I picked up some very short books at the library. Synopses from B&N. Here they are:
A Single Man - Christopher Isherwood:
When A Single Man was originally published, it shocked many by its frank, sympathetic, and moving portrayal of a gay man in midlife. George, the protagonist, is adjusting to life on his own after the sudden death of his partner, and determines to persist in the routines of his daily life; the course of A Single Man spans twenty-four hours in an ordinary day. An Englishman and a professor living in suburban Southern California, he is an outsider in every way, and his internal reflections and interactions with others reveal a man who loves being alive despite everyday injustices and loneliness. Wry, suddenly manic, constantly funny, surprisingly sad, this novel catches the texture of life itself.
Note: The film was a lovely thing but the story felt like it was meant to be read and taken in as a long psychological experience. It was something meant to happen to me and not through the means of sitting in a theatre. I look forward to the true experience of this remarkable event.
Siddhartha- Herman Hesse
Born into wealth and privilege, Siddhartha renounces his place among India’s nobility to wander the countryside in search of meaning. He learns suffering and self-denial among a group of ascetics before meeting the Buddha and coming to realize that true peace cannot be taught: It must be experienced. Changing his path yet again, Siddhartha reenters human society and earns a great fortune. Yet over time this life leaves Siddhartha restless and empty. He achieves enlightenment only when he stops searching and surrenders to the oneness of all.
Note: In studying advanced Zen concepts as an undergrad, I only understood the truth of nothingness through the reading of Paulo Coehlo's The Alchemist when the shepherd boy understands all of what the alchemist seeks through the reading of a single line. Another lady in my class experienced similar illumination through the reading of Siddhartha.
Unlucky Lucky Days- Daniel Grandbois
Inventive, disconcerting, and hilarious, these seventy-three tales of our Unlucky Lucky Days might well be termed Dr. Seuss for adults. They call to mind Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories as readily as they do Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics, Rikki Ducornet's Butcher's Tales and Woody Allen's most literary writings. Braced on the shoulders of the fabulists, fantasists, absurdists, surrealists and satirists who came before him, Daniel Grandbois dredges up impossible meanings from the mineral and plant kingdoms, as well as the animal, and serves them to us as if they were nothing more fantastic than a plate of eggs and ham.
Note: The cover is lovely- the young girl staring straight out at me with a look I can't quite place. Extremely short stories- nearly all a simple page. I've heard nothing further but hope to enjoy this little book.
The Malady of Death- Marguerite Duras
A man hires a woman to spend several weeks with him by the sea. The woman is no one in particular, a "she," a warm, moist body with a beating heart-the enigma of Other. Skilled in the mechanics of sex, he desires through her to penetrate a different mystery: he wants to learn love. It isn't a matter of will, she tells him. Still, he wants to learn to try . . .This beautifully wrought erotic novel is an extended haiku on the meaning of love, "perhaps a sudden lapse in the logic of the universe," and of its absence, "the malady of death." "The whole tragedy of the inability to love is in this work, thanks to Duras' unparalleled art of reinventing the most familiar words, of weighing their meaning." - Le Monde; "Deceptively simple and Racinian in its purity, condensed to the essential." - Translation Review.
Note: Yes, this was the one that started it all. The font size must be 16 and still the book is thin. It says "a novel by Marguerite Duras" on the cover- it has identified itself as such. Duras is one powerful enough to attack such silly stereotypes.
Disquiet- Julia Leigh
Olivia arrives at her mother's chateau in rural France (the first time in more than a decade) with her two young children in tow. Soon the family is joined by Olivia's brother Marcus and his wife Sophie—but this reunion is far from joyful. After years of desperately wanting a baby, Sophie has just given birth to a stillborn child, and she is struggling to overcome her devastation. Meanwhile, Olivia wrestles with her own secrets about the cruel and violent man she married many years before. Exquisitely written and reminiscent of Ian McEwan and J. M. Coetzee, Disquiet is a darkly beautiful and atmospheric story that will linger in the mind long after the final page is turned.
Note: Again, a lovely cover. It also has the endorsement of Toni Morrison, which means a great deal to me- is that woman not the queen of short, effective, haunting novels? I also love that there is so much blank space.
At the Bottom of the River- Jamaica Kincaid
Reading Jamaica Kincaid is to plunge, gently, into another way of seeing both the physical world and its elusive inhabitants. Her voice is, by turns, naïvely whimsical and biblical in its assurance, and it speaks of what is partially remembered and partly divined. The memories often concern a childhood in the Caribbean-family, manners, and landscape-as distilled and transformed by Kincaid's special style and vision.
Kincaid leads her readers to consider, as if for the first time, the powerful ties between mother and child; the beauty and destructiveness of nature; the gulf between the masculine and the feminine; the significance of familiar things-a house, a cup, a pen. Transfiguring our human form and our surroundings-shedding skin, darkening an afternoon, painting a perfect place-these stories tell us something we didn't know, in a way we hadn't expected.
Note: The library did not have Small Place. This one was there. If she is as wonderful a writer as her reputation claims her to be, I will not be disappointed.
The Possession- Annie Ernaux
Ernaux's latest book to be translated into English (after Simple Passion: A Woman's Story) is the story of an all-consuming jealousy-a self-portrait whose spare 64 pages sketch the life cycle of a possession. A woman has left a man "as much out of boredom as from an inability to give up [her] freedom." The relationship may have been forgettable, but the narrator finds the idea of the man being with another woman unbearable, and her life is soon eclipsed by an obsession with that nameless, faceless woman. Occupation, the title of the original French edition, more clearly elucidates this state with its double entendre: the narrator is both engaged and possessed. While actively cultivating the obsession, the narrator is also very much concerned with chronicling it; this work is as much about the act of writing the novella as it is about the six months it recounts. Clearly for sophisticated readers.
Note: I like the title. I have heard nothing about this book.
Beauty Salon- Mario Bellatín
A strange plague appears in a large city. Rejected by family and friends, some of the sick have nowhere to finish out their days until a hair stylist decides to offer refuge. He ends up converting his beauty shop, which he’s filled with tanks of exotic fish, into a sort of medieval hospice. As his “guests” continue to arrive and to die, his isolation becomes more and more complete in this dream-hazy parable by one of Mexico’s cutting-edge literary stars.
Note: Doesn't this one just sound insanely interesting? The cover made it look such fun, but I assume to be haunted by this brightly covered novel.
The Moon Opera- Bi Feiyu
The debut novel of one of China’s rising young literary talents—a gem of a book that takes a piercing look into the world of Chinese opera and its female stars. In a fit of diva jealousy, Xiao Yanqiu, star of The Moon Opera, disfigures her understudy with boiling water. Spurned by the troupe, she turns to teaching. Twenty years later, a rich cigarette-factory boss offers to underwrite a restaging of the cursed opera, but only on the condition that Xiao Yanqiu return to the role of Chang’e. So she does, this time believing she has fully become the immortal moon goddess. Set against the drama, intrigue, jealousy, retribution, and redemption of backstage Peking opera, The Moon Opera is a stunning portrait of women in a world that simultaneously reveres and restricts them. Bi Feiyu, one of China’s young literary stars, re-creates all the temptations and triumphs of the stage the world over in this gem of a novel.
Note: Honestly, I have fallen in love with stories surrounding Chinese opera after devouring the gorgeousness that was and is Farewell My Concubine. That's really all I have to say about that...
Wish me luck? I must finish Shutter Island and The Yiddish Policemen's Union first, but I will experience these other stories shortly thereafter.