Fifty-four pages of “pimps, cuckolds, lovers and clever women” (so advertises its rear ) – a mere snippet to the full Decameron: a handful of minutes is all we need to romp about in these short and saucy tales.
Mrs. Rosie and the Priest (from the Decameron) · Giovanni Boccaccio · 1348-‘53
Peter Hainsworth translation · Penguin, 2015 · 54 pages, paperback
This pocketsize book from Penguin, first in the publisher’s line-up of 126 minor works from major writers, includes four stories from Boccaccio’s Decameron. No introduction, nor even a whiff of context, substantiates its content, and the result is a picture of Boccaccio as a street bawler in tight leggings, pulling the ears of passersby and peddling lewd tales.
It’s quite delectable.
The Makioka Sisters · Junichirō Tanizaki · 1946-‘48
Edward Seidensticker translation · Everyman’s Library, 1993 · 498 pages, hardcover
The year is measured by the Kyoto cherry blossoms, the uptick in cases of beri-beri, the annual visit of the Kabuki actor Kikugorō and the failed miai coloring Yukiko’s pursuit of marriage.
The Makioka Sisters has a steady cadence.
It’s good then that Junichirō Tanizaki was meticulous with his pen because his Makioka Sisters also has a steady repetition. Its mark is subtlety. Its direction is stagnant. Its view is inward. Its tone is one of depressive anxiety. Emphasized is the passage of time for a family that cannot wrench itself from the past and which, far from moving forward, only eddies its descent.
And finally, one year, it is too late even for the blossoms in Ormura. Continue reading
This Side of Paradise forces the tremendous personality Amory Blaine into extreme dissipation and, finally, a man.
This Side of Paradise · F. Scott Fitzgerald · 1920
Penguin Classics, 1996 · 267 pages, hardcover
This one’s got swagger to it, and it’s got the necessary snark for dividing Princeton’s student body into try-hard intellectuals (Slickers aka hipsters) and moneyed followers (Big Men on Campus aka basic bitches). Continue reading
Nasty, brutish and short…Stephen King’s The Stand is 20th century Leviathan in its treatment of mankind after an engineered super flu kills most of the world’s population.
The Stand (Uncut) · Stephen King · 1975/1988
Anchor Books, 2012 · 1153 pages, paperback
Society is forming anew and, as Glen Batemen muses with the cynic’s air, all of man’s old toys lie discarded and just waiting to be picked up – the cars, yes, but the guns, too.
And there also lies the playground of the Nevada desert and its toys – baking in the heat, winking in the sun – are stamped with three downward triangles and positively radiate ill will. We’re given the chance to start anew and where we take that chance determines our direction: East…or West. Continue reading
1984 · George Orwell · 1949
Berkley, 2003 · 323 pages, paperback
George Orwell’s 1984 is such a well-rubbed thing that there isn’t much left to say about it. It’s also a much-abused thing, the Bible of oath for fear mongers everywhere and university slicks goading their hordes of vacant-eyed activists.
So let’s step back a little, take a swig of that Victory Gin and let the juniper swallow the swill. Continue reading
Dumas was sometimes an ass to his heroes. They became better men for it.
The Three Musketeers · Alexandre Dumas · 1844
Richard Pevear translation · Penguin, 2007 · 704 pages, paperback
Judge it by its cover, so long as it’s this one: Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers contains within its pages a gallantry offset by buffoonery, and each quality falls to perfect measure. Continue reading
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? · Philip K. Dick · 1968
Del Rey, 2017 · 224 pages, paperback
Most of mankind has emigrated for the colonies (i.e. Mars and other off-planet bodies). Those remaining on Earth are charged with maintaining it. Rick Deckard works as a bounty hunter for San Francisco and “retires” rogue androids with the hope that the reward money could buy him a real live animal to replace that electric sheep. He’s afraid the neighbors are getting suspicious.
Other men, like J.R. Isidore, are “specials, “chickenheads,” “antheads,” whose exposure to the radiation left by World War Terminus has made them ineligible for emigration to Mars. They’re tasked with more menial jobs – repairing artificial pets, say, or collecting trash, a lucrative business as everyone is fighting against a relentless deluge of virtually self-reproducing detritus and trash aka “kipple.” Continue reading
In all the world, I know only one woman. No woman but my wife moves me as a woman. And my wife regards me as the only man for her. From this point of view, we should be the happiest of couples.
Kokoro · Natsume Soseki · 1914
Edwin McClellan translation · Gateway Editions, 2000 · 248 pages, paperback
It was Tolstoy who told us that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, but it’s an axiom that also runs through Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro.
Kokoro is nuanced in its treatment of relationships and the changing values of the older and younger generations as the Meiji period, on its leave, ushered in the new Japan. In light prose, Soseki gives an account of what enduring friendship requires and what fulfillment in marriage looks like under the worst of circumstances. Continue reading
White Teeth · Zadie Smith
Random House, 2000 · 448 pages, paperback
The Iqbals: Samad and Alsana and their twin sons, Magid and Millat.
The Joneses: Archie and Clara and their daughter, Irie.
White Teeth is the story of these two families, brought together by a wartime bond as solid and true as Clara’s set of pearly whites, a set that she pops out every night. Continue reading
Ivan Ilyich is a comer. Promotion after promotion, he’s making a steady climb in the government. And though each promotion is accompanied by extra roubles, he and his wife are in constant straits. With each rise in status, they’re moving in ever more opulent circles.
The Death of Ivan Ilyich · Leo Tolstoy · 1884-‘86
Pevear and Volokhonsky translation · Vintage, 2009 · 52 pages, paperback
To Ivan it’s a headache. To Ivan it’s fakery. To Ivan…well, it was the same as with all people who are not exactly rich, but who want to resemble the rich, and for that reason only resemble each other.
Like much of his work, Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich snubs affectation in all its guises. With Ivan Ilyich though, this putting on of airs is a suffocation when time is running short. Ivan Ilyich is dying, so please will you stop pretending?