literature

Thumbs up for Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac. Literature.

Every time I think of Balzac I think of the West Wing episode in which Balzac is made fun of for his windiness. This is not wrong – at least in the first chapter. It was good that the introduction (by E.K. Brown) in my edition warned me that Balzac front-loads his books with lots of description, setting the scene and placing the characters within it before the story gets rolling.… >> Read more

Neither thumbs up nor thumbs down for Taras Bulba and Other Tales by Nikolai Gogol. Short stories.

“Taras Bulba” – an adventure novella about the father and two sons of a Cossack family – is a fun historical swashbuckler which does a fine job of evoking a time and place: the landscape, the culture, the individuals. This is, mind you, assuming you can overlook the rampant anti-Semitism and various other bigotries, which were so pervasive that even I – used to putting up with a lot of offensive stuff in old books – found it difficult to squint past.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Essays on Russian Novelists by William Lyon Phelps. Literary criticism.

After I finish this *grrr* book I’m writing, my reward is going to be delving into Russian literature. (If you’re shocked that I consider this a reward—hi, I’m Emma! We clearly haven’t met.) It seemed like a good idea to do a little preparatory reading around the subject so I could know firstly, what to read, and secondly, what works are supposed to be satire, because it can sometimes be hard to judge that without context.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. Literature/Humor/Science Fiction (sneakily—watch for it).

It’s always a dangerous business when you search out whichever classic it is that has almost the same plot as what you’re writing. Some authors refuse to read That Book (whatever it is for them), and I’ve sometimes fallen into that camp. This time, though, I don’t really care.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Woodcutters by Thomas Bernhard. Literature.

A friend of mine who is a huge Bernhard fan loaned me this. It was both enjoyable, and the best soporific you can imagine: three pages a night were guaranteed to put me right to sleep. It is one long paragraph of the internal reminiscences of a man at a party as he contemplates the hosts, the other guests, his own history, the theater, and a friend whose funeral he attended earlier in the day.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for Good on Paper by Rachel Cantor. Literature.

One of the only two book blogs I regularly follow gave this book glowing praise. There aren’t many novels out there in which the main character is a literary translator and translation is actually central to the plot: events are kicked off by the heroine receiving a phone call from a Nobel-prize winning poet who will have no one other than her translate his newest book.… >> Read more

Thumbs up for The Essential Tales of Chekhov by Anton Chekhov. Literature.

From the introduction by Richard Ford:

Far from his stories’ ever sinking to typicality or being knowable by a scheme, Chekhov seems so committed to life’s multifariousness that the stories provoke in us the sensation Ford Madox Ford must have had in mind when he observed that the general effect of fiction “must be the effect life has on mankind”—by which I’ve always thought he meant that it be persuasively important, profuse, irreducible in its ambiguities, full of diverse pleasures, and always on the brink of being unknowable except that our ordering intelligence ardently urges us toward clarity.

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