Posts tagged ‘John Updike’

January 1, 2013

Goodreads and to the Future

Courtesy of goodreads.comIn the beginning of this year, my fellow Cecile’s Writers recommended Goodreads to me and I recall looking at them thinking Good-what? After a thorough explanation I could completely understand why it would be right up my alley. So I signed up, familiarized myself with the platform and before I knew it, I was checking every morning to see the latest updates of friends that would often inspire me to read more or to discover new literature. More importantly, I finally had a place to track my own reading and rate all the books I’ve read… fantastic! If you’re a bookworm or neurotic organizer like I am, Goodreads is basically heaven.

Fellow Bookworms

All that aside, I have managed to make many friends on Goodreads – both readers and writers – who have enriched my literary life. Every time I have a new friend I race to check their books and what we’ve read in common so I can measure up where I stand in comparison and how similar our reading tastes are. This in turn helps me to decide whether their recommendations or reviews will be of particular interest to me. Fortunately, I have many such friends (you know who you are) and all I can say at this point is that I’ve never had such a long reading list in my life… to think I use to grumble about not being able to read enough when the list was just a quarter of the length!

October 11, 2012

Updike on Writers & Celebrity Status

A striking passage from Updike’s memoirs Self-Consciousness taken from the essay ‘On Being a Self Forever’:

Celebrity, even the modest sort that comes to writers, is an unhelpful exercise in self-consciousness. Celebrity is a mask that eats into the face. As soon as one is aware of being “somebody,” to be watched and listened to with extra interest, input ceases, and the performer goes blind and deaf in his overanimation. One can either see or be seen. Most of the best fiction is written out of early impressions, taken in before the writer became conscious of himself as a writer. The best seeing is done by the hunted and the hunter, the vulnerable and the hungry; the “successful” writer acquires a film over his eyes. His eyes get fat. Self-importance is a thickened, occluding form of self-consciousness. The binge, the fling, the trip – all attempt to shake the film and get back under the dinning-room table, with a child’s beautifully clear eyes.

John Updike

May 6, 2012

Short Story Collections?

I’ve come to notice that while there are many many more novels published compared to short story collections, the later that are published are usually high in quality. It seems that publishers have no problem filling up book shelves in bookstores with badly written novels next to excellently written ones, but for some reason, a short story collection has to be top notch. Or is this the publishers doing?

January 5, 2012

Samir’s Top 3 for 2011

Now this is a hard one… when you read as many books as I do and you read mostly what you like, asking to choose only three titles is mind-boggling. After much thought, I’d have to say that these were the most enjoyable reads. You know, the kind of stories you get lost in and lose track of time, the author transports you to another universe where words sing to you and human nature unfolds before your very eyes. The most wonderful thing about these titles is that two of the authors are completely new to me and the third, I had only read one previous book from.

Three Horses by Erri de Luca

I picked this gem of a novella in a book sale and had no idea what to expect. Written by an Italian, I had my doubts, as my previous experience with Italian literature was never to my liking. I’m happy that my curious nature overcame my reservations because never have I read a book with narrative so poetically written that the story was more of a calm soothing song rather than words read. More remarkably though is that this is a translation, which means both the author and translator have done a remarkable job.

It’s the story of a man who survived Argentina’s Dirty War and reminisces about life, the people that come into contact with him, and of course, women and past lovers. And for those of you who may still have doubts, the opening line of the book is: ‘I only read used books.’ Need I say more?

The Outsider by Albert Camus

The second new author that 2011 introduced me to was Albert Camus, the Algerian born French author who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957. I read this novella in one uninterrupted sitting. There was no way to possibly stop at any point without destroying the magic of the protagonist, Meursault.

Meursault’s conscious is explored by the society around him when, because of his lack of emotion, he’s tried for a random act of violence which circumstances bestow upon him. There’s something naively likable and frustratingly recognizable about Meursault that both the reader and the characters in the book can recognize. It’s Camus’ keen observations of the human moral compass that puts this story in par with literatures’ greatest stories about the human condition.

The Maples Stories by John Updike

I can’t help but love Updike’s astute observations and portrayals of human relationships and infidelities. Only the second book I read from Updike’s oeuvre, the 18 short stories are about the Maples that Updike wrote  about throughout his career. Collected here in one volume, they read like wildfire with each short story feeling like a self-contained chapter.

We see the rise and fall of Joan and Richard Maples’ relationship with a few stories that act as flashbacks and a story that concludes with their divorce and their becoming grandparents. Updike reveals every nuance of their infidelity to each other, their love to each other and their frustration with each other. No holds barred from a master of the craft.

I hope you will have the opportunity to explore some of these wonderful titles and let me know your thoughts on them.

Samir

November 28, 2011

Reading Habits

It’s funny how reading habits can fluctuate. I’m usually reading two or three books at the same time and mostly fiction. I tend to read more literary novels and short story collections or anthologies. That’s not to say that I don’t read non-fiction or genre fiction, but after having developed certain tastes, which I derive reading pleasure from, and as a source of self-study for my own writing, I tend to enjoy the literary end of the spectrum more. At least that’s what I’d like to believe, until I looked at the all the books I’m currently reading, scattered about my apartment, with bookmarks jumping out of each one…

On the Literary spectrum

To start with, it’s no where near three books. I’m currently reading John Updike’s ‘The Maples Stories’, which is a collection of stories about… yes, the Maples. These eighteen stories about the relationship of the Maples’ couple were written over a thirty-year span of Updike’s career and this reason, most of all, was interesting enough for me to read the book. I’m only a quarter of the way through.

Another collection I’m reading, on and off, is D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Complete Short Story Collection’. Now this is one of those really bulky hardcovers where the stories make for a nice bedtime read, but the book is just too darn heavy to hold up for an hour, while trying to relax and fall asleep. So this one’s a long term project involving my desk. Besides, there’s only so much old-school romance stories a person like myself can handle in one sitting.

The third literary book I’m ploughing my way through is Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Cranford’. Like many Victorian novels, the social issues of the society at the time are under the microscope. I’m determined to pull through this one even though I’m gritting my teeth at times.

And all the others

However, literary fiction aside, I’m also reading an interesting science fiction omnibus, Octavia E. Butler’s ‘Xenogenesis’, which focuses on group dynamics and social theories, a theme quite common to the genre. On the other hand, it does focus equally on relationship development and (alien) sexual exploration, a much less common theme in the genre, making it a fresh read. I’m at the end of book one (of three).

I was reading (and decided to stop) Hannah Tinti’s ‘The Good Thief’, simply because I was awed at the masterful collection ‘Animal Crackers’ which I reviewed earlier. This book, however, turned out to be a great disappointment and by page 90 I couldn’t go on. I wanted to write a review and express my disappointment and surprise at how, from one book to the next, I went from being awed to being frustrated. However, I did some research and found out about all the acclaim the novel received, so I’m going to give it one more try before finally deciding what I think of it.

And finally, I’m also reading a philosophy book by Daniel C. Denette ‘Freedom Evolves’, which is about the age old debate of free will vs. determinism and Denette’s take on this… basically, we live in a determined world where we have free will, and this evolves by (…I can only finish this sentence when I finish the book!) and because of (ditto!).

Surprise

There you have it. Just when I thought I really don’t read more than three books at a time, I’m reading six. I can still recall the day when I would not start a new book until I finished the one I was reading (or quit it). I guess linear thinking is just too limiting.

So what are your reading habits? And what books can you recommend me?

Samir

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