Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist announced

April 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

Although I had posted the longlist some time ago, I forgot to check back for the shortlist announcement until I happened to see it discussed on Eve’s Alexandria.  I’ve read half of the six finalists and based on those three, I think this might be a very solid, perhaps slightly predictable, group.  Bolded titles are the ones I’ve already read:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Americanah
Hannah Kent - Burial Rites
Jhumpa Lahiri - The Lowland
Audrey Magee - The Undertaking
Eimear McBride - A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing
Donna Tartt - The Goldfinch

Winner will be announced June 4th.

It is Squirrel Week over at the Washington Post

April 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

Staff writer John Kelly has been doing this for a few years now, so for those of you who are bemused by my occasional (frequent?) references to (rabid, reading) squirrels can see quite a few lovely pictures of nature’s fiercest literary creatures at this link.

For those of you wanting something more substantive, such as reviews of recent and/or classic works, there might be a few written later tonight or this weekend, as I’m going to have a bit more time to write such things coming up shortly.

2014 IFFP shortlist announced

April 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

Missed this the other day, but I see that Tony Malone has done an excellent recap of the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize shortlist, with reviews of four of the six finalists, as well as an alt-shortlist that he and other members of the “Shadow Panel” did based on their readings of the longlisted titles.  Be sure to read those reviews, as there are a few works that I want to read once I resume buying books in a couple of weeks.  Here are the shortlisted titles, with bolded titles for the ones I’ve already read:

Hiromi Kawakami, Strange Weather in Tokyo (published in the US as The Briefcase; Asian Prize finalist in 2013)

Hassan Blasim, The Iraqi Christ

Karl Ove Knausgård, A Man in Love

Birget Vanderbeke, The Mussel Feast

Yoko Ogawa, Revenge

Hubert Mingarelli, A Meal in Winter

The winner will be announced May 22.

Hard to believe it’s been twenty years…

April 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

Come
As you are
As you were
As I want you to be
As a friend
As a friend
As an old enemy
Take your time
Hurry up
The choice is yours
Don’t be late
Take a rest
As a friend
As an old memoria 

Supposedly there are events that people of a certain age or generation will never forget where they were when they occurred.  For my grandparents, it was December 7, 1941.  For my parents, it was November 22, 1963.  For my generation, there is January 28, 1986 and 1:18.  And for many others in their late thirties and early forties, there is April 8, 1994.

I was a sophomore at the University of Tennessee and it was a little past 2:00 PM EDT.  I was hanging out with two friends of mine in their dorm room when another friend came in, seemingly shocked and agitated.  He said, “Turn it to MTV, Cobain’s dead!”

“What?”

“Suicide, apparently.”

So we turned it to MTV, to see the This Week in Rock crew talking about the discovery of Nirvana guitarist/lead singer Kurt Cobain’s body in his house after he had been missing for three days.  Dead of a shotgun blast to the head.  For the next few days, MTV continuously played Nirvana videos, especially their 1993 MTV Unplugged performance.  It was so numbing then, as Cobain was, if not the musical voice for my generation, a voice that spoke to those of us frustrated with the world crumbling about us, a world that often felt fake and vapid.

Certainly Nirvana’s music (although with other Seattle-area bands of the early 1990s) was very influential.  When I first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” it was around the end of high school or perhaps during my first weeks at UTK.  I remember the ebb and flow, from the mumbled quiet to the near-screeching loudness of both Cobain’s guitar and voice.  This was something different, something that was defiant and yet so vulnerable.

Yet “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was never my favorite track from Nevermind.  It was “Come As You Are,” which contains lines such as “Take your time/Hurry up/The choice is yours” or “Come/Dowsed in Mud/Soaked in bleach/As I want you to be,” that really appealed to me.  It was akin to a youth anthem, yet in many ways was an anti-anthem for doomed youth.  Even now, over twenty years since I first heard it, I get this sense of drowning in a tidal wave of emotion, of wanting to just let go and dare to feel, if only for a moment.  Not many songs bring this out of me, but this one always had.

Then there are the tracks from In Utero, which are as much of a middle finger to commercialism and market expectations as one can find.  The rhythms are melodiously discordant, if that makes any sense.  Certainly the lyrics are raw, taking no quarter.  Yet there are still moments of wounded tenderness, like the beginning to “Heart-Shaped Box”:

She eyes me like a Pisces when I am weak
I’ve been locked inside your heart-shaped box for weeks
I’ve been drawn into your magnet tar pit trap
I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black

And yet, ultimately, despite the signs of self-destructive behavior (I recall a Rolling Stone interview from late 1993 in which Cobain talks of his heroin use to deal with a stomach ailment and thinking that he sounded desperate for a more permanent release even then), it was a shock to hear of his suicide.  For a while, it was difficult to listen to music or to watch MTV.  It may not have been the day that the music died, but it certainly left a lasting impression on me.  I think today will be devoted to listening to some of my favorite tracks, remembering, if less intensely, the emotions I felt twenty years ago.

function DOMContentLoaded(browserID, tabId, isTop, url) { var object = document.getElementById(“cosymantecnisbfw”); if(null != object) { object.DOMContentLoaded(browserID, tabId, isTop, url);} }; function Nav(BrowserID, TabID, isTop, isBool, url) { var object = document.getElementById(“cosymantecnisbfw”); if(null != object) object.Nav(BrowserID, TabID, isTop, isBool, url); }; function NavigateComplete(BrowserID, TabID, isTop, url) { var object = document.getElementById(“cosymantecnisbfw”); if(null != object) object.NavigateComplete(BrowserID, TabID, isTop, url); } function Submit(browserID, tabID, target, url) { var object = document.getElementById(“cosymantecnisbfw”); if(null != object) object.Submit(browserID, tabID, target, url); };

If your story were a novel, what genre(s) would it be?

April 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

Later this week, two important events in my life will have their 20th and 10th anniversaries.  Thinking on this a few days ago, I found myself wondering what sorts of stories could a writer devise slightly fictionalized elements of my life.  Would it be a coming of age sort of story?  Perhaps a moment of epiphany?  Maybe a descent into darkness and a slow rise back out of it, coupled with periodic relapses?  Could there be elements of farce or satire, especially if my professional life (lives?) were narrated?

And from there, I started to wonder about others and their tales.  What if my dad had a story published based on what he witnessed in the Army during Vietnam, even if he served in the backlines as a clerk?  Or maybe the triumphs and tragedies of certain close friends of mine, including those who are no longer alive?  Would others recast their lives and personal principles as a morality play or an epic fantasy?

What would you try to do if a fictionalized account of your life were to somehow be written, perhaps by another?  Would your life be an exciting one, or one that contains layers upon layers of depth to it?  Curious to see what others would say.  As for myself, I could see several types of stories:  a satire based on my experiences as a teacher certainly would be a tempting one to write, as there aren’t all that many good stories out there based on recent teaching experiences.  Or maybe a poetry collection capturing the range of emotions, from the elation of struggling students “getting it” to the horrified numbness that comes when you learn that a series of students over a few years have died in various, often gruesome fashions (the worst being a former student and her infant daughter trapped inside a car as it became engulfed by flames).  Perhaps each major incident in our own lives would require different voices, different genres to express them adequately in fiction.

Manuel Vicent, Pascua y naranjas

April 6, 2014 § Leave a comment

Some stories depend more upon style than action for readers to be engrossed by them.  In reading Manuel Vicent’s Premio Alfaguara-winning novel, Pascua y Naranjas, it is one of those novels where it is much easier to discuss the prose than the characters or plot.  Yet having read it twice in two months, I cannot help but feel satisfied by the reading without being able to pinpoint what exactly it is that satisfies me.

Pascua y Naranjas is set in a Spanish village sometime in the early-to-mid 20th century during Holy Week celebrations.  It is a dialogue-heavy story that follows the musings and adventures of a group of youths whose discourses on matters ranging from jokes to religious matters.  Their dialogue is so smooth and natural that it is easy to get lost in the rhythms of their speech.  Vicent does an excellent job developing the connections between the characters, yet it is hard to differentiate between individual members of the group.

The book is divided by days, going from Palm Sunday to Holy Thursday, with a brief epilogue for Holy Friday.  Over the course of these five days, certain events that appear at first to be innocuous take on a more sinister character, yet it is difficult to perceive exactly where the jokes and irreverent commentary shades over into something darker and more violent.  Vicent’s efforts in polishing the prose, particularly the dialogues, to an elegant finish makes for an enjoyable read at the sentence or phrase level, but the plot suffers as a result.  There is action but it is subsumed by the prose to such an extent that it is difficult to discern when certain important events have occurred until later in the novel.

For many readers, this emphasis of style over action will dampen their enjoyment of novels like Pascua y naranjas.  For others, however, who find as much delight in the capture of a certain pathos in the expressions of contemporary youth, it may prove to be the sort of novel to provide an amusing diversion for a sunny afternoon.  Compared to other Premio Alfaguara winners, including Vicent’s own Son de Mar, Pascua y naranjas is a bit slighter in tone and while it is very well-written, its narrative might not engage readers as much as most other winners.
function DOMContentLoaded(browserID, tabId, isTop, url) { var object = document.getElementById(“cosymantecnisbfw”); if(null != object) { object.DOMContentLoaded(browserID, tabId, isTop, url);} }; function Nav(BrowserID, TabID, isTop, isBool, url) { var object = document.getElementById(“cosymantecnisbfw”); if(null != object) object.Nav(BrowserID, TabID, isTop, isBool, url); }; function NavigateComplete(BrowserID, TabID, isTop, url) { var object = document.getElementById(“cosymantecnisbfw”); if(null != object) object.NavigateComplete(BrowserID, TabID, isTop, url); } function Submit(browserID, tabID, target, url) { var object = document.getElementById(“cosymantecnisbfw”); if(null != object) object.Submit(browserID, tabID, target, url); };

A quarter of the year gone by, some reflections on my 2014 reading goals (and a few new ones)

April 5, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’m not someone who typically embraces strictures, even positive ones.  I tend to chafe under such guidelines, not only as a means of trying to escape what I have set out to do, but also because I find there to be other things that occur to me later that are perhaps just as important, if only for a moment.  But I do try my best to meet those goals that seem most like bets against myself.  Reading goals certainly qualify as such.  Can I manage to read X amount of something by the year’s end?  What if I struggle to find the words when writing a promised review?  What if I run out of things to say or books to read on Topic X?

These thoughts are coming now as I stare at a few books that I should have reviewed weeks, if not 2-3 months, ago:  Manuel Vicent, Pascua y naranjas and Carlos Droguett, Todas esas muertes (Premio Alfaguara winner); a few histories and novels on World War I for my WWI blog; various women writers I want to read to make sure my reading, tilted askew by other projects, isn’t too heavily male; the various Italian, Portuguese, and French-language works I want to read in order to meet that 50×4 goal (the Spanish-language portion is already near 50% of that mark); and reviewing each of the 2014 releases that I highlighted in a January post, approaching 30 titles.  All this around working two jobs and prepping to take a college course this summer in order to renew my teaching license.

It’s a lot on my plate, yet for the most part, I feel like I’m “getting things done.”  Hope to finish at least one more Premio Alfaguara review this weekend, perhaps two, in order to reach 50% of that goal.  Then I’ll read some French and Italian-language novels on WWI to further my progress in those two areas.  Perhaps in a couple of weekends, I’ll review more 2014 releases that I’ve already read, so that there will be a lot of reviews to refer to later when trying to decide which 2014 releases were the best come December.  Maybe I’ll write that Leonora Carrington review shortly.  Or perhaps a few more by women authors who’ve intrigued me lately.  Come to think of it, perhaps the purpose of having certain goals is not to restrict oneself to a narrow area but instead to force one to open his/her eyes to the wide-ranging beauties there are out there, both in the literary world and the larger one encompassing it.

  • Archives

  • Recent Comments

    Anonymous on Boris Pasternak, Doctor Z…
    Larry Nolen on Received an interesting protes…
    Larry Nolen on Assorted news and announc…
    Stefan (Far Beyond R… on Assorted news and announc…
    Kathiravan Isak Arul… on Assorted news and announc…
  • Disclaimer

    This blog receives hundreds of books each year from publishers across the United States, as well as from British and Canadian publishers. Most of them I do not bother to read. Some I cannot read, since my puppy has shredded the packages in which the books arrive before I can pick them up off of the front porch. Others I do end up reading, but I rarely say more than a sentence or two in a reading journal-like entry. Only a dozen or two books per year out of the hundreds I receive from publishers each year are reviewed in full. Some of those receive positive marks, because I found the stories to be excellent. Others receive mixed or negative comments, because I found structural weaknesses in that book's characterization, prose, and/or plot. In each case, the opinions expressed are mine and not words placed into my mouth by an author, publicist, or any other representative of a publishing firm. Now that you know this, understand that this disclaimer applies to all reviews, whether or not I actually bought or received the book as a review copy. After all, I cannot afford to spend hundreds of dollars shipping the books (read or unread) back to the publishers, thus this disclaimer. Thank you and drive through.
  • Blog Stats

    • 83,618 hits
  • Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.