Stacia's books

Favorite books: Historical fiction, steampunk, modern fiction, classics, some non-fiction, magical realism, surrealist works, satire, travel/exploration/adventure stories

The Book of the Unknown: Tales of the Thirty-six - Jonathon Keats A different (at least for me) set of folktales (supposedly variations on some Jewish folktales), some clever, some charming, some disturbing. Enjoyed both the Author's Foreword & the Editors' Afterword as they added some fun, fictional surroundings for the set of tales -- adding a little layer to the 'mystery' of the telling of the tales.

I'm not a huge fan of short stories (& don't necessarily lump folktales into a 'short stories' category even though they are, I suppose), but I found this to be similar to how I think of short story collections -- one or two of the tales are really great, most are ok, and one or two I don't like. Generally speaking, I'm glad I read it, just because it included stuff that is different from the standard folktales I know.
The Kreutzer Sonata - Leo Tolstoy 3.5 stars.

Read this Tolstoy novella because it featured in the storyline of [b:Second Person Singular|13238290|Second Person Singular|Sayed Kashua|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1344678386s/13238290.jpg|18436416] by Sayed Kashua.

Rather than the linked edition, I read a free copy online:
http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/tolstoy/kreutzer.pdf

Tolstoy's banned novella certainly tackles many subjects with vehemence. He presents succinct arguments in a tightly woven tale wrapped in anger & jealousy.
Second Person Singular - Sayed Kashua Kashua presents a compelling, compassionate yet sometimes chilling, look at identity -- how we see ourselves, how others see us, what others see in us. His is a universal tale, but also unique in its specifics (people & locale). Things are not always as they seem, whether we deceive ourselves or deceive others (or both or neither). Kashua aptly delineates the divides between wanting to stay true to self, yet to change/have what someone else has/grow. His timely commentaries are so fitting in a locale where identity is a huge part of daily existence.

Of partial importance to the storyline is Tolstoy's novella [b:The Kreutzer Sonata|141077|The Kreutzer Sonata |Leo Tolstoy|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1320503925s/141077.jpg|2266654] (which I read immediately after finishing Second Person Singular). Kashua masterfully worked in many of Tolstoy's themes & ideas (jealousy, relationships between the sexes, the influence of art in life & passion, etc...), paralleling these ideas in his story -- similar themes, just set in a more modern time & with differing religious beliefs from Tolstoy's.

Overall, a beautifully done work that muses on the nature of identity, our ability or inability to change identity, & the impact of emotion/art/beauty/self to impact our lives.
The Manual of Detection - Jedediah Berry So, imagine you trip & fall down Alice's rabbit-hole, tumbling past dreamscapes & spooky carnival sideshows before landing with a thump in a smoky jazz bar filled with pajama-clad characters from Inception & The Maltese Falcon. (Don't fail to notice the shadow of someone from Minority Report lurking in the deepest shadow. See it? Right by the deep-green poster with an all-seeing golden eye....) Feeling disoriented & sore from your fall, you head directly for the bar. Bartender Thursday Next suggests you try the "Drink Me" special & begins mixing it before you even open your mouth to speak. Into the shaker, she pours:
Magritte's umbrellas
Col. Mustard in the kitchen with a gun
A decoder ring from a Cracker Jack box
Elephant dreams
A ticking alarm clock
And a healthy shot of rain
With a flick of the wrist, Thursday shakes, then pours your drink over cubes of red leaves before adding a garnish of phonograph record speared on a freshly-sharpened pencil. She yawns & slides your drink across the bar. Fog is fingering its way out over the rim as you raise the glass in a toast to clerks, typewriters, & biloquists. You down the drink in one swallow while simultaneously tossing it over your left shoulder into the harbor, trailing a stretch of typewriter ribbon as it sinks below the surf.

Thirsty yet? If so, crack open the emerald cover of The Manual of Detection & fall right in....
The Gargoyle - Andrew Davidson I keep trying to figure out why this book is not calling to me.... It seems like my type of story -- recommended to me various times as something unique & different, weaving historical fiction through the stories w/in stories. But still, I just can't completely get into this one (even though I've read 250+ pages of it).

Some of my thoughts as I decide to put this book aside in favor of other books....

Uniqueness of the story:
Despite it being recommended as a unique/unusual book, it seems like a fairly standard book (to me). I think I read too many 'weird' books for me to consider this one unusual. ;-) No, it doesn't seem odd to me that the main character insists she & the burn victim were lovers in previous lives, then proceeds to tell their various stories. That's a fairly straightforward, normal storyline. Personally, I find it irritating that the burn victim assumes the woman has a mental illness of some sort rather than just 'going along' w/ her assertions of them having a very long history together, lol. I think I was hoping for something else (a more unusual plot) rather than what it has turned out to be.

Historical aspects of the story:
I enjoy the historical sections, but, otoh, I've read a lot of good historical fiction so it's not like this is something that shines in that area -- it's good, somewhat interesting historical fiction, but not more than that.

Romance & stories w/in the story:
I think it is a 'romance' book in that it's a 'love through the ages' kind of book. The various love stories/tales/fables that are told are also fine, but nothing spectacular -- doomed, star-crossed, true-love type tales for the most part. Ok, but not anything new, imo. Again, I've read (much) better books that incorporate storytelling/myths/fables w/in the main storyline. For example, A.S. Byatt's [b:The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye|86895|The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye|A.S. Byatt|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1320439695s/86895.jpg|578387], Helen Oyeyemi's [b:Mr. Fox|11093751|Mr. Fox|Helen Oyeyemi|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1362148611s/11093751.jpg|15237931], & Italo Calvino's [b:If on a Winter's Night a Traveler|374233|If on a Winter's Night a Traveler|Italo Calvino|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1355316130s/374233.jpg|1116802] are favorites that immediately come to mind as excellent examples of weaving stories w/in stories.

So... , it's neither here nor there for me; it just is. I'm not for it or against it. I mostly feel ambivalent about it, I think, & that's what's hard (esp. when I was hoping for more). Mostly, I've spent the past few weeks picking it up, reading a few pages, putting it down, feeling vaguely unsatisfied with it. Even w/ an investment of reading over 250 pages of it, I think I'm ready to return it to the library & work on some other books.

P.S. If reading somewhat detailed specifics of burn treatments will bother you, try not to read the first third of the book while eating.

Captain Alatriste - Arturo Pérez-Reverte I wanted to like this more than I did. It was fine but not quite the swashbuckling adventure I had hoped it would be. Perhaps the storytelling style or the translation didn't do justice to the plot and characters. I'm glad a Goodreads member (Clif Hostetler) wrote about the historical event around which the plot revolves; reading his commentary, plus researching some of the history on my own, made the story much more interesting to me.

Since the story is told in past tense by Captain Alatriste's assistant, I found the story 'off' in some parts where Alatriste's thoughts & actions were detailed when the assistant was not even present. Still, I enjoyed the history & descriptions of Madrid.
Stoker's Manuscript - Royce Prouty It has been a long time since I've cranked through a book in a single day. If you're a Dracula fan, this is a worthy addition to the genre -- a mash-up of Dracula, The Historian, a dash of John Grisham & Dan Brown, & a splash of People of the Book, all while creating a new plot based on the history & lore of Vlad Tepes & Dracula. It's an easy, yet thoroughly engaging read. I'd probably give the writing 3 stars, but I'm giving it 4 stars overall because it's fun entertainment when you're in the mood for a vampire yarn....
The Late Mattia Pascal - Luigi Pirandello, William Weaver, Charles Simic 3.5 stars

The style of the story makes me think of a domesticated form of a picaresque novel. What would you choose to do and who would you choose to be if you could walk away from your current life because everyone thought you were dead? Which life would be the "real" you? Would you choose to live life in the same way you currently are living it, or would you change your way of living? These and other questions of reality and identity are explored through the eyes of the "late" Mattia Pascal.
They Call Me Naughty Lola: Personal Ads from the London Review of Books - David  Rose If you're looking for a quick read & love British humor, this might be the book for you. It would be perfect to have on hand if you're waiting in line somewhere. It doesn't take much concentration to read & most entries are just a few lines each.

Quite a few of these were funny, so I found it an amusing volume overall. I also enjoyed some of the footnotes, especially the ones about Herve Jean-Pierre Villechaize ("de plane, de plane"), Yoda ('Jedi Master'), and the extensive appendix of Evel Knievel's jumps & injuries.

2.5 stars. I would give it a little more, but it just doesn't really even qualify as much of a 'book', imo -- more of a lengthy list.
The Fan-Maker's Inquisition: A Novel of the Marquis de Sade - A Goodreads friend highly recommended Rikki Ducornet’s novel, The Fan-Maker’s Inquisition. Having never previously read Ducornet’s works, I find that she writes very luscious, provocative prose, which seems especially fitting as the subtitle of the book is A Novel of the Marquis de Sade. Partly, it’s a historical fiction novel based around a fan-maker (of scandalous fans, writings, friendships, & liasions) being tried during the Reign of Terror while also weaving a tale of an earlier reign of terror, that of Bishop Landa’s Inquisition & autos-da-fé of Mayans in the 1500s. Ducornet excels with her alternating transcripts of the court proceedings, personal letters, and various documents used to tell the overlapping stories. Her skillful hand exposes the irony, hypocrisy, and zealotry that drive humans to various extremes – acts from destroying different cultures, destroying individuals, destroying minds – whether done by groups or people on the outside or whether the decay begins from within. It takes an adroit author to create simultaneous plotlines that cover different time periods, while entwining the similar threads of the undoing of both men & civilizations. We certainly repeat the past, don’t we?

{Note: Some spoilers ahead…}

I especially liked Ducornet’s parallels between Bishop Landa’s destruction of Mayan books/knowledge & the Reign of Terror’s destruction of materials deemed inappropriate. Censorship & fanaticism are timeless topics & this book gave a somewhat lesser-known historical look at topics that still haunt us today. (Looking up Bishop Landa, I found irony in the fact that while he destroyed so much knowledge, he also was one of the most knowledgeable about Mayan learning & his notes & information are still being used today to help decipher the Mayan language.) These are not the only parallels that shine through the text; the topics may be rooted in the past yet are so relevant to each other as well as to today.

On a small side note, I enjoyed the fan-maker descriptions because fans had prominence in a different book ([b:The Stockholm Octavo|13142835|The Stockholm Octavo|Karen Engelmann|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1337621522s/13142835.jpg|18320064]) I read earlier this year. And, the Marquis also figured in another historical fiction I read set during the French Revolution, [b:Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution|8689913|Madame Tussaud A Novel of the French Revolution|Michelle Moran|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320558120s/8689913.jpg|13562354]. Certainly, the Marquis de Sade is a notorious figure, but after reading so much about the Reign of Terror, I imagine it must have been an incredible feat for anyone to stay sane during those times, especially if imprisoned for years, some of the time within seeing/hearing distance of the guillotine during its daily use surrounded by baying crowds.

{End of spoilers.}

Historical fiction that’s both exquisite & sharp, while pointing out issues that plague society today, especially if you’re concerned with freedom of speech/expression & censorship – what more can you ask for in a novel? The Fan-Maker’s Inquisition provides some savory fodder for discussions & pondering -- & perhaps the dream of learning & growing from our past. Highly recommended. 4.5 stars.

"What are books but tangible dreams? What is reading if it is not dreaming? The best books cause us to dream; the rest are not worth reading." – Rikki Ducornet, The Fan-Maker’s Inquisition

Altazor or A Voyage In A Parachute (1919): A Poem In VII Cantos - Vicente Huidobro I have read very little poetry, so I’m quite a novice at even describing & understanding it. Altazor leaves me questioning, reinterpreting the images, the meanings. And I know I love it. Beautiful. Strange. Lyrical.

When I fell into Altazor, it’s as if I…

Transformed a Dali into words, a dictionary of letters
Etched a Philip Glass resonance into a crystalline cloud lining
Drew a teardrop of sadness through a breath
Waved a ribbon of mythology, terra, aqua, ignis, aer
Flew to the heights of the sea
Swam to the depths of the universe
Plucked the strands of string theory, sibilating
Simultaneously drank the suns, the moons, the stars, the astrals
While clutching the seed of a tree.

I’m awed and in debt to Eliot Weinberger for even attempting to translate this art, visionary art from the 1930s. Breathtaking translation. Even though my Spanish is thoroughly oxidized, I’m reading it aloud to myself in Spanish now to hear the beauty.

Wow. This blew me away. And, I think it may have spoiled me for any future poetry reading I had planned….

So glad that Mike Puma posted a quote from this poem on his page. I saw the quote, fell in love with it, & read the poem. Thank you, Mike, for reviewing & posting about this work.

“The four cardinal points are three: South and North.” – Vicente Huidobro, Altazor
So Long a Letter - Mariama Bâ, Modupe-Bode-Thomas A fascinating & bittersweet look at women's roles (written by a woman) in post-colonial, male-dominated Senegal. Interestingly enough, I read So Long a Letter quite by chance after having just finished [b:Xala|574425|Xala|Ousmane Sembène|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1328757709s/574425.jpg|561417] by Ousmane Sembène, a male Senegalese author.

Xala centers around a story of an upper-class Islamic businessman who is marrying his third (and much younger) wife. Part of the discussions in Xala center around the roles of the wives, the resentments between them, etc.... So Long a Letter also is viewing the life of women in polygamous marriages, emotionally & articulately poured out in a letter/diary format that a new widow writes to her friend. Part of her angst & sorrow centers around the fact that after 30 years of marriage, her husband married a second wife (who has been a wife for five years by the time the man dies). There's a lot of depth & emotion to this story, many facets of life examined; Senegal in the novella is on the cusp of various social changes as the country straddles the traditional African ways, yet also encompasses some of their inherited European mores. Mariama Bâ was apparently a well-known feminist in Senegal, and I'm happy that serendipity led me to reading So Long a Letter immediately after Xala, partly for the female vs. male view of polygamous marriage in Senegal, as well as the examination of gender roles there.

So Long A Letter won the first (in 1980) Noma Award for Publishing in Africa & rightly deserves it, imo. This is a well-done, touching look at the confines, compromises, & choices that comprise one's lifetime. A recommended novella, especially if you're looking to read African literature.

Xala - Ousmane Sembène Considering that Xala was written in the 1970s, it is a surprisingly frank discussion of male & female societal, marital, & sexual relationships in the days of post-colonial Senegal (which gained independence in 1960). It's a dark satire, a harsh parable that shows the clash between old, traditional African ways and the newer, post-colonial, 'Europeanized' ways. For such a short book, it touches on many themes: sexuality, religion, business, corruption, language, gender roles, societal levels & roles, traditions vs. new ideas, questions as to whether or not a former colony is really 'free' from its former occupiers, etc.... Apparently, the book was also made into a movie in the 1970s & the book includes some black & white stills from the movie throughout, giving some nice visuals to the story. I've read very little African literature & am currently working on a 'continental' reading challenge; this novella has given me an interesting peek into an area of the world about which I know very little. 3.5 stars.

Aspects of the Novel

Aspects of the Novel - E.M. Forster Tried reading this (for my book club) & made it about halfway through, but it's just not keeping my interest. Perhaps, since it is a transcription of a series of lectures Forster gave in 1927, it would be better in audio version?
This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don't Touch It - David Wong I loved the first book in this series -- a scathingly funny mix of humor & horror. I expected the same from this book, but found this one had a different tone -- more horror, less humor. It was still a pretty good book, but I'm not really into horror books & the humor aspect is what sold me on the first book. Even so, this had a pretty solid look a horror situation (kind-of like zombies, but not), the psychology of mass hysteria, & gov't/media manipulation. So, there were definitely some intriguing aspects to the story that kept me turning the pages in spite of the horror. New character Falconer was a great addition too. But, David Wong, why oh why did you do what you did at the end???? Those of you who have already read the book will know what I mean. RIP. If you enjoyed the first book, I'd still recommend this one, but just don't expect the same level of zingy humor throughout.
All Men Are Liars - Alberto Manguel I selected this book based on the cover art alone. I had no idea what the story was about, nor did I look up any info about it prior to reading. Wow. Loved it. A shifting story with various reliable (or unreliable) narrators, forcing us to think about reality, memory, fiction, & truth. Is there ever really one truth? How can one single truth even exist? Sure, it's a theme that has been covered in many great books through time, but Manguel makes a worthy addition to the pantheon of such works. It's a very readable story with quite a few nuanced layers. Gorgeous.

Currently reading

Night of My Blood
Kofi Awoonor