Wow, it’s been a while! Here are some more books I read and some thoughts on them to close out the year
Agamemnon’s Daughter by Ismail Kadare
I blazed through this one in two sittings, extremely engaging and also strange and upsetting. I picked this originally because I decided I wanted to read books from each country in the world, and started looking through the A countries… Albania, okay!
This book contains 3 stories, the first one, the title story, is about a state worker who is in love with the daughter of a high ranking official. He is invited to a parade, and given a seat that only an important person should have. The story is so full of paranoia and fear, and much of it focuses on him wondering why he has this seat as he walks through the security and crowds to get there. Very unnerving, and a focus on the perils of totalitarianism
The next story ‘The Blinding Order’ is another chilling portrayal of a totalitarian state, and how fear of your neighbors can be used to control the people. The state initiates an order that anyone who has the ‘evil eye’ is to be blinded. If you volunteer to be blinded you get some payment, of course turning in others has a reward as well, with no real definition of what ‘the evil eye’ is, it is easy for people to report their enemies or those they have grudges against, and so on.
The final story is a strange one about the Great Wall in China and an invading army.
Very gripping read overall and recommended!
The Treasure Chest by Johann Peter Hebel
I read this because Sebald mentioned it in a book of his that I was reading. It is a collection of short stories from the early 1800s that were at one time featured in an almanac. They are extremely short stories, some are basically jokes that are only a page or two long. While there were a few stand out stories, after a while these all began to blend together, since they all followed the same pattern of featuring cheeky rogues or Jewish stereotypes scamming each other in various ways, and Hebel saying ‘but you shouldn’t do this’ at the end. Historically, worth reading though
The Black Lizard and Beast in the Shadows by Edogawa Ranpo
I found these two short novels written in the 30s by Japanese Crime/Horror writer Ranpo to be starkly different in quality. The first one read to me like a comic book. The villain was almost a caricature, and it made the gruesomeness of the crimes hard to take seriously. The second one was much better in my opinion, and was about two crime writers whose style varied, and one trying to catch the other in a real life crime. This one had much better quality prose in my opinion, and was also very engaging and darkly beautiful.
All the Names by Jose Saramago
A clerk working in the central registry of an unnamed country accidentally pulls the filecard of a random person, and becomes obsessed with finding out who she is. This book had lots to say about life and death and what makes us matter, to ourselves or others. One of the final scenes takes place in a graveyard where we find out that a shepherd has been switching around the name plates on newly dug graves, so now no one can be sure who is buried where… if he’s the only one who knows this, does it make any difference? Many thoughts such as this one were provoked throughout the book. But I disliked the writing style quite a bit, and am not sure I’ll try his other books for now.
A Place in the Country by W.G. Sebald
This series of six interlocking essays about different writers and artists is another Sebald masterpiece, and one of my favorite reads of the year. Each essay describes briefly the life and ways of these creatives, and as I read I found the subtle pattern (there is always a subtext with Sebald) was leading me ever more internal, ever more separate from the ways of society. Until the final essay, on the painter Jan Peter Tripp, seemed completely disconnected from the painter, with the objects of each of his paintings hanging in a void, yet still connected with other art and the world in unexpected ways.
An amazing journey, beautiful, subtle, and as always, a little dark.
The Tanners by Robert Walser
I read this one because Walser was the subject of one of Sebald’s essays, and I found his life and way of writing to be very interesting. I also have found multiple amazing reads by going on Sebald’s suggestions. Walser liked to write on scraps of paper in a weird ancient german script, in letters so tiny and cramped they could barely be read. He would design his stories to take up exactly the amount of space that he had on whatever scrap he happened to be writing on.
This novel was about several brothers and one sister in the Tanner family, and their various thoughts and actions. It’s hard to describe because not much happens, which is usually fine for me, but I had a hard time caring about much in this one. I liked many of the lovely descriptions of nature and wonderfully evocative descriptions of all kinds of things, but large sections of the book were monologues that the characters would give to each other, which were much less enjoyable to read. Incredible prose, but I only wish there were more of it, and less monologuing.
The Hospital by Ahmed Bouanani
This one was a hallucinatory nightmare that was also full of humor and beauty. About an old man in a hospital that may or may not be some kind of afterlife, I was never sure exactly what was real or imagined, but the characters and the vivid, sharp prose were delicious to read. A quick, highly recommended read if you like dark, unnerving beauty.
The Sound of Waves by Yukio Mishima
I simply can’t get enough Mishima. Probably my second favorite author right now, right behind Sebald. This one follows a young sailor and his love for a new girl in town. A tale as old as time, but told so well, and with the trademark beautiful prose of all Mishima. However this one is the first I’ve read without the dark, sickening undertones of glorified death. This was pure, joyful and beautiful, though I almost found it less memorable for its purity. The dichotomy of beauty and death in his other books is what always struck me so much. When it’s all beauty and loveliness, it is almost less, somehow…
And that’s it! I’ll try to keep up to date more this year. I’ve been thinking I will try to take notes as I read, so I can have more clear thoughts about the book when I do post about it. We’ll see how that goes!