For the love of books! 2018 year in review

With the sun packed away by half past 4, we’ve nearly paid back our debt and have only its interest left. Though I won’t really feel it ‘til mid-January, when the rays shine for a noticeably longer interval, I can hardly complain: winter, so far, has been kind – and it’s lefse time here in MN!

In just under a week we’ll begin to creep toward spring little by little, but with that renewal comes the year’s end and that means a review of the past 12 months.

What has been new here at the Masthead? For one, I’ve read a great many more first novels than I’d have expected of myself (and just added three more to my shelves this month). I chanced for a spy thriller that wasn’t and a Cain and Abel story whose conflict could hardly justify the outcome. But I also risked a fantasy that endeared itself to me at once and a novel of growing up that told his contemporaries that 24-year-old F. Scott Fitzgerald had promise.

There were books that have graced my shelves for years unread only to give me a good time this year: I found my receipt for the plays of Sophocles tucked neatly inside it; I had bought it August 29, 2015. The myth of Oedipus is more than Freud would have us believe. Others I brought home and started almost that same day, like Larraquy’s queer little Comemadre. That’s the beauty of a growing library and buying to my heart’s whims. I’ve amassed a collection whose books hold my interest in an ebb and flow tide. Unread books from three years ago don’t concern me; I’ll read them when the mood strikes and enjoy them all the better.

But, for the love of books, what else was new this year? I laughed through the pulp of Thank You for Smoking, and I felt too keenly the worry inside each of Tanizaki’s Makioka sisters.

I read a book I felt was missing in my younger years, but 1984 didn’t hit me like many will say it hit them. I found it overly didactic and made dull through the years by every amateur politico’s shouting over it.

And I read a bit of sci-fi, but while it was a good diversion, Dick’s electric sheep still felt like a bridging novel – but then, the book before it and the book after it were each so good that maybe I shrugged it off with undue haste. Or maybe I just don’t like sci-fi so much.

Regardless, it’s been a good 12 months, and by the time December is up there should be at least one – and likely two – more reviews before recapping the year in full and making my picks for what was tops in 2018. Come January, the Masthead will blow out the candles on its second year of book reviews with the wish for another year of good reading – just about the time that sunshine sparkles ‘til half past 5.

As always, happy reading.

– EMH

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” (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.

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:
Continue reading

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