Monday, January 20, 2014


I'm still gathering steam for a few full-fledged reviews, mostly of Canadian poetry, though before February is out, I want to write my thoughts on Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy before they totally recede into the back of my mind.

I've made a decent start on getting my work visa application in order.  I think I may be able to get it in Tuesday.  That would be good timing, as the backlog is pretty low at the moment, and it's only taking about 10 working days for them to be processed.  Obviously, I am a bit nervous, but things actually went pretty smoothly the last time around (aside from just the long time involved in waiting at YVR) and there is no reason it should be denied.

At the last minute, I decided to go see part of the VSO New Music series on Sat.  The main piece was Brett Dean's Water Music, which I enjoyed.  I can actually stream it on Naxos, so I'll plan on doing that next week.  I also like Jocelyn Morlock's Aeromancy (for 2 cellos and orchestra), and it looks like there is a way for me to stream a recent recording of that as well.  I am a little disappointed that I missed out on what was apparently an awfully good performance of Dean's Sextet on Friday.  And that I can't make eighth blackbird doing the Chicago premiere of the piece in Feb. or their concert in LA (about two weeks after the Kronos Quartet concert).  I guess I'll just have to wait for them or Standing Wave (a similar Vancouver ensemble) to record it.  I do think I'll go back on Monday to see the Racher Saxophone Quartet play another new piece but will leave at intermission.

Today I saw the Szymanowski String Quartet play at the Vancouver Playhouse.  They did string quartets by Haydn, Szymanowski and Dvorak.  They did Dvorak's 13th String Quartet, which is considerably less famous than the American Quartet (number 12).  While the 12th resonates a lot with me (and I am so glad I saw the Emersons do it several years back), the 13th has some interesting features, particularly the fourth movement when the viola really picks up much of the melody, which is fairly unusual.  I think I'll wait a week or so, then listen to another recording of the 13th (I believe I do have the Emersons doing it as well).  It was a good concert, actually fairly unmarred by coughing, though I did struggle at times to stay awake.  It can just be so soothing letting the music wash over you, and I find I do tend to get drowsy during the slow sections.  They did an amusing encore by Shostakovich.  I'm really not entirely sure what it was, but possibly a few pieces from the Bedbug Suite transcribed for strings.

I am nearly done with Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil.  I'll have a longer post fairly soon on literature and drugs (and drug addiction) where I will address this in more detail.  It's ok, though it has really turned from what I expected (a novel where a bunch of lotus eaters/opium addicts propound on the world) to one that is a bit more stereotypical about the consequences of getting in the crossfire of gang warfare.  What is particularly notable is that this is the last library book I have out, so theoretically I may be able to get back to my TBR pile.

However, there are still some notable diversions.  Usually when I read a book, my mind goes in different directions and I generally won't rest until I read a paired book.  So for instance, I want to read Thomas de Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater, which I've been carting around since before my mother passed away.  Actually there is a sort of amusing, sort of sad anecdote related to this particular copy, but I'll save that for my post on literature and drugs.

While I can't recall if Proust writes much about drug addition in his opus, he does occasionally allude to the main character having some experience with opium.  So I'll try to at least get through one more book in Jan/Feb. before tackling those two books (Love in a Dead Language and Special Topics in Calamity Physics) that I had hoped Babyji would be.

Now there is no question Proust is still causing all kinds of back-ups and diversions because I just don't find it all that compelling, to be fair, I would have been reading a lot more Molly Keane and Barbara Comyns anyway, since it looks like I can check them out of the library here, but not in Toronto.  So I only have a few more to go before I am done (3 Keane's and 4 Comyns's that I need to borrow) and they generally are short, fast reads.  At that point, I may be more or less back on track for my official TBD list.  Of course, this may also be when I start doing more travel, especially travel between Vancouver and Toronto.  I'll probably favour longer books that I expect to donate when I am finished, so that may distort the list a bit.

As it happens, I just wrapped up Keane's Full House and didn't care much for this one.  It is the worst I've read so far.  She tried to be too serious, hiding this deep secret from the reader until the last 10 pages or so, and it just distorted the book too much.  Also, I was not nearly as taken by the children (two nearly adult children and a 7 year old younger brother) as Keane obviously was.  (The reader is supposed to be rooting for the children and against their kind of awful narcissistic mother, but I just didn't care for any of them that much, though the middle daughter wasn't too drippy.)

I also just finished Jeremy Thrane by Kate Christensen.  One small mercy is that this novel was published in 2001, and Christensen didn't attempt to rewrite the novel after 9/11 to make it more profound.  It basically is the story of a gay writer who mostly makes his living as a copy editor for a trashy downtown magazine but occasionally writes gay porn on the side.  However, he has a script produced and is writing a novel on the side.  It was fairly light-hearted, which was a nice change.  AIDS is relegated to the deep background.  I think the one bit about the novel I liked the most was the idea that people who seem like minor characters to the main character have their own agendas and can surprise the main character (or the reader).  Or suddenly they become a lot more interesting, often because they have these hidden facets (still waters running deep and all that).  In my own life, I managed that a couple of times.  This horrible manager blocked my merit pay increase and then was positively gleeful when he managed to transfer me out of his division (I guess inadvertently doing me a favour).  However, I had my own plans up my sleeve and within a month announced that I had a job overseas, which certainly took a number of people by surprise.  As far as my current job, it is somewhat analogous in that all the really technical people, i.e. those with more meaningful choices, have decided not to accept the poor working conditions forced on us by the move to Sapperton, and we have all upped and left, one after another.  It sucks for those left behind, but there is so much satisfaction in managing to escape from the box that others try to stick you in.

Ok, so I have now shifted to an interim reading list, which looks roughly like this:
Jeet Thayil Narcopolis 
Thomas de Quincey Confessions of an English Opium Eater
Proust The Guermantes Way
Robin Sloan Mr. Penumbra's 24Hour Bookstore
Lee Seigel Love in a Dead Language
Marisha Pessl Special Topics in Calamity Physics
Barbara Comyns The Skin Chairs
Molly Keane The Rising Tide
Proust Sodom and Gomorrah
Tremblay The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant 
Barbara Comyns A Touch of Mistletoe
Molly Keane Two Days in Aragon
Garcia Marquez The General in His Labyrinth
Teju Cole Every Day is for the Thief
Proust The Captive
Barbara Comyns Mr. Fox 
Molly Keane Loving Without Tears
Barbara Comyns The House of Dolls 
Elizabeth Jane Howard Falling
Proust The Fugitive
Molly Keane Treasure Hunt 
Proust Time Regained 
Iris Murdoch Under the Net 
Lau How Does A Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun?
Dickner Apocalypse for Beginners 
Douglas Coupland Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture
Martin Amis Other People 
Hugh MacLennan Two Solitudes*
Gabrielle Roy The Tin Flute
George Eliot Silas Marner (last-minute substitution for Middlemarch**)
John A. Williams The Man Who Cried I Am

And then I would officially be back on track.  Now whether I can actually stick to this is a bit unclear, and I may well just read the library books in a mad rush in May (to say nothing of getting in the last couple of Canadian books to review by July 1), but I'll try to follow this for the time being.

Mid-May update: I'm actually doing well and have all the ILL books crossed off.  I should easily get through the last two Molly Keane books from the Burnaby Library by the first week of June.  After the move to Toronto is completed (and we're back on-line), I'll restructure the TBR post.  I should finally be done with Proust, who so badly distorted the list the last time around, and try to stick with it.  I may even have a short post on books that I left behind that are (or should be) available in Toronto libraries.

* In going through some old notes, I learned that I have already read Two Solitudes (and some other Can Lit) but it had completely slipped my mind.  I think I'll leave it on the list, since it will be basically the same as reading for the first time and certainly it will be the first time I review it.

** Now Kate Christensen kept name-checking Middlemarch in Jeremy Thrane, and I did seriously consider reading it back in December, but too many other things intervened.  I think I probably should relegate it to the end of this interim list, which is already too ambitious, if I am being honest with myself.  It is also potentially a concern that this may be Eliot's best novel, and perhaps I really ought to wait to tackle until after reading Adam Bede and/or Silas Marner.  The counter-argument is that we just don't know how much time is left to us and why always put the best for last.  I'm just not sure what to do here.  It is true that I am a bit weary of long books, so maybe substituting (the quite short) Silas Marner for now and then attempting to return to Middlemarch by next Dec. is an acceptable plan.

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