24 Hour (Reverse) Read-a-thon Coming Soon

What a lovely idea for Summer! When our time is perhaps more available, or at least flexible, and we can enjoy our books on a Summer night into the following day. For me, it will be a much needed opportunity to indulge in reading for Paris in July (hosted by Tamara) and Spanish Lit Month (hosted by Stu and Richard).

How does it work?

It’s simple! For our lovely participants around the world, we’ll start this readathon at 8:00 PM Friday, July 27 and run through July 28 at 8pm, Eastern Standard time, where we normally start at 8:00 AM Saturday. Still 24 hours

Sign up here: http://www.24hourreadathon.com

Or, simply read along with us as you can.

Paris in July 2018

This is not an official button for Paris in July; I just happened to like this black and white photo of a woman sitting peacefully by the river. “What is it,” I ask myself, “that she is absorbed in reading on such a quiet day?”

For there is a wealth of literature from which she could choose. As for me, I am currently absorbed in Annie Ernaux’ The Years, which won the 2016 Strega European Prize and the 2018 French-American Foundation Translation Prize. (It is truly spectacular.)

And within my stacks we find treasures to be devoured such as these:

The Madeleine Project by Clara Beaudoux, about a young woman who moved into an apartment in Paris and discovered a storage room of belongings left by the previous owner, all of which Clara documented on Twitter;

nyrb classics such as Like Death by Guy de Maupassant, or Act of Passion by Georges Simenon;

Or, My Heart Hemmed In by Marie Ndaiye.

Each choice holds promise of beautiful writing, stories revealed, and a French atmosphere to absorb. I am eager for July.

And you? What are you reading for Paris in July?

The House Swap by Rebecca Fleet

A bunch of pale pink roses with slightly curling petals. A stylistic photograph of Hyde Park where the bank of the Serpentine runs close to Kensington Garden. Little things like this unnerve Caroline, who has come to this house with her husband to relax, to be free of the traumas which evidently still plague them. It seems these items have been deliberately placed by someone who knows her, to set her on edge.

Caroline has had an affair. Her husband, Francis, has a card of bubble wrapped pills half hidden under a basket. They have much to repair in their marriage, and this get-away may prove helpful.

Or, it may unravel them further.

Thrillers are a guilty indulgence for me, and this one is looking like it may be more than the average psychological novel, most of which have, of late, run all together in my mind. So far, I am completely absorbed in it; I’ll let you know what I think as soon as I finish it.

Update: I have finished the House Swap. It was fine. It held my interest, it told an interesting story of a troubled marriage and a woman (not the wife) intent on revenge. Elements were carefully revealed, such that I didn’t feel manipulated. Yet, neither did I feel it was absolutely stupendous.

Clock Dance by Ann Tyler

Later, crossing the upstairs hall with a basket of laundry, Willa glanced into Cheryl’s room to see what they were up to. Patty stood facing her, both arms extended from her sides, with Laurie and Cheryl directly behind her. All that showed of Laurie and Cheryl were their own arms, extended too so that Patty seemed to possess six arms, all six moving in stiff, stop-and-start arcs in time to the clicking sounds that Willa could hear now punctuating the music. “It’s a clock dance!” Cheryl shouted, briefly peeking out from the tail end. “Can you tell?” ( P. 207)

If Willa were to invent a clock dance, it wouldn’t look like the one the three little girls had shown her. No, hers would feature a woman racing across the stage from left to right, all the while madly whirling so that the audience saw only a spinning blur of color before she vanished into the wings, pouf! Just like that. Gone. (P. 274)

How I love Ann Tyler’s novels. Her characters are quirky and lovable; they make me want to jump into their lives and have dinner together. They seem to embody all the joy and sorrow that living entails. Somehow, her heroines are gentle and fierce at the same time.

So it is with Willa, whom we meet as an elementary age schoolgirl, taking care of her sister as her mother is completely undependable. Their mother is an emotional maelstrom, coming and going at her own whim, but never fully exhausting their father’s patience.

We follow Willa to college, to her marriage to Dexter, to the birth of their two sons. And then the second half of the novel is dedicated to Willa in her sixties. She has flown to the aid of her youngest’s sons ex-girlfriend, who had been shot and needs care. The neighbor found Willa’s number written on the wall above the phone, and so Willa goes to care for Denise, and more particularly, Denise’s daughter, Cheryl.

They form a bond unlike any Willa has had since her father or Dexter. Her sons don’t seem to love her. Her mother didn’t show love to her. Her sister doesn’t love her. They don’t need her, or give back to her. But, Cheryl needs her. While Willa stays, caring for Cheryl and her mother, we see that relationships can be formed more closely with people who aren’t related to us, than those who are. We see that Willa saves Cheryl, but Cheryl saves Willa, too.

Clock Dance is a beautiful novel, as only Ann Tyler can write, and I loved it.

The Eight Mountains by Poala Cognetti (My Favorite Novel of Summer so Far)

“We (the Nepalese) believe that at the center of the earth there is a tremendously high mountain, Sumeru. Around Sumeru there are eight mountains and eight seas. This is the world for us.

While he was speaking he drew outside of the wheel a small peak for each spoke, and then a little wave between one peak and the next. Eight mountains and eight seas. Finally, at the center of the wheel, he drew a crown which I thought might represent the summit of Sumeru. He assessed his work for a moment and shook his head, as if to say that this was a drawing that he had made a thousand times but that of late he had begun to lose his touch a little. Be that as it may, he pointed the stick to the center and concluded, “We ask: who has learned most, the one who has been to all eight mountains, or the one who has reached the summit of of Sumeru?”

The Eight Mountains won Italy’s Premio Strega and the French Prix Medicis etranger, which is why I picked it up. But, I stayed for the story within. It is a novel of relationship, and its beauty is tender and unique and special. I loved the two best friends, their relationships to their fathers and one another. I loved the mountains, and the way that the image in the quote above depicts each boy as he grew to be a man.

I don’t have the right words for this wonderful book, except to say that I recommend you read it.

Going Forward

It’s good you can’t see my face. I was a bit teary walking out of school for the last time yesterday afternoon. Five of my friends went with me, some lagging behind to take this picture unbeknownst to me.

It has been a long good-bye. A year long anticipation of this moment, which actually feels more like the beginning of summer than the ending of a career. (The cheerful woman from the Employee Assistance Program told all the retirees that this would happen. “It won’t be until September that you get totally depressed,” she said.)

I know that I can come back to read to the children, to read in some classrooms or the library. But, it won’t be the same. I won’t have my own classroom, which has become a family of sorts, with a history of remembered jokes and stories. That is precisely why I cannot sub, because I couldn’t stand popping in day to day with no lasting relationship with the children.

We all know the ending of something is the beginning of something else. I’m looking forward to blogging with the zeal I felt in 2006, actually commenting on your blogs as I visit them. I’m looking forward to reading even more than I do now, and reviewing more of the books which are sent to me. I’m looking forward to attending BSF (Bible Study Fellowship International) this September, and swimming and cycling this summer; seeing my family more, seeing my friends, and not rushing into making dinner fifteen minutes before we eat it.

But for now, for today, I am absorbing the fact that I am officially retired. I will never walk into school the same way that I left it yesterday, because we can never go back. Now is the time for going forward.

Middlemarch by George Eliot (completed today)

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I must admit that Middlemarch didn’t interest me much until the last hundred pages. I forced myself to continue with it, due to my promise to Arti and Gretchen, and quite possibly it would have been more enjoyable if we three were together discussing it over a cup of tea with lemon. As it was, I sat this Memorial Day Weekend with this tome, in unbearable humidity, bound and determined to finish it so that I can get on to Cult X and Testament of Youth. I am not very patient with English literature, which always seems to need a better editor than it had. (Not one page of Anna Karenina, similar in length, tired me.)

And now for the interesting bits. Tertius Lydgate, who unfortunately married Rosamond Vincy, has become so far behind in debt that he beseeches his wife to give up her purple amythests, sell the silver plate, and even move to a less expensive home. Her pride, and her attachment to her belongings, forbid such actions, and she turns the situation to being his fault alone. She is completely unwilling to support him and turns her graceful neck away at an angle that makes me want to strike it.

So, Lydgate appeals to the banker, Mr. Bulstrode, who gives him one thousand pounds. Yet, almost simultaneously, a patient of Lydgate’s dies, and the townspeople believe that the money given by Bulstrode, and accepted by Lydgate, is a bribe.

”It has come to my knowledge since,” he (Lydgate) added, “that Hawley sent someone to examine the housekeeper at Stone Court, and she said that she gave the patient all the opium in the phial I left, as well as a good deal of brandy. But that would not have been opposed to ordinary prescriptions, even of first-rate men. The suspicions against me had no hold there; they are grounded on the knowledge that I took money, that Bulstrode had strong motives for wishing the man to die, and that he gave me the money as a bribe to concur in some malpractices or other against the patient-that in any case I accepted a bribe to hold my tongue. They are just the suspicions that cling the most obstinately because they lie in people’s inclination and can never be disproved.” (p. 811)

That last line is perhaps the briefest summary of Middlemarch, a novel in which George Eliot examines the defamation of character, and the consequential ruin of one’s trust in oneself; the bond of marriage which can suffocate when it is an unhappy one; the superficiality of the masses when assembled together in the same small town.

Dorothea Casaubon calls Lydgate to her home, and comforts him with her gentle and true spirit which insists on seeing the good in others. When she writes a checque for one thousands pounds for Rosamond, and delivers it to her home, she unexpectedly comes upon Rosamond and Will Ladislaw sitting altogether too closely on the sofa. He his clasping her hands in his, and the situation looks compromising. But this doesn’t bother Rosamond half as much as it does both Will and Dorothea.

”Shallow natures dream of an easy sway over the emotions of others, trusting implicitly in their own petty magic to turn the deepest streams, and confident, by pretty gestures and remarks, of making the thing that is not as though it were. She (Rosamond) knew that Will had received a severe blow, but she had been little used to imagining other people’s states of mind except as a material cut into shape by her own wishes; and she believed in her own power to soothe or subdue.”

Yet, as we read on it is Dorothea’s character to seek the good in people, to believe in the triumph of good over evil, and to know that money cannot possibly bring the happiness so desired by many. Her first husband, Mr. Casaubon, had meanly forbidden her to marry again, specifically the one she truly loved, or else she should lose the property he had left to her. But this sword will not cut through her armor, one which chooses truth over prosperity. I love how she ends with the one she loves.

As I close the last pages, I am pleased with the outcome of this book, happy that I have read a classic I had not read before. It would be a perfect story for Masterpiece Theater, as there is so much wisdom inherent to its tale told through the foolishness of so many of its characters.

”Yes, dear, a great many things have happened,” said Dodo in her full tones.

“I wonder what,” said Celia, folding her arms cozily and leaning forward upon them.

“Oh, all the troubles of all the people on the face of the earth,” said Dorothea, lifting her arms to the back of her head.

Read-along In June: Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

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Having finished the read-along for Middlemarch in May, I am now embarking on the read-along for Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain sponsored by Jillian of In Her Books. (Click on the link to find her invitation.)

Here is a brief description of this novel:

In 1914 Vera Brittain was eighteen and, as war was declared, she was preparing to study at Oxford. Four years later her life – and the life of her whole generation – had changed in a way that was unimaginable in the tranquil pre-war era. TESTAMENT OF YOUTH, one of the most famous autobiographies of the First World War, is Brittain’s account of how she survived the period; how she lost the man she loved; how she nursed the wounded and how she emerged into an altered world. A passionate record of a lost generation, it made Vera Brittain one of the best-loved writers of her time.

You can buy it with free shipping from Bookwitty here.

Please feel free to join this endeavor, on Twitter as #cctestament.

The Shadow Jury Declares A Winner for the Man Booker International Prize 2018

It’s been ten weeks since the Man Booker International Prize longlist was announced, and in that time the Shadow Panel has been working away in the background, reading frantically while discussing the merits and flaws of the selected titles. From the thirteen books we were given by the official judges, we chose a shortlist of six (only two of which made the official cut!), and off we set again, to reread as much as possible in the time we had left. Then, we discussed the books a little more before voting for our favourites, culminating in the choice of our favourite work of translated fiction from the previous year’s crop. And who might that be?

THE WINNER OF THE 2018 SHADOW MAN BOOKER INTERNATIONAL PRIZE IS:

OLGA TOKARCZUK’S FLIGHTS

(FITZCARRALDO EDITIONS, TRANSLATED BY JENNIFER CROFT)

Congratulations to all involved! While not a unanimous decision, Flights easily won the majority of votes from our judges. In fact, in the seven years we’ve been shadowing the prizes (IFFP, then MBIP), this was the clearest winner by far, showing how impressed we were by Tokarczuk’s integration of seemingly disparate pieces into a mesmerising whole. Thanks must also go to Croft for her excellent work on the book – as always, it’s only with the help of the translator that we’re able to read this book at all.

A special mention should also go to Fitzcarraldo Editions. This is their second consecutive MBIP Shadow Prize, as we selected Mathias Énard’s Compass as our winner for 2017; they have proved to be one of the UK’s rising stars of fiction (and non-fiction) in translation.

*****

And that’s it for 2018…

Firstly, I’d like to thank the rest of our Shadow Panel. While David, Bellezza and Lori were around to help once more, it was a new-look team this year with Paul, Vivek, Naomi, Oisin and Frances joining the crew. It’s been fascinating to compare our opinions about the books, even (or especially!) when we disagreed about them. Here’s hoping that we can do it all again next year.

Additionally, let’s give a shout-out to all the readers and commenters out there. It’s heartening to have people appreciate our endeavours, and when people say that they’re following the prize vicariously through our reviews and comments, even if they don’t have time to read all the books themselves, it makes us feel as if the whole process is worth it.

Finally, we’d like to thank the official judges for taking the time to read an awful lot of books in order to select the cream of the crop. We hope that their final choice, to be announced about twenty-four hours after ours, is a worthy winner to round off this year’s prize. Who will it be? Could they possibly recognize the winner to be Flights as the Shadow Panel has done?

Middlemarch: Let’s Talk About Marriage For A Minute

Earlier this year I read of a marriage hastily, and later regretfully, made. It was between Isabel Archer and Mr. Osmond in Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady. Now, George Eliot gives me Dorothea Brooke and Mr. Casaubon in her novel, Middlemarch. Both marriages seem doomed from the moment we learn they are to take place.

I asked my friend Gretchen why Dorothea married Mr. Casaubon when I first began this novel. Why would a beautiful and charming young woman become entranced by a man with eyes in deep-sockets who resembled a portrait of Locke? It seems she thought he possessed a deep mind, containing profound thoughts, and she believed she could assist him as he laboriously studied and wrote his papers.

But, Mr. Casaubon does not seem as willing to give his heart away as much as he wants his life well served. Here is a typical kind of sentiment Eliot attributes to him throughout the novel so far, about one third of the way through:

Society never made the preposterous demand that a man should think as much about his own qualifications for making a charming girl happy as he thinks of hers for making himself happy…When Dorothea accepted him with effusion, that was only natural; and Mr. Casaubon believed that his happiness was going to begin. (p.333)

He never seems to take into account Dorothea’s happiness, or her heart, and I continue reading this novel with dread for her future.

(Please feel free read along with us, as we continue Arti‘s plan for #MiddlemarchInMay.)