Category Archives: Borges, Jorge Luis

Mee’s Summer Reading 2013

Since I am way way way behind in blogging about books read and all bookish things that happened in the past 3 month, I’m just going to write about them in one giant post. And I just realized those 3 months were summer (coincidence?), so I can call them summer reading!

Books Read

Frankenstein — Mary Shelley (England/Europe, 1818,  4/5)

I liked Frankenstein, a lot more than Dracula, which I did not like very much. It seems that most people either like one or the other. I’m definitely on Frankenstein side. Also if you read a little about Mary Shelley’s life, it is as shocking and as interesting as her story.

metamorphosis

Metamorphosis — Franz Kafka (German, 1915, 4.5/5)

Metamorphosis is my first Kafka, finally. Well the first was actually his short story called A Country Doctor, which I read just before Metamorphosis, but it was a 5-page short story. Metamorphosis is rather short too, around 90 pages. I thought it was amazing story about a man waking up as a giant insect. I got the impression that it was going to be depressing, and it was at the end, but overall I thought it was hilarious. I will need to read more Kafka!

The Night Bookmobile — Audrey Niffenegger (US, 2010, 4/5)

An illustrated book by Audrey Niffenegger about a woman who stumbles upon a mobile library, in which there is everything she’s ever read in her life. Wow it’s so dark and depressing at the end, that I’m not sure what the whole point of the book is. The story is just a bit strange. But there’s a lot of work put into the book as she illustrates it herself using various art techniques.

don quixote comic

Don Quixote (graphic novel, vol 1) — Cervantes, illustrated by Rob Davis (Spain, 2011, 4/5)

As I imagine I won’t get into the real Don Quixote anytime soon, I jumped at the chance to read the graphic novel. The illustration is lovely and colorful – I really liked it. The story however seems a bit pointless, about a disillusioned old man and his servant-like mate. I’d probably need to read the real book to get the layers of the story. Don Quixote is still amazingly popular in Spain, as proven by my trips to Spain, so I’m curious.

Watchmen — Alan Moore (fantasy world, 1987, 3/5)

What a DENSE graphic novel! I’m not sure if I’ve read a graphic novel as dense as that. Apart from the comic style pages, there are also pages of writing, in newspaper clip style or letter. It took me forever to read Watchmen, and at the end I speed read it, because I could not stand it not-finished any longer. I know this is a very important graphic novel — it’s in one of Time’s All-Time 100 Novels, but I got impatient. I watched the movie after that and I’d probably recommend most people to just watch the movie. The movie stays very true to the book, and nicely directed (Zack Snyder). Watch the Director’s Cut (around 3.5 hours, while the cinema version is far shorter than that) to get more details from the book, including the meta-comic.

To the Lighthouse — Virginia Woolf (England, 1927, 3/5)

It is my first Woolf, so I’m happy that I finished it, and at least understood most of it. I probably wouldn’t ever be able to get through the book without Prof Weinstein’s lectures on Coursera though, so if you’re struggling, I’d recommend getting his lectures on Coursera’s Fiction of Relationship, and you can sort of read alongside the lectures (there are many of them). My advice is if there’s a paragraph that you don’t understand after reading a couple of times, KEEP GOING! Don’t obsessed and get stuck over one paragraph. In the bigger scheme of things, it really does not matter, and you’ll be glad once you get to the end and able to see the book as a whole.

The Invisible Man — H. G. Wells (England, 1897, 3/5)

Apart from Fiction of Relationship in Coursera, I am also following Fantasy and Science Fiction course, by Prof Rabkin. The reading list is interesting. There are many that I wouldn’t read by myself, so I’m glad to be able to broaden my reading horizon (the same as true for Fiction of Relationship). In one of the weeks the reading list includes all H. G. Wells: 2 novels and 2 short stories. I didn’t know how important Wells was in SF. He is often compared with Jules Verne, as they were from the same era, but as explained in the lectures, Verne is purely entertainment, while Wells questions social and political issues in his writing.

In Invisible Man, Wells created a man that because of a personal scientific experiment has turned invisible. And he can’t go back. Since I read this so close to Frankenstein, I saw some similarity, like how the two main characters are rejected by the society and turn bad as a result. I guess that’s the end of the similarity, because I didn’t enjoy Invisible Man as much. The description of actions tire me, and I kept waiting for deeper discussions of life like in Frankenstein, which does not happen in Invisible Man.

A Grief Observed — C. S. Lewis (1961, 3/5)

I feel the need to say that this book was given by a friend, who asked me to read this favorite book of his, so I felt compelled to read it. I might appreciate the book more if I were at different stage of life, but as it was, it didn’t speak to me in any profound way. I have long left any discussions of God and Christianity IRL, and therefore found the discussion here about God, his intentions and afterlife to be heavy handed.

C.S. Lewis wrote books journalling his thoughts after the death of his wife of 4 years, referred to here as H. I’m just glad that they edited much of it, and left a thin 60-page large-font book, as I wouldn’t have much patience for longer book about wallowing in grief. I feel a bit bad for not thinking higher of the book given the sad subject matter and the circumstances of my reading it, but as I said, in another time I could’ve taken it differently

moreau.jpg

The Island of Doctor Moreau — H. G. Wells (1896, 3.5/5)

In the Island of Dr Moreau, Wells plays with the idea of turning beasts into men. Our narrator is someone who got stranded in an island, where he meets two other men, one of them Moreau. Later finding shows how Dr Moreau has been experimenting with animals and turning them into imperfect human that is more half man half beast. Interesting premise, but after reading 2 books by Wells, I’m pretty clear that I don’t fall in love with his writing. His ideas are great, but his writing just doesn’t evoke much in me.

ps: Don’t even look for the movie. It seems to be really bad from what people say. I just some pictures, and the effects don’t impress me too.

Short Stories

Been reading Nathaniel Hawthorne (Before I started I didn’t know he is also well known for his short stories, some are mentioned as early conception of Science Fiction. I only knew he wrote Scarlet Letter prior to this.), Edgar Allan Poe (never quite like Poe. Maybe I’m just not into psychopathic behaviors?), Flannery O’Connor, John Updike,  more H. G. Wells (I kinda liked the two I read: The Country of the Blind and The Star), Gustave Flaubert, William Faulkner, Jorge Luis Borges, Hemingway.

I got little sparks from Borges so I’ll be reading more. Flaubert, possibly. I’m eyeing Madame Bovary.

Currently Reading

Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (remember John Carter? Also, did you know that Burroughs wrote Tarzan? Yeah, I didn’t know too!)

Great Expectations by Dickens via Dailylit, sent daily to my mail, which I try to read first thing in the morning on the way to work for. I’ve been doing this for a few months now, and I’m over a third in. I’m happy that it works. I don’t think I would be able to do it reading it like normal book to be honest. It is very very long, and in spite of the interesting bits, there are more boring bits.

On the Pipe

I probably shouldn’t mention much in fear that I would jinx it, but if all goes according to plan I’ll be reading Herland — Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Old Man and the Sea — Hemingway, and the Martian Chronicles — Ray Bradbury.

I can’t believe how much I’m reading considering how little I did for the last couple of years. I think I probably needed more structure and direction in my reading, and I’ve got them, thanks to the Profs and Coursera.

 

Short Saturday: Borges and Nabokov

In Short Saturday I will journal my journey to find 5-star quality short stories, whose virtual trophy right now is held by Truman Capote and Haruki Murakami. 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.

podcastcoverFICTIONMark David has recommended The New Yorker Fiction Podcasts to me for a while. In fact he has written a post on it last month. But only last week after he shouted at strongly encouraged me to try one when I talked about Borges’s The Library of Babel,  did I manage to listen to two of them.

In each episode, a contemporary writer reads a short work by a classic writer. There’s a bit of talk and discussion before and after the reading of the story. I loved the discussion parts of the podcasts, but I’m not sure if I got much out of the two stories being read. I’ve mentioned before how I’m a poor listener, and it doesn’t help when the story is not very listen-able. (We have word for readable! How about listenable?)

Without further ado, the two I picked were:

The Gospel According to Mark by Jorge Luis Borges, read by Paul Theroux

I’m not sure if I got it. I repeated the ending about 5 times and each time it made me go “huh?”. But I continued on and luckily Paul explained more about what’s going on in the story. Originally published in 1970, it is about a young man who visits a friend’s holiday house in Argentina. He meets a family of illiterate workers to whom he reads some books, but the only one they’re interested in the most is an old Bible. He reads the gospel of Mark which contains the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness He granted to the world. When he was found to lay with the daughter of the family, well…

Paul Theroux actually read to Borges when he was alive (and blind). And that’s awesome because Paul is a fantastic reader. I’d never heard of him before this. Apparently he has written many novels and travelogues. After quick wiki-ing, I found that he won James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1981 for The Mosquito Coast (join win with Salman Rushdie’s Midnight Children) and Whitbread Prize for Best Novel  in 1978 for Picture Palace. Have you read any of his books before?

My Russian Education by Vladimir Nabokov, read by Orhan Pamuk

I feel kinda bad to say this, but most of the words read by Pamuk went over my head, because I had problem with his accent. Therefore I’m unable to rate this in any way. But I’m sure I will (re)read the story in text format in the future, because it’s Nabokov’s autobiography, though published as fiction. The story is based on how his father was shot dead. It was originally published in 1948 by the New Yorker and it is one chapter out of 12 that was later published in 1951 as a book titled Speak, Memory (My Russian Education is Chapter 9 in the book).

I loved to listen to how Pamuk loved Nabokov. I always love the whole writers speaking very highly of other writers. It’s very adorable. I read Lolita by Nabokov in 2008 and I really admired how Nabokov used English language. Sure, I didn’t understand a lot of the passages, but that’s beside the point… because I admired the ones that I did understand! :)

Did you read any short story this week?

Short Saturday: Murakami, Borges, and Babel

In Short Saturday I will journal my journey to find 5-star quality short stories, whose virtual trophy right now is only held by Truman Capote for A Christmas Memory. 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.

on seeing the 100% perfect girl

As you know, if you read the header above, I’ve been talking about Capote‘s A Christmas Memory like a broken radio. But from last week conversations in the comments, I just remembered that there was another short story that blew me away with the same magic! It was recommended by a friend IRL years ago and I read it online. I have probably read it a couple of times by now, which is unheard of for me.

It is none other than:

On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning by Haruki Murakami

which you can read in full online (thank you, steph tai). It is available at more sites, but I love that particular one, because of the illustration and the way the text is put together. Tips: if it appears too small on your browser, press Ctrl + (plus sign) until it gets to the right size.

Please read it too. You’ll fall in love with it. I promise.

This short story is included in his short story collection Elephant Vanishes, which I sadly do not own, and it is not available at my libraries. Another of his short in the collection called Sleep was recommended by Rob (link to Rob’s review), which he rated 5 stars, and is “about an insomniac wife who gets into a habit of reading literature all night”. That sounds amazing! I have to get hold of the book.


Last week, I roamed around my library and found this lovely anthology called In the Stacks: Short Stories about Libraries and Librarians, Edited by Michael Cart.

In the StacksThe cover looks very plain, but really, shorts about libraries and librarians?! How enticing is that? And look at the big names inside! Italo Calvino, Ursula K. LeGuin, Isaac Babel, Lorrie Moore, Francine Prose, Alice Munro, Ray Bradbury, Jorge Luis Borges, and more!

This morning I went straight to:

The Library of Babel by Jorge Luis Borges

“The universe (which others call the library) is composed of an indefinite, perhaps an infinite, number of hexagonal galleries, with enormous ventilation shafts in the middle, encircled by very low railings.”

The Library of Babel is a universe of books, the world where people are born and live, where every book ever written in every possible language resides.

Knowing how famous it was, I was quite surprised to find how short it was! However, while the premise can’t be more amazing, I found the writing was rather hard to get into. The translation maybe? Borges was Argentinian, it was translated from Spanish. It did feel like reminiscence of Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler. It also bothered me that he mentioned alphabet has 22 letters. Does Spanish have only 22 letters?

It deserves a re-read. But for now, I’ll rate it

4 stars

Some of you may wonder what happened to My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead. I had to return it to the library. (Library!) I’ll borrow it and continue again later, because there are more that I want to read. Isaac Babel‘s story is one of them. So when I saw In the Stacks also has his short (a different one) in it, I jumped into it.

The Public Library by Isaac Babel

With mere 3 pages long, this must be the shortest of shorts I’ve read so far. But it’s a nice complement after The Library of Babel. The Public Library shows a glimpse of a public library, its attendants and regular visitors.

“You can feel straightaway that the book reigns supreme here. All the people who work in the library have entered in communion with The Book, with life at second-hand, and have themselves become, as it were, a mere reflection of the living.”

I liked the writing, and I’ll watch out for more Babel in the future. (Just realized the author shares last name with Borges’s short… Coincidence?)

4 stars

I mentioned Lorrie Moore last week and am excited to find she also has a short in the anthology titled Community Life. I’ll save that for next week ;)

Okay, I’m gonna have breakfast now. I woke up, read the 2 shorts and wrote this post first thing in the morning. Argh, what am I doing?! I haven’t even had tea or something!

Hope you have a fabulous weekend!

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