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Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays

I just found Should Be Reading’s Teaser Tuesdays feature via The Novel World. Teaser Tuesdays says to:

“Grab your current read. Let the book fall open to a random page. Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.  You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given! Please avoid spoilers!”

Here’s my teaser from Akim Volynsky’s Ballet’s Magic Kingdom, newly translated into English by Stanley J. Rabinowitz. The passage is about The Nutcracker:

“Everything boils unceasingly onstage in the quiet splash of the gentlest patterns, with bursts of rosy childlike laughter, childlike delight and intoxication, interrupted by momentary chagrin. And all this is wrapped in the aroma of a Christmas tree, with its twigs here and there crackling from the fire of the candles.”

Makes me want to see The Nutcracker.


In honor of the Hallmark holiday, I’ve decided to recommend one of my favorite reads about love: A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, by Roland Barthes, translated from French into English by Richard Howard. As the title suggests, the topic is the language used by one in love.

Description on Amazon:

“Barthes’s most popular and unusual performance as a writer is A Lover’s Discourse, a writing out of the discourse of love. This language—primarily the complaints and reflections of the lover when alone, not exchanges of a lover with his or her partner—is unfashionable. Thought it is spoken by millions of people, diffused in our popular romances and television programs as well as in serious literature, there is no institution that explores, maintains, modifies, judges, repeats, and otherwise assumes responsibility for this discourse . . . Writing out the figures of a neglected discourse, Barthes surprises us in A Lover’s Discourse by making love, in its most absurd and sentimental forms, an object of interest.”—Jonathan Culler

I definitely would not say it is an easy read, but it is a fascinating one, one that will having you thinking time and again “Yes! That’s how it is — just like that,” feeling both the thrill of being understood and the disappointment of finding oneself unoriginal precisely in the way we feel most unique and special — how we are in love.

Barthes just nails it so well — here are a few examples from the fragments:

“As a jealous man, I suffer four times over: because I am jealous, because I blame myself for being so, because I fear that my jealousy will wound the other, because I allow myself to be subject to a banality: I suffer from being excluded, from being aggressive, from being crazy, and from being common.”

“‘Am I in love? –Yes, since I’m waiting.’ The other never waits. Sometimes I want to play the part of the one who doesn’t wait; I try to busy myself elsewhere, to arrive late; but I always lose at this game: whatever I do, I find myself there, with nothing to do, punctual, even ahead of time. The lover’s fatal identity is precisely: I am the one who waits.

“Despite the difficulties of my story, despite discomforts, doubts, despairs, despite impulses to be done with it, I unceasingly affirm love, within myself, as a value. Though I listen to all the arguments which the most divergent systems employ to demystify, to limit, to erase, in short to depreciate love, I persist: “I know, I know, but all the same…” I refer the devaluations of a lover to a kind of obscurantist ethic, to a let’s-pretend realism, against which I erect the realism of value: I counter whatever “doesn’t work” in love with the affirmation of what is worthwhile.”

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Don’t you love when the first sentence really strikes you? You just know you’re going to love the book. Or, if not the book, at least the way the author writes. Some of my favorite first sentences are below…what’s yours?

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy


“To be born again,” sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, “first you have to die.”  The Satanic Verses, by Salmon Rushdie


“Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.” The Stranger, by Albert Camus


“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a wife.”  Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen


“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”  Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier


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indie-publishingSo you’ve dreamed of creating your own novel/poetry book/portfolio/picture book/zine but haven’t got a clue where to start? Indie Publishing: How to Design and Produce Your Own Book, edited by Ellen Lupton and published by Princeton Architectural Press, might be a good first step. The inspiring do-it-yourself guide walks you through the bookmaking basics, demystifying the process and providing practical guidance on everything from visual design to printing to marketing.

Buy it on Amazon.

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picture-box I just heard about the Very Short Introductions series published by Oxford University Press. They seem like a cool way to get a broad and basic introduction to wide-ranging topics–art, philosophy, music, logic, and literary theory are just a few of the book subjects. I might try the Picture Box set, which includes:

Art History: A Very Short Introduction, by Dana Arnold
Renaissance Art: A Very Short Introduction by Geraldine A. Johnson
Modern Art: A Very Short Introduction by David Cottington
Architecture: A Very Short Introduction by Andrew Ballantyne
Design: A Very Short Introduction by John Heskett
and the bonus: A Very Short Introduction to Everything (that should be interesting!)

The AssistantI just finished The Assistant, by Bernard Malamud. The story focuses closely on just a few characters: Moris Bober, a struggling Jewish shopkeeper; his mildly dissatisfied wife and idealistic daughter; and the Italian American drifter that the shopkeeper takes on as an assistant.

It was interesting to see different experiences of the American Dream juxtaposed. The younger characters (Helen in particular) are still dead-set on trying to achieve it. Helen desperately wants to get an education and break away from the limited circle she’s grown up in. Even her attitudes towards the young assistant are initially guided entirely by her dream, and she first dismisses him as irrelevant to the picture she’s painted for her future. She is conflicted though, because she is also committed to supporting her parents, a demand that continues with the decline of the shop.  In contrast, her father looks at the dream as something he missed out on by chance, even though he always did the right thing. The novel very rarely strays from the grocery shop and living quarters above, a few times down the block, to a bar, or to the park, and this limited scope really drills in the routine and confinement of Moris’ life.

The theme of redemption was really interesting as well. Frank Alpine, the store assistant, is trying to make himself a better person and redeem himself for his past sins, and the novel explores this process of coming to terms with his past and molding his character, charting his missteps and successes.  At one point, Helen gives Frank several great works of literature for him to read, one of which is Crime and Punishment. Though he starts out disliking it, he comes to like the novel and even fall in love with Sonia for a few days. Just as Sonia was a major force in Raskolnikov’s redemption, so too is Helen a driving force of Frank redemption. He makes this parallel himself when, despairing for Helen to listen to an apology, he asks her if she even understood the books she gave him to read. Helen may have loved the great literature’s portrayal of forgiveness and redemption but has a more difficult time living out those scenes in her own life. In contrast, Moris never picks up a book, but instinctively does the “right thing”, and is generous to a fault. This was my second Malamud novel (The Natural being the first) and I do plan to add some of his others to my to-read list.

As a side note, the publishers played a trick on me. The cover of the book says “Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction,” which I took to mean that the book had won the prize. Wrong. Malamud won the prize for his novel The Fixer. Sneaky…

very-long-engagementI really enjoyed this book. So much, in fact, that my reading of it was actually a very short engagement. I picked it up one recent rainy afternoon without very high expectations and ended up reading the entire thing in one sitting. I haven’t done that in a while. Written by Sebastien Japrisot and published in 1991, it’s an intricate mystery, a war story, and a romance all in one.

I love reading books that really tie you up with a character so that your experience of discovery mirrors theirs, and A Very Long Engagement does just that. As Mathilde tries to find out what exactly what happened to her beloved who was killed in the war, hers and the reader’s knowledge and picture of what happened expands and changes and changes again together. I really got swept up into Mathilde’s quest as she hunts down every possible source of information. Like her, I was desperately trying to piece each fragment of a clue into the jigsaw puzzle, trying figure out which characters saw what at what time, which are telling half truths, and just what exactly happened.

I also really like books that play around with the idea of narrative and storytelling, and I thought A Very Long Engagement succeeded here too. Mathilde and the reader both start out with one story of what happened to her fiance Manech, but each new clue and character interrupts that story with extra details and discrepancies, creating a web of stories and memories that by turns cloud and clear up Manech’s story. Running parallel to the unfolding story of Manech’s war experiences is the powerful love story of the present — Mathilde’s enduring love for her childhood friend who left for the war years ago.

P.S. The book also inspired a film with Audrey Tautou.