Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

Monday, June 26, 2017

Weimar Culture The Outsider as Insider by Peter Gay (1968)

Weimar Culture The Insider as Outsider (1968) by Peter Gay should be the first book anyone interested in Germany history and culture from 1919 when a new constitution was drawn up Weimar, Germany instituting democracy and civil rights to 1933.   The Weimar period is considered to have ended in 1933 with the full ascension of Hitler to power bringing the end of constitutional government and individual rights.

Weimar Culture can be seen as a reaction to the terrible crushing humiliation brought on by Germany's defeat in World War One.  Germans had never had much individual liberty and the liberties of the period produced a great outburst of creativity in the arts, various forms of literature, in theater and in personal life styles.  This was the Berlin of Christopher Isherwood's Good Bye to Berlin, vividly dramatized in the movie Cabaret.  Gay lets us see how the relaxing of  a centuries old Prussian culture of obedience radically changed Germany radically.

I was very interested in learning from Gay about literature during the Weimar Period, I was pleased to see I have posted upon the major novelists he mentions, Alfred Doblin, Erich Marie Remarque whose All Quiet on The Western Front is surely one of the very best war novels ever written, down to the Nobel Prize Winning Thomas Mann.  Gay goes into detail about Weimar movies. Most were thematically dark probing the corruption in Berlin.  The first famous film, a silent, was The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, still disturbing today. (You can watch it and other Weimar movies on YouTube and they are still striking and weird!).  Vampire movies were popular, the most famous was Nosferatu.  Futuristic movies were very popular, such as Fritz Lang's Metropolis.  Gay talks about the theater also, focusing on The Three Penny Opera written by Bertolucci Brecht as well as the work of Kurt Weil.

The most important philosopher of the period was Martin Heidiger, a founding father of existentialism.  Gay treat him with contempt, which I enjoyed, for his boot licking attitude toward Hitler.

I have placed a few images of Weimar art in my collage.  Gay talks a lot about this.

Gay's style is elegant.  He goes into some detail on the failure of Weimar Culture to stand up to Nazis.

Weimar Culture is a nearly fifty year old book.  Much of the information in Gay's book can now be found online.  I was motivated to finally read this book, which had been on my To Be Read List for a very long time.  I was motivated to read it  when I was notified it was in  for sale for $1.95 in a Kindle edition.  I just checked and is back to $9.95.  For sure it is a value at $1.95, $9.95 I will let you decide.

This is a first rate popular history.  It helped me draw together my knowledge of the period.

From Goodreads.

Peter Gay

in Berlin, Germany
June 20, 1923

May 12, 2015

History, Biography

edit data

The son of a glassware maker, Peter Joachim Fröhlich grew up in Germany as the Nazis rose to power. Escaping in 1938 with the rest of his family on the last boat of refugees admitted to Cuba, he gained entry with them to the United States two years later, whereupon he changed his name to Gay. He graduated from the University of Denver in 1946 and earned a master's and doctorate in history from Columbia University.

Gay taught at Columbia from 1947 until 1969. In 1969 he joined the faculty at Yale University, where he taught until he retired as Sterling Professor of History in 1993. He was a former director of the New York Public Library's Center for Scholars and Writers from 1997 until 2003. Gay was the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Book Award and the received the American Historical Association's (AHA) Award for Scholarly Distinction. He died in 2015

Mel u

Sunday, June 25, 2017

"The Royal Summons" - A Short Story by Leonora Carrington (1937)


Bottom Right, Leonora Carrington and her brothers 
Left, one up from bottom, Max Ernest and Leonora Carrington 

"As the representative of the queen, I sat in the seat at the end. The Prime Minister rose and struck the table with a gavel. The table broke in two. Some servants came in with another table. The Prime Minister swapped the first gavel for another, made of rubber. He struck the table again and began to speak. "Madame Deputy of the Queen, ministers, friends. Our dearly beloved sovereign went mad yesterday, and so we need another. But first we must assassinate the old queen."  - from "The Royal Summons" by Leonora Carrington 

"The Royal Summons" is another Surrealistic gem by Leonora Carrington.  Told in the first person, our narrator has just received a royal summons to visit the monarchs of her country at their palace.  She summons her chauffeur who informs her that he has just buried her car, in order to grow mushrooms.  Of course she calls him an idiot and she orders a carriage.  Upon arrival at the palace a servant tells her the queen went mad yesterday.  If she wishes she may visit the queen in her bath.  She finds the queen bathing in goat's milk, with live sponges swimming in the milk, real sponges anchor themselves.

The queen asks her attend a meeting of the government ministers in her place.  They announce the queen must be killed.  A table tennis tournament will be conducted with the winner to take the queen to the zoo and push her in a cage with unfed recently lions.

This is a quite short work, reading time under five minutes so I will leave the end unspoiled.

In most of Carrington's stories someone seems to be killed.  

From the Dorothy, a Publishing Project website: "Leonora Carrington (1917–2011) was a writer, painter, and a key figure in the Surrealist movement. She was born to a wealthy English family in 1917, expelled from two convents as a girl, and presented to the king's court in 1933. Four years later, she ran off with Max Ernst and became a darling of the art world in Paris: serving guests hair omelets at one party, arriving naked to another. After Ernst was taken from their home to a Nazi internment camp in 1940, Carrington fled France. Nearly mad with grief and terror, she was thrown into a lunatic asylum in Spain, and, after escaping, married a Mexican diplomat, fleeing Europe for New York City then Mexico City, where she lived for the rest of her life." 

About ten of her stories can be found online along with several good general articles.

I will from time to time read more of her work, I hope.

Mel u

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Poetry Will Save Your Life - A Memoir by Jill Bialosky (July, 2017)

"Enduring a childhood of loneliness and dislocation, he retreated into the “wonderful world of books.”  Jill Bialosky on Langston Hughes

"I’m grateful for my books, my deep infatuation with literature, and my poems, however nascent. I’ve come to see that the only thing now worth holding on to is the collection of verse accumulating on my desk and in my drawer. They don’t often amount to much, but when they do I sense it something alive and crackling, like the sound of stepping on twigs in the woods. In the absence of love, I cling to my work. Literature is the only thing that I can count on; it won’t desert me." - Jill Bialosky

Poetry Will Save Your Life by Jill Bialosky is a deeply felt memoir  told through the poems that helped the author cope with and understand the seminal events and rites of passage of her life, from adolescence to motherhood and beyond.  She talks very openly about events that caused her great pain and shows how poetry literarily saved her life.

When I first began The Reading Life nearly eight years ago I planned to focus on literary works focusing on people who lead Reading centered lives.  I have gotten happily very side tracked but I always like to return to this theme.  I wonder what forces, influences, factors lead a person to prefer reading above all activities.  I have seen in the posts of lots of book bloggers (the world's greatest

readers) references to lonely isolated childhoods in which they retreated from an environment they did not like, from feeling odd and out of place, to books.   Many of these children grew away from reading as they worked, had families, etc but some of us did not.  We resented our jobs as wasting our Reading time and some of us did become near Life time isolates, wanting to be left alone to read.

Jill Bialosky talks about being lonely and feeling out of place as a child.  She found a salvation in poetry.  There are forty three poems featured, most published in full.  Bialosky talks about events in her life and how they helped her relate to the poem and conversely how the poems helped her cope with the suicide of a beloved sister, marriage, becoming a mother, the death of her father, and the attack on the World trade centered.  Among the more famous poets featured are Robert Frost (I found her comments on his perhaps most famous work, "The Road Not Taken" helped me overcome the view I formed of Frost decades ago), Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens and Sylvia Plath.  She also talks about English language poets I have not read and  works in translation by writers who I think will be new to most readers of her book.

Poetry Will Save Your Life can be read slowly savoring the poems and relating your own life experiences to those of Bialosky or devoured in a very pleasant evening.  Either way I think you will enjoy this book.

Jill Bialosky is the author of four acclaimed collections of poetry. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Kenyon Review, and The Atlantic, among others. She is the author of three novels, most recently, The Prize, and a New York Times bestselling memoir History of a Suicide: My Sister’s Unfinished Life. Jill was honored by the Poetry Society of America for her distinguished contribution to the field of poetry in 2015. She is an editor at W. W. Norton & Company and lives in New York City.

"God Product" - short story by the Nebula and World Fantasy Award Winning Alyssa Wong (2017)

"She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted. As she stood over the god taped down to the kitchen table, Caroline knew this was the only way to win Hyeon’s attention.
“Watch me,” she said to Hyeon, who leaned against the counter on the opposite wall, her eyes glittering. “Don’t look away.”
All of Hyeon’s eyes blinked slowly, in a concentric pattern. How beautiful, thought Caroline. Hyeon was a god: sharp, lean, and bright with power, nothing like Caroline’s small god, whose restrained limbs trembled against the wooden tabletop. “You’ll regret doing this,” said Hyeon. Her voice was quiet, but it rang hard in Caroline’s ears. “The two of you are bonded.” - from "God Product" by Alyssa Wong

Not long ago I read and posted upon  Alyssa Wong's beautifully wicked multi award winning work about the dangers of online dating, among other things, "Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers" (you can read it on Wong's very well done website along with several of her other stories, including "God Product").

Today I want to journalize my reading of another of her stories, "God Product".  As this marvelous very thought provoking story opens Caroline stands before a small new god, still encased in his pre- emergence wooden shell.  It is Caroline's task to break the shell.  Once she does this she and the god will be bonded.  The problem is Caroline is already bonded to Hyeon, the female god who is walking her through the procedure.  We never learn how gods are created, where we are, or the nature of the society in which Caroline resides. .  For me these mysteries add more to the impact and fun of the story.

The close of the story is very exciting.  I will leave it untold.  I think this would make a very good story to stimulate class room discussion.

This story was first published on, a leading SF/F webpage on March 18, 2017, in observation of International Women's Day.

I plan to read and post upon all of Wong's works as I return to the SF/F world.

Mel u

Friday, June 23, 2017

Possession by A. S. Byatt (1990, Winner of the Booker Prize)

Possession by A. S. Byatt (born 1936 in Sheffield, England) won the 1990 Booker Prize.  It is widely considered one of the best novels of the post World War Two era and had long been on my TBR list.  It was made into a movie I hope to see one day. About ten years ago, before the start of The Reading

Life, I read and greatly enjoyed her novel, The Biographer's Tale.

Possession sort of centers on two contemporary academics researching the previously unknown romance between two created by Byatt Victorian era poets.  They have discovered a treasure trove of letters, journals and diaries from both of the poets.  Researching and making the details of this romance known in the academic world will make their reputations and guarantee them professional success.

About half of the novel is taken up with the imaginary journals and the letters between the two poets.  We see the development of their relationship through the letters.  We see the struggles of the contemporary academics to come to terms with the material and wrestle with the ethics revealing the vast trove of material.

Possession is a very biting satire of the squabbles of academics.  The characters are all very well developed.  Byatt even included extensive poems.

I am very glad I finally read Possession. I hope to read two more of her novels soon, The Children's Book and The Virgin in the Garden.

Mel u

Thursday, June 22, 2017

"The Toy Theater" - A Short Story by Gene Wolfe, a master of the Science Fiction Fantasy Genre, 1971

I offer my Great Thanks to Mudpuddle and Fred of Fred's Place for suggesting I read Gene Wolfe

"“You will learn. You have already learned more difficult things. But you will not learn traveling with just one. If you wish to learn three, you must have three with you always, so that you can practice. But already you do the voice of a woman speaking and singing. That was the most difficult for me to learn.” He threw out his big chest and thumped it. “I am an old man now and my voice is not so deep as it was, but when I was young as you it was very deep, and I could not do the voices of women, not with all the help from the control and the speakers in the dolls pitched high. But now listen.” He made Julia, Lucinda, and Columbine, three of his girls, step forward. For a moment they simply giggled; then, after a whispered but audible conference, they burst into Rosine’s song from The Barber of Seville Julia singing coloratura soprano, Columbine mezzo-soprano, and Lucinda contralto. “Don’t record,” Stromboli admonished me. “It is easy to record and cheat; but a good audience will always know, the amateurs will want you to show them, and you can’t look at yourself and smile. You can already do one girl’s voice very good. Don’t ever record. You know how I learned to do them?”

I am greatly enjoying slowly getting back into science fiction and fantasy works, something I read avidly years ago but neglected for a long time.  I was inspired to venture back into fantasy worlds, partially through rereading Dune by Frank Herbert.  I also have recently began to read Olivia Butler and I greatly enjoyed "Green Magic" by the American master Jack Vance.  I was additionally delighted to read works by two young Filipino writers, Isabell Wong and Alyssa Yap whose development I hope to follow.

Going on the strength of recommendations from Mudpuddle and Fred of Fred's Place I decided to read a short story by another acknowledged American master, Gene Wolfe (born NYC, 1931, his best known work is the tetralogy, The Book of the New Sun).  I downloaded a sample of The Best Short Fiction of Gene Wolfe and was happy to find a story I could read, "The Toy Theater" first published in the popular  anthology series Orbit edited by Damon Knight, in 1971)

"The Toy Theater" is a really fun to read story.  A marionettist has just landed on the planet Sarg.  I like how Vance just plunges us right into an alternative universe without a lot of explanation.  Sarg was found with no life of but suitable for humans and earth plants.  It is preindustrial.  It looks like the main occupant, maybe the owner of the planet, is one Stromboli, a marionette master famous through the known universe. Our narrator has come to study with Stromboli.  Marionettes are very much in vogue everywhere.  We meet Stromboli's wife in their house, in the style of a Tuscan villa.  We sit in on the lessons, we come to respect the great artistry involved.

As he awaits in the buggy to take him back to the space port, his visit over, instead of Stromboli's butler, a doll, a woman, Lilli comes up in a buggy and says she will take him to the space port.  It appears she is a marionette, created by Stromboli to be his mistress.

I don't want to spoil the very interesting close of the story.  I found no work by Vance online.  I have two of his short stories in anthologies I have been given and will read them soon.  Maybe I will tackle The Book of the New Sun one day.

Mel u

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

"One of Us" - A Short Story by Farah Ahamed (2015)

Farah Ahamed on The Reading Life- includes links to her stories

"One of Us" - On Two Serious Ladies

"“And she’s Yemoja,” Fatima said. “West African goddess of power and destruction, made from malachite. She weighs a tonne; I wouldn’t try and lift her if I were you.” She laughed. How like a miniature she was, with regular features, soft, smooth skin, a small nose and bulging eyes. Her lips looked like they’d been carved and her eyebrows as if they’d been painted on. I dropped my hand.
“They keep us busy,” she said. “You wouldn’t think it, but they need constant looking after.” She pointed to an oriental figure of a half-naked woman sitting cross legged holding a flute to her lips. “Look at her, our female Buddha. She’s hand carved from ivory. Notice the intricate calligraphy and jewelry on her skirt and headdress.”
“Where did you find them?” I asked.
“In different places,” replied Rashid. “But we know instantly when we see them if they’re one of us.” He smoothed Cleopatra’s head. “Aren’t they intriguing? Each one is exceptional.”  “With a special meaning for us,” Fatima said. Using both hands she lifted a figure from the stool. “See Pannie, our satyress made of cement.” Holding it in one hand, with her other, she rotated its head making a terrible grinding sound. She turned it upside down and blew inside the hollow cavity. A cloud of dust flew out. “Sorry, honey Pannie.” She tweaked its jagged horns, and ran her fore finger lightly over its open, sneering mouth where its tongue curled back convulsively. I looked away, but she drew me back when she said, “Rashid tells me the two of you are thinking of moving in together.”

I decided to begin my fourth post on a short story by Farah Ahamed, "One of Us" with a rather longish quote so you can see for yourself her exquisite styling.  This is a very interestingly deeply disturbing work.  We see in it  how in a few pages a skilled artist can create years of relationships.  The setting of the story is not spelled out.  There are three on stage human characters.

Simran, the narrator, is making her first visit to the home her lover shares with his sister Fatima.  The room in which Simran is received is filled with small statues.  The sister shows Simran inherited from their father statues of Cleopatra, Fatima calls her "Cleo" and Ptolemy.  Both sister and brother are deeply bonded with these and the other artifacts of antiquity, from not just Egypt, Kenya and India.  Simran is disturbed or rather disquieted by the very deep triangular bond between her lover, his sister Fatima, and the artifacts.

I want to leave the fascinating denouement untold.  I will observe that Fatima has an illness which has denuded her body of hair.  Somehow I was brought to mind of the genetic diseases caused by brother/sister inbreeding in the final pharaonic dynasties.

I read this story several times.  It is a consummate specimen of the art of the short story.  You can read it on the link above.  I think this might be my favorite of her stories.

"One of Us" was first published in 2015 on a very interesting website, Two Serious Ladies, the title is taken from a novella by Jane Bowles.  I confess I have read much more by her occasional husband Paul but the little by Jane I have read has allowed me to understand her cult like following.  There are interesting works on the webpage and intriguing visual art.  It appears to be on a hiatus from accepting new work, I hope it is not permanent.

Farah Ahamed is a short fiction writer. Her stories have been published in The Massachusetts Review, Thresholds, Kwani?, The Missing Slate and Out of Print among others. She has been nominated for The Caine and The Pushcart prizes and shortlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Prize, DNA/Out of Print Award, Sunderland Waterstones Award, Asian Writer Award. She was highly commended in the London Short Story Award and joint winner of the inaugural Gerald Kraak Award.

I will post on another of her stories next week.

Mel u