August 23, 2016

In the Cafe of Lost Youth by Patrick Modiano


Title: In the Cafe of Lost Youth
Author: Patrick Modiano
Translator: Translated from the French by Chris Clarke
Publisher: New York Review Books
Year: First published in 2007; this edition published 2016.
Pages: 118

In the Cafe of Lost Youth takes place in the Paris of the 1950s. Paris is known as the "city of light," but this short novel looks into the shadows of that city and the bohemians that wandered it and frequented its cafes.

The focus of the story is a twenty-two year old woman, named Jacqueline Delanque, who quietly arrives one day at the Cafe Conde -- no one is quite sure when she first began frequenting the cafe -- and sticks to the shadows. Who is Jacqueline Delanque? What is her past? Why does she haunt the Cafe Conde? No one knows. She is eventually given the nickname Louki by the other habitues of the cafe and enfolded into that small group; she is, in a sense, baptized or given a "second birth" whereby her past becomes unimportant.

The story is told by four narrators -- the mysterious Louki and three others who are themselves only partially revealed. I believe it is the author's intent to keep his characters shrouded in order to create an atmosphere that is reflective of the Paris he is trying to portray; this may be somewhat disconcerting to readers who are looking for character development and a reason to care about those characters. This tactic does create modest suspense though.

Major themes of In the Cafe of Lost Youth are identity, memory, time, and escape. The theme that stood out to me is that of escape. Louki is clearly trying to escape, but from what or from whom? A sense of discontent, always seeking, never finding -- this is Louki. She is self aware enough to reveal, "I was never really myself when I wasn't running away."

Generally, where there is a desire to escape there is also a search. Again, a search for what? Perhaps we are provided a clue in a small detail. Louki is given a copy of Lost Horizon to read, which she carries about with her and conspicuously displays. This is a book about a search for paradise. Maybe this is what Louki and the other wanderers seek -- an undefined paradise.

In the Cafe of Lost Youth is a melancholy little piece that leaves the characters and the reader without any true resolution, yet I am strangely drawn to it. Perhaps it speaks to my own "lost youth" and the restless need to escape and seek out that indefinable paradise.
"At the halfway point of the journey making up real life, we were surrounded by a gloomy melancholy, one expressed by so very many derisive and sorrowful words in the cafe of the lost youth." -- Guy Debord
____________________________________

Read this book if you are looking for a quiet and moody story that will make you think. Do not expect a tidy plot with resolution or full character development. This is a reflective piece.

August 15, 2016

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

I recently read The Day of the Triffids and wanted to follow up with another John Wyndham, The Chrysalids. Both books are post-apocalyptic novels of the time in which they were written and represent many of the fears and thinking of the mid-twentieth century (at least as I know them from a North American perspective, which apparently aligned at least somewhat with those in Great Britain). Mid-century issues of cultural confrontation, the generation gap, and a geographical shift of power and progress from current locations are well represented in The Chrysalids. One could spend a fair bit of time discussing the use of metaphor as well - deviance and telepathy as metaphors for greater issues - and whether these are still effective means for communicating current concerns.

I would describe the tone of the book as somewhat secularly preachy (is this a thing?), but the book is overall a good post-apocalyptic story that will give the reader something to think about.

January 27, 2016

On Writing and Not Writing

Moon set and sunrise from my porch this morning
I've been lamenting the fact that I don't seem to get around to personal writing anymore. I used to write personal essays and book reviews at Tip of the Iceberg (it's all still there) and then, more recently, book reviews and thoughts here at Terri Talks Books. Lately I can't even seem to write a brief book review. I hang on to this bookish community and participate mainly by tracking my reading on Goodreads, posting photos on my Instagram account, and chatting everyone up on Twitter. Why? I don't really know why. Life. Work related writing. Vague and unexplainable REASONS.

My current read is The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey and I am loving it. It seems to speak to my soul in some way. It is about life in all of its joy and lonliness and is supported in this by the setting ... by turns harsh and bleak, and short and fecund. This book reminds me of one I read in January four years ago, Touch by Alexi Zentner, so I went back to see what I had written. I found a thoughtful piece of writing that took me by surprise. I wrote that? Why am I not still writing? Again. You can go back and read the entire "review" if you'd like, but here is how I wrapped it up:
We have our own harsh yet beautiful forests that we walk through; forests that are sometimes tinged with a touch of the magical. Those places that hold memories and perhaps the lingering presence of those we have loved and lost. This is how they live on ... we remember them and we tell their stories; we pass them to the next generation. We walk again in those places where those stories have their beginnings and middles and ends. We can almost see them, feel their presence as though they have left something of themselves behind ... which, of course, they have ...
Well.

This little bit of my own writing has at least partially inspired me to "take up the pen" and write something today. I should write more often. I hope I do.

December 31, 2015

Books Read 2015

January

1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (mini review)
2. The Sound of the Mountain by Yasunari Kawabata (mini review)
3. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (mini review)
4. Death of a Gossip by M.C. Beaton (mini review)
5. Hell is Empty by Craig Johnson (mini review)
6. As the Crow Flies by Craig Johnson (mini review)
7. A Serpent's Tooth by Craig Johnson (mini review)
8. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson (mini review)

February

9. Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami (review) (mini review)
10. The Iron Jackal by Chris Wooding (mini review)
11. Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin (mini review)
12. Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman (mini review)
13. Family by J. California Cooper (mini review)
14. Hawkeye, Vol. 1: My Life as a Weapon by Matt Fraction (mini review)
15. Hawkeye, Vol. 2: Little Hits by Matt Fraction (mini review)
16. Hawkeye, Vol. 3: L.A. Woman by Matt Fraction (mini review)
17. Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings (mini review)

March

18. Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
19. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
20. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
21. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
22. The Ace of Skulls by Chris Wooding
23. The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami
24. The Female Factory by Lisa L. Hannett
25. Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor

April

26. Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima
27. Ammonite by Nicola Griffith
28. Tokyo: A Certain Style by Kyoichi Tsuzuki
29. Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings
30. The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke

May

31. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
32. Dark Eden by Chris Beckett
33. The Magicians by Lev Grossman
34. Rat Queens, Vol. 1: Sass & Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe

June

35. The Magician King by Lev Grossman
36. The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman
37. The Buried Pyramid by Jane Lindskold
38. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
39. And the Good News Is ... by Dana Perino

July

40. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
41. Strangers by Taichi Yamada
42. Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
43. Wool by Hugh Howey

August

44. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
45. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagehara
46. Chasing the Moon by A. Lee Martinez
47. Harmony by Project Itoh
48. The Hunters by James Salter
49. The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe

September

50. The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard
51. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
52. The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher
53. The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

October

54. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
55. Fledgling by Octavia Butler
56. Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon
57. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
58. It's a Big World, Charlie Brown by Charles M. Schulz
59. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
60. Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers
61. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

November

62. The Chamber by John Grisham
63. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
64. Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley
65. Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
66. Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell
67. Brightness Falls From the Air by James Tiptree Jr.
68. The Curse of the Pharoahs by Elizabeth Peters

December

69. The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman
70. The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters
71. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
72. A Rumpole Christmas by John Mortimer
73. The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss
74. My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
75. Spider Woman's Daughter by Anne Hillerman
76. The Diamond as Big as the Ritz by F. Scott Fitzgerald

March 4, 2015

Monthly Reading Wrap-up: February 2015

I read nine (9) books in February, but before you start getting really impressed by my reading speed I will admit up front that:
  • none of these books was very long ...
  • they were all fast, easy reads ...
  • one was a children's chapter book ...
  • and three of them were comics.

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami
Sputnik Sweetheart is a melancholy love story, a detective story, and a surreal mystery all wrapped up into a meditation on the human condition of longing and loneliness.

I read this book as a buddy read with Sabrina at Unmanaged Mischief. She has a fantastic channel on YouTube that you should check out. I also read this as part of my own reading goals for 2015 to read at least one piece of Japanese Literature per month.

I've written a full review of Sputnik Sweetheart that you can find here.

Recommended: Recommended for those who like to read Japanese literature or who have read other works by Murakami. If you don't like magical realism or can't stand ambiguous endings, then you might want to give this one a pass.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars


Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
You don’t have a home until you leave it and then, when you have left it, you never can go back."

Giovanni's Room is set in 1950s Paris. It is about an American and other expatriates living lives of sexual liaisons outside of the conventional morality of the time - most especially outside of the conventional morality of America. The main character is torn between his desire to live a life of passion with those of his same sex and an equally strong desire to follow a conventional pathway of marriage, home, and children. Through the main character we find the above quote about home to be applicable to both country and relationships - sometimes you can never go back. I found the writing to be beautiful, the story depressing, and the characters overly self involved. Even so, I liked the book immensely!

I read this book as part of my personal reading goals for Black History Month.

Many reading and other events took place online during the month of February for Black History Month. One of these events was #ReadSoulLit, a photo challenge, hosted by Didi via both Twitter and Instagram. She also hosted various reader videos on her YouTube channel, frenchiedee. You can find out more about #ReadSoulLit on her blog, Brown Girl Reading. I highly recommend both her blog and her YouTube channel!

Recommended: Recommended if you like beautiful writing, stories of sexual exploration, or stories of ex-pats living in Paris during mid-twentieth century.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Family by J. California Cooper
Family is one of the most beautiful novels I've ever read. It is set in the Civil War era and is the history of four generations of a slave family. It is a novel filled with some of the greatest ugliness that humankind can inflict on each other as well as a testament to love, hope, persistence, and family.

I read this book as part of my personal reading goals for Black History Month.

Watch this lovely video of J. California Cooper reading her "Wild Stars Seeking Midnight" in 2007 or this interview with the author in 2013.

Recommended: Everyone should read this!
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
Odd and the Frost Giants is a short novel inspired by Norse Mythology. It is full of gods and giants and is simply magical. A little boy named Odd comes across a fox, a bear, and an eagle while out in the forests of Norway. They tell a strange story and then embark with Odd on a journey to save Asgard from the Frost Giants and bring Winter to an end.

Gaiman's stories are hit and miss for me, but this one is absolutely delightful.

Gaiman shines when reading his own work and I had the good fortune to hear him read a part of this story a few years back at UCLA. Here is a video snippet of Gaiman reading from this book (from an appearance at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, GA).

Recommended: Fans of Gaiman must read this. I would also recommend it to those interested in mythology or to those simply looking for a delightful and magical read.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Iron Jackal (Ketty Jay) by Chris Wooding
I'm tempted to say, "Just read it! It's FUN!" The Iron Jackal is non-stop action packed adventure with a bunch of wisecracking characters aboard the Ketty Jay (spacecraft) that reminds me of the crew of Joss Whedon's Firefly. The crew of the Ketty Jay are a bunch of misfits who learn to pull together and become the family that none of them has outside of the crew.

The Iron Jackal is the third of four books about the crew of the Ketty Jay.

Recommended: Recommended for those who like action-adventure, wise-cracking characters that you can come to love, and just all around fun reading. Those who liked the Firefly series by Joss Whedon will probably LOVE this series.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Pawn of Prophecy (The Belgariad) by David Eddings
A fantasy book full of adventure, magic, and mystery. It is a story of war between gods and the men who follow those gods. Sorcerers, prophecies, objects of immense power, and quests fill this fantasy. What I like best about this first book in a series of five, is the storytelling. I feel that Eddings is telling me an ancient story and I really want to know what happens next. Good thing I've got the next book in the series!

Recommended: Recommended for those who like classic fantasy and a good story.
Rating: not yet rated (I will rate this when I've finished the series)




Hawkeye: My Life As a Weapon by Matt Fraction
Hawkeye: Little Hits by Matt Fraction
Hawkeye: L.A. Woman by Matt Fraction
Comic series about Marvel character Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, as he fights for justice with Kate Bishop, aka Hawkeye and ex-Young Avenger, by his side. These comics are fast paced and tell the story of what Clint Barton does when he's not being an Avenger. Because of this, familiarity with the Avengers story lines are not necessary to enjoy these Hawkeye comics. The third in the series, L.A. Woman, features Kate Bishop, a real kick-ass lady!

For a much better look at these comics, you really should go visit Memory Scarlett at her blog, In the Forest of Stories. She is much more expert with comics in general and Hawkeye comics (and Kate Bishop!) in particular:

Recommended: For fans of the Avengers, Marvel comics, kick-ass action, and style.
Rating: 3 and 4 stars out of 5
(5 stars for the stylish artwork that made me want to rip my copies apart to frame the individual issue cover art)

March 3, 2015

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami


Why do people have to be this lonely? What’s the point of it all? Millions of people in this world, all of them yearning, looking to others to satisfy them, yet isolating themselves. Why? Was the earth put here just to nourish human loneliness?

One of my reading goals for 2015 is to read a piece of Japanese literature per month and I chose Sputnik Sweetheart as my choice for February. I'm not the only one reading Japanese Literature this year. Sabrina at Unmanaged Mischief has a reading project called Year of Murakami and plans to read twelve books by Murakami this year. While my reading project is not focused exclusively on this one author, I am reading several Murakami novels. Sabrina was reading Sputnik Sweetheart in February so I thought I'd join her.

Synopsis
Sputnik Sweetheart is narrated by K, a teacher in love with an aspiring novelist named Sumire. Sumire views K as her best friend but is, herself, smitten with a sophisticated businesswoman named Miu. Sumire spends many hours talking with K about the big questions of life before accompanying Miu to Europe and then on to a tiny Greek island. It is on this Greek island that Sumire reveals to Miu that she is in love with her, but this love is not reciprocated. Soon after this revelation, Sumire disappears "like smoke." Miu makes a desperate call for help to K who hurries off to the Greek island in search of his friend. K discovers that something very strange has happened to Sumire even as he has his own haunting visions and uncovers the strange history of Miu.

Sputnik Sweetheart is a melancholy love story, a detective story, and a surreal mystery all wrapped up into a meditation on the human condition of longing and loneliness.

Themes, Writing, Thoughts
The usual Murakami themes of isolation, loneliness, and alienation are present in Sputnik Sweetheart. The title refers, in part, to Sputnik 2. Sputnik 2 was the first spaceship to carry a living animal, a dog named Laika, into space. It was rumored that Laika lived for a while, circling alone above the Earth. This was likely not true, but the image of a dog looking longingly out the window at the Earth persists. This image is used by Murakami in Sputnik Sweetheart to represent the human condition of longing and loneliness. We streak soundlessly, alone, across life. We are all truly alone when it comes down to it. We are like Sputniks orbiting around each other in isolation, unable to connect.

In Sputnik Sweetheart the characters are not only alienated from each other, but are also alienated from themselves and experience a type of self obliteration. Sumire tells K that she has "this strange feeling I'm not myself anymore" and appears to melt away "like a chunk of ice left out in the sun." She mysteriously flees the real world. This is where the story becomes Murakami-esque. Has Sumire truly vanished or has she simply had a mental break? Is Murakami using her physical disappearance as a psychological metaphor? We are left to ask ourselves what is real and what is unreal. Perhaps the more accurate question should be, "What is true?" A fictional account can represent the truth of something while still being fiction. I'm reminded of a quote from another novel by Murakami, Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World: "More often than not I've observed that convenient approximations bring you closest to comprehending the true nature of things." Perhaps the physical disappearance of Sumire in the story is a convenient approximation of the true nature of Sumire's psychological condition. Murakami does not always make it clear when he is using a "sign or a symbol" and often requires us to put our own interpretation on things, and this can be uncomfortable. In Sputnik Sweetheart, Murakami draws us into what appears to be a straightforward storyline and mystery, but then he releases us into a place that does not have clear lines.

I anticipated the themes presented in Sputnik Sweetheart since they are common to all of Murakami's works that I have read thus far. He handles these themes in an unusual way. I hesitate to call what Murakami does Magical Realism, since I think it goes beyond that, but I'm not sure what else to call it. I generally find meaning in Murakami's works in a less cognitive way. I have written a bit about this in the essay and book reviews that are linked below.

The shift from straightforward storyline into that fuzzy weird place was a bit disconcerting in Sputnik Sweetheart because it took place quite late in the story. I'm not sure what to make of that yet. As is usual with my reading of Murakami, I will have to let this book and story settle into a less cognitive area of my brain and see what comes of it in future. I anticipate that I will make some odd connections much later when I least expect it!

Recommendation
I recommend Sputnik Sweetheart for those who like to read Japanese literature and/or those specifically interested in the works of Haruki Murakami. I also recommend it for those interested in the themes of loneliness, longing, and alienation and/or those with an interest in psychological metaphor. Those who can not abide story lines with ambiguous or blurry lines of reality might want to take a pass on this.

More of my writing about Murakami is available on my personal essay blog, Tip of the Iceberg. You can find those pieces here if you are interested:

February 20, 2015

Monthly Reading Wrap-up: January 2015

I read eight (8) books in the month of January. I'm not sure how that happened. I wasn't trying to read so many books in one month! I generally read four (4) or five (5) books most months. I am actually trying to read a little LESS in 2015. I want to focus on other areas of my life as well as allow time to read more deeply and THINK about what I've read. Sometimes it feels like a bit of a race. I also want time to write reviews and otherwise blog about my reading. This all plays into my focus word for 2015, BALANCE.

Here is what I read:

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Note: My copy includes both Little Women and Good Wives

I started reading Little Women in December, but with all of the busyness of the Christmas and New Year holidays I didn't finish it until well into January. This book was a re-read for me. I read this as a child and that was so many years ago that it was almost like reading it for the first time. It was interesting for me to read this as an adult and compare my childhood memory of it to my adult impressions. It is a very sweet book and I accepted that sweetness at face value when I was a child, but as an adult I did find myself trying not to roll my eyes at the same sweetness that seems somewhat manipulative now. I was able to get past this though by reminding myself that it was published in 1868 (Little Women) and 1869 (Good Wives) and has elements of both Romantic and Sentimental novels. It would make a fascinating study as a piece of Feminist Literature. This book helps to fulfill my Classics Club reading goal.

More about this author here.

Recommendation: Anyone looking for a good old fashioned read or interested in Feminist Literature.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


The Sound of the Mountain by Yasunari Kawabata

This book was such a quiet read. The writing was beautiful, which was expected from this author. Last year I read Snow Country by Kawabata, and it too was a quiet and rather melancholy novel; I'm guessing that this may be a pattern with Kawabata. The Sound of the Mountain is a novel about a family and told from the perspective of the aging patriarch. It is full of the types of questions one might ask when facing one's mortality. This is a very thoughtful piece that I plan to review more fully, so watch for that review to come.

I read this book as one of my personal reading goals for 2015. I'm hoping to read at least one piece of Japanese Literature per month.

More about this author here.

Recommendation: Those interested in Japanese Literature and/or stories that involve mature reflections on life.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I do love a good post-apocalyptic novel once in a while. This one sure filled the bill for me. Mandel is a relatively new author and she is definitely new to me. Station Eleven held my attention and I wanted to read it in one sitting. I do recommend that you read this book in as few sittings as possible since the shift in both point of view and time can leave you confused if you don't stay with the story. I am not a big fan of novels that jump around in time too much, but this author uses the device cleverly to slowly reveal the story. I think this slow reveal brings a richness and greater impact to the book. One of the things I liked most about Station Eleven is the motto that there is more to life than just survival. Unlike some post-apocalyptic novels that leave the reader with no sense of hope, I found this one refreshingly hopeful.

More about this author here.

Recommendation: Those who like post-apocalyptic stories and want to see some hope amidst the trials.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Death of a Gossip by M.C. Beaton

I like to pick up a cozy mystery every once in a while, so I thought I'd give M.C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth mysteries a chance. I was really looking forward to this read. Guess what? I didn't care for it much. I expect a formulaic and somewhat ridiculous plot from this type of book. I don't need to like or connect to the characters (I didn't like any of them). So these were not the reasons for my ambivalence. I'm still not quite sure what it was that turned me off. It just seemed flat. At least it is short (a little over 100 pages). I tend to give authors more than one chance though, so I will probably read another in this series. Death of a Gossip is the first in the series so perhaps the later books are better. The British TV series has been recommended to me, so I might try that out someday too.

More about this author here.

Recommendation: Fans of cozy mysteries might want to read it and see if they like it.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars



Hell is Empty by Craig Johnson (5 stars)
As the Crow Flies by Craig Johnson (4 stars)
A Serpent's Tooth by Craig Johnson (4 stars)
The Walt Longmire Series

I did a little series reading in January, as you can see. Two additional Walt Longmire books are coming out in May that I am very interested in, so I needed to catch up. Besides, I REALLY LIKE THIS SERIES. I'm a fan. Can you tell? If you're not familiar with the Walt Longmire series, it is a western/mystery/crime/hard-boiled kind of thing. There is a lot of action and tension, witty dialogue and hard-boiled humor, and thoughtful philosophical passages that address many of the feelings and big questions that we all have. As Craig Johnson says, he tries to "deal with the universal imperative of the human condition." Native American culture features predominantly and Johnson does a fantastic job exploring the intersection of Native American (mostly Crow and Cheyenne) culture with predominant U.S. culture.

More about this author here.

Recommendation: Highly recommended for anyone who likes good writing, stories, and is interested in the human condition.
Rating: I generally give books in this series 4 or 5 out of 5 stars.


Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

This was such a lovely debut novel. The story is set in a small village in the English countryside. Major Pettigrew is a widowed and retired proper Englishman who believes in honor, duty, and decorum. He is drawn to Mrs. Jasmina Ali, a widowed Pakistani shopkeeper, by their mutual fondness for literature. As their friendship blossoms into something more, societal and family pressures threaten to separate them. Can their relationship withstand these pressures as they flaunt culture and tradition?

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is full of gentle humor with more than a bit of the pride & prejudice theme running through it. There was a quiet depth that ran through this novel that speaks to the clash of cultures and religion, and the tension between generations. Beautifully written. Reminded me a bit of  the movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

More about this author here.

Recommendation: Those interested in a story that involves issues surrounding cultural, religious, and generational differences, gently and beautifully told.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars