Sunday, October 22, 2006

Vacation Reading

Still not remotely adjusted to being back, after what really was a whirlwind trip. I'm still nowhere close to sleeping right, and it's freezing here too -- some consistency from my journey abroad.

I still have lots and lots of reflections to post from the trip, but I'm kind of waiting 'til I can get a new USB cable (if I were in St. Petersburg, I bet there'd be a place selling one at this hour) so I have some visuals to go along with the writing. In the meantime:

#35 - "Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro

#36 - "Crime and Punishment" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (re-read, of a sort)

#37 - "I Served the King of England" by Bohumil Hrabal

1) I have a strange relationship with Ishiguro's novels -- I've loved every one I've read (starting with "Remains of the Day," in the early '90s), but more than a decade since I discovered him (or had him forced upon me -- RotD was for a freshman lit class) this is only the third I've read. He's fantastic and yet I'm always reluctant to read his novels, for reasons unknown. I've had "Never Let Me Go" on my stack for months, had it recommended by someone with better lit chops than mine, but only now got to it.

The verdict? Fabulous. Just beautiful, and heart-wrenching. It reminds me of "Cloud Atlas" in portions. It's a dreamy, sad discussion of a horrible topic. Delving into the plot at all gives things away, so I won't. But suffice to say it's one of the best things I've read this year.

2) I dunno if this even counts as a re-read -- I last picked it up in Ms. Caples' advanced English course at Canyon Del Oro High School, in (gulp) 1989. It was at a time when my collegiate future was secured and I'd stopped giving a fuck about anything, but I was drawn in by C&P. I don't remember that initial read at all but C&P has always had a special place in my heart.

This is the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation -- they're the tops, it appears, in Russian translations. Wish I could compare it to the '89 version I read, but I can't -- however, it's very good. Having read "Brothers Karamazov" and "Notes from Underground" in the past year, this stacks up favorably compared to both; a 550-page 19th-century Russian novel that zips along. I was struck by how versatile it is -- not just dramatic, not just a novel of ideas, but often funny as well. And some classic scenes -- Porfiry's torment of Raskolnikov, the latter's confession to Sonya.

3) I did pretty well on not buying dozens of locally-connected books on this trip. Oh, I wanted to buy "Eugene Onegin," Anna Akhmatova's works, "To the Finland Station" if it was available, but I stayed strong. Then in Prague, we ended up in a hotel around the corner from a nice little English-language bookstore (the Globe), and, well, you can figure it out from there.

Good thing I did, too. Travel book #3 ("The Sheltering Sky" by Paul Bowles) left me completely cold, on my third or fourth attempt to read it, so I grabbed this out of my backpack on the Prague-NYC flight. I haven't read anything of Hrabal's in years; along with "Too Loud A Solitude" and "Closely Observed Trains" (both of which I've read), this has always been highly recommended. I enjoyed it. It's an exuberant little book, a chronicle of a man's life, by turns lively and funny, then sad and reflective.

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