Sunday, January 29, 2023

Reading, January 2023

In Einem Andern Land by Ernest Hemingway: Ein alter Favorit, dieses Mal auf Deutsch gelesen, als ich ein Kopie in dieser Sprache fand. Ich habe vergessen, wo ich es gefunden habe. Das ist aber nicht wichtig.

Narrative Innovation and Incoherence by Michael Boardman: Mostly comprehensible, although I have not yet read all of the works Boardman discusses. The claim is that when some writers discover they cannot express their worldview within forms they've previously used to shape fictions, they invent new forms that, because not under full control of the writer, contain areas of incoherence that reveal themes and ideas not necessarily visible to the writer. Innovation as Freudian slip. The anxiety of anxiety.

Woodcutters by Thomas Bernhard: A beautiful final page, but a job of work getting there. Less interesting and effective overall than other Bernhard novels I've read, and oddly repetitive in a way that didn't work. An odd cross between Grass, Nabokov, and Beckett, with dashes of Stein. Perhaps the central argument of the book was too thin to support all the ornamentation.
Flowers of Mold by Ha Seong-Nan: Some readers, I think, are most excited by strange premises and unlikely events. I am, alas, not so much one of those readers. The observations about gender bias and materialism are very good. I got tired of protagonists being called "the man." Some of the narrative gambits were highly effective, though not necessarily for the full length of the story.

Baroque Music: A Practical Guide for the Performer by Victor Rangel-Ribeiro: Answers such vital questions as, "In the music of J. S. Bach, do dotted figures played against triplets in duple time have the ratio of 3:1 or 2:1?" Chatty, opinionated, and informative, covering a wide range of works and instruments. (The answer is 3:1, by the way, or even 3.5:.5 if you double-dot the figures to give a nice rhythmic snap.)

A Change of Time by Ida Jessen: From those plucky folks at Archipelago. A middle-aged woman is set adrift when her husband (a doctor in rural Denmark) dies of cancer. He had not warned Lilly (his wife) that he was ill, and without her knowledge had already made arrangements for his funeral, the disposition of his property, and his replacement to the post. Grim and unsentimental until it comes in for a gentle landing. A contemporary novel, but quite Isak Dinesen in style and tone.

Foster by Claire Keegan: A short story set in County Wexford in 1985. Now apparently part of the curriculum of Irish schools. Somehow the young narrator reminds me of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. Richly detailed, very fine writing ("The presence of a black and white cat moves on the window ledge."), but it all feels like the first act of something abandoned before the story really gets moving. Which is how I feel about most of Raymond Carver's work, so what do I know. Carver is famous and influential and I am not.

Also, today is the 163rd birthday of Saint Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, the greatest short-story writer in history, and the father of modern theater. Drink a glass of vodka, perform a selfless act, and then go read something, why don't you? 

"Tell my friends that they are living badly, and must stop it."