The Sunday Salon – August 20, 2011 , or:

I'm warning you; it's long (That's what she said.)



Good morning, my lovelies! Err… Afternoon, actually.



Route 66 Museum

Here's a photo from our 2011 summer vacation, for no other reason than I haven't posted a whole lot of pictures yet. Time is the culprit. Time is my nemesis. Also, the wasting of time I could be doing something useful, due to my addiction to Angry Birds and Zombie Farmer.

I am such an iPhone whore. There's no time of day or night I'm unwilling to answer its call. The other night Zombie Farmers beeped at 1:00 a.m. to tell me one of my crops was ready to harvest. Did I turn it off and ignore it? What do you think?

But I needed tomatoes!

Know what I'm thinking? When our family plan phone contract is up next summer I may not get another iPhone. I know! Crazy, right? But I don't like this feeling of being chained to my phone, Googling every little thing I wonder about, like: who was that one actor in that one film, the one with the barking dogs? Google it! Who wrote that book I've been wanting to buy? Amazon! Buy it!

This cannot continue. All this tempting technology is teaching me the evils inherent with constant instant gratification, encouraging my ADD via dangling temptations in my face. Do I really need this? Come to think of it, does anyone?

Know how many books I have on my iPhone Kindle app? I don't want to know, so I'm not going to check and tell you. But trust me, it's obscene. I download a lot of free first chapters, to the tune of maybe 50  or so to date. Yesterday I accidentally bought a book instead of downloading the free chapter. Oopsies. Nine dollars worth of oopsies. Plus, it wasn't even one I thought I would wind up buying.

This confession is my segue back into books, the intention of the Sunday Salon. Smooth, no?

I know. No.

We're already familiar with the fact I've been reading through as many books on the Booker Longlist as possible before the September 6 Shortlist announcement (because I am insane impatient and cannot just wait for the shortlist and read those books).

So far I've completed:

Sebastian Barry's On Canaan's Side

Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending

I'm roughly halfway through Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child and bored senseless (apologies to Emma Straub!)

I've started Patrick DeWitt's uproariously funny The Sisters Brothers, and next up plan to read Carol Birch's Jamrach's Menagerie.

The thinking behind my choices was I needed to read the biggies (Barry, Barnes and Hollinghurst), regardless of what it took to get them, including spending the money to have them shipped here from Next, I'm reading the books available here in the colonies.

Once the Shortlist comes out I will compare my guess educated opinion re: which of the biggies should have, and did, make it through, as well as thoughts on which of the other, lesser known survived. At that point (bear with me; this is a highly complicated process) I will behold those books left unread from the Shortlist, determine how many I am able to lay hands on, read those, and declare my choice prior to the announcement of the winner.

Et voilà! Bob's your uncle!

So far, I say Barnes will make it through. That's all I'm willing to conjecture; there are miles to go before I sleep.

But the Booker contenders are not all I've been reading. For the classics group at the library I re-read Voltaire's Candide, discovering how irritatingly unfamiliar I am  with the philosophies Voltaire was lampooning, determining I need to read a book about him and/or the enlightenment to offset my ignorance.

So, at Half Price Books (how I love thee!) I lucked upon:



From Booklist

A probing and careful biographer, Davidson recognizes that the transforming event of Voltaire's life came when he was banished from France. Losing his place in a country that idolized him as a poet and dramatist awakened Voltaire to political issues transcending national boundaries. In this chronicle of Voltaire's deep involvement in a series of post-exile campaigns to reverse barbaric court rulings, Davidson limns the great writer's remarkable transformation from a literary celebrity into an international champion of human rights. That metamorphosis generated scores of spirited letters initially appealing simply for the lives and liberty–or posthumous reputations–of specific individuals but finally demanding the radical reforms needed to free judicial proceedings from ecclesiastical tyranny. Davidson piquantly details Voltaire's real and unrelenting fight against the church hierarchy but also explodes the mythical image of Voltaire as an atheist and an egalitarian revolutionary. The brilliant writer of Candide knew all too well that this is far from "the best of all possible worlds"; this valuable study shows how resolutely he labored to make it a better one. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.




I also re-read portions of Kate Christensen's The Astral, in order to write my review for (which won't be up 'til next month). On audio I'm listening to DFW's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, wanting to cry hearing his voice, yet so glad it's been preserved.

Coming up, loads and loads of reviews I'm VERY behind in writing.


A work of zombie fiction for the R(eaders)A(dvisory)I(nterest)G(roup)

Zola's Germinal for the classics group at the library

Colson Whitehead's Zone One, for review

One ARC title I was excited to receive: Bogeywoman by Jaimy Gordon

Plus, NetGalley eBooks – loads of those.

As usual, there's more. Always more.


As always, have a lovely reading week. Please support your local library and indie booksellers!


Books mentioned in this post:

Sebastian Barry's On Canaan's Side

Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending

Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child

Patrick DeWitt's The Sisters Brothers

Carol Birch's Jamrach's Menagerie

Voltaire's Candide

Ian Davidson's Voltaire in Exile

Kate Christensen's The Astral

DFWallace's Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

Zola's Germinal

Colson Whitehead's Zone One

Jaimy Gordon's The Bogeywoman





Julian Barnes – The Sense of an Ending reviews

Will be the Man Booker winner for Barnes?


"The Sense of an Ending is spare in its telling with not a word wasted on its 150 pages, but so much is packed in. By the time one reaches the end, it is not just the novel but the title itself that inspires the reader; not just the end of a life but how a story is told."

Fourth time the charm?





"It's a joy to read. Thought provoking, beautifully observed with just enough mystery to keep you turning the pages to find out what happened. Books that involve the narrator examining their own actions can get too easily bogged down, but by keeping it brief, this never happens with Barnes. There's insight into the human condition and gentle philosophy without it becoming too introspective. It's very readable literary fiction."



From TimeOut Sydney:


"It’s a strange, slight story given weight by Barnes’ exceptional writing – a description which could equally well apply to his near-thriller Before She Met Me – and at 150 pages, it's barely more than a novella. Perhaps it’s because his rhythms are as familiar as an old friend that The Sense of an Ending didn’t demand my attention the way that his best writing has done in the past (I’d recommend Flaubert’s ParrotA History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters and/or Talking it Over as the finest examples of his craft, myself), but a solid Barnes book is still head and shoulders above the best efforts of most contemporary fiction writers."

The Sunday Salon – August 14, 2011: Nervous Breakdown Edition


You'll have heard by now a sharp rap, followed by a series of dull thuds. The first was my chin hitting the table. The second, my head banging the wall.




Mere minutes ago I turned the last page of Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending,' a book so gorgeous I am sitting here literally biting my tongue to keep from weeping at the sheer perfection of it. Yes, weeping.

I am not a crier. I do not cry. If I do cry something disastrous has happened, something inconceivable. Or, I've just heard about or seen animal abuse – in a movie, in real life or any way, shape or form. But the minute I read the last page of both Sebastian Barry's On Canaan's Side and Julian Barnes' lovely novel I found myself in the same fix. I could weep like Alice in the tunnel, until I nearly drown myself.



Such a visceral reaction to two novels read back to back. Either my hormones have been sucked up and spit out by a cyclone or I have discovered – upon reading my second novel of Barry's and first of Barnes' – two authors who speak to me as few other writers have, putting them in the same category as William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf. None too shabby a company.

The thing is, they're so different! Barry is poetic, Barnes sparing. Both know exactly when to twist the knife to elicit a reaction in the reader. Their timing is impeccable. And, as for their endings, It was fairly obvious where Barry was going, though no less wonderful to read because of it. As for Barnes, the reader knows something is up, but not exactly what. I guessed, but had it wrong. And I'm very glad to say that, because there's nothing more irritating than guessing an author's intention and being right, then feeling no reward from having gotten there.

Blimey. If you've been hanging about here over the past few days (and if not, WHY NOT?!) you'll know I'm dead set on reading all the Booker Longlist contenders I can. Barry was first, and knocked me off my feet. I thought to myself, "Self! Here is your winner." And he still may be. He may! But Julian Barnes… The two of them have each smacked my gob, and I am deathly afraid what I'll think of the other books.

Both deserve the award. Both have had nominations previously (Barnes 3, Barry 2). Both have resumes as long as both my arms put together. Scholars have seen fit to write works of criticism about them. Barnes' earlier works have already been archived, that's how brilliant he is. Barry has written more plays than novels. Far more. Finally, Barry is Irish and Barnes English.

And I am torn in two.

It's not that I didn't realize these two, plus Alan Hollinghurst (who won the Booker for The Line of Beauty in 2004) were the three huge names in the Booker pool. I expected all three would blow me away. I just didn't realize in advance how strong my reactions to both Barry and Barnes would be. And Hollinghurst's book is next…



I can see the newspaper headline now:




Send. Help.

From Sebastian Barry’s ‘On Canaan’s Side’

Oncanaansside  I know, I know, I know… I've already expressed I'd give Sebastian Barry the Booker for his handsomeness alone, but never mind that. I received On Canaan's Side today, ripped open the box and started it immediately. Never mind, you others! Sebastian Barry is here.

His every sentence is a line of poetry, his every paragraph a perfect and complete poem:

"… But I was able to sit down here at the kitchen table, the Formica beaming the sun on into the hallway behind me, like a great flat stone of light bounced on the sea.

And be thinking, remembering. Trying to. All difficult dark stuff, stories stuffed away, like old socks into old pillowcases. Not quite knowing the weight of truth in them much any more. And things that I have let be a long time, in the interests of happiness, or at least  that daily contentment that I was once I do believe the mistress of. The pleasure in something cooked right, just the small and strangely infinite pleasure to be had from seeing, from witnessing, a tray of freshly baked biscuits. Like I had just completed the Parthenon, or carved Jefferson into a rockface, or maybe the contentment, the very sinews, of the bear when he digs a salmon out of the water with his paw. Mightily healing, deeply, and what else could we have come here for except to sense these tiny victories? Not the big victories that crush and kill the victor. Not wars and civil ructions, but the saving grace of Hollandaise sauce that has escaped all the possibilities of culinary disaster and is being spread like a yellow prayer on a plump cod steak – victoriously."

This is perfection. It gets no better than this – gives me the shivers.

Do I dare call the Booker already? It's taking everything I have not to. He's been shortlisted twice. It's time he's given his due. I haven't even finished the book yet! Not even halfway through. I'll be dissolved into a pool of tears before I'm done, at this rate.

I'm marking all over every page, highlighting all the beautiful words and phrases. Hardly anything is left white.

My nerves will be shattered between now and the shortlist, from then 'til the announcement of the winner. It's painful!

Back to the book…




Booker Prize Longlist – 2011


The Booker Prize longlist was announced while I was away on vacation:

Julian Barnes The Sense of an Ending (Jonathan Cape – Random House)
Sebastian Barry On Canaan's Side (Faber)
Carol Birch Jamrach's Menagerie(Canongate Books)
Patrick deWitt The Sisters Brothers(Granta)
Esi Edugyan Half Blood Blues (Serpent's Tail)
Yvvette Edwards A Cupboard Full of Coats (Oneworld)
Alan Hollinghurst The Stranger's Child (Picador – Pan Macmillan)
Stephen Kelman Pigeon English (Bloomsbury)
Patrick McGuinness The Last Hundred Days(Seren Books)
A.D. Miller Snowdrops (Atlantic)
Alison Pick Far to Go (Headline Review)
Jane Rogers The Testament of Jessie Lamb (Sandstone Press)
D.J. Taylor Derby Day(Chatto & Windus – Random House


Not unusually, I haven't read one of them. In fact, I haven't even heard of a single damn one except Jamrach's Menagerie. The rest could be made up for all I know.

Still, the urge to read some of the longlisters is upon me, because I am (puffing out chest) a pretty good hand at picking winners. I love to be right. It makes me feel superior, you see, due to the sorry state of my self esteem.

So far I'm thinking:

Definitely YES on the Julian Barnes, Sebastian Barry and Alan Hollinghurst, on general literary principle. The Sebastian Barry's partly because I think he's incredibly attractive, plus he once sent me a nice note after I talked up one of his previous books, which is highly gracious of him.

He writes beautifully, too.

Sebastian Barry, attractive

Problem, though, the Julian Barnes won't be published here 'til 2012. I could buy it from the UK, but with the value of the dollar against the pound it would cost roughly $ 200 M.


Ditto Sebastian Barry! Oh, it's a knife to the heart!


Sebastian Barry, attractive

And same with Alan Hollinghurst. (Note: he's already won once. Would the Booker committee award the same writer twice?)

Bloody hell.


Carol Birch, yes, because I've heard of your book. Oh, and it sounds good, too.

Patrick DeWitt, yes! How irresistible it sounds! Plus, read the reviews. Jesus!

Esi Edugyan, sorry, no. Unavailable in the States, plus it sounds a bore.

Yvvette Edwards A Cupboard Full of Coats? Apparently available here, but it just screams I AM NOT GOING TO WIN. Kirkus declared it "pellucid," and what the hell does that mean? If you can't find a real word to describe a book it's obviously crap.

Stephen Kelman Pigeon English? Yes! Emma Donoghue liked it, and I like Emma Donoghue. She's brilliant, gracious, and gives one hell of a good book reading. Also, Kelman's author promo photo looks very intense. He looks like a good sort to pop 'round to the pub with, someone who'd be a good conversationalist and pay my taxi fare should I imbibe too much and start singing Monty Python songs, because he's British and I think he should enjoy them.

Patrick McGuinness The Last Hundred Days? Not available here, but that's okay because I know I wouldn't like it.

A.D. Miller Snowdrops? Think I'll pass. Even the reviews bored me.

Alison Pick Far to Go? Sounds completely depressing. Though, there is this review:

'Clean, crisp and unencumbered. Pick … creates small moments that are both lovely and frightening … It's very deftly structures and the storytelling is seamless' — Globe and Mail

Oh, Christ.

Jane Rogers The Testament of Jessie Lamb? Not to be found on our shores.  Sucks, though. It sounds good enough.

D.J. Taylor Derby Day? Apparently can't get it here, plus I'm not sure it will make the cut.



Barnes, Barry (!) and Hollinghurst -, here I come.

Birch, DeWitt, Kelman – YOU WILL BE MINE.

Anyone else joining the Booker frenzy? You may use my scientific method of calculation if you'd like to cut the list down a bit. I don't mind, as I have other factors I use, anyway, and those are more accurate for fine-tuning, thus completely proprietary.

Oh, do it! Don't be a bore.

I'll report as I read, and once the shortlist comes out on September 6 will re-adjust as necessary. At that point I'll probably be able to give my prediction, unless I haven't finished reading my six.



P.S.:    I know! Exciting!


Sebastian Barry, attractive