Sunday, June 27, 2010

Japanese Literature Challenge IV

It is time for the Japanese Literature Challenge. For info go here, for reviews go here, and suggestions here. You only need to read one book for the challenge but I have several that I would like to read. I would like to read the following:

Wild Sheep Chase - Murakami
Spring Snow - Yukio Mishima
The Tattoo Murder Case - Akimitsu Takagi
Old Capital - Kawabata
Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edogawa Rampo

I am definitely reading A Wild Sheep Chase as it has been sitting on the coffee table waiting for this challenge to begin. I also already own the Tattoo Murder Case and the Rampo book would be perfect for the RIP challenge in the fall. And of course I am sure my wish list will get much longer as I read everybody's reviews. I see that there are already 40 reviews posted! Sorry I am late.

Once Upon A Time IV Wrap Up

I had signed up for the journey to give myself flexibility and I ended up reading four books.

The Other City
Invisible Cities
Pale Fire

It is hard to pick a favorite as they are all so different and all enjoyable. I absolutely loved Shriek and it's fascinating mushroom plagued city of Ambergris and am looking forward to the next in the series, Finch. Invisible Cities was less a novel and more an experience which I thoroughly enjoyed. Pale Fire, which purports to be a poem and critical commentary, was a fun and witty novel. I really enjoyed them all.

Thanks for hosting another fun challenge Carl!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pale Fire

by Vladimir Nabokov
I began hearing about Pale Fire when I read House of Leaves in 2000 (and it is hard to believe that that was 10 years ago). Like House of Leaves, Pale Fire plays with the structure of the text and often is cited as an important example of early metafiction and hypertext. This novel written by Vladimir Nabokov (of Lolita fame), published in 1962, purports to be a 999 line poem written by poet John Shade and critical analysis of the poem in a forward and lengthy end notes by Charles Kinbote. Although the critical analysis is supposedly about the poem, it mainly provides the story of Kinbote, his supposed friendship (which comes across more as stalking) with next door neighbor John Shade, and the travails, exploits and adventures of the deposed king of the kingdom of Zembla.

I guess because I heard about this book primarily in relationship to its unusual structure and often described as difficult but important (#53 on Modern Library's 100 Best Novels), I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the story and the characters were a lot of fun. I loved that the narrator, Kinbote, could clearly not be trusted and the way he tried to insert his story of Zembla into the poem. I enjoyed the escapades of the zany king of Zembla and the frightening assassin Gradus. I appreciated the commentary on the academic life of a small New England college and its professors.

At first I tried to go back and forth between the poem and the notes but I quickly decided to read the poem through and then read the notes through, returning to the poem text once in a while. It could be read either way. Indeed, as evidenced by the many decades it has been studied and the numerous critical books and essays it has engendered, it could be read numerous times and still give the readers something new each time.

Although it is clear that the narrator cannot be trusted, it is unclear how to interpret the rest of the story. Did John Shade write both the poem and the commentary creating Kinbote as a character? Is John Shade a figure of Kinbote's imagination? Is Kinbote sane? Are his stories of Zembla and the assassin Gradus real?

I highly recommend this book. While you could spend years analyzing it, you can also simply enjoy it as a funny, witty, beautifully written story.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Invisible Cities

by Italo Calvino

Since I just finished reading the Other City and wanted to read some Calvino I thought this one would be perfect. Invisible Cities is even less of a novel than the Other City. The premise is that Marco Polo is telling Kublai Khan about the places he has visited in his travels. The entries are very short and are mostly one or two page descriptions of cities interspersed occasionally with a page or two of conversation between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Each entry is designated a specific type: Cities and Memory, Cities and Signs, Cities and Desire, Thin Cities, Cities and the Dead, Continuous Cities, Hidden Cities etc. I know it sounds strange, without any real plot or characters, just a book describing cities, but I absolutely loved it. The writing was beautiful and it was such a pleasure to dip into these little vignettes of cities.

Since I could never adequately explain this work or Calvino's beautiful prose and since they are so short I could not resist including one in its entirety: Cities and Desire #4.
In the center of Fedora, that gray stone metropolis, stands a metal building with a crystal globe in every room. Looking into each globe, you see a blue city, the model of a different Fedora. These are the forms the city could have taken if, for one reason or another, it had not become what we see today. In every age someone, looking at Fedora as it was, imagined a way of making it the ideal city, but while he constructed his miniature model, Fedora was already no longer the same as before, and what had been until yesterday a possible future became only a toy in a glass globe.

The building with the globes is now Fedora's museum: every inhabitant visits it, chooses the city that corresponds to his desires, contemplates it, imagining his reflection in the medusa pond that would have collected the waters of the canal (if it had not been dried up), the view from the high canopied box along the avenue reserved for elephants (now banished from the city), the fun sliding down the spiral twisting minaret (which never found a pedestal from which to rise).

On the map of your empire, O Great Khan, there must be room both for the big, stone Fedora and the little Fedoras in glass globes. Not because they are all equally real, but because all are only assumptions. The one contains what is accepted as necessary when it is not yet so; the others, what is imagined as possible and, a moment later is possible no longer.
Here are some descriptions of more of my favorites.
  • The city with no walls, no ceilings, no floors, just "water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be and spread out horizontally where the floors should be: a forest of pipes that end in taps, showers, spouts, overflows." Thin Cities #3.
  • The city made up of two half cities, one permanent, one temporary, one a circus, one made of marble, stone and cement with factories, banks, schools. Each year the the marble, stone and cement city is loaded into its caravan to continue its itinerary. Thin Cities #4.
  • The city whose inhabitants all move onto a new city periodically and take on new jobs, new spouses, new hobbies and yet the city remains always the same. Trading Cities #3.
  • The spider web city built hanging down from a net over a chasm. Thin Cities #5
  • The city which has built an exact copy of itself below ground for their dead. Cities and the Dead # 3.
I also enjoyed the discussions between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan.
Polo: Perhaps this garden exist only in the shadow of our lowered eyelids, and we have never stopped: you, from raiding dust on the fields of battle; and I, from bargaining for sacks of pepper in distant bazaars. But each time we half-close our eyes, in the midst of the din and the throng, we are allowed to withdraw here, dressed in silk kimonos, to ponder what we are seeing and living, to draw conclusions, to contemplate from the distance.

Kublai: Perhaps this dialogue of ours is taking place between two beggars nicknamed Kublai Khan and Marco Polo; as they shift through a rubbish heap, piling up rusted flotsam, scraps of cloth, wastepaper, while drunk on the few sips of bad wine, they see all the treasure of the East shine around them.

Polo: Perhaps all that is left of the world is wasteland covered in rubbish heaps, and the hanging garden of the Great Khan's palace. It is our eyelids that separate them, but we cannot know which is inside and which is outside.
No description could do this book justice. Just read it.

I read this for Once Upon A Time IV.