Friday, June 17, 2011

Recently Read Round-up

I have a lot of free time at the moment. I'm job hunting. It's pretty stressful, and I'm generally an anxious person about these kinds of things anyway. So I've been doing a lot of reading to pass the time and get my mind off things. When I first started doing this blog I did a Recently Read Round-up, and I liked it, so I'm going to do it again. I love sharing books, and I love recommendations as well. You'll see below that I didn't love all the following books, but I'm going to write about them anyway.

Incidentally, another reason I'm doing the Recently Read Round-up posts is because it's very easy to keep track of what I read because I now use Goodreads to catalog my reading exploits. If you're a list-maker or compulsive-grader of things you experience like I am, you might like it too. And if you want to follow me, I'll probably follow you too. Like I said, I love recommendations.

I'm going to start with what I wrote on the Goodreads site, and follow it up with any feelings I've had after digesting it a little bit, since I write my reviews almost immediately after I finish reading it.

The Lake, Banana Yoshimoto
Translated by Michael Emmerich
Goodreads score: 4 out of 5 stars
 I wrote:
It's been some time since I finished a whole book in one day (and just two sittings).

One of the big mysteries of the book is revealed on the back cover (like the first sentence) so avoid reading the description. Seriously you're not supposed to know til almost the very end.

I can see why they did it - it's not quite the most central aspect of the book, though I'd argue it is somewhat important and would've been fascinating to have the reveal unspoiled.

Still, a very sweet, powerful story about being on the cusp of growing up and loving someone in spite of their (sometimes very heavy) baggage. Yoshimoto has a great, uncomplicated, direct style that is anything but "simple."

I still feel generally positive about this book, though I get the sense, after reading around a bit, that this is BY's sort of go-to plot template - people in transition and/or tragedy, so maybe I'd feel differently if I had a better understanding of the rest of her work. Still, it really is a very pleasant read, and I should be having an official review for it on the Three Percent blog in the next few weeks (I submitted it, but I got to wait my turn in the queue.)

An Empty Room: Stories, Mu Xin
Translated by Toming Jun Liu

Goodreads score: 4 (4.5) out of 5 stars
I wrote:

Wish there were half stars - I'd be tempted to give it 4.5 out of 5. Some really mesmerizing stuff here! Beautiful - particularly at it's best when dealing with melancholy memories etc. It's a collection of stories that don't always feel like stories - some are hard to think of as anything but a straight up retelling of a personal anecdote, and some that feel like an essay that doesn't really have a structure - a topic that meanders and digresses in a more or less agreeable way. I guess this comes from the Chinese literary form sanwen, which is deliberately a mix of fiction, memory, essay, prose, and poetry, according to the translator's afterword. Similar to the Japanese "I"-novel, perhaps, but in a much more abridged form.

In general skillfully translated, though the tone occasionally verges on the pompous (which might not be the fault of the translator, really). The one exception is "Quiet Afternoon Tea", which does not read well at all and is especially awkward in the characters' speech - all of which is (kind of) ironic, since it's one of the only story that ostensibly takes place in England with only British characters speaking in English. Maybe it was translated separately, first, a long time ago with little editing?

More to say in the future in a proper book review on Three Percent.

Like I wrote, another official review coming soon. These stories really are excellent, but I have some (read: a lot of complicated) things to say about the translation that is going to warrant it's own post when the review comes up. 

The Jokers, Albert Cossery
Translated by Anna Moschovakis 

 Goodreads Score: 4 out of 5 stars
 I wrote:

Amusing, breezy, almost absurdist tale. Charming and humorous, political in its anti-political way, it felt like a sort of mix between Martin Amis "How I Became Stupid" and Ilf and Petrov's "The Golden Calf". Particularly great ending.

This book was written in the Sixties by a French born, Egypt living writer, but it is still surprisingly resonant in today's American political climate - especially when thinking about the Bush era. Thought-provoking but not dense, and not a shrill screed - a perfect (and fun) combo.

It is a little thin, admittedly; I think that is it's one flaw. But it's about guys pranking a public figure. It's pretty great. 

I Have the Right to Destroy Myself, Young-ha Kim
Translated by Chi-Young Kim
 Goodreads score: 3 (2.5) out of 5 stars
I wrote:

Maybe 2.5 stars. I realized that the only part of the story I really didn't like was part 2 - I found C and K and Judith to be such annoying characters. The narrator was fascinating- I wish the story was more about him. C at least got a little more interesting when we find about his art, but K never gets developed. I just didn't care about their love triangle at all. It's not that I don't like dark books, but books like this or Hotel Iris don't move me when the characters are so underdeveloped- I don't feel their pain, and their depressions and nihilistic attitudes just seem weak and like "Oh woe is me" narcissism. Just seems like a cheap way to pile on tragedy. Not willing to write off Kim yet though- his other book seems interesting and I might yet check it out.

A lot of this book felt like a bad version of Murakami. Like taking some of Murakami's distinctive elements, ramping them up, and then messing up all the proportions into something inferior. The aloof protagonists become cooler-than-thou pricks, the Western culture name-dropping becomes snobby, the sex becomes dirty and overly gritty... I don't know, this just wasn't for me. 

The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop., Robert Coover

 Goodreads score: 3 out of 5 stars
I wrote: 

  Some interesting stuff here, but your enjoyment does depend how much you enjoy reading about baseball games. Henry's an interesting character, and the last chapter adds a surprising layer to the rest of the work. But although I liked in general I was not inspired to pick it up and read it, so it took me a while to finish it. 

Honestly, I read this because I read somewhere that Genichiro Takahashi's 優雅で感傷的な日本野球 was similar to this book. From what I read, it's not, really, except that it is kind of post-modern and has to do with baseball. It's about a guy who develops this table-top dice baseball game, that gets more and more complicated and takes over more and more of this guy Henry's life. It's very interesting, but if you don't at least enjoy baseball on some level, it'll be hard to read, since it gets very detailed in the goings on of each game. 

Oblivion: Stories, David Foster Wallace

Goodreads score: 5 out of 5 stars
 I wrote:

I think I loved every story but one, although that one story I was rather lukewarm to. But there's so much craft and intelligence and wit and raw emotion...Reading Wallace can occasionally be taxing, but worth it. He was truly a genius, in my opinion. Running out of short stories though...going to have to plunge into the almost bottomless pit that is that behemoth Infinite Jest soon. 

Seriously you guys, David Foster Wallace is a genius. You have to give him a try if you haven't yet—at the very least a short story collection (even those can get long, but certainly less of a commitment than Infinite Jest).  After Murakami, DFW is probably my favorite author.

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