I Remember – #1018

I remember Ashley messaging me while she was drunk and celebrating EOFY with various work people to complain about poor treatment from a jealous old nag.  At the time I was sitting in a hotel room in Kyoto while Anna slept, bored and watching, I think, Jurassic Park.

-5 July 2017

This post is part of the I Remember series.

I Remember – #1015

I remember endless yakitori skewers in Osaka, with my favourites being chicken thigh, neck, heart, liver, skin – all of the good bits which were never served back in Brisbane, Australia (2021 Update – Bird’s Nest in Fortitude Valley and West End serve these skewers.  There may be other places).  And the endless beers with their enormous heads, drunk by Anna and I from tiny izekayas scattered around the Dōtonbori area.

-2 July 2017

This post is part of the I Remember series.

I Remember – #1014

I remember a Western-style cafe in Dotonbori which had an enormous map of the World up on the wall, huge really, with the prime coffee growing regions of the world identified and little text boxes jutting from each space, and instead of information about the geographic area or coffee type grown, instead there was lorem ipsum…

-1 July 2017

This post is part of the I Remember series.

Greek literature – contemporary recommendations, and a confession

A day or so ago it became clear to me that I am woefully under-read when it comes to Greek literature, and particularly contemporary Greek literature. It’s an almost complete unknown to me, and I assume (or assumed) that Greek literature was reasonably minor on the world stage.

Appreciation goes to Damon Young (Twitter: @damonayoung) for helping me recognise this

I don’t really know where this idea came from. Unpacking it a little, it could perhaps relate to the idea that the Ancient Greeks were so influential and important that the language and its literature must be in a decline/decadent phase now. But I have no evidence to support this. Contemplating other languages around the world, and I don’t really share this feeling with any other – though perhaps slightly with Italian (for the same reason??). That said, I have read and own a lot more Italian literature, so this prejudice is vague and fading.

This is clearly an issue and something I need to resolve within myself and address. I was surprised to discover I felt this way because, before now, I haven’t really even though about Greek literature at all. Yet my initial reaction was negative. There’s a problem here, and it’s entirely with me.

I spent an hour or so looking through my books, and outside of a couple of novels by Nikos Kazantzakis, I don’t own anything by any Greek writers other than the pre-AD writers.

None!

So, I sent out a query to Twitter – who among contemporary Greek writers are worth looking into?

Happily, the response was significant, and now I have lots of names to slowly address. This is very fine, and the details of the recommendations are below.

I decided also to review a Greek short story writer or two, with the first being Sophia Nikolaidou. You can see the list below (I’ll update as I add more):

  • Nikolaidou, Sophia – Houses Without Windows

Something that jumped out to me was the lack of Greek writers among the journals and publications I own. I am not naming and shaming as such, but these include – Dalkey Archive, Absinthe, Two Lines, Overland, Granta, The Black Herald. Weighty names. Granted, I don’t own everything published under those umbrellas, so it’s entirely possible I am missing many fine Greek writeres, but they weren’t there when I went looking.

At any rate, the below represent recommendations from various Twitter folk. I haven’t read a single word by any of these writers (well, excluding today’s read and review of Houses Without Windows), but I certainly respect the individuals mentioned below. Follow them! And perhaps buy and read some of these authors and their books –

  • Susan Pigman (@1SusyQ) – George Seferis, Constantine Cavafy, Yannis Ritsos
  • Tom (@TomWsf) – The Parthenon Bomber by Christos Chrysopoulos
  • @vivastory38 – Three Summers by Margarita Liberaki
  • Michael Holtmann (@michaelholtmann) – anything translated by Karen Emmerich
  • Ryan Ruby (@_ryanruby_) – Before Lyricism by Eleni Vakalo; What’s Left of the Night by Ersi Sotiropoulos; Amanda Michalopoulou; Christos Ikonomou
  • Marina Sofia (@marinaSofia8) – Ersi Sotiropoulos; Petros Markaris; Nikos Kazantsakis; Christos Ikonomou; Theodor Kallifatides; Ioanna Karystiani
  • Charles Lee (@charlesbrownesq) – Alexandros Papadiamantis; Sophia Nikolaidou; Vassilis Vassilikos
  • Tom (@AmateurReader) – George Seferis; Angelos Sikelianos; Odysseas Elytis
  • Jamie Richards (@JRichWords) – Margarita Karapanou; Vassilis Vassilikos; Giannis Ritsos

Let’s Read Patricia A. McKillip’s The Forgotten Beasts of Eld (Chapter 1, pp 1-21)

Welcome to my Let’s Read of Patricia A. McKillip’s The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.

Today I am reading Chapter 1, which takes us from pages 1 through 21.

I have begun this Let’s Read in order to expand my reading further into fantasy, particularly fantasy that is considered classic by the experts in the medium itself.

I am not well versed in fantasy as a genre. Well. I have read a number of books, but it’s all the same books that anyone else with a passing interest has read. A Song of Ice and Fire. The Wheel of Time. The Malazan Book of the Fallen. The Sword of Truth (forgive me). A bit of Joe Abercrombie, a touch of Scott Lynch, a dash of Gene Wolfe (just a dash). A book or two of Le Guin. In short – not enough, and what I have read is mostly male, mostly white, mostly epic fantasy.

What I haven’t read a lot of are the classics of the genre, or books written by women, or any group that isn’t a white male sharing their power fantasy.

I’m hoping these posts will encourage both myself to read wider, and also to engender dialogue about what fantasy is and could be and has been. Consider me ignorant but curious – help me if you know more and wish to share.

Patricia A. McKillip (McKillip) published this book when she was very young, 26, back in 1974. It won a number of awards, and forms part of Gollancz’s series, Fantasy Masterworks. I bought it on the strength of that series. She is, as of February 2021, alive, and continues to write and publish.

I am reading this book blind and sharing my impressions as I go. I am not intending on reviewing so much as sharing.

The book opens with a short introduction by Pat Cadigan. In it, he talks a little about the writer and a lot about the fact that he partied in the 1970s with a number of people. So it goes and moving on.

After that the book opens proper. McKillip begins with a prose style that clearly defines itself in the realm of fable. We learn of Sybel’s lineage, and the wizards and dark-eyed women who make up her parents and grandparents. Along the way the family’s connection to mythical beasts is explored, but honestly, these first few pages are a soup of nouns and sentences such as “The Wizard Heald coupled with a poor woman once”.

Sybel is born and, by then, the family’s connections to the outside world are mostly gone. Like us, for Sybel the names of nations and peoples are close to meaningless. Unlike us she lives with strange beasts and speaks with dragons. A man, Coren of Sirle, comes to see her, and with him is a baby, Tamlorn, a future king.

“Only…I do not know what to do with a baby. It cannot tell me what it needs.”

Coren was silent a moment. When he spoke finally, she heard the weariness haunting his voice like an overtone. “You are a girl. You should know such things.”

“Why?”

“Because – because you will have children someday and you – will have to know how to care for them.”

“I had no woman to care for me,” Sybel said. “My father fed me goat’s milk and taught me to read his books.”

Nonetheless she takes on the care of the baby, and starts to love him. An old woman offers to help raise the child – she leaves a gemstone for a nearby farmer in return for their cow. For the next several years as the child grows into a boy and then a man, villagers keep their barn doors open in hope that another gem might appear, another cow might be taken.

And Sybel learns to love.

Thus far, I am concerned at the sheer number of nonsense proper nouns that were thrown at me in the first few pages. Mondor. Eld. Eldwold. Terbrec. Sirle Lords. Fallow Field. Black Swan of Tirlith. King Merroc. Boar Cyrin. Gyld. These all from the first two pages. They signify little and mean less, but as I read I hold them in my mind in case they become relevant. It’s exhausting, and is an area, I think, where fantasy can be weak. How much of this is ‘world building’, and how much relevant? I hope to find out soon.

The book comes alive when Sybel and Coren discuss the baby’s plight and fate. There’s something to hold on to here, something tangible and real. I would not like it much if the book became an exercise in a strange woman learning how to learn through the magic of children, but I expect that this is not where it will go – such books aren’t considered classics, surely?

The confidence on display by McKillip is something. At twenty-six, she had the courage to open her book in such a manner, and then courage again to reduce the grandess from “Sirle Lords” to a crying baby in a handful of pages. It’s a striking first chapter, though the final page or so suffers again from Noun-ing too heavily, which perhaps bodes less well for future chapters.

Some comments on Derek Maine’s Pontoon Boat is in the Front Yard

Your mom’s a slut. I just have to throw that out there. This isn’t going to be easy for either of us but we’re ripping off the band-aid, son.

The anger of a wronged man is vast and knowable.  Vast, because they perceive that the world is pulling them down, their jobs, their women, their children, their obligations – it’s all one giant conspiracy to keep them low, down, trodden upon. These men never look to economics or class.  No, that problem is too big.  And so it is the immediate surrounds which are to blame.

Knowable because they rage online, in person, to friends, to family.  Their rage comes in the form of fists, of Facebook posts, of picketing in the streets.  They cannot be silent.  Whatever grievance they  have must be heard, tediously stretching out across the decades that make up their miserable lives.

Women rage, too, but they have the modesty to remain quiet about it.

In Derek Maine’s Pontoon Boat is in the Front Yard, the rage comes via a message sent from father to son.  The son is 16, and his life has been hard.  But this story is not about him. No, instead it is about the father and his wife, ex-wife, the woman for whom his rage knows no bounds.  He airs his grievances to his son in explicit, detailed form, ostensibly wrapping them around the errors of the step-father, but this is not the entire truth.  The father’s rage reaches back to when she was young, at school, and extends forward to now and into the future.  This is a rage that will never be loosened.

The step-father, we learn, abuses the teenager, and at the end of the communication the father provides an answer to his son.  A gun, in the boat.  One squeeze of the trigger and the problems are over.  I note grimly that here the father offloads the responsibility of solving his son’s horrific problems to the child himself.  He will not pull the trigger – he will simply rage.

To his small credit, the father offers up a list of his own flaws, including that of violence against the mother.  But this list is used as a method of showing that he isn’t as bad as the others.

In truth they are all rotten.  Perhaps the son is not, but everyone else is a dark planet orbiting a fallen star.

Maine’s language is loose, and crude, and a touch too-heavy on the swearing.  Just a touch.  This message, however it is being communicated, is one of speech, streaming directly from the narrator in an out-pouring of anger.  This works, the character is believable, but the length of the short piece is just about as long as I’d like to spend inside his mind.  It’s exhaustive, and imagine living like that?

There are some shining bright spots.  Twice, the narrator mentions spending time with his son, and here the tone is pleasant, even kind.  It’s a nice balance, and shows that no matter how these men might hate the world, what they love, they love.

This strikes me as a very American story.  This is not a criticism or a commendation.  The ending involves violence, or at least, encouraging violence, and in a manner that I, as an Australia, perceive as close to uniquely American.  The answer provided is not to run away, or change, or engage the authorities – it is violence.  Violence, violence, violence.

The rage continues, the generations feed on one another, and in twenty years time this teenage boy will be saying something much the same to his own son, likely from jail, unquestionably full of his own inherited anger.

Derek Maine’s Pontoon Boat is in the Front Yard is a short story published online at Misery Tourism.  Derek’s Twitter account is @derekmainelives.

2020 in Review – the first 100 Books

October 28 marks the day when I read 100 books for the year.

Let’s take a look at the breakdown of what I read –

Books written by men – 81

Books written by women – 19

Translated works – 70

Nobel Prize winning works – 21

Books by Small Presses – 46

Fantasy novels – 5

Average pages – 168 pages

So let’s analyse the above

Obviously the glaring, massive, disappointing issue is the percentage of women writers compared to men. It’s not good enough and I am honestly surprised. If I was asked I would have said perhaps 40%, but here we are under 20% for the year.

I need to do better. I have enough books written by women to dramatically improve these numbers.

The next book, which I am almost done at the time of writing this, was written by a woman, but that would only take the year from 19% to 19.8%. Lots and lots of work here to do.

Some of the notable women writers I have read this year include the incomparable Marguerite Duras. I prefer her late works, which are sparse, pristine, close to formless. Open Letter publish a number of these and I would strongly, strongly recommend checking out her work.

I like Rachel Cusk, but A Life’s Work is not a book I connected with particularly well. In it, Cusk grapples with being pregnant and then having a child. And I mean, she really grapples with it. To the point where she struggles with whether or not she hates her child while loving it. And, for me, with a very young child, I just found it too much. I don’t love/hate my child, and I haven’t struggled with parenting. Perhaps when she’s 10 and I am distanced from the baby-phase I might be able to read such a book dispassionately, but alas at this stage in my life I cannot.

Christa Wolf’s No Place on Earth was very strong. Boiled down it’s an historical dialogue between a famous man and an unknown (to us, historically) woman. They discuss art, love, life and it’s all absolutely fascinating.

Otherwise, 70% being translated work seems about right. I certainly actively go out of my way to read translated work, and this is shown here. I would anticipate most years of my life would show 60-80% translated books, particularly now that my Updike/Bellow/Roth obsession of my twenties appears to be over.

Nobel Prize winners at 21 is fine. I have no real goal here other than I want to read as many as I can. One book in five seems fine, fine, fine. I’m drawn to novellas, as can be seen above, and it sometimes seems that most Nobel writers write big chunky bois.

Small Presses at 46% is good. I’d like to push that up to 50%, but I’m fine with where it is. Special shout-out as always to Open Letter, which make up 12 of the books I’ve read this year. They are doing excellent work. Other big hitters for me is Dalkey Archive Press and New Directions. The stalwarts, in other words.

Fantasy at 5 books is ok. I want it lower than 10% and here we are. Not much to say here. I tend to use fantasy as a way to kickstart my reading slumps and get me back into literature, but at times I’ll really dive deep into fantasy. Not this year, as we can see – though I have bought a simply enormous amount of books in the SF Masterworks and Fantasy Masterworks series. One day.

The average pages strikes me as slightly lower than I thought, but broadly speaking about right. I have a fondness for novellas. I have for years and I will continue to do so. The kind of literature I enjoy most explores an idea fully and then gets out of the way. That’s a novella.

So what does the rest of the year bring? Likely twenty more books. And they really, really need to be more heavily female. I’ve disappointed myself here, and with only two months left in the year I don’t really see how I rectify this in any meaningful way. Reading 20 books, all by women, before the year ends, still only puts me at one third written by females. Which I mean is better but c’mon.

At any rate, reading is not a numbers game, or not entirely so. I have not engaged in enough reading projects this year (ie – Spanish writers, Holocaust literature, Oulipo, etc), and this is something I’d like to do more of. Twitter is aflutter with reading projects and months devoted to a country or language or theme. And sure, that’s pretty great. But I chafe under the rope of another individual’s project, and so I will go it alone, reading, reading, reading.

But definitely reading more women.

Update – And here are the books

Barthes, RolandCamera Lucida28 October 2020
Thiong’o, Ngugi WaWeep Not, Child27 October 2020
Handke, PeterDon Juan25 October 2020
Zweig, StefanJourneys28 September 2020
Darrieussecq, MarieOur Life in the Forest26 September 2020
Leiber, FritzSwords Against Wizardry26 September 2020
Eaves, WillMurmur24 September 2020
Didion, JoanSouth and West24 September 2020
Pessoa, FernandoSelected Poems5 September 2020
Calvino, ItaloInvisible Cities3 September 2020
Bataille, GeorgesStory of the Eye2 September 2020
Aira, CesarDinner1 September 2020
Greene, GrahamDoctor Fischer of Geneva31 August 2020
Ionescu, AnamariaZodiac31 August 2020
Beckett, SamuelThe Lost Ones26 August 2020
Madej, RyanThe Marianas Trench26 August 2020
King, StephenThe Gunslinger25 August 2020
Eliot, T. S.Murder in the Cathedral25 August 2020
Bolano, RobertoThe Spirit of Science Fiction16 August 2020
Perec, GeorgesAn Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris16 August 2020
Levi, PrimoMoments of Reprieve15 August 2020
Origo, IrisA Chill in the Air11 August 2020
Beckett, SamuelDante and the Lobster9 August 2020
Pilch, JerzyA Thousand Peaceful Cities8 August 2020
Saer, Juan JoseThe One Before7 August 2020
Togawa, MasakoThe Master Key6 August 2020
Sebald, W. G.Campo Santo5 August 2020
Gappah, PetinaAn Elegy for Easterly3 August 2020
Bolano, RobertoBy Night in Chile31 July 2020
Vila-Matas, EnriqueBecause She Never Asked30 July 2020
Armitage, SamuelBook of Matches29 July 2020
Coleridge, Samuel TaylorThe Rime of the Ancient Mariner23 July 2020
Review of Contemporary FictionGeorges Perec Issue22 July 2020
Hamsun, KnutVictoria22 July 2020
Cusk, RachelA Life’s Work21 July 2020
Sirieix, FredSecret Service17 July 2020
Roth, PhilipZuckerman Unbound11 July 2020
Whitehead, ColsonApex Hides the Hurt10 July 2020
Xingjian, GaoThe case for literature25 June 2020
Roth, PhilipThe Ghost Writer23 June 2020
Beckett, SamuelThe Expelled and Other Novellas22 June 2020
Mieville, ChinaIron Council22 June 2020
Fernandez Mallo, AgustinNocilla Experience16 June 2020
Turner, DavidVictorian and Edwardian Railway Travel13 June 2020
Nors, DortheMirror, Shoulder, Signal9 June 2020
Modiano, RenzoOf Jewish Race4 June 2020
OndjakiThe Whistler3 June 2020
Sosnowski, AndrzejLodgings2 June 2020
Navarro, ElviraA Working Woman1 June 2020
Modiano, PatrickHoneymoon1 June 2020
France, AnatoleBalthasar31 May 2020
Baudelaire, CharlesThe Flowers of Evil26 May 2020
Wolf, ChristaNo Place on Earth26 May 2020
Brecht, BertoltMother Courage and her Children22 May 2020
Mella, DanielOlder Brother21 May 2020
Azam, MaryamThe Hijab Files19 May 2020
Tenev, GeorgiParty Headquarters18 May 2020
Alexievich, SvetlanaZinky Boys17 May 2020
Rey Rosa, RodrigoSeverina16 May 2020
Hesse, HermannJourney to the East14 May 2020
Neruda, PabloSelected Poems13 May 2020
Heaney, SeamusNew Selected Poems 1966-198712 May 2020
Baudelaire, CharlesParis Spleen9 May 2020
Duras, MargueriteL’Amour7 May 2020
Erikson, StevenGardens of the Moon6 May 2020
Holub, MiroslavVanishing Lung Syndrome6 May 2020
Krasznahorkai, LaszloSatantango30 April 2020
Maupassant, Gu dePierre and Jean29 April 2020
Barba, AndresSuch Small Hands28 April 2020
Camus, AlbertThe Plague28 April 2020
Watson, HollyNever Seen the Sea26 April 2020
Saat, MariThe Saviour of Lasnamae25 April 2020
Saramago, JoseAll the Names23 April 2020
Sebald, W. G.Vertigo18 April 2020
Ogawa, YokoThe Housekeeper and the Professor15 April 2020
Modiano, PatrickSleep of Memory14 April 2020
Rothes, JoshuaThe Art of the Great Dictators19 March 2020
Pizarnik, AlejandraThe Galloping Hour17 March 2020
Camus, AlbertThe Outsider16 March 2020
Bidart, FrankHalf-Light – Collected Poems15 March 2020
Rilke, Rainer MariaSonnets to Orpheus14 March 2020
de Juan, Jose LuisNapoleon’s Beekeeper12 March 2020
Modiano, PatrickThe Search Warrant9 March 2020
Mieville, ChinaThe Scar8 March 2020
Transtromer, TomasThe Half-Finished Heaven2 March 2020
Igov, AngelA Short Tale of Shame20 February 2020
Wolf, RorTwo or Three Years Later11 February 2020
Vollmann, William TWhores for Gloria6 February 2020
Kadare, IsmailBroken April5 February 2020
Mahfouz, NaguibMiramar4 February 2020
Duras, MargueriteAbahn Sabana David3 February 2020
Ljubic, NicolStillness of the Sea3 February 2020
Mariani, LucioTraces of Time1 February 2020
Duras, MargueriteYann Andrea Steiner30 January 2020
Blatnik, AndrejYou Do Understand24 January 2020
Nordbrandt, HenrikWhen we Leave Each Other23 January 2020
Zambra, AlejandroMultiple Choice16 January 2020
Hazan, EricA History of the Barricade9 January 2020
Hesse, HermannPoems6 January 2020
Zambra, AlejandroThe Private Life of Trees2 January 2020