Jan Reads 2014 (Post 1)

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I got these books either for Christmas/my birthday and have been reading them. Two of them are short story collections (Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman & Moral Disorder) while one is a novel.

Here are my thoughts, etc. so far:

1.) Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood

Excellent as usual. The thing I love (or one of the things I love) about Atwood is that the older she’s gotten, the better she’s gotten at writing about youth (and the imminent loss of it). This collection follows just one main character which I really like and which I feel sets it apart from a lot of her short story collections (or short story collections, in general).

I also love how she begins the book by introducing the main character as an old woman. Anyway. I don’t want to give too much away. This is one of my favorite Atwood books, so far. (Admittedly, I’ve only read a few–The Blind Assassin, Wilderness Tips, Betty {this is a short story, though} and Bluebeard’s Egg.)

2.) Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami

I feel like I’ve read enough Murakami to last me a life time, to be honest–I was very into his work back during my early college days. I was hesitant to start this year with yet another Murakami book but I figured ah fuck it: if you genuinely enjoy something then why stop reading it just because you’ve read a lot of things like it before?

Also most of the books of Murakami’s that I’ve read are novels anyway so I don’t think my reading this is being too redundant. I really like it, so far–although (like my friend Trizha and I were talking about a few weeks ago) the thing about translated work is that a lot of the enjoyment factor comes from who/how the story is translated. I am partial to translations by Jay Rubin (Norwegian Wood, After Dark) and Alfred Birnbaum (A Wild Sheep Chase, Dance Dance Dance, Hard-boiled Wonderland & the End of the World) because they’re able to translate in a way that conveys meaning without sounding like a translation but also not sounding very western. I like that subtlety.

And it is this point which gives me a hard time re: which stories I like from this collection. The collection is comprised of very good stories but they aren’t translated by just one translator. Some were done by Jay Rubin, others by Philip Gabriel.

Take the first two stories, for instance: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman and Birthday Girl. As a story–or as a story in theory, I feel like I would prefer the former because it deals with themes which I really like: the passing of time, the overlapping of time in memory; it’s also written (the structure, I mean) inwardly as opposed to something with a plot that moves forward.

However, I ended up enjoying the latter more even if it’s a little too straightforward (in that the delineations between past and present are very clear) for my taste in short stories and even if it it relies more heavily on mystery than I would usually prefer from Murakami (I say this because when Murakami employs mystery in his books he has a habit of either not resolving the mystery or resolving it in a manner that is so thumpingly calm, it drives me insane) because of how it was written/translated.

Now I’m going to contradict myself and pick a story translated by Philip Gabriel as my favorite, so far–I really enjoyed the story New York Mining Disaster, particularly how it talked about the death of friends, especially when you’re at an age where people are still supposedly beginning their adult lives.

3.) A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

I’m not done with this, yet and so I can’t say much except that it’s very funny and that it’s enjoyable, so far. 🙂

Chasing Paper, Getting Nowhere

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It was only the other day that I realized this is the last time (probably) I’m going to be able to rely on the university library for entertainment. But I suppose that’s just one of the things you give up in order to be “done with school”. While I’m still mostly excited to be getting on with my life, part of me still feels nostalgic about school. Oddly enough, I don’t think it’s the people I’ll miss–because I’m sure I’ll still see them. I think I’ll be missing certain places the most, despite the fact that a lot of these places are places that have already changed anyway: the grassy gazebo area with stone tables and large trees, the amphitheater at night, the library.

To be honest, I’ve never borrowed more than three books at a time because I just can’t seem to be punctual re: the return date(s). But I decided to take a risk and binge on all the Donald Barthelme books they had out, plus a couple of books I’ve been wanting to read for a long time.

These titles include 40 Stories, Not-Knowing, The Teachings of Don B.* and Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts all by Donald Barthelme, Negotiating With the Dead: A Writer on Writing by Margaret Atwood and Light In August by William Faulkner. I’m pretty deadset on finishing all of these before their due date(s) (December 13th) because a lot of these are pretty rare and I’m not sure I’ll get the chance to read them again if I don’t.

Short story favorites this month: a list

Lately I’ve been reading mostly short fiction; this is both because I’ve had all these pockets of free in-between time (between classes, between my dad’s hospitalizations) and because I’ve been gearing up for a lot of short fiction things I’ve been working on and it’s always helpful to read stuff that is in the same form as what you’re writing.

So yeah.

1. People Like That Are The Only People Here by Lorrie Moore

I really like Lorrie Moore’s language (although that can be said for all of the people on this list, I guess).  For example, the first few lines from this story go like this:

“A beginning, an end: there seems to be neither. The whole thing is like a cloud that just lands and everywhere inside it is full of rain. A start: the Mother finds a clot in the baby’s diaper. What is the story? Who put this there? It is big and bright, with a broken khaki-colored vein in it.”

The way that the first sentence is written is so that it, like the message it conveys, also has no beginning or end. It’s concise but emotive, simple but not lazy (far from it). ❤ Plus the entire story hit super close to home–it’s about an ill baby and hospital life, basically–because my dad is always in and out of the hospital and it conveys the feeling of being trapped in a sanitized state of forced hopefulness very, very well.

This story is part of an anthology of O’Henry Prize stories that I picked up from the booksale thing on the ground floor of UM (University Mall), Taft Ave.

2. True Trash by Margaret Atwood

This is in the collection of short stories called Wilderness Tips. One of the interesting things about Margaret Atwood and her writing is that she’s written so much: this story was published in the early 90s and it’s very different from her more recent stories (like the stories in Moral Disorder  for example) not in feel so much as in content. Her later stories always feel like a looking back or a looking into the self whereas this feels like you’re looking out (haha) into something. This story takes place at a boys’ camp and I love how adolescence is portrayed in this story–it’s silly and sad and has a great deal to do with forgetting/leaving behind.

3. Panic by Joyce Carol Oates

This is from her collection Dear Husband, and I liked it because I think it was the perfect first short story for that collection. I’m (more than a little) obsessive-compulsive about sequencing: I like listening to albums in the order the artists have arranged them in and same goes for compiled short stories. This sets the tone for the entire book in that it talks about a lot of domestic dread in a very quietly violent way.

4. Affection by Donald Barthelme

Okay. Uhh. The thing is that I want to be Donald Barthelme. Of all the stories here this is probably the one that I viscerally gravitate to the most. I like the language, I like the fragmented form, the sense that makes no sense.

5. Like Animals by Kelly Link

This is the perfect type of creepy–creepy punctuated with mundane fixtures, and rabbits.

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