Sickness, Thomas Mann and the nihilism of reality

Mann, the Magic MountainThe Magic Mountain · Thomas Mann · 1924
John E. Woods translation · Vintage, 1996 · 720 pages, paperback

There are few novels that give sickness its due. There are even fewer that play with it as a state of mind or treat it as the defunct policy of nation states.

Though Thomas Mann began work on The Magic Mountain in 1912 when he visited his ailing wife at a sanatorium (which served as the model for the Berghof of his novel), his writing soon bent to a different angle when war broke out two years later. By the time he completed it in 1924, the sickness of the body had become further distorted into the sickness of the body politic, and his novel became a reification of the period’s irrationalism. Continue reading

Interlude: end of Q3 (year 2!) at the Masthead!

Another three months in the Masthead’s second year of reviews! And just what have these months brought us?

Books reviewed: 4
Translated fiction: 2 (from 2 languages, Japanese and Italian)
New-to-me authors: 2 (Tanizaki and Boccaccio)
Oldest book: Boccaccio’s Mrs. Rosie and the Priest (1348-’53)
Newest book: King’s The Stand (1975/1988)
Longest book: King’s The Stand (1153 pages)
Shortest book: Boccaccio’s Mrs. Rosie and the Priest (54 pages)

As always, a pithy recap of each book read and reviewed here since July 15:
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Pocketful of innuendo

Fifty-four pages of “pimps, cuckolds, lovers and clever women” (as its rear proudly advertises) – a mere snippet to the full Decameron. A handful of minutes is all we need to romp about in these short and saucy tales.

Boccaccio, Mrs RosieMrs. 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.

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New feature!

You know those recommendation sites where you plug in the books that captured your heart and they spew out a list of supposed good reads for your reading pleasure? Like, let’s say I type in The Brothers Karamazov and A Farewell to Arms. I eagerly wait the .233306 seconds for the list of books and what do mine eyes espy? A recommendation list that proudly looks back at me with Crime and Punishment, Notes from Underground, The Sun Also Rises and maybe Anna Karenina or another token.

Well….no shit. (Though I don’t know what I was expecting, really.)

Anyway, I categorized the books I’ve reviewed here and maybe that will be a little more helpful (see that shiny new “Recommendations” tab up there?). Here’s the caveat: I listed every book I’ve reviewed, even the ones I loathed. Did I like Orhan Pamuk’s Snow? Pretty sure I hated it, but hey, you might think it’s just the ticket.

Interlude: end of Q1 (year 2!) at the Masthead!

The first quarter of the Masthead’s second year is drawing to a close – a quick look at the past three months:

Books reviewed: 8 (7 novels and one collection of short stories, Steinbeck’s The Long Valley)
Translated fiction: 2 (from 1 language, Russian)
New-to-me authors: 5 (Buckley, Clarke, Greene, Obioma and Tartt)
Oldest book: Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886)
Newest book: Obioma’s The Fishermen (2016)
Longest book: Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (1006 pages)
Shortest book: Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich (52 pages)

A pithy recap of each book read and reviewed here since January 15:
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Currently reading: Donna Tartt, Chigozie Obioma and a note on exposition

I’ll have reviews for Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend and Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen up in the next couple of weeks, but in the meantime I’ve been thinking about the importance of exposition. It was Tartt’s novel that got me thinking about it because she wrote it with such inventiveness in The Little Friend. Continue reading

Magic more formidable than ships made of rain

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell feels like the best of British literature, combining  Sherlock Holmes eccentricity with the warm/cool, fast/slow, fun/grim adventure of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and then dropping in a bit of Wilkie Collins’ gothic ambiguity. In short, Susanna Clarke’s novel is a fantasy that has in it a lot more than a wonderful story.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. NorrellJonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell · Susanna Clarke · 2004
Bloomsbury, 2017 · 1006 pages, paperback

Magic has gone out of England. Magicians as they are now are just ordinary men with their noses in books and whose tongues form words of speculation instead of incantation. Magic isn’t something that is done – oh no, not anymore – magic is something to be theorized, opined about, written down in lines of rhetoric…magic in this age, the Age of Napoleon, is only an armchair philosophy. Enter stuffy Mr. Norrel, recluse of Hurtfew Abbey, practical magician.

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