Friday, August 09, 2013

I Still Know How To Read...

I may have forgotten how to BLOG, but at least I still know how to read.
In the past month I've managed to read five books, even though for one week of July I never read a single page of anything because I was entertaining guests at my place -- a time I would not have traded for any amount of books, by the way.
But I thought I would drop in to the Puddle tonight and inform anyone who may have been wondering if I was alive at all -- that yes, I am still breathing. 
Let me say the briefest of words regarding my impression of each of these books.
A Student of Weather, by Elizabeth Hay. 
I admit, I am partial to Elizabeth Hay because she lives in one of the best cities in the world. My own -- Ottawa, Canada. And this novel largely takes place right here. So often I knew the very streets her characters walked. It's the story of a girl named Norma Joyce Hardy, and I hope the author will forgive me for summarizing this excellent tale in so brief a synopsis as the following: The person you first fall in love with when you are very young [i.e., the one who takes your virginity] is not necessarily the one you should also remain [hopelessly] devoted to for the rest of your life. I savoured this book. It is a treasure. I've read four of Hay's books, and this one is my favourite. I highly recommend it to you.
Next, The Visible World, by Mark Slouka. 

This is definitely one of those books that gets better as you read it. At first I was a bit disappointed, but in the end, oh yes, it proves itself worthwhile. Growing up in New York, our protagonist becomes aware that his mother had a love affair that rang a bit truer than the one she currently has with his own father. He discovers that she was involved in a revolution in Czechoslovakia, but for reasons I will not divulge here, as an adult he is unable to ask her about her past. So he revisits the homeland to search for clues about her earlier life and is stymied at every turn. The second half of the book is his fictional account of what took place in his mother's life -- and we, the reader, end up believing in it as much as he does. It is a gorgeous, but searing and sad-ending love story that will nevertheless make any reader appreciate the finer aspects of true love in their own life. Again, I recommend it with very little reservation.
Foreign Bodies, by Cynthia Ozick. 

The author has built a really wonderful tale around the simplest of premises. A truly obnoxious and arrogant [and lazy] brother coerces his sister to leave America and go to Paris to find his estranged son [her nephew]. Aunt Bea does it, and becomes embroiled in an endless amount of subterfuge and duplicity as she increasingly sympathizes with the reasons that the lad has flown the parental coop in the first place. She becomes a bit over-involved, let's just say. It's wonderfully written, and has made me want to read other things by this writer. When it comes to "family matters", Foreign Bodies will cause the reader to speculate upon the question of how appropriate it is to stick one's nose into [what amounts to] other people's business.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Stories, by Raymond Carver. 

I am not going to have a lot of good things to say about this collection. Mind you, I am not really a proficient [and definitely not a prolific] reader of short stories, in general. So maybe I don't know beans about it. For my taste, I just thought these stories were a bit too ambiguous. Too often they seemed as if they were displaced chapters of a greater book. And the endings left me saying, "What?" As in, "the hell?"
I appreciate a good vignette now and then, but Carver lost me too often with his abrupt endings. Not fleshed-out enough for me. I'm all for "Hemingwayesque" when it comes to simplicity and abbreviated dialogue and all that jazz, but I'm afraid these stories did not at all grab me as they probably might enthrall another reader who likes to fill in the blanks.
The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes. 

Now here is a book I can heartily endorse sans regret. 163 pages? Really? It felt like a story that another author would have had to take 400 to tell. The conciseness is baffling. Told in first person, Tony Webster sort of reviews his entire life -- his college life, his loves and losses. And the strength of the book is the universal [we all can relate] philosophy laced throughout, with not the slightest trace of pedantry. My second Barnes book, but definitely not my last. I thoroughly recommend your grubby little hands on it.
So this has been just a few words about the past few things I have read.
Please forgive me my lack of blogging lately.
It is a hot, humid summer here, and I work in a building that does not have air conditioning. 

Need I say more? 
I myself am thinking of writing a memoir entitled The Stench of [Every Weekday's] Ending!


rhapsodyinbooks said...

Wait, are you claiming real life is better than virtual life? Interesting concept! :--)

Stefanie said...

Except for the Carver it sounds like your reading has been a great success of late. Sorry for your heat and humidity. I hope it starts to cool off for you soon! And if not, I will try to figure out a way to send some of my overly frosty library air to you. It's summer outside but indoors we have to wear sweaters. Ridiculous.

Danielle said...

Wow--No air conditioning? I guess the heat and humidity is not normal for Ottawa? I have that Hay novel and really need to pull it from my pile--many a time I have looked at it. I want to read the Barnes as well (heck--all of them--maybe even the Carver short stories). I like the preciseness of your impressions--yet I still feel like you have described them in great detail--nicely done!

Faith Hope Cherrytea said...

Ahh yes - humidity of Ottawa is not to be borne without ze air conditioning! Amazed you've survived to write the post ;)) but glad you have the company of good books [w/o the stench]
HapPy reading... and thanks for the visit to the prairies. Hoping you're feeling a bit refreshed b/c of our lack of humidity :))

Anonymous said...

LOL - so you finally give a bad review ... to arguably the world's finest short story writer? Cipriano you really are a complicated fellow