Sunday, August 31, 2014
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy 1869
The Four Books by Yan Lianke (2012)
was born in Beijing in 1958. He is the author of a huge number of novels and story
collections, all remarkable for both their subject matter and their style. He has received many literary prizes, the most prestigious: the Lu Xun in 2000 and the Lao She in 2004.
Friday, August 29, 2014
"The Giver" by Lois Lowry
The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993, 179 pages)
I like books that create alternate worlds I can . The Giver does this wonderfully. From the very start of the book we see the world Lowry has created in its own terms as perfectly logical and consistent. We understand how things work in the society created. We can even build our house in this world easily.
Everybody lives a completely controlled life in a completely controlled environment. Total harmony and tranquility having seemingly been achieved. This is done without any brute force. It has just evolved over time and everyone seems quite happy. The rules are designed to produce a state of mind in which one is happy with one's place in life. There is a price to pay. People no longer see colors, no one reads anything but job training manuals, there is no passion of any kind. There are no birds. Even the landscape has been flatted out to eliminate any hills or valleys. People can apply to a committee for a spouse and will be assigned a suitable one. After three years a couple may make application for a child. Children are produced by women designated as “birthmothers”. Training for children is completely prescribed. Precision in language is stressed. Children are constantly being observed to determine their future place in society. Everybody takes a morning pill once they get to about age 11 to suppress what are called “urges”. It is a totally blanded out society. There is no crime, no hunger, no war and all receive the medical care they need. Everything seems to work.
At age 12 there is a big ceremony in which a committee of elders will inform a person what their life work will be. Some will be doctors, some engineers, some laborers, some administrators etc. Jason, the central figure in the central figure in the novel gets a very special a unique future job. One that is only designated when the current holder of the job is near the end of his expected life span. It is the job of receiver of memories. No one in the community has any knowledge of strong emotions, no knowledge of what the world was like in the past before the controls were put in place. There is no snow or rain but the receiver of memory has these in his mind. No one has any knowledge of pain or love but the receiver of memory. Jonas’s job is to have all the memories and experience that can produce wisdom. He is given his memories by the current holder of the position, The Giver. The function of the job is to provide advice to the council of elders when they are faced with a new challenge. The current receiver of memory has 1000s of books in his home. No one else is allowed to read what they want and in fact no one wants to anyway. If a newborn is not up to standards after a year he is “released”. Once a person is too old he is also released. No one knows quite what that means but is treated as joyous occasion.
Of course once Jonas begins to get memories and feelings and can even see colors, things are not as simple to him as they once were. I do not want to give away any more plot detail. I was very interested in finding out about his training for his new job. I found the world created in this book fascinating and very believable. The Giver made me laugh, kept me very interested in the fate of the characters (the depictions of life in the family units –what they are called in this society-were very well done) and made me think. I am so glad I read this novel. I think it could be read and enjoyed by any one 12 and up. It has won a lot of awards. It is an easy to read book. It did not take a long time to read it but the world Lowry creates will always be there for me to wander into. I endorse it without reservation and will pass it along to my daughters to read.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
"The Monstro" by Junot Diaz (from The New Yorker, June 4, 2012)
Monday, August 25, 2014
The Wandering Jews by Joseph Roth (1926, translated 2001 by Michael Hoffman)
"The Bear Came Over The Mountain by Alice Munro ( December 27, 1999 inThe New Yorker)
Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham (1915, 736 pages)
Saturday, August 23, 2014
The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles (1949)
"Alone" by Yiyun Li (November 16, 2009, from The New Yorker) -A Short Story by the Winner of the 2005 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Prize
Yiyun Li grew up in Beijing and came to the United States in 1996. Her debut collection, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, won the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, PEN/Hemingway Award, Guardian First Book Award, and California Book Award for first fiction. Her novel, The Vagrants, won the gold medal of California Book Award for fiction, and was shortlisted for Dublin IMPAC Award. Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, her second collection, was a finalist of Story Prize and shortlisted for Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. Kinder Than Solitude, her latest novel, was published to critical acclaim. Her books have been translated into more than twenty languages.
Yiyun Li has received numerous awards, including Whiting Award, Lannan Foundation Residency fellow, 2010 MacArthur Foundation fellow, and 2014 Benjamin H. Danks Award from American Academy of Arts and Letters, among others. She was selected by Granta as one of the 21 Best Young American Novelists under 35, and was named by The New Yorker as one of the top 20 writers under 40. She is a contributing editor to the Brooklyn-based literary magazine, A Public Space.
She lives in Oakland, California with her husband and their two sons, and teaches at University of California, Davis.
Thursday, August 21, 2014
The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson (March 3, 2014 in The New Yorker)
During the next few years, Johnson published several collections of poetry, including Inner Weather (Graywolf, 1976); The Incognito Lounge (Random House, 1982), selected by Mark Strand for The National Poetry Series in 1982; andThe Veil (Knopf, 1985); as well as four novels, including Angels (Knopf, 1983), which received the Sue Kauffman Prize for First Fiction from the Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.
During this time he struggled with alcoholism and various other addictions. It was out of these experiences that he wrote his breakthrough volume of stories, Jesus’ Son (Harper Perennial, 1992), which was later adapted for the screen.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Vera (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov) by Stacey Sciff, 1999 - Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
Stacy Schiff is the author of Véra (Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov), winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Saint-Exupéry, a Pulitzer Prize finalist; and A Great Improvisation: Franklin, France, and the Birth of America, winner of the George Washington Book Prize, the Ambassador Award in American Studies, and the Gilbert Chinard Prize of the Institut Français d'Amérique. All three were New York Times Notable Books; the Los Angeles TimesBook Review, the Chicago Tribune, and The Economist also named A Great Improvisation a Best Book of the Year.
Schiff has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities and was a Director’s Fellow at the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. She was awarded a 2006 Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2011 she was named a Library Lion by the New York Public Library. Schiff has written for The New Yorker, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Boston Globe, among other publications. She lives in New York City.
From the author's webpage.
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
"Rough Deeds" by Annie Proulx (in The New Yorker, June 10, 2013)
Monday, August 18, 2014
My Thoughts on Completing Emile Zola's Rougon Macquart Cycle
Sunday, August 17, 2014
"Brokeback Mountain" by Annie Proulx (from Close Range: Wyoming Stories, 1999)
The Burning of the World - A Memoir of 1914 by Béla Zombory-Moldován(2014)
Béla Zombory-Moldován lets us see the very mixed bag that made up the officer's corp. One colonel refused to allow his men to dig fox holes because he thought it showed cowardice to hide from the enemy in a hole. In one scene with layers of irony and pathos the author straps on his dress sword and says "Now the Russians will really be scared". He stood up to a full barrage of heavy Russian cannon and nothing could be found of his body. Béla Zombory-Moldován is severly wounded and gets a three month leave. We are with him as he tours his beloved Budapest. He often talks of his painting and we see a very peaceful kind man forced to be a killer by fools. The scenes where he visits his parents are very moving.
The Burning of the WorldRecently discovered among private papers and published here for the first time in any language, this extraordinary reminiscence by a young artist, drafted into the bloody combat of the First World War, is a deeply moving addition to the literature of the terrible conflict that defined the shape of the twentieth century.