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

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Reading Life Review October 2016 by Ambrosia Boussweau

Mel has requested that i do the October Reading Life Review.  I decided to start with a collage of some of the wonderful literary ladies who have enriched so many and who are frequent visitors on The Reading Life.  Three wrote in English, one in Portuguese, and two in French.  Two of the families of the writers fled Russia to avoid anti-Semitic pograms.   Three were from quite affluent families. One graduated from law school. One worked for a while in a bottle factory, one as a burlesque dancer,one for a Brazilian high fashion magazine.    All married, with varying degrees of success, all but one had children. One was murdered by the Nazis while the sister of one of the writers was a passionate supporter of Hitler.   All were prolific writers.  There are excellent recent biographies of each of the authors. There are msny more wonderful female writers featured on The Reading Life.  

Who would you feature in your collage?

Blog Stats for October

4,245,306 page views since inception on July 7, 2009

As of today, there are 2973 posts on the blog. 

Top Home Countries of readers 

1.  The United States

2.   The Philippines 

3.   India

4.   Germany 

5.   Canada

The most common city of residence is the greater Manila area.  California is the top American state,

As always the most viewed posts are on short stories by authors from the Philippines. 

The number of posts per month is trending down.  In October 2015 there were 25 posts, this October 14.  

Was this an attack on The Reading Life?

Cyber attacks are in the news.  One day in October the blog received 32 hits from Russia in a sixty second period, from towns all over Russia. The visits were all very brief and all on older posts.  Was this a coordinated attack of some kind?  Russians are notorious spammers but there were no attempts by these visitors to leave spam comments.  What was this?  Have other book bloggers experienced this?  What were the looking for or trying to do? 

Beryl Bainbridge 

Mel has begun a read through of the work of the great Beryl Bainbridge (1932 to 2010, Uk, 17 novels,short listed five times for the Booker Prize). Bainbridge was an incredibly imaginative writer.  Her work is a world class cultural treasure.

Last year Mel read and greatly enjoyed The Door by the powerful Hungarian writer Magda Szabo.  In October he read her Iza's Ballad.  

The 21th century is seeing lots of first rate biographies of writers.  In October biographies of William Thackery and Kenneth Clsrk were featured.  

Short Stories

Short stories are a very important part of the reading life.  This month a debut collection by an Irish writer Dinosaurs On Other Planets by Danielle McLaughlin was given a great review.  Mel also read a collection by a Frank O'Connor prize winner, In Another Country by David Constsntine.   Mel is also reading collections by Mavis Gallant and Alice Monro.  Mel posted on one story by Alice Monro. 


On Light and Carbon was the second work by the wonderful Irish poet, Willism Duffy,featured on The Reading Life.    How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love With Poetry by Edward Hirsch is an amazing work about how to read poetry,directly applicable to all forms of literature.  

Mel also read a very big interesting short work on book jackets, The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahari.

Review Policy.

The Reading Life is one of the few book blogs that regularly posts on biographies, histories and a diverse range of nonfiction.  If you want the 100,000 monthly visitors to our blog to know about a work, please contact us.

Mel especially wants to post upon biographies of writers, so please contact us if you have recommendations or have a book you want featured 

Guest Posts.  We are open to relevant guest posts, contact us if interested

November Plans

Once again we will be featuring German literature in translation in November, as we have done for the last five years.  

Mel and I offer our great thanks to all who take the time to leave comments.  To the greatest readers in the world, my fellow book bloggers, keep blogging.  

Ambrosia Boussweau 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Young Adolf by Beryl Bainbridge (1978, to be reissued by Open Road Media)

Dame Beryl Bainbridge is regarded as one of the greatest and most prolific British novelists of her generation. Consistently praised by critics, she was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize five times, won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the W. H. Smith Literary Award, and twice won the Whitbread Award for Novel of the Year.   She was born in Liverpool in 1932 and died in London in 2010.

Works Read to Date

Harriet Said

The Bottle Factory Outing

According to Queenie

Young Adolf

Berly Bainbridge is a tremendously imaginative and empathetic writer.  In the four novels inhale so far had the great pleasure of reading she had entered the scary mind set of young teenage girls, the blue collar world of female employees at a bottle factory, Samuel Johnson and the Thrales, and the experiences of a young Adolf Hitler on an imagined by Bainbridge working vacation in England.

Young Adolf takes us to a time after World War One and before Hitler began to be politically active.  When we meet him he is staying in England with his half brother and his sister in law.  No mention is ever made of what he will become.  His half brother gets Adolf a job as a helper and errand runner at a beautiful hotel.  At first young Adolf feels degraded to work for small tips but soon he begins to enjoy working in the hotel.  His sister in law resents him living there with them and not chipping in for expenses, I had a grim laugh when she said that Adopf " will never amount to anything".  More than anything else the novel is a portrayal of working class British life in the 1920s.  Adolf does express his political views but everyone just ignores him.  He complains about being rejected by an art school, about WW I and his parents.  

Young Adolf is a very creative work, presenting a very believable young Adolf in an excellently realized setting.

I enjoyed it a lot.

If you have a favorite novel by Bainbridge please let us know. 

Open Road  Media  is a dynamic high quality  publisher with over 10,000 books and 2000 authors on their well organized web pages. The prices are very fair and the formatting of their E Books is flawless.  

Mel u

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Iza's Ballad by Magda Szabo. (1963, translated by George Szirtes, 2016)

In May of last year I read my first work, The Door,  by one of the greatest post World War Two Hungarian writers, Magda Szabö.   The Door, first published in 1987 and translated into English in 2015 was a New York Times distinguished book of the year.   I found the portrayal of the central character, an older woman working as a maid for an upper middle class couple amazingly powerful.  At that time there were no other novels by Szabo I could access.  (I largely only E read) so I was very happy when I was offered a review copy of another of her books which has just been  translated, Iza's  Ballad.

There are four important characters in Iza's Ballad, and elderly couple, Vince and Ettie, their adult daughter, a physician,  Iza and Iza's ex-husband  Artal.   The plot action takes place over only a few months but much of the course of the lives of the characters is slowly unraveled.  Just as in The Door the impact of an older woman, in this case Ettie, on a younger adult is central to the novel.  For years Iza has supplemented her parent's pension with her earning as a physician.  This produces feelings of guilt and dependency as well as resentment.  

The mother, quite elderly is from a different world than her daughter, making her way in a rapidly developing Communist Hungary   The father, before he was blacklisted for his political views, was a magistrate. During the Nazi occupation of the country Iza was active in the occupation.  When the father dies Iza brings her mother to live close to her in Budapest to be sure she can be cared for.   On her side the mother struggled to do whatever her daughter thinks is right.  Ettie is very proud of her daughter but they come from different worlds.  The mother does not really approve of the romantic life of her divorced daughter.  Eventually the distance between mother and daughter widens.

The power in this novel is in the characters and the relationship between mother and daughter.  Much time is spent recalling the father and Iza's marriage but it is the mother-daughter relationship that is central to the story.   It is also the story of the impact on modern development on the older culture of Hungary.

Anyone who has ever become at all a partial care giver to a dominant mother will relate powerfully to Iza's Ballad.  To those new to Szabo, begin with The Door.  


Magda Szabó (1917–2007) was born into an old Protestant family in Debrecen, Hungary’s “Calvinist Rome,” in the midst of the great Hungarian plain. Szabó, whose father taught her to converse with him in Latin, German, English, and French, attended the University of Debrecen, studying Latin and Hungarian, and went on to work as a teacher throughout the German and  Soviet occupations of Hungary in 1944 and 1945. In 1947, she published two volumes of poetry, Bárány (The Lamb), and Vissza az emberig (Return to Man), for which she received the Baumgartner Prize in 1949. Under Communist rule, this early critical success became a liability, and Szabó turned to writing fiction: her first novel, Freskó (Fresco), came out  in 1958, followed closely by Az oz (The Fawn). In 1959 she won the József Attila Prize, after which she went on to write many more novels, among them Katalin utca (Katalin Street, 1969), Ókút (The Ancient Well, 1970), Régimódi történet (An Old-Fashioned Tale, 1971), and Az ajtó (The Door, 1987). Szabó also wrote verse for children, plays, short stories, and nonfiction, including a tribute to her husband, Tibor Szobotka, a writer and translator of Tolkien and Galsworthy who died in 1982. A member of the European Academy of Sciences and a warden of the Calvinist Theological Seminary in Debrecen, Magda Szabó died in the town in which she was born, a book in her hand. In 2017 NYRB Classics will publish Iza’s Ballad (1963).   From the webpage of The New York Review of Books.

Mel u

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

According to Queeney (2001, to be reissued by Open Road Media)

Beryl Bainbridge was born in Liverpool in 1932 and died in Lindon in 2010.  She published 22 novels, three collections of short stories and four works of nonfiction.  Dame Beryl Bainbridge is regarded as one of the greatest and most prolific British novelists of her generation. Consistently praised by critics, she was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize five times, won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the W. H. Smith Literary Award, and twice won the Whitbread Award for Novel of the Year.

After finishing Harriet Said and then The Bottle Factory Outing i knew i wanted to read her twenty other novels but was not sure where to start.  Then upon looking at the extensive catalogue at Open Road Media I found she had written a novel centering on Samuel Johnson's relationship with the Thrale family.  Most people's vision of Johnson is derived from his biographer James Boswell.  Boswell left out a very important element of the life of Johnson, his fifteen year relationship (begun in 1861) with the Thrale family.  The novel covers incidents over the fifteen year period.  They were so close that Johnson had his own room at their house (Henry Thrale was a wealthy Brewry owner and a member of parliament). Johnson would go home to his house in London three or four days a week.   The Thrales regularly sent a carriage for him.  Johnson and the Thrales were very close. He and their very precocious daughter Queeny had a special relationship. 

According to Quieney is for people like me every into Samuel Jphnson as a person,not just as a writer.  In order to fully appreciate this novel you need to know about Samuel Johnson's household members in London, his relationship to his late wife, Bossell of course, Henry Thrales and his wife and you need to understand Johnson's very real quirks and his brilliance.  He was deeply into the reading life, he always took a lot of books with him when he went to visit the Thrales.

The Thrales entertained a lot and Dr. Johnson and his brilliant conversation were a draw.  We meet Oliver Goldsmith and the great painter Joshua Reynolds.  The Thrales have lots of children, Johnson's favorite is their daughter Queeny.  She is depicted as able to read the Latin poetry of Dryden and Pope at age six.

I really liked the depiction of life at Johnson's house in London, where he produced his great dictionary. (I have been there and this novel really brought things to life for me.). Johnson shared his house with his longtime black sevent Frank Barber, two doctors who could no longer practice and two housekeepers.    Bainbridge gets up close and personal with Johnson, depicting him in bed with his housekeeper Mrs Williams.  Johnson is depicted as having great feelings of guilt brought on by his strong sex drive. He was close friends with James Boswell, among others, who routinely frequented prostitutes but it seems once his wife died, as Bainbridge shows us when we listen in on one of Johnson's more agitated conversation, Johnson's sexual activity was limited to through the clothes fiddling about with Mrs Williams and some lap sitting with younger women. He does talk bluntly about masturbation. 

Anyone who knows the story of Johnson and the Thrales will be waiting for the tragic close of the relationship.  Johnson's reaction to Mrs Thrales remarriage to an Italian piano teacher employed by the family brings out the worst in Johnson.  Many think he was incensed to have lost his free meals,he was a big eater and his accommodations. Johnson and the Thrales were all cat lovers!

According to Queeney is structured in wonderful way.  Every episodic chapter is closed by a letter from the adult Queeney, she went on to marry an admiral.

I totally enjoyed According to Queeney. Maybe those not into the world of Samuel Johnson may be better of with one of her other books but if you do have an interest then this book will delight you.Bainbridge has a great feel for the people in the novel.  You will know right away if this book is for you and for the right readers,like me,it is a marvelous work.

I have begun reading her Young Adolf 

Open Road  Media  is a dynamic high quality  publisher with over 10,000 books and 2000 authors on their well organized web pages. The prices are very fair and the formatting of their E Books is flawless.  

Mel u

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge (1974, being republished by Open Road Media)

Beryl Bainbridge was born in Liverpool in 1932 and died in Lindon in 2010.  She published 17! novels, three collections of short stories and four works of nonfiction.  She was short listed for The Booker Prize five times.  

A few days ago I read my first work by Beryl Bainbridge, the wonderful book about two teenage girls Harriet Said. Having just finished her The Bottle Factory Outing, I hope to read through her full works in the next few months.  

Bertha and Freda are two blue collar British ladies working in abottle factory in England.  The factory is owned by an Italian man.  Almost all of the other workers are from his home small town in Italy.  He started the factory with just a few men from the village and slowly more and more came.  Tome the best most enjoyable part of the novel was in the depictions of the interactions of the English women with their Italian immigrant coworkers.  (Bainbridge worked for a short time prior to writing this book in a bottle label factory.).  The women live together, both are currently single.  Freda  has a big crush on one of the factory workers.  The factory workers see home town Italian girls as the on.y wife they can imagine having. The men are themselves either single or working to be able to bring their wives and families  to England.  They are fascinated by the English ladies.  It was just so much fun,so marvelously done, to see their interactions.

The factory owner has become quite wealthy. He is looked on by all with great awe.  Brenda lets itbeknown their toilet at home needs repairing and one of the men vo,interesting to come over to fixit.  This turns out to be very interesting.

A out is planned for all the factory workers.  There is a lot of excitement building up.  The outing leads to a terrible disaster, just so horrible.  

The depiction of the characters,major and minor, are masterful.  

Bainbridge,her husband, and their children 

Open Road  Media  is a dynamic high quality  publisher with over 10,000 books and 2000 authors on their well organized web pages. The prices are very fair and the formatting of their E Books is flawless.  

Mel u

Friday, October 21, 2016

Dinosaurs On Other Planets by Danielle McLaughlin (2015, a collection of short stories)

I first encountered the work of Danielle McLaughlin during an extended Irish Short Story month in July of 2012 when I read her prize winning short story "Bewitched".  At that time I had included her as one of the writers featured in my Emerging Irish Women Writers segment.  I went on to post over the next few years on several more of her stories, Ethel Rohan kindly did a guest post on one of McLaughlin's short stories.  I am very proud of the Q and A session in which McLaughlin graciously and insightfully responded to my question. 

Now four years later with two short stories published in The New Yorker and a collection of her short stories, Dinosaurs On Other Planets recently published by The Stinging Fly I feel safe in saying she has way transcended the category in which I, with scant knowledge of what I was doing,placed her.

I find posting on collections of short stories quite challenging. My method is to post on some of the stories in the collection,then try to make  remarks about what the stories might be said to have in common concluding with my thoughts on who might enjoy and appreciate the collection.  For those who want cut to the bottom line,I highly recommend this collection to all lovers of the form.  

The Art of Footbinding 

"The Art of Footbinding" is the lead story in the collection.  The story begins with a quotation from a manual on traditional Chinese Footbinding.  My first thought was to wonder how this will be connected to the plot. The plot  opens with a woman returning home.  The cleaning lady has just finished and the house has an overly antiseptic feel.  We soon learn that the teacher of her teenage daughter is introducing the students to Footbinding.  The interlaced descriptions of Footbinding are calmly horrific.  I begin to wonder is the process of school and middle class upbringing a kind of Footbinding meant to limit the horizons of the daughter.  We learn in just a few pages  about the dynamics of the family.  The ending was very powerful.   It is, among other things, a coda on parenting.  

Those That I Fight I Do Not Hate

The second story in the collection, "Those I Fight I Do Not Hate", a famous line from Yeats, is a closely observed domestic story taking place at party for a girl in her late teens.   It is an awkward occasion.  The central figure in the story is Kevin and  his exwife at whose house,once theirs,the party is held.  She lives there now with her new husband Bob  and her daughter.  Bob collects W W One air war memorabilia.  McLaughlin's interplay of this and the family drama between Kevin, his exwife and their daughter is brilliant.  Kevin is now out of work and has been so a while. The man who made him redundant is there adding to the undercurrent of pain.  Kevin  has to smile through the patronizing attitudes of those who ask if has yet found work.  Like many a father, he struggles to see his daughter grow into a woman.  There are a lot of complex emotions in  story,a minatture master work that for me echoed the influence of Kstherine Mansfield.  Like the prior story, a teenage girl,plays a kind of intermediary role in a troubled marriage. I read it three times and it really should be read twice at least.  

All About Alice

"All About Alice" is truly great story, shockingly powerful. 
On the strength of it alone,I would say buy this collection.  Alice is 45, unmarried, ives with her elderly   widowed father.  Her dad is getting ready to leave for his annual outing with his cousin Olive. Alice cherishes this time alone where she can do whatever she likes for a week without having to explain her comings and goings to her father.  Alice goes to visit her friend,a married woman. The friend tells her married life is not all fun and games.

jShe suggests Alice try to meet a man while her father is gone.  She tells her maybe she needs to go to Dublin to find one. She tells Alice to come to the barbecue she is hosting for her husband's soccer team.  There will be men there and " no need to tell them how old you are".  Alice meets what seems aMiddle Eastern man at the party.  Without being asked, she gives him her number.  He never calls and the story takes an amazing turn when Alice decides to stalk him at soccer practice.  I  hope you will read this story and marvel at the ending as much as I did.  I think it tells a lot about the Irish attitude toward sex.

Night of the Silver Foxes

"Night of the Silver Foxes, story five, tells a story centering around the mink farm industry in rural Ireland.  If you ever had an interest in having a mink coat, after reading this story you will probably be repelled by the thought.  Our story begins in a truck on a road in rural Iteland delivering fish meal to a mink farm.  The young man driving is the son of the fish meal company owner.  With him is his helper, an old friend. It is a hard dirty business that seems to leave you permanently smelling of fish.  The helper has not been paid for three weeks and likewise the mink farm they are on the way to has not paid in three weeks.   This time the plan is cash upfront or no delivery.  The wife of them mink farm left the farm owner and  their daughter for another man years ago.  The depiction of the farm is totally perfect, the story  exactly exemplifies the impact of a weak Irish father on his daughter.  The ending is just so sad, beautiful heartbreak.  This is a story that will stay with me.  

Dinosaurs On Other Planets

"Dinosaurs On Other Planets, is the collection's title story.  It was previously published in The New Yorker.  "Dinosaurs On Other Planets" is set in rural Ireland.  In just a few pages McLaughli does a masterful job of letting us see many years of family dynamics.  One of the things one sees through out Irish literature is the treatment of the surface emotional reticence of the Irish.   You can see this in Dubliners and Patrick Kavanagh's majestic poem, "The Great Hunger".  "Dinosaurs On Other Planets" is in this great tradition.   The story is set at the home of a long married couple.  The wife is fifty one, the husband much older.  He is retired and spends a lot of time wood working.   They have not slept together for a year and are  living in London. 

The daughter is coming with her son and her new boyfriend for a visit.  The parents don't want her or their grandson to know they are estranged.  There is no hate, the passion, if there ever was much, is gone.  I don't want to reveal more of the plot.  I think you will enjoy finding out what the story has to do with dinosaurs on other planets, I did.

Declain  Kiberd has said the dominant theme of modern Irish literature is that of the weak or missing Irish father.  In my opinion this story exemplifies this.  Mclaugkin talks about this in her Q and A.  It is treated in several of the stories in this collection as well as other of her stories.

In the Act of Falling

In my reading of Irish literature I have been very influenced by Declan Kiberd's monumental work, Inventing Ireland - The Literature of the Modern Nation.  Kiberd helped me see modern Irish literature, post George Moore and Dubliners through the post colonial perspective developed by Edward Said and Franz Fanon.  Kiberd's central thesis is that the basic core theme of modern Irish literature is that of the weak or missing father.   I was very intrigued to see the figure of the weak father playing a central part in McLaughlin's story "In the Act of Falling".

One of the other themes I find in the stories of McLaughlin is that of the cultural impact of the intersection of people from very different worlds. We see that in "All About Alice"
  We see this in "Midnight at Ali's King Kehab Takeaway" and "The Governor's Gin", you can find links to these stories in my prior posts on McLaughlin.  Sometimes lonely isolates become attracted to the occult or visions of an alternative apocalyptic world which takes them out of a world they don't like and don't succeed in or fit in well.  This is in several of her stories.  This ties in with the theme of the missing father, manifesting itself as an eroding cultural base.  "In the Act of Falling" is set in the recession that followed the fall of the Irish economy, just about ten years ago. All you have to do is to take a quick scan of the economic and political headlines about Ireland to see a vision of a country whose leaders, the politicians and the Catholic Church, have failed.  

I don't want to give away much of the plot of this very rich story.  The story centers on an Irish married couple with one son, maybe ten.  The father was recently made redundant from a decent job and now just plays the role of house husband and kind of pretends to look for job.  McLaughlin does just a wonderful job of showing us how this impacts their marriage as the wife becomes the only earner and the husband spirals into a cocoon of odd near occult preoccupations. 
Omnimously looming over the marriage but lurking way in the background, is a mysterious woman and a sinister seeming man who are working their way into the psyche of the man. His condition as a weakened father has left him vulnerable to darker realities or fantasies than he otherwise might have been.  An excellent edition to the great tradition of the Irish short story. 

You can read this story HERE

A Different Country

"A Different Country" by Danielle McLaughlin is a very powerful story centering on the visit of a woman from Dubin, in the company of her boyfriend, to his family home in rural Ireland.  Both are university students.   She seems to be a Dublin person.   They are visiting his brother and his pregnant girlfriend, almost ready to deliver. The woman feels left out as the talk turns to people from her boyfriend's past.  They are on the Irish seacoast, one of the world's most beautiful places.  The opening lines of the story,quoted above, have an  the almost overpowering beauty, especially for an urban person, marvelously captured.  Rural life is not all basking in the beauty.  In a very dramatic scene the woman sees and may join in a violent hunt for seals, who steal catches from the nets of fisherman.   

The stiry breems with life, from the near to birth girl friend to the potential deadly sea. The woman begins to see her boyfriend in a different way as she gradually goes from a Dublin university accent to a country one.  

There are four other stories in the collection, all first rate.

Dinosaurs From Other Planets is a collection any lover of short stories will cherish.  The Irish are the masters of the short story and McLaughlin is  in the  tradition begun by James Joyce's Dubliners.  Like the stories of the great John McGahern her stories are mostly set in rural Ireland.  Several of her stories deal with the very Irish theme of the weak father.  She deals with strains in relationships in a very insightful fashion.  Her stories very rooted in the Irish countryside but the themes are universal.  

I give this collection my highest endorsement.  These are stories you can read slowly and let the exquisite prose flow over you while the characters sink into your consciousness.  As I read these stories I felt the contrast between the wonderfully rendered beauty of rural Ireland and the deadly traps set for the people.  In the stories focusing on the young, i wonder if any will escape.  For sure these stories will make you think.  

I look forward to following Danielle McLaughlin for many years. 

Author Bio- from Webpage of West Cork Literary Festival

Danielle McLaughlin’s stories have appeared in various journals, newspapers and anthologies, including The New Yorker, The Irish TimesSouthword, The Penny Dreadful, Long Story Short and The Stinging Fly. They have also appeared in various anthologies, such as the Bristol Prize Anthology, the Fish Anthology and the 2014 Davy Byrnes Anthology, and have been broadcast on RTE Radio 1 and BBC Radio 4. She has won various awards for her short fiction, including the William Trevor/Elizabeth Bowen International Short Story Competition, the From the Well Short Story Competition, The Willesden Herald International Short Story Prize, The Merriman Short Story Competition in memory of Maeve Binchy, and the Dromineer Literary Festival Short Story Competition. Danielle was awarded an Arts Council Bursary in 2013. Her debut collection of short stories, Dinosaurs On Other Planets, was published in Ireland in 2015 by The Stinging Fly Press and in the UK in 2016 by John Murray. The collection was shortlisted for the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards 2015 in the Sunday Independent Newcomer of the Year category. She lives in County Cork with her husband and three young children and is currently working on a number of new short stories and a novel.

Mel u

Monday, October 17, 2016

Harriet Said by Beryl Bainbridge (1972)

Beryl Bainbridge was born in Liverpool in 1932 and died in Lindon in 2010.  She published 17 novels, three collections of short stories and four works of nonfiction.  She was short listed for The Booker Prize five times.

Any day I discover a new to me writer to love is a good day.  Beryl Bainridge is considered by many to be among the best 20th century English novelists.  I am passed being embarrassed admitting I never heard of her until a week ago.  

According to my first research, Bainbridge published 22 novels, 3 collections of short stories and several works of nonfiction.  She was short listed for the Booker Prize five times.  Most of her novels have a reading time under four hours.

Harriet Said was completed in 1958.  Every publisher Bainbridge submitted the book to told her it was just too dark a story, focusing on two young teenage girls who are victims of child molestation.  Bainbridge forgot about publishing it and came to think the manuscript was lost.  One of the publishers she submitted the work to in 1958 decided 14 years later to publish the book, long after numerous of her books were successfully brought out.

The story is narrated by a 13 year old girl.  Her best friend is Harriet, a much more savvy about life and love 14 year old. To her what Harriet days is close gospel.  The conversations between the girls, their attitude toward their parents and their thoughts about men are just brilliantly done.  Based on my experiences with my three daughters, 18, 21, and 23 I was shocked by Bainbridge's insights.  I could not help but think there are things a father is better off not knowing.  

The narrator has a crush on an adult man they call the Tsar.  He is married.  It takes awhile to realize he is molesting the narrator.  They don't have sex, he just seems to "fiddle about" with her above her clothes.  Harriet has been naked with  a soldier but it is not clear what happened. It may be that Harriet  is just making up this experience to appear more worldly.  Harriet says she thinks he will be back  It was chilling to hear the girls say all this is just normal. 

       The First Paper Back Edition 

The patents are just wonderful creations.  

The ending is totally shocking.  

As of right now it looks like none of her novels are available as Kindle editions or even as hard copies.  Thankfully Open Road Media is in the process of bring all of her novels out as Kindle books.  

I have begun reading her Booker Short listed work, The Bottle Factory Outing, Bainbridge worked  for a while in a bottle factory.  I love it and I am close to deciding I want to read all her novels.  

I am currently also reading Berly Bainbridge Love by All Sorts of Means: A Biography by Brendan King, forthcoming next month from Bloomsbury U K. It is a fascinating book.  

Mel u

        73, 60, and 20

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Thackeray The Life of a Literary Man by D. J. Taylor. (2001, 494 pages)

Born 1811 Calcutta

Died 1863. London

Vanity Fair 1848

I first became aware of William Makepeace Thackeray through reading The Lifetime Reading Plan by Clifton Fadiman in the long ago, his Vanity Fair was among the enshrined works.  When I finally completed Vanity Fair earlier this year it was as my last to be read work of English language fiction on Fadiman's list. I admit I was put off by the thought of a thousand plus page Voctorian novel.  I should have known  to trust Clifton Fadiman.   It was a great delight to read Thackeray's depiction of the vanities of England in the early 19th century.  Becky Sharp, the lead character of the novel, is 
A wonderful creation,  in her anything goes drive to rise from poverty to high society.  I next read his Barry Lyndon, remembering what a great movie was made from the novel. 

I have read a number of biographies of well known writers over the last few years.  No one can really explain how one person's life experiences lets them write masterworks but from these biographies something of the well springs of creativity can be discovered. .   Some writers have fascinating tumultuous lives and  produce works of genius, other live completely bland existences and do the same.  Of course Hart Crane's chaotic life is easier to make exciting than that of an insurance company executive like Wallace Stevens.  William Thackeray's life, viewed externally, was not all that exciting once he began to be a famous writer and that makes it challenging to write  an interesting biography about him.  D. J. Taylor has done a very good job of giving us details and a real feel for his day to day existence.

Taylor did a very good job of talking about the lives of English civil servants and merchants when they return from India.  A ten or twenty year tour with the Crown or the Company could, with a little  luck and guile, could return you to England rich.  Thackeray was born into an Anglo Indian family and we learn a lot about this milieu.  Perhaps the greatest tragedy of Thackeray's life was his marriage.  In this late twenties he fell madly in love with a 17 year old girl.  Sadly after bearing him two daughters who were to become the emotional center of Thackeray's life, she went insane.  Before this he spent time in Paris and Weimer, gambling and spending time and his father's money in dissipation.

Thackeray struggled to make a living as a writer until he began to publish serials of his novels.  Vanity Fair made him truly famous.  Taylor goes into a lot of detail on Thackeray's friendship and feud with Charles Dickens.  We also go along on his very lucrative lecture tours to America,  

As he aged Thackeray began to gain a lot of weight.  He also developed a never consummated emotional relationship with a married woman, his wife being confined for years to asylums or in the homes of paid care givers.  He was very concerned with providing for the care of his wife and his daughters.  One of his daughters became the first wife of Leslie Stephens who 
during a subsequent marriage become the father of Virgnia Woolf.   Literary London was a small world.

This biography brings Thackeray to life.  We see his ups and downs.  We learn about the business side of being a Victorian novelist.  Thackeray was heavily involved with the vital periodic world and Taylor  gives us a lot of details about this.

We see Thackeray struggle to write, never coming again close to his peak work.

Thackeray was a decent man, very devoted to his children and doing his best for his wife.

I am glad I read Taylor's biography.  

I was given this  book by the publisher.  I was also given his biography of George Orwell and hope to read it soon.  

D. J. Taylor is the author of eleven novels, including Kept (2006), which was a Publishers Weekly Best Book, Derby Day (2011), longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and The Windsor Faction (2013), a joint winner of the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. His nonfiction includes a biography of Thackeray and Orwell: The Life (2003), which won the Whitbread Biography Award. His journalism appears in a variety of newspapers and periodicals, including the Independent, the Guardian, the Times Literary Supplement, and the Wall Street Journal.

Mel u 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bob Dylan Wins 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature -- "The times they are a changin"

Leave a comment if you love this!  

In the long ago when I first listened to the songs on Highway 61 Revisited "Desolation Row" stunned me. I am glad it still does.

Desolation Row

They’re selling postcards of the hanging
They’re painting the passports brown
The beauty parlor is filled with sailors
The circus is in town
Here comes the blind commissioner
They’ve got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants
And the riot squad they’re restless
They need somewhere to go
As Lady and I look out tonight
From Desolation Row

Cinderella, she seems so easy
“It takes one to know one,” she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets
Bette Davis style
And in comes Romeo, he’s moaning
“You Belong to Me I Believe”
And someone says, “You’re in the wrong place my friend
You better leave”
And the only sound that’s left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row

Now the moon is almost hidden
The stars are beginning to hide
The fortune-telling lady
Has even taken all her things inside
All except for Cain and Abel
And the hunchback of Notre Dame
Everybody is making love
Or else expecting rain
And the Good Samaritan, he’s dressing
He’s getting ready for the show
He’s going to the carnival tonight
On Desolation Row

Now Ophelia, she’s ’neath the window
For her I feel so afraid
On her twenty-second birthday
She already is an old maid
To her, death is quite romantic
She wears an iron vest
Her profession’s her religion
Her sin is her lifelessness
And though her eyes are fixed upon
Noah’s great rainbow
She spends her time peeking
Into Desolation Row

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood
With his memories in a trunk
Passed this way an hour ago
With his friend, a jealous monk
He looked so immaculately frightful
As he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes
And reciting the alphabet
Now you would not think to look at him
But he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin
On Desolation Row

Dr. Filth, he keeps his world
Inside of a leather cup
But all his sexless patients
They’re trying to blow it up
Now his nurse, some local loser
She’s in charge of the cyanide hole
And she also keeps the cards that read
“Have Mercy on His Soul”
They all play on pennywhistles
You can hear them blow
If you lean your head out far enough
From Desolation Row

Across the street they’ve nailed the curtains
They’re getting ready for the feast
The Phantom of the Opera
A perfect image of a priest
They’re spoonfeeding Casanova
To get him to feel more assured
Then they’ll kill him with self-confidence
After poisoning him with words
And the Phantom’s shouting to skinny girls
“Get Outa Here If You Don’t Know
Casanova is just being punished for going
To Desolation Row”

Now at midnight all the agents
And the superhuman crew
Come out and round up everyone
That knows more than they do
Then they bring them to the factory
Where the heart-attack machine
Is strapped across their shoulders
And then the kerosene
Is brought down from the castles
By insurance men who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To Desolation Row

Praise be to Nero’s Neptune
The Titanic sails at dawn
And everybody’s shouting
“Which Side Are You On?”
And Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot
Fighting in the captain’s tower
While calypso singers laugh at them
And fishermen hold flowers
Between the windows of the sea
Where lovely mermaids flow
And nobody has to think too much
About Desolation Row

Yes, I received your letter yesterday
(About the time the doorknob broke)
When you asked how I was doing
Was that some kind of joke?
All these people that you mention
Yes, I know them, they’re quite lame
I had to rearrange their faces
And give them all another name
Right now I can’t read too good
Don’t send me no more letters, no
Not unless you mail them
From Desolation Row 

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri (Forthcoming November 15, 2016, 80 pages)

Jhumpa Lahiri is as immensely  wonderful writer.  I have read both of her short story collections and her two novels as well as some short stories not yet included in collections.  Additionally I have read and very highly recommend her introduction to Malgudi Nights, a collection of the short stories of a true master of the form, R. K. Narayan. 

The Clothing of Books should be taken as required reading by authors, bibliophiles, publishers, literary agents, book store owners, librarians and publicists.  The old saying is "you cannot judge a book by the cover" but as Lahiri tells us it sure can impact sales and reader expectations.  Lahiri begins her work, taken from a lecture, explaining how she was impacted in her youth by her appearance in an area with few of Subcontinent descent.  She saw how people formed impressions based on her appearance.  She grew up surrounded by books, she talks about her father's work as a librarian.  After the opening chapter she talks about the cover jackets for her own books.  Even a writer as successful as Lahiri is not fully in charge of the jacket art.  I was surprised to read  that with the many translations of her work, there have been over 100 jackets employed for her first four books.   Some are bland, others tried to capitalize on her ancestory, casting her work in an stereotypical Indian background.  

Lahiri talks about the good and bad qualities in book jackets.  I was interested to learn that she reads only hard copy books but she also talks about cover images for E books.  In one very interesting segment she tells about her favorite series of books and their jackets.  

The Clothing of Books was very informative.  I learned a lot about book jackets, as art and as sales tools.  But best of all it was just so enjoyable to read the elegant ever so refined and deeply cultured prose of Lahiri.  

I was kindly given a review copy of The Clothing of Books.  If you love real books, ok I know E books are real, then you will enjoy this book.

       This cover makes me really want to read this 

     This cover does nothing for me

Mel u


Friday, October 7, 2016

How to Read a Poem and Learn to Love Poetry by Edward Hirsch (1999)

"Imagine you have gone down to the shore and there, amidst the other debris—the seaweed and rotten wood, the crushed cans and dead fish— you find an unlikely looking bottle from the past. You bring it home and discover a message inside. This letter, so strange and disturbing, seems to have been making its way toward someone for a long time, and now that someone turns out to be you. The great Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, destroyed in a Stalinist camp, identified this experience. “Why shouldn’t the poet turn to his friends, to those who are naturally close to him?” he asked in “On the Addressee.” But of course those friends aren’t necessarily the people around him in daily life. They may be the friends he only hopes exist, or will exist, the ones his words are seeking. Mandelstam wrote:


At a critical moment, a seafarer tosses a sealed bottle into the ocean waves, containing his name and a message detailing his fate. Wandering along the dunes many years later, I happen upon it in the sand. I read the message, note the date, the last will and testament of one who has passed on. I have the right to do so. I have not opened someone else’s mail. The message in the bottle was addressed to its finder. I found it. That means, I have become its secret addressee.


Thus it is for all of us who read poems, who become the secret addressees of literary texts. I am at home in the middle of the night and suddenly hear myself being called, as if by name. I go over and take down the book—the message in the bottle—because tonight I am its recipient, its posterity, its heartland."  Edward Hirsch

Many years ago I took a class in Victorian poetry.  The class was mostly on technical analyses of the poems.   It took me about twenty years to get over the negative impact of these "lessons".  I do not want to read something just to deconstruct it In a way no one but a small priesthood and their closest acolytes will find of interest.  Eventually I began to read poetry once more.  I read all of Whitman and Yeats, most of Hart Crane, much of Blake, a lot of Ezra Pound, "The Waste Land" and I read over and over the major poems of Samuel Johnson and the  romantic poets. Of course I read the Greeks, as well as Shakespeare. Up until about four years ago I read little works by contemporary poets, thinking why read the work of someone I never heard about when I could spend my reading time on the recognized giants of the culture. Before there was the internet you could not just download and read for free huge amounts of poetry.  You needed actual books!  Then slowly mostly through blog contacts I became aware of contemporary poets I wanted to read. Some I have been lucky enough to interview for my blog or meet in person.  I saw poems as the most intense form of literary communication, going back to prehistory.  I understood in part through the one hundred Q and A Sessions I have done with writers at least in part poets, that their souls were in these works.   Some of the poets were very academically  educated, deeply erudite from decades of reading, some were fresh out of school or pretty much with little formal literary training.  I understood my role in this was to be their reader.  I know this sounds arrogant but so be it.  

One lucky day about two months ago Amazon suggested I might enjoy a book about poetry, How to Read a Poem and Learn to Love Poetry by Edward Hirsch.  It sounded intriguing and I acquired it.
Soon I realized this might be the best book I have ever encountered on how to read not just poetry but all literature.  Hirsch helped me bring to consciousness the forces that made me love reading ever since I first mastered it. Hirsch totally loves poetry and he made me understand why. His level of erudition and knowledge is immense.  Through him I now have so many new to me writers I feel I must read.  Already he moved me to read the complete poetry of Wilfred Owen. Achilles weeps.  I will return to Whitman and Yeats with more passion and understanding thanks to Hirsch's teachings.  

The heart of Hirsch is in the long quote with which I began this post.  One every page there are beautiful elegant phrases which come from the depths.  

Hirsch talks about and very generously quotes from many non-English language poems, in translation. There is a brilliant chapter on African American poetry of the 1930s.  He traces the rhythm of these poems to work songs and that of older Irish poetry to the beat of the oar.  I understood and loved learning this.  To me Hirsch showed the foolishness in the pedagoges claim that "poetry is what is lost in translation".  This cliche is just an excuse for a narrow range of reading by those who teach poetry just for money.  

Hirsch includes an extensive reading list and a glossary.  I have begun to read his much longer book, The Poet's Glossery.  i have so far read How to Read a Poem and Learn to Love Poetry twice.  For sure I will be reading in it from now on.

There is a detailed biography of Hirsch here   

I very recently did a post upon a wonderful collection of poetry  by Noel Duffy in which I tried to make use of some of Hirsch's ideas.

 How to Read a Poem and Learn to Love Poetry gets highest recommendation.  It delivers on the promises it makes. There is just a huge amount to be learned from this marvelous book.

Mel u

Sunday, October 2, 2016

"The Love of a Good Woman" by Alice Munro (First Published in The New Yorker, December 23, 1996)

Lead story for Family Furnishings Selected Stories 1996 to 2014 by Alice Munro

I recently read an interview in The Paris Review with another contemporary master of the short story, Mavis Gallant, in which she said short stories should not be read back to back.  You should space out your readings of stories.  There are twenty five stories in Alice Munro's collection Family Furnishings Selected Short Stories 1996 to 2014.  If this book was a novel, I could finish it two good reading days.  The stories of Munro (winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize) are so rich in detail with such finely rendered characters that the collection begs to be read slowly, letting the stories sink into your consciousness.

Like many of her stories, "The Love of a Good Woman" is set in rural Ontsrio.  It begins with four early teenage boys, friends, running about after school.  Munro uses small details brilliantly to help us understand the kind of families the boys are from.  The boys make a very big discovery, from this we learn of the lives of their parents, especially their mothers and sisters.  I admit I was shocked by the stark scenes of sexual abuse (I guess I was just seeing them not going with the face of the author!).  The story is structured around what led the boys to make their big discovery.

I was kindly given a review copy of this collection.  I hope to complete it by year end.  

Mel u