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The Sunday Salon: the Indulgent Post

September 21, 2008

Coraline is impressed by all the newly-read books!Considering that I didn’t have a weekend last week, I resolved that as soon as I got off work on Friday, I was going to come home and not worry about anything but reading until Sunday. I skipped the school happy hour, because as much as I enjoy socialising and think that my best friends are one of the most important things in my life, sometimes a girl just needs some quiet time. ;)

So, here’s what I’ve been bookishly up to this week:
Unaccustomed EarthOn Wednesday, I found myself with some unexpected free time, so I decided to do a little bit of library catalog exploring! We have a very small, very specialised library at my grad school, which while awesome in some respects (Newsweek in five languages, anyone?), does not seem to hold much promise in the fiction category. However, I discovered that they do have quite a nice collection of international fiction! Yay! I limited myself (since we only have books for two weeks) to getting Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri: I loved The Namesake and Interpreter of Maladies, so I’m excited to finally read her new collection! I also got an autiobiography called Behind Embassy Walls by Brandon Grove. Since I want to join the Foreign Service, I’m always interested in books by FSOs, so this book by a career service ambassador was right up my alley! I’ve been wanting to read it for years, but the my various libraries never carried it and it’s quite expensive even on Amazon.

Right, so then on Friday I started the Great Reading Retreat!

First, I finished The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner. I really admire the way Gortner brought 1500s Spain and Flanders to life! Apparently, he’s a medievalist, so it makes sense that he’s able to create such an authentic-feeling historical novel. It was neat to enter such a different world for awhile, even if Juana left me continually frustrated by her inability to see through people! I’ll have the review up on the 26th, which is next Friday (it’s part of a tour).

Behind Embassy WallsIn between, I continued Behind Embassy Walls (I like to switch back and forth between fic and nonfic). I had gotten to read the first fifty pages on Wednesday, and Grove’s style impressed me; fortunately, the book just got better as it continued! I ended up finishing it yesterday, on Saturday, and I’d highly recommend it to people curious about international relations-but not too curious. There’s a good blend of background for each of his posts (Cote d’Ivoire, West Germany, India, Panama, Israel, and Zaire), personal discussions, and short chapters on significant people (i.e.: “Around the World With RFK”) and events (Jonestown, Somalia, etc.). His writing style is intelligent and informed without being pompous, and he lead such an interesting life the autobiography can’t help but be interesting as well! Anyway, hopefully I’ll be able to give it a longer review soon, since it definitely deserves it. ;)

OroonokoOn Saturday, I was trying to decide what fiction book I should pick up when I suddenly realised I had one more book for the Novella Challenge, which ends this month! So of course, I went for “Oroonoko” by Aphra Behn, which at just over seventy pages took me about an hour to read. I decided to read it all in one sitting, since novellas work best for that way. Frankly, I’m still not sure what I think of this one: it’s one of those cases where I’d actually like to read some literary criticism. It was published in 1688 by an Englishwoman; I assumed Aphra Behn was a penname, but the introduction seems to imply not. Anyway, she was the first professional woman writer and well-known in her time, though later her works dropped out of anthologies for being too erotic (if I’m wrong on any of this, please let me know; the introduction wasn’t the best). So, “Oroonoko” is the story of a ‘Royal Slave’: it begins in Africa, where Oroonoko is prince next in line for his grandfather’s chieftanship and follows as classical tragedy Oroonoko’s eventual slavery in the West Indies and downfall. I’m going to reserve my real thoughts on it for a longer review, after I’ve found some other interpretations of it. Suffice it to say, it’s definitely an engaging and quick read (not at all boring) and one that will raise lots of questions in your mind. And, you should go read it now so that I have someone to discuss it with! :p

WintermsithThe final book I read this weekend was Wintersmith, the third in Terry Pratchett’s children/YA series (I don’t know the difference!) about Tiffany Aching, a young witch (this fits into his larger Discworld series). I loved The Wee Free Men and A Hat Full of Sky, so I couldn’t wait to read the next one! I did really enjoy it, but I don’t think it quite lives up to the first two; there were certain parts that felt just a little off. That isn’t to say I didn’t still love it! In fact, I’ve been inspired to try out some of the other Discworld books: I’ve avoided the series for a long time because it’s so long, but I love Death and the witches so much, I think I’ll read the books focussed on them.

So it’s been a great weekend! I did manage to get through about twenty more pages of A Sport of Nature, but it feels like slogging. I’m contemplating just cutting it out of my Orbis Terrarum list and adding another Latin American book at the end (I want to read the books in an order that would make sense if I was actually travelling around the globe). I dread picking it up, which I think is a good sign that this isn’t the right time!

Oh: I’ve also gotten back into short stories. I read Adichie’s “The Headstrong Historian” yesterday and loved it (of course!). Then, this morning I realised that an ‘A-Z’ short story challenge would be much less time consuming than an ‘A-Z’ novel challenge. And my poor little short story review directory looks starved. So, I spent some time researching and now have a list to read and review that will get me A-Z titles and authors! I tried not to double-up, and to get a mix of classic and contemporary, so it should be an interesting experience over the next few months. :D

Well, there you go; now I’m off to actually do school reading. But I have a feeling a few of Lahiri’s stories will slip in on the sly. ;)

24 Comments leave one →
  1. September 21, 2008 2:55 pm

    Gah! So jealous! But so glad you got to relax with some fun reading. At some point this week (maybe Tuesday and Wednesday) I think I’ll divorce the world and hole up with my books. I still have Capote in Kansas to finish and a stack of review books and scaries to pillage.

  2. September 21, 2008 3:58 pm

    I hope you love Unaccustomed Earth as much as I did. She’s an awesome writer.

  3. September 21, 2008 7:32 pm

    I LOVED Unaccustomed Earth. Here’s my review:

    I have The Interpreter in my physical TBR stack!

  4. September 21, 2008 7:55 pm

    Unaccustomed Earth is so overdue for me. I’ll have to squeeze it in my fall reading. I would like to read more non-fiction as well so I’ll constantly check what you’re recommending. :)

  5. September 21, 2008 8:17 pm

    What a find you made on Wednesday at the library! I am looking forward to reading Unaccustomed Earth too. I have heard so many wonderful things about it. It sounds like you have had a wonderful weekend of reading overall. I am looking forward to reading Adichie’s story. Thank you for the link!

    Have a great week, Eva!

  6. September 21, 2008 8:34 pm

    I read Oroonoko a few years ago as part of one of my required classes as an English major (“The Beginnings of the Novel”) and I’m not sure I could have understood it without the class discussions and the professor’s guidance.

    I unfortunately don’t have access to my old notes from that class (I’m currently a grad student and my notes are all packed away at home), but I do remember discussing the narrator’s reliability (or unreliability) in her descriptions of Oroonoko and other slaves and whether it makes a difference that Oroonoko is a king, as well as the overall structure of this “first-ever novel”.

    I hope you find someone to discuss the book with! :)

  7. September 21, 2008 9:56 pm

    I love time alone. I’m a little jealous. Hopefully I’ll be able to get away to myself soon.

    Glad you had a good weekend.

  8. September 21, 2008 11:30 pm

    I am so impressed with the amount that you read over the weekend. Being in law school has made me a much slower reader.

  9. September 22, 2008 2:58 am

    I have always wanted to be rich enough to be able to afford a house I could run as a reading retreat for friends. On the grounds that that is never going to happen your way seems like a nice compromise.

  10. September 22, 2008 3:34 am

    I’m so glad you finally got a little “Eva time”!!! And you certainly made the most of it, didn’t you?!! Of course, I should definitely not be surprised any longer at how much you can get read in a short time!

    I’m looking forward to your A-Z short stories! What a fun idea!

  11. September 22, 2008 4:37 am

    I’m interested to hear your further thoughts on Oroonoko — a strange and wonderful book, isn’t it?

  12. September 22, 2008 5:07 am

    You know Eva, I am always amazed by how much you can manage to read inspite of hectic schedules. I really liked ‘Interpretor of maladies’ but I haven’t read unaccustomed earth yet. May be I should.

  13. September 22, 2008 6:18 am

    Goodness, I can’t come here without turning green with envy! A 70-page book would probably take me two hours to read. I’m slow (I like to say I’m a savorer of words, but . . . I’m slow). What a great load of books! Behind Embassy Walls sounds particularly intriguing. I’ve got a copy of Unaccustomed Earth. I’ll have to put that on my Sunday Short Story pile.

  14. September 22, 2008 7:52 am

    I had no idea Wintersmith was part of a series. And you say it is part of the Discworld as well?

  15. September 22, 2008 9:19 am

    I haven’t read The Namesake but loved Interpreter of Maladies. I’ll have to find it and read it…as well as Unaccustomed Earth.

  16. blacklin permalink
    September 22, 2008 11:17 am

    I saw the movie The Namesake and liked the movie, but I have not read the book yet.

    Newsweek in five languages? Wow!

  17. September 22, 2008 2:07 pm

    I agree that Wintersmith is not quite up there with The Wee Free Men and A Hatful of Sky, but like you I still enjoyed it a lot. And I’m happy to hear you plan on reading the Witches and Death Discworld books! Those are my favourite sub-series.

    Reaper Man, a Death book, is probably my favourite Discworld novel, and that’s saying a lot. And then there’s Witches Abroad (a book that was highly praised by A.S. Byatt!). What he does with the plots of traditional fairy tales in that one is just so clever. Those two are probably my favourites, but I really love them all.

    A-Z short stories is a brilliant idea. If you need something for the “J” I really recommend this one.

  18. September 22, 2008 3:41 pm

    Andi, I was going crazy w/o any reading time! I hope you manage to make some time yourself. :)

    Becca, she is an awesome writer!

    Sarah, thanks for visiting! :D So far, I prefer Interpreter, but I haven’t read the final sequence of linked stories yet.

    Matthew, awww: thanks! You know, I’ve collected a couple lists of interesting-sounding non-fic (for when I decided I wanted to read more of it last year): I’ll try to dig them up for you. :D

    Literary Feline, I agree! Except my library takes the book jackets off, so I can’t admire the pretty cover. :(

    M, thanks for visiting! I hope I”ll be able to scrounge up some kind of info from the internet. :D

    Nik, I hope you can find some time soon! This was my first alone time in a couple of weeks; I’d forgotten how important it is to my sanity.

    Beastmomma, I hadn’t read at all before this weekend! Grad school hasn’t definitely slowed me way, way down!

    Ann, that would be very cool. :D

    Debi, hehe: I did make the most of it! And you’re welcome to join in the A-Z short stories. ;)

    Dorothy, it is a strange and wonderful book.

    Violet, thanks, but I’d barely gotten any reading done before this weekend. And I’m not sure when I’ll any more done…

    Bookfool, for awhile I tried to be a slow reader (because I think there’s something very important about savouring the text, as you said), but I’m just not very good at it. I suspect this is why poetry and I have never gotten along….I’m much better at reading Russian and French poetry, because I read so much more slowly in them, and don’t instantly know what all of the words mean. I wish I could somehow bring those qualities to my English reading…*sigh*…something to work on!

    Confuzzled, yep: it’s the third in the Tiffany Aching series. And that is a YA series that’s tied to Discworld. Did you read Wintersmith? WHat did you think of it?

    Rebecca, I read The Namesake first then Interpreter of Maladies! So far, I’m finding Unaccustomed Earth to fall a touch short of her first too..

    Blacklin, I avoided the movie version since I loved the book! ;) And yeah: isn’t that cool? My school is very big on languages (every student has at least an intermediate knowledge of at least one other language-it’s an entrance requirement), so we have lots of foreign language books, magazines, and newspapers.

    Nymeth, glad you agree with me on Wintersmith! And I had a suspicion the Witches and Death were your two favourites sub-series. ;) I didn’t know that about Reaper Man and Witches Abroad!!! Do you think I should jump directly to those two, or read the earlier books in the subseries first? Finally, feel free to join me in the short stories!

  19. September 22, 2008 3:43 pm

    Aphra Behn was the first professional female writer – in English. Christine de Pisan has her beat by over 200 years.

  20. September 22, 2008 9:39 pm

    Amateur Reader, thanks for letting me know! I’ve never even heard of Christine de Pisan, but then I hadn’t heard of Aphra Behn before looking for novella’s…

  21. September 23, 2008 4:14 am

    I absolutely loved Unaccustomed Earth – have never been one for short stories but Jhumpa Lahiri has completed changed my mind about that. Currently my favourite author!

  22. September 24, 2008 2:11 pm

    I think reading Reaper Man before Mort could be fine. Mort is a good introduction to the series because it explains all about Death’s family, and his granddaughter Susan plays an important role on the later Death books (if you’re thinking that there must be an interesting story behind that, you’re right :P), but Reaper Man is an exception to that. However, reading Mort first makes something that happens just at the start of Reaper Man easier to understand. Both are great books, though, and I think you’ll enjoy whichever you decide to start with.

    As for Witches Abroad, the plot stands on its own perfectly, the only problem is that there might be spoiler-ish allusions to the events of the previous book, Wyrd Sisters.

  23. October 1, 2008 7:58 pm

    Karen, Lahiri definitely has the short story format down!

    Nymeth, thanks for giving me all the info: I think I’ll check and see if the library has them for the read-a-thon. :D


  1. Oroonoko by Aphra Behn | Iris on Books

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