Book Riot: A Book Published Posthumously

Likely it will be a riotous September with the month’s posts focusing on the Read Harder Challenge.  I’m gearing up for October being my usual round of seasonal scary reads because I love a scary reads binge to ease me into the fall.   I’ll try not to wax poetic about my guilty love of fall.  I’ll just read the right books to celebrate hoodies, crisp air and spookiness.

There was never any question that this is the year to read the book I chose for this category.  My best friend had just gotten through it, although he openly admitted that he feels some of the story got past him (so I knew some of it would slide by me, too).  I have read many of the other considered to be classic examples of Magical Realism, with a few detours to eat up most everything by Sarah Addison Allen, and then when I googled book ideas for this category it popped right up to greet me, even with the same cover as the used edition I snagged via Amazon not that long ago:

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The Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov

It’s telling in itself that I don’t even know where to begin when talking about this novel.  I could start with the fact that I would probably be a ton cooler if I understood it.  If I wasn’t combing the internet for whatever extra information I could get to make it hold together in my mind any better than it did.  It’s not even my first go at a Russian novel, with having read Crime and Punishment and Anna Karenina years ago.  And yet there was always a feeling that I was missing the context that would really drive this one home for me.

What I gathered, mixed with information teased out of the internet, was that Satan and some compatriots, the cat that is featured on every cover of this novel (and even my post!) named Behemoth being one of them, to wreak random havoc on Soviet Russia in a satirical fashion.  I really tried to read other sources before writing this, but it felt so random to me, the reason for their shenanies being that the whole point was to make fun of Soviet Russia circa 1930.  I didn’t understand why they would just roll into Russia and mess with everyone and then decide they are done and take off.  I spent time in my lovely writing course on the importance of character motives and I didn’t see one for these guys other than being foils and hosting a ball leading to a random adulterous woman getting her greatest wish.  Anyone is free to comment to set me straight.

I may have felt I was missing something because of the paucity of knowledge I have around Soviet Russia circa 1930.  I know that the people were mainly poor and struggling.  I grew up during the last vestiges of the Cold War and I remember hearing in school about how Communism played out in the Soviet Union, as well as having done a presentation on Stalin for sixth grade and how he allowed record numbers of his people to die (freeze/starve if memory serves).  But I had to pick through other sources to understand what exactly was being made fun of.  I didn’t mind this, really, but it’s difficult to spend time reading a novel and wishing when it was done that you had done it through the context of a college course where you didn’t have four other courses to complete.

Also, as I have found with many classics, there is a lot of rule breaking going on as far as all the advice out there on how to write a novel people want to read.  The main characters don’t come into the book until the first third is over.  There is none of this introducing them and their arc within the first page or two.  There is action, with Satan arguing about the existence of Jesus with a man who does not believe as was what the government preferred at the time, and then a predicted and freaky mishap ending in death, and then a chapter telling the story leading up to the crucifixion.  But you don’t meet Master for awhile and then even later, his lover Margarita.  And as I said before, either I am really dense or there aren’t really clear motivations of the supernatural team of the devil and his cronies, and then the Russians find ways after to explain it away and minimize it, which the writer takes pains to detail out.  And you never really know why Margarita is so dissatisfied with her clearly enviable life to the point where she throws it all away to carry out the dreams of her lover.  Like, I understood why Anna Karenina made the choices she did, because Dostoyevsky made her sucky marriage clear, but Margarita has money and a loving husband and takes the first chance she gets to become a witch and fly around and then host a ball with like, no clothes on, meeting some of the darkest souls in Christendom.  I know she does this to be reunited with her lover but she enjoys it, too.

It was entertaining and I know I’ll need another go at it at some point to gather all of it.  Even reading the summaries shortly after the chapter (which was somewhat interrupted by the fact I was reading it on a camping grip with limited WiFi access) I was like okay, that part was not as clear or I missed something.   n

I also realize this was a lot to say about a book I had to work at for the incomplete knowledge I gleaned.  And it gets its own post being as mysterious and intriguing as it was leading up to reading it and then the baffling entertainment that it afforded.  It was messed up and that’s why people love it.  But I think there is more of a point to the messed up that I sifted out.  And I don’t feel ashamed of that.

Riot list reads continue as we coast into the last quarter of the year.  My last fall was busy and this one is shaping up to be, too, with not having time to set aside to do my pending novel edits.  As I have noted ad nauseum before, however, it is a long, long winter.

 

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Jane Eyre Repurposed

I have to keep reminding myself that I crave summer all the other months of the year when the unrelenting heat rolls in.  Most of the time it’s not difficult to love every moment of the season, even on the comforting rainy days, but when it feels sweltering day after day even I start craving the cooler weather again, and that is saying something.

Also of note:  took advantage of the Prime deal of buying almost any ebook and getting thirty percent of the cost of that book off another book.  I got Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami in tight runnings with The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood or The House at Riverton by Kate Morton.  Feel free to comment on my choices.  With my credit I found a book on my wish list on that magical deep amazon discount and got it for nothing!  It’s a scary book and I am contemplating if I need to do a third year of scary book posts so that identity shall remain hidden.

Today’s book is like last week’s book:  not so much a re-telling, but more a repurposing of characters.  Kinda like upcycling, but the original hasn’t exactly been discarded.  And, speaking of upcycling, a stand that I sanded and painted and put other handles on to make into a nightstand fifteen years ago has found a home in my she shed, all over again.  She shed could also be ready for blog show off.  My husband has to put out the electricity but that won’t change the aesthetics of a pictures!  The heat has made me spend less time out there than I would, too, as I don’t have a way to turn on the ceiling fan.  Yet.

But repurposing.  Jane Eyre was also repurposed in Texts from Jane Eyre, which is entirely a hilarious creation of imagined text conversations between famous literary characters.  She’s pretty easy to repurpose, being strong in her principles and very clear as to have survived all these years as a literary heroine.  She lends herself well to a new coat of paint, commenting on a current social situation that you well know her principles would not allow her to either be neutral about or keep quiet.  Like, who wouldn’t want her blogging about the president right about now?  Epic.

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The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde

This was a re-read.  It was a gift in graduate school and I read it on a solo flight to Iowa to interview for an internship.  I had read Jane Eyre by that point, but this book has a lot going on in it past the Jane Eyre part and I felt back then, in 2007, that it would need another go round.  And it did, even though it was ten plus years later.

This novel takes place in a world where there is still a war being fought with England and characters can come in and out of books, people can slip in and out of time spaces, and just a magical realism sort of world in that magical occurrences are just accepted to be the way of things.  Kind of sci fi with the being able to mess with time and jump into the dimensions of the plot lines of novels or pages of poetry.  Amazon says it’s more alternative history and satire, which, I could see that.  It’s just as I was writing this I was wondering if I shouldn’t have included it with some pending sci fi posts I have on the burner.   But, it is for my re-telling/re-purposing theme and there it will stay.

The protagonist actually has more doings with Rochester than Jane.  When she initially falls into the manuscript at a young age, it is the scene where he meets Jane that she falls into, and he has a lot of time in the book where he is not featured so I guess he has time to step out of the book and get involved in events of this world, like a show down the protagonist Thursday has with the villain Acheron, who is stealing characters out of manuscripts with which to otherwise manipulate the world.   She has more direct talks with him during scenes that he isn’t involved with. I do like that their actions change the end of Jane Eyre and having read it I was interested to remember how they did it.  I thought that added something to the book other than Thursday just trying to defeat the challenging and taunting villain with all sorts of powers and abilities as well as trying to get her own life straightened out.

The book can get a little complicated with political discussions, time/space issues, characters in poems and novels, rules of the magic, silly inventions and a tangly past romance.  There isn’t a wonder that I thought I needed another go round after 2007, but most of the best novels are like that.

I thought this would have more literary references that I would understand better now, but the bulk of the references are Shakespeare, and I have never liked him and I have never grown an appreciation later on as an adult. I still feel like these works intended for common and base entertainment are being upheld as real literature.  Like if people hundreds of years from now found episodes of Jersey Shore or Flavor of Love and made all children familiar with them as part of compulsory education.  That’s what it feels like to me.  But I did like the debate over if Shakes really wrote all these plays.

But it needed a revisit and I am glad I did.

She shed pictures to be revealed soon!  As well as more BookRiot categories.  I like the re-tellings but I can’t help myself when there is a reading list.  I just can’t.

 

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Purgatory and Race. Because summer.

This Sunday I am actually reviewing newer books!

I am always debating with myself about if I need to niche blog to get more readers.  But I can’t.  I just love to read widely and I am gravitating again toward some reading challenges this year.  Admittedly, the books geared toward white women problems suck me in the most and some of the ones outside my favorite genres can feel like a slog, but very often I am glad I have read something outside my genre or picked up an award winner to see what the fuss was about.

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Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders

Now, Audible let me know, in its full Audible marketing glory, that this book is as much a performance piece as it is a book.  The last book that was marketed more as a performance piece was Their Eyes Were Watching God and hands down, that was absolutely the case. I became a believer.  I also want to hang out with the Audible staff.

I saw Lincoln in the Bardo at the library in hardcover and I didn’t even pick it up.  I caught it on audio available at my library (Overdrive…if you have not tried it as part of your local library and you love audiobooks…seriously…get it together ;)) and I am sure something would be lost by just reading. It is like the Her Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen and how I mostly prefer them in audio because of Katharine Kelgren’s artistry with the cast of British characters.

And in case you cannot read further without knowing, a bardo is the period where a soul is between death and rebirth.  So, to me, purgatory.   The voices are souls caught in the graveyard where Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie is buried after succumbing to typhoid and Abe comes in to visit him continually and open his casket and look in on his body as a way to wrestle with that special soul crushing grief of burying a child. There are stories of people’s lives and what is unrealized that makes them stuck, against the background of the Civil War, interwoven with a heartbreaking narrative that very much humanizes the ill-fated sixteenth POTUS.

And it took me way longer to pick out David Sedaris’ voice than I care to admit.  I have listened to him in person and on the New Yorker fiction podcast. He is a major narrator and I forget that his voice is as effeminate as he is.  But he fits the character perfectly.

I still think Their Eyes Were Watching God is the best narration of a book, but this is a close second.  And I have to also admit it took me awhile to catch onto a few things, like their word for casket, and what was always going on, but my focus has also been crap lately and I feel better that my staff has admitted theirs to be on equal footing.

 

the sellout

The Sellout, Paul Beatty

Last summer, when the Man Booker Prize longlist rolled out, I perused it with my dad for something we both might like to read.  The Sellout never had an appeal to me in the blurb, in fact I have since bought four of the long listers since, but then it won.  I bought it for us to read only because it won and after The Luminaries I’ll put some faith in the selection committee.

It’s absolutely hilarious and I know I will have to read it again. The prologue felt a little frenetic to me, and it almost lost me the night I picked it up out of insomnia, but I pushed through it.  I told my father to start with Chapter one and then circle back to the prologue when he is done because the prologue makes more sense once you have read it.   Like, if you want to explore the modern state of race relations and laugh like hell, this is it.  I hope my father likes it, as he can abandon the likes of Stephen King when the one character he likes dies and he is a bit more old school than myself. And it is heavy on psychology metaphors which makes perfect sense to me with my doctorate in it, but I don’t know how much the layperson knows about basic psychology, so how funny it would be.  But it’s a biting and entertaining satire that the whities need to stay on track with racial sensitivity.  And I mean that.

Delightfully, I also took a week off in the coming week.  I am still a staycationer, with being able to have my son in school while I relax/catch up on house or life stuff.  Write in Dunkin Donuts or something.  Read compulsively and live the dream.  Hopefully train, but motivation lately has been a little rough.  Family trips will be forthcoming…when he is just a tiny bit easier.

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