After spending much of two months with 2666, I decided to stick to shorter books in March and enjoyed 5 that were under 200 pages. Somewhat refreshed, I then dived into The Master and Margarita…
To start, I read another one of August Wilson’s plays, the second in his Pittsburgh Cycle – Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. It didn’t grip me the way that Gem of the Ocean did, but I enjoyed it’s depiction of daily life among the residents of a Hill District boardinghouse in 1911 – their casual conversation, their woes and joys both little and big, the different ways each one cared about the others. Again, I’d definitely like to see this performed someday.
Next I read The Blue Fox, a strange and gorgeous tale by Sjón (trans. from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb) that I had stumbled across in January. This somewhat amusing review over on Wuthering Expectations reminded me that I owned it, so I pushed it off my TBR pile. A hunter stalks a blue fox through a snowstorm, and a man remembers the life of the lovely woman with Down syndrome who had been his charge for many years. Abba’s personal mysteries, and the supernatural mystery of the blue fox melt and reform together in the snowy quiet of the story, making something quite wondrous. There are funny moments too, and the end result is a tiny but thoroughly satisfying book. I’ll be looking for more from Sjón soon.
Another tiny book I read was a delicious surprise – while exploring the main branch of my local library system, I found Georges Perec’s The Art of Asking Your Boss for a Raise (trans. from the French of course by David Bellos). I haven’t read anything by Perec in a few years, so this was a treat. As should be expected, the book is a puzzle, a game, in actual fact a computer program. Perec was challenged to replicate a computer procedure, or solve a problem as a computer would. The problem is, of course, how to ask your boss for a raise. The fly-leaf of the book has a flow-chart that is amusing to look over, and worth doing so, as the text of the book makes more sense if you kind of know what the map looks like. Because one does not simply ask your boss for a raise – it is a complex process involving innumerable factors and outcomes, based on things like: is your boss in his office when you go to see him? if so, is he in a good mood? did he eat fish for lunch (because it is Friday, or during Lent) which leads to the chance that he will have swallowed a fish bone and become ill before you pop the question? do his children have measles, because if so then you’d better abandon your task and get out of there before you catch it! etc. The text, like the flow-chart, sends you around and around and around – and gleefully tells an actual tale of how a man loses his identity and some portion of his mind to the corporate drain… It’s clever and funny, and it was an absolute delight to hang out with Perec again!
Meanwhile, alongside these books I was reading a collection of Wendell Berry’s poems – Leavings, from 2010. I like the little bits of things I’ve read by Wendell Berry, especially as he comes from a point of view I appreciate – that of a social activist farmer who is in love with the land. This collection didn’t blow me away though. The first poem of the bunch was my favorite:
‘Suppose we did our work
like the snow, quietly, quietly,
leaving nothing out.’
I should read more of his novels, as he tells a story well (some of his poems proved) and his essays would probably interest me…
I also read my first Moomin book in years…if I ever did read any of Tove Jansson’s Moomin books as a kid – I really can’t remember. Comet in Moominland was so utterly delightful that I think I’ll gush about it in a separate post. And I have two of Jansson’s adult novels checked out from the library right now, so April will be filled with the apparently charming and thought-provoking world of this Swedish-Finn author. I can’t wait.
I just have to finish the mind-twisting and grimace-inducing Master and Margarita first…!