August 2017 Book Selection

1040609I was so thrilled with the outcome of the rejuvenated book club, as several members posted blogs on reading last month’s book.  I can’t say that many of you enjoyed Trollope’s novel and I can state that I was not entirely happy with it either.  Soon I will make my blog post on The Fixed Period and share my insights there.

For our end-of-summer book I’ve selected Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata’s novel The Lake (Japanese, 1954).  I teach Kawabata’s “The Izu Dancer” in one of my World Literature courses but I have heard that The Lake is quite different from his usual writing, as it is less subtle.  Moreover, it deals with adolescent sexuality (much like “The Izu Dancer”), and I’d like to consider this work alongside others I have read recently that deal with a similar theme, such as Henry James’s The Other House and Vladimir Nabokov’s Ada.  Also, I frequently teach Death in Venice by Thomas Mann — Kawabata’s novel may be a great work to put into conversation here.

One synopsis (from Amazon) of the novel is as follows:

The Lake is the history of an obsession. It traces a man’s sad pursuit of an unattainable perfection, a beauty out of reach, admired from a distance, unconsummated. Homeless, a fugitive from an ambiguous crime, his is an incurable longing that drives him to shadow nameless women in the street and hide in ditches as they pass above him, beautiful and aloof. For their beauty is not of this world, but of a dream-the voice of a girl he meets in a Turkish bath is “an angel’s,” the figures of two students he follows seem to “glide over the green grass that hid their knees.” Reality is the durable ugliness that is his constant companion and is symbolized in the grotesque deformity of the hero’s feet. And it is the irreconcilable nature of these worlds that explains the strangely dehumanized, shadowy quality of the eroticism that pervades this novel.

In a sense The Lake is a formless novel, a “happening,” making it one of the most modern of all Kawabata’s works. Just as the hero’s interest might be caught by some passing stranger, so the course of the novel swerves abruptly from present to past, memory shades into hallucination, dreams break suddenly into daylight. It is an extraordinary performance of free association, made all the more astonishing for the skill with which these fragments are resolved within the completed tapestry.

Join me in reading this novel, if you feel up for it!  Please add your discussion to our Facebook page, to our Goodreads discussion, or post a link to your own blog with insights.  Looking forward!

August 2014 Book Selection

684509We close the summer with The Inhabited Woman (1988) by Nicaraguan writer Gioconda Belli:

This book, by a highly regarded Central American poet, is an intelligent romance, an action-adventure with considerable depth. The German edition alone has sold over half a million copies. Lavinia Alarcon, 23, an aristocrat from “Faguas” (read Honduras), has returned from her university studies in Italy to take her first job as an architect. By the standards of Faguas she is a very liberated woman: She lives alone, frequents discotheques with a group of modern young friends, avoids romantic commitment, and refuses to examine the hunger and violence all around her. Her life is slowly disrupted by her affair with her boss, Felipe, who is a leader in the National Liberation Movement. Lavinia is drawn into the Movement in spite of herself, aided by the spiritual presence of Itza, a 15th-century female resister to the Conquistadors who now inhabits an orange tree in Lavinia’s garden; whenever Lavinia makes fresh orange juice, her spirit and Itza’s become further intermingled. Itza’s story and Lavinia’s run parallel; this is a case not of possession but of spiritual influence. Lavinia’s gradual change from rebel-without-a-cause to guerrilla is carefully detailed and presented as her own destiny. With each small adjustment in her consciousness she leaves her old self farther behind. Felipe also undergoes a slow transformation from a stereotypical macho male into a real companion who can fight with his woman at his side, even if she does come from a higher social class. A gripping page-turner with a historical basis, an action tale that boldly dramatizes an inner struggle. Lavinia is the Everywoman of the 21st century, searching for a balance between the extremes of violence and privilege.

 

Chime in with your insights as you read this novel in our Goodreads discussion forum.  See you there!

July 2014 Book Selection

Russian author Fyodor Sologub’s novel The Little Demon (also translated as The Petty Demon, 1907) puts us in the heart of summer.

21117296Mad, lascivious, sadistic and ridiculous, the provincial schoolteacher Peredonov torments his students and has hallucinatory fantasies about acts of savagery and degradation, yet to everyone else he is an upstanding member of society. As he pursues the idea of marrying to gain promotion, he descends into paranoia, sexual perversion, arson, torture and murder. Sologub’s anti-hero is one of the great comic monsters of twentieth-century fiction, subsequently lending his name to the brand of sado-masochism known as Peredonovism. The Little Demon (1907) made an immediate star of its author who, refuting suggestions that the work was autobiographical, stated ‘No, my dear contemporaries … it is about you‘. This grotesque mirror of a spiritually bankrupt society is arguably the finest Russian novel to have come out of the Symbolist movement.

 

Join us in discussing this book in the Literary People Goodreads forum here.

June 2014 Book Selection: Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not)

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This June we read Philippino author Jose Rizal’s novel Noli Me Tangere:

In more than a century since its appearance, José Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere has become widely known as the great novel of the Philippines. A passionate love story set against the ugly political backdrop of repression, torture, and murder, “The Noli,” as it is called in the Philippines, was the first major artistic manifestation of Asian resistance to European colonialism, and Rizal became a guiding conscience—and martyr—for the revolution that would subsequently rise up in the Spanish province.

I am very excited to read this text, following on the heels of our May read Touch.  I am particularly interested in how the sense of touch is so vastly different — and the same — in these texts.  Hope to see you in our discussion forums.  The book club looks to be taking off!

 

Cheers!

May 2014 Book Selection: Adania Shibli’s Touch

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For May we tackle Palestinian author Adania Shibli’s novella Touch.

Touch centers on a girl, the youngest of nine sisters in a Palestinian family. In the singular world of this novella, this young woman’s everyday experiences–watching a funeral procession, fighting with her siblings, learning to read, perhaps falling in love–resonate until they have become as weighty as any national tragedy. The smallest sensations compel, the events of history only lurk at the edges–the question of Palestine, the massacre at Sabra and Shatila. In a language that feels at once natural and alienated, Shibli breaks with the traditions of modern Arabic fiction, creating a work that has been and will continue to be hailed across literatures. Here every ordinary word, ordinary action is a small stone dropped into water: of inevitable consequence. We find ourselves mesmerized one quiet ripple at a time.

 

I am going to be phasing out our current discussion board in exchange for a new one through Goodreads.  Please join our new group there!

 

Jenn

April/May 2014 Book Selection: Natsume Soseki’s Sanshiro

 

Sanshiro

This month we read a classic of early 20-century Japanese literature with Natsume Soseki’s novel Sanshiro (1908).

One of Soseki’s most beloved works of fiction, the novel depicts the 23-year-old Sanshiro leaving the sleepy countryside for the first time in his life to experience the constantly moving ‘real world’ of Tokyo, its women and university. In the subtle tension between our appreciation of Soseki’s lively humour and our awareness of Sanshiro’s doomed innocence, the novel comes to life. Sanshiro is also penetrating social and cultural commentary.

 

Join our conversation of this text on our Literary People discussion forum, here.

March 2014 Book Selection

One of my colleagues recommended J. California Cooper’s novel Family (American 1991) as one of the best works of fiction by an African-American woman writer.

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In this wise, beguiling, beautiful novel set in the era of the Civil War, an award-winning playwright and author paints a haunting portrait of a woman named Always, born a slave, and four generations of her African-American family.

Much has been written about the institution of slavery. But with Family, Cooper has taken the slave narrative and recreated it as an epic, yet collo quial, poem. “Mesmerizing . . . Cooper weaves four wry, humorous, tragic tales that envelop and transcend time, offering hope and renewal at the same time they chronicle desolation and death.”

 

Join us by discussing this text in our Literary People forum here.

 

Looking forward to discussing this one!  Happy reading!

Jenn

February 2014 Book Selection

Our first read for the club will be Wilkie Collins’s “The Devil’s Spectacles” (English, 1879).

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Plot Summary: The Devil’s Spectacles is perhaps Wilkie Collins’ most unusual and bizarre tale. It tells the story of Alfred, a young landed gentleman who is given by Septimus Notman, a sailor on his deathbed, a pair of unusual spectacles. These, Septimus had received from the Devil in person, under most unusual circumstances. The spectacles have strange supernatural powers, enabling the wearer to see the thoughts and emotions of others around him. Septimus advises Alfred to deploy the Devil’s spectacles to unravel a complex love situation in which he currently finds himself. The results are not in the least what Alfred expects.

You may read the text for free here.

Chime in with your thoughts about the text in our forum, here.

Read my blog about this text here.

Happy reading!

Jenn