Sunday, January 28, 2007

International bookclub initiative

IDEA: Reading Across Borders Book Group.
GENESIS: F for international reading savvy.

I took the Guardian World Book Day Quiz and have discovered that despite appearances, I’m internationally inept. Yeah, results so embarrassing that there will be no sharing of scores. With a remedy in order, I fired off an SOS in SMS form to some of my bookish friends.

I didn’t join the Reading Across Borders challenge. Flexibility wise, I don’t want my reading to be too encumbered. Genius for planning, the ironic feature ascribed to me in my name analysis, is but an illusion. Even my haphazard grocery manner is ridiculed by my housemate as ‘stream-of-consciousness shopping’.

Instead, I’m initiating a book group with some close friends of stellar literary caliber. All have worked at bookstores before or are current booksellers. (Not a prerequisite though, interested parties!) So, forget Nabokov’s jibe at the ‘deadly conventionality’ of bookclubs.

Books will be chosen in advance, with each member getting a turn at choosing a letter and a book. Choose a letter, and commence a country or regional exploration. Select an author’s work from that place which is not too difficult to obtain in translation. C- Canada (Oondatje) China (Xingjian), Calcutta (Singha), Carnavon (ahem). Monthly meetings will be over coffee with the possibility of national themed cuisine to mix it up occasionally.

Does anyone have any ideas or experience with organizing book club gatherings? If so, feel free to comment with any suggestions.

The current list of bookish babes is as follows:
E--> E is my character crush; the forest girl featured in my previous post. Impossible to get a date with, but hopefully I’ll be able to talk her into coming along. A real treasure. She once imparted a distilled gem of alternative health wisdom, namely, that one must avoid drifting into delusion.

L-->Ever the discerning reader, L has superior aptitude for making recommendations. Her book selections will be delightful. A seriously serial bibliophile, she always has several books on the bookstand. Currently reading The Girl who Played Go. She is sharp and informative. Just when you thought you were the only one, she’s guaranteed to know something about a given topic.

C-->The crazily talented vacillator, C is equally old/young, erudite/puerile, spatial/verbal. My witty wingman and a creative genius. My mind would have been even more culturally deficient if I hadn’t met her.

Acquisitionist- me. self-indulgent bloggerette.

Oh my, I’m an excited acquisitionist!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Illusionist: Character study (Paul Auster, Book of Illusions)

Paul Auster may be the absent author in your local bookstore. Auster, with his compelling prose, is a nonpareil with the kleptomaniacs. In a discussion between bookstore manager Tom Cushman and Paul Auster, Cushman notes that Auster’s books are frequently stolen:

“we had like 7 authors that we had the most popular stolen books, and out of the 7, Paul Auster was actually the only living author. He had the distinction of being the only living author who was most stolen.”

Auster’s novels have an urbane, worldly feel. Unfolding with the accelerated pace of everyday life, coincidences and diversions provide entertainment. Like in De Lillo’s works, Auster’s novels are suffused with engaging yet aloof prose. Caustic and intelligent characters create an intriguing fictional world.

The Book of Illusions is a fascinating study of grief and obsession. Tragedy, with its heavy permeation, weighs down on the protagonist. Carefully etched-out life plans are shattered; predictability a past attraction. Nine to Five. Annual Leave. House and Kids. These vestiges of normalcy are replaced by the unregimented expanse of free time.

Living-room mourning and day-time despair. The protagonist, hermit-like, vegetates on the couch, watching TV and old movie reruns. Unexpectedly, laughter is triggered. The protagonist’s interest is captured by a lesser-known comic, Hector Mann. The human element is reconnected, and he decides to pursue the comic’s works further. Spurned on by a desire to travel and write, the protagonist embarks upon a study of Mann’s films, penning his biography.

Considering I’m only a few chapters into The Book of Illusions, a comprehensive review is impossible. So turning it over to the reader- who captures your interest? If you were a writer, who would you like to conduct a character study of? It could be someone you know, a stranger, or the man who sells you fruit. If I could write, a fictional fleshing out of the eccentric E would be in order. A nervous wreck, she’s Croatian-Ukrainian with a gorgeous smile. She’s a writer who came back to civilization from “the forest”, a hideaway where she spent six months alone, trying to write her novel.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Quiet American review, Graham Greene.

Inspired by Sara’s review, I decided to pick up Graham Greene's The Quiet American for myself. As she noted, although the novel is a political picture of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, these details enrich rather than encumber the reading experience. An older journalist, Fowler, revisits the love entanglement involving his mistress Phuong and Pyle, a zealous and idealistic journalist. Fowler’s role as a correspondent aids the first-person narration as he recounts without taking sides. His point of view is a springboard to show how personal responsibility overlaps with global considerations.

Pyle, described as a ‘quiet American’ is a symbol of America’s insidious impact upon Vietnam’s history. He orchestrates a Third Force to battle Ho Chi Minh’s forces and the French and her allies. In the early stages of the novel, Pyle’s innocence is described with a sense of foreboding:

‘Go in and find a table. I had better look after Pyle.’ That was my first instinct-to protect him. It never occurred to me that there was greater need to protect myself. Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we would be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.’ 36

The unreality of war--the emotional distance between military and civilian is captured by this theme of innocence. Actions performed without regard to effect show the lack of understanding. Chilling imagery is conjured by Greene’s sparse writing style. A metaphoric depiction of bodies strewn in a ditch as an irish stew haunts the reader. It represents a hodgepodge cross-section of society who have unwittingly become part of bloodshed. The love relationship between Phuong and the two journalists highlights the impact of French colonialism and the reality that no matter how impartial Fowler seeks to be, neutrality is unattainable where human emotion is involved.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Countdown of a bibliomaniac: TBR

Bibliomania is a lifelong, crippling, bank-emptying disease. Symptoms include paroxysms of excitement on entering a bookstore, choice of handbag according to book crammability, and piles of books encroaching on the limited surface area in your abode. Piles like forts, comforted by their permanence in the booklover’s heart. Jumbled insights into bibliophilic madness. Unhealthy side-effects include book binges and dust. Lots of dust.

The uninitiated, on entering a bibliophile’s house will often inquire, “Have you read them all?” Impossible, since the rate of acquisition often exceeds the consumption of the bookworm. I discovered this gem in V.S Naipaul’s The Mystic Masseur, in which books are ostentatious, their mere presence revered as purveyors of intellectual fortitude:

Beharry nibbled. ‘I was just showing the pundit the books I does read.’
‘Read!’ Her tired face quickened with scorn. ‘Read! You want to know what he does read?’
Ganesh didn’t know where to look.
‘He does close up the shop if I don’t keep a eye on him and he does jump into bed with the books. I ain’t know him read one book to the end yet, and he ain’t happy unless he reading four give book at the same time. It have some people it dangerous learning them how to read.’ 70.

On my fiction shelves, I have 232 fiction TBR. Not formidable enough to discourage more book buying. Why? Some books on my shelves are non-identities. They’ve lost all appeal to me. I don’t know what possessed me to accumulate seven Atwood titles because desire to read her has dissipated. Whilst doing the count I did discover some neglected reads such as Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled and Kingsolver’s Pigs in Heaven, which have been surpassed by neoteric purchases. So, how is everyone else going with their TBR collection? Any interesting must reads that you have come across?

Monday, January 15, 2007


I sell books for bucks part-time. Our staff is a thoroughly attractive bunch. One girl, the lovely J, a fresh-faced, green-eyed, luminescent beauty, often finds herself approached by hopeful suitors. One day, a Jasper Fforde signing sci-fired up readers, the bookstore abuzz with the chattering commotion of fans. J stood sentinel, directing them into lines. She was approached by a man who asked her if Fforde would sign a book by a different author. Unfortunately, he had left his Fforde collection at home, he stated, with a strange conviction in the normalcy of this explanation. Odd request, but she had encountered it before. Advising him that Fforde would probably sign it, J told him to line up and check with the author. The man did not move on but instead, looking at her expectantly, asked her to sign the book for him.

“I don’t quite understand you” J replied, thinking he was one of the mild weirdoes that bookstores inevitably attract.

“I was wondering if you could sign my book” he repeated, “and…just underneath add your phone number” he said self-assuredly.

She chuckled gently, replying, “A for originality, but I have a boyfriend”.

“You can’t help but try” he said, walking away, his pride consoled, having elicited a giggle from a pretty girl.

The bookstore. A place for a bibliophile’s solo discovery. A pick-up joint. Most that enter enjoy reading. But is a love connection based on literary preference a risk worth taking? Journalist Marieke Hardy investigates this question in the Age article Left on the Shelf. She recalls her past bookish liaisons:

“Joel insisted I bone up on Bulgakov; Matty read Bukowski and then wrote countless pages in a similarly liquored-up style; Simon swore by the dusty prose of Tim Winton.”

In search of a literary lover, she attends a literary speed dating event in the hope of meeting, perhaps, an absolutely edible Vonnegut reader. Painstakingly, she chooses her book, Confederacy of Dunces, with awareness that reading taste speaks volumes about a person. The timer ticks, and the bibliophiles circulate:

"Men come and go; pages whirring. The music stops and starts. One by one, I am presented with a variety of male courters holding a variety of novels. David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species. In Cold Blood. The Michael Palin Diaries.

"Oh, lovely," I say when I see the Palin. "What's it like?".

He glances down at the shiny hardback. Picks absently at an Angus and Roberston price sticker.

"I don't know, I haven't read it. To be honest I just thought it looked OK so I picked it up on my way here and ..." he trails off, shrugging.
There is an awkward pause.

"So what do you do?" he asks eventually, trying to surreptitiously look down my top before our five minutes is up."

Loveless, Marieke Hardy emerges despondent. She muses that “an adoration of fine scribes can be such a random gift”. Consolation affords itself in the form of empty pages of possibility. Random moments on the train line, dinner parties and future novels offer opportunity for literary entanglement. Indeed, although most would not choose their nearest and dearest based on reading matter, it thrills the booklover’s heart to have a ‘you too?’ moment with another reader.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Norwegian Wood , Murakami

Don’t be alarmed, those who see me daily, if I only wear green next month. Or red. Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, published in 1987, brought Murakami sensational recognition in Japan. Released in two parts, one with a red cover, and the other green, fans demonstrated their attachment to a particular part by donning a colored shirt. Such was the power of the book; capturing the generational pulse of young fans throughout the country. Norwegian Wood was enthralling in its entirety. I’m sharing my appreciation with the reader to circumvent a Christmas-tree appearance.

Intensity appears to be innate in the Japanese cultural psyche and Murakami taps into this national trait. This beautiful novel of ‘love with complications’ explores the experience of the main character Watanabe as a young man. Watanabe is drawn into a triangular relationship with a charismatic boy Kizuki, and the striking young woman Naoko. The relationship benefits the three, giving them beatitude. However, with the reminder that ‘death is living’ a debt for this happiness must be paid. Watanabe is forced to deal with his own issues, whilst offering the support to the psychologically unsettled Naoko. The obstacles inherent in their situation test their love and understanding. Watanabe is forced to deal with the pain of loneliness, the vulnerability in bringing himself to love someone, and the pain of letting go.

Watanabe, a self-professed ordinary guy, is endearing because of his understated originality, which is tempered by moderation. A drama student, who enters the world of theatre and Euripides on a whim, draws people in with his charisma and self-possession. Meeting with the quirky, the detached and the needy, Watanabe is led to have both profound experiences and erotic encounters. Unlike many of Murakami's works, this novel does not have undercurrents of the surreal. The streak of passion that riddles Norwegian Wood will reverberate in the recesses of the reader’s memory long after the book is finished.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Logodaedaly: A novel vocabulary

Re-reading Nabokov's Lolita last week I tried to pay more attention to the quips, allusions and wordplay that Humbert Humbert indulges in. The quality of his writing is what tones down the risque contentiousness of the book. I love the gripping opening lines of Lolita:

"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta."

Nabokov believed every reader should be in possession of a memory, imagination, a dictionary and artistic sense. Have you, dictionary at hand, discovered any great new words during your recent reading? Whilst revelling in the verbal feast that Nabokov offers up, here are some new (to me) words I stumbled across:

Nacreous- resembling nacre; lustrous; pearly.
Ancilla- a female slave.
Undinist- a man aroused by water.
Beatitude- supreme blessedness; exalted happiness.
Logodaedaly- verbal legerdemain; a playing with words; capricious coinage of words.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A good, long constitutional: Dessaix, Robert, Corfu

Travel, for many, is a voyage of discovery, finding out jigsaw-style, where you fit in the world. Should it be so? Dessaix’s characters, expatriates, flit from place to place, consumed by wanderlust. This restlessness is a by-product of the uncertainty of belonging. Corfu explores the wanderings of a young Australian actor, drawn to a village on Corfu after abandoning his travel companion and lover in Rome. Responding to a newspaper ad: ‘House in Gastouri for rent for 2 mths. Occupant traveling. Reasonable rent,’ he becomes immersed in the life that the occupant Kester Berwick has left behind.

Friendship and its value is a recurrent concern. The young man becomes enamored with Emerson’s description of friends as “beautiful enemies”, an apt view of relationships in Corfu. Kester Berwick’s friends adopt the Australian actor into their coterie. Whilst staying in Kester’s house, the young man discovers a link between his lover and Kester. Jealousy is engendered by this, aswell as understanding. In the final pages, the farewell of the Australian and return of Kester are juxtaposed, cementing their parallel lives as “beautiful enemies”.

Despite the loneliness of our lives, we choose the role our friends play. Greta, Kester’s friend tells Kester that ‘roots’ are transportable:

“If you want to go home, go and buy yourself a ticket, Otherwise for God’s sake, shut up about it.” If you’re small, you’re small-Adelaide, Abu Dhabi, Timbuktu-it makes no difference.”

The protagonist ruminates that words like ‘big’ and ‘small’ miss the mark. Everyone must confront the ordinariness that marks their lives. Chekhovian influences in this novel challenge self-aggrandizement.

Dessaix, an Australian author, is not accessible to all readers because of the dense literary landscapes his prose conjures. However, Russian literature enthusiasts will be indulged by the allusions integrated by this Russian professor. Whilst it took me most of the novel to settle into the plot, Corfu is worth a read for quality ideas and Dessaix’s conception of travel. Travel is depicted as how it should be, commodified package tours rejected in favour of the art of slow. Like a long walk allowing for endless thought trains, Dessaix leaves open the possibility of tangents and the creation of new paths.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Dozen Dusty Books: Book Blogs and Art of Reading

MizB has initiated a wonderful To Be Read (TBR) challenge 2007.
2007 for me is about consistency, enjoyment and refining the art of reading. When I consider the endless, sexy titles that need to be read, I get swept up by the exhilarating rush of speed reading. However, it frustrates me that sometimes with my favorite books I forget important details. I know that’s an excuse to reread and rediscover, but I’d like to be conversant enough to share what I loved about it with someone else. Working in a bookstore, recommendations are constantly in order, but sometimes I hestitate to read something for fear of the question, ‘What’s it about?’. Helen Garner in The Feel of Steel elucidates her personal struggle with the gap between reading and memory. Do other people have this frustration, or do the scenes of the books you love stay with you long after the book is finished?

I began this blog out of voyeurism to peer over the reading shoulders of other book bloggers and to share my reading passion. Nominating my 2007 TBR dozen in advance is a chance to dust off old acquisitions which have been surpassed by fresh reads:

Murakami, Norwegian Wood
Ozeki, My Year of Meat
McCarthy, Cormac, All the Pretty Horses (given to me by a student in my philosophy class last year I want to read it before first semester begins)
Endo, Shusaka, Wonderful Fool (part of my foray into Japanese literature, must be read soon to circumvent library fees).
Astley, Thea, It’s Raining in Mango
Greene, Graham, The Quiet American (thanks to Sara)
Mitchell, David, Cloud Atlas
Auster, Paul, Book of Illusions
McEwan, Saturday
Hector Hugo Munro, Short Stories of Saki
Bulgakov, The Master and the Margharita (from my Banned Books collection)
Xinran, Good Women of China

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Big Books: Chunkster Challenge

Bookfool has launched a reading challenge which looks to overcome the dauntingness of approaching large, chunky volumes. Unfortunately, these weightier works tend to stay on my exponential TBR list longer than their slimline counterparts. Sidelined for a time when I have holidays or oodles of time to savour their contents, they have been neglected. What a fun and motivational idea! So, it looks like I'll (finally) be knocking down Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov and DeLillo's Underworld. Arrggh! Having realised BookFool is no longer accepting participants, this will have to be an unofficial, personal goal.

Japanese read: The Sailor who Fell From Grace with the Sea

Following a spin-off from my Murakami obsession, I resolved to delve into more Japanese literature. This led me to Yukio Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea, which grapples with the uneasy inhumanity of violence. Quiet, restless prose underscores the anarchic tone of the novel. A group of young boys train themselves in intellectual detachment. Misanthropy, the product of their angst, is focused on the family. They perceive the patriarch as a tyrannical force. Everyday living manifests the simple-minded platitudes of the adult world, scorned by this group of self-professed ‘geniuses’.

The opening scene introduces the teenaged Noboru. Locked in his room at night to prevent night-time adventures, self-containment reinforces Noboru’s isolation from his mother and the world. This world is disrupted by his mother’s affair with Ryuji, a naval officer. Abandoning his intangible yet profound love of the sea for the constancy provided by Fusoka, Noboru’s mother, Ryuji reconciles his desire for glory with a different kind of happiness. ‘Glory, as anyone knows, is bitter stuff’ reads the final line of the novel, and indeed, Ryuji’s unsuspecting involvement in Noboru’s world has sinister repercussions.

Violence is wedded with the macabre to produce an unsettling after-taste in the reader. Midway, a scene of protracted, animal cruelty appears. The closure works on the power of suggestion; violence does not need depiction to sear the imagination. Noboru’s flawed objectivity demonstrates that the human condition stems the cultivation of pure impartiality. Rich in metaphor, this brief and composed novel should be embraced by those who are prepared for the confrontational and shocking power of art.