My February reading lists tend to be longer than my January lists.
Except for my Middlemarch February.
Likely this will be true this year too, with the shorter reads in the wings.
The shadow stack of graphic novels and poetry, some of Mazo de la Roche’s Jalna books: smaller books that slip into my bookbag.
There are also some story collections (beyond my current Mavis Gallant reading, in Going Ashore, reading the last quarter through February and March).
Afterall, it’s winter here: good for reading.
“We had slipped into our winter as trustingly as every night we fell asleep.”
Mavis Gallant “Its Image on the Mirror”
Muriel Spark’s Memento Mori (1959)
A re-read to coincide with Ali’s centenary celebration of the author’s works and biographies.
I first read Muriel Spark in 1991, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, with a reading group.
Although I liked it, well enough to reread it eventually, I waited until 2003 for more.
Loitering with Intent became an instant favourite but I read Memento Mori alongside and jotted not one note: I’m curious enough to revisit.
Later I enjoyed The Girls of Slender Means, The Driver’s Seat, The FInishing School and, most recently, in 2012, The Bachelors.
“But I think it true that no artist has lived who has not experienced and then recognized something, at first too incredibly evil to seem real, then so undoubtedly real as to be undoubtedly true.”
Loitering with Intent
Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)
A list of the interviews I’ve heard and read, with and by Díaz, is probably as long – laid end to end – as any one of his books.
For so long, I have long admired his comments on craft and voice, that I feel like I’ve already read his fiction.
The length of time that has passed while I’ve been intending to actually do so, well, it baffles me.
This is what happens when you’re busy turning other pages.
“You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.”
Junot Díaz “O Magazine” 2009
David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks (2014)
For a long time, Mitchell was like Díaz for me, a writer whose talk of craft pulled me in but whose books remained too-long untouched.
This is the second-last in my stack of Mitchells, and I was warned that it requires an attentive reader.
It’s hard to imagine a novel which would require more attention than The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which I read in September.
But I began reading this one mid-January, and it really does demand a peculiar kind of focus, as though you are meant to attend to every detail and, yet, be prepared to let them all go in a single moment.
For a couple of chapters daily, I participate. It’s disorienting, but not entirely. Nearly baffling, not completely.
Right now I’m working on a book set in the thirty years on either side of 2010, but I shouldn’t give too many details or the next thing you know it’s on Wikipedia and if I change my mind and decide to recast King Lear in a pond of frogs and toads I’ll just give a hardworking Wikipedian an extra headache.
David Mitchell, The Paris Review No. 204 (2010)
André Alexis’ The Hidden Keys (2016)
This is the fourth in his Quincunx cycle, following Pastoral and Fifteen Dogs.
The books are united thematically and the third book will be written last.
His stories are dense and philosophical, character-driven but filled with story as well.
I am also looking forward to reading some of his essays alongside this novel.
“I can’t imagine another writer being able to bring such diversity of form, and character, and thought, to such different things, and still have them be, very clearly, a whole.”
Publisher Alana Wilcox, “The Globe and Mail” 2016
Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual (1978; Trans. David Bellos, 1987)
Last year, I read The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise, which was actually an extract from this novel.
I was approaching it as a “warm-up”, as I’ve had A Void in my stack for nearly ten years (and it became more intimidating with each passing year).
“From this, one can make a deduction which is quite certainly the ultimate truth of jigsaw puzzles: despite appearances, puzzling is not a solitary game: every move the puzzler makes, the puzzlemaker has made before; every piece the puzzler picks up, and picks up again, and studies and strokes, every combination he tries, and tries a second time, every blunder and every insight, each hope and each discouragement have all been designed, calculated, and decided by the other.”
Life: A User’s Manual
Louise Erdrich’s The Round House (2012)
Jumping ahead with my project reading, I leapt into this one with the company of NovelNiche.
I’d just finished The Beet Queen – more on that next week – and she had just finished Baptism of Desire (poetry – I always forget that she writes poetry too).
It’s good to have company with harrowing stories because, otherwise, one might be tempted to leave the pain between the covers.
Indeed, we both paused for a spell at the beginning, before being pulled back into the story, although, still, we took our time.
This story of a violent attack on a North Dakota reservation is intensified by exploring it through the woman’s son, thirteen-year-old Joe.
“And so to be afraid of entering the cemetery by night was to fear not the loving ancestors who lay buried, but the gut kick of our history, which I was bracing to absorb. The old cemetery was filled with its complications.”
The Round House
Amitav Ghosh’s River of Smoke (2011)
My new year of reading began with Sea of Poppies, the first in Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy.
It’s been highly recommended by Eva, Aarti, Karen, Jane and Mel (perhaps other readers too, do tell!).
Each of them commented on the fact that the book read more quickly than they would have guessed, based on the size: I wholeheartedly agree!
For some years now, I have been working to finish reading series not start them (my FictFact profile calculates that I am “following” 237 series and I excel at the Begin, Then Abandon pattern – perhaps you are familiar with it), so the length of these three novels was initially off-putting.
But I’m not even hesitating with this trilogy: onwards!
“The vision of a tall-masted ship, at sail on the ocean, came to Deeti on an otherwise ordinary day, but she knew instantly that the apparition was a sign of destiny, for she had never seen such a vessel before, not even in a dream: how could she have, living as she did in northern Bihar, four hundred miles from the coast?”
Sea of Poppies
Moto Hagio’s Drunken Dream and Other Stories (2010)
In 2017, I read fewer graphic novels and illustrated works than in other years.
This one landed in my stack when I was looking for new feminist writers in fantasy and sci-fi.
Several writers referred to the important influence of Moto Hagio, in her having dared to draw comics when women were discouraged (her parents never did accept her as an artist).
“Soft-spoken and barely five feet tall, Moto Hagio is not the kind of person one might imagine as a revolutionary figure. Yet her accomplishments in the world of shōjo manga have granted her legendary stature—a stature that is only now being made known to English-speaking readers, thanks to the new-released anthology A Drunken Dream and Other Stories.”
Carlo Santos Interview 2010 Anime News Network