Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests





Friday, June 23, 2017

Possession by A. S. Byatt (1990, Winner of the Booker Prize)









Possession by A. S. Byatt (born 1936 in Sheffield, England) won the 1990 Booker Prize.  It is widely considered one of the best novels of the post World War Two era and had long been on my TBR list.  It was made into a movie I hope to see one day. About ten years ago, before the start of The Reading

Life, I read and greatly enjoyed her novel, The Biographer's Tale.

Possession sort of centers on two contemporary academics researching the previously unknown romance between two created by Byatt Victorian era poets.  They have discovered a treasure trove of letters, journals and diaries from both of the poets.  Researching and making the details of this romance known in the academic world will make their reputations and guarantee them professional success.

About half of the novel is taken up with the imaginary journals and the letters between the two poets.  We see the development of their relationship through the letters.  We see the struggles of the contemporary academics to come to terms with the material and wrestle with the ethics revealing the vast trove of material.

Possession is a very biting satire of the squabbles of academics.  The characters are all very well developed.  Byatt even included extensive poems.

I am very glad I finally read Possession. I hope to read two more of her novels soon, The Children's Book and The Virgin in the Garden.

Mel u



Thursday, June 22, 2017

"The Toy Theater" - A Short Story by Gene Wolfe, a master of the Science Fiction Fantasy Genre, 1971

I offer my Great Thanks to Mudpuddle and Fred of Fred's Place for suggesting I read Gene Wolfe










"“You will learn. You have already learned more difficult things. But you will not learn traveling with just one. If you wish to learn three, you must have three with you always, so that you can practice. But already you do the voice of a woman speaking and singing. That was the most difficult for me to learn.” He threw out his big chest and thumped it. “I am an old man now and my voice is not so deep as it was, but when I was young as you it was very deep, and I could not do the voices of women, not with all the help from the control and the speakers in the dolls pitched high. But now listen.” He made Julia, Lucinda, and Columbine, three of his girls, step forward. For a moment they simply giggled; then, after a whispered but audible conference, they burst into Rosine’s song from The Barber of Seville Julia singing coloratura soprano, Columbine mezzo-soprano, and Lucinda contralto. “Don’t record,” Stromboli admonished me. “It is easy to record and cheat; but a good audience will always know, the amateurs will want you to show them, and you can’t look at yourself and smile. You can already do one girl’s voice very good. Don’t ever record. You know how I learned to do them?”

I am greatly enjoying slowly getting back into science fiction and fantasy works, something I read avidly years ago but neglected for a long time.  I was inspired to venture back into fantasy worlds, partially through rereading Dune by Frank Herbert.  I also have recently began to read Olivia Butler and I greatly enjoyed "Green Magic" by the American master Jack Vance.  I was additionally delighted to read works by two young Filipino writers, Isabell Wong and Alyssa Yap whose development I hope to follow.

Going on the strength of recommendations from Mudpuddle and Fred of Fred's Place I decided to read a short story by another acknowledged American master, Gene Wolfe (born NYC, 1931, his best known work is the tetralogy, The Book of the New Sun).  I downloaded a sample of The Best Short Fiction of Gene Wolfe and was happy to find a story I could read, "The Toy Theater" first published in the popular  anthology series Orbit edited by Damon Knight, in 1971)

"The Toy Theater" is a really fun to read story.  A marionettist has just landed on the planet Sarg.  I like how Vance just plunges us right into an alternative universe without a lot of explanation.  Sarg was found with no life of but suitable for humans and earth plants.  It is preindustrial.  It looks like the main occupant, maybe the owner of the planet, is one Stromboli, a marionette master famous through the known universe. Our narrator has come to study with Stromboli.  Marionettes are very much in vogue everywhere.  We meet Stromboli's wife in their house, in the style of a Tuscan villa.  We sit in on the lessons, we come to respect the great artistry involved.

As he awaits in the buggy to take him back to the space port, his visit over, instead of Stromboli's butler, a doll, a woman, Lilli comes up in a buggy and says she will take him to the space port.  It appears she is a marionette, created by Stromboli to be his mistress.

I don't want to spoil the very interesting close of the story.  I found no work by Vance online.  I have two of his short stories in anthologies I have been given and will read them soon.  Maybe I will tackle The Book of the New Sun one day.


Mel u





Wednesday, June 21, 2017

"One of Us" - A Short Story by Farah Ahamed (2015)





Farah Ahamed on The Reading Life- includes links to her stories

"One of Us" - On Two Serious Ladies

"“And she’s Yemoja,” Fatima said. “West African goddess of power and destruction, made from malachite. She weighs a tonne; I wouldn’t try and lift her if I were you.” She laughed. How like a miniature she was, with regular features, soft, smooth skin, a small nose and bulging eyes. Her lips looked like they’d been carved and her eyebrows as if they’d been painted on. I dropped my hand.
“They keep us busy,” she said. “You wouldn’t think it, but they need constant looking after.” She pointed to an oriental figure of a half-naked woman sitting cross legged holding a flute to her lips. “Look at her, our female Buddha. She’s hand carved from ivory. Notice the intricate calligraphy and jewelry on her skirt and headdress.”
“Where did you find them?” I asked.
“In different places,” replied Rashid. “But we know instantly when we see them if they’re one of us.” He smoothed Cleopatra’s head. “Aren’t they intriguing? Each one is exceptional.”  “With a special meaning for us,” Fatima said. Using both hands she lifted a figure from the stool. “See Pannie, our satyress made of cement.” Holding it in one hand, with her other, she rotated its head making a terrible grinding sound. She turned it upside down and blew inside the hollow cavity. A cloud of dust flew out. “Sorry, honey Pannie.” She tweaked its jagged horns, and ran her fore finger lightly over its open, sneering mouth where its tongue curled back convulsively. I looked away, but she drew me back when she said, “Rashid tells me the two of you are thinking of moving in together.”

I decided to begin my fourth post on a short story by Farah Ahamed, "One of Us" with a rather longish quote so you can see for yourself her exquisite styling.  This is a very interestingly deeply disturbing work.  We see in it  how in a few pages a skilled artist can create years of relationships.  The setting of the story is not spelled out.  There are three on stage human characters.

Simran, the narrator, is making her first visit to the home her lover shares with his sister Fatima.  The room in which Simran is received is filled with small statues.  The sister shows Simran inherited from their father statues of Cleopatra, Fatima calls her "Cleo" and Ptolemy.  Both sister and brother are deeply bonded with these and the other artifacts of antiquity, from not just Egypt, Kenya and India.  Simran is disturbed or rather disquieted by the very deep triangular bond between her lover, his sister Fatima, and the artifacts.

I want to leave the fascinating denouement untold.  I will observe that Fatima has an illness which has denuded her body of hair.  Somehow I was brought to mind of the genetic diseases caused by brother/sister inbreeding in the final pharaonic dynasties.

I read this story several times.  It is a consummate specimen of the art of the short story.  You can read it on the link above.  I think this might be my favorite of her stories.

"One of Us" was first published in 2015 on a very interesting website, Two Serious Ladies, the title is taken from a novella by Jane Bowles.  I confess I have read much more by her occasional husband Paul but the little by Jane I have read has allowed me to understand her cult like following.  There are interesting works on the webpage and intriguing visual art.  It appears to be on a hiatus from accepting new work, I hope it is not permanent.

http://www.twoseriousladies.org/

Farah Ahamed is a short fiction writer. Her stories have been published in The Massachusetts Review, Thresholds, Kwani?, The Missing Slate and Out of Print among others. She has been nominated for The Caine and The Pushcart prizes and shortlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Prize, DNA/Out of Print Award, Sunderland Waterstones Award, Asian Writer Award. She was highly commended in the London Short Story Award and joint winner of the inaugural Gerald Kraak Award.

I will post on another of her stories next week.

Mel u








Tuesday, June 20, 2017

White Mughals Love and Betrayal in 18th Century India by William Dalrymple (2002)









William Dalrymple is probably the leading non-academic historian focusing on India.  His White Mughals Love and Betrayal in 18th Century India won the highly prestigious Wolfson Prize in 2003 (awarded by the Wolfson foundation for best history book by a British subject).  As I am very interested in the 18th Century in Asia I was  eager to read this book.

British men, soldiers, East Indian Company officers in the thousands were sent to help rule England, in the 18th Century.  Very few English women went along, at most the wives of the very elite.  Naturally this lead to extensive fraternization between Indian Women and British men.  Dalrymple focuses on relationships between high society Muslim India Women, mostly from the largely Muslim Hyderabad area and Englishmen. (The rulers were descended from the Mughals, hence the name.) 

In several cases the men converted to Muslim, often required for a marriage, and became experts on Indian culture, often adapting the life style of their wives.  As depicted by Dalrymple, some of the matches were based in deep love, while other wealthy officers set up private harems.  By and large Hindu women were forbidden to marry Englishmen while Islam had no such provision.

Dalrymple goes into a lot of fascinating detail about social customs, trade, the British East India Company, marriage in the period, interfaith relationships, child rearing and much more.  I was fascinated to learn that Muslim law of the period allowed abortions up to the fourth month and to learn about how this was done.  



There are things I found lacking in this book.  It gives little account of the day to day lives of the English, what did they eat for example.  One thing annoyed me a good bit.  Every woman mentioned by Dalrymple is described as incredibly beautiful.  To me this suggests the women were commodities and that their value came from how close they approximated British standards of beauty.  Clearly the lighter skinned a woman was, the more beautiful the English considered her.  Buying into this without comment is not acceptable,  to me at least.  In 18th Century society it was second and third sons who went to India in search of fortunes.  

India in the 18th Century is an incredibly deep and wide area of study.  This book gets my endorsement for all into the history of Colonial India.



Mel u











Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler (1993)


Published in observation of the birthday anniversary of Octavia Butler, June 22, 1947
The Octavia Butler Society- Your First Resource

Octavia Butler on The Reading Life

Open Road Intergrated Media - Publisher of High Quality E Books of the works of Octavia Butler and thousands of other writers

Born 1947, Pasadena, California, died 2006

Octavia Estelle Butler was an American science fiction writer, one of the best-known among the few African-American women in the field. She won both Hugo and Nebula awards. In 1995, she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant. - from Goodreads

“Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought.
To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears.
To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool.
To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen.
To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies.
To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.”

― Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Talents
I only recently, after a decades long hiatus, have gotten back into reading Science Fiction and Fantasy works.  During my time away authors have become world famous, won all the major genre works and died without me ever hearing of them.

Bloodchild, Butler's Hugo and Nebula Prize Winning novella, was my first venture into her work.  I loved this story about humans and aliens in a symbiotic relationship.  Next I read her time travel work in which an African American woman from contemporary California involuntarily time traveled back to a slave plantation in America, circa 1840.  The conception is brilliant and Butler executed it well.  I next made a bigger venture, reading her tetralogy Lilith's Blood.  I found the overarching idea, the earth being repopulated by humans rescued long ago by aliens interesting but I had to slog my way to the end.

Parable of the Sower begins around 2024, a hopefully not prophetic date when trump could just be completing his second term.  Set in a community near a totally in ruins Los Angeles, destroyed by drugs, an extreme shortage of water brought on by Climate Change, poverty and rampant lawlessness and corruption.  Our narrator, an African American woman Lauren Otamina, lives in a small walled enclave, with her father, her step mother and her brothers.  Her father is a preacher, in the old days both of her parents were professors.  Lauren has a hyperempathy, a condition which causes her to feel the injuries of those around her.  There is a highly addictive drug rampant which turns people into pyromaniacs.  Lauren and her family are in constant fear of roaming bands of scavengers.  Butler does just a wonderful job depicting a very believable dystopian vision of America.

One day scavengers burn down her small enclave, her family  is killed.  Everyone says things are much better in the northern states of Oregon and Washington and Canada is the new promised land.  These states have border guards but if you are lucky you can get through.  Lauren and a few other survivors set out north.  Butler makes the journey very real.

Lauren has her own religion.  Ultimately she learns of a safe heaven up north, owned by an older man she meets on her journey, where she hopes to set up a community.

I don't want to tell too much of the very exciting plot.  There is a sequel to this work, Parable of the Talents that goes further into the life of Lauren after she forms her community.  I hope to read it.

I greatly enjoyed this book.

Mel u

Friday, June 16, 2017

With Ballet in My Soul Adventures of a Globetrotting Impresario- a memoir by Eva Maze (2017)


More information on this memoir can be found here










With Ballet in My Soul Adventures of a Globe Trotting Impresario by Eva Maze is a fascinating very uplifting detail rich account of the author's nearly 100 year life.  We first meet her in pre-World War Two Romania, part of a Jewish family.  Eva is a teenager, her parents have the foresight in the face of Nazi threats to Jews to leave Romania.  They move to New York City and it is there Maze begins her life time love affair with Ballet.

The many photographs in the book let us see Maze was an exquisite beauty.  She fell in love with and married a man who was a combat pilot in WWII.  He obtained an important position with the then start up Pan Am airlines.  In the mean time Maze pursued lessons with Russian Emigre Ballet Masters in NYC.  She was already to old to be groomed to be a prima ballerina but she knew she would how always be involved with dancing.  We learn of her college years and I admit I was a bit shocked when she seems to admit she had an affair with an older very debonair man.  Her marriage survived this.

In 1948 her husband was transferred to the London office of Pan Am.  London was considered a "hardship post" due to food rationing.  Maze makes contact once again with famous Russian Ballet teachers and continues her education.  Every where Maze goes she jubilantly makes the best of things, her winning personality is very evident.

Next Pan Am sends her husband to New Delhi, a big cultural change.  I saw Maze loved the exposure to a new world this brought her.  She first begins her work as a professional dance impresario, organizing with partners a ballet tour of India.

I do not wish to give away to much more of Maze's career, she spends a lot of time in Germany and Paris.  She writes very openly about coping with the challenges of life over ninety.

I ended up really like this book.  It felt like Maze was almost a friend telling her life story.  Maze is an elegant highly cultured person with a charming prose style.

There are lots of wonderful photographs.

I throughly enjoyed this captivating memoir.

Mel u
















Thursday, June 15, 2017

"Green Magic" - a short story by Jack Vance, a master of the Science Fiction/Fantasy World (June, 1963)

I offer my great thanks to Fred of Fred!s Place, a blog I have followed for years and Mudpuddle for turning me onto Jack Vance




















"Howard Fair, looking over the relics of his great-uncle Gerald McIntyre, found a large ledger entitled:

WORKBOOK & JOURNAL

Open at Peril!
Fair read the journal with interest, although his own work went far beyond ideas treated only gingerly by Gerald McIntyre.
"The existence of disciplines concentric to the elementary magics must now be admitted without further controversy," wrote McIntyre. "Guided by a set of analogies from the white and black magics (to be detailed in due course), I have delineated the basic extension of purple magic, as well as its corollary, Dynamic Nomism."
Fair read on, remarking the careful charts, the projections and expansions, the transpolations and transformations by which Gerald McIntyre had conceived his systemology. So swiftly had the 

technical arts advanced that McIntyre's expositions, highly controversial sixty years before, now seemed pedantic and overly rigorous." From "Green Magic" by Jack Vance 

After rereading Dune by Frank Herbert, I realized there was about a fifty year gap in my knowledge of Science fiction and fantasy works.  Back in the day I liked Phillip Farmer, Isaac Asimov, and 

Robert Heinlein.  Only in the last few months have I begun to read in this area again.  I recently read and really enjoyed Clifford Simak's Hugo Award winning novel, The Way Station, several works by the powerfully imaginative Octavia Butler and two wonderful short stories by Isabell Wong and Alyssa Yap, both of Filipino ancestry.  I have also read a few short stories by writers like Karen Russell and Leonora Carrington that border on the fantasy genre.  I must not forget to mention a stunning debut novel Bald New World by Peter Tieryas.  I also reread Brave New World.  There are other genres such as steampunk that blend into fantasy and science fiction also.  Of course there is Horror Fiction.

I wanted to find out what I had missed in the last fifty years.  Who better to ask than the readers of my blog, as smart and as literate group as can be found on this planet.  


Both Fred and Mudpuddle said some of the work of an American writer, Jack Vance (born 1916, died 2013, both in San Francisco Bay Area) was perhaps superior to Dune.  I did some quick research, the literary output of Vance is huge, over sixty books and uncounted short stories, mostly published in pulp magazines.  His work is still under copyright and I could find only one short story online, "Green Magic", first published in 1943. I read this story and loved it.  It is squarely a work of fantasy, of dark magic showing us the dangers of reading the journals of deceased great uncles who made a life long study of the cycles of magic.  

The journal is read by Howard Fair, himself a student of the black, white and purple cycles of magic.  He has been known to conjure up a demon to liven up a dull party. He is shocked when he reads of his uncle's exploration of the green cycle of magic, something hitherto fore unknown to him.  He invokes a sprite from the green world, who warns him against a study of the green cycle.  Howard ends up spending hundreds of years mastering this realm.  Finally he longs for his old world and returns to his apartment only to discover he has been gone only two hours.  I will leave much of the plot unspoiled.  Readers of the great Irish fantasy writer

The very real fun in this story is Vance's creation of the theories of magic, simulating great learning in an arcane realm.  We see how Howard has been changed.

I really enjoyed this story and will venture more into his world.

At the link to "Green Magic" there are links to webpages with lots of information on Vance.

Readers of Sheridan de Le Fanu, the great Irish fantasy writer (extensively posted upon on my blog) and the early 20th century Welsh master Arthur Machen will feel at home in this story.   Maybe they are the literary Lolos of Vance.

Again my thanks to Fred and Mudpuddle.  I will hopefully this year read a few more short stories and at least his Hugo Award Winning works.






Mel u
















Monday, June 12, 2017

Dune by Frank Herbert (1965, 835 pages)








Is Dune The Greatest Work of Science Fiction of all time?  What are your choices for this?

I last read Dune by Frank Herbert in 1967 (1920 to 1986). I  had no plans to reread Dune but I received notice in an E book bargains newsletter to which I subscribe that the Kindle edition was marked down temporarily to $1.95.  I remembered that I totally loved it in the long ago, I knew many consider it the greatest Science Fiction novel of all time, plus I wanted to see if I would still love Dune, so I bought the book. I saw a movie based on Dune directed by David Lynch 33 years ago.


Dune is set far in the future, the planets of the known universe are each ruled by a royal house.  Rulership is structured like European royalty.  At the head of the universe is an emperor, each of the royal houses are involved in continual power struggles with each other.  The novel centers on the rise to power of Paul Atreides, son of Duke Leto head of house Atreides and his concubine Jessica, a Bene Gesserit.

I decided not to do much of a synopsis of the plot (Wikipedia has a decent one).

The emperor has decided to give house Atreides control over the planet Dune.  Dune is a desert planet, with no rain, Life revolves around water.  Dune is of great importance as only there can a spice that prolongs life and allows space to be navigated be found.

Just a handful of spice can buy a house on other worlds.  Dune was previously controlled by the house Harkoonnen, long blood enemies of the Atreides.  The duke suspects this is a trick by the emperor to destroy his house.

The plot is intricate and fascinating, Herbert goes into great detail about the religion and beliefs of those in the story.  It is a very "ecological" work, we are constantly aware of the power of water.  On Dune there are huge worms, some up to 400 meters.  They are integral to the production of spice.

I really enjoyed this reread, I was happy to see I could recall a lot of the book.

There are five sequels to Dune, some by Frank Herbert, some by others after his death.  I have not read any of these.  If you have, please leave some feedback.

Mel u





Sunday, June 11, 2017

"Raag Marwa" by Farah Ahamed (April 15, 2015)




A very good explanation of the Raag Marga in classic Hindu music

You can read "Raag Mawra" here

Farah Ahamed on The Reading Life. Here you will find links to her stories, my posts and a very interesting interview with her








"Raag, in the Sanskrit dictionary, is defined as "the act of coloring or dyeing" (the mind in this context) and "any feeling or passion especially love, affection, sympathy, vehement desire, interest, joy, or delight"? In music, these descriptions apply to the impressions of melodic sounds on both the artist(s) and listener(s). A raag consists of required and optional rules governing the melodic movements of notes within a performance. The rules of a raag can be defined by The manner in which the notes are used, ie. specific ways of ornamenting notes or emphasizing/ed-emphasizing them Manner in which the scale is ascended or descended Optional or required musical phrases, the way in which to reveal these phrases, and/or combine them The octave or frequency range to emphasize The relative pacing between the notes The time of day and/or season when the raag may be performed so as to invoke the emotions of the raag for maximum impact on the mental and emotional state of the performer and listener."  From http://www.surgyan.com - a very comprehensive Singapore based webpage promoting Indian Classical music

"Raag Marwa" is the third story by Famed Ahamed upon which I have posted.  I think in order to get the most from this story it helps to know a bit about the complex very classic Hindu musical work known as the Raag Marwa.  ( I placed a link to very good Singapore based webpage on classic Hindu music at the start of this post as well as a link to a performance that helped me to increase my understanding of the music teacher in the story.). The Raag Marwa is a work in which one can withdraw totally into the music, retreating or rising to a spiritual plane beyond the mundane.

There are only two on stage characters in the story, a fifty year old woman who gives lessons in classic Indian music and a man she lives with in an urban apartment, I think he is her husband.  The woman is very anxious, looking out the window at the bus stop, looking for someone.  She begins to play the Raag Marwa, also singing musical tones. Her husband yells from the bedroom, "are you teaching?"



She goes in the bedroom.  He is evidently disabled, rarely getting out of bed.  He had not eaten the food she prepared and she has to monitor his medication, sometimes he hides his pills.  We learn she is awaiting a special to her music pupil, a twenty seven year old attorney.  We sense she is in love with the pupil.

I will leave the ending of this very moving, poignant Story untold.  She does sink into existential despair, brought out of it only by withdrawing back into the Raag Mawra.

Ahamed has crested a sharp picture of two lives, a woman seemingly trapped by the illness of her husband, now largely indifferent to her but as a caregiver.  We also must question her character, seemingly planning to abandon her husband and cynically we must wonder if the twenty-seven year old attorney really returned her love or is she deceiving herself, ready to foolishly through away her past.

I really liked this story.  As in her other stories, Ahamed creates very real characters to whom we can relate.  I felt sadness for the woman and I admit I winced a bit when the wife asked her husband if he had taken his pills, this having happened to me on numerous occasions.

Take the time to listen to the music in the link above.  If one is interested you might listen to class Hindu music radio stations as background while reading.

This story first appeared in The Miss Slate, April 10, 2015.

I hope to post on another of Ahamed's short stories in a few days.

Farah Ahamed is a short fiction writer. Her stories have been published in The Massachusetts Review, Thresholds, Kwani?, The Missing Slate and Out of Print among others. She has been nominated for The Caine and The Pushcart prizes and shortlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Prize, DNA/Out of Print Award, Sunderland Waterstones Award, Asian Writer Award. She was highly
Recommended in the London Short Story Award and joint winner of the inaugural Gerald Kraak Award.






Mel u







Saturday, June 10, 2017

Word Counts in The Short Stories of Katherine Mansfield- with comparisons to contemporaries










An Article I Contributed to  The Journal of The Katherine Mansfield Society, republished here with their permission, April 2013, Issue 14. - with new introduction by myself

Having recently read Gerri Kimber's wonderful new book, Katherine Mansfield The Early Years I was motivated to look at a word count spreadsheet on the short stories of Mansfield i dida few years ago.  Kimber let me see a young woman never really at home where she was born, Wellington New Zealsnd.  Her mother was a bit emotionally remote and her father did not accept her idea of being a professional writer, both were agast at her open bisexuality.  Neither really could truly relate to her.  From 1903 to 1906 she attended college in London.  She returned to Wellington in 1906 but London called her back.  In 1908 she moved back to London, never to return in London.  In London, and in her Continental travels, she was basically rootless, moving often, changing lovers, marrying
dubiously and never having a permanent home.  In London she began in her fiction to write stories inspired by her childhood, drawing on the beauty of New Zealand.  To me Kimber showed me a woman who had no real sense of home.  In her longed for new home in London she struggled to survive, provided with a begrudged small allowance by her father, entered in a one day marriage before eventually marrying John Middleton Murry.  She sought out "guru like men" and increasingly was frought with health issues.  She seemingly had few close women friends, besides a strange relationship with Ida Baker who was totally in love with KM.  KM exploited her and used her as a servant.

To me this craving for a home is strongly brought out in my word counts.  The results were more striking that I expected.


My Post on Katherine Mansfield The Early Years by Gerri Kimber- contains links to important Mansfield related webpages





Introductory Note in Orginal Article

KM chose her words very carefully, once insisting that she check the proofs of ‘The Man Without a Temperament’ for before its publication in Art & Letters: ‘Every word matters. This is not conceit—but it must be so. ... I cant afford mistakes. Another word wont do. I chose every single word’ (To JMM February 2nd 1920, Letters: III, 204). Words certainly matter in KM’s writing, as is amply suggested by the preliminary research undertaken by Mel u (editor of the blog rereadinglives.blogspot.com) detailed below. Mel has begun to examine the frequency with which certain words recur across a selection of short story collections, including KM’s collected stories, and we’re sure you’ll agree that it has raised some fascinating questions! - introductory note by The Editor of The Journal of the Katherine Mansfield Society, Gerri Kimber

















I am the editor and founder of The Reading Life, a literary book blog I began four years ago. About three years ago I read my first Katherine Mansfield short story when it was selected as a story of the day on a webpage I follow. It was ‘Miss Brill’. At that time I had never heard of Katherine Mansfield. I went on to post all of the short stories by Mansfield I could find online. I began to get hits on my blog from all over the world reading my posts. I went on to post on Kathleen Jones’ biography of Mansfield and Linda Lappin’s novel based on her last years.


For those interested my blog gets about 100,000 hits a month. I will begin tracking where readers of my Mansfield posts live. I often see a sudden jump in readerships in a cer- tain area and I know a university there is teaching her work. Because I watch my blog stats very closely, I know that Mansfield is read in a much wider venue than most people might think, far beyond the traditional English language high-end literary world. I am going to try to track her readership. My assumption is almost anyone seriously interested in a Mansfield short story, certainly most students, will google the story and they will often be lead to my blog.





Thursday, June 8, 2017

Katherine Mansfield The Early Years by Gerri Kimber (2016, Edinburgh University Press





The Katherine Mansfield Society - Your First Resource

Edinburgh University Press

Website of Linda Lappin- author of Katherine's Wish, a wonderful historical novel based on last years of Mansfield

Homepage of Kathleen Jones - author of The Story Teller A Biography of Katherine Mansfield- highly recommended

The Reading Life Guide to Getting Started in Katherine Mansfield










Born - Wellington, New Zealand, October 14, 1888

Died -  Fontainebleau, France January 9, 1923 (of Tuberculosis)


1903 - sent by wealthy parents to attend school in London1903 to 1906 -  travels Europe, especially Germany

1906 - returns to New Zealand

1908 - returns to London, never to go back to New Zealand, begins trying to live as a professional writer, partially supported by her father, chairman of the Bank of New Zealand who disapproved of her profession and life style

1911 -  first collection of short stories published, In a German Pension

1911 - meets John Middleton Murry whom she will marry in 1918

1915 - her beloved brother is killed in a training accident in France while serving in the  New Zealand Army.  Mansfield begins  to write of her childhood in New Zealand



I was deeply moved when I learned that Katherine Mansfield's Note book was the last work Irene Nemirovsky read before she was transported to Auschwitz




When I first began The Reading Life almost eight years ago, I had never heard of
Katherine Mansfield.  I had the common place prejudice against short stories, thinking I needed something I could "sink my teeth into".  Over a long year period of continuous reading, I might have read ten short stories.   In a short story of the day webpage I followed, "Miss Brill" was recommended.  I ended up reading all of the short stories in her four collections, two books about her and even ended up doing an article for The Journal of the Katherine Mansfield Society.  Every day people from all over the world log onto my blog to read my posts.

Some readers say they are not interested in learning about the lives of authors, only about their stories.  To me this is deeply misguided, why read a writer with any real effort unless you think they can add to your understanding of life? .



Why would you not want to know the well springs of  their creativity?  This is not an endorsement of biographical interpretation, nor do I reject it, as perhaps long ago I did.  Literature belongs to each reader.

Katherine Mansfield The Early Years covers her life from her birth in 1888, detailing her family history in New Zealand, up to 1908, when she left New Zealand for the second time, never to return.  Kimber lets us see how the early life experiences of Mansfield shaped her fiction.  We learn a lot about life in Wellington during the last years of the 19th century up to 1908.  The poor and the rich lived in close proximity.  There were not enough people affluent enough to send their children to private school so Katherine and her siblings mingled with children from all classes. We see a treatment of the poor kids in what many consider her best story, "The Doll House".  Kimber lets us see New Zealand was very much a country of emigrants, even the
Richest residents grandparents left England seeking better circumstances.  Kimber lets us see his this produced a more open society than England.



 Kimber goes into detail about Mansfield's early romantic and sexual involvements, with men and women.  It was fascinating to learn of her affair with a rich beautiful Maori princess.  One of her uncles was married to a Maori woman.  Learning of the relative comfortable intimacy with the Maori helped me understand the story, "The Kidnapping of Pearl Button".

Mansfield was a lonely child, not really fitting the pattern her parents wanted, graduate from school and marry a nice young man from upper crust Wellington society, have kids and run a house.  Part of Mansfield's problem was that she was simply too smart, too curious, overly rebellious to settle into such a role.

In 1903 her father sent her to live in London while going to Queen's college.  London was at first a great cultural shock.  She met lots of literary and artistic people, had some more romances.  She tried her hand at writing stories and became enamored with becoming a professional writer.


After three years in 1906 she returns to Wellington.  She realized right away she did not want to spend the rest of her life there, bohemian London called out.  Her parents tried to fix her up with nice young men but this never worked out.  Kimber ends her wonderful narrative in 1908 when Mansfield returns to London.  The rest is the stuff of legends.

Kimber has studied the work of Mansfield for many years.  I greatly enjoyed her tying in of various stories to events in Mansfield's life.  We see her early closeness with her brother Harold.

There are many images of the natural world in her stories.  In the backstreet rooming houses and hotels in which she lived in London and Europe these must have been very fond memories.  There is a great deal of spectatorship, train and ship trips.

Katherine Mansfield The Early Years is a marvelous example of a literary biography.  Kimber had access to conversations with survivors, previously unused in biographies correspondence as well as fragments of stories not included in her four official collections.  There are a good number of previously unpublished photos that alone will make this a must have for Mansfield lovers.



Mansfield was one of the founders of the modern short story, the story of her early years tells how she came to write her very influential stories.

I highly recommend this book to all interested not just in Mansfield, who really must read this book, but in the development of the modern short story.  To those who have an overview of Mansfield's remaining years, this book will help you understand her life path, her involvement with John Middleton Murry (I would love to read an account by Kimber of this relationship) and her strength to struggle with her health and financial difficulties.

The prose is elegant, the documentation impeccable without being overly academic

Gerri Kimber, Visiting Professor in the Department of English at the University of Northampton, is co-editor of the annual yearbook Katherine Mansfield Studies, and Chair of the Katherine Mansfield Society. She is the deviser and Series Editor of the four-volume Edinburgh Edition of the Collected Works of Katherine Mansfield (2016) and the author of Katherine Mansfield: The View from France, and A Literary Modernist: Katherine Mansfield and the Art of the Short Story. - from Edinburgh University Press




Mel u





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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Surprise Queenhood in the New Black Sun- The Life and Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks by Angela Jackson (2017)






Gwendolyn Brooks - Born Topeka, Kansas 1917, died Chicago 2000

1950- became first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize

1968 to 2000- Poet Laureate of the state of Illinois

1985 to 1986 Poet Laureate Consultant to The Library of Congress

A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Son- The Life and Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks by Angela Jackson is a captivating biography of one of the most famous literary chroniclers of the experiences of African Americans.  Most of her poems and fiction is set in Chicago, where she grew up in a loving and culturally nourishing home.  Her father, into the reading life as was his daughter, gave up his dreams of medical school to work as a janitor to support his family.  Her mother, portrayed as not overtly highly affectionate by Jackson, strongly encouraged Brooks to become a poet, writing of the experiences of African Americans in inner city Chicago.

Jackson tells us how the Outbreak of World War II, America joined in 1939, opened up lots of jobs in Chicago for African Americans.  Thousands came up from the south to take these jobs, hoping to build better lives.  They faced then not illegal discrimination in housing, they could only live in certain parts of Chicago, and jobs and were often made to carry within a sense of inferiority.  Brooks brilliance shown through early in her life, she may have been personally sheltered but she observed the lives of the neighbors in the building her family lived in for a long time while she was growing up.  She saw the problems of women, struggling to feed their children, often working as maids themselves while trying to cope with their often less than reliable husbands.

Jackson shows us the literary career path of Brooks, starting out writing for newspapers aimed only at African Americans, going on to have her work published by major houses to winning many awards, winning the Pulitzer Prize, which completely changed her life.  Brooks became a highly sought speaker, a mentor to many young writers, sponsoring awards with her own money.  She also became an English and Poetry teacher in a Chicago college.

Through it all she was a dedicated mother to her two children.  Her marriage was sometimes strained by the stress of financial problems before she became famous and this caused a separation for a year but over all she had a good marriage to a Man himself a first rate Poet who worked at a variety of jobs to support the family.

Jackson's depiction of the  trip of Brooks and her husband to African was very interesting.  She went to Ghana and Kenya, as the guest of the government.  Brooks was a bit surprised when the residents of these countries saw her not as a returning African but just as an American.  She made an emotionally disturbing visit to places that were used as debarkation stations for slaves bound for America.

Jackson elegantly presents Brooks as a great artist, a person with wonderful values, loved and highly respected by all.  One could only call her a genuinely good and decent person.


Jackson explicates her major works and quotes generously from her work. Jackson shows how the poetry and prose, she wrote some experimental novels also, arose from and rose above the early life experience of Brooks.




The book could easily be read by young adults.  Brooks is a frequently taught poet in America.

A lot of her work can be found online so I Hope she would not mind if I Shared the poem below with my readers.




"To Those Of My Sisters
Who Kept Their Naturals"
-- never to look a hot comb in the teeth
by Gwendolyn Brooks

Sisters!

I love you.
Because you love you.
Because you are erect.
Because you are also bent.
In season, stern, kind.
Crisp, soft-in season.
And you withhold.
And you extend.
And you Step out.
And you go back.
And you extend again.
Your eyes, loud-soft, with crying and with smiles,
are older than a million years,
And they are young.
You reach, in season.
And All
below the rich rouch right time of your hair.
You have not bought Blondine.
You have not hailed the hot-comb recently.
You never worshipped Marilyn Monroe.
You say: Farrah's hair is hers.
You have not wanted to be white.
Nor have you testified to adoration of that state
with the advertisement of imitation
(never successful because the hot-comb is laughing too.)
But oh the rough dark Other music!
the Real,
the Right.
The natural Respect of Self and Seal!
Sisters!
Your hair is Celebration in the world!  - end

In the interest of full disclosure I was kindly given a copy of this book for review purposes.

School libraries should include this book.  Teachers will find material students to which their students can relate.  Literary Biography lovers will be very glad they read this work.

Mel u




Monday, June 5, 2017

"Life Will Be Better" - a very perceptive short story by Farah Ahamed (2015)


"Life Will Be Better" by Farah Ahamed

A Very Interesting Interview with Farah Ahamed

"Dr Patel" by Farah Ahamed

"Thin Air" - a poem by Farah Ahamed occasied by the kidnapping of Nigerian School Girls by Boko Haram



Five Hundred Years Ago London was home to the world's greatest writers, in the 19th century to writers who will live on as long as people read, the daily bombing for years in World War Two only strengthened the spirit of Londoners, Virginia Woolf and an immigrant, Katherine Mansfield opened up new ways of writing still shaping literature.  Five hundred years from now London will still be the city of the world's greatest writers.  I dedicate this post to the people of London

"Life Will Be Better" is the second short story by Farah Ahamed I have had the pleasure of reading.  As the story opens a husband and wife are stuck in the heavy traffic of Nairobi.  The air is heavy with exhaust fumes and street hawkers push knockoff dark glasses, flags of Kenya and pictures of the president aggressively on them.  The husband gives one money for a cold drink and the wife buys a pair of dark glasses.  The husband is reading the newspaper as she drives.  She asks him "what is the
news?" He tells her women activists are upset over proposed changes in the new marriage bill just voted into law.  The wife worries that if her husband divorces her, evidently made easier by new laws, she will be responsible to pay the car note and house mortgage.   In just a few lines Ahamed lets us see things were once better between the couple.


A policemen has stopped a black Toyota.  They see the officer take the driver's
 license and then get in the passenger side of the car.  The woman asks the woman in the car if she needs help.  She says the policeman wants a tip for Christmas shopping.  Her husband tells her to drive on, don't get involved.

They arrive at their destination, a trendy boutique built to resemble an African hut.  They are there to buy a dress for the wife for a special occasion.  Ahamed lets us see the man is there to decide what dress his wife will wear as his accessory at the big event.  She tries on a little black dress (as I said in a post long ago the influence of Coco Chanel knows no boundaries) which makes the husbanwhistle but he says the dress is not what he wants her to wear, "not right for us".  As she is looking at other dresses, the woman in the black Toyota and her husband enter the boutique.  The wife says "Nairobi is a small world".  Back in the dressing room she peeks out and sees her husband admiring the woman in the little black dress he said she could not have.  (It takes either a brave, maybe no too bright married man or one who just no longer cares to admire another woman in front of his wife.)

I will leave the very interesting and unexpected close untold.  I will say the other woman ends up



leaving with the dress the wife wanted.

I found of interest that in  the wife was the driver.  In both cases the husband has to give his approval for the dress and give his wife money for it.  The wife is as steamed as tropical heavily polluted Nairobi at noon as she leaves the store with the dress she did not want.

In just a few pages Ahamed gives us a look at the life of an at least upper middle class  woman, she does not seem mistreated but she is frustrated by a life and society that makes her opinions of secondary importance.  You feel like you are there in the car, inside the high end boutique and you wonder what will happen when she gets dressed for the big occasion in the dress her husband imposed on her.  My guess is it will be a revenge by silence night.

"Life Will Be Better" first appeared on DNA/Out of Print-Daily News and Analysis, a very interesting Mumbai based webpage, November 22, 2015.  You can read it on the link above.  I greatly enjoyed this story, which I read four times, to all lovers of the form.



Like "Dr. Patel" it is partially about the traps we fall into trying to impress others.  Ahamed is very skilled at developing character, opening up the people in her stories.

Farah Ahamed is a short fiction writer. Her stories have been published in The Massachusetts Review, Thresholds, Kwani?, The Missing Slate and Out of Print among others. She has been nominated for The Caine and The Pushcart prizes and shortlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Prize, DNA/Out of Print Award, Sunderland Waterstones Award, Asian Writer Award. She was highly commended in the London Short Story Award and joint winner of the inaugural Gerald Kraak Award.













Sunday, June 4, 2017

On Beauty- A Novel by Zadie Smith (2005, 432 pages

Five hundred years ago London was the home of the greatest writer in the world, 500 years from today it still will be.  I dedicate this post to the people of London





A Very Good Review in The Guardian by James Landun

Zadie Smith on The Reading Life




Last month I read Zadie Smith's latest novel Swing Time.  I loved it and decided i wanted to read all five of her novels (I have also read and posted upon several of her wonderful short stories).  I was delighted when I received notice that the Kindle edition of her third novel, On Beauty, was for sale for $1.95.

The Guardian has a very good review of On Beauty (link above) so I will keep my remarks brief.  Bottom line, I'm now aiming at reading her three remaining novels in 2017.  That said, Swing Time is the superior work as Smith gets better at her art. (I am looking forward to the movie based on it.)

On Beauty is set in Massachusetts.  It centers on the Belsep family.  The husband is a professor of art history, his wife was a hospital administrator. He is white, she an African American.  There have two sons, one is a devout Christian, the other an aspiring rapper.  Smith skillfully lets us see the struggles of the sons to stay in touch with their maternal heritage.  It is also a very acute at times hilarious satire of university politics.  The plot, as pointed out in the Guardian review, is loosely structured based on the plot of Howard's End by E. F. Forster.

The depiction of the relationship between the couple, married for thirty years, is really masterful.  The husband has had an affair which infuriated the wife, perhaps more so as the other woman was white.  The passion in their relationship moved me.

I greatly enjoyed this book.

Please share your experience with Zadie Smith with us.







Friday, June 2, 2017

"Dr. Patel" - a wonderful short story by Farah Ahamed (2015)





A Very Interesting Interview with Farah Ahamed

"Dr. Patel" by Farah Ahamed 

Farah Ahamed Joint Winner  of the Inaugral Gerald Kraak Award




"He parked in the empty car park and decided to wait until he saw other people enter the apartment block. He usually made a point of seeing his mistress at a time when everyone was coming home from work. He’d alight from his car holding his phone to his ear, and lean against the door with a pre-occupied air. Initially, the neighbours used to nudge each other and snigger. This gave him much pleasure, while he remained intent on his phone conversation. Now they no longer reacted, but this did not bother him. His reputation as a virile lover had been established."



One of the greatest pleasures of book blogging for eight years has been posting on the work of writers just beginning their literary efforts, seeing them develop their talent and receive recognition.  During June I hope to post upon six wonderful, highly perceptive, elegant short stories by Farah Ahamed.  All of the stories but one can be read online.  As I go on in my posts and hopefully increase the depth of my understanding of her work, I will try to talk a bit about why I admire her work so much and what  I think she may have to tell us.  In my first of these posts, on her "Dr. Patel" I see a masterful depiction of a man completely mired in a deep miasma of self-deception, unable to see how he appears to others, desperately seeking admiration. I will try to show how Ahamed creates a very real man in a well developed social environment in just a few pages.

We meet Dr. Patel on the way to a wedding reception of young man from one of the wealthiest families in Niarobi. I will catalogue his deceptions, of self and others.  Firstly he is not a doctor, either medical or academic.  It is just a title he sort of gave himself and thinks others call him that out of respect.  After twenty years working for Amber Investments he has become Human Resources director.  As anyone who has ever worked in the corporate world knows, this is a job normally reserved for time serving lackeys (W. B. Yeats would call him an errand boy).  Dr Patel is wearing his club tie, with the crest of an elite organization of which he is not a member.


 Many of those at the party have inherited their wealth, Dr. Patel tells himself he did not inherit his position.  At the reception he sits at a table near the family, hoping others will take this as meaning he is a close family friend.  He got the groom a job at Amber Investments at the request of the father of the groom and was short sighted enough to request an "administrative fee" for this, thus reducing himself to a petty dishonest minion where honesty might have made him a true family friend.





In a very acute and funny scene, a couple as Dr. Patel if they can join him at the table.  He tries to impress them by saying it is for family only, the couple exchanges a look that Patel misses that says "who is he kidding".  He makes a big show in front of them of putting money in an envelope along with his business card, which he gives to everyone, it seems.  He asks the woman what is the bride's name, I laughed out loud when she told him and he believed it that her name was "Bindi", a bindi is a cosmetic mark in the center of the forehand, any body with any real culture would know this and the fact that the woman feels secure telling Patel this shows the depth of her contempt for him.

When people at the party he has previously met don't recall him, he attributes it to their weak memories, is there end to his self-blindness?

Dr Patel is a huge man, when he orders just a small salad from the waiter The couple exchange looks like who is he kidding.  They ask him if he has come alone, he says his wife did not come and he thinks how in twenty years she is still not comfortable in high society.

Dr Patel leaves the party, heading for the apartment of his mistress, an employee of Amber Capital.  He wants people to see he has a mistress as a proof of his virility and affluence.  The scene between him and the woman are just masterful.  She comes to the door in a negligee, obvious to all but the oblivious Patel that she is expecting someone else.  We learn all he ever does in her apartment is watch TV news.

I have told a lot about this story but first readers will still delight in the skill of this story.  The close of the story in which Patel has no idea who the young man who emerged from the elevator in front of her apartment reminded me of the moment in Madame Bovary where Bovary sees a man climbing

over the fence of his house, on his way out as he unexpectedly returns home and thinks, "oh, now I know who has been stealing apples from my trees".







Ahamed has brilliantly presented a man completely oblivious to the reality of his life, a shallow fool out of touch with his true nature.  She also presents a sharp picture of social class distinctions

This story first appeared in the Out of Print Magazine, September, 2015


Farah Ahamed is a Kenyan lawyer with a Creative Writing Diploma from the University of East Anglia. She currently lives in the UK. Her short stories have been published by Kwani?, Bridge House, Fey Publishing, New Lit Salon Press and The Missing Slate. In 2014 Zoloft for Everyonereceived a commendation at the Winchester Writer’s Festival, and 1972, was nominated for the Caine Prize for African writing. In the same year, she was shortlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Prize for a collection of short stories. Red is for Later was nominated for the 2015 Caine Prize for African writing and the 2016 Pushcart Prize.






Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Reading Life Review - May, 2016



Blog Stats for May, 2017

There are now 3063 posts online

Since inception The Reading Life has received 4,629,515 page views

The five most viewed posts in May were

"The Assignment" by Saadat Hasan- almost all from India and Pakistan

Pigeon Pie by Nancy Mitford -

"The Blind Dog" by R. K. Narayan - almost all from India

Completed by two classic short stories by authors from the Philippines

Russian Bots.   Why.???

About every two months for a three day period I receive thousands of hits from all over Russia, all under a second on different posts on the blog.  The hits last maybe three days then stop.  During a three day period I got 17,187 such hits.  There is no spam left.  Have other bloggers experienced this level of bot hits?  What are they looking for?

Top home countries of visitors (not from bots)

USA, the Philippines, India, UK, and Germany.  Top USA state is California.  Most common home city is the greater Manila area with London and Los Angeles next.

Novels Read

The Golden House by Salman Rushdie.  a reaction to horror of The trumping of America .  As good as his best

Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh. Part three of The Ibis Trilogy, first rate historical fiction

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey. 2016 Jewish Book of the Year

Smile by Roddy Doyle.  A delight for his legion of fans

Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi.  Beautiful work

The Master by Colm Toibin, second reading.  Henry James in London

I almost never do negative posts on novels basically because I don't go far in books I don't like.  Life is to short to read bad books just so you can trash them.

Leonora Carrington

I continued my reading of the work of Leonora Carrington with her acclaimed memoir Down Below and two short stories

Short Stories

Prompted by the sad news of the Passing of Denis Johnson, I read his collection of linked short stories, Jesus's Son.  Great Beyond by ability to speak upon.  Tales of Desolation Row

"Senor Pinedo" by Mavis Gallant.  Part of my participation in the read through hosted by Buried in Print.

I also was very happy to discover two new to me very talented writers of speculative short fiction, Isabel Yap and Allysa Wong, both with strong ties to the Philippines.

Works I read in May but refrained from posting upon

I read only one book I did not post about, The Politics of Opera A History from Monteverdi to Mozart by Mitchell Cohen.  Superbly learned book.  Opera plays a big role in Proust and other European writers, mostly French.  Serious literary and musical autodidacts will love this book. Very learned

I also did not post on a short story by Yiyun Li, "A Small Flame", you can read it for free on The New Yorker

I offer my great thanks to those who take the time and trouble to leave a comment.

To my fellow book bloggers, the greatest readers in the world, don't stop blogging because you feel the forces of ignorance are in an ascending mode.

Mel u
The Reading Life