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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

For Halloween: Witches in Literature

Today is Halloween, so I thought I’d share this list of 100 books about witches compiled by S. Zainab Williams for BookRiot.   Other than the classics like The Crucible by Arthur Miller and The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, all of which I read in university many years ago, I’ve read only two others on the list.

The one I would recommend is The Witches of New York by Ami McKay.  See my review at https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2016/10/review-of-witches-of-new-york-by-ami.html.
I’ve also read The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch, but I would not recommend it – more about that tomorrow.

For Halloween a couple of years ago, Literary Hub had a superb article entitled “A Literary History of Witches”:  http://lithub.com/a-literary-history-of-witches/.  The Huffington Post also discussed 11 of “the most badass witches from literature, who truly epitomize woman power” (http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/witches-literature_n_6057684).

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Exophonic Writers

Exophonic writers are those who write in a language not generally regarded as their first or mother tongue.  The 2017 Man Booker Prize was won by an exophonic writer:  Kazuo Ishiguro. 

The exophonic writer most people know is Jozef Teodor Konrad Nalecz Korzeniowski who became Joseph Conrad of The Heart of Darkness fame.  Fewer know that Jack Kerouac, born to French-Canadian parents, spoke only French until the age of six, when he started school.  I, like Kerouac, learned English only when I started school, but, unlike Conrad and Kerouac, I am not a master of English prose.

BookWitty recently had an article which mentioned both of these celebrated writers as well as some others:   https://www.bookwitty.com/text/exophonic-authors-or-writing-in-a-language-not/59e4880f50cef71947f61293. 

If you are interested in other exopohonic writers, consult the list at Wikipedia:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_exophonic_writers.  You may be surprised at how many you have read. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Book Recommendations For/From Star Trek

I received a letter in the mail earlier this week, and I noticed that the Canada Post stamp on the envelope had a Star Trek captain on it:  Capt. Jonathan Archer, played by Scott Bakula, in the Star Trek: Enterprise series. 

That reminded me of a recent BookRiot article entitled “Book Recommendations for the Crew of the Original Star Trek Enterprise.”  Titles are recommended for all of the major crew members of the first Starship Enterprise:  https://bookriot.com/?p=138777.

My favourite Star Trek captain is Jean Luc Picard, played by Patrick Steward in Star Trek:  The Next Generation.    Perhaps it’s because Picard always seems to have a copy of The Globe Illustrated Shakespeare: The Complete Works by Howard Staunton with him.  Throughout ST:TNG, at least once in each of the seven seasons, Picard is reading the book, which he keeps in his ready room. Each appearance of this book is typically open to a different play and page with illustration.

A couple of years ago, the Barnes and Noble blog focused on some of Picard’s favourite books:  https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/its-captain-picard-day-here-are-his-favorite-books/.   BookRiot even had an article about “Literary Moments in Star Trek: The Next Generation” (https://bookriot.com/2014/10/22/literary-moments-star-trek-next-generation/).  My favourite episode from this series is the one entitled “Darmock” in which Picard uses the Epic of Gilgamesh to communicate with a Tamarian whose language is based on myths.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Bibliocide

Most of us have read Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451 which presents a future American society where books are outlawed and "firemen" burn any that are found.  But of course, book burnings have actually taken place throughout history.  I actually posted about this topic earlier this year:  https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2017/02/book-burnings.html.

This past summer I read a Smithsonian article entitled “A Brief History of Book Burning, From the Printing Press to Internet Archives” which even mentioned the scientific research documents that were locked away or destroyed under the Stephen Harper government in Canada in 2014.  Read the entire article at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/brief-history-book-burning-printing-press-internet-archives-180964697/.

Sometimes, however, authors destroy their own manuscripts and sometimes they are destroyed accidentally.  On this topic, Literary Hub recently posted “ten stories of the destruction (or threat thereof) of unpublished works, diaries and letters by notable authors” (http://lithub.com/10-tales-of-manuscript-burning-and-some-that-survived/).

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Medieval Literature Online

There is now a new online compendium of English translations for overlooked Middle Ages texts. The recently launched Global Medieval Sourcebook, curated by Stanford University faculty and students, offers English versions of previously untranslated Middle Ages literature.

The Global Medieval Sourcebook is, as suggested by its title, a globally focused resource, with plans for medieval texts translated from Arabic, Chinese, Old Spanish, Latin, Middle High German, Old English, and Old French.  Academics are being invited to contribute short introductions, sometimes accompanied by an audio recording and high-resolution image of the original manuscript. The new English translations are readable alongside the source language.


To access the Sourcebook itself, go to https://sourcebook.stanford.edu/.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction - Shortlist

Today, the American Library Association announced the three books shortlisted for its Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, awarded for the previous year’s best books written for adult readers and published in the United States:

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
From New York mobsters to the first woman diver at the Brooklyn Naval Station during WWII to the archetypally motley crew of a merchant-marine ship in U-boat–infested waters, Egan’s saga portrays individuals navigating the rising tides of war.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Saunders’s novel, which recently won the Man Booker Prize, pivots on President Lincoln’s grief over the death of his young son, Willie, as the cemetery’s dead tell their stories in a wild improvisation on the afterlife.  (See my review at http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2017/08/review-of-lincoln-in-bardo-by-george.html.) 

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward  
In telling the story of a Mississippi family—siblings Jojo and Kayla, their troubled mother, Leonie, and their legacy of grief and spiritual gifts—Ward explores unresolved racial tensions and the many ways humans create cruelty and suffering.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Review of PACHINKO by Min Jin Lee

3.5 Stars
This is a multi-generational saga about life for Koreans in Japan.  It covers four generations of one family over much of the 20th century as various members strive to carve out a home and livelihood.  Since ethnic Koreans are shut out from many occupations, several individuals become involved in the pachinko business.  The pinball/slot-machine-like game, as both a recreational arcade game and a gambling device, is very popular in Japan but is often considered dirty; “pachinko gave off a strong odor of poverty and criminality.” 

Pachinko unifies the novel and serves as a perfect metaphor for the whims of life:  “life was like this game where the player could adjust the dials yet also expect the uncertainty of factors he couldn’t control.  [The game] looked fixed but also left room for randomness and hope.”  In pachinko, the odds strongly favour the house but people keep playing because hope motivates people:  “The stupid heart could not help but hope.”  In pachinko and in life “there could only be a few winners and a lot of losers.  And yet we played on, because we had hope that we might be the lucky ones.”  One mother regrets that she didn’t teach her children to hope, “to believe in the perhaps-absurd possibility that they might win.” 

Though there are a couple of exceptions, hope and resilience certainly keep the family members moving forward.  It is the female characters who seem the most resilient, Sunja in particular.  Sunja’s mother teaches her about the importance of perseverance:  “’Sunja-ya, a woman’s life is endless work and suffering.  There is suffering and then more suffering.  It’s better to expect it, you know. . . no matter what, always expect suffering, and just keep working hard.  No one will take care of a poor woman – just ourselves.’”  It is Yangjin, Sunja, and Kyunghee who keep their families alive through the most difficult of times. 

Of course, these women face challenges because of culture and tradition.  The women are illiterate because education was reserved for male children in a family.  When Sunja and Kyunghee devise a plan to make money to help their destitute family, Kyunghee must convince her husband to let her work outside the home, and he does not react well to the suggestion.  A woman’s behaviour, especially sexual behaviour, can damage her family’s reputation; a young woman is seduced by a man twice her age but it is she and her family who suffer the consequences of a pregnancy outside of wedlock. 

The book examines the Korean immigrant experience in Japan through the experiences of four generations of one family.  What is emphasized is the exclusion and discrimination faced by Koreans. Because of discrimination, some characters try to pass as Japanese because to be discovered as ethnic Korean means rejection.  One man, an ethnic Korean born in Japan, cuts off contact with his family and hides his identity; he says, “’No one knows I’m Korean. Not one person. . . . My wife doesn’t know.  Her mother would never tolerate it.  My own children don’t know, and I will not tell them. My boss would fire me.  He doesn’t employ foreigners.’”

Another character summarizes the travel restrictions faced by Koreans:  “Most Koreans in Japan couldn’t travel.  If you wanted a Japanese passport, which would allow you to reenter without hassles, you had to become a Japanese citizen – which was almost impossible.”  Koreans in Japan could get a Korean passport but they felt little affiliation to a country they had never visited.  In 1979, one of the characters turns fourteen and he has to go through the humiliating experience of getting his alien registration card:  “Koreans born in Japan after 1952 had to report to their local ward office on their fourteenth birthday to request permission to stay in Japan.  Every three years, Solomon would have to do this again unless he left Japan for good.”  The options for ethnic Koreans are limited, as one man clearly explains:  “’Koreans like me [born and living in Japan] can’t leave.  Where we gonna go?  . . . In Seoul [South Korea], people like me get called Japanese bastards, and in Japan, I’m just another dirty Korean no matter how much money I make or how nice I am. . . . All those people who went back to the North are starving to death or scared shitless.’”  It seems that ethnic Koreans in Japan are perpetual outsiders. 

The book begins with the statement that “History has failed us” but the book succeeds in filling in some history about which most Westerners probably know little.  And though the Japanese treatment of Koreans is clearly described, the author does not portray all Japanese as bad; there are several positive Japanese characters and at the end, one of the youngest generation says, “Sure, there were assholes in Japan, but there were assholes everywhere, nee? . . . Kazu was a shit, but so what?  He was one bad guy, and he was Japanese. . . . [My stepmother, my first love, and my father’s best friend] were Japanese, and they were very good.”

The book is narrated in third person omniscient point of view.  One problem is that everyone’s point of view is given, even that of the most minor characters.  For example, is it really necessary to be given the thoughts of a garden boy who appears only once in a book of almost 500 pages?  The numerous shifts among characters are sometimes jarring. 

The book is divided into three parts.  The first is the strongest; the characterization is rich and detailed.  The third part, however, feels rushed so that the reader’s emotional attachment to the fourth generation is definitely not as strong. 

I love books that inform me about some part of history about which I previously knew little.  This novel is not an exception.  I understand why it is a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction.  It is a compelling story told in a compelling way.

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Romantic Book or a Bookish Romance?



Romance is not the genre for me, so I was intrigued by an article in Flavorwire which gave “a selection of romantic books that will rev your motor (emotional or otherwise) but don’t fall into that taboo category of cheap paper and cheaper storylines” (http://flavorwire.com/477073/50-romantic-novels-for-people-who-hate-romance-novels).  I’ve read 15 of the titles, so I can’t claim never to read romances.

Though you might not read romances, that doesn’t mean you don’t want to have a romantic date.  How about a bookish date?  BookRiot had suggestions for book-inspired dates: “if you’re looking for an original date night sure to spark more conversation and intimacy, look no further than your bookshelf! Couples that read together stay together, or so the saying goes” (https://bookriot.com/2017/09/05/book-date-night?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=The%20Riot%20Rundown&utm_term=BookRiot_TheRiotRundown_Tue-Thur).

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Debut Masterpieces

This past week, George Saunders was awarded the Man Booker Prize for his debut novel, Lincoln in the Bardo.

This brought to mind an article in Literary Hub which had put together a list of debut novels that are often considered to be their author’s masterpieces:  http://lithub.com/10-debut-novels-that-are-also-their-authors-masterpieces/.

Also on the topic of first novels, The Center for Fiction has a First Novel Prize which is awarded to the best debut novel published between January 1 and December 31 of the award year. The author of the winning book is awarded $10,000 and each shortlisted author receives $1,000.  The 2017 longlist (http://www.centerforfiction.org/awards/the-first-novel-prize/2017-first-novel-prize-long-list/) featured Lincoln in the Bardo, but the novel did not make it to the shortlist (http://www.centerforfiction.org/awards/the-first-novel-prize/2017-first-novel-prize/).  The winner will be announced on December 5. 

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Classics: Love Them or Hate Them?

I once scandalized my book club by stating that I hated A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.  I found the symbolism just so obvious.  Another classic I re-read recently is Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë and I didn’t enjoy it either; it was just too melodramatic for my liking.  “The two worst people in the world fall in love, unfortunately for the people around them who have to put up with their nonsense” (https://bookriot.com/2017/06/19/honest-plot-summaries-19th-century-novels?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Riot%20Rundown&utm_term=BookRiot_TheRiotRundown_Tue-Thur).

Since I’ve had my own disagreements with classics, I was interested in a recent article in Literary Hub in which famous writers skewer books often considered classics:  http://lithub.com/14-classic-works-of-literature-hated-by-famous-authors/.

And here’s further proof that classics have not always been loved.  The Huffington Post had a feature entitled “12 Classic Books That Got Horrible Reviews When They First Came Out” (http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/bad-reviews-classics_n_6527638). 

On the other hand, some people love classics.  BuzzFeed recently featured a list of 22 classic novels which people recommended; both of my dislikes are on this list so caveat emptor:  https://www.buzzfeed.com/chelseypippin/22-classic-novels-that-wont-bore-you-to-death?utm_term=.xoqj38Vq12#.cu2DBJgpNO.

So which classics have you loved or hated?

Friday, October 20, 2017

New Novel: HUNTING PIERO by Wendy MacIntyre

Because I was out of town, I was unable to attend this event:


Wendy MacIntyre is a close friend of a close friend of mine (so 2 degrees of separation).  I have read and enjoyed two of her previous novels, Mairi and The Applecross Spell, so I think I will pick up her new one, Hunting Piero, which was published earlier this month. 

The book sounds interesting:  “This novel interweaves Renaissance artist Piero di Cosimo’s fifteenth-century viewpoint with the twenty-first-century reality of two young Canadian students: Agnes Vane, an art history major fascinated by di Cosimo’s multi-layered imagery, and Peter (Pinto) Dervaig, a student of philosophy passionate about preventing cruelty to animals. Both Agnes and Pinto were marginalized in their adolescence because of their unusual appearance. Agnes has slightly simian features. Pinto is a huge man with a multihued skin pigmentation. When Agnes, as a lonely and alienated child, discovers di Cosimo’s empathetic paintings of animals and human-animal hybrids, she feels she is looked upon gently for the first time in her life. That moment influences her decision to become an animal rights activist, a commitment that ultimately brings her both anguish and insight. Her story is echoed by chapters from di Cosimo’s perspective as he pits his solitary vision, of a golden age when animals did indeed speak, against the dictatorial grip in which Savonarola, destroyer of secular art and culture, holds the city of Florence. Hunting Piero is the tale of a passionate moral quest, and equally, a story of redemption and of love tested by tragic missteps and their deadly consequences.” 

 In an article for 49th Shelf, MacIntyre revisits "Canadian novels that make the lives and fates of animals and birds, and human/animal relations, central to their storylines:  https://49thshelf.com/Blog/2017/10/16/Elephants-Bears-and-Birds-Animals-in-Canadian-Literature

And check out the author's website:   http://wendymacintyreauthor.ca/.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

David Harper: Book Form Sculptor

I recently returned from a trip to central New York where I visited the Stone Quarry Hill Art Park in Cazenovia (https://sqhap.org/).   There I saw two literary installations, both by David Harper.


This installation is called "Stacks" and  Harper created it by recycling fallen logs.  The theme for the installation, “these trees shall be my books,” comes from William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, but the goal of the work goes far beyond Orlando’s wish to immortalize Rosalind. Harper seeks to immortalize the love of knowledge, and the homage owed to the living things we use to create stores of knowledge for all to study. “Stacks” captures the transformation from living tree to store of knowledge (http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2011/06/david-harper-stacks/). 

 ************


This one is called "Heavy Reading."

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Apparently, Harper likes the wooden book form; I found a photo of another of his pieces, this one entitled "Telephone":  http://telephone.satellitecollective.org/works/216.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Man Booker Prize Goes to George Saunders




The winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize was announced today:  George Saunders took the prize for Lincoln in the Bardo.  I’ve read 3 of the 6 finalists; as my reviews indicate, I was certainly routing for this book.




Here are my reviews of the other two finalists I have read:

I loved a feature in The Telegraph newspaper which highlighted “the dazzling highs (and cringe-making lows) of this year's finalists”:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/what-to-read/2017-man-booker-prize-shortlist-best-worst-lines/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Review of MINDS OF WINTER by Ed O'Loughlin

3 Stars
This book came to my attention because of its nomination for both the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction and the Giller Prize.  The plot description also hooked me in, though I now wish I had resisted.

At the end of the Acknowledgements, the author thanks his three editors for working “long and hard to turn a self-indulgent mess of cobbled-together myth and mystery into something like a novel.”  I’m afraid the editors did not succeed because the book, for me, still seems a “mess of cobbled-together myth and mystery.” 

The characters who are present throughout the novel are Nelson Nilsson and Fay Morgan who are both in Inuvik trying to solve mysteries involving family members.  Gradually, Fay finds information about her enigmatic grandfather in the research conducted by Nelson’s brother who has disappeared.   There are just too many coincidences in this plot line to be believable.  (I have not been able to figure out why the author chose for his female lead a name which alludes to Morgan le Faye, the enchantress of Arthurian legend.) 

The majority of the book is multiple stories covering a span of 175 years.  Historical figures like Sir John Franklin, Roald Amundsen, and Jack London make an appearance.  Likewise the settings cover much of the world; Tasmania, Tuktoyaktuk, Antarctica, eastern Siberia, Norway.  Timelines are not chronological so they add to the confusion already present because of the number of characters, some of whom are loosely connected and some of whom just disappear from the narrative without explanation. 

I am certain that I am not the only reader who will recall Aristotle’s statement about synergism:  "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts".  Unfortunately, in the case of this novel, the opposite is true.  The individual stories are often interesting, but the novel as a whole did not leave me feeling enthused.  Of course, the individual vignettes vary in quality; the one involving Jack London is tedious and the one focusing on one of Amundsen’s mistresses seems pointless. 

After a while, I felt that the book might have been better packaged as a collection of mysteries.  The book does touch on several unsolved mysteries:  Amundsen’s disappearance in an airborne rescue mission in the Arctic, the fate of the Franklin expedition, the identity of the Mad Trapper of Rat River, the appearance of Franklin’s chronometer disguised as a carriage clock in London.  As expected, none of these is solved.  When one of Franklin’s ships is discovered, one character mourns the loss of mystery:   “’They had to go and find her.  They had to solve a perfectly good mystery.’”  The epilogue also suggests the author’s fascination with the mysterious:  “lives don’t always end like they’re supposed to.  Some people slip through the cracks.” 

This book was just not for me.  I can appreciate the amount of research that O’Loughlin did, but I found the book just too disjointed.  At the end of his acknowledgments, the author thanks the reader for reading the book, “assuming you made it this far.”  I have to admit that for me finishing the book became a chore.   I will be checking the reviews of others in the hope that someone will be able to fully explain this novel’s worth to me. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Food and Drink and Reading

Though avid readers might like to claim they feast on books, it is not possible to survive without food and drink.  For that reason it is not surprising that descriptions of food find their way into literature, and I have blogged about the topic in the past:  https://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/2016/08/food-in-literature.html.  “Nearly any great book has moments of food in it, not just because characters have to eat, but because our relationship with food exposes so much about our identities, cultures, time, and place. What author forsakes a tool that can explore all that?” (http://lithub.com/the-ultimate-literary-ten-course-meal/)

A couple of years ago, The Telegraph did a feature on “10 Great Meals in Literature” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/what-to-read/10-great-meals-in-literature/), though I was surprised to see Oliver Twist’s breakfast of watery gruel described as a “great” meal. 

There is a book about food in literature that I’ve been wanting to get for my library:  Pleasures of the Table by Christina Hardyment.  The New Yorker had a review of the book (https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/pleasures-of-the-literary-meal) and I’ve wanted it ever since.  

Here’s a description of the book:  “The anthology begins with examples of hospitality, ranging from Chaucer's convivial Franklin to Walter Scott's bountiful breakfasts and dinner with Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Ramsay. Next comes eating to impress—dazzling banquets from Flaubert to F. Scott Fitzgerald—and some great fictional love feasts. Many of our most vivid memories of food in literature were laid down in childhood, and nostalgia is to the fore in such classic scenes as Pinocchio aching with hunger, Ratty and Mole picnicking, enchanted Turkish delight in Narnia, and a seaside picnic from Enid Blyton. A section on distant times and places ranges from seethed tortoise in ancient China to seal’s liver fried in penguin blubber as a treat for Captain Scott. Those who relish simplicity rather than excess will enjoy Sdney Smith’s delicate salad dressing and Hemingway’s appreciation of oysters.” 

Like many other people, I enjoy sipping on a glass of wine while reading, so I enjoyed this article about wine and book pairings:  https://www.popsugar.com/love/Book-Wine-Pairings-42314101?stream_view=1#photo-42314138.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Book Thievery and Books to Read in Prison

Earlier this summer, I came across an article in The Guardian about books that were most frequently stolen from bookstores in England:  https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jul/24/strange-world-of-book-thefts-beatrix-potter-zizek.  It makes for an interesting read.

Wondering how Canadian bookstores fared, I did some research and found a CBC article from January of this year:  http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/haruki-murakami-toronto-theft-used-books-used-book-store-1.3923235.  This article prompted The Guardian to write a piece entitled “Stolen good books: why Canadian thieves outclass the British” (https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2017/jan/09/stolen-books-canadian-thieves-outclass-british-murakami).

Of course, book thievery is not a new crime.  A few years ago, Flavorwire explored the history of book thievery and outlined twelve shocking cases: http://flavorwire.com/405019/12-tales-of-book-thievery.  

Book lovers become understandably upset with people who steal books.  Should a book thief find him/herself in prison, this list of 20 books to read in prison might be helpful:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/9926784/20-books-to-read-in-prison.html?frame=2508077.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Ron Sexsmith's Fairytale for Adults

On Valentine’s Day of 2013, my husband took me to a Ron Sexsmith concert.  I have always loved the work of this critically acclaimed songwriter and musician, and I am not alone; Sexsmith has a healthy group of world class musicians who appreciate his work, including Paul McCartney, Elvis Costello, Elton John, Steve Earle, and Sheryl Crow. 

Last month, I was pleased to learn that Sexsmith has written a book.   Deer Life has been described as a fairytale for adults.  “Deryn Hedlight was not having a very good day and it was about to get much worse. He’d read stories of witches as a boy, but never believed for a second they were true. That is, until an unfortunate hunting accident turns his world upside down. What seemed like an honest mistake leads to an altogether unexpected transformation. But poor Deryn wasn’t the only wronged character tied up in these gloomy circumstances and sinister forces.”  Sexsmith also did the illustrations in the book. 

In its review, Publishers Weekly concluded, “Sexsmith’s novel has much the same effect as his music, conveying uncertainty with fearlessness and heart” (https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-4597-3877-5). 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Most Popular Book in Your Birth Year?

Today is my birthday so I thought I’d share a link to a site that lets you find the title of the book that was most popular the year you were born:  http://offbeat.topix.com/slideshow/18684?utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=18684&utm_term=4MKHGNJLTRJD77KI.

In my year of birth, that best-selling book was Not as a Stranger by Morton Thompson.  I’ve not read it but research suggests it is a melodramatic romance novel about a young doctor who lives for medicine and sacrifices everything for his career.  It describes his years at medical school, his practice in a small town and his devoted self-sacrificing wife who works to make their marriage a success.   I did find a review of the book: 

A film adaptation was made in 1955.  It was Stanley Kramer's directorial debut and featured Olivia de Havilland and Robert Mitchum in the lead roles, backed by a stellar supporting cast including Frank Sinatra, Gloria Grahame, Broderick Crawford, Charles Bickford, Lon Chaney, Jr., Harry Morgan, and Lee Marvin.

So what book was most popular in your birth year?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Archival Review of ED KING by David Guterson

In yesterday’s posting, I focused on some best and worst sex scenes in literature.  From the latter list, I mentioned I had read only one book, Ed King by David Guterson.  I thought I’d post my review of the book from my archives, but first I thought I’d share the comments made about the book when it won the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award in 2011:

“Freud bullied his way into David Guterson’s adaptation of the Oedipus myth, Ed King (Bloomsbury), which includes a lengthy description of mother–son bonding that Sophocles had seen fit to leave offstage:
“‘So she took him by the wrist and moved the base of his hand into her pubic hair until his middle fingertip settled on the no-man’s-land between her ‘front parlor’ and ‘back door’ (those were the quaint, prudish terms of her girlhood), she got him on the node between neighboring needs (both of which had been explored by johns who almost never tarried).’
“It’s hard to work out what is more excruciating, Guterson’s jarring language – we’re later treated to ‘membrum virile’, ‘skin flute’ and ‘family jewels’ – or his naive belief that a sprinkling of inverted commas is sufficient to ironise his euphemisms” (https://literaryreview.co.uk/bad-sex-report2011).

Schatje’s Review of Ed King
2 Stars
The book is a computer-age retelling of Sophocles' play Oedipus Rex which Aristotle considered the perfect tragedy. Unfortunately, Guterson's reworking of the Greek tale of patricide and incest is not quite so perfect; in fact, it won the 2011 Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award for the worst description of a sex scene in a novel.

The setting is Oregon, beginning in the 1960s. Walter Cousins has an affair with his underage British au pair, Diane Burroughs, who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son whom she abandons. The child is adopted by Dan and Alice King who name him Edward Aaron (his middle name a salute to the King of Rock and Roll). The rest of the novel covers Diane and Ed's lives. Diane constantly remakes herself; at different times she is an escort, wealthy wife, much-less-wealthy divorcee, cocaine dealer and life coach. For Ed, everything comes easily, since he has both looks and intelligence; with his attitude of superiority and entitlement, his encounter with Walter on an isolated road has predictable consequences. Ed and Diane meet and marry and become the king and queen of an internet domain. When Ed discovers that he was adopted and learns the identity of his parents, the result is a supersonic version of the myth of Icarus.

One problem with the novel is that it is long on exposition and short on dialogue. There is a definite lack of showing and much telling in the vein that this happened and then this happened and then this happened.

Another weakness is that all the characters are superficial and amoral. No one is likable, and their unrelenting superficiality and amorality begin to grate. Ed (a composite of modern America's gods of technology - Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg) is no tragic hero: he is not a good man with one major character flaw.

The soullessness of the characters is intentional. It conveys a message about modern culture since the book is somewhat a social satire with commentary on such topics as cosmetic surgery, the violence of gaming, global warming, and the ruthlessness of tech-titans.

The strongest appeal of the novel is seeing how the mythical elements have been modernized. Anyone who has read Sophocles will appreciate how some of the original tale has been incorporated: Ed, like Oedipus, is born to a man of dubious morals, is abandoned, and is passed on to a "kingly" family. Both experience foot problems. Ed's attempt to create artificial intelligence can be interpreted as his attempt to crack the riddle of the Sphinx. Ed names his search engine Pythia, the name of the Oracle of Delphi. The excerpts of internet chatter at the beginning and end serve as a type of Greek chorus. Unfortunately, sometimes the parallels are made too obvious. Does Ed really have to be told that he suffers from "an overwhelming and dangerous hubris"?

It can be hoped that Guterson's book will entice people to read or re-read the original drama; its lessons about ambition and hubris need not be modernized to be seen as relevant today as they were in the time of Sophocles and Aristotle.