The Books of My Numberless Dreams

August is over

Posted on: August 28, 2007

Everything seems to be coming together wonderfully as the summer ends: housing disruption, dead computer, women wearing way too much fucking perfume always choosing the computer next to me, books refusing to let me write about them (I’m looking at you Goldberg:Variations)…it’s been quite a month.

I never got into the idea of “summer reading” because in Jamaica it was summer all year round, more or less, and vacations usually meant I’d be travelling somewhere, doing everything but reading. Looking back at August though, my completed books appear to fit the lighter concept. I reached the half-way point in both Don Quixote and Paradise Lost, made enjoyable bedtime in-roads with Demons, read a couple of essays by Nabokov (Lectures on Literature) and Elisabeth Ladenson (Dirt for Art’s Sake). But the only books I read from beginning to end were genre.

Eight Days of Luke by Diana Wynne Jones was an entertaining lark, featuring a magical companion who had a darker side to him. This proved to be a nice preview for the magnificent The Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. I’ll do a much longer post on the series, one that has made a big impression because I resisted trying it for so long and, having only recently left the Hogwarts express, cannot help but focus on all the ways it’s superior. (Admittedly, this is not a hard thing to do in the fantastic area of children’s/YA fantasy literature.) I’ll have to try Stroud’s other books now. I remember Solnushka expressing how much fun it was on a past post I did on the desultory Endymion Spring. I was doubtful even then.

I started Jacques the Fatalist and his Master with some trepidation as Dorothy had compared to one of her favourites, Tristram Shandy. I had never heard of the novel before the small British film that was about a film crew making an adaptation of the same. Ignorance did not hinder my enjoyment. Then I started blogging and the title popped up enough for me to get the idea that it was a) brilliant and b) hard. Ahem. Dorothy was right that I’d like it though. Here’s another novel, like Demons, whose tone I was expecting to be so elevated as to be all but impenetrable — and got the precise opposite. Another source of worry was Martin Hall’s assertion in the introduction that it had a lot of stories within stories: oh god, not another Don Quixote, I despaired. The good thing is that it is a) much, much shorter and b) has a similar comedic tone, I think, and Hall did mention that Diderot borrowed some popular fiction conventions for his very serious novel. My main point is that the writing style is quite approachable, direct even, as the narrator rather manhandles the reader with his abrupt reaction to expected questions a typical reader would ask.

So Long Been Dreaming is going well: I even read a story that had a spaceship that I liked. Some of the ways the writer play with themes of cultural appropriation, corrupted historical narratives, racism, oppression etc. are a bit tired and obvious, but in general they’re good and a few are notable. Can’t say I’d really go for any more “themed” anthologies though. (I’d need a long break, at least.)

September is near, I’ve created two challenges, and I have finalised my own list for either. The ILL list is in better shape than the Outmoded, but only barely. Well, I did make them long for a reason. Edit: Actually, I think that what I came up with so far for my Outmoded is pretty decent for 6 months. Everything listed after Lawrence is a “maybe”.

  • George Bernard Shaw – Saint Joan
  • Malcolm Lowry – Under the Volcano
  • Djuna Barnes – Ladies Almanack and Collected Stories or Collected Poems
  • Andrew Salkey – A Quality of Violence
  • D.H. Lawrence – Sons and Lovers
  • Ivy Compton-Burnett – A House and its Head
  •  Something by Elizbaeth Bowen and May Sarton

16 Responses to "August is over"

Just so you know–genre fiction doesn’t count. I’m not sure books deemed unholy by Mother Church should count either…

Bummer about the computer. 😦

Admin: steal my name too, eh?

So does this mean you’ll soon be reading Tristram Shandy? 🙂

Legolas b-but then my Diderot can’t count and he was a Great Intellectual and everything! If no genre and no Prohibited books I’ll be stuck with literary NYT best-sellers. Who would wish that on their worst enemy?

It is a bummer. Expected but still a bummer.

Dorothy ha! We’ll ahh, see how that works out.

Oops, I meant Gimli.

Diderot might count if you read him in French…

Well. “Jacques” is a French word. And there are other French names in the translation. So I’m set.

Btw, I am taking a min-break from DQ so hurry up, dwarf. How far have you read?

Depends on what literary NYT best-seller I suppose, some post-modern literature might hit the Western Canon in the future, but as Harold Bloom says, “it is a mug’s game.”

Glad you liked Stroud. And Diana Wynne Jones for that matter.

*Resolutely refusing to acknowledge there is any other type of novel than genre fiction*

I’m sprinting, I’m sprinting…

Christopher well, some of them aren’t bad, sure, but who wants to be stuck reading books published only after 1970? The thought makes my stomach queasy.

Solnushka I always liked Jones!

Gimli considering those stumpy legs you’ve got there…

Are you referring to my strong, powerful legs? I can outrun Rocinante any day…

I’ve always wanted to read Saint Joan, but I haven’t gotten around to it, and I could very well forget it after I post this comment. So, I can’t wait to read your response to it.

Gimli, impressive boast. You have silenced my taunts.

Hey there’s a lot of Dante going on in England these days! Or two things. I read a TLS article on an Oxford U exhibit of a Dante manuscript exhibit (put on by the Bodleian library, I think, something like that). It sounded amazing.

Andi I’ll let you know how it is! It’s a short read so it shouldn’t take too long, once i get around to it.

Isn’t the Bartimaeus Trilogy great? I read it this summer as well. The most obvious way in which it’s superior to HP is the quality of the writing — big words! complex sentence structure! There’s no denying Rowling is a great storyteller, but Stroud is all that and more. Rowling’s characters are pretty 2-dimensional in comparison with Stroud’s character’s motivations and secrets and blends of good and evil. I loved this series.

I somehow think that you would like DWJ’s The Spellcoats (part of the Dalemark Quartet but fine to read along.) My first DWJ books were the Chrestomanci stories and Howl’s Moving Castle. An editor at FSG who had first learned about DWJ from Elizabeth Knox (the New Zealand writer) suggested DWJ for my daughter, and another one suggested those two in particular. Years later, DWJ is still my daughter’s favorite writer.

An absolutely smashing novel published for children that seems to be rarely read is Smith by Leon Garfield. I read it to myself and then afterward aloud to my family.

Isabella I agree unequivocally with everything you said about the trilogy. Coincidentally though, we’ve both had the best intentions toward blogging about the books and then got distracted.

Marly fancy seeing you here, stranger! And with book recommendations. DWJ is very good at making linked books able to stand on their own. I do not know much about this Dalemark so I shall check it out directly. And the Garfield too, thanks.

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