10 May 2014

If it's Sunday …: Reading Resets

A few Sundays ago, I woke up remembering how, when I was in graduate school, I developed a way of giving myself, every Sunday – I thought of it then as a little present, or a mini-vacation, but in these technologically more ‘advanced’ times we might just say that I found my personal reset button. It was a godsend at the time – and, when it came back to me last month, I couldn’t believe I’d ever let it slip away. It still works – wonders!

My discovery came in the early years of a Ph.D. program, when the work consisted mostly of reading, and plenty of it. Before I discovered my Sunday reset ploy, I, like most of my fellow students, worked almost all the time I wasn’t in class or eating or drinking coffee. Days off were few and far between, and – week in, week out – every day picked up right where the one before it had left off. It seemed the only way to get a break was to spend a weekend far away, and the rare occasions when I managed that, only showed me how much I needed something comparable all the other weekends of the year.

And showed me that a change of gears was a good investment of time: I got much more done in the five days after a weekend away than I would have in seven days of virtually uninterrupted work. But how was I going to manage it all the other weekends?

The solution came suddenly, one Sunday, a few decades ago, and it arrived full-fledged, with all the necessary details in place: instead of picking up on Sunday wherever I had left off the night before… I would read whatever new, previously unstarted book was calling out to me. The only requirement I imposed was that there had to be a good chance of finishing the book that same day.

Now, for me, that meant that the book had to be relatively short. I’ve never been a speed-reader. But, fortunately, shorter books were becoming more abundantly available. I didn’t select books with a maximum word- or page-count in mind, but I generally had an idea of what I could get through in a day and still have it feel like a vacation. That usually meant something more like a novella or short novel than a ‘full-length’ novel, and if I’d had an ideal page-count it might have been 150 pages – something in the neighborhood of 2000 ‘locations’ on a Kindle today.

I don’t always remember specifically which books I read on those Sundays. The ones I remember most clearly tended to be in French: Camus’s (first) posthumous novel, La mort heureuse; Stendhal’s Armance; a slim volume of televised conversations with Jacques Lacan. None of these sounds like highly promising ‘escape’ reading – but I’m sure I did my share of that, too. There were novels like the ones Graham Greene originally called ‘entertainments’, and repeated doses of Balzac and Henry James; there were plays and screenplays, and pulp fiction galore – all that I remember clearly was that the Sunday reading always did the trick. I came back to my regular reading on Monday morning feeling like a new man.

And now I’ve rediscovered that Sunday reboot button. I’ll save that for another blogpost on another day. For now, I’ll just say that the first book of my new era of Sundays was a surprising one, for me at least: Dostoevsky’s The Double  … 

04 April 2014

More Candles for Marguerite Duras

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of French writer-director Marguerite Duras.

Duras was born in French Indochina, near Saigon, in 1914, and spent virtually all of her adult life in France, where she died in 1996. Her complete works will span roughly 4000 pages in four volumes of the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade.

Until the publication of L'amant (The Lover) in 1984 - Duras' first bestseller and winner of the Prix Goncourt - she had for four decades almost the status of an underground writer. When I began reading her in the 1970s, only two of her books were available as rack-sized paperbacks in France: the novel Moderato cantabile (1958) and the screenplay for Hiroshima mon amour (published in 1960). Today she has acquired the status of a 'classic' (today's birthday feels to me like one of those watershed French events, like the funeral of Sartre). Duras is perhaps the most modern of classics, if either of those words is still meaningful - and some younger readers now approach her with an element of trepidation. (In interviews, Duras seemed to feel that 'the young' would ultimately understand her best, and I think they will, if they will only read her.)

Although I never met Duras, I 'followed' her (see my explanation of this use of the word 'follow', and an earlier discussion of Duras, here ) for the last 20 years of her life. She remains in some ways the most immediate of the authors I refer to collectively as 'the 26' - so that it's especially difficult for me to write about her without writing about myself. But I've resolved to let this be her day - and the best way I know to do that is to point to a few of her books as possible means of access to the rest.

Let's repeat three titles I've already mentioned - Moderato cantabile, Hiroshima mon amour, L'amant - and add a few more: Le ravissement de Lol. V. Stein, Le Vice-Consul, India Song, L'amante anglaise, L'été 80, La douleur (War) and Ecrire. But you can start, or restart, almost anywhere...

More to come.

18 March 2013

Readers' Choice Awards - BigAl's Books and Pals

Many regular readers of this blog know BigAl's Books and Pals as as a 'go-to' website specializing in reviews of independently published English-language books available on Kindle. I was reading and recommending the site (see my blogroll in the right-hand column) long before BigAl's generous and perceptive review of my book A Kiss Before You Leave Me last May. Now Al and company are doing even more for indie authors and readers. BigAl and the Pals explain:
In the twelve months ending February 28th, 2013, [we] received over 1,400 books to consider for review. Almost 300 of them were selected, read, and reviewed. From those we chose the books we felt stood out from the pack as exceptional examples of Indie (self-published and small press) writing and divided them into eleven categories....
For two weeks, starting March 18th at 10:00 Eastern Time and ending at Midnight Eastern Time on April 1st, we'll be asking readers to vote for the winner in each category. Winners will be announced the morning of Wednesday, April 3rd. We'll also have a giveaway with various prizes for those who vote.
Winners and nominees of "BigAl's Books and Pals 2012 Readers' Choice Awards" will feature on a special Readers' Choice page at Books and Pals for the next twelve months, with emphasis on the winner in each category.
I hope you'll continue to support BigAl's Books and Pals in general and that you'll both support and benefit from this year's Readers' Choice Awards in particular. Voting is now under way.

16 July 2012

Simenon: Maigret and More

The biggest news in European ebooks last month, as I see it, was the release in France of the first 41 ebooks by Georges Simenon (1903 - 1989), the best-selling French-language author of the 20th century, and by some ways of reckoning the most prolific novelist of any era. Now and through 25 July 2012 the price of these French-language ebooks has been cut in half: individual ebooks now sell for less than four euros, three-packs for less than eight.

I've read, and mostly admired, several dozens of Simenon's books. There are so many of them, and the experience of them is so inseparable from French or European life, that his readers (and especially those of us with a few decades of reading under our belts) find they can't keep track of the numbers. (Simenon himself couldn't say how many he'd written.)

If you read French, you're likely to know a great deal about Simenon already. To you I'll just mention two of my favorite Simenons, one featuring Inspector Maigret and one non-series novel. L'affaire Saint-Fiacre brings the seasoned, adult Maigret back to his childhood home to investigate a crime involving a noblewoman whom he once idealized. Le chat (which was memorably filmed with Simone Signoret and Jean Gabin) is a powerful study of a claustrophobic marriage. (The links provided are to Amazon.fr. Kindle users may want to check their usual Amazon store, and users of other e-readers can get more information at the 'Simenon en numérique' website.)

And if you don't read French? There's an excellent selection of Simenon ebooks in translation--except that the US ebook prices for all the Maigrets available in English exceed the ceiling I've set for most linking from this blog. (See here for an earlier discussion of ebook prices, especially of the 'gouge zone'.) But consider, among the non-series Simenons available in e-format, the very early Tropic Moon (which will remind you of Heart of Darkness, in a good way), Act of Passion (which takes the form of a letter from a man convicted of murder to the examining magistrate who handled his case) or The President (Simenon's most overtly political novel).

And, since we're stressing the non-series novels (now referred to more and more as romans durs), let me mention the best recent piece I've found on them, by John McIntyre.

I'll close with a link to Simenon's 1955 Paris Review interview, which includes among its extensive riches a documentation of Simenon's work schedule and output that is if anything more amazing almost 60 years later. Among other things, Simenon wrote faster than many of us read. But in the process he created a world of indelible atmosphere and unforgettable relationships. As readers and as writers, we're still struggling to catch up.

29 January 2012

From 'Hello, UK!' to 'I'm Here All Week, Folks!': Bearing the Burden of Bestsellerdom

I happened to notice a few mornings back that my novel A Kiss Before You Leave Me had cropped up on the AmazonUK bestseller list for psychological fiction, between a World's Classics paperback of a Virginia Woolf novel and an ebook by Philip Roth.

I'm not sure how either of those authors would have felt about our juxtaposition; not much worse, perhaps, than about the tête-à-tête (if that's the word for it) that I seem to have interrupted. (All I know is that, on the basis of my knowledge of the works in question, two of the three authors would have insisted on reporting that Woolf was on top. [You see how difficult it is to talk about bestsellers without getting into sexual content.])

I know, however, that I'm delighted to be on this UK list. And not just as an indication that the book is 'selling internationally'. For some very important part of me, the UK is at least one of the centers of my cultural universe, and has been ever since I first arrived in London at the age of 20. (If I told you what role I saw Judi Dench in in the West End on that visit, it would be needlessly hurtful for one or both of us.)

Bestseller lists, we all know, don't mean very much.

Except when it's your book that gets noticed that way.

Well.

Because I, rightly or wrongly, attribute this 'movement' in the UK 'market' to the current (very international and very broadly 'cross-vendor') 'sunshine deal' on A Kiss Before You Leave Me, I'm extending the 'deal' for one additional week, in all markets and through all participating vendors. (I admit that this feels like an overly American response, but I don't want to be too hard on myself.)

Thank you to every reader in every country who's found room for my work on their digital 'shelves', on their virtual 'bedside table'.

(If you're still having trouble getting hold of Kiss, consult the links in the column to the right, or follow this link to the bitly 'bundle' and link on from there. Or 'comment' below, and let me know what you need. Finally, if you just arrived and want to know what this is all about, here are all my blogposts labelled 'A Kiss Before You Leave Me'--although, by this time, it might be easier for you just to break down and read the book...)