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

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life by Yiyun Li (2016)

Yiyun Li on The Reading Life

Yiyun Li is one of my favorite contemporary writers. I have read and posted on her novels, The Vagrants and Kinder Than Solitude and several of her wonderful short stories.  I was honored to be given a review copy of her latest book, a collection of essays centering on the central place of reading in her life.  One of the greatest values of the reading life is  it can give you a reason to keep going when life seems pointless.  On the deepest level Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life can be  seen as a reflection on how her love of reading kept her from committing suicide.  One of her most loved authors, William Trevor, with whom she has visited, just died recently and I know how sad this must have made Yiyun Li.  She also, as do many writers, greatly admires Katherine Mansfield.  She talks about her memories of her trip to Ireland.There is a very powerful chapter on suicide as a public act.  She speaks elegantly about the challenges in writing in English versus her birth language Chinese.

Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Your Life is a profound work on the reading life, deeply felt.  It includes  a very interesting list of books mentioned.

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, 2014 Benjamin H. Danks Award from American Academy of Arts and Letters, 2015 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Prize, 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 has served on the jury panel for Man Booker International Prize, National Book Award, PEN/Heminway Award, and other. 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.  from

Mel u

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Barney, Grove Press and America's Maverick Publisher and the Battle Against Censorship by Michael Rosenthal (2016)

Barney Rosset was born in Chicago in 1922, into a very affluent family.  He died in New York City in  2012.  He purchased Grove press in 1951.  He transformed it from a staid uninteresting publishing house to an exciting company that through hard fought court cases broke the postal censorship laws in the USA.  He ran Grove Press to publish what he liked which ranged from the first American publications of Nobel Prize Winners like Kenzaboro Oe and Samuel Beckett to Victorian Porn..

The bio goes into details about Barney's marriages and his interest in prostitutes.  We also learn a lot about the business side of Grove Press

I have been reading Grove Press books anfor decades.  This book really deserves a longer post than this.  It was for sure worth reading. I endorse it strongly to anyone interested in the New York City Publishing scene.

Mel u

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Romanovs by Simon Sebastian Montefiore (2016)

The Romanovs by Simon Sebastian Montefiore is an entertaining account of Russian dynastic history of the Romanovs from 1613 to 1918 when they were overthrown through the Russian Revolution.  Monteforie has written a kind of National Enquirer scandal driven top down history of Russia.  It is a story soaked in blood and semen.  Nearly all the rulers were paranoid murderers given to sexual excesses of various sorts.   One of the biggest problems in imperial dynasties was succession, this
was magnified in a family in which generations of marrying in a small pool had produced many men unfit to rule.  Several rulers took the throne as young boys, a large number of the emperors were killed to remove them.  Montfiore goes into great detail on the sex lives of the monarchs, women as well as men.  

The book is kind of one scandal after another, murders, treachery, after a while it became a bit repetitious. The footnotes are often the most interesting parts of the book, being rich in detail.  I think most into Russian history will already know much of the broader outlines of the Romanov story.  Montefiore has a deep and profound knowledge of Russian history.  His account of the murder of Rasputin and Czar Nicholas and his family was very dramatic. Of the few "good emperors" they were so only in comparison with monsters. He makes some interesting points about the nature of rule by tyrants.

I was given a review copy of this book.  I was glad I read it.  A knowledge of Russian history in important for literary and history autodidacts.
It is not meant to be a social history of Russia.  

The book gives little notion how the nonroyal people lived, in fact little is told about the day to day life of the royals.  

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Manderlay Forever by Tatiana de Rosnay (2016)

Born: May 13, 1907London, United Kingdom
Died: April 19, 1989Fowey, United Kingdom
Rebecca, 1938

Mandalay Forever by Tatiana de Rosnay is a delightful, beautifully written, very emphatic biography of the beloved English author of Rebecca, The Jamaica Inn and the short story "The Birds", Daphne du Maurier.  
De Rosnay is a highly regarded commercially successful French novelist.  In her preface she tells us that she has chosen to tell du Maurier's life story as if she 
Writing a novel,rather than a documented and foot noted academic work.  She tells the story in the present tense, entering into the consciousness of du Maurier into her consciousness in the style of an omniscient narrator.  I admit I was a little put off in the opening section devoted to du Maurier as a young child in which we are told how the author at age four felt about family events.  Much of the childhood narrative is taken up with the role of her father Gerald du Maurier in her life.  He was considered one of England's best actors and the house was often full of theater people. The family was very affluent from his earnings and from 
inheritances.   As the girls matured, James Barie, author of Peter Pan, was a frequent visitor.  Her father was very much seeable as a Peter Pan figure.  He had frequent romances with young actresses, his daughters knew all about them and as they came and sent they were figures of fun between Gerald and the girls.   

I do not wish to relay the life history of du Maurier.  I will just talk about some of the things that most struck me about her  as I read this wonderful biography. Du Maurier's first crush was on her French teacher.  Daphne's parents approved her going on trips with the tutor on the idea it would improve her French.  I am quite sure it did.  It is made clear this was the first of numerous same sex physical and intensely emotional relationships Daphne would have throughout her life.  Among them was at least a love for Ellen Doubleday, wife of her American publisher.  De Rosnay, as have other biographers, make us see the greatest love of Daphne's life was an old Mansion on the Cornish Coast in which she lived for about twenty five years.  Daphne was very into boats and sailing.  One day she and her sisters saw in the bay an incredibly handsome man on a small sail boat.  Daphne found a way to meet him and fell head over heels.  He was from a good family and they married.  He eventually became a major general in the British Amry, serving with distinction in India and France.  He was close to general Montgomery.  I was intrigued to learn that wherever he went he took with him eight prized teddy bears he had cherished since childhood.  This gave me something to think about. Their relationship had good and bad periods, they were separated for years and it seems he had other romances.

De Rosnay spends a lot of time on her relationships with her siblings, each with their own literary or artistic endeavors.  Daphne became rich through very high book sales, especially for Rebecca. From the movie rights, Hitchcock greatly admired her work, she got what would be millions of pounds today.  She was very generous with her family and friends though not a great money manager.

We learn a lot about the business and social side of being a famous novelist.  We see how she totally loved Paris, as did Nancy Mitford.  

I love this book.  Normally I E Read but if I had a hard copy of this book, I would enjoy just looking at and remembering how much I enjoyed ready this wonderful literary biography.

Mel u

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Two New Works on the Russian Revolution by Helen Rappaport

Two Works on the Russian Revolution

The Russian Revolution began in Petrograd (currently called St. Petersburg) in February 1917 with several strikes and demonstrations by workers in the factories.  On March 7, 1917 workers at the largest industrial plant in the city announced  a strike.  The next day rallies were held in observation of International Women's Day.  In massive demonstrations, the women demanded bread.   More and more workers went on strike.  Soon every factory worker in the city was on strike, joined by thousands of office workers, civil servants (it was the capital city) and students joined the demonstrations.  On March 11 Tsar Nicholas ordered the Russian army garrison in the city, some 180,000 soldiers, to quell the demonstrations.  Partially because there were so many women involved,the troops refused to fire into the crowd, many joined the demonstrators.  Most of the army officers fled and a few were shot.  Symbols of Tsarist power were torn down all over the city.  Tsar Nicholas arrived in the city on March 15 and was at once advised to resign by his ministers.  On March 21 Nicholas and his family were placed under house arrest.  On March 16 a provisional government was announced.  From these events the revolt spread all over the country, before it was over millions were dead and in the regimes that were to follow millions more were killed, died in wars, or starved.   (data found in numerous sources including these to books)

The Romanov Sisters (2014) tells the story of what should have been a very nice family of country gentry, the father doting on his four daughters, his son and his wife with little interest in the greater world. Instead the father was the autocratic ruler of a huge country, which he had no capacity to rule.His son and heir was a hemophiliac.  They fell under the spell of a sinister faith healer.  The daughters were kept as immature as possible, having no conception of real life. As they aged they had fantasy romances with Army officers, they would  all have been prime prizes in the European Royalty Marriage Market had they lived to maturity.  Rappaport, using letters, diaries and other newly found materials does a good job of individualizing each girl. We know their daily routines,surrounded by servants and tutors.  We are there when the three older girls train as nurses during WWI.  The children die to young to have developed independent personalities.We are there when they are held captive and eventually executed.  Other than who they were, they are not of much intrinsic interest.  The book is also the story of their parents marriage, told in numerous books.   This is a very detailed portrait of the last Imperial family.

On July 16, 1918 the family was executed.

I enjoyed this book, at time the story of the girls was a bit less than gripping but I am glad I read The Romanov Sisters.   It was on The New York Times best seller list for 12 weeks.

Caught in the Revolution Petrograd Russia 1917 A World on Edge (forthcoming Feb 2017) focuses on people from other countries who were in Petrograd in February and March 2017.  This includes members of the diplomatic corp, business men, nurses, nannies,  journalists, tourists and even Somerset Maugham.  Much of the concern of the diplomats was on getting food and staying save.  Their were no direct attacks on embassies but life was a challenge.  The diplomats were not in sympathy with the revolution.

The one line in the work that most intrigued me was when Rappaport spoke of the 1000s of French and English nannies put out of work by the revolution.  Many had lost all ties with home and there is a  book waiting to be written about what happened to them.

Rappaport's books are popular history, easy to read.  She focuses on the rich and powerful, maybe too much.

I endorse these books for those into the era, as I am.

The author's very well done webpage has a detailed bio and information about her other books.

Mel u

I received review copies of both of these books.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

"Massimilla Doni" by Honore de Balzac (1837, a short story component of The Human Comedy)

My Comedie Humaine read through project is nearing close..  I have read all of his most famous works.  Balzac wrote very fast at a speed powered by fifty cups of coffee a day, legend has it.  A good bit of his shorter works are kind of formula stories about the sexual and romantic antics of the wealthy.

Sixteenth century Venice has a special place in the heart of numerous classic authors, from Stendhal and Balzac to Mann.  Anna Karenina and her lover escaped the frowns of society there.

  There are 41 novels, twenty novellas and twenty short stories in The Comedie Humaine.  So far I have completed 79 of the 91 works.  Balzac intended it to be a complete portrait of French life.   The works in the cycle include novels always listed in the top hundred of the world to works only those doing a read through would attempt.  Balzac loved Paris and portrayed the city in great detail.  Some say no city anywhere ever had a better chronicler than Balzac.     

This story is very much a standard Balzac story about love and sex among the nobility of Venice.  Emilio, a prince and heir to a palace falls for Massimila, the wife of a duke.  The duke is much older and keeps an opera singer as a mistress.  Massimila loves him back but the relationship remains Platonic meet a misadventure causes Emilio to meet and fall in love with her sexually.  

There are lots of very interesting political reflections on Venice that can be seen as comments on Balzac's France.  There are wonderful descriptive passages of interiors, clothing, faces, and food.  Much of the story deals with the world of opera, as music and social setting.

This is mostly a work for those doing a read through of Balzac's Human Comedy.

Mel u

Friday, December 9, 2016

The Pen and the Brush How the Passion for Art Shaped Nineteenth Century French Novels by Anka Muhlstein (2016)

Balzac's Omelette and Monsieur Proust's Library both by Anka Muhlstein are as delightful a pair of books as one can find on French Literature.   Her new book, The Pen and the Brush How the Passion for Art Shaped Nineteenth Century French Literature is a wonderful account of how their experience of painting influenced the giants of French literature, Balzac, Flaubert, de Maupassant, Zola, and Proust.   

Mulhstein details the ways the authors encountered art, the depiction of painters in their work, and the influence different painters had on their literary methods.  Starting with Balzac, where else could one begin, she talks about the most featured painters in the Comedie Humaine. I am currently working on a read through of this and as a first reader it is hard for mr to keep track of all the times a painter appears in the full works.  Muhlstein very interestingly explains how Balzac's style was influenced by the painters he admired.

One of my favorite works by Emile Zola is The Drinking Den.  I love the hilarious scene when the family of a young Nana make an outing to the Louvre.     As the book progress in time through the 19th century up to the cross century Proust,  we see different painters come into fashion and how each writer had their own favorites.

i will, I hope, be reading in this field for year to come and this book will increase my appreciation of the great power of these writers.

Muhlstein is very deeply read and has a profound knowledge of the visual arts.  Her work will be of value to everyone from those with advanced degrees from the Sorbonne in 19th century French literature to general readers.  Her style is charming and her manner warm.

I highly recommend a visit to the publisher's web page, Other Press.  They offer an elegantly diverse selection of works.


Anka Muhlstein is the author of biographies of Queen Victoria, James de Rothschild, and Cavelier de La Salle; studies on Catherine de Médicis, Marie de Médicis, and Anne of Austria; a double biography, Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart; and most recently, Balzac’s Omelette and Monsieur Proust’s Library (Other Press). She won the Goncourt Prize for her biography of Astolphe de Custine, and has received two prizes from the Académie française. She and her husband, Louis Begley, are the authors of Venice for Lovers. They live in New York City  - from the publisher webpage

Mel u

Friday, December 2, 2016

"Delilah" By Hitomi Kanehara (2011, included in Digital Geishas and Talking Frogs, Best Japanese Short Stories of the 21th Century )

                                                                                      Hitomi Kanehara

When I first participated in Dolce Bellezza's Japanese Literature Challenge  in July of 2009 I had just begun my blog.  After Dark by Haruki  Murakami was  my first Japanese authored work.  From this start I went on to read numerous works by Japanese authors, participating in Japanese Literature Challenge  for eight years.  I have come to see the post World War Two Japanese novel as one of the great cultural treasures of literary history.  After a while I came to see much of Japanese literature as involved with an attempt to depict the cultural  consequence of Japan's loss.  They did not just lose a war, as the Germans did, the very foundation of their belief system, their culture and religion was destroyed when the Emperor told his subjects he was not a god.  This is very clear in the works of the two giants of the genre, Kenzaburo Oe and Yokio Mishima.  This year's challenge runs until at least the end of the year.  The challenge web page has lot of great reading ideas.

Pico Iyer in his very elegant and erudite introduction to Digital Gieshas and Talking Frogs Best 21th  Century Japanese Short Stories sees the stories as evolving from the destruction of the authority of Japanese father figures, from the Emperor who is a false god to the grandfathers who came home defeated, to the youths raised with no foundation of values.  Samurais were just figures in magna and cartoons, women in Geisha attire worked at car shows. The young lived in a semi tribal style,reveling in western music, video games and sex,   Hitomi Kanehara is one of the greatest chroniclers of the lives of the disaffected young, especially that of women,focusing on their sexual activity and relationships.

My main purpose here is to let those interested in Japanese literature know about the collection below.  (your first venture in this genre should be The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories).

Table of Contents:

  • The floating forest / Natsuo Kirino
  • The bonfire / Toshiyuki Horie
  • Ikebukuro West Gate Park / Ira Ishida
  • To Khabarovsk / Yoko Tawada
  • As told by a nocturnal witness / Jungo Aoki
  • Super-frog saves Tokyo / Haruki Murakami
  • The diary of a mummy / Masahiko Shimada
  • The female novelist / Maki Kashimada
  • Tsunami / Keichiiro Hirano
  • The sea / Yoko Ogawa
  • The no fathers club / Tomoyuki Hoshino
  • Delila / Hitomi Kanehara
  • My slightly crooked brooch / Noboru Tsujihara.

"Delila" by Hitomi Kanehara centers on a young  rootless Tokyo woman who has just gotten a job in a small bar.  She ends up having sex with the two men working there, there is no pretension of emotional connection.

Hitomi Kanehara was born in Tokyo in 1983. She dropped out of high school at the age of 15 to pursue her passion for writing, with the support of her father, Mizuhito Kanehara, a literary professor and translator of children’s literature. She wrote her first novel Hebi ni Piasu (‘Snakes and Earrings’) at the age of 21. The novel won the prestigious Akutagawa Prize and the Subaru Literary Prize. Her other works include Autofiction (Shueisha Publishing Co., 2006), and Hydra (Shincho Publishing Co., 2007).
from Comma Press

Mel u

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Reading Life Review November 2016 by Ambrosia Boussweau

Blog Stats for November, 2016

Visits to Date  4,371,234

top visitor home countries

  1.  U S A
  2. The Philippines
  3. India
  4. The Netherlands
  5. Germany
The top American states were California and New York.  World wide the top city of residence is the greater Manila area.  As always the most read posts are on older short stories by Filipino authors.  Second to this is consistently Mel's posts on Indian short stories.  There ae currently 2974 published posts.

Literary Biographies on The Reading Life 

Mel has asked me to advice you that going forward he wishes to read and post on all literary biographies as they are newly published.  if you are an author or publisher of such a work, please contact us concerning a review.

In November Mel posted on two very recent literary biographies.
  1.   Beryl Bainbridge A Biography Love By All Sorts of Means by Brendan King(2016)
  2.  The Nėmirovsky Question The Life, Death and Legacy of a Jewish Woman in 20th Century France by Susan Rubin Suleiman, forthcoming 2017

As he has in the last few years, Mel enjoyed participating in German Literature Month.  

 Readings For German Literature VI November 2016

1.  The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse

2.  Royal Highness by Thomas Mann

3. A Small Circus by Hans Fallada

4.  Rosshalde by Hermann Hesse

5.  "Did He Do It" by. Stefan Zweig

6.  Journey Into the Past by Stefan Zweig (second reading, no post, posted on in Nov 2015)

7.  The Emigrants by W. G. Sebald

8.  "The Ballarina and the Body" by Alfred Doblin

9.   Confession by Stefan Zweig

10. Schlump by Hans  Herbert Grimm

11.  "Flower Days" by Robert Walser (1911, no post)

12.  "A Summer Novella" by Stefan Zweig 

13.  "Kleisr in Thunder" by Robert Walser. (3rd reading, no post)

14.  Effie Briest by Theodore Fontane

Mel continued his read through of Beryl Bainbridge

Future Reading Plans

Mel has begun rereading Bleak House.  I am sure he will read more Bainbridge, hopefully continue his read through of Balzac's Human Comedy.  he has told me he plans to read some 21th century Japanese short stories soon.