I look forward to it all year: the Centenary Book Bazaar is by far the best book sale in Shreveport. If you’ve only been to the library’s, you’re missing out! My general rule is $20 and one ginormous bag, but rules are made to be broken, right? I was still too sick to enjoy last year’s book sale, so I sat it out. This year, I gave myself permission to make up for the lost book deals, so I took TWO bags and my usual $20 bill, but I also took my checkbook. Always be prepared. Winter is coming. And so on.
People line up for hours to be first to get into this thing, and that’s dedication considering it’s usually 100 degrees outside at this time of the year. In fact, I followed an ambulance, lights and sirens blaring, into the parking lot. I assume someone had fainted. They offer bottles of water for $1, and I heard rumors of ice cream. It started at 4pm, and I showed up at 3:45 because while I love this book sale, I’m not willing to bake before it (and there’s the little matter of insulin in my pocket). I was dripping sweat by the time I got in, anyway.
The line didn’t seem as long this year as it had been in the past. Maybe it was exceptionally hot? What’s funny is that there are two line options: one out in the sun and one in the shade. And the sunny one is always longer! Ridiculous. I, of course, chose the shaded route. Two roads diverged in a wood, and so on.
As usual, it was packed. Rows and rows of tables lined with people wheeling around suitcases and other fun things to trip over. I just poked at people with my bag.
I was mildly disappointed this time: they have multiple tables of paperback fiction, and one is something like “Paperback Treasures” and is usually covered in nice trade paperbacks of books I like to read. Somehow, that table was covered with mass markets this year.
I spent about half an hour nosing around and filling up one big bag plus a couple. I only go for the tables of decent contemporary fiction, “literature,” and school book lists because if it’s true, I’ll never get around to reading it. And this year, I found some gems! And a much larger pile of books that have been on my radar for a while.
What did I get, you ask? Here’s the list! (I usually link books and authors to Goodreads, but I’m far too lazy to do that with all of these, so I’m only linking within this blog. Just so you know.)
- A Russian Journal by Steinbeck. I’d never heard of this one, but I love its author.
- Adam Bede by George Eliot. It’s been on my radar for a while, and I really liked Silas Marner.
- Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol. I’ve been meaning to read it.
- Officers and Gentlemen by Evelyn Waugh. Waugh is highlarious.
- The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I tried reading a few years ago and failed, but I think I’ll try again soon.
- Labrynths by Jorge Luis Borges. I love Borges. I’ve read Labyrinths, but it was a borrowed copy, and I wanted to own it.
- Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata. Goodreads keeps telling me I’ll like it.
- Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev. I haven’t read Turgenev, but I’ve been meaning to.
- Diary of a Madman and Other Stories by Nikolai Gogol. It was the Book Sale of Russians. There was a pile.
- A two-volume set of The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky. I love Crime and Punishment, and I bet I’ll love this one, too.
- The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor. I think she’s my favorite short story writer. This was a FIND.
- The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Another one I’ve been meaning to read.
- Anna Karenina by Tolstoy. Another Russian and another reading list fulfillment.
- Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Everyone tells me it’s good! And Cormac McCarthy has won me over to westerns.
- A two-volume set of Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. I’ve never read it because I hate mysteries, but I know I should.
- The Children of Men by P.D. James. Another attempt and failure. I’m not sure why. It’s different than the movie, and I think I liked it as far as I got into it. That was several years ago.
- 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I read it last year and reviewed it on this blog. I own it on Kindle, and I bought a nice hardback version for all of $3.
- The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. If you ever read this blog, you know how much I love Hemingway. I haven’t read many of his short stories. This is also another one I own on Kindle but wanted the actual book.
And I could have sworn there was one more! I’m going by the recent history list in my cataloging software, Delicious Library. Maybe I miscounted yesterday. All told, I spent $23.50. I think I got a pretty awesome deal. The winners, of course, are the Flannery O’Connor and Hemingway collections. A nice page with a list of all of my fiction and a few other things is here. I even updated it today!
As I said: best book sale. If I ever say I’m bored, point me toward my bookshelves. Speaking of which, all of these books created quite a pile, and I had to do some pretty serious rearranging of my already limited space. I need more shelves!
Finally, a round of applause for my Very Helpful Helper, Shakespeare, who walked back and forth over my keyboard countless times just while I was writing this blog post.
Well. Coin Locker Babies is certainly a book. Not exactly my kind of book, but a book. And not a bad one, either. It’s just a little too extreme for me. I’ve been going back and forth about quoting the first paragraph so you’d see exactly what I mean, but I’m a little scared that I’d be flagged by Google or something. This is a family-friendly blog. Usually.
This isn’t my first Ryu Murakami – I read and blogged about Popular Hits of the Showa Era, and I read In the Miso Soup a few years ago. I liked the latter better than the former, but they’re both okay. Don’t confuse this Murakami with Haruki Murakami, one of my favorite authors. Their only similarity, really, is that they’re Japanese, and some of the themes seem to go together culturally. But they’re two entirely different authors, and Haruki is much more my style.
Anyway. Coin Locker Babies is about two boys, Kiku and Hashi, who were born in coin lockers, and what that experience does to them. It’s violent and terrible and grim. They’re put in an orphanage, and when they begin to act out, they’re taken to a psychologist and hypnotized to a soundtrack of a beating heart. Hashi becomes obsessed with figuring out what sound it was and begins a singing career (after being a gay prostitute in a section of Tokyo called Toxitown), and Kiku has plans to blow up all of Tokyo, but first he ends up in prison for shooting his mother in the face. Yeah. Violent. And don’t forget the sexual violence between Hashi and his patron, Mr. D, and Kiku and his girlfriend Anemone, who owns a pet crocodile. It’s an interesting story, anyway.
I generally don’t like sex scenes in books. I’m kind of squeamish, I guess. But it happens (I think I mentioned the gross stump scene in that Hemingway novel), and that’s okay. Except I read chunks of Coin Locker Babies through squinted eyes. Urrgh.
And it wasn’t just the violence, sexual and not, that got to me: this book invaded my dreams. That doesn’t happen too often (The Monk is one example off the top of my head), but when it does, I hate it. I’ve stopped reading books because of it. It’s not even necessarily nightmares – this time, I was reading in my sleep, like my dream was a book I was reading aloud. Not exactly a restful night’s sleep. So I made myself finish it quickly yesterday afternoon (between quests in my guilty-pleasure game, Maple Story. Don’t judge!) and moved on. I slept much better last night after beginning The Book Thief, which I’m trying hard not to like – but that’s another post.
So. Coin Locker Babies isn’t a bad book. It’s just a little – okay, way – too violent and sexually charged for my taste. Not a book for kids or squeamish adults, which includes me. It’s certainly interesting, though, and well-written, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t give it a try.
After the intensity of Salem’s Lot and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I needed something more calm and grounded. Enter Hemingway, who is always safe. (Though I don’t particularly like two of his novels, they never make my head feel like it’s going to explode.) A Moveable Feast has been on my list for quite a while, and I’m not sure why I hadn’t read it until now. I think it’s the fear of the non- in front of the fiction part. At the beginning, Hemingway says you can treat it like fiction, but I’m sure that at least most of the stories are true. So we’ll call it a memoir.
It’s about Hemingway and the Lost Generation in Paris in the 1920s, living and writing. He details time he spent with Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others, and how he lived cheaply before he became famous for his novels.
He describes Gertrude Stein just as I’d expect her. I’m not a fan. I don’t like her poetry, and it seems to me that she wasn’t a great artist, but her value lies in opening the path for other artists. Here’s a good example of poetry that I don’t like – and an excerpt from “New”:
Anne to come.
Anne to come.
Be new too.
Anne to come
Anne to come
Be new too.
Anne to come.
Anne do come.
Anne do come too, to come and to come not to come and as to
and new, and new too.
UGH. Okay, I know she was a high Modernist and was experimenting with language and so on, but UGH. She reminds me of a certain local artist who also makes me say UGH. Thank God Instagram didn’t exist back then.
Moving on. Hemingway also describes a trip he took with Fitzgerald to Lyon to pick up a car he and Zelda had left there. Fitzgerald can’t hold his alcohol, and trouble ensues. They get back, Hemingway reads The Great Gatsby, and says that he’ll deal with whatever Fitzgerald does because that novel is so good and he knows Fitzgerald can write something even better.
I really enjoyed A Moveable Feast. I gained insight not only into Hemingway’s life, but into the lives of the Lost Generation in Paris. It’s more personal and real than biographies and histories written after the fact, and that makes it oh so much better.
Bonus: Here’s a picture a drunken Hemingway, though it was taken many years later.
I’ve been putting off writing this post for long enough. The idea of writing it bores me about as much as reading the book did. I gave Across the River and into the Trees two stars on Goodreads, not because it’s a bad novel, per se, but because it’s a bad novel for Hemingway. It’s also his last completed novel, which was a bit of a draw for me. (He shot himself, you know.) And for that, it’s almost what one would expect – in hindsight, at least.
It’s about a 51-year-old retiring America colonel in Italy. He’s hopelessly in love with a 19-year-old contessa who won’t marry him (or do any of the things that go along with marriage with him). During the week, he works, but on the weekends he travels back to Venice, stays in a hotel, and spends his time with the girl. They eat in restaurants and float around in gondolas (in which there’s a gross kind-of sex scene in the vein of the stumpy one in To Have and Have Not). And that’s about it. There’s also the not-so-shocking almost twisty ending.
That said, it’s exactly what I’d expect from a depressed, aging Hemingway with one foot in the mental grave. It’s sad. The whole thing is sad – but in a boring way. The first fifty pages was just his trip to Venice for the weekend. I almost put it down at that point because it didn’t seem like it was going anywhere. Just military talk. He hadn’t even mentioned the contessa yet. The only thing that kept me reading at that point was the description on Goodreads. I’m not sorry I did, but, well, meh.
The only Hemingway novel I don’t like is The Old Man and the Sea, and the more Hemingway I read, the less sense that makes to me. It’s not like I actively dislike this one, either. I’m not interested enough in it to dislike it. Which is why I felt like I should go ahead and write this review: Across the River and into the Trees will be one of those novels I forget with a month.
But we’re reasonably well into 2013, you (who check my Goodreads account religiously) say! And you finished To Have and Have Not weeks ago! And what’s this new mention of Mao II? How does it have anything to do with anything? What’s the deal?!?
Well, I’ve been busy. Or maybe I haven’t been busy, but I’ve been otherwise occupied. I certainly have lots of things with which to be occupied, so we’ll call that my excuse. But, anyway, here we are in a fresh new year, and I’m still wrapping up the old one, with two books I barely remember. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but now do you see why I combined them?
First up is To Have and Have Not (don’t worry: I’m not going to talk much about either of these). As you probably know, I’m a huge Hemingway fan, and I’m slowly discovering his many (many!) books that aren’t normally assigned in college classrooms. To Have and Have Not is classic Hemingway: it’s a Manly Novel that talks about Manly Things. (Which is what this novels has in common with Mao II: all of DeLillo’s novels that I’ve read are Manly Novels. I’m not sure what to make of that, except that I seem to be in the mood for parenthetical asides today.)
It’s about Harry Morgan, a Manly Man with a fishing boat in Cuba. Or at least that’s where he starts. After a fishing trip goes south, he’s forced into shuttling black market alcohol from Key West and other unsavory activities because he has to support his family. And Things Happen. I will provide one warning: there is a bit of a sex scene that involves a “stump” where an arm used to be, and it’s GROSS. Yes. All-caps gross. Or maybe it’s just me.
I’ve only met one Hemingway novel I don’t like: The Old Man and the Sea, which, funnily enough, is the one most people have read and liked. (I have the same problem with Vonnegut‘s Slaughterhouse Five, though upon a second reading, I don’t hate it nearly as much as I used to.) What’s funny is that this novel starts with one of those long marlin-fishing scenes, but it ended eventually, so it didn’t bother me. And that’s about all I have to say about To Have and Have Not. I really liked it.
On to Mao II, which I’ve read before and posted about before. I read it sometime last year, just before I got sick, because I was working on my thesis, and the last chapter is about that novel. Then, of course, I got sick and didn’t write the chapter, and now, it’s been so long that I’ll probably have to read it again when I finally do. Ugh. That said, it’s not a bad novel, but it’s your typical DeLillo (which is what my thesis is about), and I’m certainly not going to rehash it here. The end.