Sunday Salon

“All at once, summer collapsed into fall.” ~ Oscar Wilde

We have been glued to the television for the past two nights, watching and rewatching the footage from 9-11. Somehow, I can never tear myself away. How clearly I remember my husband calling me from Zurich, as I stopped at the end of our driveway with the brick of a Nokia in my hand. “They think someone has attacked the Trade Center in New York,” he said, as this was well before it was clear that we were, indeed, attacked. All day long, the teachers stuck their heads in the lounge to catch a glimpse of the news; no one had smartphones then, or laptops, or computers on our desks. It was probably a good thing because we were better able to keep the children calm throughout the day.

Now twenty years later, I am watching the adults who were children when one or more of their parents were taken from them. I am listening to the people whose partner was taken from them that day. So much was taken from us; my husband’s department with Zurich Insurance was closed down six months later, due to all the claims, but the loss of a job is nothing compared to the loss of a life.

I enjoyed finding new pumpkins in the garden yesterday, as they showed me how life carries on. Some rogue creature must have planted the seeds from last year’s autumnal display. Unbeknownst to us, they are growing of their own accord. And thankfully, Illinois has a respite from the dreadful humidity. I can’t tell you how miserable it’s been to be so hot for so long…at least for me.

This week is the beginning of Bible Study Fellowship, where I will lead a group of women as we study the book of Matthew. How wonderful it is to be teaching again, although this time I will be with adults, and it will be more of a facilitating job than a teaching job. The theme is Unexpected, and I love that, for so much that comes to us is, after all, unexpected.

I have finished Pushkin Vertigo’s The Second Woman by Louise Mey for their first ever digital readalong beginning on the 20th, and I have picked up Hour of The Witch by Chris Bohjalian for the R.I.P. XVI. It’s so interesting to me that both of these novels center around women who are “misunderstood” (abused) by their husbands. Although one is a thriller, and the other is historical fiction, they are both quite excellent.

Finally, I am greatly anticipating the announcement of the Booker Prize longlist for 2021. From my Booker Prize email: ”This coming Tuesday, our fabulous Booker dozen of thirteen longlisted novels is being reduced to a shortlist of six. At 4pm BST on Tuesday September 14, you can watch the 2021 shortlist announcement live on our Facebook page and YouTube channel.” I have not had a chance to read all thirteen books of the longlist, but I do hope The China Room by Sunjeev Sahota is included in the shortlist.

I wish a most happy Sunday to all of you, and a joyful week ahead.

R.I.P. XVI and a list of eight books from New Directions

Halloween candy is in the grocery stores, Pumpkin Spice scents are everywhere, and I saw the announcement for the R.I.P. XVI yesterday. While it may be a little early for autumnal things now, it is always fun to anticipate cooler weather and an eerie atmosphere to be lightened with candlelight and hot beverages.

I saw this list of “spooky reads” put out by New Directions publishing last year, and saved it for this one. So, here they are, a few books I’d like to dip into between September 1 and October 31:

The She-Devil in the Mirror by Horacio Castellanos Moya

Love Hotel by Jane Unrue

Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway

The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark

Dinner by César Aira

The Hall of the Singing Caryatids by Victor Pelevin

Professor Andersen’s Night by Dag Solstad

Mazurka for Two Dead Men by Camilo José Acela

Have you read any of them? Any particular recommendations?

Second Place by Rachel Cusk (Booker Prize 2021 longlist), and a few thoughts on others I’ve read…

I am slowly making my way through as many of the books long-listed for the Booker Prize as our library has. I read most of The Promise by Damon Galgut before abandoning it for Perpetual Light by Francis Spufford. Now I am finishing second place by Rachel Cusk.

It is disarming to read so many sentences which end with an exclamation mark! I’m absorbing a fresh idea, or pausing to write a quote in my commonplace book, and wham! An unexpected quotation mark jerks me out of my reverie!

Of all the pages in this book, I found my favorite quote early on:

Why do we live so painfully in our fictions? Why do we suffer so, from the things we ourselves have invented?

(p. 8)

If you look closely at the cover of second place, you can see it is a painting of a naked woman in a marsh. A woman who looks most distressed, covering her face with her hands, crying. This, supposedly, represents the narrator; a woman whom I perceived as greatly troubled. She searches for identity, her place as a wife, mother, desired woman. (Yawn.) Throughout the novel she addresses a person named Jeffers, whom I can only assume is a counselor of some sort.

I could not bring myself to care about her, or the foolish life she leads, inviting an artist to the marsh where she and her second husband, daughter and daughter’s boyfriend, live. The novel is very atmospheric, to be sure, but it had nothing profound (or new) to say to me. I didn’t like it very much.

The Booker long list of 2021 is not going very well for me. I was bored by The Promise, with its story of siblings in South Africa. Light Perpetual held gorgeous writing, as it imagined children who had been struck by a bomb in WWII actually living; the only “problem” was their lives were so ordinary one wonders if it made any difference that they lived. second place is my least favorite of the three. I have now begun China Room, and that is quite promising in its revelation of life in India. More news on that when I finish.

Are you reading the Booker long list this year?

The Cipher by Isabella Maldonado (Wow!)

Throughout her childhood no one had fought for her. When a broken system utterly failed her, she had decided to fight for herself. As an adult, she now fought for others. She had learned to trust only herself. Time to try something different.

(p. 275)

It was when I saw praise for Isabella Maldanado’s latest book, A Different Dawn, that I decided I’d better read The Cipher first. The two books center around Nina Guerrero, who changed her name from Esperanza (Hope) to Warrior Girl. They form the series of FBI Special Agent Nina Guerrero, and what a warrior she is.

Once called a throwaway girl, she was tossed from foster home to foster home, until she ran away after being brutally by a man who becomes known as The Cipher. He is a highly intelligent, enormously strong sociopath, with an obsession for Nina who is the girl who got away when she was sixteen years old.

We follow his clues, his disguises, and the inner workings of the FBI as they track him down. We see Nina conquer physical and emotional obstacles in valiant ways. The Cipher is a riveting book, which although disturbing, ultimately shows us the power of courage and the strength of trustworthy relationships. I loved it.

Preparing to read these two books for WIT Month this August


The Easy Life in Kamusari is by Shion Miura, whom you may remember from her earlier work, The Great Passage. (I loved Andrew Blackman’s review of it here.)

Amazon Crossing, which publishes translated literature from around the world, describes The Easy Life in Kamusari this way:

From Shion Miura, the award-winning author of The Great Passage, comes a rapturous novel where the contemporary and the traditional meet amid the splendor of Japan’s mountain way of life.

In this warm and lively coming-of-age story, Miura transports us from the trappings of city life to the trials, mysteries, and delights of a mythical mountain forest.

(back cover)

Japan…mountains…mythical forests. I can’t wait to begin this book which will be on sale November, 2021.

I’m also eager to begin Waiting for the Waters to Rise by Maryse Conde, translated from the French by Richard Philcox. It was sent to me by World Editions, who describes it as thus:

A mesmerizing novel from the winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize in Literature.

Babakar is a doctor living alone, with only the memories of his childhood in Mali. In his dreams, he receives visits from his blue-eyed mother and his ex-lover Azelia, both now gone, as are the hopes and aspirations he’s carried with him since his arrival in Guadeloupe. Until, one day, the child Anaïs comes into his life, forcing him to abandon his solitude. Anaïs’s Haitian mother died in childbirth, leaving her daughter destitute—now Babakar is all she has, and he wants to offer this little girl a future. Together they fly to Haiti, a beautiful, mysterious island plagued by violence, government corruption, and rebellion. Once there, Babakar and his two friends, the Haitian Movar and the Palestinian Fouad, three different identities looking for a more compassionate world, begin a desperate search for Anaïs’s family.

(back cover)

It would hardly feel like August, now that I am no longer preparing my classroom, if it wasn’t for Women in Translation Month. How I love these blogging traditions which enrich my world view so much. Do you have anything planned for WIT Month?

Sleep of Memory by Patrick Modiano (translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti)

I’m trying to impose some order on my memories. Every one of them is a piece of the puzzle, but many are missing, and most of them remain isolated. Sometimes I manage to connect three or four, but no more than that. So I jot down bits and pieces that come back to me in no particular order, lists of names or brief phrases. I hope that these names, like magnets, will draw others to the surface, and that those bits of sentences might end of forming paragraphs and chapters that link together.

(p. 63)

It’s funny that although Sleep of Memory was published in English in 2018, I am the first to read this particular copy. The pages are crisp, and the binding cracks slightly when I turn them. Does no one in our city read Patrick Modiano?

I had not read his work myself, until this year with Tamara’s Paris in July. Family Record was the first book by Modiano that I picked up, and I became entranced by the dream-like state he induced. That, and some of his sentences which apply to my own heart:

It was the first time I’d given such spontaneous answers to questions about my life. Until then, I had always avoided them, as I felt a natural distrust toward any form of interrogation.

(p. 29)

If we could relive something we’d already experienced, in the same time, the same place, and the same circumstances, but live it much better than the first time, without the mistakes, hitches and idle moments, it would be like making a clean copy of a heavily revised manuscript…

(p. 60)

Ah, regret. Do-overs. That is a fruitless path of thought. Nevertheless, I go down it more times than I would willingly choose, especially as I get older. Perhaps it is a good thing that our “memories sleep,” which is one way that I understand this novel to be about.

In our memories blend images of roads that we have taken, and we can’t recall what regions they cross.

(Last sentence of the book)

Falling by T. J. Newman

“You’re a smart man, Captain Hoffman. Or, can I call you Bill?”

Bill stared at the screen…

“”You see, Bill, you probably already get the obvious. Here’s the rest. You will crash your plane or I will kill your family.”

(p. 29)

I was sent Falling from NetGalley, but I far prefer to read from real paper rather than digital text. So, I grabbed it from the library when I saw it on the Popular Picks shelf last week. This novel is a “guilty pleasure,” which I am reading not necessarily for the content as much as the thrill.

I think it would have become tiresome if it hadn’t been written with such authority. Clearly, the author knows exactly of what she speaks, and that makes this novel work. Her experience, of being a flight attendant for ten years, reveals aspects of the airline business which I have never known, despite flying even international flights many times.

We are given one terrifying scene after another, alternating between the pilot’s family held hostage in their home, and the 144 passengers onboard the aircraft in his charge. We have the angle of the flight attendants and the FBI as well, giving a train wreck from which I could not pull myself away.

It’s such a relief not to be reading a somewhat typical thriller about The Girl/Woman In/Under/By The Fill-in-the-blank. I really enjoyed the pure entertainment of this book.

Sunday Salon: What July Was; What August Will Bring

So many lovely things happened in July. First, there was the discussion of The Brothers Karamazov which I read with Arti of Ripple Effects.

Then, there was Tamara’s Paris in July 2021, during which I read Patrick Modiano for the first time. I also read Antoine Laurain for the first time, and I bought a new perfume created by the house of Molinard. Habanita made its debut in 1921, and it smells divine.

There was Stu’s Spanish Lit Month, for which I read The Foreign Girls by Sergio Olguin, sent to me by Bitter Lemon Press. I am hoping to get to Jose Saramago’s book, Cain, by the end of August.

I have read a bit more than half of my list for Cathy’s 20 Books of Summer, which has changed many times since I originally created it. One of those reasons is that the Booker Prize Longlist was released July 27.

This year’s ‘Booker Dozen’, of 13 novels, is:

Of course, I searched our library for any titles which they might own, and put the ones I found on hold. Quite possibly I will review them, briefly, once they are read.

On August 10 this domain (dolcebellezza.net) will expire, and I am hoping to continue on WordPress’ free site with dolcebellezza2.wordpress.com. Of course, if I open up my blog on August 11 and find nothing, I may have to start over. At any rate, you may begin using dolcebellezza2.wordpress.com right now if you wish; it takes you here anyway.

I have a terrible thirst to reread old favorites. One of my dear friends once asked me, “Why would you spend time rereading when there are so many books yet unread?” But, the thing is, I have so many favorite books that I love so much and I miss them. I also have all five of The Cazalet Chronicles, which are certainly calling from the shelf on which they currently sit.

And so, I begin August with a post for The Sunday Salon hosted by Readerbuzz, joining many others who highlight their reading lives for us. August appears to hold many promises as we enjoy the final days of Summer.

The Red Notebook, or Le Cahier Rouge, by Antoine Laurain (for Paris in July 2021)

When Laurent finds a mauve handbag lying on top of a garbage bin, he takes it to the police who tell him they are too busy to help him now; he may come back tomorrow when their office is open from nine-thirty to one o’clock, and from 2 o’clock until seven. So, he takes the bag to his apartment and opens it.

He is greeted with the scent of leather and a woman’s perfume, and immediately I am intrigued. While the French women may not always apply lipstick, they do apply perfume. One of the things that I dislike very much is when an author mentions the word “perfume” without telling us what it is; I was so ecstatic when Laurain tells us it is Habanita by Molinard that I paused my reading to buy a bottle.

My joy continued as I read of each item extracted from this handbag: a black glass bottle of Habanita, a golden fob with hieroglyphics inscribed on it, a little diary/calendar, a fawn and violet leather bag containing make-up and accessories, a gold lighter and a Montblanc ballpoint, along with a red Moleskine notebook. There was also a book, Accident Nocturne, by Patrick Modiano “a novelist whose favorite themes were mystery, memory and the search for identity.” Fortuitously, he had inscribed the book ‘For Laure, in memory of meeting in the rain. Patrick Modiano.’ Now Laurent has a name to help him identify the bag’s owner.

The woman who owned this designer bag was struck on the head when it was stolen from her, and she now lies in a coma at the hospital. We follow Laurent, as he searches for her, and I am utterly charmed at his efforts. He waits for Patrick Modiano in the Luxembourg Gardens to see if he can find more information about the woman whose novel Patrick had autographed. He finds her apartment, and cares for her cat, while she is not even there.

Parts of this novel could be seen as far-fetched, perhaps, but it is an enjoyable read to say the least, and carries me to the heart of Paris which is exactly what I wanted it to do this July.

I read this novel, and Patrick Modiano’s Family Record, for Tamara’s Paris in July 2021.

Transition

As I let the domain I purchased in 2014 expire, I’ve been weighing my options.

I spent most of the afternoon rereading the eight years of posts I wrote when my blog was hosted by Blogger (2006-2014). They were glorious years. I was filled with the joy of having a voice, of beginning a blog, and sharing my love of reading. I was teaching full time, my son lived at home, and so interspersed with bookish posts were many posts of a personal nature.

Then, when I went to WordPress, it seemed I fell into a crowd of exceptionally erudite bloggers. They broadened my venture into translated literature, and participating in the Shadow Jury for the International Booker Prize has been a highlight of my reading year for the past seven years.

But, somehow I ceased writing about personal things. I didn’t tell anecdotes or record many observations. I have had no witty story from my classroom in the three years since I retired. It’s no wonder my blog has become tiresome to me. It would be easy to say, “It’s because I’ve been blogging for fifteen years,” when actually, I think the truth is closer to, “I’ve been writing about mostly books for the past seven years.”

So, I’m not sure where I am as my blog loses its domain and transitions to the free site (dolcebellezza2.wordpress.com). Parts of me want to read freely, without composing a review as I go. Other parts of me are reluctant to lose the stories we’ve shared about our lives, or the casual discussions about the books we’re reading and the things we’re doing.

I know one thing: I am not brilliant enough to offer only book reviews. We have professional sources for that. All I can offer is my opinion on what I’ve read and a more frequent glimpse into the life I lead. I think I would like to share that with you, and visit you more to see what it is that you’ve been up to…