May 2022 books read

  • Thrush Green – Miss Read, 1959. Finally checking out an author who was really popular back in my Pennsylvania library days, with the first in one of her two most popular series (Chronicles of Fairacre is the other). A little low-key for me, but appreciated the mix of characters and the “changing of the guard” between generations.
  • Justine – Lawrence Durrell, 1957.
  • We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast – Jonathan Safran Foer, 2019. Quotes pulled, TBD.
  • Snow Country – Yasunari Kawabata, 1948.
  • Firestarter – Stephen King, 1980. Multiple re-read, picked up this time because of starting to watch Stranger Things. ST is deeply indebted to this novel not only in plot and time period, but even down to the title font. I’ve never seen the Firestarter movies – they both look terrible! – but the book holds up.
  • Decision at Doona – Anne McCaffrey, 1969. I hadn’t re-read this in years… wow, the sexism is off the charts (despite being written by a woman!), but I still enjoy the alien cat-people. It’s kind of fascinating how many of McCaffrey’s plots revolve around bureaucracy – typically omnipresent, powerful but dumb, with honorable intentions miscarried by tinpot dictators, always vanquished by her cunning heroes who know how to work with the system.
  • Emma and the Blue Genie – Cornelia Funke, 2002. Very slight, got rid of it.
  • In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way; A Graphic Novel – Stéphane Heuet, 1998-2013 (tr. Arthur Goldhammer, 2013). I’ve been reading through ISoLT with two friends, fifty pages at a time, and absolutely loving it (read the whole thing in college, almost 4 decades ago, and loved it then but barely remember it). I often enjoy graphic novels. So when I found out about this series I was elated, but actually reading it was disappointing. It does have some virtues. As Goldhammer points out in the introduction, paring the text down so severely reveals aspects of the structure that are easy to miss. Heuet’s style is classic clear line style, which I adore. And it seems like he’s done his research – the time period comes alive, and it’s helpful to see the characters visually fleshed out, wearing period-appropriate clothing. But alas, his skills aren’t up to the (huge) job. The faces in particular are poorly rendered, and because Proust is so much about character, that’s a fatal flaw. Nonetheless, I’ll read volume 2, which is as far as he’s gotten.
  • The Magician’s Nephew – C. S. Lewis, 1955. Re-read for #Narniathon21.

Snow Country – Yasunari Kawabata (tr. Edward G. Seidensticker), 1957

Read for Great Books. I didn’t love it, but some others did.

  • “He wondered whether the flowing landscape was not perhaps symbolic of the passage of time.”
  • “The bud of her lips opened and closed smoothly, like a beautiful little circle of leeches.”
  • “[Her hair] glowed like some heavy black stone.”
  • Seeing Komako from the train window: “it was as though one strange piece of fruit had been left behind in the grimy glass case of a shabby mountain grocery.”
  • “The beans jumped from their dry pods like little drops of light.”

It was a stern night landscape. The sound of the freezing of snow over the land seemed to roar deep into the earth. There was no moon. The stars, almost too many of them to be true, came forward so brightly that it was as if they were falling with the swiftness of the void. As the stars came nearer, the sky retreated deeper and deeper into the night color. The layers of the Border Range, indistinguishable one from another, cast their heaviness at the skirt of the starry sky in a blackness grave and somber enough to communicate their mass. The whole of the night scene came together in a clear, tranquil harmony.

Something none of us understood, when Shimamura talks to Yoko – Jonathan says he’s punishing himself, which I guess makes sense?

But at that moment his affection for Komako welled up violently. To run off to Tokyo, as if eloping, with a nondescript woman would somehow be in the nature of an intense apology to Komako, and a penance for Shimamura himself.

In this book I learned about “Chijimi grass-linen,” a ramie fabric bleached in the snow.

Justine – Lawrence Durrell, 1957

Read for Second Monday book group. I was a huge Gerald Durrell fan as a kid, so I knew that his brother Larry was a writer, and as an adult I suppose the Alexandria Quartet has been on my (very long) TBR list for ages, so I was glad to be pushed to read this, which is the first of the series. But I didn’t much care for it and I will cross the other 3 off my list!

Short quotes

  • “…the graceful curtain breathing softly in that breathless afternoon air like the sail of a ship. How often had we not lain in one another’s arms watching the slow intake and recoil of that transparent piece of bright linen?”
  • “We turned to each other, closing like the two leaves of a door upon the past, shutting out everything”
  • Balthazar says: “when all is said and done, [man is] just a passage for liquids and solids, a pipe of flesh”
  • “Most people lie and let life play upon them like the tepid discharges of a douche-bag.”
  • “a sweetness which a woman can always afford to spend upon the man she does not love”
  • “Father Paul … seemed so profoundly happy a man, folded into his religion like a razor into its case”
  • “the green figs … offer a shade so deep as to be like a wet cloth pressed to the skull”
  • “in the moist gathering darkness the fireflies had begun to snatch fitfully”
  • “Here at least, thought Nessim, building something with my own hands will keep me stable and unreflective — and he studied the horny old hands of the Greek with admiring envy as he thought of the time they had killed for him, of the thinking they had saved him. He read into them years of healthy bodily activity which imprisoned thought, neutralized reflection.”
  • “a thin crust of thunder formed like a scab upon the melodious silence”
  • “carrying her fatigue like a heavy pack”
  • “the pressure of the headlights now peeled off layer after layer of the darkness”

Only long quote is from Nessim’s attack of dreams/illusions:

One afternoon a crumpled sheet began breathing and continued for a space of about half an hour, assuming the shape of the body it covered. One night he woke to the soughing of great wings and saw a bat-like creature with the head of a violin resting upon the bedrail.

Then the counter-agency of the powers of good — a message brought by a ladybird which settled on the notebook in which he was writing; the music of Weber’s Pan played every day between three and four on a piano in an adjoining house. He felt that his mind had become a battle-ground for the forces of good and evil and that his task was to strain every nerve to recognize them, but it was not easy. The phenomenal world had begun to play tricks on him so that his senses were beginning to accuse reality itself of inconsistency. He was in peril of a mental overthrow.

Once his waistcoat started ticking as it hung on the back of a chair, as if inhabited by a colony of foreign heartbeats. …

As he walked the length of the Rue Fuad he felt the entire pavement turn to sponge beneath his feet; he was foundering waist-deep in it before the illusion vanished.

In this book I learned

  • banausic: mundane
  • I couldn’t find the meaning of “conklin-coloured yams.” A Harold Conklin wrote an interesting paper about color categories in a Philippine culture – I was happy to stumble on it, but it was published in 1986 so no possible connection. But Jonathan did some research and this is plausible: Conklin Shows, founded in 1916, used a distinctive bright orange for their railcars and logo. This assumes that Durrell is actually describing sweet potatoes (not yams!), which is also very plausible.