Saturday, November 12, 2011

Recently Read Round-up, October 2011

Hello again. Sorry it's been quiet around here. You do know about my new website right? It's pretty cool, if I do say so myself. I know I've learned an insane amount of authors and cool books in Japan right now. So check it out.

Pretty soon I'm going to have a Review section on the new site, but I'm only going to do Japanese fiction there. But what about other books I'm reading? I have to express myself somehow! So Recently Read Round-Up isn't going anywhere. And luckily, I read some awesome books in October. 

I Am a Japanese Writer
by Dany Laferriere
Translated by David Homel

4 out of 5 stars

Metafiction + Noir + Race/Identity = I am a Japanese Writer. A very gripping yet thought-provoking novel that's part inquiry on the construction of race and part almost noir mystery. In it, the narrator, a black writer living in Montreal (I should note that Dany Laferriere is in fact a black writer who lives in Montreal) needs the next book for his publisher and sells it to them on the title alone: I am a Japanese Writer. He never actually writes it, but word gets out and soon it becomes an international sensation. At the same time, the narrator befriends a Japanese pop star and her entourage, one of whom, when visiting his apartment, decides to commit suicide. The cops think he's the culprit, and try to intimidate him. While all this is happening, members of the Japanese embassy are trying to get the narrator to learn about Japan so he writes an appropriately Japanese book. 

The postmodern aspects of the novel make it engaging on a visceral level, not just a mental one. It's got a very dark tone at times, but it also has a great sense of humor. A lot to chew on (in the best way possible). I'd like to try reading more Laferriere in the future. Be sure to look out for a full review of the title on Three Percent. Should be online pretty soon. 

Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day
by Ben Loory.

4 out of 5 stars

I had been meaning to read this since basically the day it came out. I remember very clearly seeing it on display under the new releases at my local bookstore. I read a couple of the stories and knew it was something I had to read. Unfortunately, I had no money, and I put it off until just a few weeks ago, when I got lucky and found a used copy in the same bookstore. It was a very happy day.

Anyway, I thought this was just great. Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day sounds exactly like what it is: a very enjoyable collection of adult slash slightly post-modern "fables" and "fairy tales." What I liked about it was that it could be delightfully weird, then touching, and then nightmarish, depending on the story. My only complaint was that too many of the stories fell back on to a generic "Character X had a weird dream" or "Character X couldn't sleep because of Event Y" moment for my taste. Still, as a whole, I enjoyed this immensely.

The Perpetual Motion Machine
by Paul Scheerbart
Translated by Andrew Joron
3.5 out of 5 stars

An interesting cross between novella, essay, memoir, and how-to manual, The Perpetual Motion Machine is ostensibly Scheerbart's attempts to create, against all scientific reasoning and evidence, a perpetual motion machine.

What's the most interesting is when he goes into speculative fiction mode, wondering about the implications of his great, "sure to be made" invention. Those moments are definitely the highlight of the book, as he imagines both the good and the bad, about how his "perpet" will change society. The parts where he describes the various changes to his invention (which inevitably fail)? Not so interesting. Still, overall it's a fascinating book about a relatively unknown, but pretty cool sounding dude. This is another book that I'm reviewing for Three Percent, so hopefully that one will also be online soon. I'll let you know of course when it does. 

There But For The
by Ali Smith

 4.5 out of 5 stars

I really loved Stories For Nighttime and Some for the Day, but I really really loved There But For The. But I do think There But For The wins out because it is one total story, and a really well constructed one at that (no offense to short stories, but there were enough of them that I weren't impressed with to take my enthusiasm to the next level). 

Told from four different perspectives, There But For The is about a dinner party, and how one person decides to lock himself in the hosts' spare bedroom. The problem is, nobody really knows this guy that well, so they don't know what's going on. 

I wasn't sure how much I'd like it at first and then as it went on I fell harder and harder for it. I can see some thinking the style is too "clever" (one of the themes in the novel) but I found it very witty, and thought-provoking, and also extremely moving. My sole complaint is the way the narratives are divided up. I'd get really attached to one narrator only to be suddenly jerked to another. Small complaint in the end though really. Quite excellent. I definitely plan on reading more Ali Smith.