James Salter, Bangkok

I’ll tell you something funny, Hollis said, something I heard. They say that everything in the universe, the planets, all the galaxies, everything—the entire universe—came originally from something the size of a grain of rice that exploded and formed what we have now, the sun, stars, earth, seas, everything there is, including what I felt for you.

Advertisements

What I’m Up To These Days….

I’ve been in England for two weeks now. Lectures began last Monday.

This is my final year, and I’m determined to make the most of it – which means I’ll try to find the time to visit galleries and museums in London, read all sorts of books, and concentrate more on my studies.

Anyway, my room is such a mess that taking this little picture was not even easy. A Manual for Cleaning Women aside, the books arrived on Friday. I hope – I will try my best – to read all of them before the year ends. I initially wanted to read the Booker Prize nominees first, but I lost my debit card and couldn’t order anything for 1 week! So it would’ve been virtually impossible to read them in 3 weeks or so with my lectures.

books

Here is why I bought these books:

A Manual for Cleaning Women: I bought the book in Waterstones during the Fresher’s Week because I didn’t have anything to read in my room. I’m halfway through it, but I’ll read it sporadically now that I’ve received my other books – the reason being that reading nearly 400 pages of short stories can get very tiresome. I like it though.

This Is How You Lose Her: I had already added the books I wanted to read to my Amazon basket even before I actually obtained my debit card back. However, when checking out I noticed that two collections of short stories present in the cart were by Irish authors. So I kept one (Young Skins by Colin Barrett), saved the other (Dark Lies the Island by Kevin Barry) and added Junot Diaz’s short stories, because he writes from a different background and I was very impatient to discover his writing. I’m currently reading and loving it!

The Vegetarian: The Man Booker International Prize 2016. At first I didn’t want to read it that bad. But I read how the translator, Deborah Smith, learned Korean shortly after finishing university at 21 and how she ended up translating The Vegetarian. I can completely relate to her feeling that she needed to do something different, that will make her stand out, after graduating. I can’t wait to read this book!

The Glorious Heresies: Ah, another Irish author. I somehow forgot this book but I saw some people around here who were reading it. It won the Bailey’s Award despite not even featuring in the Booker longlist, so I have a feeling it might be a book that divides opinion. But,anyway, I am very much looking forward to reading it. (I wanted the other cover, but that one was cheaper.)

The Art of the Short Story: I’m loving reading short stories at the moment so I was very interested when I saw this book on goodreads. Paris Review is synonymous with quality and its selection of short stories (twenty in total) looks very promising. I like how each of them is given an introduction, so that we can witness the art of ”shortstorytelling” in different settings and styles.

The Sympathizer: This book won so many awards, among which is the Pulitzer. I added it to my tbr list because I wanted to read more books by Asians or authors of Asian descent. What made me want to actually read it now is simply the fact that it is one of the best books of 2016. In 2017 I’ll have my eyes set on different books and might end up forgetting it. So now is the right time, I think, to read it.

Alice Munro’s Stories#2: Dear Life

Alice Munro is very easily among the greatest authors to have ever lived. As far as short stories are concerned, I don’t think we will ever see the like of her again. To be so consistent over so many years with so many stories in so many collections, you have to be a once-in-a-lifetime author. Continue reading “Alice Munro’s Stories#2: Dear Life”

Review: The Lottery and Other Stories (Shirley Jackson)

Honestly,I have no idea how to review collections of short stories,but I’ll try to give it a go! (I hope it’s not going to be my worst review ever!)

After reading a good bunch of classics since June 2013,I realized in the midst of this year that I have grossly neglected short stories.I thus went on goodreads and added the best-rated collections to my wish list.After Murakami’s anthology of Birthday Stories and Borges’ Labyrinths,The Lottery and Other Stories is the third collection I’ve delved into.

Let me beforehand say that The Lottery is not the only highlight in this collection.In fact it is not any better than some other superbly written,but lesser-known,gems like The Flower Garden,The Daemon Lover or The Villager.

What I particularly liked with Jackson’s writing is that the ending is recurrently elusive.After writing with engaging vividness for the most part of the story,she is always vague in the conclusive stages,purposely avoiding to give us something definite that would satisfy our reading curiosity.Weirdly this technique sees that we are reading not for the ending,but for the gripping narration.A detached ending besides is also a requisite for many great short-storytellers; if you read Alice Munro’s stories,for example,you’ll agree that the endings have little coherence with the main plot,although highly symbolical.

Moreover I wanted to point out that the literary categorization of Shirley Jackson’s writing is highly misleading.She is erroneously portrayed as someone who reveled in the horror genre,but I think ‘horror’ is too strong a word; the stories were all thematically very dark and gloomy and sometimes disturbing,but none contained morbid allusions and details.To put it in another way,Jackson’s writing is peculiarly delicate yet very dark and clear; she lets you make your own deduction and shiver at the thought of it.Her humor was also very subtle.I am sure that,although fundamentally disturbing,Charles and Of Course will surely put a smile on your face.

Most importantly what really struck me with this collection is that the stories felt very real; there was no magic realism – not that there is anything wrong with it – and nothing highly unlikely.Instead the horrors we witness in the book emanate from terrifying holes in people’s everyday lives: a polite pregnant young lady is almost held hostage by her depressive maid; a newcomer is gradually alienated by the other village dwellers; a woman goes through a delirious mental transformation as a result of her tooth aching.

All in all,I think if you’re fond of short stories or aspire to be a short-storyteller,you should pick this collection.I believe that Jackson’s narrative voice totally suits the requirements of such stories and,in that respect,if you want to read some short stories at their most definite forms – ones filled with details,gripping narratives and elusive endings – then you will find your share in this collection.On the other hand,if you’re much used to reading novels,you might not like this book.The endings might frustrate you and sometimes you might feel there is something lacking in some stories.This is why I opine it is a collection best enjoyed when you’ve read some other short stories before and learnt how to appreciate them.

Why You Should Read Labyrinths (Borges)

Borges by Cameron Stewart

Synopsis: A Chinese spy operating for the Germans carries off his mission in an improbable way when all hope is seemingly lost; a man capable of rendering his dreams tangible; an infinite library comprising knowledge which extends to the world’s origins; a lieutenant seeking the river of immortality.Such are the premises for some of the 23 best stories written by one of the greatest authors in history,Jorge Luis Borges,and all compiled into this collection.

Why you should read Labyrinths:

1.Unique
Borges’s literature is really one of its kind.His literature is unique because he himself was a unique man.He did not write with the mind of an author,but rather with that of a physicist who constantly contemplates what can be or could be in the world or beyond.His stories will hit a chord in us,as they are proofs of the unsuspected depths the human mind can voyage into.They require such a high level of imagination and are so well explored,that I have no qualms about saying that Borges’s stories figure among the most fabulous pieces of literature.

2.Borges,a master storyteller
While the premises of the stories are abstract,unique and complex,they nonetheless necessitate a writer as talented as Borges to mould them into mesmerizing tales.The man had a knack for blurring the lines between fiction and realism.He would write his stories as factual documents and add many details so as to lend them an air of verisimilitude; consequently we read his absurd narratives as absolute truisms and are thus totally enthralled by them.

3.The Plot Twist
One of the highlights of Borges’s writing is that he is capable of holding the suspense till the very last lines.He leads us to speculate certain things,but always stuns us with an ending we never suspected.He does that in all his stories,and even though we are aware that there will be a plot twist,we never know how he will turn his story around.

4.The Beauty of Metaphors
Some stories in the collection didn’t at first make much sense to me,although they were as beautifully written as the others.But after I looked on the net and learned about their metaphorical nature,I read them in a different light and was yet again stunned by Borges’s talent.He was a keen observer of the human race and their feelings to a myriad of things,and therefore,his metaphorical stories were written with a baffling exactitude.

5.The Variety
While many stories revolve around the theme of infinity,they all differ from one another in tone,setting and even content.Thus when reading Borges,we never know what awaits us in the forthcoming story: Funes the Memorious is centred around magic realism,but Emma Zunz is devoid of it; Pierre Menard,Author of the Quixote is utterly fictional while The Three Versions of Judas is assumptive in nature and derives from reality.

6.Food for Thought
Borges,as it is very well known,was a universal reader who delved into the books of both ancient and modern philosophers and authors.As a result he acquired a different perspective on life which served as the basis for his writing.His stories will unceasingly stun you by the peculiar way their spotlit subjects are explored; after going through this collection,you will see infinity,immortality and Judas (yes) in a totally different light.

What you might not like in Labyrinths:

1.Highly complex
Having such an abstract subject as infinity recurring in most stories inevitably makes Labyrinths a very complex book.The complexity is even heightened by the use of archaic and heavy words (see below),thus be ready to read the same paragraphs twice or thrice to make sense of what is going on in the story.I must however point out that we get used to the complexity once we’ve read the first three stories.Also the complexity is what makes Borges’s stories so peculiar.

2.Vocabulary
In most,if not all,translations the words are arcane and the syntaxes heavy.This is so because translators opine that if they made the stories more fluid and easier to read,they would detract Borges’s soul from them.For even in Spanish (in which the original text is written) his prose do not read smoothly.Moreover Borges’s writing identity lies in the complexity of his stories and thus,the words employed should be consonant with his abstract ideas; for instance,the word ”opprobrium” is used instead of ”disgrace”. Therefore keeping a dictionary handy whilst reading this collection is strongly advised.


Verdict: Borges’s literature is one as you’ve never seen or experienced before,for his stories hold many peculiarities on various levels: setting,style,theme and plot.What is also striking with Borges is his ability to constantly stun his readers despite the diversity of his stories.Even long since I delved into his world,his stories are still on my mind because they prompted me to think and see differently,and most importantly because they are so unique that hardly any other story,visual or literary,comes close to them in the abstract genre.In my opinion,Borges very easily belongs to the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy;we will never see someone,let alone an author,like him again.Do not let the complexity pervading through this collection be a deterrent to you; on the contrary such sheer complexity should be appreciated for it is yet another facet of his writing that makes Borges one of the towering figures of literature.Truly one of the best books of all time!

Note: Labyrinths also comprises essays and parables written by Borges when he turned progressively blind.If you only want his stories,buy Ficciones.

Labyrinths (Borges) : Read!

 

DSC_1042

Short stories can be deeply unsatisfying,as was often the case with Murakami’s collection of birthday stories,but Borges’s works repeatedly stun the reader,leaving him mesmerized and flabbergasted by the twist,which is so typical of him,and the idea that all these complexities of vast scope are derived from the imagination of one single man.

Borges’s serious countenance can be very intimidating to new readers.I knew he was an excellent author,as he was nominated countless times for the Nobel Prize – which he would have won,were it not for his support for the notorious Pinochet and Rafael Videla.However I apprehended the complexity of his works.

The first story,”Tlon,Uqbar,Orbis Tertius”,confirmed my doubts.It was a really complex piece,which had my brains racking.I had to double read almost all paragraphs and the words used were abstruse.All the same,I was stunned by Borges’s ability to conceive a world which no other human being would have been able to envision.

I must admit that I was worried that I would not enjoy reading Borges as much as I had expected.At one moment I wondered if I picked the correct translation.But I was proved wrong by the ensuing stories which are as broad in setting,tone,and format,as Borges’s knowledge is.Each story took me by surprise,despite my attempts at anticipating things!In the end,I relished Borges’s complexity and didn’t mind fetching the dictionary numerous times a day.According to the translator,he had to make use of heavy syntaxes and difficult words,for even in Spanish,Borges is difficult to read.Indeed Borges wouldn’t be Borges if reading his works were a cup of tea.

It is extremely difficult to pick a favourite from this collection,as all stories are of a baffling magnitude.For instance,one of the simplest stories,Emma Zunz would have been the highlight of any other author’s anthology.Nonetheless,since all stories are different from one another,it is natural that some,although they were good,failed to absorb me – ”  ”Deutsches Requiem” and ”Averroes’s Search” didn’t seduce me.

I think I revelled in reading Borges because he is strongly reminiscent of Kafka and is almost obsessed with infinity.He offers us a new perspective on what could be or can be.He suddenly makes us see the world in all its multi-dimensionality.He also had this knack to always surprise his readers at the end of his stories.”The Garden of the Forking Paths” and ”The House of Asterion” are two such stories which awed me by their endings!

Honestly you can hardly go wrong with this book.Just as one owes oneself to read Tolstoy in his lifetime,one needs to have Borges’s collection on his bookshelf.Jorge Luis Borges is not only one of the best short-story tellers of all time; he is a phenomenon of literature!

Note: As well as his short stories,are included in Labyrinths other works by Borges,such as little essays and parables he wrote when he turned progressively blind.If you want only the short stories,you can buy Ficciones.

Haruki Murakami – Birthday Stories

DSC_0028

First of all,the title is a bit misleading.The book is not a collection of stories from Murakami,but rather one from diverse authors,including the Japanese.In fact Murakami only selected the birthday stories which he deems best for his anthology and in the end,decided to write one himself.For this Vintage edition,which is also the first English edition,as the collection was hitherto only available in translated Japanese,he even wrote an introduction.

From the way he talked about the theme of birthday and how the idea to create an anthology sprang into his mind,I thought that the short stories would be really,really good.The collection started pretty well with The Moor,a touching and very simple story exploring a theme which had moved me in Perfect Mothers,a loosely-based adaptation of Doris Lessing’s The Grandmothers.The three following stories,Dundun,Timothy’s Birthday and The Birthday Cake,are excellently written and have unexpected endings.I guess I liked those four stories because they all had something in common; that soft narrative voice,always vague and always leaving chunks of mystery in its account,which hypnotically has us turn the pages till the end.

I didn’t like the subsequent stories,save the last one and Angel of Mercy,Angel of Wrath,as much.They are very good,written with great techniques and originality,but they failed to move me,to make me think that I did well to buy this anthology.The main factor accounting for my minimal gratification is undoubtedly the diversity in style.As opposed to the first four stories,the rest have barely anything in common.For instance,after Angel of Mercy,Angel of Wrath,a highly intriguing and subtle story about the visit of two crows at an old woman’s place upon her birthday,we have The Birthday Present,in which we see an American woman deciding to offer his Italian husband two high-class prostitutes along with a box of viagra as birthday presents.

The book however ends on a high note with Murakami’s Birthday Girl.The story is very enchanting,yet bafflingly simple.I am very much interested to read Murakami’s novels,and this short story certainly encouraged me to buy his other more known books!

‘Lukewarm’ best define my feelings on this book.On one hand it does have some great stories,and on the other,the anthology did not live up to its promises.I would advise people who’re interested in buying it not to make a priority of the book.Their money will be better spent on a collection of short stories from one author only,so that they can better appreciate the author’s writing style and the beauty of the stories; no story will strike you as incoherent then.Of course if you don’t have any book on your wish-list and think you don’t have better use for $10,then you can buy this collection.