Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sunday Salon: Slow Reading

I'm reading Orhan Pamuk's Snow, and it's incredibly dense, like one of those "death by chocolate" desserts. I've read one other book by Pamuk, My Name is Red, and I remember that it seemed to take forever for me to finish, though I loved the book. Pamuk's writing is both poetic and satirical, and the writer he most reminds me of is Franz Kafka, for some reason.

I've reached the halfway point in Snow, which is set in the provincial Turkish city of Kars. Ka, a poet who has spent a dozen years in exile in Germany, visits his homeland on the occasion of his mother's death and funeral in Istanbul. But Ka's family is barely mentioned; instead, the narrative focuses on Ka's attempts to document both an election in Kars, and a rash of suicides by young women--the "head scarf girls."

Ka has also come to Kars to pursue a romantic relationship with Ipek, a beautiful friend from his youth who has separated from her husband.

While in Kars, Ka, who has been blocked, suddenly experiences an outflow of poetic inspiration. This happens in the midst of religious and political chaos, leading to an actual revolution and violence. Meanwhile, it snows, and snows, and snows.

What seems at first to be a simple narrative becomes a layered critique of religious excess, political excess, philosophical excess. And it all reaches a kind of hysterical dramatic excess when a stage performance culminates in violence.

I'm so immersed in Snow that I haven't really processed everything that is happening in this densely beautiful book. This is the kind of reading I don't have time for when I'm teaching--I just don't have the mental space to keep the narrative thread going in a book like Snow. Not that I wouldn't try! But I love that I have the luxury of reading slowly and thinking deeply right now.

My summer reading list is constantly growing and morphing. The most random comment read on twitter will send me off on a tangent, but I am trying to focus on longer books, classic books, and book that require attention.

When I finish Snow I might pick up Samantha Hunt's Mr. Splitfoot, which sounds incredible.

I really need to get my blog-reading groove back! Give me some recommendations of awesome book blogs, because school ate my life this year and I'm completely out of the loop now. And tell me about great books you've read slowly and savored.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Summer Reading

Summertime, and the reading is easy.

It's summer, and I'm reading. A lot. Maybe more than is normal or healthy. But I just can't stop.

I finished out the school year with Arcadia by Iain Pears. As I said in an earlier post, it wasn't a perfect book, but it was the perfect book for me at that time. In fact, I will probably read it again, just to try to figure out what I liked so much in a book that got very mixed reviews. It reminded me a little bit of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, and a little bit of David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks.

There was a week or more when I just didn't have time for reading (ugh, I can't even believe I typed that). That last week of grading and wrapping up the school year, and then a few days of curriculum mapping. I didn't read much, but I made a lot of lists of books that I planned to read.

Then, summer break. Oh, summer break, I love you.

One of the deepest, most profoundly delicious reading experiences of my life: day after day, sprawled on the bed in the guest bedroom, I reread Marcel Proust's Swann's Way (the Lydia Davis translation). The first time I read Swann's Way I was in my twenties. Now, after having experienced marriage, divorce, remarriage, and years of living and losing and loving, this book was so much more profoundly beautiful to me. This book deserves a full review--later.

Then I read a short novel by Lynne Hugo, Remember My Beauties. This was for a TLC Book Tour, and my review will appear in July.

I followed up that book with Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, which I've been meaning to read for years. Housekeeping is a beautiful, stark, lyrical novel, profoundly moving and strange. Now I can't wait to read Robinson's Gilead.

Now I'm a little more than one hundred pages into Snow by Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk. This is another book I've been meaning to read for a long time. The novel's protagonist is a middle-aged Turkish poet returning to his country after years of exile; he visits a small city to report on an election, but even more importantly, to investigate a rash of suicides of young girls. So far I'm finding Snow strange, immersive, and dreamlike.

So: summer reading is going pretty nicely.

I'd love to know what other people are reading this summer. Let me know what you've been reading, or what you recommend!

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sunday Salon June 18th

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Nonviolence is the the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to oppression and violence. Man must evolve for all human conflict a method that rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sunday Salon: The Comfort of a Long, Complex Book

Dear Reader,

It is the end of a long school year, a year full of changes and challenges. And more than ever I appreciate the special solace of a long and complex book.

I've been reading classics and complex books as an escape--it sounds counter-intuitive, but it works for me.

I finished reading Jane Eyre (I wish I could remember if it was my third or my fourth time around) last week. Charlotte Bronte was a genius. I just adore this book, more than ever. This book will definitely get its own post, but suffice it to say that I am completely enamored of Charlotte Bronte's brain, and her brilliant heroine.

Bronte's story pulled me in at a time when I was struggling every day on the job. Teaching is mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically demanding, and I was exhausted. Reading Jane Eyre filled my spirit and gave me strength in a way that a shorter, less complex and demanding book just couldn't. Something different happens in my brain when I am reading a classic book, one that is demanding, complex, and works on many levels.

Then I picked up Arcadia by Iain Pears on a whim. It had just arrived in our school library, and even though the last thing I have time for is a 509 page book, I found myself totally immersed and loving it. There were a couple of times when my attention flagged, but I stuck with this behemoth, and I'm glad I did. Replete with literary references for the English major/teacher nerd, Arcadia tells several stories at once, and at times the reader is unsure which, if any, or the narratives are "real." This book will definitely not be for everyone, but I found it rewarding. Last semester my creative writing students and I read Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder," a short story about time travel. This led us all down the rabbit hole of the physics of time travel. Would traveling back in time allow someone to change the course of history? Or are there endless possible parallel universes? That little research project came in handy as I read Arcadia, which features a psycho-mathematician, Angela Meerson, who has invented a Narnia-like time/world travel machine which she stores in the basement of an Oxford don. A teenage girl named Rosie ends up stepping through the curtain of Angela's machine and entering a world created by the don, Henry Lytton, who has been plotting a novel in his spare time. This world, Anterwold, is peopled by Lytton's characters. There's also a dystopian world that Angela has escaped from, where a few powerful men control the lives of the vast majority of humans.

Arcadia is not a perfect book, but it was the perfect book for me this week. It distracted me from my crazy week at school, and I'm still thinking about it. I scanned some of the reviews in major papers, and they were a little "meh." But I think for the right reader it is engaging and thoughtful.

As the school year comes to an end I am already looking forward to next year. I'm building my summer reading list based on the classes I'm teaching next year, and giving myself a heavy dose of the classics right at the start. What's next:

Swan's Way by Marcel Proust (a new translation by Lydia Davis)
The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I'm sure I'll read some shorter works in between, but right now long, complex, demanding books are hitting the sweet spot.

What do you look forward to reading as summer approaches?

Anyone else like those long and complex books? What are your personal favorites?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Review: Father's Day

Father's Day
Simon Van Booy
hardcover, 304 pages
A review copy of this book was provided through TLC Book Tours

     Father's Day, Simon Booy's newest novel, tells a deceptively quiet story of the love between a father and daughter. The reader will want to go back to the beginning of the book, and reread the first few chapters (I did) to fully appreciate the simple yet profound beauty of this book.

     Van Booy is an artist of the swift glance into a human heart. His style is unadorned yet lyrical, and the writer's focus on his subject is almost hypnotically intense. In Father's Day, Harvey, a young girl (my Spidey sense tells me this character name comes from the Jimmy Stewart movie about a six-foot-tall invisible rabbit) lives with her loving parents, and a doll named Duncan. She doesn't know it, but she is creating memories out of simple experiences like dropping a mug of hot chocolate in the snow, or pressing her hand into the earth while gardening with her mother.

     When Harvey is six, her parents die in a car crash. A social worker, Wanda, brings Harvey and her uncle, Jason, together; Harvey and Jason have never met. Harvey has heard of Jason through her father, but the two brothers were estranged. Despite Jason's past as a convicted felon, his physical disability (he has a prosthetic leg), and a long list of traits that make him an unlikely father figure, Wanda gently urges the orphan and the felon to adopt one another--which they do.

     The narrative shifts back and forth between past and present (or I should say pasts, because both Harvey and Jason have more than one past). The present-day Harvey, an artist/illustrator living in Paris, plans a special visit for Jason, whose trip coincides with Father's Day. She gives Jason a series of gifts, each of which evokes a particular memory, all of which lead to the revelation of a long-held secret.

     The flashbacks into the past show Jason's struggle to become a person who doesn't explode in anger, who knows about things like dentist visits and Polly Pockets--not the angry, lonely man who once got into bar fights and worse.

     Van Booy casts his characters in a cool but compassionate light. Jason is never a perfect father; at times he he much less than perfect. But together he and Harvey create a life, and he succeeds in his ultimate aim--to teach Harvey to be a good person.

     Father's Day is a book about darkness, terrible mistakes, and the ultimate redemption, the saving grace of love. It's a beautiful book that surprises the reader in the end, in ways that are best left unexplained.

     In one scene near the end of the book, Harvey and Jason visit the Louvre. This painting by Sir Henry Raeburn is mentioned:

     I love the open, direct expression on the little girl's face. It is a simple, beautiful painting. Father's Day is beautiful in just the same way. 

     Readers of Simon Van Booy's other novels and stories ( Tales of Accidental Genius, The Illusion of Separateness, Love Begins in Winter, and others) will naturally want to read Father's Day. Readers who love stories about humans will want to read this and other works by the author. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: Nonfiction Picks

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is the best nonfiction for every X to read. This is where my lack of breadth might just come out to embarrass me, but let's see....

1. For every aspiring writer: Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Goldberg's book, which combines writing prompts and thoughts on writing practice with meditations on Zen Buddhism, first came out in 1986. Shambhala Library has published a beautiful, nearly pocket-sized new hardcover edition.
2. For anyone who wants to remember to value the present moment: Everyday Matters: A Memoir by Danny Gregory. Even if you don't consider yourself an artist, Danny Gregory convinces the reader that one of the best ways to slow down and savor the daily experience is to really pay attention--by drawing. Written in the form of a visual diary/graphic memoir, Everyday Matters is unexpectedly moving and inspiring.
3. For thinkers, philosophers, nature-lovers, and minimalists: Walden and Other Writings by Henry David Thoreau. Most of us couldn't live the way Thoreau suggests--even he couldn't do it all the time. But this classic book will make you think about how you live and why.
4. And more of the above: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer tells the story of what happened to Chris McCandless when he tried to live as Thoreau did, but with disastrous results. Absolutely riveting.
5. For a little history and a little murder: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. The story of the Chicago World's Fair and a serial murderer.
6. Still the best book on Columbine: Columbine by Dave Cullen. The place to start if you want to understand what happened.
7. If you can't get enough of The Great Gatsby: So We Read On: How the Great Gatsby Came to Be and How It Endures by Maureen Corrigan.
8. For those who are obsessed with Our Author (Anthony Trollope): Oxford Reader's Companion to Trollope edited by R.C. Terry. I got my edition from a used bookseller. I love it, and it is an indispensable part of my library. I consult it every time I read Trollope, or when I am reading about him.
9. Introverts and seekers of solitude. Most readers probably know about Susan Cain's Quiet, but you might not be familiar with May Sarton and Journal of a Solitude. The diary of a highly creative woman (novelist, poet, and nonfiction writer), Journal of a Solitude is a beautiful meditation on the necessity of solitude for the artist.
10. For the aspiring poet, seeker, or for anyone who questions how to move forward in life: Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke.

Do you have nonfiction recommendations for a certain kind of reader or a certain situation? Share in the comments section--I'd love to know what you're thinking....

Monday, April 11, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? Spring Break

It's Monday, and for once I slept way past 5:00. That's because I'm on Spring Break!

This meme was hosted by Sheila at Book Journey for the longest time, and now Kathryn at Book Date has taken over. I can't seem to get myself together to post on the weekend, so here's what I've been reading, and what I'm reading now.

Most of my reading has been driven by my teaching, so I've been reading YA books like Red Rising by Pierce Brown (a dystopian world set on Mars--a great book for male readers), and professional reading such as:

Teaching Arguments by Jennifer Fletcher
They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein

And for review:
Reader, I Married Him, edited by Tracey Chevalier (a collected of short stories inspired by Jane Eyre)

Now, while I'm on break, I really want to read just for myself. Right now that means classics: I'm thirsting for the deepest literature. So I've been reading short stories by Tolstoy: The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories. It is just what my soul needed. Next up: Death in Venice and Other Stories, by Thomas Mann--and then I'm rereading Jane Eyre (that story collection made me want to reread Charlotte Bronte's classic novel).

A little ambitious, I'll admit, but I think I can do it.

It's Monday, what are you reading?