February 2018, In My Stacks

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).

Learning from Kaggsy that there is a sequel to only made it more intimidating. (It’s also a favourite of A Life in Books.)

“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

How’s your February looking?



  1. Penny February 8, 2018 at 1:36 pm - Reply

    I loved this post!
    Enjoyed reading through your stacks in February!
    I have The Bone Clocks on my shelf (untouched though) and I need to start reading Mitchell – the one I’m constantly drawn too is Black Swan Green.

    • Buried In Print February 8, 2018 at 1:53 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Penny. I hope you find some good reading in February too! I think Black Swan Green would be an excellent place to start with David Mitchell, providing you expect that a teenage boy could be (at times) a tiresome narrator! I didn’t realise which city you are writing from; I’ve spent some time there and find its history of interest. Plus, you’ve got a couple of great little presses!

  2. Naomi February 8, 2018 at 8:38 am - Reply

    I so enjoyed reading this post and all the comments that I can’t remember anything I was going to say! I’m pretty sure I didn’t have much to say anyway, since the only book I’ve read from this lot is Hidden Keys and you already know that. 🙂
    I do love the quotes you add at the end of each book “blurb”.

    • Buried In Print February 8, 2018 at 1:47 pm - Reply

      I have been hesitating a little with this Alexis novel (maybe Fifteen Dogs is still a little fresh), so it means a lot knowing that you enjoyed the novel. Also, it is from “The Stack”, so I will feel less guilty about ignoring it if I read one or two from that corner!

  3. Stefanie February 6, 2018 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    I was hoping to read River of Smoke with you this month but it’s not going to happen 🙁 I have been deluged with books from the library that I have been waiting for patiently and of course they all come at the same time and I don’t get any renewals. Sigh. You have so much good reading planned!

    • Buried In Print February 6, 2018 at 3:34 pm - Reply

      I recognize and sympathize with that situation. I’ve just found out that I can’t renew my copy of Perec’s Life either, so I will push the Ghosh novel into the second half of February and the beginning of March, but I suspect that won’t be enough time for you to clear your freshly arrived new stacks. I’m sure there are some good things in there though: anything I would enjoy?

  4. jessicabookworm February 5, 2018 at 4:01 pm - Reply

    My February is, so far, consisting of historical crime fiction A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King (the second Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mystery), Christian non-fiction The Case for Grace by Lee Strobel and the new cook The Hairy Dieters (5) Go Veggie by Si King and Dave Myers. Happy February reading! 😀

    • Buried In Print February 5, 2018 at 5:07 pm - Reply

      That’s a series I enjoyed in the beginning, when the first one was published, but I’ve never gotten back to it. Did you only recently read the first volume, or have you taken awhile to get back to it too? I read further in one of her other series, but I didn’t finish that one yet either. hangs head

      • jessicabookworm February 6, 2018 at 5:33 pm - Reply

        It has taken awhile for me to return too! But I have quite a lot of the series lined up on my TBR pile now, so no excuse to wait anymore.

        • Buried In Print February 6, 2018 at 6:24 pm - Reply

          Wow, what a long one to select to play “catch up” with: I’m impressed! I’m really trying to finish some series, but reading 14 (and she’s still publishing them?) would be a record for me to back-track and complete. Good luck! (Maybe you’ll inspire me…)

          • jessicabookworm February 8, 2018 at 2:21 pm - Reply

            Thank you 😀 I must admit I rather love having so many lined up ready to go, because usually I am so impatient for new instalments to come out!!

  5. Alley February 4, 2018 at 11:15 am - Reply

    I look forward to your thoughts on Diaz. I read Oscar Wao a while ago and I remember enjoying it but honestly don’t remember much of it now so should prob revisit

    • Buried In Print February 5, 2018 at 5:05 pm - Reply

      So far it seems to be all about Oscar, so maybe it’s one of those reads which leaves you with more of a feeling than plot details? It’s hard to make time for rereading when you have so many other shiny temptations around.

  6. Laila@BigReadingLife February 3, 2018 at 10:31 am - Reply

    A lovely stack for February! I’ve never read Mitchell (he intimidates me, I’m embarrassed to admit.) But I think I should give him a try sometime. I have read Diaz and he is very good. But I know what you mean about feeling like you’ve already read his fiction by reading his interviews and essays. He seems like an awesome person.

    My February… I’ve got SO MANY BOOKS checked out of the library and yet at the moment I’m reading two of my own books (?!) But I see a Ruth Rendell mystery on my horizon, as well as hopefully getting to Desmond’s Evicted for nonfiction. Also A re-read of Dykeman’s The Tall Woman for my book club, which meets next week (yikes – I’d better get to reading!)

    Happy February!

    • Buried In Print February 5, 2018 at 5:04 pm - Reply

      Congrats on reading from your own shelves: look at you, keeping your resolution even if the face of major and undue temptation! My library stack was recently a little unwieldly as well, but I’m getting caught up now. As for David Mitchell, if you enjoy coming-of-age stories, Black Swan Green was quite enjoyable. I really enjoy the puzzle aspect of his fiction – how the books intersect and characters cross between fictions – but that’s not to everyone’s taste. Good to see you are keeping up with your non-fiction reading too: so many resolutions! Good February-ing to you!

  7. iliana February 2, 2018 at 8:41 pm - Reply

    Isn’t it funny how sometimes the longer the book stays on your stack the more intimidating it becomes? It certainly seems to happen to some books. For me, it’s several Gunther Grass and Nadine Gordimer novels. Anyway, looks like February is going to be filled with a richness of books. I need to read more Muriel Spark – I’ve read a couple of her books and found them wonderful.

    • Buried In Print February 5, 2018 at 4:47 pm - Reply

      I can’t speak for reading Gunther Grass, but I heard an interview with him on the BBC World Book CLub a few years ago and it was the first time I remember thinking that I might want to read his fiction as it sounded very accessible and engaging. On the shelf, I can imagine his books look very intimidating. Nadine Gordimer’s are usually skinny little volumes, but so is Perec’s A Void: sometimes the skinny ones are the hardest ones! (Not Spark’s though: they’re wickedly funny.)

  8. Wendy February 2, 2018 at 3:33 pm - Reply

    It’s cold here in Saskatchewan so I’m anticipating having above average reading time! I’ve had Cloud Atlas on my to-read shelf for a while and I’m not sure if I’m up to it! Or if I ever will be? I thought Fifteen Dogs was extremely well written but I’m not sure if I really enjoyed it if that make’s sense!

    • Buried In Print February 5, 2018 at 4:45 pm - Reply

      Did anyone really enjoy Fifteen Dogs? grins That’s one I wouldn’t have gotten through without the stalwart company of Stephanie at Bella’s Bookshelves: I was a real chicken with that one (and, it turned out, for good reason). Not that I want to deter you from trying David Mitchell, in any way, but given your recent frustration with Jennifer Egan’s AFftGS, I find it hard to believe that Cloud Atlas would be a good match for your taste: it has an almost-short-story feel to it.

      • Wendy February 6, 2018 at 6:10 pm - Reply

        I have placed cloud atlas in my donation pile. Thanks for this advice!

        • Buried In Print February 6, 2018 at 6:27 pm - Reply

          I have such mixed feelings about this, because I never want to discourage anyone from reading any book, but life is short and there are always other good books to read (and someone else is going to love your copy of Cloud Atlas)!

  9. Rebecca Foster February 2, 2018 at 6:29 am - Reply

    I also read fewer graphic novels than usual last year, and don’t have any in my sights for this year. SelfMadeHero’s upcoming offerings didn’t tempt me, and the public library only seems to carry superhero-type comics.

    I may well join you with Diaz, if not this month then soon-ish. I keep meaning to read more by David Mitchell as well (I’ve only read Jacob de Zoet and Slade House so far), but for me it would be Cloud Atlas since we have a copy on the shelf.

    • Buried In Print February 2, 2018 at 9:09 am - Reply

      Cloud Atlas is the one that initially piqued my interest; I snapped it off the “new paperbacks” shelf when it was fresh. But, then, it took so many years to read it (I just read it last year). I did enjoy it, but I think my expectations for it might have been a little high. Whereas I heard several complaints about The Bone Clocks, so I was expecting to be a little muddled and, so far at least, I am really enjoying it.

      I’ve just started reading a new graphic novel I’m enjoying tremendously, Lorina Mapa’s Duran Duran, Imedla Marcos and Me, which involves revisiting scenes from her childhood in the Phillippines in the 1980s, after she has returned home for her father’s funeral. It reminds me of Alison Bechdel and Marjane Satrapi. In my case, I think I just stopped making room for them in my stack, but I am lucky to have access to a library system which has a fantastic collection of them, whereas the city I lived in before had a system more like your current situation (with, also, academic privileges, which was a nice supplement but, again, no graphic novels)! [Also, I have to go see what SelfMadeHero is all about.]

      Danielle (Work in Progress) and I are starting the Diaz novel any day now and of course you are welcome to read along; I’ll let you know when we’re actually digging in!

  10. The Reading Life February 2, 2018 at 1:14 am - Reply

    River of Smoke is an odd kind of sequel. When Sea of Poppies came to a close we were left at a cliffhanging place in the narrative and the lives of the central characters, they are on a ship during a terrible storm in the Indian ocean. River of Smoke focuses not so much on the people on the one ship but on those in two other ships that are also caught up in the storm.

    The book is really almost a history lesson about the effects of the Opium trade and about 100 + other things. The author has a PhD in cultural anthropology from Oxford and there is a huge amount to be learned from his book. I was fascinated to read the description of plant hunters in China.

    I will say this book was not as exciting as Sea of Poppies but if you would enjoy a massive historical novel set in India and China in the middle of the 19th century, I do not think you will find a better researched, more information packed and better written pair of books than Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke.

    • Buried In Print February 2, 2018 at 8:57 am - Reply

      That’s so good to know: thanks, Mel! I really was expecting an extension of Sea of Poppies, so this will prepare me for a slight shift in focus. It was the world, in general, his creation of it, that I enjoyed so much. With every character I questioned whether I would find them as interesting as [insert the character I had just met] and then he ensnared me, so I am not worried about meeting new characters in his world, but it’s helpful to anticipate that.

      The intrigue in the book was certainly appealing, but I do think, as you’ve said, that it was the richness (the detail, the interweaving) that created such a strong appeal for me with Sea of Poppies, so I think a less exciting segment of the story will be enjoyable too. I am itching to start, but I will finish the David Mitchell book first, as it has a similar sense of busy-ness (lots of things to absorb, anyway). I think I will start Ghosh alongisde Perec, for comfort!

  11. The Reading Life February 2, 2018 at 1:12 am - Reply

    I read collection of The stories of Junot Diaz a bit before I began my Blog. He sometimes publishes in The New Yorker and I try to read all his new work

    By coincidence I have been debating The purchase of Life A User’s Manual for sometime now. I have decided to read it in February
    . Thanks for the push!

    • Buried In Print February 2, 2018 at 8:52 am - Reply

      That’s my only experience of him, too, Mel, some short stories (and not that whole collection, yet, although I hope to get to it). I’m planning to start Perec on the second weekend in this month, once I’ve finished with some more Sebald. It will be nice to have company!

  12. theresakishkan February 1, 2018 at 2:52 pm - Reply

    A good and companionable selection! I really enjoyed The Bone Clocks and the Diaz. And how good to have someone to read The Round House with. It’s so harrowing and yet kind of hopeful too.

    • Buried In Print February 1, 2018 at 3:35 pm - Reply

      It feels like it’s going to be an exceptionally good month (with very few shows watched)! Someone recently described The Bone Clocks to me as a “hot mess”, but I feel like there are a zillion quiet interconnections and echoes, so that it’s anything but messy. Yes, harrowing reads are best with companions! (Good to know there’s some hope in the wings. Thanks.)

  13. annelogan17 February 1, 2018 at 2:09 pm - Reply

    I’m embarrassed and ashamed to say I’ve never read a book by David Mitchell OR Andre Alexis! I kept meaning to read 15 Dogs but it slipped off my radar. What kind of a can-lit person am I? LOL

    • Buried In Print February 1, 2018 at 3:33 pm - Reply

      Oh, yes, you should be hanging your head down low! Haha. You could try Alexis’ A, which is super short but rather bookish in nature, rather than 15 Dogs, if you’re avoiding the dog-thing? There are lots of gaps in my reading which niggle at me too!

  14. Liz Dexter February 1, 2018 at 1:01 pm - Reply

    Nice books! I’ll be reading Iris Murdoch’s “The Bell” plus finishing a review book and reading another and hopefully finishing my big book on the Olympics before the next Winter Olympics start!

    • Buried In Print February 1, 2018 at 3:19 pm - Reply

      I was shocked that the library doesn’t have a copy of The Bell, although I have read and enjoyed that one, but perhaps it’s just as well, as I may already be overreaching even without my monthly Murdoch. It’s always disheartening when you are finishing one year’s reading for an annual event and the next occurrence is approaching (I’m feeling the same way about the rapidly approaching Canada Reads event). Good luck finishing in advance!

  15. kaggsysbookishramblings February 1, 2018 at 11:27 am - Reply

    Oooh, nice books! Good luck with the Perec!!

  16. A Life in Books February 1, 2018 at 7:44 am - Reply

    I enjoyed The Hidden Keys very much but although I knew about Fifteen Dogs hadn’t realised they were part of a cycle. Good luck with the Perec and thanks for the link!

    • Buried In Print February 1, 2018 at 8:39 am - Reply

      I suspect he has downplayed the links because it might lead some readers to think “series” and expect overt connections rather than thematic layers. I’m very keen to read this fourth one with the detective angle!

  17. BookerTalk February 1, 2018 at 3:51 am - Reply

    You’ve chosen some very meaty books for February – the Sparks will be a good contrast I’m sure.

    • Buried In Print February 1, 2018 at 8:28 am - Reply

      I know that it read very quickly the first time through, and I’m hoping it will be worth some grins and grimaces.

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