Today is Flannery O'Connor's birthday (and mine as well) so I decided to indulge myself with this new biography of one of my favorite authors. And I love the cover design.
"The landscape of American literature was fundamentally changed when Flannery O'Connor stepped onto the scene with her first published book, Wise Blood, in 1952. Her fierce, sometimes comic novels and stories reflected the darkly funny, vibrant, and theologically sophisticated woman who wrote them. Brad Gooch brings to life O'Connor's significant friendships - with Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Hardwick, Walker Percy, and James Dickey among others - and her deeply felt convictions, as expressed in her communications with Thomas Merton, Elizabeth Bishop, and Betty Hester. Hester was famously known as "A" in O'Connor's collected letters, The Habit of Being, and a large cache of correspondence to her from O'Connor was made available to scholars, including Brad Gooch, in 2006. O'Connor's capacity to live fully - despite the chronic disease that eventually confined her to her mother's farm in Georgia - is illuminated in this engaging and authoritative biography." (from the publisher)
So I'm still in the bookstore with gift certificates in hand (hardly anyone feels comfortable selecting books for me anymore), and there is a uniform stack of bibliomonsters within reach - Drood by Dan Simmons. Hmm. Sure I can squeeze this read in somewhere - at least by summer's end.
"On June 9, 1865, while traveling by train to London with his secret mistress, 53-year-old Charles Dickens - at the height of his powers and popularity, the most famous and successful novelist in the world and perhaps in the history of the world - hurtled into a disaster that changed his life forever.
Did Dickens begin living a dark double life after the accident? Were his nightly forays into the worst slums of London and his deepening obsession with corpses, crypts, murder, opium dens, the use of lime pits to dissolve bodies, and a hidden subterranean London mere research . . . or something more terrifying?
Just as he did in The Terror, Dan Simmons draws impeccably from history to create a gloriously engaging and terrifying narrative. Based on the historical details of Charles Dickens's life and narrated by Wilkie Collins (Dickens's friend, frequent collaborator, and Salieri-style secret rival), Drood explores the still-unsolved mysteries of the famous author's last years and may provide the key to Dickens's final, unfinished work: The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Chilling, haunting, and utterly original, Drood is Dan Simmons at his powerful best." (from the publisher)
"Ozick’s latest work of fiction brings together four long stories, including the novella-length "Dictation," that showcases this incomparable writer’s sly humor and piercing insight into the human heart. Each starts in the comic mode, with heroes who suffer from willful self-deceit. From self-deception, these not-so-innocents proceed to deceive others, who don’t take it lightly. Revenge is the consequence—and for the reader, a delicious if dark recognition of emotional truth.
The glorious novella "Dictation" imagines a fateful meeting between the secretaries to Henry James and Joseph Conrad at the peak of those authors’ fame. Timid Miss Hallowes, who types for Conrad, comes under the influence of James’s Miss Bosanquet, high-spirited, flirtatious, and scheming. In a masterstroke of genius, Ozick hatches a plot between them to insert themselves into posterity.
Ozick is at her most devious, delightful best in these four works, illuminating the ease with which comedy can glide into calamity." (from the publisher)
The register is not more than ten feet away and there is no line. Make a break for it not because a line is any great annoyance, but because waiting and looking always increases the size of my purchase. Behind the desk though they are looking through a new shipment of The Prospector, last year's Nobel Prize winner that was so hard to obtain in translation for a while. OK, just one more.
"The Prospector is the crowning achievement from one of France's preeminent contemporary novelists and a work rich with sensuality and haunting resonance. It is the turn of the century on the island of Mauritius, and young Alexis L'Etang enjoys an idyllic existence with his parents and beloved sister: sampling the pleasures of privilege, exploring the constellations and tropical flora, and dreaming of treasure buried long ago by the legendary Unknown Corsair. But with his father's death, Alexis must leave his childhood paradise and enter the harsh world of privation and shame. Years later, Alexis has become obsessed with the idea of finding the Corsair's treasure and, through it, the lost magic and opulence of his youth. He abandons job and family, setting off on a quest that will take him from remote tropical islands to the hell of World War I, and from a love affair with the elusive Ouma to a momentous confrontation with the search that has consumed his life. By turns harsh and lyrical, pointed and nostalgic, The Prospector is "a parable of the human condition" (Le Mond) by one of the most significant literary figures in Europe today." (from the publisher)
The last copy they have in stock of the new graphic novel based upon The Picture of Dorian Gray. Still have not written about this recent read so why don't I pick this up in the hope of doing something novel with the two together. And call it a day here in the store of seemingly endless temptations. And save the rest of my birthday buying power for another day.
"The Picture of Dorian Gray is a graphic adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic work, stunningly re-imagined by writer Ian Edginton and artist I.N.J. Culbard. This Gothic morality tale is the story of a man who, taken by his own beauty, pledges his soul in a desperate bid for eternal youth. But when his wish is granted, things go terribly wrong. A painting of Dorian begins to age in his place, while Dorian himself becomes a dangerous narcissist who destroys everyone standing in his way until the day he is forced to come face to face with the ugliness of his own conscience." (from the publisher)
"Plot summaries rarely do a book justice, but in short, this novel is about Andor Weer, a thirty-six-year-old writer who lives with his mother (a formerly gorgeous stage actress) who hasn’t left the house in fifteen years. She’s bitter, a bit deranged, and pretty aggressive, especially towards Andor’s girlfriends. The two of them are trapped in a incredibly wicked Oedipal mess. On top of this, Andor’s sister Judit defected from Hungary to pursue her music career (this defection brought about the downfall of Rebeka’s stage career), leading their mother to literally bury a casket with all of Judit’s things in the cemetery.
In short, this is a dark, twisted book, and one that’s incredibly gripping and very well written and well translated. (No surprise—Imre Goldstein’s one of the best.) Told is a looping, achronological fashion, the horrors of Andor’s life are revealed bit by bit with a hint of dark humor and a sense that the world (at least for Andor) is total shit." (Chad Post)
Suffering through the flu this week, I have managed to read four books, all in translation. Perhaps the weekend will allow me time to write about them, but for now, let me offer you a chance to win a new copy of the Chinese bestseller, Brothers by Yu Hua. Courtesy of Random House. Just comment below by the end of the day Monday, February 23. Random draw will decide the winner of this massive tome. Start the arm curls now if you want to prep to read this one.
There are details of the text and links to reviews on the Lost in Translation reading challenge dedicated page, but perhaps the most interesting story here is the division among readers and critics over the quality of this book. Is it a masterpiece of social satire, dissecting the ridiculous in Chinese culture post Cultural Revolution? Comparable (see NY Times) to Tom Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities? Comparable to the social satire of Charles Dickens? Or, conversely, is this a crass exercise of a well known author pandering to the absurdist tastes of the masses to sell books? How can golden toilets, public masturbation, and voyeurism be the jumping off points to literary greatness? Frenzied popular tripe or an appropriately absurd reaction to social, cultural, and political change post-Mao? I think you should read it to decide for yourself.
If you are participating in the Lost in Translation challenge, this would be a timely and interesting choice for those of you trying to pull away from your usual Western choices. If you are not participating, it is never too late to join. Six books in translation in 2009. Simple, fun. Share your reviews with others through links and guest posts. Think about it?