Saturday, June 30, 2007

Reading list for June 2007

Currently reading
Jenny Diski, Monkey's uncle
Nathaniel Hawthorne, The scarlet letter
Matthieu Ricard, Happiness

Recently read
Nicholson Baker, A box of matches
Louis Begley and Anka Muhlstein, Venedig unter vier Augen
Martha Grimes, Die Frau im Pelzmantel
   ditto, The deer leap
José Saramago, The Gospel according to Jesus Christ

Monkey's uncle is a book about the descent into madness, and what being there looks like. Apparently it's a riverbank picnic as painted by Georges Seurat, in the company of Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx and Charles Darwin (who spend most of their time eating and argueing amongst themselves) and a snarky orang-utan named Jenny. Great fun in a harrowing way (if you can imagine such a thing).

I've written about Saramago previously, and would say the book is well written and worth reading, an intriguing tale well told—although his refusal to use conventional punctuation and line spacing does remain deeply annoying. Without wanting to give away too much of the story, it presents an unusual vision of JC and his relationship to God and the Devil (and indeed that of the latter two to each other); Saramago shares Walter Jens' image of Judas Iscariot as the secret hero of the Passion, but for a different reason corresponding to his different vision of Jesus. Very interesting. Thanks to the Lioness for the recommendation, which I wholeheartedly pass on to you, dear Readers.

Louis Begley is an interesting case, a minor figure in American literature but in Europe a bestseller: his novels sell ten copies in German alone for every one sold in the United States*. I wanted to like Venedig unter vier Augen more than I did. It has all the makings of a great book (not a novel: one short story and two long essays) and does contain some marvellous descriptions of Venice, particularly Anka Muhlstein's biographies of the proprietors of their favourite restaurants, but in the end it fell short of greatness. It's hard to say what exactly I found disappointing, unless simply the fact that this most marvellous and enchanting of cities is described in such a flat tone of voice. Still a good read, despite my quibbling.

* Literally: I read some time back that one of his novels had sold 30,000 copies in the US and 320,000 in German translation; can't remember which it was.

Last month's list

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Blogger Joseph K said...

Hawthorne is wonderful, although I prefer House of the Sevengables or some of the short storeis to the one you are reading.

July 1, 2007 at 7:38:00 a.m. GMT+2  

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