Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Saturday, October 31, 2015

"Haunted" by Chuck Palahniuk

What a great title for this month, and how fitting that I am posting about it on Halloween! I was selecting my next read based on the books I could see from my reclining position in bed. I briefly thought I might pick up Children of God by Mary Doria Russell, but when my eye fell on Haunted, I decided that sounded perfect for October. It's just too bad I don't have time to squeeze Christopher Moore's Bite Me into the month as well. Maybe next Halloween.

Anyway. Back to Haunted. Did you know the cover glows in the dark? I'm a sucker for gimmicks like that. And this time I was pleased to find that the cover wasn't the best part of the book.

Haunted is basically a novelized short story collection. There are 23 mostly-unrelated stories linked together by a writer's workshop. (And that summary of the book could be likened to describing Adolf Hitler as the leader of Germany during World War II. It's a true statement, but it leaves a LOT out.) So here are the details.

First, about the title itself. I was kind of expecting ghosts and supernatural phenomena. I was wrong. We're looking at a different type of "haunting"--the kind that comes with unsettling, could-be-true stories that imprint themselves on your mind and stick there forever. So, really, this book wasn't especially Halloweenie. But (despite my misinterpretation of it) the title certainly wasn't false advertising.

Second, the stories. They're definitely Palahniukian. All the way through, I was thinking what a disturbed (but inventive!) mind the author must have. This book is full of the sort of thing you come across on the internet and then wish you hadn't--like that gruesome, sordid, indecent news piece you might, in hopes of attenuating its effect on you, try to tell yourself was made up or exaggerated. And then I read the Afterword, where Palahniuk refers to these as "mostly true stories." Seriously?? That knowledge makes me less fearful of what he might come up with next (or what he might do) and more unsettled by the stories themselves.

Third, the matrix for the stories. I found it the only disappointing part of the book, as it was inferior to the stories themselves. The things that happened during the "writer's workshop" were too obviously present purely for shock value, seeming pointless and impossible to relate to. But it was interesting that this part was written in first person plural. I expected the narrator to eventually be revealed as a specific member of the workshop and was somewhat disappointed that that never happened.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

"Bloodroot" by Amy Greene

This was another excellent book--one that I wish I could still be reading right now. I'm sad that it's over, but I can put a positive spin on it: I feel lucky when I have the opportunity to experience such a good book.

Speaking of good books . . . Why does it often take me so long to get around to reading them? I've had this one for five years, and I'd heard it was great before I bought it. So I've had Expected Awesomeness on my bookshelf for five years without doing anything about it. It probably has something to do with fear of disappointment, and it's also related to Obligation Reads (which was more applicable back when I was in a book club). I think in this particular case it was also because several years ago I suggested to Sam that we should read this together, but he refused because he hated the title. (Now that I've read the book, though, I know it was by far the most fitting title possible.)

Bloodroot is a multi-generational story of a cursed family. Six narrators share their points of view, from the oldest (Byrdie) who is a great-grandmother to the two youngest (Johnny and Laura). All of the characters are tied together by Bloodroot Mountain in eastern Tennessee. We hear how each woman falls in love, and then we watch the tragedy-tinged direction each love takes.

I'm not sure how I feel about the epilogue. In a way it was satisfying--it answered every question--but somehow being left with no ambiguities is disappointing. It's not that the answers themselves were disappointing, but that I was left with nothing to wonder about.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Baudelaire Poems

I've had a cute little "Everyman's Library Pocket Poets" edition of Baudelaire's works as (ahem) my restroom reading for the past few months. (In case you haven't yet discovered this, poetry is a great format for quick visits. It eliminates all the fuss about trying to remember where you were in the plot--since there isn't one--and you rarely end up hanging around longer than necessary in order to see what happens next. I have just realized, by the way, that it's a good thing I didn't start reading The Girl on the Train while I was sitting on the toilet. I wouldn't have gotten up for two days straight, my feet would have gone so numb that they would never have recovered, and I would have been fired for job abandonment. But I digress.)

I've no idea where I got this notion, but I somehow expected Baudelaire's poems to be romantic, albeit in a sort of erotic and edgy way. Well, I got the edgy right. And a lot of them are about love, but I definitely can't call them romantic. Like the one where Baudelaire describes roadkill in detail before addressing his love and basically saying, "My Beauty, someday your lovely body is going to rot just like that!" That poem, by the way, is aptly titled "Carrion".

A word about translation. I'd often wondered what I might be missing by not reading Baudelaire's poems in the original French. (The short answer: not much, because my French isn't good enough. I personally would miss more by trying to read it in French.) But a translation can certainly make a difference. Look here to see four prior English translations of one poem in this collection. It's amazing how varied they are! And Richard Howard's version in my Pocket Poet book gives it yet another individual twist. It's also, I think, more natural-sounding and fluid than any of the other four. The only thing Howard doesn't do is attempt to replicate the rhyme scheme of the original, but I think he was right to abandon the restriction of rhyme in favor of retaining the sense of the original with lyrical expression.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

"Tattercoats and Other Folk Tales" by Winifred Finlay

I saw this old book in the children's section at the library a few years back, standing on a special display shelf, but I did not borrow it at the time. I can't remember why--maybe I was already in the middle of reading something else? But it obviously stuck in my mind, because I later made a note to get it next time we were there. However, when I looked it up the next few times, the card catalog always showed it was checked out. The perils of having had a spot on the special display shelf, I suppose. Then I forgot to look for it for a long time . . . until last week. First I looked for it under FIN on the fiction shelves, but it wasn't there. Then I checked the card catalog and saw that the library doesn't categorize this book as fiction! It was in the non-fiction section! What's that about? I'm not sure whether to chalk that up to wishful thinking, stupidity, not paying enough attention, or a librarian with a sense of humor.

I may have mentioned [many times] before that I enjoy a good children's book on occasion, with an emphasis on fairy tales and magic. This one was no exception. In fact I loved it so much that I began to consider buying my own copy. I want to read it to my kids at bedtime, even though the majority of them are too old for it and the youngest one is probably too young to appreciate it. I don't care--I'll read it to anyone willing to sit relatively still in my general vicinity. I'm not a fan of the cover art (the library book is dust-jacketless, so it's just a plain green binding, and I much prefer that) but the stories inside are lovely. And all the better because they are neither retellings of the most common fairy tales, nor are they the jarring modern-style updated versions; these are actually new stories that I'd never heard before. They have a lot of familiar elements, but they're just different enough to feel unique. And they're told in the gentle old-fashioned language with repetition of details that one would expect from these sorts of stories.

Now I just have to decide whether to go ahead and buy a copy now, or hope someone gives it to me as a Christmas gift . . .