Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Finding the power underneath (Books - The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje)

Two qualities are evident in Michael Ondaatje's The Cat's Table right at the outset. The book involves the memory of a writer named Michael, originally from Sri Lanka, who at age 11 travels without a guardian on a ship across the Indian Ocean, Suez Canal, and the Mediterranean to reach his mother in England, where he will start a new life. On that ship he spends his time with two other boys - Ramadhin and Cassius. The first quality of the story is an instantly elegiac nostalgia, a wistful tone that says - I was never as innocent and happy as I was then.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Georg Grosz meets Bridget Jones's Diary starring Madonna... no really (Books - The Artificial Silk Girl by Irmgard Keun)

I learned of German, Weimar-era novelist Irmgard Keun from a post by Bookslut about a New York literary event on the subject of her life and work, as I mentioned here. My friend and I each bought a book and I got The Artificial Silk Girl which, we learned, is a staple of a contemporary German High School education. Thanks to Caroline and Lizzy's German Literature Month, I actually read it in a timely fashion and in the context of lots of other discerning readers tackling German authors. Check out GLM's pages, they're chock full of links.

One might think The Artificial Silk Girl a serious, historical artifact, written as it was in 1932, depression-ridden German against the background of the rise of the Nazis. Indeed, it is revelatory about what it was like for a poor but beautiful girl

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Occupying Wall Street and what the Left has done for the American dream, (Books - American Dreamers by Michael Kazin)

A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. - Oscar Wilde, 1891

Given the recent developments in the Occupy Wall Street movement, Michael Kazin's book American Dreamers is a timely one. It recounts the history of the influence that radical, leftist movements have had upon United States history. He allows that the very definition of the left has been historically muddied, as both Barack Obama and Noam Chomsky, who hold polarized views on many aspects of U.S. policy, would be said to be on it. Kazin's definition:

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bookish things...

As avid bookish folk, I thought you would like to know about the following:

Writer Sarah Salway author of the novel Tell Me Everything, a favorite of mine, will have a new book of poems published by Pindrop Press in March 2012. I don't know what it's called, but it is bound to be juicy. Check out her happily sensual Love and Stationary here.

Lucy Caldwell is an Irish novelist (Where They Were Missed, The Meeting Point) and playwright (Carnival, The Luthier, Guardians, Leaves, Notes to Future Self) whose work has been roundly praised in the English press but, I must admit, was unknown to me. Her The Meeting Point has won the University of Wales Dylan Thomas Prize, a prestigious and generous award for young writers given out

Thursday, November 10, 2011

It may be fantasy but it's not for sissies (Books - Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan)

At a recent party of a friend I will call Radio Woman, the Ragazzo and I met two wonderful writers - Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman. Delia and I got talking about fantasy fiction, her genre, and whose books we like and I found myself less than enthusiastic about a certain author she admired. What do you like, she asked me? I like dark works with language that can be either inventive or very straightforward but has a sophistication, and, especially if they're written for younger readers, I like writing that assumes those readers to be smart and resilient. I also generally like, if magic is a part of the story, that its use be integral and expressive about something in the world that we come from, not just a fantasy literary device used out of habit because other successful writers in the genre use it. Well then, she said, I think you will love Margo Lanagan. She was right.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

How a two-paragraph document written in 1917 shaped the modern world (Books - The Balfour Declaration by Jonathan Schneer)

The Middle East may at times seem a small and distant part of the world, but with a land area only slightly smaller than the U.S., a population of more than 200 million people, possessing 40% of the world's oil, and the birthplace of three of the world's major religions, its influence upon world politics is not to be underestimated. Yet, today's map of the Middle East did not come into being until recently. The contemporary borders and the names of the countries Jordan, Lebanon, Iran, and Israel were all created in the 20th Century. Imperialist England and France, as well as Russia were highly influential in drawing this map to suit their strategic needs. Jonathan Schneer's 2010 book The Balfour Declaration contends that this 1917 document, a promise to by the British Cabinet to establish a Jewish homeland in the Middle East, was really a means of manipulating Arab nationalists, the Ottoman Empire (which was allied to Germany), and the world's