hands at writing ghost stories.   Mary Shelly's story became the basis for her Frankenstein.    "The Vampyre" was Polidori's story and is by far his most famous work, really the only part of his work still read.

My research indicates this story might well be the first appearance of a vampire in English literature.   

As the story opens young Aubrey is traveling in  Italy in the company of Lord Ruthven, whom he has recently met.  Lord Ruthven has an enigmatic background and has just recently made his appearance in society.  (This does sound like the start of lots and lots of paranormal stories.)   He parts company with Ruthven when he seduces the pure daughter of one of his friends.    While in Greece, Aubrey develops a fondness for the daughter of the keeper of an inn where he is staying.  (Inn keeper's daughters are another standard fixture now.)   Ruthven by seeming coincidence shows up at the same inn.   The daughter is shortly killed by a vampire but Aubrey does not connect it to Lord Ruthven.   They begin to travel together again only to be attacked by bandits.   Ruthven receives a seemingly  fatal wound in the attack.   As he dies, he makes Aubrey swear he will not reveal anything about his death for a year and a day.

Aubrey goes back to London.   He is amazed when Lord Ruthven reappears in London society seemingly in perfect health.   Aubrey is deeply shocked by this as he thought he witnessed the death of Ruthven.   Ruthven begins a romance with the sister of Aubrey.    He reminds Aubrey that his vow prevents him for a year and a day telling anyone what he knows of him.   Ruthven seduces his sister and the anxiety causes Aubrey to have a breakdown.   Spoiler alert.   Ruthven and the sister are due to be married on day the before the oath will expire.   Aubrey sends her a letter warning her away from Ruthven.   He sends the letter but it does not arrive in time.   The morning of the wedding night she is found dead, drained of all of her blood.   Ruthven has vanished.

The language of the story may seem old fashioned to many people.   I found it very charming.   Here is a good sample to allow you to decide if you like it or not.

It happened that in the midst of the dissipations attendant upon London winter, there appeared at the various parties of the leaders of the ton a nobleman more remarkable for his singularities, than his rank. He gazed upon the mirth around him, as if he could not participate therein. Apparently, the light laughter of the fair only attracted his attention, that he might by a look quell it and throw fear into those breasts where thoughtlessness reigned. Those who felt this sensation of awe, could not explain whence it arose: some attributed it to the dead grey eye, which, fixing upon the object's face, did not seem to penetrate, and at one glance to pierce through to the inward workings of the heart; but fell upon the cheek with a leaden ray that weighed upon the skin it could not pass.

If you are interested in older paranormal and Gothic stories, you probably will enjoy reading "The Vampyre" and you will see a lot of the things that have become part of the standard fixtures of the vampire story in this work.  

You can read it online HERE

I hope to soon post on two other earlier masters of  the paranormal short story, M. R. Smith and John Buchan.   

Mel u

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov

The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov (1904, translated by Julian West)

My Prior Posts on Chekhov

The Cherry Orchard is  the last of Anton Chekhov's  (1860 to 1904-Russia) plays and in fact one of his very last works.     Many regard it as among his best work.   I first  heard of it many years ago when I read as a teenager The Lifetime Reading Plan by Clifton Fadiman.     I have posted a number of times on Chekhov so I will be quite brief in my comments on The Cherry Orchard.   

The play is set on the estate of an aristocratic woman.   The pride of her estate and the whole region is the beautiful cherry orchard on the property.   The owner of the estate, a widow, has been living in France for the last five years, ever since her young son drowned.    News reaches her daughter that her mother has tried to kill herself so she and her governess go to bring her back to the estate.

When the widow arrives back on her estate she finds a very bad situation.   It is about to be sold at public auction for unpaid debts.   A former serf on the estate, now a successful merchant devises a plan, and it sounded like a very good one to me.    Sell of parcels of the estate for the construction of houses or summer cottages.   This will allow all the debts to be paid and the family to stay on the estate.   The only problem is the cherry orchard must be cut down.   The widow will not allow this.

In the final act, the former surf is jubilantly announcing that he has bought the estate on which is father, grandfather and himself were once serfs, little more than slaves.    The family has no real idea what they will do other than perhaps live with relatives.

The Cherry Orchard  is about a society in transition.   The old order is crumbling and in clinging to the past which  allow it to be destroyed.  

Historically, serfs were freed in 1861.   Serfs were allowed to become merchants and a new class began to arise.   Once many estate owners lost their free labor of the serfs, they could no longer run run them at a profit.

The Cherry Orchard  is very well worth reading.   It is a canon status work for sure.    You can easily find it online.

I hope to read Three Sisters soon.

Mel u

Monday, September 19, 2011

Ruffy's Guide to the Manly Mediterranean: Any Port in a Storm by Ruffington Boussweau

Ruffy's Guide to the Manly Mediterranean:   Any Port in a Storm by Ruffington Boussweau  (1931, 312 pages)

Ruffy's Guide to the Manly Mediterranean:   Any Port in a Storm is considered a classic of travel writing both for its lyrical prose style and its fearless reporting as well as its many wonderful tips.   Many traveler writers can tell you about the museums, restaurants, historical places of the port cities of the Mediterranean, only Ruffington Boussweau (1881 to 1974-UK) has the courage to tell the manly man what he  really wants to know.   E.  M. Forster said the chapter on Alexandria taught him more than he learned in a year of living there. (By oddest coincidence, Forster and Boussweau traveled on the same cruise line once never met in real life).  Paul Bowles advised his friends not to come to Tangiers without reading what Ruffy said  first.   Hart Crane met Ruffy in a Parisian Apache bar and  said "Ruffy knows all the best places and gave me some great tips on having fun on a cruise ship".  Ruffy helped with the expenses involved with the publication of The Bridge, though he admits he was never able to get beyond the third page.    Jean Rhys said he was the most handsome man she had ever seen.  She was shocked to learn he had been to Dominica and cruised the Sargasso Sea.  Ruffy was touched but had to decline when she said "no charge for you".   Marcel Proust always made sure he had Ruffy's favorite macaroons on stock whenever he heard he was in Paris.     

Ruffington (or as he loved to say "Oh, Please call me Ruffy, even my houseboys do")  first came to the attention of society when he was the  personal cruise director for Prince Nicholas (to be Czar Nicholas) and Prince Felix Youssovpov  in 1903 when they cruised the major ports of the Mediterranean with the Russian navy.   Ruffy and Yousseovpov  met in Naples when Youssovpov was doing his grand tour of Western European  transsexual brothels and they were very close the rest of their lives.    

Ruffy was born in London in 1881.      He attended the most manly of universities, Cambridge, receiving a double fifth  in Greek classics and French studies.   His family wealth, acquired in the slave trade-we can all be proud of the fact that Ruffy always forthrightly acknowledged that this was perhaps not a  morally good business- freed him to travel and enjoy the  sybaritic life style that got him banned from the best places in Europe and sought after in the worst or was it the other way around?   He did his best to make up for his family past business with a very diversified collection of houseboys.   When asked about his shocking to many allegedly passionate romance with a Russian  ballerina reputed to be the mistress of a Grand Duke, he said,  and added a phrase to the English Language, "Any Port  in a storm".    

Ruffy is known for down to earth practical advice the manly man needs.   In his now very classic chapter  "Sailors Delight:   Red Sky in the Morning Take Warning, Red Rash in the Afternoon Take Penicillin" he gives his experience with seamen from many countries and frankly tells which sorts he finds most charming and which ones to avoid at all costs.      Be sure to have clove cigarettes for the gift that keeps on giving.    He has also included a picture of his collection of naval caps, said to include the hat of an Egyptian admiral, among 100s of others.   

The ports he spends the most time on are Sicily ("a few lire go a long way"), Alexandria ("so when does the library open"), Athens (a must stop at least once in your life time), and Marseilles (Ruffy knows where to get the best bouillabaisse -or as he liked to say-"stick with me and I will get your bouilla really basted".

Some may find his chapter on Tangiers off putting with his discussion of brown little brothers and his openness about his close friendship and business partnership with Sultan Rujamai, still involved with the slave trade (it is the family business so let us not be judgemental) and in  procurement of young men for outsourcing to jobs in India at maharajah's  homes and among the British Raj elite may raise politically correct eyebrows today.

Ruffy was a gourmand of the highest order.   He includes a dining guide for each port he covers, with the exception of Istanbul where he says he stayed on the ship the whole time it was in port.   He is said to have debriefed T.  H. Lawrence concerning his experiences while a captive of the Turkish Army and developed a life time aversion to Turks from this.

Ruffy's drink of choice was Sri Lankan green tea in the morning and Bulgarian wine with meals.  

Ruffy was a lover of the theater and during the first performance of Alfred Jarry's Ubo Roi, sitting next to W. B. Yeats at his insistence, shouted out,  just as the audience was in complete shock, "Papa, Papa why did you never love me" and had to be carried out of the theater by a group of ushers.  Later he confessed he and Jarry had planned this ahead of time.    Of course all of the ushers were then invited to the cast party held in Ruffy's place in the Marsais district.  

Ruffy was an ardent patriot during WWII, often inviting sailors on shore leave to share his private bomb shelter in his Mayfair mansion.     He  was an air raid warden also.   To his great credit, he declined Eva Peron's invitation to spend WWII in the Argentine.  He was, of course, at her funeral in 1954, seated in the all Cambridge section.   He was resplendent in his traditional gaucho mourning suit, prepared for him by Gotfried Von Rollfingburg (now an Argentine citizen and still very proud of the uniforms he created for top German officers) as a courtesy for a secret to history favor Ruffy once did for him.

Ruffy's Guide to the Manly Mediterranean:   Any Port in a Storm may be a book for another time but his prose style is marvelous, he is very open and honest in what he says and much of his advice is still spot on.  

I hope to post soon on his very candid Ruffy's Guide to the Ports of The Caspian Sea.     Ruffy never abandoned his support of the Czar and is quite negative on his accounts of post Czarist times.

From 1948 to 1958 Ruffy spent his winters it the Dominican Republic  as the special guest of the government.   He was working on developing tourism but the project never materialized.  

I will let the scholars and academics debate the cultural importance of Ruffy's work.   Even Susan Sontag was not sure if his work should be seen as camp or not.

From Key West to Vladivostok and all ports in between, there is a bar on the docks where they close for a moment of silence on Sept 2 at 200pm to honor the too early death of Ruffy.   He died from the poison in a bad blow fish.

Ruffy wrote 25 travel guides.    I am very overwhelmed that a patron of my blog from Bangladesh, who has devoted her life to translating the work of Ruffy into Bengali, has sent me all 25 books.   When I asked her why she was spending her life and  tiny part of her immense family fortune on this enterprise she said she wants to give something back to the people of Bangladesh to enjoy for the ages.    One can only marvel at this dedication.    She declines to really be interviewed but when asked about UNESCO's claim that millions are near starvation in her country she said, "I heard someone say that at High Tea at the Hyatt last week but now at least they will soon be able to read the work of Ruffy and forget their troubles for a while".

Please let me know if you have read any of his other travel books.

Mel u

The Inspector General by Nikolai Gogol

The Inspector General by Nikolai Gogol (1842)

A Very Funny Play

Prior Posts on Nikolai Gogol

The Inspector General by Nikolai Gogol (1809 to 1852-Russia-author of Dead Souls) is a  funny drama.   It was a very enjoyable read, easy to follow with sharp  characterizations.  (The version of the play I read -on translated by Thomas Seltzer.   Seltzer -1875 to 1943-was  an American born in Russia who  immigrated along with his parents while he was a young child.    He was a highly regarded translator and founded a publishing company that is credited with introducing the work of D. H. Lawrence to the USA for which he was attacked by puritanical groups.)

The plot is pretty simple.   The mayor and other officials in a small Russian town are thrown into a state of panic when they get an anonymous tip that an inspector general has been sent to do a secret investigation of how the town and the surrounding area are governed.   

The find out that two weeks ago a stranger from St. Petersburg has checked into a local hotel.   They at once assume he is the dreaded Czarist inspector general.   A bad word from him could mean Siberia!    We quickly learn the stranger at the inn is not the inspector general.  He  is just a civil servant with a wild imagination.   All of the officials, especially the mayor and the governor, begin making up to the alleged inspector.   At first the man, Khlestatov,  is so conceited that he thinks it is all because he is just such a quality person.   The mayor and the governor both explain they are very honest men, just taking the minimum bribes so as not to offend anyone.   Khlestatov moves into the house of the mayor.    He begins to request large loans from the mayor and other officials.   He even begins a romance with the mayor's daughter after he moves into his house.   The false inspector decides on the advise of his valet, that he needs to leave town.   The mayor chases after him convinced once his daughter marries the inspector general he will be untouchable.   

I will leave the rest of the plot untold.  

There was a 1949 movie starring Danny Kaye based on this play.   It has been a while since I have seen it but I recall it as funny but overacted.   I would like to see it again now.   

In October I will be posting on two earlier short works of fiction by Gogol for The Classics Circuit.  

I enjoyed this a lot.   This is not a "heavy" thinking type of drama where people launch into 30 sentence long speeches about the nature of God or such.   It is fun and whatever else you get  from it is your bonus.   

Mel u

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Keepsake by Kirsty Gunn

The Keepsake by Kirsty Gunn (1997, 214 pages)

I first read The Keepsake by Kirsty Gunn (1960, New Zealand) in August of 2009.   I did not attempt to post on it then as I knew I could not begin to convey the dark terrible beauty of this book.   After my second reading I feel little more confidence but I will now attempt to say a bit about this book as I want to encourage others to read it.  (I had a fairly long post written on this book but somehow either my computer or my internet locked up and I lost it all so this post will be very short.)

Here is the Goodreads description:

Through a shifting and interwoven narrative, Kirsty Gunn explores the dark world of a young girl who has grown up with a mother dependent on storytelling and the oblivion of addiction to cope with the memory of her lost love, the girl's father. Raised on these deceptive tales of happiness, the younger woman is drawn into and begins to relive the real story of pain, abandonment, and the tyranny of desire. Her shocking affair with an older man seems to repeat the pattern set by her mother. The tangled yarn of her mother's past begins to be unraveled by the younger woman - until finally she can come to tell a story that is her.

The prose in The Keepsake is almost painfully beautiful.    It could be seen thematically as about a lot of things.   Among them  memory, sexual obbession, drug addiction, the need for stories to have patterns in our lifes, and possibly incest.   

I think when you reach the scene where the nature of the keepsake is revealed you will shudder at the terrible beauty and power of what is revealed to us.

Parts of The Keepsake somehow brought to mind ancient death cults or Meso-American religion.   

I am not doing this wonderful book justice but I will reread it in 2012, God willing, and will attempt to do a better job then.   It has some wonderful quotes directly related to the reading life.

I completely endorse this wonderful, beautiful work of art.

Mel u


Sunday Salon-Post BBAW Observations, 200 for Dickens at 200 Day

200 for Dickens 200th Birthday

I am exploring the interest in the book blog world to see if we can have  a giant celebration on February 7, 2012 for the 200th anniversary of the Birth of Charles Dickens.   Lots of publishers are already scheduling book releases for that day and my bet is the BBC has big plans also.   The idea is 100s of book blogs all posting on  Dickens that day, whatever they want.     There will probably be read-a-longs set up also.    I do not think it is too early to start planning this event.

If you are interested please leave a comment.   If enough people seem interested I will try to figure  how to set up a Mr. Linky for the event around the Jan 1, 2012.

Any and all suggestions for the observation of this day are appreciated.

Post BBAW Observations

Here is my one line summery of all the posts for BBAW-"If you want to get good comments on your blog, then you must leave good comments on the blogs of others".

I have decided to participate in some memes.   In two years as a blogger I never did a meme until a few days ago.   Lots of bloggers suggested they were great for community building.    I  am looking for a few good memes.   I will have to see what seems right for my blog and I.   

I also have added a tool bar to the bottom of my blog that allows reader to  do more than they could before at and with my blog.   It even has chat capability!   Please let me know how you like it.   It is for now an experiment but I am pretty sure I am keeping it.    It is a free add on with lots of options.      Readers  can chat with each other or with the host, up to thirty at a time.   If you want to chat with me send me a message in Tweeter at @thereadinglife to alert me.

Tip I Forgot to Mention Last Week

Set up a private test blog.   This is easy to do on Blogger (I do not know if other platforms allow multiple blogs).   Make the  test blog private.   Copy part of your content (or all) over to it.   Anytime you want to change the design, template, or add a gadget to your blog, first you try it out on the test blog.  It also allows you to ask your blogging buddies if they like the changes before you go live with them.   Plus you can be sure it does not mess up your blog.   I always do this before I alter my blog.   

Mel u

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tender Is The Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tender Is The Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1934, 392 pages)

To me, the last ten or so pages of The Great Gatsby are among the very most beautiful prose I have ever read.   I last readThe Great Gatsby (1925) just before I began my blog in July of 2009.   I liked the  last few pages of the book so much that I read them at least five times before putting the book down. 

The last work by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896 to 1940-USA) I read and posted on was his short story "Babylon" which I think is considered his best short work.    I bought a copy of  the last of his four novels, Tender Is The Night, right after I finished The Great Gatsby and have at last gotten around to reading it.

I am just going to write a very short post on the book (you can find a good plot summary Here).    This book did not live up to The Great Gatsby.  There are some very good turns of phrases and some really cute side stories. There is a minor character who has been working for many years on what he is sure will be the definitive book on armadillo skulls.   He submits it to the primary publisher of scientific treatises and he expects to be considered the leading authority  on armadillo skulls in the world when it is published.   Imagine his shock when he gets a rejection letter saying they already have a book longer and better than his set to be published very soon.   I hate to say it but  this was the highlight of  the book for me.  

I am not saying this is a bad book, just not as good as The Great Gatsby.   I did not find the characters terribly interesting and I admit a prejudice against alcoholics in literature.    (This is my only complaint on Raymond Carver!)  This is not a moral judgement,  just a personal one which may or may not be valid.

I am glad I read this book but I do not really endorse it strongly and I would not buy it again.

Mel u

Friday, September 16, 2011

Welcome to all Book Blog Hoppers Sept 16 to Sept 19

Welcome to The Reading Life

Follow Me and I will Follow you Back

I have been an on and off participant in The Book Blogger Hop hosted by Jennifer of Crazy for books for a long time.   I have found it to be a great place to discover new to me blogs and meet some great book bloggers.    

My blog and my reading focus on  ever evolving genres of literature but for now I am very into South Asian Short Stories, Japanese fiction, classics, Katherine Mansfield, Flannery O'Connor, Elizabeth Bowen and Virginia Woolf.   I also read a wide variety of short stories and review an occasional carefully selected new work.

My blog is the home of Irish Short Story Week centered around St Patrick's Day.   I am open to book blog events.  

Every week Jennifer poses an interesting question for us-here is the one for this week:

“As a book blogger, how do you introduce yourself in your profile?”

I just state my reading interests

Feature and Follow Friday

I am also and on and off again follower of The Feature and Follow Book Blog Hop.   Here is the question for the week

 It's that pesky magic book fairy again! She has another wish: What imaginary book world would you like to make a reality?

I know lots and lots of people will give this answer but the world of the Harry Potter books (as long as I am not a muggle!)

Mel u