The latest addition to my website is Upton Sinclair‘s The Jungle. This is one of those books (too many, I am afraid) that I should have read long ago but somehow never got around to doing so. While it is not a great novel, it is interesting, as, unlike most novels, it influenced government policy and resulted in changes in US food legislation. It paints a very grim picture of the meat packing industry in Chicago and the horrible situation of the workers in that field, both as regard their working conditions but also the other abuses they are subject to, in housing, health and safety, food and the generalised corruption found in Chicago at that time (and still going on, to a certain degree). Muckraking, powerful and horrifying are some of the adjectives used to describe it. Apart from this novel, I suspect Sinclair is no longer much read, even in the USA.
The latest addition to my website is Norah Lange‘s Norah Lange: 45 días y 30 marineros [45 Days and 30 Sailors], yet another Latin American novel that has not been translated into English. This is the story, based on an actual voyage Lange made, of a young woman (the real Lange was twenty-eight) travelling from Buenos Aires, alone with a male crew of thirty sailors and one male passenger. Much of the novel finds both passengers and crew drunk but there are also many sexual undertones that threaten to break out into overtones. Indeed, a considerable part of the story is how this develops and how Ingrid, the Lange character, deals with it. Lange has had something of a cult reputation in Argentina, partially because of her association with Borges (they may have been lovers at one time) but is now somewhat better known since her collected works were issued in 2005. Sadly, none of her work has been translated into English.
Bookfinder published a list of the Top 100 most sought after out-of-print books in 2012and a fairly grim list it is. I have read three – the Paul Gallico when I was about eleven, Allegory of Love when I was at university and The Act of Creation many many years ago and I own one other, the Dennis Potter. I sincerely doubt that I will read any of the others. Indeed, I had heard of very few. Do people really feel the need to see Madonna with her clothes off? A quick Google of Madonna nude will surely give you all you want and for free. And it isn’t cheap. Amazon US is selling it new for $262.56 and Amazon UK for £250.00.
Stephen King is the only author to have two books in the top ten. I must confess that I have never read him but are there people prepared to pay large sums for his lesser works? Apparently. Lynne Cheney is still there. When her husband was Vice-President of the United States, it was almost impossible to obtain this porn novel but it can be yours for a mere £35. For $78.90 you can buy Too Good to Be Threw : The Complete Operations Manual for Consignment Shops. Is there someone out there who feels the need to pay this money for this book? Some of my literary buying choices are, frankly, a bit recondite as my significant other never fails to remind me but whenever I feel guilty in the future about paying for a book, I shall merely look at this list and remind myself that people are paying a lot more for a lot worse. Just think, if you don’t know how to make pancakes, you can get Pancakes A to Z for a mere $43.59 plus shipping.
The latest addition to my website is Milena Ercolani‘s Figlie della luna [Daughters of the Moon]. It is not a novel but rather a collection of short stories, nominally linked by a common theme (a feminist sensibility). Given that there is not much from San Marino, it is here but it really is not very good and I am not too convinced by the feminist sensibility thing either. Of course, it is only available in Italian and I very much doubt that it will every make it into English or, indeed, any other language.
The latest addition to my website is Rafael Chirbes‘ Crematorio [The Crematorium]. Like La larga marcha [The Long March] and La caída de Madrid [The Fall of Madrid], this one is a portrait of Spain, this time set in the 1990s/early 2000s and shows the complete and utter corruption of the construction boom, as the fictitious town of Misent has been massively over-developed to the benefit or Rubén Bertomeu. Rubén’s brother Matías, who opposed his brother’s activities, has just died and we follow, through a stream-of-consciousness approach, the thoughts and feelings of those associated with the brothers. Chirbes gives us a wonderful picture of a thoroughly decadent and corrupt society at the height of the Spanish development boom, a boom that we know will come crashing down. Sadly, though this is a first-class novel, you will not be able to read it in English.
The latest additions to my website are two Anne Enright novels. The first is What Are You Like?, an earlier novel. Frankly, this story of two young women looking for their origins did not really work for me. I found that, while Enright’s writing is, as always, superb, the plotting was somewhat unstructured and wooly and did not awaken my interest as the two women, Maria Delahunty and Rose Cotter, just drifted around. I could not feel any great sympathy for them or, indeed, any interest in them, despite their need to know where they came from and who they were.
The Gathering, however, is a different matter. It deservedly won the Man Booker Prize, apparently unanimously, despite not being the favourite. It is a wonderful story of Veronica Hegarty, one of twelve, whose brother, Liam, eleven months her senior, has just killed himself. Why did he kill himself and what was the role of Ada, her grandmother? The complex nature of large and somewhat dysfunctional families is examined. While, as in What Are You Like?, she jumps around, you always have the feeling that she is focussed on the main issue, Liam’s death, Ada’s role and the problems of large families, unlike in What Are You Like? where the focus seems to drift away from the main issue. This is definitely a book worth reading
The latest addition to my website is Shalom Auslander‘s Hope: A Tragedy, one of the funniest books I have read in a long while. It is very politically incorrect, featuring a still alive but smelly and cantankerous Anne Frank, struggling to write a novel, a Jewish man whose fatal flaw is hope, his mother who spends her life bemoaning her fate as a Holocaust victim, despite the fact that she was born in Brooklyn in 1945 and, like all her close relatives, never went anywhere near Europe, and an arsonist. Solomon Kugel joins the list of literary Jewish heroes who struggle with life and with mothers.
I have just returned from two weeks in Burma, where I saw the biggest book in the world (see photo at left). Other sites of literary interest included the Nationa Museum where they had samples of the handwriting of many Burmese writers, including Ma Ma Lay. I only have one Burmese book on my site – Ma Ma Lay’s Mone Ywe Mahu (Not Out of Hate). I went to the Bagan Book House, the best bookshop in Burma for English language books. They had a small but impressive collection of books but they were all non-fiction – travel, history, ethnography, botany/biology, etc, including some rare out of print memoirs – but no fiction to add to my collection. There were a lot of street sellers selling books in Burmese though obviously I was not able to judge what they were selling.
While there, I read Amitav Ghosh‘s The Glass Palace, the latest addition to my website. It is set in Burma (and India and Malaya as well), and is a family saga, with the various members moving between those three countries. However, it starts with the British invasion of Burma in 1885 and ends with Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest by the generals. It roundly condemns colonialism but shows that the concept is not always too simple, not least with the Burmese objecting to the Indian presence in Burma and, of course, the Japanese invasion of South-East Asia. It is well worth reading whether you know those three countries or not.
The latest addition to my website is Sergio de la Pava‘s A Naked Singularity. This made some best-off lists for the end of last year but not enough. The fact that it was self-published in 2008, is nearly 700 pages long and written by a US author of Colombian origin with an Italian name may have put some people off. It is actually a superb novel about an attorney in the New York City public defender system, which starts off describing, in almost Dickensian fashion, the nature of the New York justice system and then evolves into a caper novel with a social conscience. It is superbly written and I cannot recommend it too highly.