In the High Peaks

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

War Diary by Ingeborg Bachmann

The Austrian poet and author Ingeborg Bachmann's War Diary has been translated into English by Mike Mitchell, edited by Hans Holler, and published by Seagull Books (2011), with assistance from the Goethe-Institut branch of India, of all places. It is a handsome little book. A stunning black-and-white etching and aquatint make the cover. The diary, written when Bachmann was only eighteen, details her experiences and observations of the final year of World War II and the first year of the British occupation.

For background about the diary and an excerpt, please check out this Seagull Books blog post.
Bachmann died prematurely, at the age of 46 in 1973, several weeks after a fire in her bedroom. I'm filled with sadness whenever I learn of writers who die before their time.

I finished Saturday yesterday and am so glad to have read it. I think it is definitely one of McEwan's best. I wish I could say more but, for some reason, the pain I've had taxes my verbiage to the point where there is nothing left.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Saturday by Ian McEwan, and Thoughts about Atonement

I am enjoying the cerebral qualities of the neurosurgeon Henry Perowne's mind in Saturday, although I admit I became bogged down following his thoughts as he makes his way through the crowds to the fishmonger's. This part of the novel coincided with some unwelcome distractions at home, which ground my reading to a halt lasting for several days. Back again, I hope. So hopefully, Henry will finally get his fish and shellfish for the evening meal...

I have also read McEwan's On Chesil Beach and Atonement, both of which I found to be top-notch, for different reasons. I was disappointed that the word atonement was chosen for the title. I'm afraid I considered it a flaw, still do, perhaps because by using this title, I thought the author?? publicist?? publisher?? was shoving forth its theme. I can't believe McEwan would do that. If he named it Atonement, perhaps it was done in irony, and wouldn't that be complicated to pull apart? I'm not certain, but I may have hit on a topic that could generate discussion among ardent readers of the novel.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Short Story Monday: Heinrich Böll

The Short Story and Its Writer, published in 1991 by St. Martins, is an enormous compendium of outstanding classic short stories as well as lesser-known stories by classic writers from all over the world.

For this week, my first foray into Short Story Monday, an event originally created by the Canadian book blogger John Munford of The Bookmine Set, I selected the short but powerful "Like a Bad Dream" by Heinrich Böll. The main character is a middle-class business contractor. He's bid on a job that he's desperate to get when he discovers that a Herr Kumen may hold the key to his winning it. The man's wife arranges a perfect dinner for the Kumens, but the contractor fails to broach the subject during the visit. After the Kumens have left, his wife takes over, and from this point on, a cascading series of odd late-night bribes and counter-bribes leave the contractor feeling baffled and soulless. He keeps gazing into his wife's eyes but realizes again and again he has no desire to kiss her. The next day he wins the bid, he should be happy, but he's feeling out of place, out of time--a profound dislocation.

Based on my research today, Böll was frustrated by German society in the entire postwar era--the rush to build businesses and wealth while not only denying the war and the country's fascist past, but also the centuries of culture preceding Nazism.

I have ordered a 900+ page volume of Böll's complete short stories, which has been published by Melville House.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Reading in Snow

Snow has been falling since noontime. At first lightly, now more moderately. It's a wet snow, so it's clinging to the bare branches of the hardwoods and to the green boughs of the conifers. I am viewing all this from the couch, Sasha asleep by my side.

Warning: Stong Opinion Coming! How do you feel?
I'm galloping through A Fountain Filled with Blood by Julia Spencer-Fleming. I agree it's not as stellar a read as In a Bleak Midwinter. What a stunning debut novel that was! (Sorry to be repeating myself.) How could a second novel surpass it?

I like the fact that the second novel is more firmly grounded in Washington County, New York, with a greater number of actual place names than in the first novel. Lots of southern Warren County place names as well. I love it when settings are authentic. I must say I strongly object to an author setting the novel in a real location, only to then go on and invent the names of every town, hill, lake, river, and bar within that area! Of course, change the names of shops and restaurants, but give us a real sense of place!

I've also been amusing myself by continuing to venture more deeply into Ian Frazier's Travels in Siberia, which is nearly 550 pages long. Lots of stories from his own journeys, lots of history, and eventually, he promises to reveal his lengthy explorations of many former gulags. That's what I'm waiting for. Why am I reading this book? I know for certain that I will never step foot in Siberia, though I am very interested in it geographically, historically, and ecologically. Hence, a book that promises to deliver all this information to me is very welcome.

Short Story Monday? I'm hopping onto this weekly adventure because I enjoy short stories immensely, but not in large doses, nor by the same author all at once. I need to search for a story for this Monday. I am told that John Munford of The Bookmine Set established Short Story Monday, but I could not find evidence of it when I visited his blog today. However, Lakeside Musing is continuing the challenge, as is ImageNations, so I'll refer you there. I will continue to search for others.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Broken Leg! Are Greater Reading Times Ahead?

Yes, I'm devastated to say that I broke my leg, or, to be more specific, my tibeal plateau was broken at 8am this morning. Sasha was so exuberant today. She knew it was not a school day for me, but an adventure day, when we would take off into the woods for an excellent bushwhack.

She joyously barrelled toward me at what seemed like 90 mph--55 pounds of muscle and bone! Usually she averts me at the right moment, but I felt fear as she approached me. It seemed to me that she was cutting it too close. I meant to take a step to the right to steer clear of her, and somehow or other I shifted slightly to the left. COLLISION!

Remarkably, she was unhurt, but I howled in agony and sank to the ground. After a time I managed to walk home, but I knew the pain I felt was like nothing I'd ever felt before. I feared I had broken something.

The verdict: I can't put weight on my left foot or leg for 12 weeks! Much longer than an ordinary break of the tibia.

A test for my resourcefulness and patience.

Books will be prominent in the coming weeks, I wager!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Julia Spencer-Fleming

How I loved reading In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming! So well done. I know I read it in 2011, but was it during the winter season? I can't recall. But it's a mystery that must be read IF you want a male and a female protagonist with fully developed, inspiring characters. It's also a book for people who like a mystery to have a genuine SETTING with ATMOSPHERE.

So now, perhaps more than a year later, I'm reading the second novel in the series featuring Clare, the Episcopal minister and former US Army helicopter pilot, and Russ, the caring, sensitive Chief of Police. This one, like In the Bleak Midwinter, is super-cheap on the Nook or Kindle. It's entitled A Fountain Filled with Blood. I'm just getting started with it.

I ordered two works of German literature in translation today. I'm looking forward to writing about them. One of them, by Julia Franck, has one title in Germany, another in the UK, and another in the US. Really! I object to publishers messing around with the titles of books in translation, especially when the titles go so far afield from the original.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

German Writer Peter Härtling

Yes, Härtling in a moment, but I want to say I finished The Flight of Gemma Hardy, I felt satisfied, I'm glad I read it, I liked it, and I won't soon forget it. I found myself excusing two deus ex machina scenes, saying to myself, "Oh, well, I don't mind, I like you, Book, even with your flaws.

And, did you know, Margot Livesey, who has lived in Boston for decades, was born in Scotland? I should have read the Acknowledgments first. That's what happens with an e-book. You can't leaf through a book to see all these treats, though they are listed in the Table of Contents. It doesn't help that I usually don't bother with the TOC.

Oh!! Crutches by Peter Härtling. What a wonderful book, a deeply fulfilling human story of a boy and a crippled soldier who helped each other survive the ugly aftermath of war. I was so profoundly moved by this little novel. Yes, I cried and cried at the end. Not because of anything tragic, but because of the pathos of the entire tale. It's true, all relationships come to an end sometime, and sometimes that is very sad. I must purchase a copy. Yes, it's out of print, but perhaps I can dig up a copy somewhere. I would like to read it again, and again.

Härtling was born in Chemnitz in 1933. He's a well-known poet, prose writer, and children's book author. His father died in a Russian POW camp in 1945. His family fled from the Red Army in the early spring of 1945 and landed in Austria, just as Tom does in Crutches. Hartling has written several autobiographal books about this time as well, though they haven't been translated into English. Darn! Wikipedia has an entry about Hartling, but it's difficult to come up with additional information that's in English. There's plenty in German, however.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Reading Spree!

In the past two weeks, I have managed to clock in many hours of reading. What a relief it has been--dog curled up in a ball at my feet, tea at my elbow, gas fire pouring out heat, and book(s) in hand.

I have less than 80 pages to go in the nearly 400-page The Flight of Gemma Hardy. It has strayed deliciously from Jane Eyre. Mr. Sinclair, the Rochester character, is marvelously flawed! I love that twist.

I've found the novel to be a page-turner, but it must be said that I delight in orphan tales. UK readers' eyes will pop out when they stumble across what a novelist-friend of mine used to call "eye bumps." I think Livesy tried to write dialogue being mindful of British diction, but...she fails at times. She also can be a little careless with historical phrasing. This book takes place from 1958-1967, and she has some cliches and phrases that belong to the 1990s at the earliest. Still, I must say, they do not happen frequently, and I'm able to stay rooted in time and place. And I've thoroughly enjoyed it! That fact is uppermost!

Andrew Hudgins' poetry has figured prominently this week. I own Hudgins' The Neverending but have borrowed The Lost War Narrative. I'm not a poetry afficiando, but I enjoy reading poems from time to time, for the ideas, the emotions, the imagery, and to share with my students.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Jane Eyre and The Flight of Gemma Hardy

After groaning over P.D. James writing a novel post-Pride and Prejudice, I find myself falling prey to Margot Livesey's reworking of Jane Eyre in The Flight of Gemma Hardy.

How did this happen? I realize now that I had high expectations of P.D. James. I still haven't recovered from her decision to put her mystery novels to rest. I can understand her retiring from writing books at age 90 plus, but to go off on a Jane Austen bender was too much for me to handle with composure.

It seems that because I have no expectations about Margot Livesey, other than the fact that she is a respected novelist, I've been willing to be led down the Jane Eyre garden path. Yes, I'm enjoying The Flight of Gemma Hardy, but I must warn you, I'm a third of the way through and so far, Livesey doesn't stray far from Bronte's novel, other than to update the storyline to 1958. But I LIKE it! Perhaps it's important to admit that Jane Eyre is my favorite English novel.

But in Gemma Hardy's case, I can't imagine why she didn't run away from Mrs. Bryant's school and head for London or another major city to see if she could survive in the streets or the countryside. Maybe I'm too much the independent/explorer type, but I'd much prefer robbing from a farm or two or doing odd jobs in a city, always hiding myself, to enduring the horrors at the school. I can see why Jane Eyre didn't run away, but the twentieth century presents an entirely different environment.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Re-Envisioning the Blog & New Reads

I've been moved, at long last, to do some urgently needed updates to this blog.

I finished An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer this morning, and the novel persisted in being a relaxing, though mildly provocative read. It's such a relief to read a novel geared specifically toward people in their fifties and early sixties. I heartily recommend it! Please see my earlier posts for more details.

I am now reading a YA novel by a German writer, Peter Hartling, which is set in Austria in 1945-1946. It's entitled Crutches and is about an orphaned German boy and a crippled German soldier strugging for survival in Vienna. The twelve-year-old boy, separated from his mother during a stampede at a German train station at war's end, arrives in Vienna, hoping to be reunited with his aunt. His aunt's house and all the apartments on the street have been reduced to rubble and she is nowhere to be found.

I've also started a new adult novel published in January 2012, The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesy. Once again, I'm reading it on the Nook, which is such a help to my eyes! The brightly lit screen helps immensely, no matter what kind of day I'm having with my vision, and I'm able to read much more rapidly than I'm able to read a standard hardcover or paperback book.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

An Available Man

I'm halfway through An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer and am thoroughly enjoying it. I've grown fond of Edward, the bereaved spouse of his departed, beloved Bee. If you've never read Wolitzer, she deals with dreadfully serious subjects with a light touch. At times I've found her tone to be a little too breezy, but when it comes to grieving spouses in their fifties, a light tone is very welcome.

Wolitzer doesn't let us wallow in Edward's grief. The reader senses it but looks hopefully on all of Edward's attempts to stay connected to the world. He is a science teacher, and an endearing one, ensconced in an Upper West Side (NYC) private school.

His dating forays have begun, and they're humorous. I find I feel enormous empathy for Edward, with no sturm und drang attached. I feel comforted when I read about Edward's trials and adventures. I think everyone in their fifties has contemplated what it would be like to continue on after the death of his or her spouse or partner. This book allows one to think about it without an anvil above the head. I like that!!

What a winter we've had! Very, very little snow, but an overload of icy roads and trails. We've had some cold but never for long. The temps keep warming up to the 40s after a string of frigid days. No, I don't like it. This is not an Adirondack winter. But I've tried to make do.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Books, Books, Books!

I so want to write an entry this evening, but I arrived home SO LATE after work because of a long physical therapy session.

I will give you a tease. I'm loving An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer. I have so much to say about why this is a superb, fun, worthwhile title for people over fifty. I will save that for tomorrow. I'm so glad I'm reading it and that I found out about this new book. (Published in January, I believe.)

More tomorrow! It's on my GOALS list.