Saturday, December 19, 2015

Bedside Reading

Periodically, I post a list of what I'm reading. Sometimes the books are piled up by the bed and I have to sort through them to see what's actually there. I generally graze from book to book. The semester is over, I'm putting together my talk for the College Book Art Association in Nashville in January, and we've had our last bargaining session for the union this year. In short, I have time to write and take stock and wish you all the best. 

So, here is what I found. And, as usual, it is highly subjective! (If you've read any issues of my magazine *82 Review, you will also know what I like.)


Palm-of-the-Hand Stories by Yasunari Kawabata (1969). It was on top, but I returned it to the library today because I found I had stopped returning to it to read. In the intro, one of the translators admits to having read the stories years earlier but not "getting it." Only years later did the person become quite enamoured of these early flash fictions. Having read them once before and not "gotten them," I really wanted to appreciate them this time around. While the ones that were clearly dreams appealed to me, I wasn't quite getting the charge I had hoped for.

The Necklace and Other Stories: Maupassant for Modern Times by Guy de Maupassant, translated by Sandra Smith (2015). A protege of Flaubert and an influence on James Joyce, Maupassant tells brilliant, entertaining and ironic tales about men and women and class in the late 19th century. He wrote over 300 stories, the translator chose 28 short stories and 2 novellas for this collection.

Visit to Iceland and the Scandinavian North by Madame Ida Pfeiffer, one of the first female explorers, translated from the German, (1852). Similar era as Maupassant, this strange book in a series of illustrated works of A Woman's Journey round the World, is mostly descriptions of the landscape. However, it does periodically reveal what it was like to travel as a woman alone in the 19th century. One interesting section describes how the Icelanders expected foreigners to either donate money or give parties, neither of which she was able to do. The writing somewhat plods along, but the content is new. The link above is to a 2.99 Kindle edition! Link to the $20 book: Visit to Iceland and the Scandinavian North (Illustrated Edition).

Report from Planet Midnight by Nalo Hopkinson (2012). Ms. Hopkinson is most known in the sci-fi/fantasy world, which she loves, but also realizes is "dominated by white, middle-class people" (28). This slim book is a collection of two short stories, a tremendous, powerful, mind-stretching essay on race, and an interview. Really should be read right here, right now.

Horror Vacuui by Alastair Johnston (1986, Jungle Garden Press). Alastair's musical ear carries the plays on words, overheard phrases, and hilarious juxtapositions. Yet it is serious in its own way. I continue publishing his fine and fun work in *82 Review. "flipflops flap / impenetrable mud / traffic tangle / in the jungle." You can buy it from him at Poltroon Press. It's a lovely letterpress printed book, painted softcover, hand sewn, for $50.

Subtly Worded by Teffi, translated from Russian [works from 1910-1952] (2014). "In the years before the Revolution, Teffi was a literary star." So begins the introduction to this collection of lively short stories. Teffi writes with humor and wit and insight into human relationships and observations about daily life. This book delights me. I'm reading it for the second time.

California Poetry: From the Gold Rush to the Present edited by Dana Gioia, Chryss Yost, and Jack Hicks (2004). A fascinating collection that gives the editors' overview of poetry and poets hailing from or residing in California. They concede it is purely subjective what they picked, and why not? They created a book that they themselves wanted to read. Some gems, some warhorses, some new to me. Overall a worthwhile education, particularly the biographies and interconnections between the works and the poets.

A Field Guide to California Lichens by Stephen Sharnoff (2014). I photograph and draw lichens. This thoroughly comprehensive field guide is packed with info and beautiful photos. The names of the lichens are poetic and will likely inspire some writing: powdered honeycomb; cinnebar button; pebbled pixie-cup; pale-footed horsehair; warty camouflage; blushing rock tripe; peppered moon; fringed rosette…

The Life of Images: Selected Prose by Charles Simic (2015). A collection of essays, mostly. I love the fresh images and cominations of memoir and observation and humor that Simic brings to his poems and expected the essays to be just as exhilarating. As I began reading the first essay I relaxed. It was like sinking into a warm bath. The qualities of his poetry that I love are present here as well in an easily readable, intellectually challenging, emotionally engaging form.

Just trying to wind down. Hope there is something here that you and yours will enjoy as well!

2 comments:

Sharmon Davidson said...

Quite a collection here, Alisa! I'm in awe; I don't know how you find time to read so many. Thanks for sharing your insights.

Alisa said...

I didn't say how long I've been reading them…
; )