10 April 2018

Reading List, January - March 2018

Naguib Mahfouz, Autumn Quail (trans Roger Allen). NY: Anchor, 1990.

This short, starkly beautiful piece follows Isa ad-Dabbagh, a corrupt bureaucrat who loses his position because of the 1952 Egyptian revolution. When his finance breaks off their relationship, Isa leaves Cairo for Alexandria, where he sees the titular migratory birds, for an extended vacation in self-pity. He picks up and impregnates a girl, throws her out, marries another for her money, and generally continues existing as a self-absorbed, parasitic example of why revolution was necessary. Only upon accidentally discovering his daughter, five years later, does Isa realize what he has lost. There is no resolution.

Thomas Boswell, How Life Imitates the World Series. NY: Penguin, 1982.

Some say that the best baseball was played when the viewer was twelve years old; the game, as it was learned, is ever thereafter the ideal, and its heroes are never greater. For me, that is the game and the players in this collection of pieces from the Washington Post, where Boswell still covers baseball, circa 1980.

As for the title’s question, well, both are over before we’re ready for them to end.

Henning Mankell, Sidetracked (trans Steven Murray). NY: Black Lizard, 1999.

Early in his investigation of a serial killer, detective Kurt Wallander worries about reporters getting ahold of the story, because Swedes love to read about crime in the summer. With mysteries like this, one can’t blame them. It hardly seems fair to call this intense procedural 'noir'; it’s set in Sweden between 21 June and 17 September, 1994, so it’s hardly ever dark; Wallander works for the police, not against them; and Wallander is never beaten up by a bad guy, only  slapped once, by a victim’s daughter.

Tom Robbins, Still Life with Woodpecker. NY: Bantam, 1980.

A beautiful red-headed princess without a throne, a red-headed outlaw bomber, a plastic frog full of cocaine, a packet of Camel cigarettes, and a week in Hawaii come together to teach us that humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.

Terry McDermott, Off Speed. NY: Pantheon, 2017.

Baseball history, pitch descriptions, autobiography, and a perfect game comprise this beautiful little treatise on the art of disrupting a hitter’s timing. Pitchers. They’re all bastards, you know.

Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed. NY: Riverhead, 2013.

This haunting story of two Afghani siblings covers two wars, three continents, and more broken hearts than it should. Every heart breaks. That is what makes the fiction true, instead of just an unrelenting horror.

Virgil, The Aeneid (trans John Dryden). NY: Heritage Press, 1944.

“As storms the skies, and torrents tear the ground,
  Thus rag’d the prince, and scatter’d deaths around.”

The Roman epic, presented in heroic couplets of rhyming iambic pentameter, begins with Troy’s fall, as our hero Aeneas leads a small band of survivor through the burning city to the sea. Their goal, assigned by the gods, is a new home in Italy. They voyage through many dangers, including the temptation of a widowed queen who would share her throne and kills herself when Aeneas leaves after bedding her.

Finally, with surprisingly few casualties, the Trojan band arrives in Italy. Here they make treaty with Latinus, who pledges his daughter Lavinia to seal the bond. Lavinia’s boyfriend Turnus takes exception to this and declares war on the invaders, leading to the great battle scenes of books ten and eleven before fierce single combat between suitors concludes the poem.

This volume also feature an introductory essay by Dryden on the translation process, which may be of interest to scholars of English literature or the classics.

Imbolo Mbue, Behold the Dreamers. NY: Random, 2016.

Jende Jonga wants a better life, so he moves from Cameroon to New York City. he works to bring over his wife and their son. He overstays his visa, but gets a job driving for a Lehman Brothers banker. Then Lehman collapses under the weight of its subprime mortgages. Jende loses his job and decides to go home instead of fighting deportation. In this book, only the wives end up unhappy.

Arnold Hano, A Day in the Bleachers. NY: DeCapo, 1982 (reissue).

My wife asked, “How do you get an entire book out of one game?” The first chapter is deciding to attend the 1954 World Series opener, the second is standing on line for a ticket. The tenth is given to a single play, Willie Mays' legendary over-the-shoulder, game-saving catch in deep center field. And it is all in Hano’s catty voice of a life-long fan at dinner that night, after a couple of Ballentine beers.

Frank Miller, The Dark Knight Returns. NY: DC Comics, 1986.

Part of the wave that transformed perception of the genre from ‘comic book’ to ‘graphic novel’, Dark Knight stands out for its re-imagining of the super hero. After ten years in retirement, Miller’s Batman is middle-aged and suffers accordingly, both physically and psychologically. It is rightly considered a classic.

Don DeLillo, Underworld. NY: Scribner, 1997.

Some would call it 'sprawling' or 'wide-ranging'. I  call it someone else's doorstop and return it to the Little Free Library. I very much enjoyed White Noise, but couldn't even finish the prologue of this 827-page tome.


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