Archive for August, 2010

A NOVEL BOOKSTORE by Laurence Cosse

A few months ago, someone told me he’d just finished one of the most amazing books he’d ever read. He was visibly shaken by the idea that he’d found the book by accident and could so easily have missed the book altogether. “What if I went through life without reading this novel,” he mused, and this was followed by another thought, “how many other novels as good as this am I missing?” From this point, the conversation moved on to the observation that readers are saturated by publicity for some books while others are quietly published and subsequently sink and disappear without a trace. This conversation came back to me when I read A NOVEL BOOKSTORE, a book written by Laurence Cossé and translated by Alison Anderson. On the surface level, this is a mystery, but on a meta-level, A Novel Bookstore is an indictment of the cannibalizing publishing industry, the mass marketing of “taste,” and a subtle examination of fascism. All this in just around 400 pages. A NOVEL BOOKSTORE plays out just like an excellent French film–great entertainment on a surface level, but yet some deep philosophical statements resonate in the background.

August 31, 2010 · Judi Clark · One Comment
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: 2010 Favorites, France, Mystery/Suspense, Reading Guide, World Lit, y Award Winning Author

OUR TRAGIC UNIVERSE by Scarlett Thomas

What makes Scarlett Thomas’ writing stand out is her gift of largesse–the narrator’s generosity combined with a brainy appeal that tunneled fluidly into my psyche. She is plainspoken and warm and yet finely cultivated. Thomas introduces esoteric principles as if it were the natural state of things. She can talk about Derrida and Darwin in a way that is effortless, intuitive. Her protagonist’s voice is addictive and honest; indeed, Meg’s thoughts mirror the everyday banter inside my head. Like an overlapping image in pictures, her voice became my voice.

August 30, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: 2010 Favorites, Contemporary, Literary, Unique Narrative, y Award Winning Author

THE THING AROUND YOUR NECK by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A collection of short stories is one of my favorite genres for reading. It is rare to find a book of short stories that is consistent in quality. When I do, it is a rare gift. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s THE THING AROUND YOUR NECK is just such a gift. It consists of stories about Nigeria and the United States, focusing on the clash of cultures and the cultural misunderstandings and prejudices that the protagonists face. This book also includes the short story that I consider my all-time favorite – “The Headstrong Mistress.” I read it for the third time in this collection. I first read it in The New Yorker, then in the Pen/O’Henry Prize Stories of 2010. It gets better each time I read it.

August 29, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: 2010 Favorites, Africa, Class - Race - Gender, Short Stories, World Lit, y Award Winning Author

PURPLE HIBISCUS by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie

From the first few pages PURPLE HIBISCUS leaves no room for doubt as to how the narrative will unfold: the struggle of the “outside” and more natural world against that of domestic oppression and enforced sterility. As the book opens with a domestic crisis which overwhelms the narrator in its almost silent enormity, she retreats to her room.

The netting in the above quote is the perfect simile for the walls and boundaries, real and invisible, which surround the narrator. Whom do they keep out, and whom do they keep in? In an instant, we know from this passage alone that although they may keep the mosquitoes out, they also enforce a separation between the narrator and the leaves and bees: a separation decidedly unwelcome.

August 29, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Africa, Class - Race - Gender, World Lit, y Award Winning Author

THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET by David Mitchell

THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET is quite simply the best historical novel I have read in years, Tolstoyan in its scope and moral perception, yet finely focused on a very particular place and time. The place: Dejima, a Dutch trading post on a man-made island in Nagasaki harbor that was for two centuries Japan’s only window on the outside world. The time: a single year, 1799-1800, although here Mitchell takes the liberties of a novelist, compressing the events of a decade, including the decline of the Dutch East India Company and Napoleon’s annexation of Holland, into a mere twelve months. He plays smaller tricks with time throughout the novel, actually, alternating between the Japanese calendar and the Gregorian one, then jumping forwards and backwards between chapters. The effect is to heighten the picture of two hermetic worlds removed from the normal course of history.

August 28, 2010 · Judi Clark · 4 Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: 2010 Favorites, Commonwealth Prize, Facing History, Japan, Literary, y Award Winning Author

THE LAST ESTATE by Conor Bowman

This is a short but pungent tale about crime, betrayal, passion, love, and a scar–both real and psychic. How juicy is that? Especially when you blend in the Côtes du Rhône-Villages wine made from the dark-skinned Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Cisault grapes. Throw in a pivotal love affair, a chateau, a virulent father, and an odious priest, and you have the crushing, pressing, and fermenting ingredients of a serious page-turner. The title refers to the legacy of the protagonist–the chateau, estate, and wine cellar he is set to inherit.

August 27, 2010 · Judi Clark · 3 Comments
Tags: , , , ,  · Posted in: France, Mystery/Suspense