March was apparently Reading Month and the States, and thanks to the internet, I latched on. I read some really stellar books.
in the order in which I finished reading them
Life: A User’s Manual - Georges Pérec – Translated from the French by David Bellos – Fiction (Novel)
Absolutely brilliant. For those who don’t know, Pérec belonged to the group Oulipo, which consisted of writers and mathematicians, and whose purpose was the “the seeking of new structures and patterns which may be used by writers in any way they enjoy” (Wiki). And Life is probably their most famous book; it’s constructed like the jigsaw puzzle of a Parisian apartment building. The detailing (of characters, space, plot) is magnificent. If anyone has read/is planning to read this, let me know what you think of it. I have some interesting theories that I’d like to share with someone. Meanwhile, a passage from the book:
Who, on seeing a Parisian apartment house has never thought of it as indestructible? A bomb, a fire, an earthquake could certainly bring it down, but what else? In the eyes of an individual, of a family, or even a dynasty, a town, street, or house seems unchangeable, untouchable by time, by the ups and downs of human life, to such an extent that we believe we can compare and contrast the fragility of our condition to the invulnerability of stone.
Oh, and look out for Bartlebooth!
Lord of the Flies - William Golding – English – Fiction (Novel)
Easy read; about civilisation and power struggle, or just about boys stranded on an island trying to survive.
Story of O – Pauline Réage – Translated from the French by Sabine d’Estrée – Fiction (Novel)
Here’s what I wrote of the book while I was reading it in March (things have changed since then):
Strange, strange book; I picked it up because the back said something about erotica; I am terrible when it comes to picking books sometimes, simply because I judge books by the cover; the edition I picked up was plain with no graphics, just a small box with the title and author’s name; I thought it was rather artistic; there was no blurb, just a few lines from a New York Times review, which said something about erotica.
So I left the library, thinking quite happily that I’d picked up erotica. But what I read was not really erotica. I’m saying this wrong. No, there were a lot of erotic elements in it, but I don’t know if you would call the novel erotica. Would you call Marquis de Sade erotica? I’ve not read him, so I don’t know, but — ah! — this is what baffles me the most, there was a note by a reviewer/critic and a preface by Jean Paulhan, who is a member of the Academie Francaise, waxing eloquent about the book. And both note and preface were utterly incomprehensible, much more so than the book itself. I do not expect this of introductions and prefaces. I enjoy it when the book is strange and new, when I can make little meaning of it. Then the notes help; they allow me to think in particular directions. Usually, there are no notes and I make my way through the book quite happily. I remember reading The Metamorphosis when I was sixteen and not understanding it really, but enjoying it. I thought of a few things and later, I thought about them again, and I keep making meaning. That’s how I read.
More about Story of O. Its author is anonymous. Pauline Reage is a pen name, but most suspect that the author is a woman. Some critics claim that she is greater than Marquis de Sade. As you can imagine, the book is about sexual slavery. If someone told me this, I would not be surprised or shocked. But it’s something else reading the book. To me the story is not just about sexual fantasies; it is not designed to titillate, not really; to be it’s about freedom or the lack thereof. O is a peculiar woman, who was free (in the common sensical meaning of the term), but who chooses not to be free, to submit herself utterly to her lover. He is allowed to prostitute her, have her whipped and branded and humiliated. And so freedom versus slavery. That is my preliminary conclusion about the book, but in truth, I don’t know what to think.
I have never found a book to be so inaccessible to me as Story of O.
Since then I have learnt that the anonymous writer was Anne Desclos, who was Jean Paulhan’s lover for a while, which sort of explains that idiotic preface he wrote. I’m still not willing to dismiss the book, especially after someone left me this comment at dA: “What has struck me most about O is that her seeming powerlessness actually grants her a position of power, while at the same time absolving her of any of its responsibilities. It’s a phenomenon known as ‘topping from the bottom’ (in the parlance, a ‘top’ is a dominant and a ‘bottom’ a submissive) which to the right mindset can be a very liberating experience.” It’s an idea to work off.
The Summer Book – Tove Jansson – Translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal – Fiction (Novel)
Delightful book. I’m looking out for more of Jansson’s work. Her writing is hard to describe. I copied down a few lines that I liked for Jack (pen friend), but didn’t bother keeping a copy for myself, which was extremely stupid. Anyway, I hope he can send it back to me.
A Pale View of Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro – English – Fiction (Novel)
Another Ishiguro gem. It’s not as good as The Remains of the Day, however, perhaps because it was his first book, and he was still figuring things out. The writing is, again, very subtle, but I wonder if some of the subtlety towards the end is weak enough to be an error in crafting. Either way, it’s a great read. Here, too, Ishiguro explores themes of regret, memory, love, loss and identity.
Maus I - Art Spiegelman – English – Fiction (Graphic novel)
Maus II - Art Spiegelman – English – Fiction (Graphic novel)
7 books: 5 novels; 2 graphic novels; 0 poetry collections*
*It’s frustatingly difficult to find good contemporary poetry here. I make up by reading stuff online. So I’m pretty sure I read a lot of poetry, just not a collection.
Seriously, almost everything.