Author Archives: imontgomery

About imontgomery

Researcher, book lover, tea enthusiast.

Bite-sized reviews

Sometimes, a book is best reviewed in miniature. Think of it as an apéritif for the mind:

(Carol Topolski, Fig Tree, 2008, 272 pp)

The story of a the Gutteridges, a young couple that moves into a staid English suburb, and the atrocity that occurs in their home with the murder of their young daughter. It reads a bit like a Law and Order episode; one stark event occurs at the very beginning of the novel and is delved into and expanded upon throughout the story through the eyes of the couple as well as a community that has to deal with the consequences. Topolski uses her psychology background to great effect, as the story progresses we are shown the background of the Gutteridges that offers a chilling explanation for their pathological, obsessive love.  A major problem with what is a fairly solid debut novel is that it comes across as being student work quite often, especially at the end of the novel, which left me very dissatisfied. The Gutteridges seem to become more flat as the novel moves on, and it doesn’t seem entirely intentional.

(Rivka Galchen, Fourth Estate, 2008, 256 pp)

A creative and interesting debut marred by indulging too often in its own cleverness. Leo Liebenstein is an anxious, middle-aged psychotherapist living in New York with his younger charismatic Argentinian wife, Rema. When Rema enters their apartment one day holding a puppy, Leo is certain that his wife has been replaced by an almost-identical duplicate. This realisation marks the start of Leo’s quest to locate the missing Rema while avoiding her persistent clone. He is aided by Harvey, one of his psychiatric patients who has a strange connection to the mysterious the Royal Academy of Meteorology and driven by the mysterious figure of Tzvi Gal-Chen, whose presence and meteorological findings may play an important role in discovering Rema’s location. His quest and growing obsession with Gal-Chen takes him to Rema’s family home in Argentina, where his journey takes a strange turn. Galchen mixes the clinical, distantly intellectual voice of Leo with descriptions that focus on the mundane sensations of married life and the memories they invoke. The book excels in these moments, such as when Leo and Rema discuss fastenings on Tzvi Gal-Chen’s shirt in a photo they’ve acquired, or when Leo reminisces about his mother while in Argentina.  It’s when the story goes too far into its own quirks that the story falters, especially when Leo’s obsession with the Royal Academy of Meteorology grows. It could have also done with a small chop; it is too long and  sputters towards the end. Galchen is definitely a writer to watch; she has taken a story of a man’s possible breakdown and the issues that arise when marriage becomes too expected and takes it to weird and wonderful heights.

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This Week In Publishing

Links to various news and events in the world of books:

 

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Filed under e-books, libraries, links, publishing

This Week in Publishing

Links to various news and events in the world of books:

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Filed under libraries, links, publishing, technology

To Kindle or Not to Kindle?

As the Kindle continues to become a daily part of modern life, the bookworms of Book Sauce are debating its merits! Who will win this battle of ideas? Will any minds be changed and Kindles purchased (or thrown in the scrap heap)? Continue reading for Idroma’s argument against the Kindle:

Sometimes I think that I might be a very technologically-adept Luddite. Despite my constant use of social media, blogs, digital cameras and art-based software, I remain a traditionalist of sorts- especially in regards to books. I’ve expounded on my love of books before, they are the foundation upon which I have learned to engage with the world. I am a bibliophile who edges quite close to the precipice of bibliomania, my house is covered in books that I haven’t yet read because I was taken by the yellowing softness of their pages, a memory evoked or a lovely sense of sturdiness and security. I still feel a sense of wonder and pleasure when coming across a word that I have never seen before. Having to look it up, write it down and sound it out like a child, working out how the syllables should taste on my tongue. I find it a small tragedy that I had to leave behind my dictionary in the States and have not yet bought a new one. I loved the process of looking up words on fragile, thin paper and trying not to be distracted by another word or phrase unveiling its mysteries to me out of the corner of my eye.

My books are my security blanket, a way to always feel grounded no matter where I am in the world. As someone who also has a lifelong textural fixation, I take immense joy rifling through books in shops and libraries. In the British Library, I longed to touch original drafts of Austen and Carroll manuscripts. Never underestimate the importance of touch when dealing with books, it is too part of the experience. But what does this have to do with my traditionalism? Well, it started with Christmas. My mother asked if I wanted a Kindle. This caused a minor crisis.

As someone formerly in the book business, I understand the importance of new technology. I get that publishers have to figure out new ways to be innovative and increase their audience (as well as profit). In this brave new economy, publishers that stay behind the times become extinct really quickly. But dear god, there is something about the Kindle that repulses me. It makes text feel ephemeral in a way that other digital media doesn’t. At least with digital photography (and here I mean proper cameras, not phones. I have issues with camera phones as well), there is the physical act of taking the picture, thinking of composition, of feeling. The camera still feels like an extension of the person taking the picture.

The Kindle makes books feel so insignificant, both in physicality and choice (though I find it interesting that Kindle adverts portray a lo-fi, trendily handmade feel that is in complete opposition to the smooth and sleek object being sold. As if a Kindle can still be folksy and intimate). I don’t want my book selection to be like my mp3 player, full of unlimited selection. I want to be able to put some thought into what books I want to take out on the town with me. I want the small pleasure of looking forward to the book I have specifically chosen to accompany on a journey, of admiring the typeface on the the first few pages, reading the author bio, seeing a nail mark or smudge of polish that shows me that someone else has enjoyed it before me. I want that smell that you can only get with books, the slight acridness of new pages or soft sigh of decay that perfumes old books. Having only one book at your disposal makes you pay attention to the words in a way you just won’t if you know that you can change at anytime.

In a fantastic interview in The Literateur, Zadie Smith discusses that reading off a screen causes casualness with the text. Reading things on computers makes us fragment and misread text, and in some cases removes the author from their creations (for a clear example of this, look at Tumblr). She prints things off if she wants to read them more thoroughly. I don’t think that the Kindle is that far removed from this issue. I think the idea of ownership in regards to the Kindle is problematic as well. Numerous arguments and discussions have been raised about the fact that people do not own their e-books and the fact that they can be removed even after being paid for. There is something that saddens me about not being able to keep something that you may love, and I think it robs readers of control. You can’t share your e-book or pass along your Kindle. It destroys the sense of community that arises around books.

It also helps to jeopardise one of my favourite spaces, the bookshop. Amazon has already done a lot of damage to independent bookshops (and we are all guilty of using it out of convenience, myself included), and the Kindle is just another aspect of this ongoing problem. But something is lost when you can’t walk around a place and pick up something that could possibly change your life. Something is lost when you can’t be spontaneous or emotional or drawn in by a book cover that speaks to you. A Kindle limits you (even in cost it is a machine of privilege). It takes away choice, whether in selection or ownership or the ability to gift others with words and ideas. When I read a book, I want to switch off from technology. I want respite from all my mod cons for just a while. I feel that the Kindle puts me in a convergence of technology, consumerism and ethical questioning that I just don’t want to be in when reading Nella Larsen or Harry Potter. Just this once, I am happy to remain behind the times.

Come back soon for Janie’s argument in favour of the Kindle.

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Review: Eleven Kinds of Loneliness

(Richard Yates, Vintage Classics, 1962, 220 pp)

I was pleased by my first journey into Richard Yates’s writing. In Eleven Kinds of Loneliness, Yates has created a collection of short stories that delve into the intricacies of alienation in post-war America. His stories feature characters that have become Americana icons over the years- from soldiers to suburban children, housewives, expatriates and city businessmen. He expertly dismantles their carefully constructed exteriors in order to let the reader explore how constricting 1950s American life could be for both the privileged and down and out.

His short stories are cinematic and vaguely familiar; we have seen them often in the past decade in cinemas and in shows like the clearly Yates-influenced Mad Men. Yet the characters still feel fresh and contemporary, we know these characters, we have seen aspects of them in ourselves, in our parents and grandparents. I read this collection in three bursts because I was desperate to read more about these haunted lives while also being somewhat hesitant to endure the sometimes raw honesty of sadness contained amongst the pages. Four of the stories have especially stayed with me, “Doctor Jack-O-Lantern” and “Fun with a Stranger” both involving schoolchildren and their teachers; “A Very Good Jazz Piano”, about two Ivy League students on holiday in France; and “Out with the Old”, about veterans with TB and their lives in their ward on the cusp of a new year.

What Yates is masterful at is capturing the sense of transitional anxiety, the fear that surrounds people who are yearning for both their past and their future. These characters are not symbols of nostalgia; they are on the front line of all the social changes slowly occurring around them. They can’t see its effects yet but they can sense it, and it terrifies them. In my favourite stories, this fear and loneliness is intergenerational. In “Doctor Jack-O-Lantern”, a young boy confronts his loneliness and alienation through destruction, while in “Fun with a Stranger” it is schoolchildren who bear witness to their teacher’s loneliness, while compounding it with their lack of understanding. “ A Very Good Jazz Piano” shows inherent loneliness of a life abroad, where a constant sense of thwarted potentiality colours the interactions of two Ivy Leaguers with everyone around them, as well as each other. In “Out with the Old”, TB patients must continually negotiate their previous selves, and all roles they once had, with how they are regarded in their ward and their encroaching obsoleteness. I found this story to be particularly moving; it contained a bittersweet warmth unmarred by sentimentality.

One of the only flaws found in this lovely book is the end piece, “The Builder”. Longer than the other stories, the tone never felt particularly sincere to me. Though this was largely done purposefully- the story centres on a writer asked to write mawkish stories for a cab driver with stars in his eyes- I couldn’t move past the clunky metaphors bandied about by the characters. It didn’t contain the underlying gracefulness of the other stories. Whether this is simply my own preference of wanting some kind of desperate grace or an actual defect of the story, I cannot be certain.

Despite the last tale, Eleven Kinds of Loneliness is a strong collection that is also aided by strong and beautiful cover art. The characters remain with you once you have stopped reading its pages and you realise how much the echoes of their actions reverberate throughout all of us as we attempt to survive the loneliness of the mundane.

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Filed under american, classic, fiction, review, short stories

Salutations!

Book Sauce is an ongoing project between two friends living on two different continents who share a love of the written word. In this blog we will have book reviews, publishing and library news, spotlights on independent bookshops and many other things that strike our fancy. This blog will not be limited to any particular genre because there are too many books out there that deserve to be mentioned. We hope that you enjoy it and come back soon!

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