Amazon has had some expensive ebooks for sale, such as this one, which was, apparently, over $6000 but is no longer available in ebook form, though the print copy is available for a mere $7400.50 though, if you are feeling flush, you can get the entire Landolt-Börnstein set for a price-busting $53,873.55, a saving of $2,835.45 off the normal retail price. However, the most interesting (?) expensive ebook is this one. It isn’t. Even ignoring the various technical books which, apparently in many cases, are no longer available in ebook form, there are many, many more expensive books. This one, for example, is $1,836.49. If you are a Smollett fan (and I can strongly recommend him; several of his books are available in ebook form, free of charge), you can have this one for a mere $297.71. This one is the second highest price one I can find at $9,751.64 and here is one at $16,302.56, though I am sure that smarter people than I can beat that.
Getting back to the self-claimed most expensive book, it does not begin to compete. But what is it? According to one reviewer It’s literally 10, 1 page chapters with a picture and allows rich people to realize they wasted their money but don’t care because they are rich. The author claims Please do not buy this book if you do not have enough money on your bank account. If you are not wealthy but think you can read this book and ask for a refund afterwards, give up immediately, you are not the readership target. Any unusual thing is expensive! This is the law of supply and demand. Only a privileged few can buy and read this book. The others: go your way. Many free books are available for your long winter evenings. However, if you have a lot of money, and if the price of this book does not disturb you more than that, welcome and good reading. In other words it is a nothing book you buy to claim that you have bought the most expensive book on Amazon when that is not even vaguely true. Its Amazon ranking is 118,178, which means that there are enough idiots to have actually bought it. If you are that rich, feel free to send me $203 and I shall send you several much better books that you will actually enjoy reading. And for $16,302.56, I shall be happy to send you a lot of books that you will enjoy.
I have been following with some interest the #readwomen2014 proposal made by writer/illustrator/blogger Joanna Walsh. (She also wrote an article in The Guardian). It has attracted a lot of interest around the world. It started with cartes de voeux bookmarks and has since blossomed into a huge Internet meme. Flavorwire has produced a 50 books by women authors list which is interesting though somewhat idiosyncratic. There is a Twitter account and a Facebook account. There has been reference to the Vida count. And Lauren Oyler has an excellent article on How to be a woman writer. Even Time has jumped in, with some suggestions as well. Some commentators, including some men, (though not Walsh herself), have vowed to read only women authors. A quick web search will reveal lots of bloggers and others commenting on the proposal. I do not intend to read only women writers. I have thought about setting aside a few months to read only writers from one specific country which I feel is underrepresented – Belgium, Brazil, Lebanon, Mexico and Norway, for example, though there are several others (and, yes, I have lots of unread books from these countries) – but never for women. However, I have never done it and probably will not. The trouble with having over 200 nationalities on my site is that it is hard to devote much time to one country or, indeed, to one sex. However, as always, I do plan to read more women writers, though I may well fail again. Meanwhile, I am going to do as others have done and mention a few women writers that you might read, focussing on lesser known ones. All have at least one book available in English.
I have a soft spot for Acker, a punk, a fighter, a character, who sadly died of breast cancer aged fifty, as she had no health insurance and could not get proper treatment. Anyone who can write a book called Blood and Guts in High School must have something going for them. While perhaps not a great writer, she was certainly a fun and interesting writer. Louky Bersianik
Louky Bersianik was a fiercely feminist writer, particularly L’Euguélionne (The Euguelionne; The Euguelion) an attack on sexism. María Luisa Bombal is a wonderful Chilean writer, barely unknown in the English-speaking world, though some of her work is available in English. No fireworks, just good writing. Carmen Boullosa
I don’t know why Carmen Boullosa isn’t better known in the English-speaking world though her criticism of the USA might have something to do with it. She is witty, iconoclastic, feminist, anti-colonialist and a first-class writer. Mary Butts
Mary Butts is a very much underrated English novelist, whose reputation has improved somewhat but not nearly enough. She writes about an imagined England of the past. Rosario Castellanos
Rosario Castellanos is another Mexican writer who is not as well known as she should be in the English-speaking world. She was very much concerned with the poor treatment of the Indians in her country. Fausta Cialente
Only one of Fausta Cialente’s books is available in English. Sadly my favourite of hers – Le quattro ragazze Wieselberger [The Four Wieselberger Girls] – is not. Cialente was from Trieste and deals with the complex multiracial society of that city. Alba de Céspedes is another Italian writer who was not part of mainstream Italy – her grandfather was first president of Cuba. She wrote about unhappy marriages. Elena Garro
Another Mexican writer whose best-known novel – Los recuerdos del porvenir (Recollections of Things to Come) – is a feminist work using magic realism. Teolinda Gersão
Teolinda Gersão is a Portuguese writer who has barely been translated into English. Her best novels deal with male-female relationships and their respective roles. Ellen Glasgow
Ellen Glasgow, as I said on my website, is one of those Southern writers who is neglected because she is Southern. This is a pity as she wrote a series of first-class novels, often dealing with changes in life in the South of the United States.
Qurratulain Hyder is an Indian writer who writes in Urdu. She writes about the history of India and Bengal in her novels. A L Kennedy
A L Kennedy is not unknown but she is a very fine writer and deserves a better reputation than she has. Rosetta Loy
Rosetta Loy is a Jewish Italian writer who writes about the effects of war on people as well as on Jewish issues. Angeles Mastretta
Angeles Mastretta is another Mexican writer who really should be better known in the English-speaking world. Ana María Matute
Ana María Matute is one of my favourite Spanish writers, famous in Spain for her Spanish Civil War trilogy but also the author of many other excellent novels. Minae Mizumura
Minae Mizumura’s 本格小説 新潮社 (A True Novel) is one of the finest novels to come out of Japan in recent years, at least of those that have been translated into English. Terézia Mora
Terézia Mora is a Hungarian-born German writer. Only one of her novels has been translated into English so far but, as she won the German Book Prize last year, more will follow.
Elsa Morante is all too often remembered primarily as being the wife of Alberto Moravia which is a pity as she was a very fine writer in her own right. Anna Maria Ortese
Anna Maria Ortese is another Italian writer who really should be better known in the English-speaking world. Her two best novels have been translated into English and are well worth reading. Elena Poniatowska
There do seem to be a lot of Mexican novelists in this list and here is another one. Elena Poniatowska was the daughter of a Polish prince, though her mother was Mexican and she was brought up there. She was a journalist as well a novelist and wrote books about those less fortunate. Mercè Rodoreda
This list could not be complete without a Catalan writer and Mercè Rodoreda is one of the finest of either sex. Like many writers of the period, the Civil War affected her as a writer, as can be seen in her best-known novel, La plaça del Diamant (UK: The Pigeon Girl; US: The Time of the Doves). Joanna Scott
Joanna Scott is a very much underestimated US writer who often writes about the US past but, above all, writes superb, intelligent and very readable novels. Alexis Wright
Alexis Wright is an Australian from the Waanyi tribe whose novels deal with the rights of the aboriginal peoples of Australia.
This is a small selection. You can find more on my women writers’ page. Read them and you may well be surprised at both the quality and variety of writing you find.
The latest addition to my website is valter hugo mãe‘s o apocalipse dos trabalhadores [The Apocalypse of the Workers]. mãe spells his name and writes all of his books in lower case, an annoying quirk. This novel tells the story of Maria da Graça, a cleaning lady for a rich man, Mr. Ferreira, who dreams of dying of love and going to heaven. Though Mr. Ferreira is thirty-six years older than she is, he has started an affair with her, initially by forcing himself on her. She is partially disgusted but partially flattered and, indeed, finds herself falling in love with him, helped by the fact that he is educating her by introducing her to Mozart, Goya, Proust and Bergman. She does not like her husband of seventeen years, Augusto, a fisherman, and is trying to poison him. Her best friend is Quitéria who is a part-time prostitute and a part-time professional mourner. She starts an affair with the much younger Andriy, an immigrant from Ukraine where the economic and political situation is difficult and his father, Sasha, is very paranoid. When Mr. Ferreira dies and Andriy does not hear from his parents, the life of the two women changes. This is another excellent book from mãe, about ordinary people dreaming their dreams and struggling to fulfil them.
The latest addition to my website is valter hugo mãe‘s a máquina de fazer espanhóis [The Machine for Making Spaniards]. Note that he spells his name and writes his books entirely in lowercase. Apart from that annoying quirk, this really is an excellent novel. It tells the story of Antonio Silva, an eighty-four year old man whose wife, Laura, on whom he is very dependent, has just died. His children move him into an old people’s home where, initially, he is very unhappy but he gradually adapts, making friends with some of the other residents. But while that alone would make this an interesting novel, mãe, through Antonio, discourses on Portugal, both Portugal under Salazar and Portugal now, and is highly critical of the system damning religion, the police and the Salazar regime. Portugal has become, in his view, a machine for making Spaniards as the Portuguese want to be Spanish where they would have a better life. This idea is cleverly woven into the story, as the old people talk about it and we see what has happened to them, during their lives. Sadly, none of his work is available in English, though it is available in French, German and Spanish.
The latest addition to my website is Upamanyu Chatterjee‘s The Mammaries of the Welfare State. This is a follow-up to Chatterjee’s English, August and continues the story of Agastya Sen, an Indian civil servant. I say that it continues his story, which it does, but the book is essentially a long, vicious, occasionally witty satire on Indian government, with Chatterjee outlining the corruption, incompetence, laziness, at times viciousness and malice of those who govern India. He does not hold back; indeed, he goes overboard all too frequently, with long, tedious facetious memos, pointless regulations, silly acronyms, boards and committees which seem to serve no purpose but to provide employment for some civil servants, a whole range of venal politicians and civil servants and a government which does anything but serve the people it is meant to serve. Everyone is on the make, eager to feather his or her own nest or protect his/her interests (to be fair most of the miscreants are male) and eager for their own advancement. I felt that Chatterjee could have taken a fine scalpel to dissect the problem but, instead, takes a massive sledgehammer, scattering all in its wake but leaving us overwhelmed and, to be honest, too often bored.
The latest addition to my website is Josef Škvorecký‘s Nevysvetlitelný príbeh aneb Vyprávení Questa Firma Sicula (An Inexplicable Story or the Narrative of Questus Firmus Siculus). This is a tongue-in-cheek Ovid novel, purporting to be a 1st century Roman manuscript, written by a man whose mother may have been Ovid’s lover. The manuscript is inexplicably found in a royal palace in Copán in what is now Honduras. How it got there is a mystery but the manuscript seems to be genuine. We follow the life of Questus Firmus Siculus, both the Ovid story as well as how he got to South/Central America, as well as various explanations by experts and coincidences between the various tales and more modern tales. It is great fun and Škvorecký tells us how he thought it all up but it is not his greatest work.
The latest addition to my website is Lawrence Durrell‘s Nunquam, the second-part of a two part series, started with Tunc. This one starts off where Tunc ended and finds Felix Charlock in a sanatorium, with a head wound. When he recovers, the mysterious Julian, with whom he has talked many times but never actually meets, invites him to a meeting and does turn up, albeit covered in ski gear so his face cannot be seen. Julian begs Felix to participate in a scheme to build a robot of Iolanthe, Julian’s deceased lover. Much of the novel is how this robot is built, with additional details on some of the other activities of the mysterious company, Merlin, run by Julian and his dying brother, Jocas. Of course, once the Iolanthe robot is built, she has a mind of her own. It is quite an enjoyable read, even if Durrell’s flowery and erudite language does seem a bit dated.
The latest addition to my website is Richard Powers‘ Orfeo. This one follows Powers’ usual themes of technology, music and politics, telling the story of Peter Els, musician and scientist. At the start of the novel, Els is seventy and living alone. He is experimenting with gene splicing. We later learn that he is, in fact, trying to compose with DNA instead of musical notes. He has been a composer of modern classical music, which has had some limited critical success but less commercial success. We follow his career as a musician and his personal life, while, interspersed with this story, we see the results of his gene splicing – a visit from the Joint Security Task Force and then a visit from various people in biohazard suits, at which point he runs. His life on the run, something of a revisit of his past life, takes up the rest of the novel as we learn of his earlier life. It is another first-class work by Powers, not his best, but certainly one to show that he is one of the best living US novelists.
The latest addition to my website is Arnon Grunberg‘s Onze oom [Our Uncle]. This is a long and quite complicated novel, set in an unnamed Latin American country where there is a war on terror going on. Major Anthony, known only by his first name and with an English name because of his father’s anglophilia, leads a small mission to arrest a couple suspected of aiding the terrorists. An inexperienced corporal inadvertently kills them, leaving a young daughter, Lina. Anthony notes on the record that she is dead and essentially kidnaps her as a present for his wife, as the couple have not been able to have children. The wife, however, is not grateful. After Major Anthony leads a convoy into the North, where military outposts seem to be surrounded and in need of help and does not return for a long time, Lina sets out to find her parents and ends up in the same Northern area, working in a gold mine and then having a child by a man known only as The Leader, who is in charge of the resistance to the military. It is an excellent novel, one of his best though, as yet, only available in French and German.
The latest addition to my website is Marie Darrieussecq‘s Le Mal de mer (UK: Breathing Underwater; US: Undercurrents). This is something of a strange book, with virtually no direct conversation in it and not a great deal of plot. It tells of an unnamed mother who walks out on her husband, taking their unnamed daughter to a seaside resort near the Spanish border. Her motives are never explained. The pair, particularly the mother, seem to enjoy the pleasures of the seaside, swimming, eating ice-creams and meeting one or two people. But the husband sends a private detective to track them down, which he does. Much of the novel seems as though we are watching a distorted film or, more appropriately, watching it as though it were underwater, with little dialogue, strange dreams and people who are somewhat detached from the real world, the latter being a favourite theme of Darrieussecq. I cannot say that I really enjoyed it but it is still an interesting experiment.