The body in the library

Still binge-reading, although maybe not in quite the same desperate way of two weeks ago.  Enjoying posts by delagar and JaneB–and others I can’t immediately think of–about what they’re reading now.  A sampling of mine:

janeJane and Prudence is the first Barbara Pym novel I ever read, and it’s one of the summer’s rereads.  Jane is a 41-year-old vicar’s wife in a village outside London; Prudence is her twenty-nine-year-old friend, working in London and suffering disappointments in love.  They are both Oxford graduates (Jane worked briefly as an English tutor; Prudence was her pupil) and, like good Pym heroines, each uses her intellect, her intuition, her wit and her sense of romance to navigate the life she finds herself leading (ornamenting her experiences with occasional tags of poetry).

murakamiWhat I Talk about When I Talk about Running is a slight but satisfying collection of essays by Haruki Murakami about how he came to be a runner, some of the ways in which running sustains his life and his writing, and certain running-related challenges he has taken up and failed or succeeded at.  The structure of the book is interesting; the essays are dated and feel, at their beginnings, almost like journal entries: he’s in Hawai’i working and training for a race; he leaves Hawai’i and returns to Japan; he moves to Cambridge, MA, for a semester.  In the course of each, he travels over some piece of his past experience as a runner, so it’s almost like two races–one lasting the length of the time it took him to write the book, and one from the beginning of his running life until the last moment of writing the book.  (I’m sure some reviewer has described this better.)  The translation, by Philip Gabriel, is very good; though obviously I don’t know whether the voice he finds for Murakami in English is at all similar to the one a reader would perceive in Japanese, it has character, and is consistent.  Murakami sounds like what I would expect Murakami to sound like: a middle-aged fiction writer who is aware of his own limitations and who patiently, doggedly works against some of the physical ones while accepting, with resignation, others that have to do with temperament and character.  It’s an appealing voice for a memoir, rather astringent, not ingratiating.  I’ve wanted to read this book ever since reading a few pages of it in an airport bookshop a few years ago, and I’m glad I have.

ternanClaire Tomalin’s The Invisible Woman: The Story of Charles Dickens and Nelly Ternan caught my eye on the “new books” shelf at the library (it’s not new–even the movie came out last year–but I guess the paperback was new to the collection). I took it home and I’m so glad I did: it was fascinating.  I was most moved by the evocation of the world of a young woman born into the theatre in the 1800s–how hard those actresses worked, how accomplished they were, and how unprotected and disregarded by polite society.  The film, which we rented and watched this week, evoked those things as well, although with the book fresh in my mind, I enjoyed it much more than Stubb, who found it extremely slow.

barnesI also read The Sense of an Ending, the short novel by Julian Barnes that won the Booker Prize in 2011.  I am kind of a sucker for the novel of retrospection, the not-too-reliable narrator looking back over his or her story and trying to adjust it to something resembling “the truth,” or a truth the narrator can live with, or the truth that the narrator has avoided for years.  (See The Great Gatsby, The Remains of the Day–in fact, several Ishiguro novels–, The Last of Her Kind, Fun Home.)  So I found this one very pleasurable even though I got impatient with our narrator toward the end and was a little muddled about the exact details of the revelations of the ending–not enough to reread it right away, but maybe in the future.  (One of the back cover blurbs promised I would want to read it again right away.  I’d already fallen under the sway of a different blurb, which insisted that this was a book to be read in a single sitting, so I waited to begin it until I could read it in one go, and did.  Nice, but not strictly necessary.  And I didn’t want to be ruled by the blurbs.)

There have been more, some better than others, some half-read, some barely glanced at.  But these have been some of the best so far.

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