The Sunday Salon – August 20, 2011 , or:

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

 

Sundaysalon

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

 

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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 Amazon.co.uk. 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:

 

Voltaireexile

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.

 

Nice!

 

I also re-read portions of Kate Christensen's The Astral, in order to write my review for BookBrowse.com (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.

And:

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

 

  Powells

www.powells.com

 

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The Sunday Salon – August 7, 2011 edition

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Welcome to this week's edition of The Sunday Salon, in which I bring to you a mere fraction of what I've been reading throughout the week, because my ADD renders a full transcription a superhuman ideal to which I cannot live up.

Books finished:

Howtolivesafely A plot line centering on time travel would have had much less success with me before I became enamored with Doctor Who and his grand adventures in the TARDIS. Honestly, the absolute hotness of the present (Matt Smith) and prior (DAVID TENNANT) actors playing the lead role in the series did have a little something to do with my initial interest, but beyond that I became sucked into the world of time lords, quirky aliens and unpredictable plots. Now I'm a rabid fan, making the idea of time travel – though, in reality, negated by Stephen Hawking – irresistable.

So, in the mail comes Charles Yu's book, arriving at pretty much the height of my Who-mania. Main character Charles Yu (coincidence!) opens the book describing his job involving policing time travellers, in order to keep them from bending or breaking the rule declaring one mustn't mess with the past, or God alone knows the ripple effect. He travels around in a box sounding for all the world like the TARDIS, guided by his computer, TAMMY, and accompanied by a sort of robotic dog.

Sound familiar at all, Doctor Who fans? Me, too. A little too familiar.

The main theme is the alienation Charles suffered from his father – the ubiquitous constantly-distracted/disconnected from real life scientist – before and after his sudden, unexplained disappearance, and how this has haunted Charles all his life. The book bounces back and forth betwixt a young  Charles desperately seeking his father's attention and the adult Charles, operating the very time machines which his father's life's work involved, in the midst of searching for his father in order to find the proverbial closure.

The only time travel book I can recall reading previously is H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, an odd eyebrow scruncher/head tilter of a book, one I didn't particularly care for aside from the fact it was an early attempt at science fiction writing and interesting as such. I can't recall what led me to read it, whether it was for a book group or lark, but the impression it left me with was not positive. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe went better, but didn't replace Doctor Who in my heart. Yu's work lacked a certain something in the way of plot complexity, and general tension. It felt incomplete to me, though I thoroughly enjoyed the writing style – witty, and generally lovely. Pity, that, but can't win them all.

Bunnersisters A much better experience came in the form of a short foray with my beloved Edith Wharton's novella Bunner Sisters, the story of two impoverished spinsters – Evelina and Ann Eliza – living modestly, operating a small sewing/millinary business in their home. The two live miserly lives, but things are satisfactory; they can meet their needs through their own work, without need of a husband to support them.

"The Bunner sisters were proud of the neatness of their shop and content with its humble prosperity. It was not what they had once imagined it would be, but though it presented but a shrunken image of their earlier ambitions it enabled them to pay their rent and keep themselves alive and out of debt; and it was long since their hopes had soared higher."

But then enters a MAN – Herman Ramy – who sells Evelina a clock she gives Ann Eliza for her birthday. When the clock proves to need repair one of the sisters takes it back to his shop. It turns out there was only a speck of dirt in the way, after removal of same the clock was in perfect order.

What starts as a simple transaction blossoms into something suggesting more when the man decides to visit the ladies again, to ensure the clock remains in working order (lame, dude). You can see this one coming: the two sisters begin spending more and more time with him, each believing his attentions are due to her. One is left giddy, and the other broken-hearted, until…

Twist! Turn! Delightful stuff.

As far as actual finished books, let's say these two make up the total list, as I need to go grocery shopping in a few minutes.

Books in Progress:

Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta. Reading this with The New Yorker book discussion group, which I didn't even know existed until last week but had to join because, hey, it's THE NEW YORKER. Roughly halfway through, reading on my iPhone Kindle app. Plot: a rather eccentric/artsy, brilliant brother and his adoring but less exceptional sister and the lives they lead, narrated by the sister. Kind of short on actual plot, come to think of it, but interestingly character-driven.

The Infinite Library by Kane X. Faucher. Shazam! No idea how I found this Kindle book, but so far I'm torn between thinking it brilliant and merely approaching/mirroring brilliance as it's heavily influenced by Borges' "The Library of Babel," and no writer can live up to THAT. A mysterious man approaches a book researcher/lecturer asking for help filling in obscure titles in his library, using less than legal means. Reeeallly interesting.

Luminarium by Alex Shakar. Good stuff! Twin men, one in a coma, one participating in a study in which the objective is something approaching becoming one with the universe, with a spiritual slant. Not very far into it, but it's great so far. Reading with The Rumpus Book Club.

Have a lovely week.