Thursday, June 23, 2011

Tomorrow Pamplona Blog Tour 2011, Gig 8


Tomorrow Pamplona's author, Jan Van Mersbergen, is on a blog tour.  Each blogger was allowed to ask one burning question.  Here’s mine:

When I first read the title of your book, Tomorrow Pamplona and then found out it's about a boxer, my first thought was Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises which is one of my favorite novels. Is there some sort of connection between your book and Hemingway's? Did he influence your writing?

Jan: "I think I've read Hemingway's great novel six times, the first time when I was learning English in school, at the age of 17. The thing about that book was: the part in Pamplona is relatively small. I liked that. I liked the fishing and the beginning in Paris. And of course I liked the bull run, but I liked that in the context. When I wanted to write a story about a trip to Pamplona The Sun also Rises gave me the profession of the boxer. In the first sentence Robert Cohn is introduced as a former middleweight champion. The thing with that character is: he has problems with his wife; a story that connected with my Danny. So the influence is there in the story, the location, and even more in the way Hemingway tells his stories: with great compassion and without using difficult words, without much explanation. I still can recall whole scenes from For Whom the Bell Tolls; especially the scene where the main character is holding hands with the Spanish girl. Real sensitive writing. I hope I managed to do that, and make the Hemingway-homage complete."

From the Peirene website: Tomorrow Pamplona is story about "a professional boxer and a family man who meet by chance on a journey to the Pamplona Bull Run. The boxer is fleeing an unhappy love. The father hopes to escape his dull routine. Both know that, eventually, they will have to return to the place each calls “home."

I'd like to thank Jan for his answer and Meike at Peirene Press for arranging this Blog Tour and for sending me a review copy of Tomorrow Pamplona. You can follow the blog tour here.


Monday, June 20, 2011

A Visit from the Goon Squad



The Pulitzer Prize winning book for fiction this year is A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. It also recently won the National Book Critics Circle Award. I was curious to read this highly acclaimed novel. How would it stand up next to the other Pulitzer Prize winners that I've read such as Middlesex, The Confederacy of Dunces and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay? Brilliant books all of them. So, is this book worthy? A Visit from the Goon Squad is good! It's very good in fact. I can't say I loved it though but maybe it's because I read Great House by Nicole Krauss just before it and then Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer just after. Sandwiched in between these two beautiful novels, Goon Squad didn't stand a chance. It was a very quick and enjoyable read though and in hindsight it was pretty cool. Do I think it's deserving of the Pulitzer? Yes and no. I prefer the other novels I mentioned above, however the Goon Squad is so original and quirky that it certainly deserves the recognition it has received.

It's not easy to summarize the plot of A Visit from the Goon Squad because the book is made up of chapters that can stand alone as short stories. There are a number of characters and the interlocking narratives go back and forth in time mainly following the lives of Bennie and Sasha and the people that surround them. Bennie is a record producer and Sasha is his assistant. Viewpoints switch from first to third and even second person. The settings are the New York music scene, the Bay area during the punk rock days, an African safari (my favorite chapter), Naples, Italy and even the future. There's also the much talked about Power Point chapter which is very unique (see below). It's hard to believe that a book structured such as this would be a page-turner but it definitely is that. Egan's prose flows like music and before you know it you've finished a chapter and are on to the next. As you move forward in the book, a theme becomes apparent - the passage of time. "Time's a goon right?"  A Visit from the Goon Squad is not just innovative, it's surprisingly entertaining.






Monday, June 13, 2011

Game of Thrones


 "When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. There is no middle ground."

I'm completely hooked on the TV series and the book, Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. It is magnificent stuff. I'm up to the eighth episode now of the TV series with two more to go. The last one will be shown this weekend. This is modern fantasy at its best, transporting viewers to a world of magic, romance, adventure, ambition, love, murder, betrayal and revenge. Geez, what more can you ask for?



With the season about to end, I'm dreading having to leave the world of Winterfell, King's Landing and the rest of the Seven Kingdoms. I'm so completely caught up in this world. There's a second season in the works but it will only premiere in April 2012! That's too long to wait so I've started reading book one. I'm a third of the way through and so far it's proving to be just as good as the TV series, maybe even better. Of course, it's not literature but it's a lot of fun. If you want a sweeping epic novel then definitely read this book.

The characters are captivating including the bad guys. Martin has created a cast that you really grow to care about. Eddard Stark, John Snow, Bran, Daenerys, Arya, the list is endless because Game of Thrones does have a large cast. I think it helped to see a few episodes before starting the book because I'm now able to put a face to every name.



Has anyone read these books? What did you think? How are the rest of the books in the series?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Short Meme on Abandoned Books



While reading Book Lust by Nancy Pearl, I came across a part where she talks about abandoned books:

"..your mood has a lot to do with whether or not you will like a book. I always leave open the option of going back to a book that I haven't liked (especially if someone I respect has recommended it to me) sometime later. I've begun many books, put them down unfinished, then returned a month or two, or years, later and ended up loving them. This happened with Mathew Kneale's English Passengers, John Crowley's Little Big, and Andrea Barrett's The Voyage of the Narwhal."

I'm curious about everyone's experiences with abandoned books so I've made up this short meme. Please answer it below in the comment section or better yet, post about it in your blogs and leave a link.

1. What would cause you to stop reading a book ?
If a book fails to captivate me in roughly 20 to 50 pages (sometimes even just the first few paragraphs)  then I have no qualms to put it aside because life is short and there are too many wonderful books in the world.

2. Name a book or books you've abandoned in the past that you ended up loving later on.

The first book that comes to mind is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. I abandoned it last year after just a few pages but I recently picked it up again. It's just perfect.










3. Name a book you've abandoned in the past that you hope to finish someday.

For me, this has got to be Justine by Lawrence Durrell, the first book of the Alexandria Quartet. Over the years, I've picked it up twice and both times abandoned it after just a few pages. Somehow I know if I could just get through the difficult beginning, I may end up liking this book and maybe even loving it. It seems to have everything that will captivate me - lush prose, an exotic setting and unrequited love. In fact if any of you have read this then please let me know your thoughts. I need someone to convince me to finally read this.

On a side note - next year, Virago is releasing Joanna Hodgkin's Amateurs in Eden, a biography of Lawrence and Nancy Durrell and their lives in Paris and Corfu in the 1930s. Henry Miller and Anais Nin appear in the book as well. The initial buzz is that it's utterly fantastic. I definitely plan to read that even if I never read Justine.

Do let me know if you join this meme. I'm looking forward to reading your answers.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Why Do You Read?



Here's the perfect answer to that exasperating question I'm sure most of you have been asked at one time or another  - "Why do you read?" courtesy of Nancy Pearl, the author of Book Lust.


"...I read to encounter new worlds and new ways of looking at our own world. I read to enlarge my horizons, to gain wisdom, to experience beauty, to understand myself better, and for the pure wonderment of it all. I read and marvel over how writers use language in ways I never thought of."


*The photo is of Marilyn Monroe, who in case you didn't know, was also a bookworm.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The History of Love - the Second Time Around


"Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering."
It's the season for giving abandoned books another chance here at The Literary Stew so since I recently read and  loved Great House by Nicole Krauss, I decided to give The History of Love another go. I abandoned this book years ago. I found the first part painful and sad. The book starts out by introducing a character called Leo, a lonely old man, craving to be seen at least once a day by anyone - people in the supermarket or in the streets. To be seen and thus feel alive. His need is so strong that he answers an ad to pose as a nude model. The idea of having a group of artists just staring at him for hours appeals to his lonely soul. I stopped reading after the excruciating scene at the art studio. It was too sad not to mention embarrassing.

However, after reading Great House and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (Krauss' husband), I knew I had to persevere with The History of Love. I mentioned in a previous post that I'm fascinated by both these writers and plan to read everything they've written.
 
I'm glad I finally read The History of Love. I liked it a lot however I didn't love it. I prefer Great House (my review here). Both novels however have many similar themes such as memory and loss. They also have the same style of switching back and forth between different narratives. In this case there are two storytellers - Leo, the octagenarian and Alma a fourteen-year-old girl who was named after a character in Leo's lost book. How this two eventually come together is a lovely and sad story. It's interesting that I was actually given this book in a beautiful hardbound edition when I was pregnant with my first child six years ago. My friend wrote a dedication saying, "a little something you might like to read in your condition.' I wondered then how it might apply to 'my condition,' but now I understand. It is truly a novel about love, in all its different, wonderful and heartbreaking forms.
``And then I thought: Perhaps that is what it means to be a father -- to teach your child to live without you. If so, no one was a greater father than I."
Krauss is such a talented writer. It's obvious she has improved with each succeeding novel she's written so I can't wait to see what she'll produce next. If you've read her books, which one did you prefer? Has anyone read her first novel, Man Walks into a Room?
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