02.05. Knowing what other people are reading

I am always curious to know what other people are reading.
Especially authors.
So I was delighted when the lovely Jessica Stanley posted a link to a The Daily Beast post about Jennifer Egan’s favourite books.
I have to say, I was rather surprised. I expected more contemporary books, but she is obviously a fan of the classics.
I like her one sentence blurbs about each book. Precise.

Of all the books, I have only read 2, Emma and Underworld by Don Delillo, both of which I loved. Both books really nail the machinations of human/ social interaction- so I can see the connection to Egan’s own writing.
I think of all the books on her list, I am most curious to read The Image.

Any of these books you’d be curious to read?

The List
Emma by Jane Austen
Politics masquerading as matrimony. Austen was a mathematician of social interaction, and her novels are impossibly, preposterously good. Emma happens to be my favorite.

The Image by Daniel J. Boorstin
In 1961, before the Vietnam War was close to being televised, Boorstin identified the basic laws and contours of image culture—among them, a longing for authenticity that naturally results from increased mediation of human experience. His observations hold eerily true even in the era of Facebook and YouTube.

Don Juan by Lord Byron
Who can resist an epic poem in which the protagonist gets shipwrecked, hides in a harem (and then is chosen by the sultan for an evening of pleasure), has a fling with Catherine the Great, and endless other romps—all narrated in Byron’s slouchy, sinuous poetry?

Underworld by Don DeLillo
My favorite American novel of the past 25 years. A gigantic vision of the Cold War and its aftermath, in which DeLillo manages to be sweeping, intimate, political, hilarious, and sad.

Middlemarch by George Elliot
A quintessentially swaggering 19th-century English novel, thrillingly attentive to a sweep of diverse characters, and impossible to put down.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
A surreal tale that exposes the ravages of racial persecution, yet ultimately subsumes them in a meditation on identity and transformation, whose proportions are nothing short of mythic.

The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard
Utterly unique; a flexible, sharply written, wide-ranging story that encompasses the life of a young Australian woman who comes to England.

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
An epic, experimental yet utterly human work that manages to fuse a political vision (disillusionment with communism) with a social one (women, men, and the collisions between them).

Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys
Tough, bleak, and deeply atmospheric; Rhys wrests a gripping—even phantasmagoric—narrative from the solitary perambulations of an alcoholic woman in Paris.

Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
One of the first novels in English … and a buoyant, postmodern romp. A hearty reminder of the power, malleability, and deep playfulness of the novel form.

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Tragic in the classical sense, yet also hilarious, nuanced, and socially astute; the novel’s cool assessment of the calculus of beauty and wealth rings true even in our radically different era.

Germinal by Émile Zola
My favorite reportorial 19th-century novel. A vivid story full of spectacular set pieces—like a horse being lowered into a coal mine—and also a brutal indictment of the mining industry’s exploitation of its workers.

04.02. Pigeon English by Stephen Kelmen

Travelling days are a great opportunity to relax for the day, get a bit of reading done and recover from sensory overload. I picked this book up at Orly airport on the way to Berlin and read it over the course of a couple of flights.
It sounded promising, it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2011 and the cover has recommendations from the Guardian and Emma Donoghue. But to be honest, I was a little disappointed by this book- though it was an easy and enjoyable read.
It’s the story of 11 year-old Harrison Opoku, newly arrived in an English public housing estate from Ghana. And it is told in Harrison’s voice. He is an endearing character, an innocent surrounded by evil and danger. The book is funny in parts, as Harrison relates the world just as he sees it. But the pervading feeling of the novel is ominous, opening as it does at the scene of a murder- the murder of a “half friend” of Harri.
Kelman is keen for us to have a sense of how social injustice impacts even the strongest family, as Harri’s sister and mother find themselves increasingly compromised and out of control. The pervading sense of menace throughout the book is very strong and compels you forward through the novel.
Just a bit disappointed, but 3 stars all the same.

21.03. Bookstores and book challenges

I love that Abbey’s in Sydney is supporting the AWW Book Challenge in their display.
When recently in Sydney I made a point of popping by.
Ended up buying Part 3 of The Hunger Games and the new collection of short stories by Nathan Englander. Ripping through them, they are terrific. Review to follow soon.

Also of late, I’ve been following Jillian and her #theclassicsclub on twitter. It seems like a great initiative to me, and when I started thinking about it, I realised there are heaps of classics I’d love to catch up on- many already in my bookshelves at home. So I’ve decided to join in the fun.

I am planning to read 50 classics in the next 5 years…by 31st December 2016.

Wish me luck!

My list currently has 69 books on it. I will only read 50, but wanted to leave myself some wriggle room.
I feel like I covered alot of English literature at school and at uni, so I have sought out alot of American and foreign classics that I hope will broaden my mind.
I’ve also tried to include quite a few women writers- I feel like women get a dud run in most classics lists once you get past the Brontes and Jane Austen.
And I’ve thrown in a couple of graphic novels, some poetry and short stories, one play and a kids book to keep things interesting.

The prize I intend to gift myself at the end? I think I will put $5 in a special jar for each classic I read and at the end go out for a classic dinner- that’s a pretty good budget for a fancy night out I reckon!

So here are the books on my list:

THE ONES I HAVE FINISHED (I’ll be constantly updating this. Click through on the title to read what I thought.
1. Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston Completed 26.03.2012
2. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy Completed April 6 2012

American Classics

3. Heart of Darkness Joseph Conrad
4. A Confederacy of Dunces Toole, John Kennedy
5. Everything is Illuminated Jonathan Safran Foer
6. Stories Dorothy Parker (Short Stories)
7. The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne
8. Jazz Toni Morrison
9. The Wasteland T.S. Eliot (Poetry)
10. The House of Mirth Edith Wharton
12. Breakfast of Champions Kurt Vonnegut
13. The Princess Bride William Goldman
14. Infinite Jest David Foster Wallace
15. Fear of Flying Erica Jong
16. Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury
17. A Streetcar Named Desire Tennessee Williams (Play)
18. The Complete Poems Emily Dickinson (Poetry)
19. Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak (Children’s Book)
20. What we talk About… Raymond Carver (Short Stories)
21. Junky William S Burroughs
22. The Poisonwood Bible Barbara Kingsolver
23. The Village David Mamet
24. War all the Time Charles Bukowski (Poetry)
25. Breakfast at Tiffany’s Truman Capote
26. The Man with the Golden Arm Nelson Algren
27. The Complete Maus Art Spiegelman (Graphic Novel)
28. Catch 22 Joseph Heller
29. A Heart So White Javier Marias
30. Blue of Noon Georges Bataille
31. Midnight’s Children Rushdie, Salman
32. The Name of the Rose Eco, Umberto
33. The Bone People Hulme, Keri
34. The Master and Marherita Mikhail Bulgakov
35. Like Water for Chocolate Esquivel, Laura
36. The Little Prince Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
37. Les Fleurs du Mal Charles Baudelaire (Poetry)
38. The Second Sex Simone de Beauvoir
39. Suite Française Irène Némirovsky
40. Bonjour Tristesse Françoise Sagan
41. The Leopard Giuseppe di Lampedusa
42. The Prince Niccolò Machiavelli
43. Siddharta Herman Hesse
44. The Lost Honour of Katarina Blum Heinrich Boell (Novella)
45. W.G. Sebald Vertigo
46. Austerlitz W. G. Sebald
47. Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe
48. A Bend in the River V. S. Naipaul
49. Waiting for the Barbarians J.M. Coetzee
50. Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro
51. Kafka on the Shore Haruki Murakami
52. Persepolis Marjane Satrapi (Graphic Novel)
53. The Namesake Jhumpa Lahiri
54. Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoyevsky
55. A Small Circus Hans Fallada
56. The Tale of Genji Murasaki Shikibu
57. The Lover Marguerite Duras
58. Mario Vargas Llosa The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta
40. Gigi & The Cat Colette
59. To the Lighthouse Virginia Woolf
60. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy John Le Carré
61. Songs of Innocence & of Experience William Blake (poetry)
62. The Turn of the Screw Henry James
63. Tales of the Unexpected Roald Dahl (Short Stories)
64. Collected Poems Judith Wright (poetry)
65. The Female Eunuch Germaine Greer
66. My Brilliant Career Miles Franklin
67. Songlines Bruce Chatwin
68. Monkey Grip Helen Garner
69. Gigi & The Cat Colette

07.03. Marieke Hardy’s You’ll be sorry when I’m Dead

Australian Women Writers Challenge

I used to not like Marieke Hardy.  I grumbled away when she was on Triple J.  I found her obstructive.  Always having an “other” point of view. She seemed determined to provoke, challenge and obstruct.

These days, these are exactly the quality in Marieke that I have come to love.

Australia is very short on women with a strong point of view.

And agree or disagree with her points of view on things, I adore the fact that she has one.

This book is very playful.  Set up by the delightful preface by her father, we immediately understand that this book is not to be taken to seriously.  And for me this book was a joy.  It was like revisiting your twenties.  The curiosity to know about stuff, the freedom to make mistakes without consequence, the excess and self-indulgence.  The search for intensity of experience.

I sat, absolutely transfixed, listening to my boyfriend apparently thoroughly enjoying himself with another woman.  It felt f**ked up and intense”

Yes, she goes quite far.  And there is quite alot of sex in the book.  Not graphic sex scenes, she spares us the gory details.  No, she relates sexual adventures.  Adventures with swingers.  What buyer’s remorse feels like when the prostitute has gone, or a hipster’s outing to a strip joint.

She loves to provoke, but is also happy to mock her own behaviour, her own hypocrisy and silliness.  The book feels quite open in that way.

There are some serious, poignant moments in the book.  Dealing with a friend with cancer.  Or an ex-boyfriend.  Her ex Matty is given the right to respond in the book and I found his commentary so bitter-sweet:

I may not be the person you remember. Or the person you think I am.  That’s a real shame to me.  That you don’t know me at all

Killer comment.  Something we can all relate to I imagine.

Matt also accuses her of writing herself as a caricature.  And yes it does feel like that through most of the book.  She is bright, bouncy, curious, self-reflective, but immune to any consequences.  When I read memoirs, I like to get a sense of how people develop through their experience.  How they became what they are.  There is no sense of that in this book.  Marieke feels perpetually trapped in the freedom of her twenties, like her friend Gen:

Gen was not a grown up.

Gen was determinedly frozen in her rock’n’roll twenties.

But it is a fun ride, an easy read and I welcome this voice, that is so bold and carefee.

05.03. Keep Calm and Carry On – the real story

Source: runofplay.com via Giju on Pinterest

I love the back story to this iconic poster, this video has been doing the rounds, but in case you haven’t seen it, take a look.
So sweet.
The bookstore in this video is like bookstores in my wildest fantasies- so delightful and amazing.

Source: etsy.com via Michele on Pinterest