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Sunday Salon: the Not-Cranky Post

January 11, 2009

The Sunday Salon.comI originally planned to entitle this ‘The Cranky Post,’ since Google Reader was standing between my and all of the blogs I love to read. But then it started cooperation again, so I had to change the title! This is kind of late in the day for a Sunday Salon post, but I’m still using (stealing) my mom’s laptop and today she actually needed it (I think she’s more excited than me about me getting my laptop back sometime this week, lol). And, I spent all morning working on my hat for the Dewey Knit-A-Long (I finished it! pics soon!). But to the books!

The first one I finished this week was The Story of Artby E.H. Gombrich. It’s an incredibly accessible, well-written account of art history (from a male, Western perspective). I feel so much more confident about enjoying art after reading it, and I’m working on the review (it’ll probably be spread out over two or three posts).

themaninthepictureNext up? The Man in the Picture, which I got from the library, because I’ve heard wonderful things about a different Susan Hill book (The Woman in Black), but my library only had this one. It turned out to be very small-only 145 pages, and it’s smaller than the average hardcover. (Sidenote: ever since the Novella Challenge last year, I’ve had difficulty deciding whether to list shorter books with italicised titles or quotations-which is the correct way to deal with a novella. And since most of the fiction I’ve read this year is on the slimmer side, it’s bothering me. I am so geeky sometimes.) But I was just excited to try out a ghost story, since I love them to pieces but often end up not really scared. Unfortunately, I don’t think The Man in the Picturewas anything above average. It didn’t really frighten me, and it seemed to adhere to closely to a classical ghost story mold that I wasn’t surprised by anything that happened. Which would be fine, except that the story doesn’t make all that much sense either. I expect my ghost stories to have at least one of these three things-scary, surprising, or wrapped up neatly-so I can’t say I was impressed. That being said, Hill’s writing was wonderful; she brought various places to life (rooms at Cambridge, an old Yorkshire manor, Venice during Carnivale) quite convincingly. And it was fun to read a book in which paintings were important, since I just finished reading The Story of Art, a huge art history survey. Still, I only gave it two stars since wonderful writing without a good plot or characters can only carry a book so far. All of that being said, I still want to read The Woman in Black!

After that, I was in the mood for some short stories, so I read several online: “The Child’s Story” by Charles Dickens, “The Kiss” by Guy de Maupassant, “Facts Concerning the late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” by H.P. Lovecraft“, and “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’ve already written reviews for all of them, but I’ve only published my thoughts on “The Kiss”so far. You’ll have to wait to see what I thought about the others. ;) But I’ve never just read random short stories with any kind of regularity before, and it turns out I love it. I love how I can jump between genres, get a taste of a new-to-me-writer, and everything about the self-contained magic of a short story is really heightened by *not* reading one as part of a collection. Plus, while I can’t read novels online, short stories are easy, so I can take advantage of those free books. If you haven’t tried it before, I recommend it.

Then I finished James Martin’s My Life With the Saints. It’s a memoir by a Jesuit priest, and I absolutely loved it-it exceeded all of my expectations. You might notice that in my review, in which I tried really hard to bring across the book’s universal appeal.

rereadings1 The first of my new library pile that I reached for was Rereadings, an essay anthology edited by Anne Fadiman. Fadiman selected essays from the Rereading feature of The American Scholar. She explained in the foreword that she picked the seventeen, because they were all so different. And, for me at least, the collection was very hit-or-miss. Some I really enjoyed, some I felt ‘meh’ about, and others I kept checking to see how many pages I had left. Also, almost all of the essays were full of spoilers, and while this makes sense (as a blogger, I often struggle with how to meaningfully write about a novel-or short story-without discussing the whole plot), I found myself a little frustrated at finding out how books I’ve never read (but mean to) turn out. Anyway, I picked this for the ‘000’ category of the Dewey Decimal Challenge, and I have another book for the same category that I plan on reading too (The Library at Nightby Alberto Manguel) and then doing a double-review. So I’ll get to talk more about the essays I loved. :)

Then, I read a short story Nymeth recommended to me ages ago: “Daughters of the Vicar” by D.H. Lawrence. It was quite long (forty-four pages), and my first introduction to Lawrence. I have a review written up, but for now I’ll just say that I was shocked by how much I really, really liked it. Poor Lawrence has an undeservedly bad reputation, which I totally believed in, so I was taken aback by the author I kept thinking of while I was reading the story: Jane Austen. You’ll hear more about why in my full review, but let’s just say that I’m no longer afraid of Lawrence and definitely want to try out one of his novels!

thebellThroughout the week, I was also reading steadily through The Bell by Iris Murdoch. It’s my first experience with Murdoch, and while I raced through the first hundred, hundred fifty pages, and the last fifty, I did get a little bogged down in the middle. The Bell looks at a small lay Anglican community, and how the different personalities and baggage the members have affect the community dynamics. That makes it sound more analytical than it is: since the book is always in one of the character’s heads, we’re privy to all of their thoughts, hopes, and dreams. And throughout the story, Murdoch skillfully and slowly weaves a little bit of tension, which prepares the way for a great ending. I’ll definitely be reading more Murdoch in the future, though: she effortlessly portrayed several narrators in such a convincing way I forgot they weren’t real. Which is quite the compliment. :) (Check out the first notable passage to see just how perfectly Murdoch captures everyday situations.)

Well, those are the books and stories I finished reading this week. I’m in the middle of several others: Cereus Blooms at Nightby Shani Mootoo, which I can only describe as Caribbean Gothic (I’m loving it), The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges, which I think I’ve summed up quite nicely in my ‘currently reading’ sidebar, and Napoleon’s Buttonsby Penny Le Couteur and Jay Burreson, a book about chemistry and history which is not as good as I expected, but that’s ok. Oh, and I’m still listening to The Thirteenth Tale (as a reread)-I’ve finally settled back into the rhythm and world of the story, and I’m happily ensconced in it.

Do you have any individual short stories, available on the internet, to recommend? I’d like to have a big list to choose from!

Notable Passages
The Bell by Iris Murdoch
Dora stopped listening because a dreadful thought had struck her. She ought to give up her seat. She rejected the thought, but it came back. There wasno doubt about it. The elderly lady who was standing looked very frail indeed, and it was only proper that Dora, who was young and healthy should give her sear to the lady who could then sit next to her friend. Dora felt the blood rushing to her face. She sat still and considered the matter. There was no point in being hasty. It was possible of course that while clearly admitting that she ought to give up her seat she might nevertheless simply not do so out of pure selfishness. This would in some ways be a better situation than what would have been the case if it had simply not occurred to her at all that she ought to give up her seat. On the other side of the seated lady a man was sitting. He was reading his newspaper and did not seem to be thinking about his duty. Perhaps if Dora waited it would occur to the man to give up his seat to the other lady? Unlikely. Dora examined the other inhabitants of the carriage. None of them looked in the least uneasy. Their faces, if not already buried in books, reflected the selfish glee which had probably been on her own a moment since as she watched the crowd in the corridor. There was another aspect to the matter. She had taken the trouble to arrive early, and surely ought to be rewarded for this. Though perhaps the two ladies had arrived as early as they could? There was no knowing. But in any case there was an elementary justice in the first comers having the seats. The old lady would be perfectly all right in the corridor. The corridor was full of old ladies anyway, and no one else seemed bothered by this, least of all the old ladies themselves! Dora hated pointless sacrifices. She was tired after her recent emotions and deserved a rest. Besides, it would never do to arrive at her destination exhausted. She regarded her state of distress as completely neurotic. She decided not to give up her seat.
She got up and said to the standing lady, “Do sit down here, please. I’m not going very far, and I’dm uch rather stand anyway.”

Toby, whose parents lived in north London, had been at a day school, which gave him a slight sense of inferiority together with a thoroughly romantic conception of community life.

But then the behavior of married people was so unaccountable. Contrary to what Tolstoy seems to maintain in the first sentence of Anna Kareninathere are a great many different ways in which marriage can succeed. Toby had of late become vaguely aware of this and this new knowledge made him feel sophisticated.

Dora had been in the National Gallery a thousand times and the pictures were almost as familiar to her as her own face. Passing between them now, as through a well-loved grove, she felt a calm descending on her. She wandered a little, watching with compassion the poor visitors armed with guide books who were peering anxiously at the masterpieces. Dora did not need to peer. She could look, as one can at least when one knows a great ting very well, confronting it with a dignity which it has itself conferred. She felt that the pictures belonged to her, and reflected ruefully that they were about the only thing that did. Vaguely, consoled by the presence of something welcoming and responding in the place, her footsteps took her to various shrines at which she had worshipped so often before: the great light spaces of Italian pictures, more vast and southern than any real South, tha angels of Botticelli, radiant as birds, delighted as gods, and curling like the tendrils of a vine, the glorious carnal presence of Susanna Fourment, the tragic presence of Margarethe Trip, the solemn world of Piero della Francesca with its early-morning colours, the enclosed and gilded world of Crivelli. Dora stopped at least in front of Gainsborough’s picture of his two daughters. These children step through a wood hand in hand, their garments shimmering, their eyes serious and dark, their two pale heads, round full buds, like yet unlike.
Dora was always moved by the pictures.

Dora, who had clearly got no conception of how large and heavy the bell actually was, seemed to think it all perfectly possible, and relied upon Toby’s skill with an insouciance which both exasperated and melted him.

“I’m afraid I’m perfectly useless!” said Dora, her hands about her knees, her large eyes glowing at him with submissive admiration as they sat in the wood having their final conference. Toby found her perfectly captivating.

30 Comments leave one →
  1. January 11, 2009 7:36 pm

    That’s a lot of reading for one week. My Life With the Saints does sound wonderful.

  2. January 11, 2009 7:53 pm

    You overwhelm me so much with the amount that you read in a week! Those short stories sound really good. I just can’t make myself read on the computer screen. It drives my eyes nuts! My Life with the Saints sounds really good too! I’ll have to check that out. And I did not know that the titles of Novella’s went in quotation marks! Good to know!

  3. blacklin permalink
    January 11, 2009 9:08 pm

    I’ve heard good things about The Woman In Black too and I want to read it. However, I’m having a hard time finding a copy, and the copies that I find seem to be by another author. Frustrating.

  4. January 11, 2009 9:26 pm

    It sounds like you fit in quite a bit this month! I haven’t heard of The Woman in Black, but now you’ve got me curious. I hope you have a great week, Eva!

  5. January 11, 2009 9:49 pm

    Graham Greene’s “The Destructors” is a great story, if you haven’t read it:

  6. January 11, 2009 10:58 pm

    BermudaOnion, I’m still in a little bit of my post-holiday hermit/reading mode. It’ll slack off soon!

    Chris, I can only read short stories-anything longer and I just can’t focus (even the Lawrence, which was really long, was pushing it). I looked up how to punctuate novella titles during the novella challenge last year, lol, because I’m a total nerd. :p

    Blacklin, isn’t it weird that it’s difficult to find?!

    Literary Feline, I can’t remember where I read a review of it now…but I know I read one that made me want to go out and read it right away.

    Hedgie, thanks for the link!

  7. January 11, 2009 11:08 pm

    I remember reading Maupassant’s stories years ago, I enjoyed them. I have a copy of The Man in the Picture, perhaps I’ll enjoy it more than you did although I almost never read this type of story. I have The Bell also to look forward to, I like what I’ve read of Murdoch, three others so far. I’d have a fit if a collection of essays had spoilers in them. I always meant to read Manguel’s book. I’ve been reading only fiction for a couple of years now. Cereus Blooms at Night is also one I’ve meant to read for a while now. I can’t wait for your reviews. You hsve yourself some very good reading there. I had a pretty good start to the year too but you outdid me in literature. Hope your computer problems are soon behind you.

  8. January 12, 2009 12:02 am

    Gautami’s blog is a good soure for short stories. In case you haven’t seen the link, go here. There are a few links in the comments too.

  9. January 12, 2009 1:41 am

    I’ve been meaning to read Iris Murdoch for awhile now. I keep picking up The Bell in the library and then putting it back and thinking ‘maybe next time’ I just don’t think it’s the right time for me.

  10. Myrthe permalink
    January 12, 2009 1:52 am

    Eva, there’s a long list of online stories here:
    I read some of them and enjoyed most of them.

  11. January 12, 2009 4:03 am

    I love reading your posts! So fun, and so amazing.

  12. January 12, 2009 4:53 am

    I have heard lots of good things about The Woman in Black….but I think it’s short as well. I tried finding it at one time, but it wasn’t in our library system. But they’ve done a lot of upgrading, and it’s is so much easier to do ILL’s now I may have to try again to find it.

  13. January 12, 2009 6:05 am

    You read it! And liked it :D I was completely shocked too. I had never thought to question his reputation, but now I think it’s so unfair. Especially in regards to him being misogynist. I have only read a small part of his work, so who knows, maybe he did become sexist later in life…but so far I don’t see it. Quite the opposite. Anyway, I so look forward to your full review!

    Also, I want to try The Bell! I’ve been meaning to read Murdoch for a while, especially because of how much A.S. Byatt likes her and because she cites her as an influence (another author she’s cited as an influence is Lawrence, btw :P). I love the passages you posted.

  14. January 12, 2009 6:13 am

    I just don’t know how you do it . . . I’m jealous of your ferocious reading speed. Thanks for all the reviews.

  15. January 12, 2009 7:05 am

    I have The Bell here to read soon. I’ve been fascinated by that book for quite some time, and I have no idea why. :-)


  16. January 12, 2009 9:22 am

    Oh, what I would give to read even a tenth that much in a week!

    You know, I’m not sure why I can read blogs on the computer, but absolutely can’t read short stories. I’ve tried, but I just can’t do it…so I end up printing them out and going to curl up in a chair to actually read them.

  17. January 12, 2009 10:58 am

    Some great short stories for you:

    Since you liked D.H. Lawrence I thought I’d pass along a link to “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter.” I read it a couple of years ago in a film adaptation class, and I looooved it! He makes icky ponds sound so…erotic!

    I can’t remember if you’ve read “August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains” by Ray Bradbury, but it’s one of my very favorites. Since I’m reading The World Without Us, I thought of it:

    Click to access Bradbury_Soft_Rains_1950.pdf

    On a not-related-to-short-stories note, I’ve had The Bell on my stacks for ages! I also have The Book and the Brotherhood and a couple of other Murdoch titles. Thanks for the push! I really need to give her a go.

  18. January 12, 2009 1:04 pm

    Hey, Endicot Have a great range of stories

    (there is also a great poetry selection over there as well).

    Also Lamb to the Slaughter by Roald Dahl

    and Face, Alice Munro

  19. January 12, 2009 1:53 pm

    …dying of envy over your astounding reading abilities!

  20. January 12, 2009 4:45 pm

    Sandra, I want to read more of Maupassant’s stories, and I’ll look forward to your thoughts on The Man in the Picture. Cereus Blooms at Night was really good!!

    Violet, thanks for the link!

    Michelle, I didn’t know what it was about at all when I bookmooched it, and it was a lot home-ier than I expected. I enjoyed it, though. :)

    Myrthe, thanks for the link!

    Care, aww-thanks. :D

    Stephanie, it’s weird how difficult it is to find that book! lol

    Nymeth, yep-thanks for recommending the story to me. :D I can see Murdoch’s influence over Byatt in how Byatt treats the internal monologues of her characters-I can see it more in a book like The Virgin in the Garden, which doesn’t deal with fairy tales at all. Interesting!

    Andi, I’m on vacation right now. ;) And I got my fast reading speed from my mom-she’s on vacation too, and she’s been tearing throgh books. :)

    Lezlie, lol-I’ll look forward to your thoughts.

    Debi, that’s so interesting! I’ll admit-it was difficult for me to read “The Vicar’s Daughter” online, but usually I can handle up to around 10 pages.

    Andi, ohhh-thanks for the links!

    Katrina, thanks for the links!

    Chartroose, lol-as I mentioned to Andi, I think it’s inherited.

  21. January 12, 2009 5:45 pm

    I loved Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, but you’re right: she didn’t really produce in real surprises in that one. I just thought she’s got the genre down to a science and really knows how to set a place. Unlike you, though, I enjoyed Re-Readings immensely. It almost made me want to spend an entire year re-reading, and I found it to be a lot like reading the journal Slightly Foxed.

  22. January 12, 2009 6:36 pm

    Ooh I’ve been wanting to read Manguel’s The Library at Night, I just can’t seem to fit it in my challenges, so I hope I finish my challenges early this year to sneak in some spontaneous reading.

    Here’s a link you might enjoy, though they’re not really short stories, more like shots..

    Happy week to you! :D

  23. January 12, 2009 6:47 pm

    I love The Woman in Black so hope you’ll be able to get to that book one day. I was even lucky enough to see a theater production of it and it was so great – very atmospheric!

    I’ve not seen this book by Hill anywhere but I’ll look for it! Hope you have another great reading week ahead of you :)

  24. January 13, 2009 4:15 am

    Emily, I can’t wait to try out The Woman in Black. :) I expected to love Rereadings…oh well-I loved some of the essays!

    Claire, lol-why not just read it now?! And thanks for the link. :)

    Iliana, I hope I can find The Woman in Black one day too. A scary theater production sounds great!

  25. January 18, 2009 6:39 am

    Murdoch is terrific- I’m glad you enjoyed The Bell. She’s got dozens of novels to keep you busy. :-) If you enjoy short stories you might try the Best American series, or hte short stories of Alice Munro if you haven’t already. She’s amazing!

  26. January 23, 2009 7:14 am

    I’ve yet to read The Woman in Black, but I saw the stage version and was glad it was the matinee . . . I don’t think I’d have liked travelling home in the dark after seeing it!

    Putting the titles of novellas in quotation marks is something I’ve never heard of but I’m curious now – I can be so pedantic! I’ll have to look it up.


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