About Bellezza

Reader of translated literature, member of the Man Booker International Prize shadow jury since 2015

The Library Book

…if something you learn or observe or imagine can be set down and saved, and if you can see your life reflected in previous lives, and can imagine it reflected in subsequent ones, you can begin to discover order and harmony. You know that you are part of a larger story that has shape and purpose – a tangible, familiar past and a constantly refreshed future. (p. 93)

I remember the incredible freedom my mother gave me as a child, to walk to the YMCA for my swimming lessons, to cycle across town to my Math tutor, and to visit the library on Saturday for a brand new stack of books.

Our town’s library was small and quiet. There was a section for children’s books, and behind the check out desk, there were stairs leading up to shelves of books which were barricaded by bronze chains. Surely something wonderful must be kept so hidden; my friends and I often speculated that was where the ‘dirty books’ were. For adults only.

It is a wonder to me that I liked the library at all. The librarians were impolite to children, impatient with any possibility of us having soiled hands or rearranging their carefully placed books. Fines seemed enormous. Once, I lost my copy of Toby Tyler and The Circus which had inadvertently fallen between my bed and the wall. The fine I incurred was so enormous, and the frustration my mother expressed so great, that I wondered if going to the library was worth it at all.

But, surely it was. The library was a place where books could be had for free, as many as I could carry, for almost as long as I wished. It smelled wonderful, of dusty paper and glue, and I was very proud of my pink cardboard library card and the ability to sign my name which indicated I accepted responsibility for the books I checked out.

Susan Orlean’s book, The Library Book, captures the essence of the library and why it is that such a place can be so beloved across America. Her novel centers around the Central Library of Los Angeles, California, which burned on April 29, 1986 and became the largest library fire In American history. It was thought that a young man named Harry Peak was the person who had set the fire, and while The Library Book examines his implication, it goes far beyond his culpability.

We are introduced to a myriad of librarians and information about libraries that I never knew about. For example:

  • World War II destroyed more books and libraries than any event in human history. (p. 98)
  • Investigators now believe that the majority of library fires are deliberately set. (p. 106)
  • The estimated cost of replacing the 400,000 lost books (in the fire) was over $14 million.

But, more interesting to me than learning about fires and library costs and workers, is the place that libraries hold in our society. Consider this lovely quote:

The publicness of the public library is an increasingly rare commodity. It becomes harder all the time to think of places that welcome everyone and don’t charge any money for that warm embrace. (p. 67)

Indeed, Orlean has shown how the Central Library in Los Angeles does far more than check out books or answer questions. It has become a safe place for homeless, for drug addicts, for lonely, outcast people.

Every problem society has, the library has, too, because the boundary between society and the library is porous; nothing good is kept out of the library, and nothing bad. Often, at the library, society’s problems are magnified…But a library can’t be the institution we hope for it to be unless it is open to everyone. (p. 244-5)

I will never look at a public library in quite the same way after reading this book.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. (Frankly, I’m not sure I entirely get it.)

It’s a litmus test: If you believe enough to try to open a painted door you’re more likely to believe in wherever it leads. (p. 154)

I loved The Night Circus, and I loved The Starless Sea. Erin Morgenstern creates worlds within worlds, multi-layered and multi-faceted, such that I don’t expect to have everything tie completely together until the bitter end.

Maybe that’s the problem. I should read as Murakami has said, “Wide open to possibilities.”

I am open, I am sure about that. I embrace the doors both painted in trompe l’oiel and free standing. I adore keys hanging from ribbons in the collector’s garden, and other ribbons (entwined around bodies) with stories written on them. I admire a home filled with books, and wine bottles, and teacups, and air smelling like smoke and honey. I have folded myriads of paper stars, well aware of their magical qualities, and I’m thrilled about the adventure of visiting the Harbor by the Starless Sea, or taking a boat through blue confetti.

Her novel is an imaginative dream.

But, between the dollhouse, and the Harbor, and the burning buildings, a sea made of golden honey, and the way that Fate and Time fell in love, I’m a little bewildered.

I only know that Zachary Ezra Rawlins, the son of a fortune-teller, found Sweet Sorrows in the university library (by fate?) and thus set out on a search to find out more about himself. (In that sense, The Starless Sea can be universal: don’t we all long to know more about ourselves, such as what the past has meant and what the future will bring? These things are not for us to know, necessarily, but I wonder if that’s not a large reason why I keep such in-depth Traveler’s Notebooks.)

In the course of his quest he comes across many characters beginning with Mirabel, dressed as Max from Where The Wild Things Are, at a ball. He meets Dorian, with whom he falls in love. And, he is missing from the ‘real world’ for days as he searches behind doors (regretting the red painted one he never opened as a child), drinks unknown liquids labeled with directions to partake, and throws six dice which all land on Hearts.

There are references to Alice in Wonderland, of course, and many other beloved novels. I kept track of most of them as I read, finding: The Catcher in The Rye; The Shadow of The Wind; The Long Goodbye; Playback; The Big Sleep; The Age of Fable, or Beauties of Mythology; This Side of Paradise; The Princess Bride; The Shining; King Lear, a Wrinkle in Time; The Secret History.

I will be sailing The Starless Sea for a long time in my mind, settling on this dialogue as I ponder an oft repeated phrase within this novel:

“To Seeking,” the Star Merchant said as their wine was refilled.

”To Finding,” came the traditional response. (p. 114)

(Find a wonderful review from Jeanne at Necromancy Never Pays here.)

Books Read in 2019

~January~

  1. They Were Counted by Miklós Bánffy (translated from the Hungarian by Patrick Thursfield and Katalin Bánffy-Jelen)
  2. Birthday Girl by Haruki Murakami (translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin, for JLC12)
  3. Still Is The Land by Beryl Markham
  4. The Master Key by Masako Togawa (translated from the Japanese by Simon Grove, for JLC12)

~February~

  1. The Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa (translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel, for JLC12)
  2. Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann (for Book Club)
  3. The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon (translated from the Japanese by Meredith McKinney, for JLC12)
  4. The Reckoning by John Grisham
  5. Desire by Haruki Murakami (translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin, Ted Goossen, and Philip Gabriel, for JLC12)
  6. Star by Yukio Mishima (translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett, for JLC12)
  7. The Emissary (Last Children of Tokyo in the UK) by Yoko Tawada

~March~

  1. Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell
  2. We & Me by Saskia de Coster (translated from the Dutch by Nancy Forest-Flier) for Boekenweek
  3. Craving by Esther Gerritsen (translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchison) for Boekenweek
  4. You Have Me to Love by Jaap Robben (translated from the Dutch by David Doherty) for Boekenweek
  5. The Shape of The Ruins by Juan Gabriel Vasquez (translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean, Man Booker International Prize 2019 short list)
  6. The Four Soldiers by Hubert Mingarelli (translated from the French by Sam Taylor, Man Booker International Prize 2019 long list)
  7. A Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin (translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell, Man Booker International Prize 2019 long list)
  8. The Pine Islands by Marion Poschmann (translated from the German by Jen Calleja, Man Booker International Prize, 2019 short list)
  9. Jokes for the Gunman by Mazan Maarouf (translated from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright, Man Booker International Prize 2019 long list)
  10. At Dusk by Hwang Sok-yong (translated from the Korean by Sora Kim-Russell, Man Booker International Prize 2019 long list)
  11. The Years by Annie Ernaux (translated from the French by Alison Strayer, Man Booker International Prize 2019 short list)
  12. The Death of Murat Idrissi by Tommy Wieringa (translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett, Man Booker International Prize 2019 long list)
  13. Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi (translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth, Man Booker International Prize 2019 short list)

~April~

  1. The Faculty of Dreams by Sara Stridsberg (translated from the Swedish by Deborah Bragan-Turner, Man Booker International Prize 2019 long list)
  2. Drive Your Plow Over The Bones of The Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, Man Booker International Prize 2019 short list)
  3. The Remainder by Alia Trabucco Zeran (translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes, Man Booker International Prize 2019 short list)
  4. Love in The New Millennium by Can Xue (translated from the Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen, Man Booker International Prize 2019 long list)
  5. Love In The Haystacks by D. H. Lawrence
  6. The Ladybird by D. H. Lawrence
  7. Territory of Light by Yuko Tsushima (translated from the Japanese by Geraldine Harcourt)
  8. What’s Mine is Mine by George MacDonald (Wheaton College)
  9. The Third Victim by Philip Margolin
  10. Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto (for Book Club)
  11. If Cats Disappeared From The World by Genki Kawamura (translated from the Japanese by Eric Selland)
  12. Hotel by Arthur Hailey (1965 Club)

~May~

  1. Hum If You Don’t Know The Words by Bianca Marais (for Book Club)
  2. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne DuMaurier (for Daphne DuMaurier Week)
  3. Jamaica Inn by Daphne DuMaurier (for Daphne DuMaurier Week)
  4. Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne DuMaurier (for Daphne DuMaurier Week)
  5. Things That Matter by Charles Krauthammer (for Book Club)

~July~

  1. The Linden Tree by César Aira (for Spanish Lit Month)
  2. The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon (abandoned 300 pages in)
  3. At The Back of The North Wind by George MacDonald
  4. The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler (reread)
  5. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (for Spanish Lit Month)

~August~

  1. Sons of Chaos by Chris Jaymes, a graphic novel illustrated by Ale Aragon
  2. This Poison Will Remain by Fred Vargas (for Women In Translation Month)
  3. Luke (from the New Testament)

~September~

  1. The Chain by Adrian McKinty (R.I.P. XIV)
  2. The Whisperer by Karin Fossum (translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson) (R.I.P. XIV)
  3. The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson (R.I.P. XIV)
  4. Death Among Company by Craig Johnson (R.I.P. XIV)

~October~

  1. The Institute by Stephen King (R.I.P. XIV)
  2. The Virgin and the Gipsy by D. H. Lawrence (1930 Club)

~November~

  1. Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan
  2. Into Bones Like Oil by Kaaron Warren
  3. The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

~December~

  • The Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips
  • The Factory by Hiroko Oyamada (translated from the Japanese by David Boyd)
  • The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischvili

The Deal Me In Full Moon Fever Version

First of all, I love Jay’s penchant for short stories. He has encouraged me to pick up a genre I rarely do, and it has been a rich reading experience in years past to partake in the Deal Me In Challenge.

This year, I noticed a variation on the theme. There is an option for reading one short story a month called the Full Moon Fever Version in which the reader chooses to read one short story a month.

I have a great passion for Raymond Carver, and after watching The Twilight Zone Marathon on Sy-Fy over New Year’s Eve, I am especially eager to read from the collection of short stories by Richard Matheson (who wrote sixteen Twilight Zone episodes including “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet“).

So, choosing the suite of Hearts, I plan to read the following short stories in 2020:

❤️A “Counterfeit Bills“ by Richard Matheson

❤️K “Button, Button“ by Richard Matheson

❤️Q “Dress of White Silk“ by Richard Matheson

❤️J “Haircut“ by Richard Matheson

❤️10 “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet“ by Richard Matheson

❤️9 “Chef’s House” by Raymond Carver

❤️8 “A Small Good Thing” by Raymond Carver

❤️7 “The Train” by Raymond Carver

❤️6 “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver

❤️5 “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

❤️4 “The Rich Boy” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

❤️3 “Last Kiss” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

❤️2 “The Captured Shadow” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I have simplified the list to include just three authors, but you know I will sneak in some stories by Haruki Murakami. “Birthday Girl” still haunts me from last January…and you? Will you be reading any short stories in 2020?

Welcome to the Japanese Literature Challenge 13!

Now it is January; now we officially begin the Japanese Literature Challenge 13.

If you are participating this year, here are the few guidelines:

  • The Challenge runs from January 1, 2020 through March 31, 2020
  • In March, there will be a read along of The Makioka Sisters for those who are interested.
  • Read and review one or more books which have originally been written in Japanese.
  • Use #JapaneseLitChallenge13 on Twitter or Instagram (#JLC13 is used for something else).
  • Find an additional resource here.

Because the Linky widget will not work on WordPress, I have created a separate review site for the Japanese Literature Challenge 13. Please go here to leave the links to your reviews.

Merry Christmas!

I feel like I have celebrated Christmas every day this month, not just today, Christmas Eve. There have been so many joyous momemts, from the day after Thanksgiving when my husband and I go to The Growing Place for fresh greens to adorn the house, to the ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas exhibit at Naper Settlement. (Complete with “antique” copies of the book I used to read to my classes in third grade.)

There was my son’s birthday on the 7th, when he turned 29, and a luncheon at Knox Presbyterian church where I heard my dear friend Carol present A Reel Meaning of Christmas. I have made cookies, and drunk coffee with my beloved parents, and hosted my husband’s family for Christmas last Saturday, complete with individual meat pies for everyone and a roasted turkey to share.

Every morning I open the Jacquie Lawson Advent Calendar, with the theme of the Cotswolds this year, first introduced and given to me by dear Linda at The Task at Hand. And, I read a little book called The Dawning of Indestructible Joy by John Piper. (You can read the book of only 98 pages online here.) His words have helped me focus on great truth, instead of ads and panic and the feeling that Christmas ought to be a time when everything is perfect. As if it could be.

Piper starts his book with a chapter entitled, “The Search and Save Mission”. Here is my favorite quote from it:

It’s a season for cherishing and worshiping this characteristic of God – that he is a searching and saving God, that he is a God on a mission, that he is not aloof or passive or indecisive…He is sending pursuing, searching, saving. That’s the meaning of Advent.

Then he reminds us why Jesus came:

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3:8

Don’t leave Christmas in the abstract. Your sin. Your conflict with the devil. Your victory. He came for this.

More important to me than anything (the cookies, the parties, the celebrations, the presents) is that He came to set us free. That is why we have Christmas.

May your days be bright, your sorrows be diminished, and your joy without bounds today, tomorrow and always.

Merry Christmas,

Meredith

My Reading Year in Review

Never have I had a year in which I left more books abandoned than in 2019. Whether it was because my attention span was rattled, or the writing was disappointing to me, I cannot tell. But, the list of abandoned books stretched from June through October:

  • Trust Exercises by Susan Choi
  • The Priory of The Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
  • The Fall by Neal Stephenson
  • Isla Berta by Javier Marias
  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (I know! I could not finish the co-winner of the Man Booker Prize this year! I appreciate her early works, particularly Cat’s Eye and The Robber Bride, so much more…)

What was successful were these reading events which enriched my year so much:

  • Spanish Lit Month (hosted by Stu)
  • Paris in July (hosted by Tamara)
  • R.I.P. XIV (review site here)
  • German Lit Month (hosted by Caroline and Lizzy)
  • Daphne Du Maurier Week (hosted by Heavenali)
  • Moby Dick read-along (hosted by Brona)
  • The Old Curiosity Shop read-along (hosted by Nick)
  • The Man Booker International Prize Shadow Jury (led by Tony)
  • The 1960 Club and The 1930 Club (hosted by Simon and Kaggsy)
  • Boekenweek with World Editions, celebrating Dutch and Flemish literature
  • My own Japanese Literature Challenge 12 (reviews can be found here)

And now for some stats for the number of books read this year. Of a small total of only 61 books read, here are the languages for which I read books in translation:

  1. Korean: (1 book)
  2. Swedish: (1 book)
  3. Polish: (1 book)
  4. Norwegian: (1 book)
  5. Chinese: (1 book)
  6. Hungarian: (1 book)
  7. Arabic: (2 books)
  8. German: (2 books)
  9. French: (3 books)
  10. Dutch: (4 books)
  11. Spanish: (5 books)
  12. Japanese: (10 books)

My Ten Favorite Books of The Year are:

I want to extend thanks to the following publishers who sent me books to review this year, their sites are worthy places to wallow within:

As we anticipate the joys that 2020 will bring, I want to remind you of the invitation for the Japanese Literature Challenge 13 which is open to all. The only “requirement” is to read one book which has been translated from Japanese. There will be a special place to leave links on the review page which will be published here on January 1, 2020.

I look forward with great anticipation to reading and sharing books with you in the year to come. What a privilege it is to share our love of literature together.

Blessings, Meredith

It’s time to begin thinking about the Japanese Literature Challenge 13

One of the greatest joys of blogging, for me, is the opportunity to share Japanese literature with one another. Judging by the inquiries I begin receiving in November and December, it appears that many bloggers who remember it, as well as some who have heard of it, are also eager to begin again.

The idea began in 2006, when ‘challenges’ were quite common in the blogging world. They gave an opportunity to meet like-minded readers and to participate in reading endeavors that thrilled us all. To make this event less of a challenge, and more of a pleasure, I decided that all we needed to do was read at least one work of literature, originally written in Japanese, and review it on our blogs. Now there is the broader impact of social media with Twitter and Instagram, and so those platforms are welcome, too. The idea is, take January through March to read as much Japanese literature as you would like, and tell us about what you read.

When I put up an official welcome post, I will specify the hashtags we should use (how about #JapaneseLitChallenge13?) on social media, and a place where you can leave a link to your reviews.

Some of the books that I plan on reading are:

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (Vintage International). This novel was sent to my by dear Silvia a few months ago, and it is one of the few by Ishiguro I have not yet read.

Another novel I plan to read was just sent to me yesterday: The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda (Bitter Lemon Press). It won the 59th Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Best Novel, and it will be published on January 16, 2020 in the UK (February 15, 2020 in the US).

I also have hopes to read The Makioka Sisters by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, and The Hunting Gun by Yasushi Inoue.

If you are looking for titles, here is a list of books read from years past: suggested titles for Japanese literature. It is, of course, only a jumping off place and by no means complete. And, as this is simply a “begin thinking about it” post, I welcome any ideas you have to incorporate this time around. A read-along title? A favorite work of yours? A dedicated place for reviews such as I used to use in 2013? Please feel free to let me know what you’re thinking in the comments below, and know that I welcome your participation in January.

Into Bones Like Oil by Kaaron Warren (Review of a fascinating novella for Novellas in November)

He wore cursing as his garment; it entered into his body like water, into his bones like oil. Psalm 109:18 (NIV)

It is this verse upon which Kaaron Wasser has built her novella, an interesting and strange book about people coming to The Angelsea for respite.

“So you’re running a rooming house?”

”You know it’s more than a rooming house. You wouldn’t have come, otherwise. You need help to sleep. Everyone does who comes to me. You will sleep well here at The Angelsea. No doubt about that at all. It’s my little contribution.”

The houseguests need help to sleep, to be sure, but they are also searching for answers. When the doctor gives them an injection, they fall asleep, but other inhabitants of the house listen carefully to the ghosts who are channeled to speak through the sleeping person. 

Dora curled up in the big armchair in the lounge room. The painter was there, humming to himself, creating, and she loved spending this quiet time there. This empty, thoughtless time, this interim, this hiatus, before she had to face what she now knew. 

If there was an afterlife, she would have to atone.

Dora mourns her two daughters, struck with guilt that she could have been a better mother. She longs to hear them say that they love her, even if it is through a ghost’s mouth that they must speak.

“You’re smiling,” Luke said. “Good to see. We’ve all chosen the compromise here. We’re all thinking life will improve. We’re clinging on to the last hope, keeping a roof over our heads, as crappy and leaky as the roof might be.”

There must be some comfort in being together, an assortment of people who have little money, but much remorse. They have compassion on one another, seeming to carry each other’s emotional burdens in an effort to alleviate the pain of them all.

She made him leave the room while she pulled the dress on. It seemed to settle on her like a curse: she could feel it clinging to her, seeping into her bones like oil.

When it is Dora’s turn to sleep, and thus to speak, she mutters curses that specifically address the man who runs The Angelsea. And then, they sit on the veranda, the lucky ones. The survivors.

(Thank you to Meerkat Press, for the opportunity to read and review into bones like oil which is published today, November 12, 2019. This novella is also an excellent choice for Novella’s in November.)

BUY LINKS:  IndieBound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kaaron Warren has been publishing ground-breaking fiction for over twenty years. Her novels and short stories have won over 20 awards, from local literary to international genre. She writes horror steeped in awful reality, with ghosts, hauntings, guilt, loss, love, crime, punishment and a lack of hope.

AUTHOR LINKS: Website | Twitter | Goodreads 

A List of Possibilities for German Lit Month this November

from nyrb
from Scribe

Several exciting reading events are planned for November. I believe it is Nonfiction November, and Novellas in November, but my heart will always lean toward German Literature Month.

The four novels pictured above are on my radar for this “challenge”, and I own all but All For Nothing which, amazingly, was found in our local library. (Click on the caption under each cover to take you to the publisher’s page for more information about the novel.) I do not know if I will have time for all four, especially as The Eighth Life is approximately 900 pages, but I do hope to read them before 2019 ends.

And you? Are you planning to read for German Literature Month?

from Lizzy and Caroline