the 1976 club and R.I.P. XVI: Interview With The Vampire by Anne Rice

The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel

If I liked Interview With The Vampire at all, it is only for the way that it emphasized all that I believe to be true.

Not vampires, of course. I don’t believe vampires to be true. And, the more I heard Louis tell his story in an interview conducted by a boy with a reel-to-reel tape recorder (this was published in 1976, remember?), the more I saw his distress as that which would belong to anyone who doesn’t believe in God.

When Louis is not convinced by his brother’s visions that they must sell the family plantation “to do God’s work in France,” his brother falls from the head of the brick stairs and breaks his neck. Louis is overcome with guilt and turns to drink…and then one night he is attacked by the vampire, Lestat.

After becoming a vampire himself, Louis and Lestat stage a fire and flee, embarking on a life which involves sleeping in coffins, drinking blood from living creatures or humans, and as far as I can see, general discontent.

Louis is never happy being a vampire. He sees a young girl crying over her dead mother in a poverty-stricken area of New Orleans, and takes her to be his own child. He turns her into a vampire, for which she can never forgive him, and they have this bizarre parent-child, love relationship. Claudia can never grow to be a woman in bodily form, nor can she outgrow her resentment to Louis although it seems that at some level she does love him.

They leave their town house in New Orleans, and Lestat, for Paris. Eventually they meet Armand, a vampire who invites them to the Theatre, and there they witness a most erotic play in which a woman is taken by a vampire to the thrill of all the vampires in the audience.

Through the course of the interview, as Louis is disclosing the details of his story, I was struck by passages which I recorded in my reading journal. These, I think, are the essence of what matters in this novel. For if anything can be considered horrific in Louis’ life, it is the despair he feels at all he has seen and done, the despair at who he has become.

Favorite quotes:

I sold my soul for a many-colored and luminescent thing, thinking that a highly reflective surface conveyed the power to walk on water.

~Louis (page 276)

and…

“I wanted love and goodness in this which is living death,” I said. “It was impossible from the beginning, because you cannot have love and goodness when you do what you know to be evil, what you know to be wrong.”

~Louis (page 336)

and…

“Whether a man would have died tomorrow or the day after or eventually…it doesn’t matter. Because if God does not exist, this life…every second of it…is all we have.”

~Louis (page 237)

It brought to my mind this verse from the New Testament:

If our hope in Christ is for this life alone, we are to be pitied more than all men.

1 Corinthians 15:19

Mailbox Monday

These are the books which came into my mailbox last week:

Translated from the Arabic by Leri Price

Planet of Clay by Samar Yazbek came to me from World Editions. It is longlisted for the 2022 National Book Award for Translated Literature.

An ode to fantasy and beauty in the midst of war-torn Damascus

Rima, a young girl from Damascus, longs to walk, to be free to follow the will of her feet, but instead is perpetually constrained. She finds refuge in a fantasy world full of colored crayons, secret planets, and The Little Prince, reciting passages of the Qur’an like a mantra as everything and everyone around her is blown to bits. Since Rima hardly ever speaks, people think she’s crazy, but she is no fool—the madness is in the battered city around her. One day while taking a bus through Damascus, a soldier opens fire and her mother is killed. Rima, wounded, is taken to a military hospital before her brother leads her to the besieged area of Ghouta—where, between bombings, she writes her story. In Planet of Clay, Samar Yazbek offers a surreal depiction of the horrors taking place in Syria, in vivid and poetic language and with a sharp eye for detail and beauty.

Planet of Clay will be published October 5, 2021.)

Translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett

My Annihilation is the latest thriller from Fuminori Nakamura, who is a Japanese literary sensation.

What transforms a person into a killer? Can it be something as small as a suggestion?

Turn this page, and you may forfeit your entire life.

With My Annihilation, Fuminori Nakamura, master of literary noir, has constructed a puzzle box of a narrative in the form of a confessional diary that implicates its reader in a heinous crime. 

Delving relentlessly into the darkest corners of human consciousness, My Annihilation reveals with disturbing honesty the psychological motives of a killer. While all humans have unspeakable thoughts, only monsters act on them.

(My Annihilation will be published on January 11, 2022.)

Translated from the French by Adriana Hunter

Whenever a new book is published by Peirene Press, I am quite eager to get my hands on it. Their books have often been included with the contenders for the International Booker Award, and they have never disappointed me. Winter Flowers by Angelique Villeneuve is Peirene Title No. 36, about how “one small family must learn to live together again.” ~Claire Fuller

It’s October 1918 and the war is drawing to a close.

Toussaint Caillet returns home to his wife, Jeanne, and the young daughter he hasn’t seen growing up. He is not coming back from the front line but from the department for facial injuries at Val-de-Grâce military hospital, where he has spent the last two years.

For Jeanne, who has struggled to endure his absence and the hardships of wartime, her husband’s return marks the beginning of a new battle. With the promise of peace now in sight, the family must try to stitch together a new life from the tatters of what they had before.

(Winter Flowers is available for preorder, and will be published October 7, 2021.)

You can find more books which have lately entered readers’ homes at Mailbox Monday, here.

Sunday Salon…It’s October!

Sculpture by Yayoi Kusama installed on the pier of Naoshima Island

Last year I was so eager for autumn that I put up the few decorations I like at the end of August. It was a little lot too soon. By the time Halloween rolled around, I was thoroughly tired of the glass pumpkins we bought at the Morton Arboretum, the dried chestnuts we found at the dog park, and even the candy we’d purchased in preparation for Trick-or-treaters.

But, this year I waited until yesterday. Now I am sitting with gold velvet pillows, and a few small, paper bats from my classroom days, and pine cones from our front yard; it all feels very autumnal. These days hold great joy for me, largely in anticipation of cooler temperatures!

I have such exciting reads awaiting me. For both the R.I.P. XVI (@PerilReaders) and the 1976 club, I am planning to read Interview With the Vampire. Published May 5, 1976, when I was a mere sophomore in high school, this famous book is yet unread by me.

And, looking on to November I find myself greatly anticipating German Lit Month XI. There will be a read-along of The Passenger, which is an incredible read; I will be looking forward to that discussion. But, in perusing the selection of German literature from various prize lists, I came across In Times of Fading Light by Eugen Ruge (translated from the German by Anthea Bell).

An inter-generational family saga mirroring the rise and fall of the GDR, Eugen Ruge’s autobiographical debut novel tells of an imagined East German utopia and the ultimate failure of communism.

~Deutsche Welle

I am always so interested in Germany, ever since living there for several years while the wall was still up. Our landlord’s father was from East Germany; while he was visiting friends in West Germany the wall was erected. He never saw his family again. The buildings in our little town were riddled with bullet holes from WWII, and there seemed to be no men my father’s age. It was the closest I’ve ever come to experiencing war on a personal level.

Perhaps the stories from those who survived a communist or socialist government are suitable for the R.I.P. Challenge as well.

And you? Will you be reading for any of these challenges this October or November?

(Find more thoughts for the Sunday Salon here.)

Happy International Translation Day!

Today, September 30, marks a special day in my reading life. Before I began blogging, I was only aware of the most obvious books in translation, book such as: Anne Frank, The Diary of A Young Girl; Pippi Longstocking; Anna Karenina; Madame Bovary. I was largely unaware that an enormously broad world was waiting for me to discover, thanks to the work of skilled translators.

It is because of them that we are introduced to attitudes, cultures, and ideas far beyond our own. How greatly the world is enriched because we have access to writers through the skills of their translators. 

I am so grateful for their talent, their ability to bring such meaningful fiction to my life. Thank you, translators, for your gifts.

Pictured above, from the bottom up, a few of my newest additions:

The Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki T’sujimura (translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel)

Waiting for the Waters To Rise by Maryse Conde (translated from the French by Richard Philcox) longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for Translated Literature

Planet of Clay by Samar Yazbek (translated from the Arabic by Leri Price) longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for Translated Literature

The Movement by Petra Hulova (translated from the Czech by Alex Zucker)

Winter Flowers by Angelique Villanueve (translated from the French by Adriana Hunter)

The Other Name: Septology I-II by Jon Fosse (translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls)

I Is Another: Septology III-V by Jon Fosse (translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls)

A New Name: Septology VI-VIII  by Jon Fosse (translated from the Norwegian by Damion Searls)

Spotlight on The Duchess by Wendy Holden

As I read The Duchess, a novel about Wallis Simpson, I could not keep from discussing it with my mother on our weekly walks. Perhaps the author, Wendy Holden, did not mean to draw comparisons to Meghan Markle, and yet the more we talked about the novel, the more similar the two women seem to be.

Consider the photos below. Both women are dressed in light clothing, with their husbands practically cowering behind them. It makes one wonder what kind of power they wield.

Meghan Markle and Harry

Wallis Simpson did not come from a stable background. Her mother fought for their survival the best she could, but that did little to assuage the better life that Wallis yearned for.

First, she married a man from the Navy, who belittled and abused her. Then, she married a man who seemed content with a simple life while she hungered for a better apartment, a better place among the social elite. After much effort, Wallis gains an introduction to those who know Prince Edward. Subsequently, she is invited for a weekend at David’s (Prince Edward) castle, and there begins the hold that she establishes over him.

Wendy Holden gives us the impression of an athletic, almost casual man in the characterization of Prince Edward. His older brother, George, drinks; his younger brother, Bertie, stutters. But, Edward cuts the bracken and bramble from his property, and seems most content to live in the background. One wonders if he ever wanted to be king, or even felt he could with his father’s harsh derision.

For those who wish to know more about history, or are simply interested in an historical love affair with echoes reaching into today, The Duchess is a fascinating read. It is published today, September 28, 2021, by Penguin Random House.

(Listen to a sample here.)

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?

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)