The OF Blog: November 2013

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Leena Krohn, Datura

Some novels have that magical "moment" in which the reader decides right then and there that this novel is worth continuing.  It might be a heart-wrenching observation by a character or a striking event that immediately captures that reader's attention.  Yet other novels do not contain such "ah-hah!" moments where everything just clicks together.  First a page is read, then another five, perhaps two or three chapters.  There is something that is happening, but the reader can't quite put her finger on what that might be, so she continues on, plowing through the narrative and overturning plot stones that may make her pause for a minute to see what she has uncovered before resuming her read.  In these novels, when the final page is read, the reader perhaps realizes that she has completed a journey that has led her through a series of "moments" that she did not recognize them for what they in fact were until the conclusion draws things together in such a fashion that the completed narrative whole is much more than the sum of its scenic parts.  Those are the sorts of novels that continue to haunt readers long after the story is presumably "complete" and the reader has chosen to read another narrative.

Finnish writer Leena Krohn's Datura, originally published in 2001 but not made available in English translation until earlier this year, is one of those books.  It begins innocently enough, perhaps, with this little bit about a flower, or rather datura flowers:

I can only blame myself and a certain flower for my current state.  Or two flowers, actually. (p. 11)
 Intriguing, yes, but nothing overtly surprising about a character reminiscing about how a flower might be responsible (is it in a symbolic or a very real sense, though?) for some nebulous "current state."  But there is something further down on the first page that immediately caught my attention:

"It's a crown imperial, " she said.

"But it might not be," I insisted.

What made me say that?  A sudden thought that the flower was unknowable, not just by me, but by anybody, even people who knew its name.  But I wasn't able to express this epiphany in a way that other people could understand.  I didn't mean that the flower had some other name.  What I wanted to say had to do with being, not naming.  The name of the flower was something completely arbitrary and beside the point.  The flower was not what it was called.  Not this flower.  Not any flower. (p. 11)
Here Krohn has embedded a narrative "hook" that snagged me.  What is so important about the "being" of the flower in question?  In which directions could this story go?  There were no reveals, no expository points that explained why this "crown imperial" was apparently so important to the story.  Instead, Krohn took this musing on the nature of the object and she spun off a story that went deeper and deeper into that inscrutable mental realm in which the things that we think we understand turn out to be the elements that are most incomprehensible to us.

Datura revolves around flowers, yes, but it also revolves around mysteries that humans have set up for each other.  One such example is the Voynich Manuscript, written in a script that no linguist or cryptologist has ever managed to decipher.  Krohn uses this mysterious manuscript to add to the layers of intrigue as the intrepid narrator goes on a quest, initiated by her magazine publisher, to explore the oddities of her city.  The odd "crown imperial" at the beginning is only a harbinger for the weird discoveries that she makes as she wanders through the city, going from one inexplicable event to another. 

The story is strangely linear.  I say "strangely" because although the narrative largely unfolds in a Point A to B to C fashion, there is a faint sense that there are things occurring underneath the narrative surface that are distorting or twisting the events.  Krohn has crafted her scenes carefully in that there is just enough vagueness to keep the reader trying to guess at what really happening and enough concrete detail to which the reader can lash themselves to in order to keep from being drowned in the swirling narrative flow.  The result is a fascinating story that surprises the reader with nearly each page, but with a consistency to it that when the final page is read, the logic of it (or as much as "logic" can come into play in a world that seems to be experiencing a semantic shift that leaves in doubt the "reality" of what is encountered by both narrator and reader) is so strong that the patterns that perhaps the reader had only half-understood on an intuitive level seem so apparent in hindsight.  Datura is one of those novels that will occupy its readers' thoughts for virtually all of its pages without containing a singular "moment" that by itself will summarize its thematic elements.  Its virtue lies in its silent, creeping quality that does not rush at its reader full-bore but instead envelops the reader, leaving her to puzzle over just why this short novel of nearly 200 pages has occupied her attention for an inordinate amount of time before providing a payoff that somehow both confounds and exceeds her expectations.  Very few stories manage to achieve this and Krohn's novel certainly is one of the better "weird" fictions published in 2013.  Highly recommended. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Rabid Squirrel Interro-view: Shaun Duke of The World in the Satin Bag

After a months-long series of questions sent back and forth (punctuated with longeurs due to the two people being teachers, among other things), here is the fourth and to-date longest installment in my now-irregular series of interviews with certain lit/SF/F reviewers/bloggers.  I've known Shaun for several years now and the questions asked and answered reflect certain topics he and I have discussed, either separately or in friendly banter, over the years.  Hope you enjoy this and visit his blog to see more of his writings and thoughts.

If I recall, you started your blog, The World in the Satin Bag, as more of a writing blog than a review one.  How have your original plans for blogging changed over the years?
It's true that I began WISB as a place to babble about writing and more particularly as a place where I started to experiment on novel writing.  I was one of hundreds of bloggers posting chapters in some absurd attempt to find some fans; eventually, finishing the novel became the priority (and rightly so, since I had not, at that time, finished a novel).  Now?  I see myself more as a contributor of commentary with occasional reviews, primarily on SF/F-related subjects.  A lot of that change has come with my involvement in the subject of your next question.  The more embedded I become in academia, the more my blogging desires shift.  I still write the occasional traditionally-fannish post from time to time, but I think most of my blog posts are a reflection of where I am in my secret identity as a scholar.  I suspect the blog will always be a space for talking about my writing, but not in the same way as when I began this whole venture.

Do you ever find yourself reading older posts and wondering just what in the world you were thinking when you wrote that review or commentary?

The thoughts that actually go through my head when I read old reviews or old "favorite books" posts can best be described with the classic Internet abbreviation "WTF."  I've had a few moments where I've looked at some of that old crap and wondered how I could have been that stupid.  What compelled me to say X?  Why did I think Y?  How did I honestly say that book was "good" when it’s clearly little more than mediocre?

But leaving that stuff up is important.  Without it, I'd never know how far I've come as a writer.  We need that kind of retrospection sometimes.

I see that you are a Ph.D. student in English at the University of Florida.  Are you planning on a career in academia or will the Ph.D. be used in a different fashion?

I do plan to become a teacher and researcher at the college level after completing my Ph.D.  Whether that actually happens will depend a great deal on factors over which I have no control:  the economy, job availability, etc.  I'm not sure what I'd be happy doing with my degree if I can't get a job as a professor of literature.  There are all kinds of other jobs for folks like me, but they all feel like the sort of crap I went to college to avoid.  Literature is my passion.  Teaching literature is also my passion.  And I'm going to do it or live in my mother's basement until one of us kicks it.

Does that passion for teaching literature extend to poetry?  Having taught secondary school literature, grammar, and history for several years, I would think that would be one of the most challenging things to teach.  Would you agree?

Actually, I've had the opposite experience.  Poetry used to be a difficult medium for me, both as a reader and as a teacher.  Lately, however, I've found myself drawn to poetry in my intro to literature courses, as they elicit some of the best responses from my students.  Two of my favorite poems to teach are "l(a" by e.e. cummings and "Monet Refuses the Operation" by Lisel Mueller.  The cummings is great for introducing students to semiotics and poetry's ability to manipulate language and convey complex ideas in few words.  The latter is a poem my students can go on and on about, particular as they start to realize that the imagery is drawn from Monet's actual paintings.  In the past, I've avoided poetry, but these days, I'm much more willing to use the form in my lit classes precisely because I can actually get students to talk about the stuff.  You could say I've developed a passion for poetry in the last year or so.

That said, if you stick me with some T.S. Eliot or William Carlos Williams, I'm trapped.  Modernist poetry, in particular, is one of the more difficult mediums to teach.

Why is that so (so asks the person who struggled with Williams 20 years ago)?  Is it more the stripping of narrative down beyond what the Symbolists did, or is it something else?

I think my students find modernist poetry so difficult because it frequently seems obsessively abstract.  You call it “stripping the narrative down,” which I suppose is the same thing.  When you give them something like Andrew Marvell or William Shakespeare (just to pick two enormous, obvious classic examples), they can get through the language easily enough to the message.  “To His Coy Mistress” isn’t terrible difficult to parse once they get the right nudge and can start putting the pieces together.  But if I throw in some “Prufock” (Eliot) or “Red Wheelbarrow” (Williams), they can’t seem to parse the images or the language as easily, and that has a lot to do with the abstraction.  They’ll simply say “I don’t know what he’s talking about,” but what they mean is “I can’t figure out what the images are referring to” or “I’m not sure how these seemingly random thoughts coalesce into a larger thing.”  They’re looking for messages or examinations of a possibly pre-defined thing, because that’s really how they think anyway.  That’s how a lot of music is these days, and that’s really where they get most of their poetry anyway (if you want to call it that).

It’s not a bad thing, per se.  A lot of the problem also stems from a lack of analytical skills, which, in my experience, seems to have been discarded in the K-12 educational system where I live.  You really need those for poetry, I think.

Who are some of the literary influences on you, both as a critic and as a writer?

That's a huge question!  I'm likely going to leave a lot of people out in what follows, so you can ask me this question again in a year.

As a writer, I've been influenced a great deal by Tobias S. Buckell, Franz Kafka, Nalo Hopkinson, Philip K. Dick, Joanna Russ, Lauren Beukes, and Octavia Butler, just to name a few.  Since most of what I write falls quite clearly within the realm of genre, it makes sense that my subject matter would be influenced by the types of people I like to read.  And if not for all the World SF writers I've been reading the last few years, I don't think I'd have the guts to try my hand at writing stories from the perspectives of people who aren't like myself.

Style, however, is a different matter entirely.  For that, you'd have to look to Thomas Pynchon, David Mitchell, Salman Rushdie, Brian Francis Slattery, and Kurt Vonnegut.  There are others, of course, but these writers are directly responsible for making me reconsider how I construct sentences and narrative in fiction.  I suspect if I get this weird novel of mine published, people will say it bears traces of all of the writers I've mentioned in this paragraph.  Some of the work I've published thus far comes from my "early period," though; most of what I was reading (for fun) five or six years ago would probably have put me in that not-so-adventurous crowd.  These days, it's an entirely different story.

Critical influences are a tad different.  I don't think I've been directly influenced as a critic by any literary works, with exception perhaps to Philip K. Dick, who was the subject of an independent study I conducted as an undergraduate.  Most of my critical influences come from theoretical arenas.  Folks like Samuel R. Delany, Jacques Derrida, C.L.R. James, Homi Bhabha, Tom Moylan, Fredric Jameson, and many (many) others have all changed how I actually look at literary works, even when my only intention is to write a standard review.  Entertainment value is rarely the main concern for me when I look at a work of literature, in part because any boob can write a book with exciting action.  What matters to me are the things underneath the glossy finish.  That's where the meat of the work rests, I think.  Call me pretentious if you like...

What are specific things from these writers and critics that you may perhaps have "borrowed" or adapted to suit your own writings?

While I don't always understand what the hell Derrida is talking about, some of his later work influenced my understanding of animals (The Animal That Therefore I Am) or politics (Rogues).  In terms of the latter, I tend to associate some of my opinions about how the U.S. operates on Derrida's concept of the rogue state (i.e., the true rogue state is the one that calls others rogue states, despite violating the very same rules it says the rogue states have violated -- that's a horrible reduction; so it goes).  Homi Bhabha falls into the same camp.  His essay on mimicry and colonialism has had a profound influence on how I view colonial discourse, as it has on the postcolonial studies field since his book, The Location of Culture, hit shelves.  Ditto for C.L.R. James, though I must admit that I've been more influenced by his fiction writing than his political stuff.

Delany, Moylan, and Jameson have all complicated my views of science fiction.  I recently read Delany's Stardboard Wine, which I think provides a much more inclusive and useful definition of SF than, say, Darko Suvin.  "Definition" is not quite accurate, though, as Starboard Wine is really about applying a definition in practice rather than trying to actually set up its parameters in explicit terms.  It's sort of an attempt to put words to the "I know it when I see it" claim, I suppose.  Jameson and Moylan are both prominent writers on the subjects of utopia, and it's from them that I get my complicated understanding of the utopia/dystopia splice (and the idea that science fiction is a spatial genre -- via Jameson).  If I teach a utopian story in one of my lit classes, I often have to use the Jameson/Moylan playbook to get students off of the mythic form we've always expected, as utopia is never about creating "perfect worlds," but more accurately about imagining "better worlds" than the author's present.

Though I am not directly working with all of these writers, their perspectives and writing styles have influenced the way I approach academic writing.  You might say I've become a little braver than I was as a lowly undergrad.

Also, in regards to theory, what thoughts occur to you when you read of a reviewer (and very occasionally, a writer - Brandon Sanderson strangely comes to mind) who refers to a work as being "postmodernist?"  Any urges to use différance in a response to those who bandy about "postmodern" or "deconstruction" cavalierly? 

Two quick things:

  1. I've never been convinced that postmodernism actually exists in anything other than a socio-political or global capitalist form (i.e., Jameson, et. al.).  For that reason, I really have a hard time describing just what postmodernism "is" in literary terms.
  2. When people talk about postmodernism, I'm not sure they know what postmodernism is either.  

When Sanderson's post came out, I spent most of my time reading it figuratively scratching my head.  I don't think of his work as remotely non-traditional, which is what we tend to mean when we say "this is postmodern."  Postmodern seems to have become the term we use to describe things that seem different; in reality, the differences we're picking up on aren't indicative of some kind of generic or literary shift in form, style, etc.  Modernism has a fairly defined literary canon and a set of principles or conditions by which we can judge something as modernist; it's not a hard-and-fast type thing, but at least we can say "Faulkner and T.S. Eliot are modernist writers because of X, Y, and Z."  The only time I think I get close to seeing something postmodernist is when I read John Barth (I recommend "Lost in the Funhouse"), whose work is so self-conscious about the process of writing that it breaks the literary fourth wall to expose the artificiality of narrative itself (seriously, read that story).  But is he really a postmodernist?  I teach him as such, but only so I can explain to students what postmodernism might look like if it actually existed.

So, I'm naturally skeptical of someone who says "my work is postmodernist" or "this work is postmodernist," because such statements rarely contain clearly defined parameters that differentiate a work from something that is decidedly not postmodernist.  If anything, postmodernism is just what modernism became after WW2, and that's not really a hard line either.

I'm not going to touch différance here.  Derrida's explanation and use of that term still hurts my head...

So in other words, "postmodernism" probably should be limited more to Western/Western-influenced literary cultures?  After all, there perhaps could be a big debate over what constitutes "modernity" in the first place if the context is removed from the first industrialized/mass producing nations and placed within a post-colonial society.  Thoughts?

When I originally wrote my response to the previous question, I knew I would get a little flack for focusing so heavily on the West.  That’s a legitimate problem in our discussions of postmodernism (“our” as in “academics” and “cultural theorists”).  I don’t want to speak from a position of authority on other parts of the world, as I don’t know nearly enough about those places to say for certain how postmodernism in its Western form has affected them, or what postmodernist movements might look like in places like Brazil and so on.  You could certainly argue without controversy that the West has had a profound influence on much of the world through globalization (one of the many components of postmodernism) and so on (colonization before that, too).

And I also agree with you, or the implication behind your question, that “modernity” is a thoroughly problematic concept.  One of the things that was pointed out to me some years ago by a few lovely Brazilians was the idiocy behind terms like “the first world” and “the third world” or “developed” or “developing.”  Frequently, these terms assume the West (particularly the United States) as the default position.  You are “developed” or “first world” when you look like America.  But this assumes that a “developing” or “undeveloped” country (or “second” and “third world”) will become like the U.S., or that it must in order to be considered “modern.”  I think it’s fair to say that’s total bunk, and something which many previously marked “third world” or “developing” countries have shown is simply false.  Look at parts of South America.  A lot of those places have been told by the U.S. for decades that if they do X, things will go to shit, and it will be their own fault for not buying into the capitalist rhetoric of America.  I’m not going to pretend that everything is hunky dory down there, but some of those places are nationalizing resources or finding unique ways to address their various issues.  They’re coming up with different answers to these problems (some work; some don’t; so it goes).  I’ve started to think that maybe the U.S. needs to start becoming more like some of these other places in the world, if not in whole, than at least in part.  Melting pot and all that, right?

That’s a sort of reductive view, obviously, so hopefully someone with more knowledge and authority on this issue can jump in with some more nuanced and cogent thoughts.  The point is this:  it’s easy to get caught up in the rhetoric of the West, wherein modernity and postmodernity are definitively Western developments.  When you live here, it’s sort of bashed into you in some way or another (though perhaps not in those terms).  But we should really look at how these terms apply to other parts of the world.  What does (post)modernity look like in, say, Yemen or Chile or Tunisia?  I don’t know.  But I want to.

How has social media made an impact on you, both personally and professionally?

There's one thing social media has made possible for me on a personal level:  the ability to maintain close friendships with people who live on the other side of the country.  I currently live in Florida (meh), but some of my closest friends are in California.  If not for Facebook, Skype, and so on, I don't think we'd have the same relationships we have now that I’ve skipped town for graduate school.  It's also made it possible to keep in touch with family.  I'm sure folks did just fine maintaining relationships and what not with little more than a telephone, but I grew up in the Age of the Internet, so the way I see the world isn't the same (just as all these freshman students of mine don't look at the world the same way I do because of 9/11 -- I still remember going through security in the airport without having a ticket).

As a professional, social media makes it a lot easier to network with other scholars (or writers) and to maintain a dialogue with fans, Internet friends, and so on.  I feel like it's a lot easier to engage in my desired field now that we have all these tools at our disposal, though that's not always a good thing.  The Internet has this uncanny ability to depress the hell out of me.  Information disseminates so quickly and widely these days.  If you follow politics as much as I do, you'll understand.  It's just a sea of douchebaggery out there.

Have there been times where the sea of information online threatens to overwhelm you?  If so, what are your defense mechanisms?

Absolutely.  I occasionally go on moratoriums from politics precisely because the sea of information becomes too much.  The problem, as I see it, concerns the type of information that is transmitted.  More often than not, all we see on the net are stories about people doing things most of us wouldn't like.  And when that's all you're seeing every hour of every day, I think it's perfectly natural to want to take a break from it all.  Hence the moratoriums.  I also tried to do this whole "Month of Joy" thing on my blog, in which I invited folks to talk about things that make them happy in SF/F (favorite books, books that got them into genre, etc.).  It was a nice gesture, but the second I came back to the political side of the web, I was reminded of the nonstop onslaught of douchebaggery, fear, horror, and bad news all over the place.  I'm sure there's a connection between the Internet and the polarization of politics in the U.S., but I'm not a sociologist...

What about the threat of there being an "echo chamber" developing out of limitations on who/what is followed or read?  Could that be something that occasionally happens when discussing particular books or films?

The echo chamber already exists in SF/F.  Most of the vocal, definitively right wing authors have found communities for themselves on Facebook or Baen or elsewhere.  That’s partly their fault, and partly the fault of SF/F’s left-leaning tendency, and partly the fault of a culture which has become increasingly antagonistic.  It’s just easier to segregate oneself by choice when the alternative is constant confrontation.

The echo chamber problem is actually a pretty terrible thing.  Something Tad Williams said on a recent episode of Adventures in Scifi Publishing seems particularly poignant here.  Creating an echo chamber for oneself, whether deliberately because you refuse to interact with those who disagree or because those around you produce a hostile environment for anyone who has a disagreement, actually makes it easier for politically likeminded groups to radicalize.  You can see this clearly in U.S. politics, where groups on the left have created little pockets where they rant and rave about how evil the right is, etc.  And there’s also that recent example of a right wing Christian group who publicly stated they now have the authority to kill President Obama (I’m assuming this wasn’t a hoax).  None of that is a good thing.  It cuts off dialogue between disparate groups and creates an environment where we can’t actually find common ground, wherever it may be.

But I suspect part of your interest in this subject isn’t political.  On that front, I do think there are echo chambers in literature and film which work in similar ways.  If you think about the insular nature of SF/F for example, in which there is still this feeling that “this is our thing” and anyone who isn’t part of that shouldn’t get to play in the pool with us.  I don’t buy that, but there’s a feeling in certain parts of the genre where that’s true.  It used to be the “literary vs. genre” debate, but it’s since become a kind of territorial thing.  Granted, that’s not the whole of SF/F, but every so often there’ll be a bunch of blog posts and rambles about the subject.  The same thing happens between SF and romance, in which the feeling among some is akin to “you’re putting dirty romantic tinglies in my scifi, and I don’t like it.”  And since these groups don’t really talk to each other as much as they should, there’s not as much dialogue about the issues with this sort of cross genre work as one would hope.  Thus, you end up with echo chambers.  Some of that might not be such a bad thing, though.  If a whole bunch of people like the big pool, but some people prefer the sauna, I suppose there’s nothing wrong with everyone playing where they like.

I’m sure that happens in other fields of literary production, too, though I’ll admit ignorance to that, as I’m fairly embedded in the SF/F field (broadly speaking).  But if you take a gander through the world of theory, well, there are echo chambers everywhere.  Marxists in literary studies tend to be fairly isolated into their own little universe, for example.

I've seen you talk about your love of comics several times over the years.  What is it about them that appeals to you?  I ask as someone who rarely read any comics growing up and can barely understand their appeal.

This question has actually been the hardest for me to answer.  I've read a lot of visual narratives during the course of my academic studies, of course, and I even had a manga phase about six years ago.  There are some exceptional works in the comic/graphic novel world, too, such as Art Spiegelman's Maus or even something like Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira.  But these are exceptions, as I think they're good regardless of one's opinion of visual narratives (though I could be wrong on that front).

So I thought I'd have a really clever explanation for their appeal, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that what draws me to comics has less to do with some quality unique to the art form than some nostalgic longing for childhood.  Most of what I'm reading right now is what you might call the standards:  Marvel and DC superhero comics.  Many of these comics are tied to things I was reading as a kid:  X-Men and so on.
I can't say whether anything I'm reading right now is "good" in any kind of academic or critical sense.  To be honest, I've intentionally shut down my critical faculties while reading a lot of these DC/Marvel properties (though my brain continues to work).  And I did so because I think it's sometimes important to have things you enjoy that have nothing to do with what you do for a living.  For an academic whose field actually includes things like comics and graphic novels, I want to maintain a degree of separation between work and play.  Comics are basically play.  I'll let some other folks take them on in the discourses of academia!

Fair enough, but you mention a "nostalgic longing for childhood."  Would it be a fair critique of recent cinematic adaptations of comics and pop cultural references to superheroes to say that this nostalgia-driven wave of comics-inspired media is more a rejection of current socio-cultural trends, or is there something else going on?  

I'm not so sure the rise of the comic book movie is in response to or driven by nostalgia, or necessarily a rejection of current socio-cultural trends (the graying world, etc.).  In large respect, many of the comic book movies that have come out have actually sucked ideas from the comics (many of which are, in fact, embedded in a worldview that has long since become irrelevant) only to re-invent them in a more contemporary world.  The Christopher Nolan Batman films, for example, are very much "of the contemporary moment," dealing with terrorism, what it means to be a hero who exists outside of the law, and so on.  Sure, the villains are almost always easily identified as pure villains, but in this cinematic universe, Batman often has to defeat them without breaking his own set of ethical codes, which he learns often means he can't get the job done (in The Dark Knight, for example, he basically becomes a one-man NSA in order to track the Joker; we're supposed to feel rather ambiguous about that, just as we are about the Joker's moral ferry dilemma).  Similar issues have appeared in the Iron Man films, which deal with terrorism, the military industrial complex, the long term consequences of one's actions (as America has learned recently), and even PTSD.

But I agree that there are a lot of comic book movies which play into that nostalgia.  The new Superman movie tries to get outside of that by putting him into a dirty, morally ambiguous world, but at the end of the day, he is still raised up as an ideal to which we should all strive.  And sometimes that feels good, don't you think?

True, but part of the "nostalgia" I have noticed is related to perceived ideal gender roles.  Take the women portrayed in recent films.  Are they more or less just idealized male views of what an "exceptional" woman would be?  

I can’t disagree with you there.  There are exceptions to the rule, of course (Katniss from The Hunger Games), but the general trend still holds the male gaze as central to the visual discourse of gender.  There’s a lot of that in the comics movies, too, though I think the attempt to add depth to Black Widow in The Avengers was a good way to extract her from her original role as eye candy.  But she’s still very much coded within the male gaze, even when she’s using that gaze against the people who have become her targets.  I’m not convinced that’s a tremendously positive image, as it still preserves the male gaze and suggests, to me, that you just have to work around it to get on with life.  Maybe I’m an idealist…

And so some of that nostalgia for these sorts of things may also be a nostalgia for what the world used to be like, which I think is amusing when you take a comic book company like Marvel and look at what it has been doing in the last few years.  I think things are changing for the better.  We are seeing more role models for young girls and more challenges to the traditional gender paradigms which have governed our society as a whole.  And I think you’ll see a lot more of those challenges appear in the comic films produced by Marvel in the coming years.  DC, on the other hand…

In addition to your literary studies/teaching and blogging, you also have embraced podcasting.  What are some of the challenges in podcasting that are not found in blogging?

I still have no idea how one builds an audience without making it obvious that you're trying to build an audience.  That's probably the biggest challenge.

Actually, setting aside all of the technical issues, spreading awareness, and so on, the most difficult aspects of podcasting are trying to come up with a format that works for me (and my crew) and learning how to actually perform those things properly.  When we first started the show, our interviews and discussions were incredibly awkward.  We weren't good at bouncing off of one another or bouncing off of what the guests were saying.  There really is a kind of "art" to interviewing via audio, and you can't learn it without doing it over and over and over and trying to learn from your mistakes.  And since most listeners are passive, you have to rely on friends and yourself for figuring out where you're not doing a good enough job.  That's tough as hell to do (as fiction writers will tell you about editing, I'm sure).

Podcasting is really important to me for a lot of personal reasons, so it is just as important that what I/we do on the podcast is to the best of our ability in that moment, and that we continue to strive for better interviews, better discussions, better topics, etc. over time.

Is podcasting more ephemeral than blogging in terms of how it better captures a "moment" in a larger discussion of an issue, but with much less staying power in terms of people considering what is discussed?

I’ve actually wondered this very thing before.  There are all these podcasts about all kinds of things, but are they actually contributing to our knowledge as individuals or as a culture?  Or do they simply regurgitate something we can all forget about in a few months, however important?  I like to think that podcasts has a lot of staying power, but I also think that much of what we do in podcasting is not all that different from other forms of media.  I can’t remember who said that we live in an ADD media era.  Everything is so painfully current, as if the past and the future have lost their allure or value.  That’s a sort of hyperbolic way of looking at things, I suppose.

That said, podcasting used to be invisible.  Now?  The Guardian has a bunch.  Slate, too.  Many of the newspapers have podcasts.  Radio programs now deliver as podcasts.  You can download all kinds of TV interviews and the like as video and radio podcasts.  Basically, it’s one of the major mediums by which we get information, and that’s certainly got to have some larger impact on the wider culture, right?

Lately, there have been attempts to define (and create "spaces" within) this nebulous entity labeled as "fandom."  When you see "fandom" being discussed, whether on Twitter, Facebook, podcasts, or blogs, how do you define it?  Is the term a positive, negative, or something else?

I tend to think of fandom as simply a collection of individuals who share a greater interest in a thing than would be considered average among the general populace and who demonstrate that interest through engagement with or discussion about it.  Someone who collects stamps is a fan.  Someone who collects Star Wars toys is a fan.  Someone who goes to every Quentin Tarantino movie even if it’s on a topic they wouldn’t otherwise enjoy is a fan.  Someone who reads like a mad man is a fan of literature (or some subset therein).

And how one engages in fandom is varied.  There aren’t very many distinctions between “fan” and “not fan” for me.  This is partly why I get really irritated when people try to carve out what they consider “proper fandom” within a specific field.  For example, I’ve heard people in SF/F define academics as “not fans.”  I find this perplexing because most academics I know who study SF/F are undeniably fans.  They love the genre.  Many of them probably started out as traditional fans before they discovered they could study the genres in college.  And I’m a fan.  A big fan.  Have been since I was a little kid watching cartoons on Saturday mornings.  Just because I now engage with SF/F within academia doesn’t change the fact that I am a fan, and to carve out my section of fandom to create some sort of arbitrary “right fan group” seems like cultish behavior to me.

As for your last question, I think that depends on your perspective.  For me, “fandom” is a positive.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with loving something enough to collect things related to it or to repeatedly engage within its field of influence because of that interest.  Sure, some people might get a tad obsessive, but if there’s nothing wrong with being an avid reader, then I don’t see anything wrong with loving the heck out of stamps or Firefly or Shakespeare or French Troubadour poets.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Things I Plan on Reading over the next couple of weeks

I know I've been fairly quiet here as well as on Twitter and Facebook (working two jobs and recovering from both bronchitis and the anti-pneumonia meds prescribed to me last week) this month, but I have been reading plenty of books, even if I really haven't had the energy to devote to writing reviews worthy of the name.  I do hope to write reviews of Leena Krohn's Datura and Jyrki Vainonen's The Explorer & Other Stories by the weekend (I'm not traveling for Thanksgiving), and perhaps reviews of the four winners of the National Book Awards (deserving winners, although in each case, I liked one book in three of the categories – haven't read all of the Non-Fiction category – better than the winners).

But whether I achieve these review/blogging goals or not by month's end, there are certainly several books that I plan on reading.  Working on my Romance languages right now, so most of these titles are not in English, although some might be available in translation.  Hope these titles pique some interest regardless:

Simone de Beauvoir, Une mort trés douce
Colette, La Vagabonde
Calixthe Beyala, Tu t'appelleras Tanga
Maryse Condé, Moi, Tituba sorciére
Moacyr Scliar, O Exército de um Homem Só
Paolo Giordano, La solitudine dei numeri primi
Antonio Pennacchi, Canale Mussolini
Alessandro Piperno, Inseparabili
Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries

Likely a few others as well, but these certainly are books that I've selected for reading whenever I have the chance.  Most are under 300 pages (the Catton being a notable exception), so it might be that I finish all of them by next weekend's end.  Some are a bit famous, I suppose, while others might not be as familiar to readers as they otherwise might have been if they were published originally in English.

If you've read any of these works/authors, any thoughts on them?  Also, any other suggestions for works in Spanish, Portuguese, French, or Italian that I should consider reading (for example, this past weekend I read three books by Mozambican writer Mia Couto that were excellent)?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What I have read so far by language

As of this moment (which will change shortly, as I have books in Spanish, Italian, and German that I'm in various stages of reading and which may be finished tonight or tomorrow), I have read (either unassisted or through the use of a parallel text for those languages that I know at least some words yet wouldn't consider myself to be reading fluent in) the following amounts in each language:

English - 194 books
Spanish - 48 books
Italian - 19 books
French - 17 books
Serbian - 11 books
Portuguese - 9 books
German - 9 books
Catalan - 2 books
Latin - 2 books
Polish - 2 books (with parallel texts read)
Romanian - 2 books
Galician - 1 book
Venetian - 1 book
Irish - 1 book (parallel text read)
Hungarian - 1 book (parallel text read)
Persian - 1 book (parallel text read)
Russian - 1 book (parallel text read)
Basque - 1 book (parallel text read)
Quechua - 1 book (parallel text read)
Lithuanian - 1 book (parallel text read)
Czech - 1 book (parallel text read)
Zulu - 1 book (parallel text read)

22 languages, 326 total books, 132 of which are not in English.  Should be noted that the total number of languages drops to 13 if I were to exclude translations of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Le Petit Prince.  But I don't exclude those.  Hope to get the non-English books/translations read to 150 by year's end.  Further goals are to read at least 52 books in Spanish/Spanish translation, 25 in Italian/Italian translation, 25 in French/French translation, 12 in German/German translation, 12 in Serbian/Serbian translation, and 12 in Portuguese/Portuguese translation.  Each of these are very feasible goals as I have set aside books in each of those languages to read over the next six weeks or so.

And yes, if I reach these ambitious goals, my team of Serbian reading squirrels will receive a bonus.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Brief thoughts on the 2013 National Book Award finalists for Fiction, Poetry, and Young People's Literature

I had every intention of reviewing each of the 20 finalists in the Fiction, Non-Fiction, Poetry, and Young People's Literature categories of the 2013 National Book Awards in advance of the November 20 awards banquet.  But due to having very little energy the past few weeks (I have been battling a nascent bronchitis infection since Thursday, one that I fear might worsen with the fluctuating weather here), in large part due to my two jobs, I have only reviewed 1 of the Fiction finalists (and that was actually reviewed back in January, right after George Saunder's Tenth of December was released), 1 of the Non-Fiction (Wendy Lower's Hitler's Furies, also reviewed before the shortlist was announced), 2 of the Young People's Literature finalists (Gene Luen Yang's Boxers/Saints graphic novel duology and Meg Rosoff's Picture Me Gone), and none of the Poetry finalists.

This is not to say that I haven't been reading the finalists.  I have only 120 pages remaining in James McBride's The Good Lord Bird to finish off reading the Fiction finalists; I have read all of the Poetry and Young People's Literature finalists.  True, I haven't even purchased any of the other Non-Fiction finalists yet due to minor things like making a large student loan payment, but outside of that, I have read enough to have informed opinions on the other three categories.  While I do plan on writing reviews whenever I can later this week/month on those finalists, even though many will be after the awards are announced, the least I can do is provide a personal ranking of the finalists for those who place more weight on such things than any substantive words that I might have to say about each individual work:

Young People's Literature:

This was a very strong group of finalists (and having read two others from the longlist, Kate DiCamillo's Flora & Ulysses and Alaya Dawn Johnson's The Summer Prince, I cannot think of one of the five that I would replace with one of those two, no matter how much I enjoyed DiCamillo's work - Johnson's was a bit more problematic for me).  None of them resembled the others much in structure, plot, or tone; the wide-ranging category of "YA" certainly can be seen in the diversity of the authors and their tales.  With very little separating one from another in terms of quality or enjoyment, this is the ranking that I would do at the moment, with the caveat that a re-read could change my opinions slightly:

1.  Gene Luen Yang, Boxers/Saints
2.  Cynthia Kadohata, The Thing About Luck (review forthcoming)
3.  Tom McNeal, Far Far Away (review forthcoming)
4.  Kathi Appelt, The Blue Scouts of Sugar Moss Swamp (review forthcoming)
5.  Meg Rosoff, Picture Me Gone


These finalists as a whole took more chances with theme and structure.  Adrian Matejka's The Big Smoke is devoted to a singular man and theme, that of early 20th century African American heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson.  Matt Rasmussen's Black Aperture views the author's brother's suicide through a variety of angles.  The other three were a bit more diverse in the material covered, but there were certain themes that were revisited even then, especially in Mary Szybist's Incarnadine.  As a whole, these finalists were more of a joy to read and consider than those of the previous two years.  Will try to write more in-depth reviews of each of these later in the year:

1.  Matt Rasmussen, Black Aperture
2.  Mary Szybist, Incarnadine
3.  Adrian Matejka, The Big Smoke
4.  Lucie Brock-Broido, Stay, Illusion
5.  Frank Bidart, Metaphysical Dog


Compared to the other categories that I mentioned above, the Fiction finalists left me feeling lukewarm.  There were some truly excellent works (Saunders and McBride come to mind), but the others either covered a topic/theme that didn't interest me as much as I wished it would (Rachel Kushner's otherwise very good The Flamethrowers) or were works by authors whose previous works I had enjoyed more (Thomas Pynchon, Jhumpa Lahiri).  While none of these were precisely mediocre, there was just a sense that most of these established writers had produced better work in the past and that these were just merely very good but not necessarily excellent later fictions.

1.  George Saunders, Tenth of December
2.  James McBride, The Good Lord Bird (review forthcoming)
3.  Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland (also a 2013 Booker Prize finalist; review forthcoming)
4.  Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers (review forthcoming)
5.  Thomas Pynchon, Bleeding Edge (review forthcoming)

Of course, as what seems to be the case these days, any of these forthcoming reviews might take upward of a month to write.  I have a long queue as it stands and am weeks behind due to having to devote over half of my weekends to just sleeping in order to recover just enough energy to make it through the grueling 13-14 hours of work/travel that I do each weekday/night.  Hopefully things will change in the future, but until it does, reviewing and other blogging will have to take a backseat to rest/recovery/work.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Adjectives and states of being


States of mind.  Verbs stripped of action, consigned to denoting modifications of state, being, and mood.  Within this, future lessons in grammar, as the labyrinth grows ever more entangled for those foolhardy enough to attempt to learn this language.  And within these short, snappy descriptors are codes for other states, other moods that defy attempts to describe, define, or confine.

Much has been read in recent days, but little shall be discussed.  Some thoughts are best left within one's own mind, mutable as it may be.  I suspect that even months later, Leopardi's scribblings may be influencing mine. 

Paraphrasing, one critic whose name I forget or mayhap never existed, recasts an original, creating a doubling effect that may reverberate better with those with acute listening skills.  Yet who ever really attempts to understand a work well enough to reinterpret it, to sing it anew, perhaps with a better voice?

Ultimately, we strip ourselves back down to adjectives, words now largely devoid of the active energy that drove us in times past.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Squirrel-approved books

I've lately purchased or received several review copies of intriguing books. As I was moving books around tonight, I thought of these books in particular.  Some I have finished reading, others I am in the process of reading.  But each of these so far have merited the august honor of being "squirrel-approved" books.  Here are the books, with squirrel figurines showing their approval:

I'm currently reading in a stop-go fashion Jeff VanderMeer's recently-published illustrated writing guide.  Although I harbor virtually no ambitions of becoming a fiction writer, I do (occasionally) have to instruct students on how to write essays and while that is a bit different from writing imaginative fictions, there are enough parallels here that it may be useful for me in the classroom.  The teaching squirrel no doubt approves of this as well.

Recently read the Spanish translation of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's Night Flight, Vuelo Nocturno.  Although more of a story of his early days as an aviator, I noticed some narrative elements in common with The Little Prince, which happens to be one of this squirrel's favorite works of fiction.

The squirrels' mistress has a thing for Italian literature, so due to her urging, I've begun to read more Italian literature, both in translation and in Italian itself.  These squirrels smugly approve of me listening to her, it seems.  Elsa Morante's Arturo's Island and Dacia Maraini's Darkness are both winners of the Premio Strega award.

The Italian lessons even go so far as reading a Japanese writer in Italian translation, as is the case with Nobel Prize winner Kawabata Yasunari.  This squirrel is eager for me to read it, it seems...or rather to read it for me.

The translation-friendly squirrels are eager for me to write reviews of Leena Krohn's Datura and Jyrki Vainonen's The Explorer & Other Stories, both of which are coming out in paperback edition this week.  Hopefully, the reviews will be written by the 15th, the scheduled release date according to the press kit I received.

And finally, these two squirrels think highly enough of the Library of America edition of Mark Twain's Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays 1852-1890 and Music & Literature v. 2 that they look eager to pounce on them before I can finish reading either.

So yeah, these are books worth considering, even if you don't care to heed squirrely advice...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Meg Rosoff, Picture Me Gone

“Translating books is an odd way to make a living. It is customary to translate from your second language into your first, but among my father’s many friends and colleagues, every possible combination of language and direction is represented.

Gil translates from Portuguese into English. Most translators grow up speaking two or three languages but some speak a ridiculous number; the most I’ve heard is twelve. They say it gets easier after the first three or four.

The people I find disturbing are those with no native language at all. Gil’s friend Nicholas had a French mother and a Dutch father. At home he spoke French, Dutch and English but he grew up in Switzerland speaking Italian and German at school. When I ask him which language he thinks in, he says: Depends what I’m thinking about.

The idea of having no native language worries me. Would you feel like a nomad inside your own head? I can’t imagine having no words that are home. A language orphan.” (pp. 45-46, iBooks on Mac edition, beginning of Ch. 9)

Meg Rosoff's most recent novel, Picture Me Gone, is hard to summarize succinctly.  Perhaps those hoary old descriptors, "coming of age" and "Bildungsroman," might capture a small facet of the story of young Mila, but the wry observations and wide-ranging perspectives of the narrator are not typically those one might expect to find in a work written for a teen audience.  No, there are certain exceptionalities within this book that defeat attempts to place it squarely within a singular category.  Certainly Picture Me Gone is not a work that should be read in a rush, as there are layers to the narrative that make a slower contemplation of the characters and their developments a rewarding exercise.

Picture Me Gone first struck me as an introspective novel about how we, especially those of us who are still developing their world-views, try to position ourselves within the larger picture(s) of life around us.  The passage quoted above, which is part of a larger series of musings on language and identity, is representative of Rosoff's excellent characterization.  Here Mila struggles to comprehend the possible rootlessness of those who possess multiple loci – in this particular case, "native" language(s) – and for whom life is less a linear journey along a personal timeline and more a series of bifurcating paths that weave in and out of others' own walks of life.  Such an observation does not come from one wedded intimately to one's own surroundings, but instead seems to belong more properly to those who question the world around them.  Another example of this occurs late in the novel, after the English-born Mila has lived some time in the US:

 “There are hundreds of channels on American TV and I flick through without paying much attention to anything on the screen. It is mostly commercials. I come to the high numbers, where a topless woman rubs her breasts and starts to ask if I want to get to know her better before I click past. I pause on a nature show where a quiet-voiced man admires a beautiful stag in a clearing, saying, Isn’t he a magnificent creature? and then raises his rifle and shoots him through the heart. The animal staggers and falls to his knees. I want to throw up.

A week ago America felt like the friendliest place in the world but I am starting to see darkness everywhere I look. The worst thing is, I don’t think it is America. I think it is me.” (Ch. 28, pp. 248-249 iBooks for Mac edition)

For someone such as myself who was born and raised in the US, the tawdry mixture of scantily-clad women and casual (hunting) violence may not cause as much consternation as it would for someone for whom such scenes are not typical late-night fare.  Mila's observation that it is not as much America but herself goes straight to the heart of the book:  the seemingly quotidian elements of contemporary life, from new schoolmates to divorces to other changes in personal milieu, seem more profound and important as one enters into a more abstract and less concrete understanding of the lives and situations around them.  Younger children may interpret shifts in relationships through concrete means:  mommy and daddy aren't in the same bed anymore and there are fewer hug times or toys for Christmas.  A preteen or a teenager, however, might conceptualize things such as divorce or death through how each relates to that person's understanding of the world and matters such as faith, justice, or a sense of fairness.  In Picture Me Gone, Rosoff captures that shift in perspective vividly.  Mila tries to puzzle out everything around her; it is all new to her.  Sometimes this can be frightening, but other times it is exhilarating. 

If there is a flaw to Picture Me Gone, it may be that Rosoff is sometimes too subtle.  The events that spark reactions from Mila sometimes lack a sense of urgency that can drive readers to move quickly to the next chapter.  The external forces that shape Mila's development are sometimes not as clearly defined as they could have been and this serves to rob the novel of some of its power.  Yet despite this, there are many interesting elements developing quietly under the narrative surface that by novel's end they emerge to provide the story a fitting conclusion.  Picture Me Gone may not contain a singularly powerful scene or element that will make an indelible impression upon the reader, but the cumulative effect of Mila's piercing introspective thoughts is that of a slowly moving narrative river whose silty character deposits build a fertile delta upon which a careful and inquisitive reader can harvest a wealth of impressions.  Worthy nominee for the 2013 National Book Award for Young People's Literature.


Sunday, November 03, 2013

Gene Luen Yang, Boxers/Saints

I remember an old, but very pointed, witticism from my days studying at the University of Tennessee that went something like this:  In studying history, we mostly were getting only one side of the story, because her story was too often ignored by those writing down events.  There is, of course, much truth to this.  History is written by the winners, written records are privileged (until recently) over oral tales.  The deeds of men were valued over those of women.  Elite culture trumped that of plebeian culture.  In each of these cases, however, there were still preserved elements, if not whole-cloth, of the "other" histories.  They might be mere whispers, barely audible even those who strain to hear them, but the voices of the downtrodden are beginning to emerge more and more in histories and historical fictions over the past generation or so.

One recent example of this is Chinese-American graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang's rendering of the 1899-1901 Boxer Rebellion in China.  A century later, this popular uprising mystifies and fascinates those who look for parallels with our own times.  There certainly are many such elements:  resistance to imperialism, both political and cultural alike; varying amounts of personal/cultural adaptation to foreign influences; infighting over what is to be preserved from one's culture and which is to be adopted from elsewhere; questions of identity and how the past and present can shape a person.  Multiple perspectives are necessary in order to understand the tumult of events such as the Boxer Rebellion.  How did it start?  Who were its targets?  In what ways did rebellion manifest itself in the people infected with a desire to purge the land of new influences?  Who resisted the call to rebellion?  Who were the victims of these purges?  How can one determine a "right" or "wrong" when it comes to what one believes and how one expresses those beliefs?

These are the questions that Yang addresses throughout the course of his two intertwined graphic novels, Boxers and Saints.  Multiple sides are presented here, with matters of "right" and "wrong" deliberately left open for interpretation.  Although the main protagonists of each book, Bao (Boxers) and Vibiana (Saints), present compelling reasons as to why their point-of-view should be most sympathetic to readers, Yang carefully illustrates, both in his drawings and in his scripts, the limits and foibles of each young protagonist.  In Boxers, we see Bao's struggle to find respect and dignity in 1890s rural China, with vivid scenes such as his father's brutal beating and maiming serving as an impetus for him to turn toward the preaching of itinerant traditionalists such as Red Lantern who urge the countryside to revolt against China's foreign oppressors and to remove the shame that has visited the country.  Inflamed with a passion to restore the glory of China's past and its "opera" gods and goddesses, Bao seeks (and at first is rebuffed due to his young age) training in the mystical ways of the Righteous Fists, where he learns how to embrace the spirits of the Chinese gods and heroes.

In contrast, Vibiana has rejected tradition and embraced Christianity after being maltreated by her family and cast out.  She, like Bao, seeks something greater than herself to anchor herself to, but instead of accepting a menial role demanded of village women at that time, she begins to explore the new faith that has been introduced in the region.  Through her views, we see some of the myriad reasons why many Chinese converted to Christianity, not all of which were noble in intent, purpose, or action.  Yang has created in these two characters interesting parallels, not all of which are immediately visible upon a first reading.  If anything, by having the two books be bound separately, the parallels are slightly obscured as the reader encounters mostly the views of one of the two protagonists (with minor appearances of the other through the eyes of each other).  This, however, does not weaken the power of the dual narratives but instead strengthens both, as the understanding one might derive in reading one book first (if it were up to me, I would read Boxers first, as it is the longer of the two and Yang scripted it first) can be deepened (and in some cases, challenged) by a quick reading of the other.  Indeed, one could even read the "chapters" in alternating fashion to create an even more composite view, although this would reveal a few narrative surprises in the process.

Bao and Vibiana are flawed young individuals, each seeking justification for his or her actions.  Things that one blithely accepts are seen by the other as atrocities.  The external forces that drive each can be seen as self-destructive when viewed through the perspective of the other narrator.  Yet taken as a whole, their twin narratives tell a powerful story that leads the reader to ask many of the questions I laid out above.  The result is a wonderfully realized retelling of an important moment in Chinese history that will engage readers from the early pages of Boxers all the way to the ending of Saints.  These two books, when read as a whole, certainly are deserving of their dual nomination for the 2013 National Book Award for Young People's Literature and they are among my favorite 2013 releases to date.  Highly, highly recommended.

Friday, November 01, 2013

October 2013 reads

Very productive reading month in October, aided by a two-day car trip during which I read nearly a dozen books, as I finished/read 52 books for the month.  20/52 were written/edited by women and 25/52 were read in a language other than English.  Some re-reads as well, but mostly first-time reads.

257  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Printze txikia (Basque; read for linguistic comparison, but story is a personal fav)

258  Joan Silber, Fools (longlisted for the National Book Award; short fiction collection; very good)

259  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Quyllur llaqtayuq wawamanta (Quechua; see note above)

260  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, El principe picinin (Venetian; understood it more unaided than others above)

261  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Mažasis Princas (Lithuanian; see above note)

262  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Inkosana Encane (Zulu; see above)

263  Jésus Torbado, Las corrupciones (1965 Premio Alfaguara winner; very good)

264  Dacia Maraini, Donna in guerra (Italian; very good)

265  Jean Stafford, Collected Stories (short fiction collection; good, but some stories were dated)

266  Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland (2013 Booker Prize and National Book Award finalist; review forthcoming)

267  Donna Tartt, The Secret History (excellent)

268  Elsa Morante, Arturo's Island (excellent)

269  Wendy Lower, Hitler's Furies:  German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields (National Book Award finalist in Non-Fiction; already reviewed)

270  John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell, March:  Book One (non-fiction; graphic novel; outstanding)

271  J.M. Sidorova, The Age of Ice (good)

272  Al Gore, The Future (non-fiction; decent but could have been stronger in its presentation of ideas)

273  Thomas Pynchon, Bleeding Edge (National Book Award finalist in Fiction; review forthcoming)

274  László Krasznahorkai, Seiobo There Below (may review fully in future, but this was a great read)

275  Therese Anne Fowler, Z:  A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald (very good)

276  Denise Kiernan, The Girls of Atomic City (non-fiction; very good)

277  Karen Joy Fowler, The Jane Austen Book Club (excellent)

278  Mircea Cărtărescu, Nostalgia (Romanian; very good)

279  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Malý Princ (Czech; see above note)

280  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, O Pequeno príncipe (Brazilian Portuguese; better than the continental Portuguese translation)

281  Walter Siti, Resistere non serve a niente (Italian; Premio Strega winner; very good)

282  Andrzej Sapkowski, Il Sangue degli Elfi (Italian; already reviewed in English)

283  Andrzej Sapkowski, Le Sang des elfes (French; already reviewed in English)

284  Andrzej Sapkowski, Das Erbe der Elfen (German; already reviewed in English)

285  Dacia Maraini, Darkness (excellent)

286  Jyrki Vainonen, The Explorer & Other Stories (short fiction collection; review later this month)

287  Tiziano Scarpa, Stabat Mater (Italian; Premio Strega winner; very good)

288  Adrian Matejka, Big Smoke (National Book Award finalist in Poetry; review forthcoming)

289  Gene Luen Yang, Boxers (National Book Award finalist in Young People's Literature; graphic novel; review forthcoming)

290  Gene Luen Yang, Saints (National Book Award finalist in Young People's Literature; graphic novel; review forthcoming)

291  Mary Szybist, Incarnadine (National Book Award finalist in Poetry; review forthcoming)

292  Leena Krohn, Datura (review forthcoming)

293  Zelda Fitzgerald, Save Me the Waltz (uneven but often good)

294  Liliana Bodoc, Los días de la sombra (Spanish; re-read; good)

295  Lucie Brock-Broido, Stay, Illusion (National Book Award finalist in poetry; review forthcoming)

296  Andrzej Sapkowski, La sangre de los elfos (Spanish; re-read; already reviewed)

297  Andrzej Sapkowski, Blood of Elves (re-read; already reviewed)

298  Andrzekj Sapkowski, Tiempo del odio (Spanish; already reviewed)

299  Maria Bennedetta Cerro, La Congiusa degli Oppositi (Italian; poetry; very good)

300  Natalia Ginzburg, Lessico famigliare (Italian; good)

301  Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch (review forthcoming)

302  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Vuelo nocturno (Spanish; very good)

303  Andrzej Sapkowski, The Time of Contempt (already reviewed)

304  Andrzej Sapkowski, Il tempo della guerra (Italian; already reviewed)

305  Andrzej Sapkowski, Le Temps du mépris (French; already reviewed)

306  Andrzej Sapkowski, Der Zeit der Verachtung (German; already reviewed)

307  Andrzej Sapkowski, Bautismo de fuego (Spanish; re-read; already reviewed)

308  Andrzej Sapkowski, Le Baptême du feu (French; already reviewed)

Update on Yearly Goals: 

Total:  308/366 - 4 books ahead of pace

Women writers:  108/308 (nearly 35%, above 33% minimum goal; 20/52 in October)

Foreign Language: 120/100 (exceeded goal, which now will be extended to 150)

Spanish:  43/50 (ahead of goal by 1 book; 6/52 in October)

Italian:  17/25 (roughly on pace; 6/52 in October) 
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