Saturday, October 03, 2009

Eleven In September

In spite of the new semester starting, this was a good reading month. According to my stats, I'm slightly ahead of last year, which means that another triple-digit year is still possible.

1. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running - Haruki Murakami. As he trains for the 2005 New York Marathon, Haruki Murakami reminisces about how he became both a marathon runner and a writer. Witty and philosophical, I found Murakami's voice really engaging, and actually prefer this type of writing over his fiction. I hope he'll do more nonfiction in the future.

2. The Paper Bag Princess - Robert Munsch. How appropriate that this little tiny book put me on the Canadian Reading Challenge map as a Timbit, which is something else quite tiny.

3. Burnt Shadows - Kamila Shamsie. I love the interconnectedness of this novel which covers several countries and spans 60 years -- from Nagasaki at the end of the Second World War to those first raw and agonizing months after 9/11. The only complaint I have is that the CIA stuff feels a little forced, but Shamsie's beautiful writing and wondrous images more than makes up for it. Give it a try if you haven't already.

4. Expat: Women's True Tales of Life Abroad - Christina Henry de Tessan, editor. After reading this book, I came away with many ideas about the next country I want to move to. I'm glad that de Tessan included stories of all kinds -- some of the expats were blissed out by their experiences and for some, it worked out for a while and with others, it didn't work out at all. Most of the essays were well-written and engaging; it was like having friends over for dinner to share their stories.

5. The Underground Stream: The Life & Art of Caroline Gordon - Nancylee Novell Jonza. Caroline Gordon must have had a "Kick Me" sign on her back her entire life. Her career started out with great promise. Ford Maddox Ford was her mentor and Maxwell Perkins was her editor. Her first novel, Penhally was published in 1931 and was a critical favorite. In 1932, she was awarded a Guggenheim. 1934 was a biggie -- she published Aleck Maury, Sportsman, which was a book that William Faulkner absolutely loved, and she received an O. Henry Award for one of her short stories.
Things started to go pear-shaped in 1937. After years of tortured hand-wringing about her writing, Gordon published a Civil War novel called None Shall Look Back which was mostly overlooked by (and when it wasn't overlooked it was compared to) a little novel that had come out a year earlier called Gone With The Wind. From that time, according to Jonza's biography, success eluded her, although she went on to publish several more novels and a collection of her short stories.

Gordon's main problem was that she was married to poet Allan Tate who comes across in this biography as crazier than a shithouse rat. Gordon wanted nothing more than to settle down permanently, putter in the garden and concentrate on her writing. Tate was restless and liked to quit jobs at a moment's notice and move on an average of twice a year, so she also had to scramble for teaching jobs to fill the income gap. He also made their homes the center of literary society with folks like Robert Penn Warren, Hart Crane, Robert Lowell and Jean Stafford crashing with them. Of course someone had to cook and see to household arrangements. Caroline was raised a good Southern girl and this was way before equal rights. Tate would also tell Gordon that she had talent but her mind wasn't as brilliant as his. If all that wasn't enough, he cheated on her often, once with her cousin.
Mr. Wonderful met Gordon at the front door when she came home from the movies one night in 1945, telling her that he wanted a divorce and that she should take the next train out of town. As soon as she complied with his requests and was starting to get over her devastation, he did a complete 180 and began courting her madly. They remarried in 1946, and the cycle started again. They finally divorced for good in 1959 and Tate married another woman, then another, but he still continued to plague Gordon with requests for money up until her death. No wonder people remembered her as having an explosive temper.

I wonder how difficult it would be to find one of Gordon's novels. Is she a genius that has been overlooked by bad luck and circumstances? What about Tate? Is he well-remembered as a poet and scholar?

6. A Moveable Feast - Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway looked back nearly 40 years to his time in Paris with his first wife Hadley and his baby son, the beginning of his writing career and his friendships with Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Beach and others on the expatriate scene. This is a nice side of Hemingway, thoughtful, full of humor, tenderness and wistfulness.

7. The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga. This novel about modern-day India kicks ass. The protaganist, Balram, who is the white tiger of the title (title drop -- page 30) tells his own story through a series of letters to the Premier of China of how he rose from the Darkness (a very poor part of India) to become a successful businessman. His tale is blackly comic, his tone sardonic and both unsettling and winning. I'm so glad that a member of my Cracked Spinz book group recommended it because I would have never tried it on my own. This one won the 2008 Man Booker Prize for a reason. If you haven't read it yet, hunt it up.

8. The Log From The Sea of Cortez - John Steinbeck. In 1940, Steinbeck, marine biologist Edward Ricketts, who was his best pal and a crew of men took a trip around the Gulf of Mexico to collect marine life. This book is based on diaries both men kept of this journey. Ricketts died tragically in 1948 and an affectionate reminiscence of him by Steinbeck is included at the end of this book. Steinbeck captured Ricketts' quirky brilliance so perfectly that I felt one of my hopeless crushes coming on, so I dug out Cannery Row and resolved to read it soon.

9. The Just And The Unjust - James Gould Cozzens. A murder trial is the center of attention in a small town in a state identified only as "The Commonwealth". The main character is Abner Coates, the 31-year-old assistant district attorney who is involved with the trial and also trying to settle some issues with his life and career. Although the 1942 novel is somewhat dated, it's an excellent look at the legal profession.

10. The Cellist of Sarajevo - Steven Galloway. I discussed my underwhelment over here, but the good news is that as far as the Canadian Book Challenge goes, finishing this book makes me a Potato.

11. Black Boy - Richard Wright. I whined a lot about this audiobook over here. Hoping I'll find the real thing soon. I saw it at Yongsan earlier this year and passed it up. Damn.

Eleven reviews. Whew. I'm going to have to stop saving them up all month. Gotta write more or read less.


Bookfool said...

I need to see if I've added that Murakami to my wishlist. I'm pretty sure I haven't, but now that you've recommended it so highly I want to read it even more. Expat's going on the wishlist, too. Sooooo, it was a mistake passing up The White Tiger when it became available via Paperback Swap? Sigh. I was trying to be discerning and not overdo the requests. Okay. You're killing me, here, but another one back on the wishlist.

Literary Feline said...

I definitely won't make it to the triple digits this year, but it is rare when I do, so I'm okay with that. :-)

I haven't yet read a Murkami book yet, but I do hope to. I have a couple of his fiction books among my TBR collection.

Burnt Shadows is one I hope to get to soon. As is White Tiger.

I'm sorry you were underwhelmed with The Cellist of Sarajevo. It was one that really spoke to me at the time I read it. We can't all be drawn to the same books though, can we? :-)

I hope you have a great week!

Sam Sattler said...

You're a cinch for triple digets again in 2009...hope I don't jinx you by saying it's a certainty.

SFP said...

Okay, now you have me interested in reading Caroline Gordon. The university library has several titles by her--mainly short stories, I think. I intend to wander down to compact shelving tomorrow and pick out one or two of hers to come live with me for awhile. Did the bio indicate whether Strange Children would be a good place to start?

Bybee said...

I can't recommend The White Tiger highly enough. And the Murakami book is the perfect size for traveling.

Literary Feline,
The Cellist of Sarajevo really bugs me. It has stayed quite vivid in my mind, yet I was dissatisfied.

I think I can...I think I can...thanks for the vote of confidence.

Bybee said...

I KNEW you'd go for that Caroline Gordon bait! lol
The biographer was not clear on which novel would be good to start with. Her short stories are highly regarded. That Civil War novel was praised by both readers and critics but it was too much in the shadow of GWTW.

Carrie K said...

Write more.

The Collected Short Stories is the only book of CG's that our library system is showing. Argh. Hate reading about women who are trapped by selfish men.

Lesley said...

Wow, quite a bumper crop of reading!

I've had my eye on the Murakami book so glad to hear that one is worth the read. And that expat book sounds really good, too - I can live vicariously through her. Even though technically I am an expat, a Canadian living in the States doesn't have the same kind of exotic quotient as one living in France or Dubai or practically anywhere else on the planet. :-)

Anna said...

Boy, you certainly were busy last month! Burnt Shadows is on my to-read (some day) list.

Diary of an Eccentric