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3.01.2013

Where have I been for the last few months?

Hello to my faithful readers – all 3 of you,

I have been lax in updating this blog, but I have by no means stopped this endeavor. As I suspected a bit when I restarted this project, I don’t think I’ll be able to accomplish this feat within the span of the year I’d given  myself.

I have an almost one-year-old baby girl for whom I am the full-time caretaker. This and reading and researching and writing about a different book every 3.5 days or so, has proved to be impossible…well, it would be possible, but then I wouldn’t be able to do anything else…like spend time with my husband or see my friends and family, so I’ve come upon a compromise.

I have been reading all this time – soon there will be posts on the work of Doris Lessing and Imre Kertesz – and I’ve just finished reading ‘A House for Mr. Biswas’ by V.S. Naipaul, which I’m quite excited about.

I’ll continue to read works by Nobel writers as often as I can, which is pretty much all the time. And I’ll continue to write about them. But I’m not going to try and do it within the year. It’ll be more about the process and journey rather than the goal or destination.

I’ll occasionally venture off this format, i.e. writing a piece about each title, and might do something different, but I won’t give it away until it happens. Don’t want to jinx myself ;)

So stay tuned, don’t give up on me yet and soon you’ll see this little space populated with all sorts of writings and phrases and bon mots (hopefully).

10.17.2012

2005 - Harold Pinter

So I had to start somewhere as far as the first laureate is concerned. I'd been accumulating a few Nobel winning authors for a while, so i figured I'd just pick one at random and begin the beguine :o)
I thought a play might be the way to go. Ease myself into the reading of massive novels and historical tracts by starting light. Yeah, light. What was i thinking?

I chose Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, first produced on Broadway in 1967, written in 1964 and published in 1965.
This was a most baffling play. Called a masterpiece in Absurdist theater by some, i simply found it unbelievable.
Wait a second, you kind reader might be saying? But isn't Absurdism partially exactly about that? Well, i guess it turns out i don't get Absurdism... or at least not this particular example.

OK, so here's the basic set up. A house in North London, with a missing wall which some critics have taken to symbolize blah, blah, blah. Yeah, I'm not buying that particular line of thought. So onwards. 

We have Max, the 60-something patriarch, his bachelor 60-something brother Sam, and his two 20-something sons, Lenny and Joey.
Max is a retired butcher who now seems to fill up most of his time by cooking everyone's din-din, Sam's a well-respected chauffeur, Joey works in demolition during the day and moonlights as a boxer and Lenny, well Lenny is a pimp.
Ah, happy family.

Into this wondrous family unit, drop in Teddy, the prodigal son gone to America to become a Philosophy Professor and his wife Ruth. Just on their way back from Venice for a delayed honeymoon (they already have 3 sons), they pop by unannounced. Have I mentioned Teddy hasn't contacted his family for six years? But he still has a key to the house and so lets himself in  for the evening and settles in upstairs with Ruth for the night.

And then hilarity ensues.

No, not really.

I read a quote by a critic about how in this particular play, the pauses are of all importance, as well as the position of chairs and the symbolism for a demolished archway. OK, sure. But here's the thing, i read the play. I didn't watch it. So maybe if i watched a performance of it, a whole other layer of amazingness would appear.

Once Teddy and Ruth come down those stairs on the next morning, the whole thing just goes a bit wobbly. Up till then, we'd been treated to the foul-mouthed diatribes of Max directed at the rest of his family. Some of it might seem shocking, unless you've grown up in a severely dysfunctional family. But i could still buy all of it. 

But within moments of meeting the family, Teddy's wife Ruth, is being man-handled by the brothers and called a "stinking pox-ridden slut" by the father. Teddy doesn't object to his family's treatment of Ruth and even more importantly, neither does Ruth.

Although it stretches the imagination, I could understand Teddy being overwhelmed by his Alpha-dog brothers and father, and so remain passive while they practically make love to his wife on the living room floor.
But the idea that Ruth would welcome this attention and encourage it just defies any sort of believability and understanding of women.

And maybe that's the point. That it's completely ridiculous that eventually the family is talking about putting her 'on the game' (prostitution). But i guess I'm just a simple reader when it comes to certain things, and Ruth's reaction and actions just didn't ring true in any way, absurd or not.

I'll likely try to hunt down a filmed version of the play (or even better, see it in person) and if i do so, I'll update this post. For now though, i have to admit 'The Homecoming' wasn't quite for me.



P.S. For some insight into Pinter's literary and political views, go and read his Nobel Lecture. It's quite an interesting read.


10.11.2012

Mo Yan is the 2012 Nobel Laureate in Literature!

Well, the speculation is finally over.
No Philip Roth, no Alice Munro, no Murakami, no, heavens forbid, Bob Dylan ;o)

Instead the Swedish Academy chose a Chinese writer that the Chinese government is actually proud of.
Hmm, not sure if that's a good thing or not. He seems to write mostly historical novels, so I guess those can be apolitical...i guess.

Still, will refrain from any preconceptions about him and I look forward to reading him sometime within the next Nobel year. I thought I knew for sure which of his books to read - Big Breasts and Wide Hips (teehee) - but seeing as it's 500+ pp., maybe I'll end up picking up something else. We shall see.


Now onwards to the reading!

A new beginning...

Drum roll please......

Introducing the new-version-2.0-Snow-Leopard-Re-launch of this here fine literature blog.

So, as an infinitesimal few of you may know, a few years back I tried to start this Nobel blog. I wanted to attempt to read a work by each one of the Nobel Literature Laureates. I didn't give myself a deadline, which is one of the many, many reasons it never really got going. You don't know this about me of course (unless you're one of the three people I know that are reading this. If so: Hey'a, we should have lunch!), but I don't do so well on an open plan. I need some sort of structure.

And so this new launch has come about. I decided to start it on the day that the 2012 Nobel Literature Prize is being awarded, October 11th, 2012. I hope to have read one work, be it a play, novel, group of poems, etc., by each of the Laureates by October 11th, 2013. For those of you keeping score, that works out to a book every 3.38 days. Now some will be longer than others, i.e. Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga at 912 pp., but others a lot shorter, like Prudhomme's handful of poems translated into English. 'Cause yeah, I'm going to be all Imperialist like and stick to English translations.* ;o)

I've already managed to gather a few of the books I'll be reading and has it progresses, I'll be borrowing the heck out of my local library and overusing their interlibrary loan system. Google Books has also already been invaluable in my initial research, hooking me up with some public domain scanned books that would've been pretty hard to almost impossible to dig up a physical copy of.

My criteria for selecting which work to read will be (apart from the nine Nobels awarded to a specific work) primarily that it was written before the Laureate received the honor. And then if it has a pretty cover...er, i mean, if it's been lauded as an amazing work.

I'll need some help selecting some of the works, so if anyone has recommendations for me, please leave them in the comments section or email me directly.

And now i must get to bed, so I can wake up early and find out whom they dissed this year ;o)

*I'll probably read the one Portuguese writer so far honored, in the original language, since I'm fluent, but everything else will be in English.

P.S. Btw I'll be reading different books for the couple of writers I'd actually managed to read. And if I've already read an author in the past, I'll make sure to read a different book by him/her. No cheating here :o)

5.06.2009

1976 - Saul Bellow: Humboldt's Gift

***Warning: Spoilers ahead***

I wanted to like Humboldt’s Gift – I really did. I was so pleased when I saw that a member of my book group had picked it as our latest selection.

And as I started my Nobel trek and then quickly (and unfortunately) had to put a hold on it, I was glad indeed to be able to kill two literary birds with one stone – read Humboldt for my book club *and* for my Nobel project.
Sigh. I was naive then. How little I knew ;o)

Anywho, let’s get right to it, shall we? This book frazzled me like no other has done in quite a while. I kept on seeing its amazing potential and then one page later it would once again descend into nonsense. So many great passages and then something like 30 pages of practically unpunctuated page long paragraphs of random facts…but not even random facts. Because see, that sort of thing would actually interest me, being that I’ve been known to read silly trivia books in one sitting. No, this was more like random factoid-ettes, a seedling of a factoid cut off in its prime to be left as an incomprehensible snippet, ala Lenin’s uncle. Sigh. Some of those pages, many times ‘philosophical’ in nature, reminded me of that song by Billy Joel ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’, except not fun.

But then he’d come back with some brilliant observation, referring to America as a ‘didactic country whose people always offer their personal experiences as a helpful lesson to the rest’, thoroughly foreseeing our current era of confessional memoirs as bestsellers.

Or later Charlie would mention how’d he’d been a ‘passionate morbid little boy…’, bringing me back to my own childhood when (for I don’t know, fun?)I’d imagine a world without my mother, which would quickly reduce me to a slobbering mess.

And then we’d be back to tangents on top of tangents, just making me want to fling the book across the room.

I found Charlie to be just beyond sympathy which is another thing that made reading this book quite an endeavor. There was not one sympathetic character in the bunch. Now, I don’t have to like a character in order to enjoy reading the book. But it went beyond that – I just didn’t really care what happened to any of these people. I cared about what happened to Hannibal Lecter when I read ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, so it’s not about someone being bad or evil. It’s about them being blah. I couldn’t really get into any of them. I found myself endlessly annoyed by Charlie, but that was far as it went – I didn’t actually care about him though.

Particularly when he’d attempt to guess Renata’s thoughts, imagining them to be solely about wealth and possessions – how presumptuous of him. And even at the end, ‘…the beauty of a woman like Renata was not entirely appropriate. It was out of season…’ – after everything that’s happened to him, after Renata has left him and attempted to show him what he’d done wrong, he still doesn’t see her as a person. He still sees her as a symbol rather than a human being.

As for what the gift was – yawn.
Humboldt leaves him a Hollywood treatment. After all this tangential nonsense and shoe-gazing, that’s what we get? Boo.

I don’t want to judge Saul Bellow solely on this book. It wouldn’t be fair.
After all, some of my favorite authors have had off books as well. So I’m hoping that’s what happened with ‘Humboldt’s Gift’ and Bellow’s other books are just brilliant…or at least not inane.

5.14.2008

2006 - Orhan Pamuk: Snow (Inaugural Post - Whoo-hoo!)

So i had to start somewhere, pick one first out of the 104 laureates, and then one book out of the first one i selected. As i mentioned in my first post, i decided to first read whichever authors i already had in the house. I happened to have quite a few books by this author, although i had yet to read any works at all by him. I think i might have read a piece of his in the New Yorker, but that was about it. I happened to pick up a few of his books back when Coliseum Books (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coliseum_Books), a sorely missed NYC institution, was going out of business. They held a sale to get rid of their reduced inventory and I spotted a few of his works and paid up. But I don't think i actually picked up my first selection until a bit later, when I received a lovely book as a birthday present, but that i unfortunately already owned. I trudged to Target to exchange it, looked through their small book selection and picked up a couple of titles, including Snow by Orhan Pamuk which became the inaugural title. I actually finished reading this about a week ago (first time i get a chance to write it up) so hopefully not too much of it will have left my brain.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this novel, since again, I hadn't read much by Pamuk beforehand. I knew it was set in Turkey, it dealt with the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, but that's about it.

I initially really enjoyed the book, particularly the dialogue. But a third of the way in, I felt like there was a change in translators (at best), or the author just decided to give up on believable dialogue. It started to feel clunky, which is why I wonder if it was a translation error. But i'm getting ahead of myself.

The basic plot (which mostly takes part over only 3 days in the life of a small Turkish town and most importantly, in the life of a minor exiled Turkish poet) concerns the visit of a poet - Ka - to the small town - Kars. It's very much an insulated town, quite literally demonstrated by them ending up closed off from the rest of the world, i.e. Turkey, by a heavy snowstorm which starts as Ka is arriving.

He's come to town to ostensibly interview the families of some dead young girls, who have allegedly committed suicide b/c they'd been asked to remove their headscarves while at school. Turkey is a secular state and outward signs of religion such as Muslim women wearing headscarves are discouraged, and outright forbidden in universities and public buildings up until recently. In response to this 'outrage' demanded of them while in university, some girls in Kars have killed themselves which has made them martyrs to the movement and encouraged ever more rebellion.

Ka goes around posing as a journalist, interviewing the family and friends of the dead girls, but the reason he's really decided to return to Kars is that a girl he fancied while a student, happens to now be living in Kars, and is newly separated. He thinks this is his chance to get her to marry him. Yep, you read right. He hopes to convince her to marry him and go back to Germany (where he's been exiled for political reasons he no longer believes in), even though they haven't seen each other since their student days. Have i mentioned that he's only in Kars for 3 days? And that they were just casual friends while in school?

But i digress. So Ka is walking around asking to speak to everyone...which sparks the curiosity of well, the whole town, particularly the officials in charge who decide to track his every move. He also manages to get the Islamic fundamentalists interested and gets himself into all sorts of unexpected circumstances. He ends up being one of the only witnesses to a terrorist assassination...which he quickly runs away from; he meets with the leader of the Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, who may or may not have ordered the assassination Ka has just witnessed, as well as many others beforehand; he performs at an event that ends up being the stage (quite literally) for a coup...Ka really gets around.

Up until this point, I followed the book rather well and was enjoying it. But then it started to just go a bit batty for me. For one, i've never seen the word 'atheist' written so often and referred to so much in a book outside of a Christopher Hitchins polemic. It's apparently what Islamic fundamentalists, at least those living in Kars and Greater Kars, are obsessed with. 'Is so and so an atheist?' 'Are they themselves atheists if they have even moments of doubt?' and again 'Is so and so an atheist?' It started to drive me mad. Mostly b/c I couldn't imagine spending so much time of my life thinking about what someone else who did not follow my views (whatever they happen to be) thought of my own. If one has deep beliefs in god, the easter bunny, aliens in space, then what does it matter what someone else thinks, particularly if they're not confronting you on the matter and don't give a fuck? Sigh. That's not a slight on the author at all, it was just a frustrating thing to realize that people across the globe dedicated so much of their time to thinking about such inanity. Just live your own life and let others be.

As for the theater troupe coup plot...honestly, that bit just defied belief. A theater troupe comes to town and stages a coup from the stage, taking advantage of the fact that the town is snowed in? Really?

But i suppose my biggest problem with the novel, and that really, really bothered me as a plot point, was how 'in love' Ka becomes with Ipek, the grown-up crush of his student days. In three days. Now, we've all had crushes that were very intense and very quick, and most of us have fallen in love, and sometimes relatively quickly, but three days?! No, didn't believe it for a moment. I mean, he's professing his love for her, upon seeing her again for the first time in 20 years or so. I just didn't buy it - it just felt so shallow. And the fact that he kept on referring to her beauty (and not much else) didn't exactly help his case. Then again, i just found him a shallow character period. He's involved in various traumatic events and all he can think to do is run and write poems? I'm all for submitting to one's muse, but right in the middle of a dangerous crisis? It was mad. But perhaps that was the point - to show how art can take over one's senses.

Ok, before i end up writing a tome on this book (and give away the ending), i'll try and wrap up. Pamuk's work challenged me, with characters that bugged me and acts that baffled me. But the writing was solid and the subject was engaging, even if it lost me a bit towards the end. And notwithstanding the heaviness of most of the book, it did have some light moments, like the city newspaper editor who would write up the news a day early :o)

I don't know if i'd recommend this particular title to most, but I'll definitely be dipping into my small Pamuk collection in the future and reading a bit more by him. But now i have to figure out which author i should read next...

5.06.2008

So I got it into my head to start a new blog...

I knew of some people who were attempting to read through all of the Pulitzer prize winning novels in a year, or the Booker winners in a year, and thought that sounded like a great idea.
A way of exposing oneself to some (allegedly good) literature that one wouldn't necessarily pick up on one's own.
But i didn't want to copy-cat their idea. I considered a few of the big prizes, or even some of the big publishers' lists (Penguin Classics and the like - too large and overwhelming) and then decided to go for the gold of literary prizes and attempt to read all of the Nobel laureates in literature.

It'll be a bit harder both in the scope and depth of this venture, partly b/c the Nobel is given to a body of work, rather than to a specific piece. So not only would i have to read something by each writer, i'd also have to do some research and pick a particular work as well - one that i thought embodied their body of work. Although as I've already spotted, this might prove somewhat easy for some writers, as there's only one of their books in English translation. I'm not giving myself a set time frame since I'll also continue one of my book club memberships *and* will continue to read for fun as well. I'd like to put it at about 2 years beginning now, seeing as there are 104 laureates which works out conveniently enough to about 1 a week for 2 years. Having said that, and already admitting that I'll also continue to read for other reasons, I'm not sure if this is completely doable. So let's say that 2 years would be nice and something to strive for, but I won't exactly be broken-hearted (or too surprised) if I'm not able to finish by then.

I won't be reading them chronologically as i think that would drive me mad. My first ten writers or so will be determined solely by the books i already have in my collection (or have picked up in the last month or so) and in whatever order I feel like. After I've exhausted the few I already own, I thought I might use different methods to select the next title to read. Might throw a dart at a world map and choose this way or maybe have a little survey on the blog and my readers (hope to hoodwink at least a few friends into checking it out - 'Yes, this site is full of: [insert the following] kittens, naked chicks, naked guys, cheat-sheets for Grand Theft Auto IV') can pick choice A, B, C, or J ;o)

We shall see - it'll be an ever developing project. I hope to have some pics thrown in of yours truly (always in disguise - Why? B/c it'll be fun) reading the selection du jour in various spots, a bit like Where's Waldo for the literati (er, i'm not really this precious, i promise).

But enough intro, they always bore me to tears and I usually end up skipping them. On to the first book...