Thursday, May 28, 2020

THE RECKLESS OATH WE MADE


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The Reckless Oath We Made, Bryn Greenwood, G P Putnam's Sons, 2019, 434 pp
 
Bryn Greenwood is another author I have followed since her first book. This is her fourth novel and once again she writes about the often overlooked, often stereotyped people of Middle America. Her territory is Kansas.
I love her books because they are unflinching looks at these people and because she is one of them, one who bootstrapped herself up and is well on her way to creating her very own genre.

Zee is a woman with burdens, including an easily triggered temper, a housebound hoarder of a mother, and a gullible sister. She does what she must to cover the many expenses of her life as well as the huge holes in her psyche.

When she meets Gentry, a young man somewhere on the spectrum who sees himself as a medieval knight, she finds herself with a champion for the first time in her life.

Gentry actually speaks in Old English, is killer with swords, and lives by a code of honor pretty much lacking in our modern world. Of course Zee, with her long sad history of making a mess of everything she attempts, does not handle this well.

Reading The Reckless Oath We Made requires heaps of suspension of disbelief. It might not be for everyone. However, it is full of so much soul and compassion that I was not worried about trying to understand Gentry's weird language. I loved how Bryn Greenwood created such a hard ass, shoot-herself-in-the-foot female with a heart bigger than Kansas.

If you love a quirky kind of story that makes your own problems look puny in comparison, if you secretly wish there could still be fairy tales in this heartless world, this is the modern fractured fairy tale for you.

Friday, May 22, 2020

THE TREASURE OF THE SPANISH CIVIL WAR


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The Treasure of the Spanish Civil War, Serge Pey, Archipelago Books, 2020, 135 pp (translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith, originally published by Zulma, 2011)
 
This was another wonderful selection from my Archipelago Books subscription. The author, Serge Pey, is a French writer and poet. His parents fled Spain during the Spanish Civil War only to be interned in a concentration camp in France, due to the defeat of the Spanish republicans.
 
His book grew out of the stories told him by his exiled compatriots. The imagery and characterizations demonstrate his poetical skills and his political heart. He is for those who oppose oppression and fight for freedom.

He celebrates human resilience in the acts of resistance found in each of these interrelated stories. Children born and raised in the camp, old soldiers of the Spanish republicans, mothers, healers, and even some animals come to life. 

The magical infuses many of the incidents. Ghosts and spirits and mystical powers work right beside both brave and desperate humans.

It is the nature of concentration camps to practice brutality but Serge Pey balances atrocity with every possible type of life force in the human spirit.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

ANATHEM


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Anathem, Neal Stephenson, HarperCollins, 2008, 935 pp
Since I have not been working on my writing during the pandemic, I figure I can at least squeeze in a few more reviews. I know I have followers who like Neal Stephenson and this one was up there with my favorite reads lately, so here you go.
Another Neal chunkster read! Anathem followed the last one I read: The System of the World. After writing three novels set in the 17th and 18th centuries, he surged way ahead to the year 3000!

The book got mixed reactions when it was published in 2008, even from some of his most diehard fans. My husband advised me that I did not need to waste my time.

I felt my time was well spent, even though it included flipping to an extensive glossary of terms. All the scientists, philosophers and mathematicians are cloistered off in coed monasteries where they study and discuss endlessly their theories while maintaining a wobbly relation with the outside world.
That other world includes the illiterate, irrational, unpredictable people, living on fast food and glued to their devices. There are some exceptions though.

There is a system by which new generations are brought into the monastery setting, since the fras and surs take a vow not to reproduce. I liked the long view on how these new generations are selected and trained.  Various regulations cannot prevent rivalries and tensions, even rebellion within the walls, which made all those characters human after all.

Of course, this is Neal Stephenson, so there has to be more to the book than philosophical and scientific discussion, though despite some great ideas there is maybe a bit too much of that. Sure enough an alien spacecraft lands and the secular powers are so overcome with fear that they must call on the wise guys to help deal with the menace.

Wild adventures ensue including space travel and first contact and all manner of life threatening capers. Also the the scientists, philosophers and mathematicians of all ages get to put their knowledge to the test, including quantum theories as applied to other worlds. 

I found it all absorbing, original in many ways, and clever as can be.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

THE GLASS HOTEL



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The Glass Hotel, Emily St John Mandel, Alfred A Knopf, 2020, 301 pp
 
 
I have read and loved every one of Mandel's novels. She has certain preoccupations: young women, loneliness, travel, lost mothers, to name a few. The Glass Hotel places these topics in a story about the financial disaster of 2008.
 
Vincent began life on Vancouver Island and lost her mother at a young age. She has a troubled brother. One night while tending bar at the most grand hotel on the island, she meets the owner. Jonathan is a super wealthy "investment manager." A year later she marries him, not for love but to get her off the island. Her time with Jonathan takes place among the wealthy in New York City.

This could all have been a device to explore the financial depravity and devastation of the times. It was so much more because of the brilliance of Vincent as a character. Mandel circles through several viewpoints and reading the story is like watching a mirror ball rotating and reflecting the scenes from many facets.

Vincent (and to a lesser degree, her brother) are the everywoman and everyman. As in any great work of fiction they show us ourselves, our dangerous inattention to what goes on around us, our preoccupation with personal issues. It is a gently piercing wake up call just as much as Station Eleven was.

I got to the end, wishing the story could have gone on forever. I remembered how much I always get immersed in the worlds of Emily St John Mandel. The condition of melancholy wraps around me as a reader while at the same time making me feel less alone.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

MAY READING GROUP UPDATE


Good evening at the end of a lovely Mother's Day. My three Zoom reading groups will meet this month. Two of the books are rereads for me but I am happy to reread them. I have already finished Little Women. Today I started The House of the Spirits. I am wild with excitement to read Louise Erdrich's latest, The Nightwatchman.


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Are any of your reading groups going in some form or other? If yes, what will you discuss in May? Have you read or discussed any of these? 

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

THOSE WHO LOVE & A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES






Those Who Love, A Biographical Novel of Abigail and John Adams, Irving Stone, Doubleday & Company, 1965, 647 pp
 
 
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A People's History of the United States, Howard Zinn, Harper & Row, 2015, 688 pp
 
 
 

Today I have two related reviews for you, because the first book led me to the next. I am ranting and I warn you that these are not cheerful reviews.

Those Who Love was the #6 bestseller of 1965 and took me eight days to read. Though it has a slant, Irving Stone did give a picture of the dreams and ideals of this couple as English settlers in Massachusetts. John Adams's dedication to create a balanced government of three branches that would ensure a true democracy was based on deep study of England and the history of other countries. He was trained as a lawyer, he put his wife through much hardship, she was a strong and understanding companion. He became the second President of the new nation, after George Washington, and already the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, on which he worked tirelessly with the Founding Fathers, was cracking at the seams.

The problem was they did not address all the issues. Only men who owned a certain amount of property could vote. The Adamses were not rich, they probably only squeaked by property-wise. They were not in favor of slavery but to get all the colonies to agree on the Constitution, compromise was in order. The rights of Native Americans, slaves, women and the workers of the new country upon whose shoulders the edifice stood, were left out.

I suppose that this is the trouble with a certain kind of idealist. They do not see or understand the 99% of humanity who do most of the work. To understand more about how we got to today, in the middle of a pandemic with a Federal government and a complete idiot of a President who appear to have no idea what they are doing, I decided to read the Howard Zinn book. In fact, I learned that John Adams was up against more than he knew.

I read A People's History of the United States by taking one chapter a day. It took me 25 days and some of it was a slog. He is not the greatest writer.

He does, however, tell the story of the forming and building of the American Empire from a different slant than Irving Stone; also a different slant than kids in school used to get in their American history studies.

In every chapter he contrasts the unrelenting drive of the monied class for expansion, growth, progress and more wealth with the realities of the lower classes. The crimes of our country are really no different than the crimes of any empire building country throughout history.

From reading historical fiction and also the Will Durant history books, I have been aware of what gets done when a nation has that drive towards power and aligns government with finance to achieve those aims. Since I was raised and educated to see America as the best and greatest country in the world, I don't think I ever until now truly confronted what my country has wrought to create that reputation. (I am also aware that not everyone would agree with what I am saying here.)

The other main point of Zinn's book is that the oppressed, be they Native Americans, women, Blacks, workers, immigrants or the people of other countries we have stolen land from or filled with our military bases or plundered for natural resources, will always tend to fight back. It might be inspiring to think that way, well actually it is. I, however, was left with the feeling that capitalism always wins, that our government is still allied with business and the rich, as it has been from its founding.

Perhaps because as I read the book, we were dealing with a pandemic that seemed to be worse here than in other places in the world, that was flattening but not lessening, I could not escape the idea that this is part of our payback, that we are hated by the people we have abused (called terrorism), that we have damaged the world almost to the breaking point (called climate change) and that if my fairly comfortable, deluded and ineffectual middle class goes on this way, we deserve everything that we have coming. I don't feel completely hopeless. I feel mostly enraged.

Sorry to be a downer. I advise reading Zinn's book, if you haven't, if for nothing else than to understand the actual mechanisms of power, money, the military and our politics. Mechanisms that keep us placated and unaware while the military/industrial complex and the bankers continue on their destructive path. He does a good job delineating how that works. I have wondered for a long time how those in power think that money will protect them if the world goes down.

So, I leave you with yet another quote from a Joni Mitchell song: "Who you gonna get to do the dirty work, when all the slaves are free?" The song is "Passion Play" from her 1991 album, Night Ride Home. You can find it on YouTube.

Saturday, May 02, 2020

BOOKS READ IN APRIL






April had a bit of everything: rain, clouds, sun, heat, virus, flowers and ended up with a green world in my neighborhood. Similarly my reading was all over the place, a good thing since I was stuck at home. I just fell into reading and had a good time!

Stats: 12 books read. 10 fiction. 6 by women. 2 thrillers. 3 for My Big Fat Reading Project. 1 poetry. 1 speculative. 2 translated. 1 history.

Places I went: Russia, Turkey, Vietnam, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Spain, France, United States.

Authors new to me: Alex Gilvarry, Serge Pey

Favorite books: The Glass Hotel, The Robber Bride and Unsheltered.

Least favorite: None, I liked them all.

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I hope you are surviving this brief breath in eternity, however long it may seem. I hope reading was a solace or escape or even a source of wonder in April. We will get through this.


Sunday, April 26, 2020

FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, EASTMAN WAS HERE AND LULLABY FOR SINNERS


THREE MINI REVIEWS
I have been reading like crazy in a wide range and sometimes a deep range. Here are three books I read in April, each of which took me away from it all in various ways. I apologize for the mashed up formatting. Sometimes Blogger has its limits.

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From Russia With Love, Ian Fleming, Jonathan Cape, 1957, 268 pp
I don't know why I keep being surprised that each of these James Bond books gets better than the last. Most authors get better the more they write. It must be because the movies are so stupid, so lacking in what made the books great.

007 collides with SMERSH again (that is the Russian Intelligence branch) when they send a beautiful agent to seduce him and lead him to their assassin. In fact, the first half of the book takes place in the Soviet Union, setting up the lure, Tatiana Romanova, and the assassin, Red Grant, and the caper. All of that reminded me of Red Sparrow.

Even when Bond comes on the scene, he does not do much except meet and bed Tatiana in Turkey, and accompany her on the Orient Express as they travel to London. They pass through many Balkan cities, the very ones I have been reading about in Black Lamb, Grey Falcon.

Then in the last 20 pages the trap is sprung. Of course Bond survives to die another day. 


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Eastman Was Here, Alex Gilvarry, Viking, 2017, 356 pp
I grabbed this off my Nervous Breakdown Book Club backlog pile in a fit of COVID19 angst. The cover was intriguing and it had blurbs from Tea Obreht and Gary Shteyngart.
I found plenty to enjoy. Alan Eastman is a cleverly created unreliable narrator, the kind of self-involved male who later showed up in Shteyngart's Lake Success, except that Eastman's story takes place in 1973.
He is a washed up writer with a disintegrating marriage. I had no idea while reading it that the character is loosely based on Norman Mailer. In hindsight, I see it. Self-centered, creates his reputation out of provocative statements and unique takes on contemporary issues, all the while tolerated with amusement by his male contemporaries and even a few women.
I have read quite a bit of Mailer and, aside from his views on women, have usually found him quite intelligent about American absurdities. In contrast, I felt sorry for Alan Eastman despite his infidelity (he maintains a mistress while going ballistic over his wife being unfaithful to him.)
When he goes off to Vietnam with an assignment to cover Saigon as the Americans pull out, he gets his comeuppance from a younger female reporter. I enjoyed that part the most!
Actually I enjoyed Gilvarry's dissection of the late 20th century older male who totally missed the point of mostly everything. The ending where Eastman and his wife try to work out their differences in front of their two young sons just made me sad.

Lullaby For Sinners, Kate Braverman, Harper & Row, 1980, 88 pp
I finished another volume of poetry. Last year I read Palm Latitudes, one of Braverman's novels, after learning that she had been Janet Fitch's writing teacher. I was impressed, so I decided to try her poetry.
Lullaby For Sinners is her second collection. It is stark with dark emotions, both beautiful and horrific images, and though I am no expert on poetry, it seemed to lie on the experimental side of the poetry spectrum.
I felt she was writing about the deep secrets of female emotional and mental trauma. Her poems reminded me of Sylvia Plath and Francesca Lia Block. Probably not for everyone but I liked it.
How has your reading been going? Today is Day 52 for me of staying home and I feel blessed to have everything I need (except a haircut) and so much time to bury into books. For others who have to work in dangerous venues or be stuck inside with small children day after day, I can understand how they must wish this would be over soon. 


Monday, April 20, 2020

THE ROBBER BRIDE


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The Robber Bride, Margaret Atwood, Nan A Talese, 1993, 528 pp

Do you have a nemesis? Or have you had one at some point in your life? I currently have a nemesis who also clearly feels that I have been her nemesis. 

The Robber Bride is built around a nemesis named Zenia. She is a complex character who fits both definitions of the word: 1) "one that inflicts retribution or vengeance" and 2) "a formidable and usually victorious rival or opponent" Merriam-Webster.com.

Zenia's special power is stealing men from the women who love them. She is a con woman who outdoes Patricia Highsmith's Talented Mr Ripley. Her victims in The Robber Bride are three women, all quite different from each other, who met in college and have bonded through the years over Zenia's predatory actions. 

The novel begins a bit slowly as Atwood builds the back story and character of each woman, then takes off and never lets go as the three victims engage Zenia in battle. 

The author is as brilliant as she always is because, 1) she knows her classics so well (the novel is loosely inspired by the Grimm's fairy tale, The Robber Bridegroom), 2) she is so facile at moral ambiguity (neither Zenia nor her three victims, nor the men she poaches are completely wonderful or horrible), and 3) she has a sense of humor that does not quit.

I first read The Robber Bride in 1998, an astonishing 22 years ago. I was not a blogger then but I had started a reading log in 1991. Looking back at that I saw that I found the novel good but had a problem with the ending. This time I read it for a reading group. I loved it unconditionally and understood why she ended it the way she did.

I would say that if you have a nemesis (def #2) or wish to become a nemesis (def #1), The Robber Bride could serve as a handbook. Recommended for all readers of any sexual orientation or age.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

APRIL READING GROUP UPDATE


Oh how I miss the reality of the image above. None of my reading groups met in March due to COVID19. This month a few of the groups have switched over to Zoom, so I have something to report. The Bookie Babes were the first to manage a Zoom meeting early in the month. It worked well. We will meet again this way later in the month and that will put us back on schedule. 

Bookie Babes:
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How are your reading groups managing? How are you doing over all? Hoping this finds you well and coping decently with staying at home and wondering what comes next.


Saturday, April 04, 2020

BOOKS READ IN MARCH






I give you flowers. Funny how the natural world does not have any signs of a virus. My yard is acting like it was an ordinary March with trees leafing out, blooms and lots of green. Reading was affected by two long books and the distraction we all feel these days. I felt blessed though to be whisked away to other places, other times, other sorrows, joys, madness, and creativity.

Stats: 8 books read. 8 fiction. 5 by women. 2 historical. 4 for My Big Fat Reading Project.

Countries visited: USA, Great Britain, Uruguay, Vietnam.

Authors new to me: Robin Moore, Tara Conklin

Favorites: The System of the World, Cantoras, The End of Mr Y.
Least favorite: The Green Berets

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(I read Reflections In A Golden Eye from this collection.)




Have you read any of these? Did you manage to get books read in March? What were your favorites?


Sunday, March 29, 2020

THE GREEN BERETS


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The Green Berets, Robin Moore, Crown Publishers, 1965, 430 pp
 
The #5 bestseller in 1965 was a tough read for me. In 1965, I graduated from high school. By 1967, I was a full-blown protester against the Vietnam War. When I started My Big Fat Reading Project, reading books from the 1940s, I found many antiwar sentiments alongside books about, and even glorifying, war.
 
For decades I embraced pacifism. Now in my 70s, I realize that pacifism is a fine ideal but does not work out in real life. All the way from what would you do if someone was trying to destroy a loved one to what if some country is trying to destroy your own. I have also espoused non-violence but observed that eventually most oppressed humans resort to violence. 

Robin Moore was a journalist who got permission to train as a Green Beret and then imbed himself with these Special Forces units in Vietnam to get first hand information on how and why they practiced guerilla warfare. He turned those experiences into fictional stories about some of the operations. According to him, JFK wholeheartedly backed the endeavor, including CIA involvement in some of the operations. The idea grew out of the realization that for Western nations to fight communism in the far east, it appeared impossible to win by conventional military manuevers. 
 
Having read the book, mainly loathing it the whole way, I understand those pressures better. I also learned how the US Military was at war with itself over these new approaches and how some of the top generals actually sabotaged the Special Forces. I felt fortunate to have read The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, in which I got the story of the conflicts within the Vietnamese governments. 

Fast forward to the present when the art of war has become even more complex. I don't need to explain. Just read the news.

I still believe that war is not the answer to human problems though it sure seems that to many it is just accepted as the way things are. I don't mean to discount the bravery, patriotism and commitment of soldiers but I do condemn the huge loss of human lives as the price we pay. 

I really do wonder, if any entity could do a correct poll or survey, what the majority of human beings think about the necessity or inevitability of war. What do you think?

Now we are fighting another war against little invisible things called viruses. War news has suddenly become almost absent but it is for sure war and human beings are not united in this war either. Of course there are plenty of courageous and dedicated individuals doing all they can to save lives, to do the right things concerning the spread of the virus; there are officials taking appropriate steps to protect lives. We will get through it somehow but again the result is huge losses.

I am sorry if this post brings you down. I pondered whether or not I should enter this review into the conversation today. Still, this could be a time for us to dedicate ourselves to becoming more educated and responsible for our fellow man, to consider alternatives to the past and what we as individuals, families, groups, can do for each other and our planet. Out of suffering and mistakes and destruction can come new understandings and intelligence and bright ideas.

Keep the wisdom!



Saturday, March 21, 2020

CANTORAS


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Cantoras, Carolina De Robertis, Alfred A Knopf, 2019, 312 pp
 
All my reading groups were of course cancelled and postponed this month, so that gives me room for more reviews. There will be no Reading Group Update for March. This book was the pick of The Tiny Book Club, though we have yet to meet.
 
Three years ago I read this author's wonderful The Gods of Tango. I loved Cantoras just as much. It covers 36 years of life in Uruguay, from 1977 to 2013. The story opens during the years of rule by a military government. The crushing of all dissent, the curfews, the fear of being "disappeared," the deadness of not being able to trust anyone, has brought the citizens of this small country to despair.

I admit I did not exactly know where in South America, Uruguay is. Now I do. I now also know how the military dictatorship came about as well as how the people finally broke free and restored democracy there. Not a spoiler because that information is available.

De Robertis brought this history to vibrant life through her account of five lesbian women who came together to protect each other. Homosexuality was considered one of the worst transgressions under the regime. For these women, coming out was so dangerous that it resulted in a double repression. 

There are passages of horrible incidents balanced with passages of incredible courage and joy. Inevitable horror without any certainty of victory.

The writing is a stunning combination of sensuousness, detailed description of city life but also of the natural world at the beach where the women create a home together. The characters are filled with realistic human interaction.

The story is a glorification of the power inherent in people to live and love in freedom.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

THE SYSTEM OF THE WORLD



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The System of the World, Volume Three of the Baroque Cycle, Neal Stephenson, William Morrow, 2004, 886 pp


Last spring, Neal Stephenson's latest novel, Fall, or, Dodge in Hell was released. I bought the hardcover right away ( I always buy his books), but it sat on the shelf. 

I am a committed fan of this author. I read Snow Crash, his third book, in 2004 and was impressed! 

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Great characters, exciting plot. Since I had not yet read William Gibson, I thought it was he who had invented cyber-punk. Actually, as it turns out, they both did. In 1984!

I went on to read The Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon. Always lagging a decade behind. Both were amazing.

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In 2008, Books Expo America was held in Los Angeles. I got to meet Neal in person. He is a tiny, short, rail thin man with a beard, an elf! I picked up an ARC of Anathem, released 9/2008. He signed my copy. He seemed quite the introvert who practiced social distancing as a life style though he has always kept a strong web presence.
 
I have still not read Anathem, but was inspired by meeting him and began his Baroque Cycle. I read Quicksilver and was exhilarated to find descendants of Cryptonomicon characters Jack Shaftoe and Daniel Waterhouse, not to mention Enoch Root, back in the late 1600s. Also I met my favorite female character ever, Eliza of Qwghlm.

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If you have not read these books, I may have lost you by now. If you have, I hope you are reliving the wonder of it all.

The Baroque Cycle consists of three volumes, each of which is well over 800 pages. Set in the late 1600s and early 1700s in England, France and all over the known world in those times, the books trace the transformation of Europe away from the Dark Ages and into rational, scientific systems of government and finance.

That might sound ponderous and boring. It is not! The Thirty Years War, the discovery of calculus by Isaac Newton and Gotfried Leibniz, the effects of alchemy on science, the explosion of gold and slavery due to the expansion of the New World, and more, are given the Alexander Dumas (Count of Monte Cristo) treatment. 

A mind boggling cast of characters engage in unlimited adventures: Kings and Queens, Dukes and Lords, pirates, Royal Society geeks and The King of the Vagabonds, Jack Shaftoe fill the pages. By the end of the three books the system we now spend time navigating and fighting, that is Banking, has been born.

As I finished my reading year of 2019, feeling like I had run and won a marathon by reading 156 books, I caught my breath and determined to read in 2020 as many as I could of the long, I mean really long, books I had been putting off. Forget quantity. Read those tomes.

So, in January I reread Quicksilver. I did love it the first time but did not think I had entirely understood it. I have to thank the late Dorothy Dunnett and the two of her intricate historical novels I read not too long ago (The Game of Kings and Queen's Play), for showing me how to read such things. In fact, Neal acknowledges her as an influence.

In February, I reread the second book of the Baroque Cycle, The Confusion, about which I recalled nothing but feeling confused after reading it in 2012. I am pretty sure I assimilated it this time.

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My conclusion after the second reading: Many people these days think or worry that the world is getting worse. I think human beings on Earth have always led a mostly insane course, with a few who work towards acquiring knowledge as a means of creating a just civilization. What we see going on now is still following both of those trajectories.

This month I read, for the first time, the third volume, The System of the World. I was for it ready now. All immersed in the history and the characters, I was dying to find out if Newton and Liebniz would ever resolve their differences, if Jack and Eliza would ever make up, and what would become of the long suffering Daniel Waterhouse.

The conflicts and plots and mostly gruesome adventures of these characters continue in this volume without respite. Queen Anne of England (did you watch "The Favourite" last year?) meets her demise and is succeeded by King George I. Great Britain, Europe and the world will move forward and never be the same. The System of the World, as we now know it, has been born. 

As for Eliza, Jack, Newton and Leibniz, you will have to read the books yourself.

On this 14th day of March, 2020, as the world stays home and watches pantries empty, gets bored, tries to quell anxiety as best we can, I give you probably the longest post I have ever written. I hope it has helped fill some time for you.

If you have too much time on your hands, all of the Neal Stephenson books I have mentioned are available as ebooks and audio books, not to mention real books. You will be whisked away to times much different than ours and yet feel rather at home. The great conflict between reason and madness continues. 

I look forward to reading that signed copy of Anathem in April.



Sunday, March 08, 2020

THE HILLS REPLY


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The Hills Reply, Tarjei Vesaas, Archipelago Books, 2019, 275 pp (orig published in Norway, 1968, translated from the Norwegian by Elizabeth Rokka in 1971 under the title The Boat in the Evening)
 
 
 Like many people who read books, I have for some years now been on a bit of a tepid quest to read more literature from countries beyond the USA, UK and the major countries of Western Europe. It is a quest fraught with non-comprehension, frequent naps while reading, and the dawning realization that storytelling comes in many forms different than what one becomes accustomed to in the above named locales.

Because I began this quest with the desire to experience life in cultures other than my own, I don't begrudge the difficulties. I am finding what I sought. Choosing what to read involves a mix of lurking on translated lit sites, paying attention to Nobel Prize recipients, and finding small presses dedicated to translating such literature into English.

One of the best of such presses is Archipelago Books, headquartered in Brooklyn, NY. I have read some gems published by this press so this year I opted for a one year membership. For $15 a month I get 12 brand new, beautifully bound paperback books with flapped covers, printed in the US on fine paper.

The Hills Reply was the first selection for 2020. I was thrilled to receive it as I had read a novel I loved by Tarjei Vesaas, The Ice Palace. However, The Hills Reply was Vesaas's last novel and something quite different.

In 16 chapters, the author contemplates various incidents in his life from boyhood to elderly man. Most of these chapters do tell a story but the writing is always like a prose poem. Here are the first lines from the first chapter, As It Stands In Memory:

"There he stands in sifting snow. In my thoughts in sifting snow. A father and his winter-shaggy, brown horse, in snow."

In that chapter the boy is working with his father to clear a logging road of snow. He counteracts the monotony, the cold and his "sharp-tongued father" with imaginings about animals.

Every subsequent chapter follows the boy growing up, going through his life's changes, working through his inner feelings and difficulties and challenges. He is usually walking or engaged in outdoor activities. He seeks answers and understandings through observation of the natural world.

It took me six days to read the book and to figure out at least some idea of what Tarjei Vessas was attempting. The man rarely traveled from his family's farmland but wrote many novels, short stories, poems, and plays. He is quite revered in Norway and has a worldwide readership. 

I spend many hours inside my house these days, reading and writing. When I leave my house, I spend most of my time with other readers. In spring, summer and fall, I work outside tending my big yard, watching it move through the seasons, observing the trees, the shrubs, the flowers, the birds, insects, and small animals with whom I share the property. When I travel it is most often lately with my husband by car to visit National Parks.

After reading The Hills Reply, I became aware that this author had put together for me an understanding of the inner life of my mind and imagination with the ways I solve my problems through my own experiences with life forms other than human. 

I claimed in my post about the books I read in February that this book was my least favorite. That was true while I was reading it but the book haunted me. I now feel it was worth the time spent grasping for comprehension among all its words. Once again I was reminded to spend time in and pay attention to the natural world as a positive healing activity. I will most likely read it again over the coming years.

I hope you are all as well as you can be in these times and that you enjoyed a nice long review from me this week.