In the High Peaks

Friday, August 31, 2012

Coming Tomorrow: My Thoughts about Appelfeld's A Story of a Life

My brain is only half with me today, so tomorrow I'll be posting just a few of the bundles of impressions I've had while reading Aharon Appelfeld's A Story of a Life. Please visit Caroline at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat for her review and for links to others', all part of Caroline's Literature and War Readalong. I don't want to rush my post; the book was immeasurably meaningful to me, and I want to share my views with others.

Ken has been mesmerized by the Swedish writers, who publish their thrillers using the pseudonym Lars Kepler. Ken's reading The Hypnotist, published in the U.S. last summer, which was when I was glued to our forest-green couch. These days I call to the bedroom, "Ken, it's nearly 11:30 (am)! Don't you think you should get up?" I hear groans and pleas to leave him alone because he can't put the book down. I don't think he's sleeping much either by the looks of the bags under his eyes.

I'm on the library list for Kepler's latest, The Nightmare. The reviews are stellar. Can't wait.  

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bernhard Schlink Week, Nov. 11-17, 2012

Please let me know how the Bernhard Schlink Week fits into your reading schedules.

Am I overlapping with other important reading weeks? Holidays in countries I'm not aware of? Are you getting married, having a baby, or becoming a grandfather that week? Please let me know.
I would like to choose a week that will work for people who are tempted to participate.

I've chosen this particular week because there's just a hint of a bit of a lull in both my colleges' calendars during this week. Mid-terms are long over, research projects are underway, but nothing HUGE enters the picture during this week.

These dates also allow me plenty of preparation time as well, giving me time to seek out fascinating Schlink links during the next two months. I'll start working on it now so that you can "tune in" on any day of that week for some good "Schlinky" information.

To get you started, the following fiction titles are easily available in the U.S., and I imagine in Europe and the UK as well. There are more, and I want to list everything in print, including his nonfiction, though not tonight.
  • Summer Lies (short stories) 2012
  • The Weekend      2010
  • Homecoming     2007
  • The Reader   1997
  • Flights of Love (short stories)   2001
Then there are his crime novels, none of which I've ever tried. Maxine, have you sampled any?
  • Self's Murder  2005
  • Self's Deception   2007
  • Self's Punishment (with Walter Popp)  2009
I've read The Reader, The Homecoming, Flights of Love, and The Weekend. I plan to reread The Homecoming because I read it on the Kindle, and it's funny how it's hard for me to recall details in the e-book format. Others, too.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Pat Barker, David R. Godine, and Appelfeld

In my bookish meanderings today, I discovered the English author Pat Barker, who hails originally from North Yorkshire, I believe. I am going to my local library tomorrow to grab a copy of Regeneration, the first novel in her "Regeneration Trilogy," a historical about Siegfried Sassoon and his psychiatrist, who tries to "convince" Sassoon to return to the front. It was nominated for the Man Booker Prize in 1991. Ghost Road, the third novel in the trilogy, won the Booker in 1995.

When I looked up Barker, and learned that her themes concern "trauma, memory, survival, and recovery," I realized her books are right up my alley. In fact, the synopsis of each title interests me.

I have ordered Aahron Appelfeld's Badenheim 1939, published by David Godine (pronounced go-DEEN) in Boston, probably the independent publisher I most admire. Someone, somewhere should write the history of Godine and his publishing firm. His list has always fascinated me. I have always wished that I could interview Godine, that I could be his literary friend, and other absurd fantasies. And it is he who published Aahron Appelfeld for the first time in the U.S.! (More about Appelfeld near the end of this post.)

And guess what? I found Godine's company blog today as well.

I will add that part of Godine's allure may be due to the fact that he lived (lives?) in a town adjoining Boston to the south, where for three years in the mid-90s, I had a dream job working part-time in the largest children's bookstore in New England. The owner knew Godine well, and one day, a day or two before Christmas, he bustled in and bought armloads of books and related merchandise. A co-worker nudged me. "That's David Godine." I turned and gawked from a distance, wishing I had the fortitude and the space to introduce myself. But because the store was crammed with holiday shoppers needing help, I realized immediately what an idiotic idea that was.

More about the Appelfeld, the Israeli writer. I am so in awe of and deeply moved by The Story of a Life, because as one critic put it, "his reminiscences of the Holocaust are so restrained." To state it more precisely, from my point of view, Applefeld's bits of memory are so clearly composed, so understated, so purely written from the point of view of language, that I latch onto his memory and declare, "I get it. I'm so at one with the text." It has been eons since I have felt this kind of sympathy with an author.

Remember, Caroline is hosting her Literature and War Readalong with Aahron Appelfeld's A Story of a Life translated from the Hebrew. It is so far my #1 read of the year. There's still time to pick up a copy. It's a quick read and only 160 pages or so. I hope some of you can join in the discussion at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat on August 31st.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Book Blogs and Les Libres for Sanity's Sake!

On this most incredible of cool and beautiful pre-autumnal days, I spent all my time hashing and mashing a syllabus for the first online course I'm about to teach at a new (to me) college. I'm still teaching the same course load at my regular college; this will be an additional course that I hope will give me some experience in the world of "distance education."

Please notice in my "Blogs of Substance" list to the left that I've added a new blog. While I was taking a brief break from my arduous, nerve-wracking ordeal today, I visited many book blogs, including "His Futile Preoccupations," a thought-provoking and amusing book blog that I believe many of you will find interesting. I notice Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat is already well acquainted with Guy.

Is this book-blogging world a small one, do you think? It's incredibly diverse, I know that. I've been trying to figure out where Guy hails from, and I'm going out on a limb to say perhaps somewhere in far western Canada. Ridiculous of me to guess. I'll let you know. I think a blogger's origins do matter as far as individual perspectives are concerned. Wherever Guy lives, he mentions being an ex-pat, and I assumed from the context that he meant he was a British ex-pat. But I'm probably wrong! Oh, no, here I go again. 

Gosh, during my mania-driven, full-frontal attack to get back into classroom mode after my semester-long, broken-leg hiatus, I need to seek out more blogs, especially during these late August weeks while many bloggers are on vacation. After several hours of slogging away, I have a desperate need for literate diversion! And, gosh again, I'm being terribly verbose today. Syllabus-writing does that to me.

As far as les libres are concerned, I'm going to be hosting a Bernhard Schlink Week. All details have yet to be determined, but it will take place this fall, in October, I believe, but perhaps in early November. And I will be posting all details in the next few weeks.

I'm treasuring every sentence of A Story of a Life by the Israeli writer Aahron Appelfeld. I urge you to read it, especially if Holocaust memoirs have turned you off in the past. This memoir is a unique experience! 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Forthcoming Lit in Translation Readalong? Please Weigh In with Your Thoughts

I'm keen on hosting a readalong, but I'm barely in the preliminary stages of thinking about planning one. I think I know what I'd find interesting, but I'm not sure anyone else would find it so. You can see my tentative phrasing.

It would be fun to host a Heinrich Boll readalong, particularly one concentrating on his short stories. But I'm not sure anyone would be interested.

I must confess I bitterly disliked Bernhard Schlink's The Reader when it was first published in the U.S. I read 60 pages, saw exactly where he was going, and I was at that time extremely angry because I felt the subject matter manipulated the reader, due to the nature of the politics of memory in the early 1990s.

But time sometimes reverses opinions, and I now have an esteemed respect for Schlink and his entire oeuvre. I now know a great deal more about him and have read many of his writings about politics, legal issues, morality, and justice, and I've learned that he is a very different person from the one I dismissed decades ago.

So I think about hosting a Bernhard Schlink week, in which I would encourage people to sample his work. And I would encourage readers who found The Reader to be over the top, to not give up on Schlink and try another title. Another volume of his short stories has been very recently published in the U.S. Summer Lies, I believe is the title.

And because my supreme scholarly interest is German literature from 1946--present (although quite far flung from the academic courses I do teach, I'd be curious to hold a Gunter Grass week or a W.G. Sebald week or a week devoted to a woman writer of the period. I can see the women writers in my mind, but, due to the fact that I have consumed a glass of wine, I can't think of their names! I find this terrible. To not remember the names of the women!

Just my initial meanderings on the topic!

Please also weigh in on the book you're enjoying during the final weeks of summer!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Books I'm A-Waiting: Paul Auster, No Less

I can't wait for the late August publication date of Paul Auster's Winter Journal. Auster is now 65: Might the title suggest that he feels he's entering the winter of his life? I hope not, mostly because I don't want to feel that way when I'm 65!  At the time I pre-ordered the book, there was no information available about it, so my mind ran wild with the title. So, this evening, I decided it was high time to revisit the new book news.

Oh, dear, I do mind it when Amazon and other websites misstate Auster's age. Auster may have been 64 when he wrote Winter Journal, but in early February, 2012, Auster (born in 1947) turned 65.  I apologize for making such a big deal about this, but many important people in my life were born in 1947, including my Ken, my older brother, Stephen King, one of my favorite cousins, lots and lots of Vietnam vets, and many writers I admire. The error, which appears to have spread like a virus all over the web, can become so universal that it almost becomes FACT. 

And, yes, from what I have read from early reviews, Auster is referring to the later stages of life. The book is nonfiction, and I'm more than ready for it.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Caroline's Antonio Tabucchi Week and the New Literature and War Readalong

As you know, I was captivated by Caroline's Literature and War Readalong last month and am participating this month. Luckily I was able to find the title scheduled to be discussed on August 31st, The Story of a Life by Aharon Appelfeld, who has lived in Israel since after World War II. Yes, he's a Holocaust survivor. He burrows deep into sensory memory for his description of his youngest years in this memoir, reminding me a bit of Marcel Proust. I'm enjoying it, mostly because it is so different from other Holocaust memoirs, of which I've read a large number.

And, the week of September 17-23, Caroline is hosting an Antonio Tabucchi Week, which will gather reflections from readers who have read any number of  Tabucchi's oeuvre. I have never read or heard of this author and have read so very few novels by Italian writers, that I've ordered Pereira Declares, a novel set in Portugal during the Fascist 1930s. Why Portugal? Tabucchi adores Portugal, and is a professor of Portuguese literature. I know zilch about Portugal, other than a movie about the children of Fatima, and the fact that it has a long border on the ocean.

Caroline is having so much fun with these events that I think I might consider hosting one, if I'm able to get my readership back into fighting order.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Adirondacks and Julia Spencer-Fleming Novels

Oh, golly gee. Suddenly it's time for me to be super-focused and get my syllabi polished and finalized, and all I want to do is hike and "play" with my friends.

I've started reading Julia Spencer-Fleming's third novel in her mystery series, the first of which is one of my favorite mysteries, In the Bleak Midwinter. Don't miss it! I enjoyed her second but I didn't think it was stellar. So now I've started the third, Out of the Deep I Cry. I hope Clare and Russ have a few more romantic sparks flying in this novel, because they really backpedaled their quasi-relationship in the second.

For all who enjoy Spencer-Fleming's mysteries, I want you to know that I have high praise for her writing, characterization, and plotting, but I am indeed puzzled that her books are touted as being set in the Adirondacks. That means, the Adirondack State Park, all 6 million acres of it, a combination of public and private land. Spencer-Fleming lives in Maine and formerly lived in Ithaca, New York, a four-hour drive from the Adirondacks. Although I'm sure she must be well acquainted with the Adirondacks to set her series here, the landscapes of her books do not resemble this region in too many ways to enumerate them all here.

I have always felt that her books are set in Washington County, most of which neighbors the Adirondack Park. Spencer-Fleming's series is set amidst many farms, creeks, and hills, but here in the actual Adirondacks we do not have many farms, not at all. The soil quality in general is so poor; it's great for raising horses, sheep, llamas, alpaca, and chickens, but one can't make a profit on a crop without huge expenditures on soil improvement. One notable exception to this would be the Adirondack lands bordering the western shores of Lake Champlain. But these towns have extremely small populations and virtually no Episcopal churches, so you can see why I'm scratching my head.

When I think of the Adirondacks, I think of wilderness. And a super-exciting, brief novel that gives you a sample of the area's chills and thrills would be Cold River by William Judson. I read it right before moving here, and I snuggled in my bed in Boston and shivered and shivered. Too good to miss!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Book Sale Treasures & Other Finds

Last weekend was our town's book sale. I worked on it for only three days this year, instead of my usual six, but my time was long enough to see most of what was available. I was very pleased to pick up a copy of Seamus Heaney's prize-winning translation of Beowulf. I love it, because on the left-hand page is the Old English, and on the right the modern English translation. So very cool.

A local couple, owners of a large library of gorgeous art and photography books, are moving to Vermont (Are they crazy or what? We considered moving to Vermont from Boston years ago, but there are too many people and nowhere near enough wild lands.), so we were lucky to have on sale many of the books they chose not to move to their new home. I bought an incredible collection of Margaret Bourke-White's photographs, many of them from the 1930s and 1940s in Europe--Hitler Youth, Soviet laborers, and many other rare photos from this courageous, pioneering American photographer. And I bought several art technique books, including one on acrylic painting, which is my newest challenge in art media. I do love painting with acrylics, using them as one would oil paints.

I bought The Great Forest of the Adirondacks, a regional treasure by probably the best-known and most admired nonfiction author of Adirondack natural history, Barbara McMartin. For our sale, we never have enough Adirondacks books because people hang onto them and pass them on to their children and grandchildren. The few we have, we price them highly and they go quickly.

 At the tale end of the book sale, right before we load all the unsold books to go to the pulper, I salvage as many books as I can for next year's sale as well as grabbing some more for myself, at a very low cost. This year I think my favorite of these was Getting Your First Horse by Judith Dutson,  a substantial guide to everything novices need to know to ensure they purchase a healthy horse appropriate to their needs. I teased Ken with the book by flashing the cover in his face. (Well, not quite that bad, but you get the idea.) When we first moved here, it was understood that I would buy one or two horses. We have a "pole barn," which could easily, though not super cheaply, be transformed into the perfect horse barn. But the impracticality of the plan soon became apparent. Horses are a tremendous amount of work and extremely expensive to maintain. Yes, I have always, always loved horses. But I have enough friends who own horses to remind me of the disadvantages whenever I become weak with horse-envy.