Friday, November 8, 2013

What's that book? follow-ups

This is meant to be a continuation of the discussion at the tail end of this post.

So I have already tracked down 4 of the 7 or so books titles I couldn't remember.  Not bad...

I am really starting to wonder if the Polish (or Eastern European) book I just can't recall isn't Witold Gombrowicz's Ferdydurke.  So I checked it out of the library and am reading it, and I do have the strong sense that I already read this a while ago (always a bit embarrassing).  However, the Cambridgeshire library doesn't seem to stock the version that I vaguely recall having read, and I am fairly sure I read this book in England.  The kicker is that I recall discussing the book with someone and they said that X was hardly considered a Polish author -- or perhaps that this was not where they would start with Polish literature.  (Gombrowicz would probably fit the bill.  His appeal seems a bit restricted, but that just be my spin on things.).  Anyway, I am hoping that this exchange was actually contained in an email, as I would have a chance of retrieving it.

The weirder thing was that my interest in Ferdydurke was inspired by a piece (probably in fact this piece in the Guardian) where the reviewer was discussing a book about a party where this man gets enchanted by a strange woman (or girl-woman) and sort of spoils the rest of his life trying to reach her again.  Now there is definitely a passage in Ferdydurke that is comparable to this (to say nothing of Vargas Llosa's The Bad Girl, which I've just started).  However, the book that that article was specifically referring to was Le Grand Meaulnes by Henri Alain-Fournier, so I guess I will need to see if I can squeeze Meaulnes into the TBR pile in the near future.  I was actually tipped off to the correct book by skimming through Suzette Field's A Curious Invitation: The Forty Greatest Parties in Literature, which looks like a blast.  

I think with a bit of digging, I should come up with the other two (the man whose long live was intertwined with New York artists and the one about the clinic).  I'll also see if I can check out Petropolis and skim the section about the Russian mail-order bride's biological father.  There will always be some books I just can't recall (and it is shocking how I virtually never remember reading short story collections*).  But that particular itch will have been scratched, and I can move on to something more productive.

There is one other one that came to mind (probably inspired by me thinking hard about that elusive book about that odd clinic that was wired to explode or something).  It was a novel about a man that wanted to blow up Chicago's Harold Washington Library.  This one was a strange, somewhat unsatisfying book, but one I might still read again in the future (it's just over 100 pages).  Anyway, this wasn't too hard to track down, since it is so specific: Instant Karma by Mark Swartz.  What I find particularly memorable is this photo of a statue of a man ringing a bell with his head.  I actually saw (and heard!) this piece of art in the Centre Pompidou, which kind of cemented everything together in my mind (aside from the book title of course...).  If one likes reading about libraries (or librarians), I would particularly recommend reading Instant Karma in conjunction with the play Underneath the Lintel by Glen Berger, which is about a somewhat obsessive librarian who believes he holds in his hand a book checked out by a very special patron (to say too much more would spoil some of the surprise).

Anyway, it is quite intriguing, slowly recalling quite a few books that I really didn't remember off the top of my head.  Some indeed were quite well-done (like the just-recalled English Passengers by Matthew Kneale) but not only do I not have space on my shelves to keep every halfway interesting novel, I don't have that much space in my brain.  A lot go into deep storage.

I did, however, think of a fairly creepy plot of a book I read in Chicago.  "Dogs" is probably somewhere in the title.  However, it is not Let the Dog Drive, which I had owned forever but finally read around the same time.  Still, there are some kind of interesting parallels, which is why the two get a bit conflated in my mind.

(spoilers ...)

In this unknown book, a man's wife dies.  The only witness was the family dog.  In his deep grief, he decides to teach his dog to speak (or at least communicate) to find out what happened.  Clearly, he is a bit unhinged at this point, but he is a professional linguist, so he decides he can carry this out.  That's odd enough, but then he is drawn into this group that surgically alters dogs to try to give them voices.  Definitely creepy.  Ok, it turns out that the word "linguist" was key to getting a result from the internet.  The book is The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst. (That didn't take long at all.  Still trying to find that obscure plot point that would trigger success on those two books nagging at me.  But even recalling these other books along the way has been kind of fun...) 

* Even after seeing in writing that I read three or four short story collections, including Lorrie Moore's Self Help, I can't recall a thing about them.  I think short stories (for me) are like Olestra for the brain -- they just run through with little sticking.

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