Revolutionary Road

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
Richard Yates

A crisp and disturbing master class in American realism.

Difficult, because each and every character is portrayed with an unstinting lack of compassion.

Plausible and instructive, but born out of bitterness and depression.
In this case, the liquor glass is not half-empty, it is full: of vanity, hypocrisy and minor self-deceptions that annoyingly gnaw away the human spirit until only hollow men are left.

It’s not going to make you feel warm and fuzzy, unless you drink a lot while you read it.

Sharp, brittle, bloodless, and as beautiful as china. And highly recommended.

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A Meaningful Life

A Meaningful Life
L.J. Davis

Very clever and fun. And the renovated house is on Washington Avenue in Fort Greene, I think, which is way cool.

I love the understated humor and I could really relate to the protagonist. All of the characters seemed extremely fresh (the book was published in 1971.) The wife’s dialogue was especially brilliant, as were the parents from Boise.

The end was a little odd and didn’t seem entirely in keeping with the rest of the novel. I will say no more.

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Television

Television
Jean-Philippe Toussaint

This is one of my favorite reads in the past five years. I’m not sure why, but I laughed hard, long and loud throughout the novel. Many of my friends who read it did not find it very funny, but it really struck a chord with me. Probably not a flattering thing to admit – does that mean I identify with the main character? – but the very French combination of ridiculous physical comedy with a spiritually-cleansing send-up of academic pretension tickled my funny bone. Kudos to the Dalkey Archive for publishing this author!

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The Rings of Saturn

The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald

Over the course of several day’s walk through the English countryside, the writer/speaker reminisces and meditates on the local history and architecture, digressing into an exloration of imperialism, colonialism, the nature of time and loss in memory. It’s hard to describe, but it’s astonishingly beautiful. It made me feel the same way I felt when I first saw the Russian ark movie–swept away by a tide of memory, like the gentle inexorable, lulling ebb of the sea in a quiet lagoon protected from the sea on a remote, lost island.

Resources

The New Yorker on Sebald – “The Poetry of the Disregarded” by Teju Cole
More New Yorker: “Why You Should Read W. G. Sebald” by Mark O’Connell

Excerpt

Film

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pftG3sr2X9o&noredirect=1&w=560&h=315&rel=0]
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The Enthusiast

The Enthusiast
Charlie Haas

The Enthusiast is a fun read in a Tom Robbins-y style — youthful, but updated in a blog-topical way for the Internet era of micro-interests and short attention spans.

Our man Henry Bay journeys through life and these United States in brief fits and energetic starts into the remote corners of the niche magazine industry — and the passions and people those magazines represent and promote.

Without giving anything away, in the course of his bildungsroman journey, Henry finds his own version of  family and place in the world.

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The Fig Eater

The Fig Eater by Jody Shields
Jody Shields

by Jody Shields

When a young woman’s body is discovered in the summer of 1910 Vienna, the Inspector’s wife is certain the figs found in her stomach during the autopsy are the clue to the identity of the murderer–for there are no fresh figs in Vienna at this time of year.

Shield’s hypnotic first novel follows the criminal investigation of the circumstances surrounding the death of Dora, the subject of Freud’s famous treatise on repression and female sexual hysteria.

related links

Salon.com review
discussion questions

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Are You Somebody?

Are You Somebody?
Are You Somebody?

‘Drinking means bad breath and crusted shirt-fronts and bottles of milk wolfed down as a meal and waking in the morning on a pile of coats with noclean knickers and being thin, being cold, being sick’

O’Faolain, a journalist for the Irish Times, was asked to collect her columns for publication, but the introduction she sat down to write eventually expanded into this beautifully cadenced and moving memoir, into which many of the columns have been folded. The second of nine children, O’Faolain lived a bohemian childhood with little money and many books. Her father, a well- known journalist in Ireland, left to her mother the responsibility for their children. O’Faolain’s mother read voraciously and drank with a similar appetite, often neglecting her children. O’Faolain explores the role of women in Ireland and how gender has affected her life. O’Faolain’s candor made a deep impression when the book was published in Ireland; it quickly landed on the bestseller list, staying at the top for 20 weeks. A testament to a full and passionately lived life–all the more affecting because of that life’s vividly described imperfection and pain.

related links

wiki O’Faolain
interview (NPR)
pink slip

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The Question of Bruno

The Question of Bruno by Aleksandar Hemon

Aleksandar Hemon moved to the U.S. from Bosnia in the early 1990s, prior to the siege of Sarajevo. He swiftly learned English and began writing, in his adopted language, stories about the traumas of immigrant experience and the pain of witnessing the war from his American exile. His impressive debut, The Question of Bruno, may lack the fluency and imaginative élan of Kundera and the linguistic density and sophistication of Conrad (both of whom Hemon specifically invokes), yet these stories have a haunting power that lingers long after a first reading.

related links

The Question of Bruno at Random House
NYT book review
first chapter

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The Three-Arched Bridge

The Three-Arched Bridge by Ismail Kadare

It’s the fourteenth century Balkans, and water transportation has recently been monopolized by a shady outfit called “Boats and Rafts” that imposes standard tolls for water crossings. Our fictitious monk-narrator acts as interpreter when two strangers appear in the realm and offer to build a bridge across the dangerous river that separates and possibly protects the land from the surrounding empires. Much to the dismay of Boats and Rafts, the proposal is accepted. As the construction progresses, suspicion surrounding the bridge grows even more quickly, and eventually unexplained events begin to occur. Against a deftly drawn historical backdrop and with carefully layered modern political commentary, Kadare’s narrative explores economics, mythology, community, and translation with wit and intelligence.

related links

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Ali and Nino

Ali and Nino by Kurban Said

Ali and Nino, first published in Vienna in 1937, is one of the enduring romantic novels of the century. An involving tale of love challenged by war, often compared to Romeo and Juliet and Dr. Zhivago, it is as much a story of love as it is a portrait of two exotic cultures. Ali Khan is an Islamic boy from Azerbaijan with his ancestors’ passion for the desert and warrior legends, but his lover Nino, a beautiful Christian girl from Georgia, is the child with a more European sensibility. At once an unforgettable tale of love, adventure and personal heroism, Ali and Nino has persisted in readers’ memories just as the strange background of its author’s life has continued to perplex all who look into it.

 

related links

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