Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Salon: In my head

The Sunday

The front page of the New York Times Book Review has a really nice review of Alice Munro's new story collection, Too Much Happiness. It's a book that I covet. And now that my birthday has come and gone, I have a couple of book store gift certificates that I can use to buy it!

The review, by Leah Hager Cohen, starts out saying something that I often talk about in relation to my favorite books--that sense that the author is speaking words you might speak, or at least is writing about things you've thought about. It's a wonderful feeling when it happens, and it happened to this reviewer when she read this book of Munro's. Cohen writes, "...the sensation, when reading, that your own mind is giving birth to the words as they appear on the page. Such is the ego that in these rare instances you wonder, 'How could the author have known what I was thinking?' Of course, what has happened isn't this at all, though it's no less astonishing. Rather, you've been drawn so deftly into another world that you're breathing with someone else's rhythms, seeing someone else's visions as your own."

I love when this happens. It doesn't happen for me with many authors, but with some. For me, it happens with Lorrie Moore, and Laurie Colwin, and Alice Munro. Raymond Carver, every once in awhile. Less so with authors who wrote before the 20th century, because their language is so different than that which I use myself, even though I may get caught up in the poetry of it.

Which, if any, authors do that to you?

I'm in the middle of Nicholson Baker's novel The Anthologist, which I'm really liking. There is a similar sensation reading this book. I think it's because it's a stream-of-consciousness novel to begin with, and Baker has been able to really draw me into his main character's head. He doesn't think exactly the way I do, but I like the way he thinks, and it makes the reading experience very enjoyable.

I would imagine that being inside the head of a character you don't like or relate to would be excruciating. I can't remember any reading experiences like that. Do you have any painful stream-of-consciousness reading experiences?

Friday, November 20, 2009

The world's worst library books

My sister-in-law sent me a link to a website appropriately named Awful Library Books, which rounds up the worst library books out there, most of which are hopelessly and hilariously outdated. Made me giggle.

An update to my wish list for new books:

Too Much Happiness: Stories, by Alice Munro. I almost always love Munro. Her stories are often little gems. I'm looking forward to savoring these.

Wolf Hall: A Novel, by Hilary Mantel. I'm interested in learning about Thomas Cromwell, and this won the Booker this year, and the buzz is good. It's on my list.

Friday, November 13, 2009

My Wish List Grows Longer...

All of a sudden there are so many new books out that I want to read. I'm coveting them. Good thing my birthday is coming up, maybe I can convince the hubby to spring for some of these.

Here's a partial list of the books I'm drooling over:

The Lacuna: A Novel, by Barbara Kingsolver. Here's the review in the New York Times Book Review, by Liesl Schillinger, which ends with this nice bit: "The Lacuna can be enjoyed sheerly for the music of its passages on nature, archaeology, food and friendship; or for its portraits of real and invented people; or for its harmonious choir of voices. But the fuller value of Kingsolver's novel lies in its call to conscience and connection."

The Children's Book, by A.S. Byatt. Here's a review and interview with A. S. Byatt from NPR station WBUR in Boston. In it, Byatt calls this novel, "the one I find easiest to love." It is said to be long and rambly with lots of characters, but I'm in. I'm definitely going to get a copy of this one.

Invisible, by Paul Auster. The review in the New York Times Book Review, by Clancy Martin, ends with the superlative, "It is the finest novel Paul Auster has ever written." I have liked some of Auster's novels, and not responded to others, but certainly want to read his finest. Onto the list!

Lit: A Memoir, by Mary Karr. This is a new memoir by Karr, who was mesmerizing in her first memoir, The Liar's Club. I didn't read her second book, but I hear this one is really amazing. Susan Cheever says it is a serious book about motherhood, faith, alcoholism, and more in a NY Times Book Review podcast.

Hello husband? You listening? Book store gift cards are nice, too.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday Salon: The Anthologist

The Sunday

Well, this was meant to be a Sunday Salon post, but the day got away from me.  My three kids were going in three different directions today.  But as my littlest one was drifting off to sleep, and I was rubbing her back, I managed to sneak in a few pages of Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist.  

I am finding this book very entertaining, so far.  Main character Paul Chowder is a poet who just can't seem to write the introduction to a poetry anthology that he has edited.  He's just the kind of character I can relate to right now--a procrastinator who seems to spend a lot of time inside his own head.  And he's making me think about poetry, which feels both pleasant and good for me.

I had some hesitation about reading this book, though I had heard good things and thought the subject matter sounded interesting, because I couldn't get through an earlier book of Baker's, The Mezzanine.  It was a slim little book, and also a stream-of-consciousness sort of thing, but somehow seemed much less accessible than The Anthologist.  Maybe it just wasn't the right time for me to read it, but I could not get into it, and I put it down fairly soon after picking it up.  And then I felt terribly guilty.  Because it was a book that someone had loaned me--someone who thought I would like it.  And I have to admit, I still haven't returned it to her.  And now I'm not sure I could even find it on my shelf if I tried.  Guilt, guilt, guilt, shame, shame, shame.  I am usually such a good book borrower, and I abhor this sort of behavior in others.

So all of that created a little barrier between me and Nicholson Baker's work, so I was nervous when my book group picked The Anthologist for its next read.  But I'm so glad I pushed past my anxiety about it and started to read.  I like the way Paul Chowder's mind works.

Looking forward to sneaking in a few more pages.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Booking Through Thursday--It’s All About Me

This week's Booking Through Thursday question is:

Which do you prefer? Biographies written about someone? Or Autobiographies written by the actual person (and/or ghost-writer)?

And it's actually a tough question for me. I guess I don't have a general preference. It all depends on the writing. There are some biographers I always like, like Judith Thurman and Hermione Lee. But if someone writing their own story has a unique voice, then that may be the best way to read about that person. Of course, reading an autobiography is a completely different thing. The writer is less likely to be objective, obviously, and may have an axe to grind that you don't know about ahead of time. It's also hard to know, if there's a ghost-writer, whose voice is whose.

One of my favorite things to do is read an autobiography or memoir back-to-back with a good biography of the person. For example, I read Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa, and then I read Judith Thurman's biography, Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller.

And on a similar adventurous African theme, I read and enjoyed Beryl Markham's memoir, West with the Night, and then read Straight on Till Morning: A Biography of Beryl Markham, by Mary S. Lovell.

Some of my favorite biographies and autobiographies:

Mary Queen of Scots, by Antonia Fraser
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, by Gertrude Stein
The Brontes, by Juliet Barker
Cross Creek, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

On my shelf, but haven't read yet:

Dawn Powell: A Biography, by Tim Page
Edith Wharton, by Hermione Lee
Marie Antoinette: The Journey, by Antonia Fraser
Oleander, Jacaranda: A Childhood Perceived, by Penelope Lively

So, which do you like better, autobiography or biography? And do you have any good biographies or autobiographies to recommend?