Monday, November 27, 2023

November challenges wrapup (new to the TBR)


The prompt for the last week for both these challenges is the same: What new books did you learn about and add to your TBR? I'm going to be lazy and lump them both in to one post... 😉

Walter Lord/A Night to Remember 
    (Readerbuzz, non-fiction)
François Mauriac/The Kiss of the Leper 
    (NancyLN, novella)
Mike Harris/Mike Nichols: A Life 
    (NancyLN, non-fiction)
Philip Larkin/Letters to Monica 
    (Intrepid Angeleno, non-fiction)
Charles Montgomery/The Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design
    (Adventures in Reading, non-fiction)
Travis Elborough/Atlas of Vanishing Places
    (Volatile Rune, non-fiction)
Louisa May Alcott/Behind a Mask
    (KlasikFanda, novella)
Patrick Modiano/Sundays in August
    (NancyLN, novella)

Now if only my library would start working again...but they say not until January. Yikes!

Fortunately I've got a few Dean Street Press mysteries lined up for next month.

Thanks to all our hosts!

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Two by Patrick Modiano (#NovNov)

So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood

Jean Daragane is an elderly man living on his own, suspicious and irritable. Then a stranger Gilles Ottolini calls up to say that he's found Daragane's address book: could he bring it by? (Daragane had written his phone number and address in the book in the space supplied after 'If found please return to...'). Daragane doesn't want this stranger to come to his house, but they arrange to meet at a café the next day.

Daragane is a well-known writer, famous for his book Le Noir de l'EtĂ© about the Paris demimonde. He has genuinely lost his address book and, despite his suspicions, supposes he should get it back. Ottolini shows up the next day with a 'friend', Chantal Grippay, and it's clear Ottolini knows quite a bit about Daragane. Ottolini has read through the address book and he's interested in a name from it, Guy Torstel, which was also a name that Daragane had used in that famous novel. Who is Torstel? Daragane claims he can barely remember the actual Torstel, and that he remembers nothing about the novel he wrote so many years ago. But he agrees to try to remember something and to meet again with Ottolini when Ottolini's back in town. 

But before that Chantal Grippay comes by and warns him not to trust Ottolini. Daragane tries to work out the connections between Torstel and his mother and the woman (not his mother) who raised him and the other figures from that novel. And what do they have to do with Ottolini and Grippay? And just what has he got himself into? 

Interesting and evocative, but in retrospect not the one to have started with. In the real world, Modiano's first novel was La Place de l'Etoile.

155p. And with rather wide spacing and margins. Translated by Euan Cameron.

In the Café of Lost Youth

Louki is an habituée of the café Condé. The place is a little downmarket even for students, with a somewhat rough clientele of youths, with a few dodgy elders mixed in. Louki seems just a bit more glamorous than the rest of the crowd. But Louki is just a nickname. Who is she?

The novella is structured as four different narrators telling us what they know (or what they want to tell us) about Louki. The first is an actual student: he studies at the École SupĂ©rieure des Mines; because he's a student, though one perhaps not entirely committed to his studies, he feels isolated from the core crowd at the cafĂ©. Still he observes Louki without ever knowing her real name.

The second figure is a private detective who's looking for Louki on behalf of her abandoned husband; he learns Louki is actually Jacqueline Choureau née Delanque, that she'd been in minor trouble with the law as a teenager, that her mother was a dancer at the Moulin Rouge. He has to decide what exactly to report to the abandoned husband.

The third chapter is from the point of view of Louki herself; the last chapter is that of a writer from years later who had hung out with this crowd at the time. We learn Louki's fate.

Wikipedia says the novel is loosely about the circle around the Situationist Guy Debord, philosopher, Marxist, provocateur. In any case, the novella begins with an epigraph from Debord:
"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 café of lost youth."
Also evocative, and less dependent on a familiarity with the Modiano oeuvre. Pretty good, I thought and it would have been a better start. (Though as you can see I didn't stop after the first that I did read.)

118p. Translated by Chris Clarke.

Modiano won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2014, and I've been meaning to try him out since then. That's all the Modiano I've read, but I liked them both and it made me curious to read more. I'll probably go next to the beginning and read La Place de l'Etoile. (Same title in English.) It's the first in a trilogy, it seems. Do you know Modiano? Is that a good plan? Any others to be sure not to miss?

November is Novellas month!

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Tony Hillerman's The Blessing Way (#Mystery)

"I asked around some in re your inquiry about witchcraft cases and it looks only moderately promising."

But if you're looking for a mystery, it's very promising.

Luis Horeseman is a young Navajo who has just injured a man in a drunken knife fight. But he's worried he's killed his opponent, and so is living rough in an uninhabited canyon. Or so he thinks.

Joe Leaphorn is a detective with the Navajo police and he's pretty sure he knows where Horseman is, but rather than go hunting him, he drops hints among Horseman's relatives that young Luis won't be guilty of murder after all and should just turn himself in.

Bergen McKee is a professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico and he's interested in Navajo witch stories. He's also an old college chum of Joe Leaphorn, and that's from Leaphorn's letter to McKee above. Even though Leaphorn's not very encouraging about the research, he still would like McKee to come visit, and anyway there just happens to be one report of a witch, otherwise unexplained.

Then Horseman is found dead, far from where Leaphorn expected him to be hiding out. At first glance the death looks accidental, but Leaphorn sees through that right away.

There are three more deaths before it's done and a good thriller scene in backcountry Arizona.

It's the first entry (1970) in Hillerman's series of mysteries set in Navajo lands, and the series started well, I thought. I've read most of them (and maybe this one before? But it felt new.) As it's the first neither Jim Chee or Bernadette Manuelito are on the scene and it's all up to the (not yet) Legendary Joe Leaphorn.

Vintage Mystery, Silver, Any Other Animal: That's a wolf shadow on the cover. Unless it's a witch (Navajo witches are either gender and take the shape of animals, most commonly wolves). Or, just possibly, a murderer in a wolf mask...

That completes Silver Age Vintage Mystery challenge for me, though who knows? I could very well read another mystery or two yet this year written between 1960 and 1989...

Monday, November 13, 2023

Two Novellas (Elizabeth Smart, Boris Pasternak) #NovNov

Elizabeth Smart's By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept

The narrator has fallen in love with the poet on the basis of his poems. She invites the poet and his wife to Monterey, California, where she's living, to meet him. She's just as enthralled by the poet in person as she was when she only knew him through his poetry. But can she do this to his wife?

Oh, yes she can.

The narrator is Elizabeth Smart and the poet is George Barker; his wife is Jessica Barker, and the events more or less follow actual events. So, auto-fiction, avant la lettre?

Yes, but. The prose definitely makes this. You see the Psalms there in the title: is that Grand Central Station or the rivers of Babylon? The Song of Solomon is all over the book. So are the Latin and Greek classics, slyly grandiose: "Jupiter has been with Leda, and now nothing can avert the Trojan Wars."

There's also interesting things happening with metaphors from the natural world. The main events take place in the late 30s, but Smart is writing the book during World War II in England. Comparisons to natural features from North America--the Mississippi, Niagara Falls--are inundating, but positive as a rule; those of Europe--the pools in Epping Forest, e.g.--smaller, withdrawn. All mostly involve water, or its absence: the Mojave Desert makes a metaphorical appearance.

But the occasional funny pinprick from outside the bubble lets us see another side. A policeman (and yes, the police do get involved): "'What a cad,' he said, 'And the girl's a religious maniac.'" Why, now you mention it, quite possibly yes... "Are all Americans chaste? All, by law." "Like Macbeth, I keep remembering that I am their host."

The book was first published in England in 1945. Smart came from a well-to-do Ottawa family, and her mother, appalled Elizabeth was publishing her shame (as she saw it) bought up as many copies of the book as she could get her hands on. It was also the end of the war, so, between those things, not much happened with the book at the time. But when it was reissued in the 60s, its reputation took off. Smart continued her bohemian life, bearing four children to Barker, but never marrying him. (Barker continued his caddishness.) She wrote other works (which I haven't read) but this is considered her masterpiece. She died in 1986.

Weird and wonderful. "Girls in love, be harlots, it hurts less."

112p. including an introduction by Brigid Brophy.

Boris Pasternak's The Last Summer

Serezha has just finished his exams, and takes a job as tutor to the eleven-year-old Harry Fresteln. The Fresteln estate is in the Ural Mountains, well away from Moscow or Saint Petersburg. Serezha finds his duties light, writes and gallivants at night.

Mrs. Anna Tjornskold is the widow of a Danish pastor who died young. Suddenly near destitution she takes a job as paid companion to Mrs. Fresteln, but once she's stuck in the remote Ural Mountain region, she discovers her role is more maid than companion. She feels denigrated and trapped and unhappy.

There's a frame set in 1916, but the main events take place in the summer of 1914, the last summer before everything goes to pieces.

Then Serezha proposes to Anna.

It's a promising enough premise for a story, but I can't recommend it, at least in this form. (Penguin, 1960, reprinted many times.) There's an introduction by Pasternak's younger sister Lydia, interesting, though it doesn't tell you what you want or need to know. 

But the main problem is the translation. I guess I'll credit the translator (George Reavey) with trying to reproduce things he found in the original, but it just doesn't read well in English. There's undigested bits of Russian: izvoschik (a cabman, it seems), mahorka (a coarse tobacco), calatch (still not perfectly sure about this one. Kolach? Maybe.) I don't know how you would have sorted those before the Internet. There's awkward bits of English: 'a tent of tremblingly-moist, sultry-laurel birch trees.' And extravagant words, even if they are English. Canicularly? Know that one? Canicular: having to do with the dog days of summer. -ly, adverb. In retrospect, you can probably see the can- of canine in it, but it's certainly a long ways from Basic English. Is the Russian word in Pasternak equally obscure?

Anyway, it needs notes or a new translation or likely both. I don't know if those things exist.

92p, including Lydia Pasternak Slater's introduction.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Sunday Salon



A post on the new biography of Lou Reed by Will Hermes. The skinny: if you like Lou Reed, you'll probably be interested in the biography. If not, not...

That sent me to rereading Delmore Schwartz, who was Reed's teacher when he was an undergraduate. One of Schwartz's poems here.

Then Rebecca Solnit's most recent Orwell's Roses. Pretty great, I thought. 

I read (The third time? I think.) Rex Stout's Fer-de-Lance, the first Nero Wolfe mystery, because...does one really need a reason? It was there. I could blog about it, but I've already finished that challenge. It's a good one.

Two novellas from my list of novella candidates. They should get their own post soon.

Where I Am

This guy showed up. (It doesn't look like the same hawk as previously.) We have seen hawks with their pigeon kills in the back yard before, but lately they've been peaceable enough...though this one doesn't seem to be underfed. (Does the photo make me look fat? Yes, yes, it does!)

But!...The Horror!

The Toronto Public Library has been hit by a ransomware attack, and the website has been down for two weeks (as of tomorrow). 

Library branches are open, but my local branch is quite small and was originally built as a children's library. The books I want almost never come from there, but I go to the website and request they're sent to my local branch. Under normal circumstances that works beautifully. But now I'm not likely to go hunt them down elsewhere, and, in any case, I don't have any clue where to find them without the website. (TPL has a lot of branches.) So I'm limited to the books I have.

For myself, I'm not too worried about the data breach. I'm good about passwords, and my PIN for the library is different from every other PIN. My address and phone number wouldn't be that hard to come by anyway, and if they can figure out how to monetize the knowledge that I read a lot of books, well, God bless... It's the fact I can't get more books that's driving me nuts.

The poop on the Internets is it's some outfit calling itself Black Basta. They're shadowy, of course, that's the point, but they seem to be Russian and quite possibly state-adjacent. Not that I didn't already have enough reasons to dislike Putin, but if now he (or his minions) have taken down my library, it's...time for Regime Change!

But it's the rare cloud that doesn't have at least a little silver on the inside... 😉 I read the New York Times via the library. The way it works for us is that you get a three day subscription, and then you have to renew. Maybe you can renew and maybe you get an 'All of your institution's passes are currently in use. Try again later' message. I can play Wordle without the NYT subscription, but I can't use the WordleBot to find out how my guesses stacked up unless I'm connected. But with everything frozen in place at TPL, my three-day subscription has now lasted two weeks. The Other Reader and various friends are locked out of the newspaper, but the WordleBot (and any of the awful news I want...hmm) I can get to.

Hope your week has been good. (And your library is working!) 

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Rebecca Solnit/Orwell's Roses (#NonficNov)

"In the spring of 1936, a writer planted roses."

That's the opening line of Rebecca Solnit's most recent book Orwell's Roses, and the writer-slash-gardener is George Orwell. Orwell wrote about the roses (and also the fruit trees and gooseberries he planted) in his essay 'A Good Word for the Vicar of Bray' of 1946. Solnit calls it 'a triumph of meandering that begins by describing a yew tree in a Berkshire churchyard.' It takes one to know one: Solnit is a champion of the meandering essay herself.

Back to the Vicar of Bray for a moment. He's not a hero: what he's famous for is the slipperiness of his politics:
And this is law, I will maintain,
Until my Dying Day, sir,
That whatsoever King may reign,
I will be the Vicar of Bray, sir! 

Still, the Vicar planted that yew tree. Orwell:

"An oak or a beech may live for hundreds of years and be a pleasure to thousands or tens of thousands of people before it is finally sawn up into timber. I am not suggesting that one can discharge all all one's obligations towards society by means of a private re-afforestation scheme. Still, it might not be a bad idea, every time you commit an antisocial act, to make a note of it in your diary, and then, at an appropriate season, push an acorn into the ground."

Or roses. 

Solnit was in England for a book tour and was interested to see what was left of Orwell's plantings. Only the roses survived.

"There are many biographies of Orwell, and they've served me well for this book, which is not an addition to that shelf. It is instead a series of forays from one starting point, that gesture whereby one writer planted several roses. As such, it's a book about roses..."

An interesting topic for a meander.

So many fascinating things: Emma Goldman, the photographer Tina Modotti, Stalin and lemon trees. Columbia is the source for 90% of North America's commercial cut roses and is infamous for its terrible labor practices. Solnit manages to visit a rose farm there. It's not a long book, but it's fascinating and I won't even try to tell you all the things in it.

One of her main themes is the frequent puritanism of the left. Orwell is sometimes absorbed into this. Is he a dour political writer who can only tell us the terrible things are going to happen, the terrible things that are happening? Maybe not just. Turns out nature is important in 1984 and is written about well. This leads her to Emma Goldman, the anarchist, and Tina Modotti, the photographer and Communist. 

It is also about what a political essayist can and should do: in Solnit's case in this book, feminism, labor issues, the creeping return of totalitarianism, climate change.

Pretty great stuff. It's the fourth I've read of her twenty-five or so books. (River of Shadows, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, The Faraway Nearby and now this.) Right now it's my favorite, and is likely to stay so at least until I read the next one. 

    "Orwell's signal achievement was to name and describe as no one else had the way that totalitarianism was a threat not just to liberty and human rights but to language and consciousness, and he did it in so compelling a way that his last book casts a shadow--or a beacon's light--into the present. But the achievement is enriched and deepened by the commitment and idealism that fueled it, the things he valued and desired, and his valuation of desire itself, and pleasure and joy, and his recognition that these can be forces of opposition to the authoritarian state and its soul-destroying intrusions.
    The work he did is everyone's job now. It always was."


Thursday, November 9, 2023

Delmore Schwartz (#poem)


"I Am Cherry Alive," the Little Girl Sang

For Miss Kathleen Hanlon

"I am cherry alive," the little girl sang,
"Each morning I am something new:
I am apple, I am plum, I am just as excited
As the boys who made the Hallowe'en bang:
I am tree, I am cat, I am blossom too:
When I like, if I like, I can be someone new,
Someone very old, a witch in a zoo:
I can be someone else whenever I think who,
And I want to be everything sometimes too:
And the peach has a pit and I know that too,
And I put it in along with everything
To make the grown-ups laugh whenever I sing:
And I sing: It is true; It is untrue;
I know, I know, the true is untrue,
The peach has a pit, the pit has a peach:
And both may be wrong when I sing my song,
But I don't tell the grown-ups: because it is sad,
And I want them to laugh just like I do
Because they grew up and forgot what they knew
And they are sure I will forget it some day too.
They are wrong. They are wrong. When I sang my song, I knew, I knew!
I am red, I am gold, I am green, I am blue,
I will always be me, I will always be new!"
-Delmore Schwartz

After I finished the Lou Reed biography, I pulled the Delmore Schwartz off the shelf, which I probably haven't opened in years. I'm pretty sure I bought the book years ago, because I knew he'd been Lou Reed's teacher. There's a bunch of good things in it! 

The first edition Summer Knowledge: Selected Poems came out in 1959, and went on to win the Bollingen Prize in Poetry, as well as other prizes. Schwartz was already falling apart by then, though, and went on to die in poverty in 1966, at the age of fifty-two.

Monday, November 6, 2023

Will Hermes' Lou Reed: The King of New York (#NovNonFiction)

"A hustle here and a hustle there/New York City is the place where..."

Lewis Allan Reed was born in Brooklyn in 1942, but mostly grew up further out on Long Island. He went on to, you know, make a bunch of records.

And take a lot of drugs. 

Will Hermes' biography Lou Reed: The King of New York was released at the beginning of last month.

Reed grew up in a practicing Jewish family; his father was a successful accountant. His mother stayed at home; he had a sister five years younger. He cut his first record, a single ("So Blue/Leave Her for Me") in high school, at age sixteen, with a band called the Jades. It had some local success, got played on Murray the K's radio show, but quickly faded. But not a bad beginning.

He may have had a troubled childhood--he often said so himself, though little that Lou Reed says about his life can be trusted: he told the musician Lenny Kaye once, "I created Lou Reed. I have nothing even faintly in common with that guy, but I can play him pretty well." His sister said that while Lou was a bit fragile as a child, theirs was a quite normal household.

In any case something went a bit off the rails. He wanted to be in Manhattan for college, but at the end of his first semester at NYU, he had a nervous breakdown, or something, and moved back with his parents, where he underwent a course of electroconvulsive therapy. Was it anxiety, depression? Or was it--as Reed sometimes said--his homosexual impulses? (Though his sister says that was not the cause for his ECT.) Though it seems astonishing now, ECT was considered an ordinary enough treatment at the time. After those horrors, he started college again at Syracuse in upstate New York.

There he met Delmore Schwartz, once a poetic enfant terrible, but by then a drunk, and mostly just terrible. Still he was impressive to the young Lou Reed, who was interested in doo wop, R&B, rock, and popular music in general, but also in literature and poetry. Schwartz became the first of Reed's great mentors.

After Reed graduated from college, he worked as a songwriter for Pickwick Records in NYC, a sort of Brill Building outfit, where his biggest success was a dance track 'The Ostrich'. He also met the avant-garde violist John Cale. The two of them became the core of the Velvet Underground; the classic lineup was completed with Sterling Morrison on guitar and Maureen ('Moe') Tucker on drums. The band caught the eye of Andy Warhol, who was--ahem!--a famous enough guy, though maybe not the best music promoter. In any case Warhol goes on to become the second of Reed's great mentors. In the late 60s, the Velvet Underground made some great records, famous now, but they hardly sold at the time. 

The commercial breakthrough, Transformer, with 'Walk on the Wild Side', came out in 1972, his second solo album.

Did I mention drugs? Reed was probably already injecting in high school. Somewhere early on he caught hepatitis from shared needles. Heroin was an early favorite, one he shared with John Cale, and the topic of several early VU songs. Later he did mostly amphetamines. This was partly the influence of Warhol, who famously emphasized work ethic and did speed to keep going. There were various reasons why Reed and Cale couldn't get along--Reed's ferocious difficulty as a person being the main one--and that version of the VU ended in 1968. But Cale also suggests that while he was still doing heroin, Reed was then on speed. A cultural difference.

Reed also seemed to be genuinely bisexual. He had long term relationships with both men and women. He may have slept with Warhol--some say yes and some say no--though Hermes thinks not on the whole. Reed's longest homosexual relationship was with the trans woman Rachel Humphries, and went for about 5 years in the late 70s. It fell apart when Reed decided he finally had to get clean of drugs. (He meant also to get free of alcohol, but doesn't seem to have ever succeeded entirely with that.)

Hermes' book speeds up after the 70s. His previous book was about NYC music in the 70s, so that's his main period of interest. But it's also the case that established success in an artist can be a little dull in a biography, so he may have chosen to spend less time on that. His second marriage--to Sylvia Morales Reed--helped him sober up and was the inspiration for a number of his 80s solo albums (the period I was hearing him). But it broke up when she wanted a kid and he didn't. He later married the avant-garde musician Laurie Anderson, who survived him. 

There's enough testimony that Lou Reed could be sweet and caring that it's probably even true, but it certainly wasn't always, and he could be terribly difficult. Insecurity? Amphetamines? Alcohol? Perfectionism? Rockstar entitlement? Who knows? Something could make him turn nasty. Reed between the hepatitis, the drugs, and the alcohol did enough damage to his liver he needed a transplant, which he got in 2013. It seemed to have worked for a couple of months, but then his body rejected it, and he was dead in October of that year. Hermes quotes a hilarious bit from the Onion that was true even when it appeared in the optimistic months, but then sadly was even more true:
New Liver Complains of Difficulty Working with Lou Reed

"It's really hard to get along with Lou--one minute he's your best friend and the next he's outright abusive,' said the vital organ, describing his collaboration with the former Velvet Underground frontman as "strained at best." "He just has this way of making you feel completely inadequate."
Anyway, Hermes' biography was solid, better on some periods than others (of course,) best of all on the late sixties through the seventies. I don't know that it will make any new converts, but if you were already a fan...

...I think you'll enjoy it.

It's the second week of Nonfiction November and the prompt is, How do I choose which non-fiction to read? I'd say it's generally by topic, as was this. I don't remember where I first saw mention of the biography, but since that review wasn't a pan, and I knew was interested in the subject, I put it on my library holdlist. I've read a few other music biographies, though it's not a large category for me. General-audience literary criticism is a perennial for me, history--a lot of Ukraine and eastern Europe lately, alas--regularly appears by my reading chair, some (non-technical) philosophy. Some books related to professional concerns: computers, finance, containerized shipping. Cookbooks.

I also then to fix on particular authors. I read Robert Gerwarth's most recent, November 1918, because I'd enjoyed his earlier book. I'm likely to read the new Christopher Clark soon. I might also read that earlier Will Hermes. And the next non-fiction book I'll read will score in two categories: it's the latest by Rebecca Solnit, whom I quite like, and it's about her engagement with George Orwell, so literary criticism.

Project Gutenberg also has some interesting things, and I sometimes just read from there, mostly because it's so simple to come by, and I want something for the eReader.

I'm not completely opposed to judging a book by its cover 😉 though I certainly wouldn't call the cover of this Lou Reed biography much of an enticement...but it *has* gotten harder to browse bookstores: it's a pretty good ways now for me to get to a good new bookstore, when ten years ago there was one a block away. (I should be buying fewer books anyway...) In any case more books in general, and non-fiction in particular, is likely to come from the library where I just order it up from the website and it appears at my local branch magically, after I've just read about it at somebody's blog. I'm expecting to request a whole bunch of books at the end of this month...

Thanks to Frances at Volatile Rune for hosting this week!

Thursday, November 2, 2023

My Year in Novellas (#NovNov23)


Another of the great November challenges is Novellas in November. The first prompt is an overview of novella-reading from the last year. So, on with a few highlights!

The Man Who Was Thursday is G. K. Chesterton's mystery-ish novella of 1908, well before his Father Brown stories. Gabriel Syme, a Scotland Yard agent, becomes Thursday in a circle of anarchists; the mysterious Sunday is the leader. Syme is out to expose Sunday and does so in the end, but what does that signify? Was there really ever a plot? It's both thriller, but also a bit of an allegorical Piers-Plowman style of story. Entertaining and very Chestertonian. I gave it a fuller review here.

Ethel Wilson's Hetty Dorval of 1947 is Wilson's first book, and a CanLit classic. The teenaged girl Frankie Burnaby is fascinated by the mysterious Mrs. Dorval after she moves to their small town in British Columbia. Mrs. Dorval seems sophisticated--maybe she's too sophisticated? (She is given the first name Hetty/Hester; think The Scarlet Letter or Adam Bede.) I'd sort of long known of the book, but read it this spring for the first time, because Alexandra Oliver's most recent volume of poetry, Hail, The Invisible Watchmen, includes a sonnet sequence based on Hetty Dorval. The novella is pretty great. (And well worth a sonnet sequence.)

Maggie Millner's Couplets: A Love Story is a verse novella that came out earlier this year. Our (female) artsy NYC heroine has a steady boyfriend, but then falls in love with an older woman. I don't know that I thought the story was astonishing, but it was entertaining enough, and I quite enjoyed the poetry, which is written in a series of (Heroic? Un?) couplets, appropriately enough. I quoted a stanza and discussed it at more length here.

Lots of Golden Age mysteries are probably effectively novellas; certainly Israel Zangwill's The Big Bow Mystery is. I read the text from Project Gutenberg, and just now copied it and subjected it to a word count. Approximately 43000 words. It came out in 1892 and is a very early locked-room mystery, one of the classics of the genre. It got its own post here.


But, hey! how about a couple of short non-fiction works, too?

I've read it a few times, but once more didn't seem to hurt. And it is short. Susan Sontag's Illness as Metaphor is about tuberculosis and cancer (she wrote a sequel about AIDS) and the way we make metaphors out of diseases--things that are really not metaphors--but bacteria, or viruses, or cellular malfunctions. It's also a very hidden autobiography--she wrote this after being diagnosed with the breast cancer that went on to kill her some years later, but doesn't mention it at all in the book. One of her main examples of illness as metaphor is Henry James' The Wings of the Dove, whose Milly Theale dies of tuberculosis. I reread Sontag after reading the James, and discussed both (and a few other odds and ends) here.

Paul Muldoon's To Ireland, I originated as the Clarendon lectures of 1998, and is an abecedary of Irish literary criticism. I read it before we went to Ireland in the spring, then read a bunch of Irish literature, and have been thinking I could reread it and maybe (maybe!) then say something about it. But it was quirky, opinionated, and fascinating. 


But what's past is prologue (as the master says...) What novellas might I read this month? We have a picture for that, of course!

Mr. Dickens says, But these books are all so short!

Elizabeth Smart/By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept

Another classic CanLit novella. About her long-term affair with the British poet George Barker. (I believe.)

Cesare Pavese/The Moon and the Bonfires

Our hero leaves Italy for the U. S. early in the Fascist era and returns only after the war is over. What's changed?

Boris Pasternak/The Last Summer

Don't know much. 😉 The back of the book says, "Set in the winter of 1916, The Last Summer has an autobiographical basis." That, and it's shorter than Doctor Zhivago

Patrick Modiano/So You Don't Get Lost in the Neighborhood

That makes two Nobel prize winners on this list. Hmm...

Which look good to you? Are you taking part in Novellas in November?