Sunday Salon: Springtime Reading

Hello, all. As winter fades away, I’ve realised hibernation can’t really be a lasting thing, and also that I love reading enough to make time for it, instead of trying to find time (this has never, ever worked for me). Spring hasn’t arrived just yet; the flowers have yet to bloom, and the evenings are still chilly, but when I wake up in the morning, the frosty dew that used to coat our lawn in midwinter is no longer there, and I’ve been seeing the occasional white butterfly flitting about. So, yes, spring is well on its way, and meanwhile, I’m back in my little corner of the litblog-world – here to stay this time, I hope.

Not sure if I’m brave enough to re-introduce my habit of monthly reading lists; I’ve grown quite accustomed to only reading a book at a time. I’ve also stopped mass-hoarding books, although I suspect this might have more to do with the fact that I’ve no money to spend these days! Anyhow, the gigantic to-read pile in my study is slowly diminishing in size; I’ve only got fifteen-and-a-half unread books on my shelf. Most of those have been mentioned previously, but here are some new finds:

  • Orientalism, Edward Said
  • Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
  • To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
  • Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan, Herbert P. Bix

Currently reading Madame Bovary. I’ve only read one Flaubert before this – a short story called A Simple Heart – so it’s been lovely to bask in the sheer lyricism of his prose. I love Flaubert. Not sure how I feel about the actual book though. Immature as this sounds, I still find it hard to read a book in which the characters are unlikeable. By this I’m not necessarily referring to antagonists, or ‘nasty’ characters; just ones which are difficult to sympathise with. And I keep getting distracted by other books, like the Hirohito. Okay, so I told a lie – I still haven’t gotten into the habit of reading a book at a time. It’s more like one book from my set reading list (i.e. readings for uni), one work of fiction and one work of non-fiction and usually a Harry Potter besides all that. I find that the classics tend to be ideal summer reads: books to be read when you have a lot of time on your hands.  With the exception of heavily plot-driven novels such as The Count of Monte Cristo or anything by Wilkie Collins or Victor Hugo, they’re so quiet they need my full attention. And seeing as the new semester’s just started, I don’t think I’ll be able to devote my full attention to anything for the next few months.

But, alas, it’s that time of year again!  A time of speculation and frenzied reading! Man Booker time. Do I ever bother reading the entire Booker longlist? No. Will I this year? Not likely. A few look irresistably good, though. Byatt’s The Children Book, for one, is a book I’ve been meaning to read ever since I saw that gorgeous Art Nouveau-inspired cover. And Coetzee’s Summertime doesn’t sound bad either, though I have no idea what it’s about. From title alone, Wolf Hall (Hilary Mantel) will be on my reading list. Love and Summer will not. Sounds like cheap daytime television.

P.S. Anyone who’s followed my blog for a while will know of my cover fixation. Vintage will be publishing “beautiful new editions of nine Man Booker Prize winning titles”. Yum. Couldn’t really find a decent picture, but follow the link, and you’ll be able to see if you sort of squint at the screen. Very secretive, these publishing houses.

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31 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: Springtime Reading

  1. I’m so happy to see you back, Tuesday! Do I look like a stalker?? Haha. Love those Vintage Bookers. I’ve read all but one of them, though, so unless I win the contest or start making lots of money I won’t be purchasing them in the very near future.

    Guess what? I purchased To the Lighthouse recently. Will be reading my very first Woolf soon! Yay! Which edition did you get? I got the Penguin Modern Classics with the girl in red walking along the beach.

    1. Claire – no! Of course you don’t look like a stalker! I missed you a lot (LOL how sentimental) – although I have been regularly stalking your blog, of course :)
      I think I might have (finally) figured out why I couldn’t leave comments on your blog. It’s probably got something to do with Internet Explorer v. Firefox!

      Ahh, I’m the exact opposite to you – only read one of them, Byatt’s Possession. I didn’t know there was a contest! Not that it really matters; it’s probably not open to Australians anyway, hahah.

      Yay, your first Woolf! I’m excited for you, but slightly apprehensive for myself, because I actually didn’t like Lighthouse the first time I tried it… Fingers crossed.
      Hmm, I bought the Penguin Modern too, but I liked the old cover with the pebbles better, so I got that one! I’m actually quite attached to the silver spines, and I’m trying to collect as many as I can before they become extinct.

      LOL I’ll leave you alone now; enough ranting from me hahah :)

      1. The contest IS open worldwide, so go now and enter! The prize is the whole set!

        I like the silver Penguins, too, but haven’t seen a copy of the pebbles here. I fell in love with the girl in red cover although it looks 70s to me, which doesn’t feel fitting to the book, but then like you I always prioritize cover, too, haha.

        By the way, did you know Steph and Tony got married? She just posted some lovely photos of the wedding. :D

        1. WOW, I knew she’d gotten engaged, and I saw the pretty shoes, but I didn’t know she actually got married!!! That was quite fast, hahah.

          I like the red girl cover too. It is quite 70s, but I think I read on the Penguin UK blog that it’s actually a photograph from the early 20th century – 1905, or thereabouts. They must have re-coloured it or something.

          OK, I’m going to go and enter that contest now :D

          EDIT: “Entries need to be in by 1 August 2009 and the successful entrant will be notified and announced on the site shortly after this date.” What an epic fail.

          1. Oh no, you missed by a few hours. :(

            Thank YOU for the red girl cover info! It shouldn’t be but it’s a big deal to me to know it was taken a lot earlier!

  2. The Byatt and the Mantel are both definitely worth reading, as is the Toibin. That is a beautiful book, very understated but one of my best reads of the year.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation, Table Talk. I’ve actually never heard of Toibin before, but I’ve just gone and read some articles on his work, and Brooklyn definitely sounds intriguing.
      I’m very, very excited about the Byatt – been waiting for the paperback to come out though :)

  3. Re: the Booker longlist, are you not waiting for the Byatt paperback??? I will be. I’m reading Summertime and Love & Summer (cheap daytime tv? lol, you crack me up) in summer next year. I haven’t read William Trevor, too, but I like the idea of reading books with “summer” in the title. Postponing Jansson’s The Summer Book for then, too. For now I might read just The Wilderness, Brooklyn, The Little Stranger, and How to Paint a Dead Man.

    1. Yes, yes, yes! (very excited today, LOL). I considered loaning a library copy – of the Byatt, that is – but I want to own my own hahah.
      Actually, now that I think about it, a lot of this year’s have interesting titles. I wonder how How to Paint a Dead Man managed to escape my attention.

      A wonderful and scary thought has just entered my mind: I think I might read the entire longlist this year. Even Love and Summer! Sometimes I like daytime TV, with the exception of Judge Judy, and The Bold and the Beautiful.

      1. What? Is the paperback out today??

        Don’t you love the How to Paint cover, too? The premise is also very intriguing.

        Re: reading the longlist, I’ll be very interested to see what you decide to do haha. Good luck!

        1. Oh no, I was merely commenting on how hyped up I appear to be today. Haven’t been to the bookstore in a while so I’m not sure, but it usually takes a few months, doesn’t it?

          By the way, here’s the link to the Lighthouse post on the Penguin blog if you’re interested (you’ll have to scroll down a bit). The girl in the photograph – from an early colour autochrome from 1913 – is apparently called Christina.

          1. That’s wonderful. My grandmother’s name was Cristina and I was named after her (my other name). :)

            Scrolling down the page you linked to, I read that they’re publishing a Penguin Modern Classics edition of Proust (with artwork mentioned in the books for cover)!! It’s crazy, I feel like getting that edition when they come out, but I have 3 of the Vintage Classics already (which are also pretty), so probably not. I also like the Vintage translation better, anyway. Right. Haha.

            I had better go to sleep, the sun has risen!

  4. I loved reading Madame Bovary last year. But there was something incredibly irritating about her, huh. I just thought it was beautifully written. It surprises me but many people find it so horribly boring because they hate Emma.

    I always like your posts, so welcome back! No pressure for regular posts, if that’s what sent you away for so long!

    1. Rebecca – I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who detests Emma! Heheh, it WAS the pressure to post regularly that kept me away, but also I just wasn’t reading that much (if at all, now that I think about it…)

      Claire – Arghh, and I was going to buy the Modern Library editions. They have uglier covers, but yeah.. I’ve noticed that Penguin don’t always have the best translations (though they usually have the most recent)

  5. Tuesday! Thanks for your kind comment on our wedding post over at the blog! Always good to hear from you.

    I haven’t read Madame Bovary, although I’d like to. But I’m worried about getting the wrong translation, so I keep holding off until I can be guaranteed I’m reading the right one. If my French were better, I’d try to read the original, but it would definitely take me FOREVER to read that way, and I’m sure it would be written in an older style of French that was likely to trip me up. Perhaps I’ll just wait for you to finish before I commit to anything… ;)

    As for the unlikable characters issue, I feel like this varies for me on a case-by-case issue. For instance, I loved Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, even though it is populated almost exclusively with unlikable people. But he creates such a vivid and realistic portrait of them, that I couldn’t help but be awed by his talent, even if I hated everyone in the book! But other times my disliking a character really impedes my ability to get invested in the story. I think it depends if I find them loathsome because I ultimately think they’re foolish/stupid or whether there is simply a character flaw (we all have them after all) that helps demonstrate the frailty that being human affords. Not sure how I’d fall on Madame B; when I read Anna Karenina, I really enjoyed Tolstoy’s writing and the large bulk of the novel (the parts that went off on the suffering of peasants were a bit dry for my tastes), but I felt no sympathy for Anna. I just found her supremely selfish and self-involved… maybe I was relieved when she throws herself under a train! Given that Madame B is a similar premise (adultery), I might wind up feeling shades of the same!

    1. The thing that’s wrong with me is I don’t always attempt to find the best translation! Hahah, I try to find the prettiest, or one in a style that I’m comfortable with. The Penguin edition that I have is by Geoffrey Wall, who is also Flaubert’s biographer. It’s quite a modern translation, but it reads like 19th century literature( except for the punctuation-less dialogue, which reminded me horribly of my failed attempt to read Ulysses last month).

      Hmmmm, I agree with you on the unlikeable characters; it is a case-by-case thing, I suppose. I think the reason why I struggle with them is because so very often, writers write with the intention of producing this effect on readers. In the case of Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, for instance, I don’t think we’re meant to be comfortable with the protagonists; they were created to confront and stir up feeling in us. But then the difference between Tolstoy and Flaubert is that Tolstoy is sympathetic towards Anna. I also found her ‘supremely selfish and self-involved’ but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her too because I knew exactly what had led her to be in that situation. Flaubert, on the other hand, is quite an invisible narrator. He doesn’t condemn her, but he doesn’t create sympathy for her either. He merely presents Emma, and leaves us to judge her ourselves.

      Well, I don’t know. I’m not sure why it is that Madame Bovary fails to interest me the way I thought it would, but whatever.

      p.s. I’m trying to learn French, but I’m not really getting anywhere, because I’m studying other languages at uni right now. Even attempted Russian last summer, but failed miserably. Hahah! Someday, I shall read Proust and Flaubert and Hugo in French! (And Tolstoy in Russian!)

  6. Tuesday.. The Penguin translation is a little hard to gauge, only because each volume has a different translator. The first volume was really good, but have heard the second isn’t as. So the reason why I’m sticking to the Vintage (the Vintage and Modern Library, by the way, have the same translation, their newest ones with the revision by Enright) is because of consistency all throughout. Also, its prose is more Victorian, which I really like.

    Re: unlikeable characters, I can think of John Updike’s four Rabbit books. Rabbit was super unlikeable, he’s such a jerk, but the writing’s really, really good and the way he depicts suburban America and each time period (each book comes after every decade of his life, beginning in his twenties) is so honestly and believably true. I think he meant Rabbit to be that way, though. He’s a typical guy, there’s one in everyone’s life like him, probably. While I was reading the second and third books I thought of giving away my copy (it’s an omnibus), but after having finished the last book I decided to keep it as it is very representative of the times and a really great piece of literature. I still loathe Rabbit, though.

    1. Oh, thanks for that info. How strange that they all have different translators. That’s such a Penguin-like, and also very annoying, thing to do. I also like the Victorian sort of prose style (it’s why I eventually came to appreciate the Garner translation of Anna Karenina over the P-V, which everyone seems to love), so I guess I’ll be sticking with the Modern Library. Vintage has really pretty covers, but I like to read those long-arse Introductions, and I noticed Vintage tend not to include intros OR notes.

      Unfortunately, I have yet to read John Updike! I think I understand what you’re talking about, though. Sometimes I think unlikeable characters has nothing to do with it. Gatsby is one of my all time favourites, even though I don’t particularly like any of the characters. Well, I like Tom and Daisy Buchanan. They’re selfish pricks, but so adorable (am I weird?) Nick annoys me, as does Gatsby himself, Jordan is an idiot, etc. But the point is I love the book anyway.

  7. I’m impressed with how small your TBR list is! It’s taken me months to get mine down to 135 books.

    I think you’ll enjoy MADAME BOVARY quite a bit once you sink into the rhythm of it. Yes, the characters are terribly unlikeable, but they get themselves into such interesting positions that it’s easy to overlook that. Plus Flaubert’s writing is just gorgeous.

    1. MEMORY, WOW, 135?! My original TBR pile was actually miniscule compared to yours! My whole bookshelf consists of less than 100 books, I think. And the TBR pile only consisted of about thirty-something, hahah. I only started consciously ‘building a library’ a few months ago. Before then, I just gave books away to friends and family, borrowed from the public library etc. That’s the pile, anyway. The list is still considerably long. I don’t think I’ll get through it in a lifetime, hahah!

      I agree, Flaubert’s writing is gorgeous. Usually that’s enough to sustain me, but I’m finding it hard to “sink into the rhythm of it”, as you say. Maybe it’s because Im not reading regularly enough (like how irregular sleep patterns can cause insomnia?).
      Also, right now I happen to be stuck on the part about Hippolyte’s club foot, which isn’t particularly fascinating to me :)

    1. Hi, Zawan! I just hopped over to your blog – seems like you’ve been reading a lot of good books lately. The Said memoir sounds interesting; I might give it a try when I’m done with Orientalism! I’m impressed by how well you seem to manage books and schoolwork. I didn’t reach much at all over the past month! It’s a sad fact of life that humanities subjects require a lot of reading, and by the time the winter holidays came around, I was thoroughly sick of reading (blasphemous, right?). And so I spent my entire holiday reading doing a sort of Harry Potter marathon – film and book, hahah. You should know by now how much I like HP… Anyway, now that the new semester has started, I’m starting to crave literaturee again, but I have no time for it. Grr..

      Nice to hear from you again :)

      1. Hi Tuesday, I’m also planning to take the humanities. I’m thinking of comparative literature. By the way, Out of Place is the best memoir I’ve ever read. It’s an amazing book, just read it for yourself. Yeah, literature requires a lot of reading and also delving into other subjects such as psychology, philosophy, sociology, etc.

        I’m on summer holidays now. I’m learning much more through my reading than I do at school, actually

        see yah

        I’m looking forward to your review of Madame Bovary, I’ve never read it before.

        1. Ugh, I wish I was doing something as interesting as philosophy or literature. Unfortunately, my line of study is more politics and international relations. There’s a bit of history in there, but not much fiction – or is there, hahah??! I wanted to take English literature this semester, but .. it didn’t happen. Lit units always seem to fill up first.

          Luck you. I totally envy you your summer holiday reading time! Can’t wait til my next one comes around, hee hee.

          P.S My copy of Orientalism arrived today, so yay. We should compare thoughts/notes when I’m done!

          1. zawan – nah, actually I buy more from bookstores, but recently I’ve gotten into the habit of just ordering if I can’t find what I want in-store (also if they don’t have the particular edition/cover I want lol).
            And of course books are extreeeemely overpriced in Australia, so if the online one is cheaper, then I’ll order.

  8. Tuesday, good to see you back. I’ll have to give Madame Bovary another go sometime. I liked it OK, but I didn’t love it when I last read it which was many years ago.

    1. Hi, Nicola! It’s nice to be back :)
      I think that’s exactly how I’d describe my own feelings concerning Mme. Bovary – I’m liking it OK. I’m trying to love it, but that’s not really happening…

  9. Ah right, I’ve gotta adjust to the south hemisphere because I was scratching my head at the arrival of spring. Well, I’m glad you’re coming out of hibernation. What is better a beautiful lineup of books like the list you have. I read Madame Bovary a few years ago and enjoyed every page of it.

    I think Madame Bovary is a brave woman. Had she still lived today, nobody would even call her a slut. Although Emma failed at finding the happiness she perceived, she hated no one nor did she feel a tinge of remorse at her doing, through all the betrayals, the infamies, the countless fierce desires that had racked her, she experienced the short-lived affection, sensual joys and love that art had long painted so large.

    1. Sure, I think I understand what you’re saying, but I also think she’s quite naive/immature throughout her whole “ordeal”. In fact, don’t you reckon her conception of ‘happiness’ is skewed and rather egocentric? She’s got this whole delusion about the perfect marriage and lifestyle from the novels she reads, and she doesn’t even consider that the whole messy thing with Charles came about in the first place because of those deluded ideals… but I haven’t finished the book yet, so I’ll reserve any final judgements until after I’m done!

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