Book Porn: Pretty Tomes

I spent the second $100 Dymocks gift card I got from my credit card points. [insert the usual rant about book price in Australia here] I know I don’t get high quantity in the number of individual books, but do you think I get it in the quantity of pages?

east of eden

anna karenina

a suitable boy

Books bought:
East of Eden by John Steinbeck (ripped deckled edge! weee!)
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (read-along next year anyone?)
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth (because it’s the thickest novel ever?)

book stack

book stack 02

And not shown on the pictures: Metro 2033 by Dmitry Glukhovsk, a science fiction book which was recently made into a video game. I gave hubby one book to choose and I don’t know how on earth he could pick that one.

Short Saturday: QL 696.C9 by Anthony Boucher

In the StacksContinuing In the Stacks: Short Stories about Libraries and Librarians I read a murder mystery/detective short today by Anthony Boucher. The murder happens in a library to a librarian and the mystery revolves around library code. Fun.

I don’t normally read mystery novels, let alone short stories, but short seems to be a less suitable form for mystery. The suspects are too few, so obviously the least suspected would be the culprit, and the mystery is solved before you know it.

4 stars

I have previously read Isaac Babel’s The Public Library and Jorge Luis Borges’s The Library of Babel from this collection, then left the book for a while. A post on QL 696.C9 by A Work in Progress made me pick up this short today, since she mentioned that it’s her favorite short story in the anthology. Check out her review for more comprehensive synopsis!

boucherI’d never heard of Anthony Boucher before this. From the book:

Anthony Boucher (1911-1968). One of the most important figures in 20th century mystery and detective fiction, Boucher was a novelist, editor, and–perhaps most importantly–a critic who wrote the “Criminals at Large” column for the New York Times from 1951 until his death in 1968. He was a founder of the Mystery Writers of America and for nine years was the editor of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The “Bouchercon“, the oldest and largest annual convention of mystery fans, is named in his honor.

Anyone of you familiar with his works?

Have a nice weekend you all!

In Short Saturday I will journal my journey to find 5-star quality short stories. Unlike my book reviews, I will talk more about my thoughts and what I learn, why I choose the story and how I come upon it. Unlike books, I’m willing to take more risk for shorts, because they are.. well.. short, so I won’t waste too much time if I don’t like them. Expect to see a lot of trash and hopefully, some gems. As it is now, I am not a fan of short stories. Dare I say, yet? But hey, like people say, it’s all about the journey, not destination. (which Michelle is joining, yay)

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

The History of LoveI loved this book. I really really loved it. Hopelessly fell in love with it. There, I need to get that off my chest.

There’s something about the writing that just hit me at all the right places. My funny bones, my melancholy bones, and all the bones I have that possibly evoke feelings. I went into the book not expecting it to be funny. And yet. It’s sooo so funny! I can’t believe I would say that one of the funniest moment in the book was two old men trying to catch a train. I was giggling like crazy. I so loved the main character, an old Jewish man called Leo Gursky, who is the ultimate comic of a man.

But there were sad moments in between the chuckles. Loss, regrets, loneliness, wonders of what could have been. I was laughing one minute and crying the next one. Laugh, cry, laugh, cry, sometimes I did both at the same time because the moments switched so quickly. Isn’t that what life is all about? An insane mix of tragedy and comedy?

Then there’s Alma, a 14 year-old girl who is named after every girl in a book her father gave her called The History of Love. Yes, there’s the actual book called The History of Love in the book, which is the string that will tie all the interweaving stories together. This book within the book, I so adored with the same love I have for our The History of Love.

“Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.” ~p16

I mean how can you not love it from the snippet above?

Then let me go back to it being funny. I have this preconception that women writers can’t be fun. They could be serious, reserved, intelligent, subtle, daring, romantic, air-headed, anything but fun. But Nicole Krauss is soo fun here, without ever being crude. Leo on describing his best friend Bruno:

“The soft down of your white hair lightly playing about your scalp like a half-blown dandelion. Many times, Bruno, I have been tempted to blow on your head and make a wish.” ~ p8

Nicole KraussI realized that I haven’t given much of the synopsis, but really it’s one of those books that is very hard to summarize and much better to enter knowing very little. It was a delight from beginning to the end. Having read a couple of thoughts, I found some people had problem with the ending, but for me it’s just perfect, perfect, perfect. I cannot imagine it to turn any other way. I was absolutely satisfied at the last page, re-read the last few pages multiple times, and would’ve cried buckets if I wasn’t on the train full of people.

I wondered if Krauss purposely chose an old man and a little girl as the main characters of the book. Both are not in the prime of their age and the simplicity of the language just fits so well. Even the simplicity of their thoughts and life. Untainted by the craziness reserved for young working people who think about everything else in the world but.

“Once Uncle Julian told me how the sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti said that sometimes just to paint a head you have to give up the whole figure. To paint a leaf, you have to sacrifice the whole landscape. It might seem like you’re limiting yourself at first, but after a while you realize that having a quarter-of-an inch of something you have a better chance of holding on to a certain feeling of the universe than if you pretended to be doing the whole sky.

My mother did not choose a leaf or a head. She chose my father, and to hold on to a certain feeling, she sacrificed the world.” ~ Alma p69

I would recommend it to anyone who has ever fallen in love, anyone who’s ever looking for something to ease the pain of the world, anyone who has lost and wonders what could’ve been. Don’t we all?

5 stars
2005, 385 pp

First line
When they write my obituary.

Awards
Shortlisted for 2006 Orange Prize

Also reviewed by
kiss a cloud
| things mean a lot | Vulpes Libris | Dreadlock Girl | One Literature Nut
Special thanks to Claire (of kiss a cloud) who encouraged me to bump this book up my pile when she knew I had it! What a nice surprise!

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

tender morselsTender Morsels is a book I picked up for many reasons. I first knew about it from Nymeth, whose passionate review seems to gather some sort of a cult. There was probably a time when people responded with a blank look “Tender Morsel who?”, but that time has long gone now! The novel won World Fantasy Award in 2009, in the same year that Shaun Tan won the Artist category. With high Australian spirit, I shouted yay, and looked forward to the collaboration of Margo Lanagan and Shaun Tan to be published in February 2010 by Allen & Unwin (as pictured). Lucky for me, I was sent a copy by someone from the Australian publisher. On top of that, Claire and her non-structured book group is reading this book for end of May discussion. Oh and did I tell you that Margo Lanagan lives in Sydney, the same city I live in now? All those finally pushed the book up my pile. And here’s what I think.

Tender Morsels started from a rough point. Liga is a teenage girl who is sexually abused by her father after the death of her mother. After a couple of forced abortions, she is determined to keep the last one. Coincidentally her father dies before he gets to kill her last unborn baby. Her peace lasts very short while before another unfortunate, evil event befalls her once more, which pushes her to the end of hopelessness. Magical things happen. Liga is transferred to a place of her heart’s desire where people are always nice and safe, and that’s where she raises her two daughters, Branza and Urdda.

There are some obvious dark themes, and while it is never explicit, the incest and the rapes were very hard to read. Here’s where I think Margo Lanagan shows her skills. She is very good at writing around something without actually saying the words. The book is very well written, though I did have problem with the dialect style at times.

Tender Morsels has received so many raving over-the-top reviews from the book blogging community, so I feel a bit out of the loop to say that it didn’t blow me away as much as I expected. I thought it was skilfully written and it flowed nicely from beginning to end, BUT I felt very little connection with any of the characters. Liga’s parts are told with third-person point of view, while the bears are told with first person. I never understood why and it just bothered me. In my view Liga was the main character and her stories with her daughters were the most interesting. I was annoyed with the change of perspectives to the bears, who I thought were less interesting less important characters. I just couldn’t shake my annoyance off for the entire book for some reason. The third-person view of Liga made her felt very distant.

Lanagan Margo[Minor spoilers ahead] I also had some qualms about how the story turned at certain points. For one, I’m not sure if this is the book to read for how it deals with rape. Getting sent to one’s heaven is so far from being realistic, and I’m not talking about the magical aspect of it. Who in the real world would ever be able to conveniently run away from everything and come back to successfully take revenge? Isn’t that a misleading illusion to how the real world works? It felt a bit self-indulgent. I don’t mind magical world and humans transforming to bears, but the way the problems get resolved kept reminding me that this was a work of fiction, so I was unable to be completely immersed in it. The problems were too serious and realistic for a fantasy, yet the resolutions were too unrealistic. The balance just wasn’t right for me to be believable.

Having said all these, I think Tender Morsels is great as fantasy or adventure book. I loved how it ended for Liga, which wasn’t exactly happy-ever-after so it had that realistic edge. The book has a couple of fantastic female characters who I loved dearly. I realized that I got a bit critical over this book, perhaps I entered it expecting… something else.

4 stars
2008, 380 pp

The basis of the bear ritual: Fete de l’Ours

First line
There are plenty would call her a slut for it.

Awards
2009 World Fantasy Award (Novel)
2009 Honor Book: Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature

Challenges
Aussie Author (book #3), Once Upon a Time IV (book #4), Book Awards IV (book #10), Women Unbound (fiction #8)

Also reviewed by

Loved it unconditionally!
things mean a lot
| my fluttering heart | A Striped Armchair | Stuff As Dreams Are Made On | The Zen Leaf | YA Fabulous! | Sarah Miller

Liked it with some reservations (like me). Regular Rumination | Farm Lane Books Blog | Dolce Bellezza

Thought it too flawed. Nonsuch Book

NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 2010

Sydney Writers’ Festival is coming again (15-23 May)! I went last year and I am going this weekend. Yay.

One thing about the festival is New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards that are always announced at the beginning of the festival. Here are the shortlists this year for The Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, which is “named in honor of the highly acclaimed Australian novelist and short-story writer, offered for a book of fiction. The award may be made for either a novel or a collection of stories”:

summertime jmcoetzeewanting richardflanaganWorldBeneath LR

88 lines about 44 womenjasper-jones

J.M. Coetzee – Summertime
Richard Flanagan – Wanting
Cate Kennedy – The World Beneath
Steven Lang – 88 Lines about 44 Women
David Malouf – Ransom
Craig Silvey – Jasper Jones

Yes folks, we can claim J.M. Coetzee as Australian now! And guess what? He won!

Anything catches your attention?

Short Sunday: Sleep by Haruki Murakami

tent

Back in my high school days, I was so into mountain hiking and camping it drove my parents crazy. It wasn’t so much about the activities, more about how unsafe it was for a bunch of teenagers to hike faraway mountains considering how wild these places are in Indonesia. There isn’t much organization or safety net at all. Combine that with youth sense of adventure and carelessness, it’d make any parents squirm.

Anyway gone are the days when I needed to slip out in the dawn and faced all the dramas before and after each adventure. I have grown many more years and Australia is as safe as snug. My parents can breathe easily.

I haven’t gone camping or mountain-hiking for a long while, only some bush-walking (To clarify, mountain-hiking is sort of like bush-walking with much higher elevation and takes longer time. For me back then it ranged from 12 hours to 2 days (we had to camp midway)), so I got excited when we bought a small tent on sale. I built them on our backyard, threw in some quilts and pillow, and spent the rest of Saturday afternoon yesterday inside the tent, reading. Funnily it was actually warmer inside the tent under the mild sun than inside the house (we’re entering winter) so I was happy to stay there for hours. It was bliss.

I read one short story from Haruki Murakami‘s short sollection The Elephant Vanishes titled Sleep. It’s about a housewife who finds that she can’t sleep one day and starts to read a lot during the night when everybody is asleep. It’s recommended to me by Rob, you can read his review here. I thought the story was a typical Murakami, with dreams and weird things happening. I wasn’t fond of the ending (also my problem with most Murakami’s works), but it was a fun story. How good is it to not have to sleep, ever? I would love that and spend it reading! Just like the woman character in the story. We spend 1/3 of our life sleeping. Without that, we’d practically have our life extended by a third. That’s a lot!

In the story there are references to Anna Karenina, which the character spends the most time reading. I’ve been wanting to read that for a long time but have not so I was worried of spoilers throughout the story, but it wasn’t too bad. Any interest to for Anna Karenina read-along? Next year maybe?

4.5 stars

Have you read any Murakami’s short story? Which one is your favorite?

In Short Saturday I will journal my journey to find 5-star quality short stories. Unlike my book reviews, I will talk more about my thoughts and what I learn, why I choose the story and how I come upon it. Unlike books, I’m willing to take more risk for shorts, because they are.. well.. short, so I won’t waste too much time if I don’t like them. Expect to see a lot of trash and hopefully, some gems. As it is now, I am not a fan of short stories. Dare I say, yet? But hey, like people say, it’s all about the journey, not destination. (which Michelle is joining, yay)

The Contract with God Trilogy by Will Eisner

The Contract with God Trilogy

“Will Eisner, born in 1917, saw himself as “a graphic witness reporting on life, death, heartbreak, and the never-ending struggle to prevail.” The publication of A Contract with God when Eisner was sixty-one proved to be a watershed moment both for him and for comic literature. It marked the birth of the graphic novel and the beginning of an era when serious cartoonist could be liberated from their stultifying comic-book format.” ~ from the cover flap

One of the comic industry’s most prestigious awards, The Eisner Award, is named after Will Eisner, and he is referred to as ‘father of the Graphic Novel’, so I don’t know what the heck I was thinking that it never crossed my mind to look for his works. But serendipity took over, and I got introduced to his work from the oddest source. When I went back to Indonesia in February, I flipped through a local newspaper to find a glimpse of intriguing illustration. The article was on the raise of graphic novel and the illustration belonged to Eisner’s A Contract with God, which I had never heard of before. Wonderment just surged through me. I thought I knew my graphic novels! I came back to Sydney and the week after found a tome of the book sitting on the shelf of my library. I had never seen it there before. Serendipity.

The Contract with God Trilogy is a compilation of three separate volumes: A Contract With God, A Life Force, and Dropsie Avenue. With 500 pages, it is graphic novel at its truest sense of the words. The stories revolve around the people in tenement buildings on Dropsie Avenue, the mythical street of Eisner’s youth in Depression-era New York City.

The Trilogy started with Preface by Will Eisner himself:

“This book contains stories drawn from the endless flow of happenings characteristic of city life. Some are true. Some could be true.

Born and brought up in New York City and having survived and thrived there, I carry with me a cargo of memories, some painful and some pleasant, which have remained locked in the hold of my mind. I have an ancient mariner’s need to share my accumulation of experience and observations. Call me, if you will, a graphic witness reporting on life, death, heartbreak and the never-ending struggle to prevail… or at least to survive.” ~ Will Eisner

The first in the trilogy, A Contract with God has four short stories in it. The title story, according to Eisner, was “an exercise in personal agony”. It tells a story about a man who is outraged by the death of his daughter. He breaks his contract with God and turns to become a rich, but unkind, bitter man.

a contract with god

“My only daughter, Alice, had died of leukemia eight years before the publication of this book. My grief was still raw. My heart still bled. In fact, I could not even then bring myself to discuss the loss. I made Frimme Hersh’s daughter an “adopted child.” But his anguish was mine. His argument with God was also mine. I exorcised my rage at a deity that I believed violated my faith and deprived my lovely 16-year-old child of her life at the very flowering of it. This is the first time in thirty-four years that I have openly discussed it.” ~ Will Eisner

Eisner continued to share how the other three stories came to be. My favorite is the one called The Street Singer. (“The street singers were men who appeared in the narrow space between the tenements to provide impromptu concerts.” ~ from the Preface) While the four shorts in the first book of the Trilogy are disconnected, the second and third book take a different approach, even a different way of illustrating. In A Life Force, the second book, we are introduced to many new characters in the tenements, disconnected at first, but they start to cross paths along the way, and everything comes together at the end. Dropsie Avenue is centered around the neighborhood, the main character. People and characters come and go, there are births and deaths, and we see how the neighborhood transforms for better or for worse. While the illustrations in A Contract with God are big–with one panel often filling the whole page, the second and third book in the trilogy are full of detailed illustrations packed with panels and text. Obviously the latter volumes were the more ambitious projects and they succeeded.

The preface was written in December 2004 by Eisner, and he died on 3 January 2005. Did he write the preface in the hours of his dying days? Knowing how important these books were for him made them all the more important for me too. The three volumes were originally published separately over long period of time, but I can’t imagine not reading them together. I encourage you to read all three of them if you can. Only then it would come full circle. In my mind all the little stories make one big tale of sadness and desperation, but also of hopes and luck. Like life itself.


Trilogy: 2005 (A Contract with God: 1978, A Life Force: 1988, Dropsie Avenue: 1995), 498 pp

Will Eisner’s A Contract with God Trilogy

Challenges
Graphic Novels 2010 (book #6)

Also reviewed by
A Contract with God:
things mean a lot | Boston Bibliophile | Experiments in Reading

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