Une Joyeux Anniversaire

We make it a tradition to celebrate our birthdays long and hard, my mother and I. Back to back days at the end of January, mine is today, and hers is tomorrow.

There’s always lots of cake…

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But this year, to honor a milestone birthday for her, I folded origami cranes of handmade Japanese paper.

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I must admit to feeling some pleasure at how they turned out.

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As for me, I am abundantly blessed with Facebook messages, real cards, and bountiful presents such as these from Lesley:

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and these from my parents; the bear claw pattern, symbolizing inner strength from which I feel I’ve had to draw this year due to various challenges such as illness and worry. Which I’m trying to avoid.

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And from my husband, in an effort to find what I once saw in Paris, this beautiful scarf:

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Not every year can be so special, but I am savoring this one that is, taking nothing for granted.

 

Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles

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Right from the beginning, Mrs. Copperfield describes Miss Goering has “gloriously unpredictable”, and for me, those would be accurate adjectives applicable to the entire novel. It wouldn’t be surprising to say that this is the strangest novel I’ve read all year, for it’s only the fourth one I’ve finished in 2016. Perhaps I ought to say it’s one of the strangest novels I’ve read ever, and yet that does not mean I wasn’t completely absorbed by it. No, as I turned the last page tonight I could see why Scott mentioned to me that he has read it several (I believe five?) times. The surprises are so abrupt, the themes so large, that I could see myself reading it several times myself, but not before initial thoughts are “due” by the end of the month.

In the beginning, Mrs. Copperfield and Miss Goering connect at a party, go their separate ways during the course of the novel, and reconnect at the end of the book. While they have been absent from each other, they have endured embraced some remarkable experiences. Mrs. Copperfield and her husband travel to South America, and disembark in Panama where Mrs. Copperfield meets sharp-featured, wiry-haired Pacifica, a prostitute with whom she falls in love. She bids her husband to continue his trip without her.

Miss Goering sells her lovely home for a shack on an island, and moving in with her are her governess’s cousin (Lucie Gamelon), Arnold, and Arnold’s father. An odd assortment of people move in and out of the pages of this novel, and while it seems that they long for connection with Christina Goering, she longs for nothing of the sort.

To me, her life is more a trial-and-error stab at abating loneliness, which none of the characters are very capable of achieving, least of all Miss Goering.

The characters seem to be in horror of being alone. Mrs. Quill, proprietress of the Hotel de las Palmas where Pacifica works, says to a waiter, “Such an awful, dreadful, mean thing to be alone in the world even for a minute…” (p. 134)

When Miss Goering is sitting at a bar, she answers the question put to her about if she’s having a good time like this: “Well,” said Miss Goering, “it wasn’t exactly in order to have a good time that I came out. I have more or less forced myself to, simply because I despise going out in the night-time alone and prefer not to leave my own house. However, it has come to such a point that I am forcing myself to make these little excursions-” (p. 194)

In several places, Miss Goering points out that she is forcing herself to accomplish something, yet what that might be befuddled me until the conclusion of the novel. It seems she had been on a quest for salvation: “…she was only interested in the course that she was following in order to attain her own salvation.” (p. 239).

How one obtains salvation without faith is beyond me, but Christina Goering seemed to think it can be accomplished by downsizing. Facing her fears. Keeping herself busy, and surrounded by someone interesting to talk to at all times. It is as though isolation is the worst state of being for both of these women, yet having a lovely time does not fill the gap in their aching hearts.

Jane Bowles writes in a way that made me think there had been a translator for Two Serious Ladies, until I remembered that she was an American writer born in 1917. Yet there is a passive, almost surreal quality to her writing that led me to feel that her characters were quite ungrounded. They seemed lost and instead of finding the novel to have an overall effect of humour, for which Jane Bowles has been noted, I found it tragic. They are two serious ladies, indeed. Two serious, sad and hopeless ladies in my opinion.

I read this book with Scott, Frances, Dorian, Claire and Laurie, each of whose thoughts I am eager to know. This novel also qualifies for the Back to The Classics Challenge: Book by a Female Author. And, in an attempt to schedule this for Wednesday, I accidentally published it tonight. So sorry if this was rushing the timing for anyone…

Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert (or, Why I Liked Madame Bovary Much Better)

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The best thing about Madame Bovary is Emma Bovary. Foolish, deluded Emma, to be sure, but she is someone whose story creates a powerful impact, one that has remained with me since the first time I read it at 17 years of age. I seemed to feel the dreams that Emma carried for her life, and the disappointment she felt in her marriage to bumbling Charles. I understood the intrigue she felt toward the dashing Rodolphe. I was as shocked as Emma herself when she was left by him, deceived that his intentions were for good. Even her death seemed somehow romantic, in a tragic sort of way. Emma’s character interested me the whole time I read the novel.

But as for Frédéric Moreau in Sentimental Education, what an indecisive, selfish twerp! He cannot decide what he wants to be: a lawyer, a painter, a landowner. He falls in love with Mme Arnoux, married woman that she is, but then makes promises to Louise Roque, the landowner’s daughter, and in fits of uncertainty holds dalliances with courtesan Rosanette. Toward the end of the novel he has even become involved with Mme Dambreuse, a woman he supposes to be wealthier than she is.

The women Flaubert portrays give their hearts away completely, the men not at all. They exist, in these two novels, to satisfy themselves. So how is it that the title I just finished can be Sentimental Education? Perhaps we find the answer in this quote from Oscar Wilde:

A sentimentalist is one who desires to have the luxury of an emotion without paying for it.

 

In that sense, it fits Frédéric perfectly. He says he loves Mme Arnoux, insists on it despite his actions to the contrary throughout the novel, but is not willing to sacrifice what it would require to make her his own.

A few quotes which struck me as I read through the book this month, not all of them ones I necessarily agree with, but interesting to think about all the same:

For certain men action becomes more difficult as desire becomes stronger. They are embarrassed by self-doubt, and terrified by the fear of being disliked. Besides, deep feelings of affection are like virtuous women: they are afraid of being discovered, and go through life with downcast eyes.

 

All the evil scattered over the earth he naively attributed to Power; and he hated it with a deep-rooted, undying hatred that took possession of his heart and refined his sensibility.

 

…let us confess that there is such a thing as poverty! But the remedy depends neither on science nor on power. It is purely an individual question. When the lower classes are willing to get rid of their vices, they will free themselves from their necessities. Let the people be more moral, and they will be less poor!

 

He imagined that he had offended them, not realising what vast reserves of indifference society possesses.

 

It was necessary to bring down the wealthy. And he represented them as wallowing in crime under their gilded ceilings; while the poor, writhing in their garrets with famine, cultivated every virtue.

 

The hearts of women are like little cabinets, full of secret drawers fitted one inside the other; you hurt yourself, break your nails in opening them, and then find within only some dried flowers, a few grains of dust-or, nothing!

 

They had both failed in their plans-the one who dreamed only of love, and the other of power. What was the reason for this?

“‘Tis perhaps from not having kept to a steady course,” said Frederic.

“In your case that may be so. I, on the contrary, have sinned through excess rigidity, without taking into account a thousand secondary things more important than any other. I had too much logic, and you too much sentiment.”

I read this this book in part for the Back to The Classics Challenge 2016 hosted by Books and Chocolate. I was also interested in picking it up after reading thoughts from Wuthering Expectations.

Mailbox Monday For January 18, 2016

 

I’m excited about reading these books, especially the latest by Sebastian Faulks, Where My Heart Used to Beat:

A sweeping drama about the madness of war and the power of love that marks acclaimed novelist Sebastian Faulks’s return, after twenty years, to the fictional territory of his #1 international bestseller Birdsong

Yet also included in the many books I’ve received are King Maybe (and I know its author to be hilarious):

Los Angeles burglar Junior Bender is in the middle of burgling a house and has just gotten his hands on one of the world’s rarest stamps when the job goes terrifically wrong. After barely escaping, Junior realizes the danger is far from over. He’s gotten himself on the wrong side of a man whose name is synonymous with violence, and to save his own skin he’s set off a chain reaction of blackmail, strong-arming, and escalating crime. To pay off his underworld debts, Junior is forced to break into the house of the most powerful man in Hollywood, the shadowy, widely feared studio mogul known as King Maybe. It’s an impossible break-in, and to get out of the house alive Junior will need to use everything he’s learned, plus a few skills he knows he doesn’t possess.

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz:

From the author of the New York Times bestselling Spellman Files series, Lisa Lutz’s latest blistering thriller is about a woman who creates and sheds new identities as she crisscrosses the country to escape her past: you’ll want to buckle up for the ride!

Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm:

Unbecoming is an intricately plotted and psychologically nuanced heist novel that turns on suspense and slippery identity. With echoes of Alfred Hitchcock and Patricia Highsmith, Rebecca Scherm’s mesmerizing debut is sure to entrance fans of Gillian Flynn, Marisha Pessl, and Donna Tartt.

The Expatriates by Janice Y. K. Lee:

A richly detailed novel that rubs away at the luster of expat life and examines how the bonds of motherhood or, really, womanhood, can call back even those who are furthest adrift. —Kirkus Reviews

Not photographed because they’re on the kindle:

Jane Steele

Jane Steele by Lesley Faye

Even The Dead

Even The Dead by Benjamin Black

Love in Lowercase

Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles

The Madwoman Upstairs

The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

What She Left

What She Left by T. R. Richmond

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Behave by Andromeda-Romano Lax

Missing Pieces

Missing Pieces by Heather Gudenkauf

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Why They Run The Way They Do (stories) by Susan Perabo

I’d like to get to this stack soon because they all hold a certain appeal, whether they’re connected to Jane Eyre, or a promised thrill ride, or even the founder of behaviorist psychology, John B. Watson. Here’s to hoping for a few snow days in January and February.

Do you have a stack of books you’re waiting to read this Winter?

 

(Find more Mailbox Monday posts here.)

 

Looking Ahead to 2016

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I’m not the sort of girl who plans her reading far in advance. In most things, I’m quite organized. Well prepared for life’s eventualities. When it comes to reading, however, which is one of my greatest joys, I like to be open to possibility. I like to grab what I want, when I want, and not turn my joy into a job.

Yet there are a few plans in the works, especially since visiting a few wonderful bloggers last night.

You know about the Two Serious Ladies read-along this January with Scott, Frances and Dorian (so far, please consider joining us). But, the list of read-alongs in which I want to partake is now considerably larger:

Frankenstein

Frankenstein with Frances on June 16, 2016, will be a reread for me, but I’m looking forward to it with others…

La Regenta

La Regenta with Tom in July, 2016…

Penguin The Guermantes Way

The Guermantes Way, Volume 3 of Remembrance of Things Past, with Arti and Stefanie to take place during all of 2016…

and a few of my own choices, any of which you’re welcome to join me in reading:

They Were Counted

They Were Counted by Miklos Banffy…

and

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, who was born 200 years ago on April 21, 1816. (Also, I want to reread this book before I read two upcoming releases coming to me from their publishers: Jane Steele and The Madwoman Upstairsboth to be published in March.)

That’s about as planned as I want to be right now, but as usual, I welcome any input, any suggestions, and any fellow readers. Such promising books await.

Real Tigers by Mick Herron

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She’d heard once of a long-distance hiker, way before the days of e-readers, who’d carried a novel over the Alps, tearing out and discarding each page as he read it, to lighten his load. There was a lot to be said for that. For a baggage-free existence, each moment of your story jettisoned as soon as done; your future pristine, undiluted by all that’s gone before. You’d always be on the first page. Never have to turn back, relive your mistakes.

Slough House on Aldersgate Street is where all the screw ups have gone. The “slow horses” who are alcoholic, or hooked on coke, or in some way have made a mess of a case and been relegated to this building of shame.

Except they’re so likeable it’s hard to be scornful of their situation. Rather, one feels a certain amount of empathy, and a hope that the tight-assed superiors of Regent’s Park, such as Dame Ingrid Tearney, will get theirs.

I love the sparkling wit, so often comprised of sarcasm, which Herron bestows on his characters. Just as I have enjoyed Robert B. Parker’s Spenser novels for the humor and beautifully developed characters, so I feel an affinity toward Mick Herron’s. What a pity it’s taken me his third book of the Slough House series, Real Tigers, to find them.

Thanks to SoHo Press for the introduction.

If You Think This Is A Lot, You’re Wrong

imageI just reached my hand into the top drawer of my dresser and grabbed what I could hold before I threw it on my desk to take a photograph.  These seven lippies are about a fourth of the rest that I left lying in the drawer. Unphotographed.

It’s embarrassing. I can’t imagine that I own this much of one item, true, my favorite cosmetic but still…who needs more than one lipstick?

I came in from a party at a beautiful apartment last night. The owner has it decorated rather simply, and in a quiet moment after dinner gave me a spray of her favorite perfume (Diorissimo). There aren’t trays of bottles adorning her dressing table. There’s one elegant bottle of beautiful French scent. That’s all.

I yearn for such simplicity. The ability to focus and care for a few things instead of an overwhelming collection. Perhaps only Americans think having more is the way to live; I am decidedly, purposefully, turning toward less in 2016.

Less lipstick, less perfume, less books, less accumulation. To me, this will equal less stress. I want to appreciate what I own and use it up before I buy more. After all, even Mary Poppins said, “Enough is as good as a feast.”

So thank you, James, for your Triple Dog Dare Challenge which I gratefully accept. To read from only the stacks of what I already own, while wearing the lipsticks that I already have, seems like a tremendous boon to me as I face the new year.

Tidying means taking each item in your hand, asking yourself whether it sparks joy, and deciding on this basis whether or not to keep it. By repeating this process hundreds and thousands of times, we naturally hone our decision-making skills. People who lack confidence in their judgment lack confidence in themselves. I, too, once lacked confidence. What saved me was tidying. ~Marie Kondo the life-changing magic of tidying up

Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles. Won’t you read along with us?

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Amongst all the titles listed in Severina by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, Two Serious Ladies is not one of them. And yet, in a discussion about Severina this July, Scott and I decided to read it. We thought, perhaps, it might have been included in with the authors Rey wrote about on Severina’s shelves. But even though it isn’t, we’ve decided to read it this January anyway, and perhaps you’ll be sufficiently enticed to join us.

It would fit with the Women’s Classic Literature Event. Since it was written in 1943 it would fit in with a classics challenge. And if you’re just plain interested in reading with Scott, of seraillon, as I am, this would be the perfect opportunity.

What is it about? Harper Collins says this:

Two Serious Ladies is the only novel by avant-garde literary star and wife of legendary writer Paul Bowles—a modernist cult-classic, mysterious, profound, anarchic, and funny, that follows two upper-class women as they descend into debauchery—updated with an introduction by Claire Messud, bestselling author of The Emperor’s Children and The Woman Upstairs.

Two serious ladies who want to live outside of themselves, Christina Goering and Frieda Copperfield embark on separate quests of salvation. Mrs. Copperfield visits Panama with her husband, where she finds solace among the women who live and work in its brothels. Miss Goering becomes involved with various men. At the end the two women meet again, each transformed by her experience.

We will take January to read this novel, and discuss it at the end of the month. Please do  join us. (So far, it’s me, Scott, Dorian and Frances. Hooray!)

My Year in Reading for 2015

~January~

1. The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante
2. The Secret Place by Tana French
3. The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber
4. The Sound of the Mountain by Yasunari Kawabata

~February~

5. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (Booker long list)
6. A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean
7. One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore
8. Mah Jongg: The Art of The Game by Ann M. Israel and Gregg Swain
9. Quiet Chaos by Sandro Veronesi (Strega Prize)
10. The Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
11. I’m Not Scared by Niccolo Ammaniti (Strega Prize)

~March~

12. Don’t Move by Margaret Mazzantini (Strega Prize)
13. The Boy Who Loved Rain by Gerard Kelly
14. A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear
15. The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins
16. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
17. The End of Days by Jenny Erpendeck (IFFP short list/winner)
18. F a novel by Daniel Kehlmann (IFFP short list)
19. In The Beginning Was The Sea by Tomas Gonzalez (IFFP short list)
20. While The Gods Were Sleeping by Erwin Mortier (IFFP short list)
21. The Dead Lake by Hamid Ismailov (IFFP long list)

~April~

22. Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes (IFFP long list)
23. Circling The Sun by Paula McLain
24. The Ravens by Tomas Bannerhed (IFFP long list)
25. Bloodlines by Marcello Fois (IFFP long list)

~May~

26. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (Newbery Award, 2013)
27.  Little, Big by John Crowley (World Fantasy Award, 1982)
28. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
29. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of The World by Haruki Murakami (Japanese Lit Challenge 9)
30. Contempt by Alberto Moravia
31. The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder

~June~

32. Taking Pity by David Mark
33. Reader for Hire by Raymond Jean
34. Charlie and The Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
35. Faithful Place by Tana French
36. Remember Mia by Alexandra Burt
37. A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin
38. Naomi by Junichiro Tanizaki (Japanese Lit Challenge 9)

~July~

39. Scarlet and Black by Stendhal (Paris in July)
40. Murder on the Ile Sordou by M. L. Longworth (Paris in July)
41. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
42. Coloring Flower Mandalas by Wendy Piersall
43. A Heart So White by Javier Marias (Spanish Lit Month)
44. The Discreet Hero by Mario Vargas Llosa (Spanish Lit Month)
45. Severina by Rodrigo Rey Rosa  (Spanish Lit Month)

~August~

46. Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy (Booker long list)
47. The Green Road by Anne Enright (Booker long list)
48. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (Booker long list)
49. The Illuminations by Andrew O’Hagan (Booker long list)
50. Satin Island by Tom McCarthy (Booker long list)

~September~

51. The Likeness by Tana French
52. Did You Ever Have A Family? by Bill Clegg (Booker long list)
53. Stars Go Blue by Laura Pritchett
54. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
55. The Quick by Lauren Owen
56. The Fisherman by Chigozi Obiama
57. After You by JoJo Moyes

~October~

58. The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope
59. The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
60. The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry
61. Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell

~November~

62. Benediction by Kent Haruf
63. Three Truths and a Lie by Lisa Gardner
64. Heidi by Joanna Spyri
65. Slade House by David Mitchell
66. Like Family by Paolo Giordano
67. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
68. The Gun by Fuminori Nakamura

~December~

69. Emma by Jane Austen
70. American Assassin by Vince Flynn
71. The Widow by Fiona Barton

Although it is only December 26, I cannot imagine that I will complete another book before January 1. And so the grand total for the year is 71 books, broken down into these statistics :

  • 69% were books in translation
  • 20% were mysteries or thrillers
  • 17% were classics
  • 11%  were for the Shadow Jury for the IFFP (Independent Foreign Fiction Prize)
  • 8% were for the Shadow Jury for the Man Booker prize
  • 4% were for the Japanese Literature Challenge 9
  • 4% were for Spanish Lit Month
  • 2% were for Paris in July
  • 2% were for German Lit Month
  • 7% were children’s
  • 2% were nonfiction

Ten Personal Favorites for 2015:

  • The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
  • Quiet Chaos by Sandro Veronesi
  • Don’t Move by Margaret Mazzantini
  • The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck
  • The Dead Lake by Hamid Ismailov
  • Little, Big by John Crowley
  • Naomi by Junichuro Tanizaki
  • A Heart so White by Javier Marias
  • Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Honorable mention to:

  • The Secret Place by Tana French
  • The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

Special thanks to:

Finally, it is with a grateful heart that I thank each of you who took the time to read the posts I’ve written, leave a comment or two, and share in the love of literature with me. It is you, my fellow bibliophiles, who enrich my reading life immeasurably. Already, I’m looking forward to the books we will share in 2016!

Good Tidings

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I received this card yesterday from an old blogging friend, one who never forgets me no matter how careless I am in sending forth good will. It is one of my favorite cards received this year.

A challenging year it has been, from a serious car accident involving my son, to two small surgeries for myself, and one for my mother. And these are only the outward manifestations of some inner emotional turmoil. But we are all here, experiencing grace, and I am so grateful.

When things are difficult I am convinced it is for our good. Our bodies aren’t  nourished on only sweets; our lives are not strengthened by only smooth days. My mother has said to me, “Courage grows strong in a wound.” My father has said to me, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” These are the words I live by.

But at Christmas, I also live by these words:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. (Like me, so many times.)

And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

Luke 2:8-11 (KJV)

And I wish for you good tidings of great joy, of great comfort, and of great hope for 2016. God bless you, each one.