June 25, 2012

Why I read the LRB and the NYer

The London Review of Books is published fortnightly, The New Yorker weekly with a few double issues. I subscribe to the printed version of each which gives me electronic access to back issues.

As its title suggest the LRB consists largely of book reviews, though it does include occasional articles on contemporary issues/politics and a nod at a few art exhibitions. The reviews are long and discursive. Reviews of non-fiction books are often written by someone with extensive knowledge of the subject area. Writers of fiction reviews tend to be published writers or university teachers of literature.

So, LRB reviews are not necessarily an easy read, and a few defeat me altogether. Mostly, though, I am interested and stimulated and get an idea from the review about whether or not I want to read the book. I don’t make myself read every review to the end!

This New Yorker cover is by Bob Staake and is called "Spectrum of Light." 
The issue came out just after President Obama announced his support for gay marriage.

The New Yorker is not a literary magazine as such, though it has reviews, long, highly-researched articles about writers (as well as about sportspeople, politicians, dictators and any other category of people you can think of) and a short story in every issue. (And a lot more, I’m focusing here on the booky bits.) Again, I get pointers on what I want and don’t want to read. If I wanted a purely book-related magazine from the US, I’d get The New York Review of Books, but that I read from the Wellington Public Library shelves when I have time to spare in the library.

Both LRB and The New Yorker give me a sense of some slight connection to that big wide world of literature out there, and pander to my book-snobbery—that is, my wanting to know something about what is the “best” published writing, whatever that means. One of my other favourite kinds of reading is writing by writers about writing; not “how to” books so much as books about how they live as writers.

One final point about subscribing to these magazines—the cost per issue is about one fifth of the cost off a magazine stall, even with international postage.

June 18, 2012

Reading to write

The new writing idea I’m developing involves finding out about things I have ideas about but not a lot of information, so I’m reading, both on the internet and in books (oh, hail to the Wellington Public Library!) and writing a little. And there' a lot of thinking going on, and sketching of family trees to keep the generations clear in my head and hence on the page. (Once I inadvertently had a minor character have a baby at age 11, when I didn’t pay enough attention to dates and generations.)

I also plan to get my collection of short pieces, the one I tentatively call Stones Gathered Together, into final shape and published as an ebook. My self-imposed deadline for this is the end of this year, so I must remember to give it attention; the excitement of a new project tends to take over my mind. Here’s a photograph I took that might make it onto the cover. Although design experts say you should not use obvious images on a cover, I do l like this one.

Pleasing news of the week—a story I entered into the New Zealand Flash FIction contest (http://nationalflash.wordpress.com/) has made it to the next round.

My ideas about the new project change as I read, and I’ve never been keen on talking about the content of work in progress, so there’s not going to be a lot of plot revealed in these notes.

June 11, 2012

Books Books Books, or, What I’ve Been reading

I missed the brilliance so many others have found in Emily Perkins’ The Forrest, as did the five other members of my book group. None of the characters engaged me, not even Dorothy, who loves Daniel all of her life in a way he will never love her, which should have been moving, but I was irritated. At the beginning I enjoyed the detail involving the characters’ senses of things in the physical world, but, while each separate piece was excellent, the cumulative effect was—that word again—irritating. By page 64 I wanted to scream at this:

"He dug a ready-rolled cigarette from the pocket of his jacket. Tiny brown curls of tobacco dangled from the end of the cigarette paper and when touched by the flame from his match they illuminated bright orange and disappeared."

It’s good description, but there have been so many good description of small details by page 64 that the characters are buried under the sensations, the detail, and I’ve had enough. Clearly many others hadn’t, because there have been rave revues from all over the world. (The last time I remember being so badly out of step over a book was when Sandra Coney and I seemed to be the only people who hated Lynley Hood’s biography of Sylvia Ashton Warner.) On page 201 Dorothy throws away a pen without bothering to put its two pieces together, because, “there was nothing left to protect.” That bald statement had a strong emotional impact. I guess that was what I wanted more of, but then, Emily Perkins was writing her book.

Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 is actually three books, published in English as one large volume, so I took a break between them and read the whole thing over several weeks. It certainly works as a story and I had a good time reading it. After I finished I wondered whether I had forgotten some details from the early book because some of the things about time shifts and odd creatures and their purpose seemed unexplained. Yet they are probably unexplainable. An over-riding theme about the need for balance between good and evil is played out kind of weirdly, but it was fun to read.

The second of Alison Bechdel’s comic-form memoirs about her parents is called Are You My Mother. Full marks for courage, publishing this while her mother is still alive—with her mother’s acceptance, if not full-scale approval. It gets a little bogged down in the psychology of WInnicott and the author’s therapy, but the portrait of her mother that comes out of it all is satisfyingly complex and interesting.

I’m in the middle of a re-read of Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose and in total admiration of his erudition and ability to handle so many big themes in one book—faith, politics, pride, greed, power, love—along with a murder inquiry.  I’m going  to have another read of  his earlier novel Foucault’s Pendulum and then take on his latest, The Prague Cemetery, which is on my to-be-read pile.

I’m going to aim at more frequent—weekly—entries and alternate reading and writing as topics in separate entries. Maybe I can maintain a schedule.