My Life by Anton Chekov

Sometimes it can really help to have a professor guide your reading. This was one of those times.  I was well over halfway through Anton Chekhov’s novella My Life translated by Constance Garnett before I could decide just how satirical it was. To be honest before I could decide if it satirical or not. There is a lot of Russian literature from Mr. Chekhov’s day dealing with the … Continue reading My Life by Anton Chekov

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

I realize my sample size is basically two, but what is it about Japanese writers and cats? If you’re a fan of Haruki Murakami, then you know his interest in cats. They are such a strong presence in his novel The Wind-up Bird that they cast something of a shadow on the rest of his writing.  Do all his books feature a cat? No? The Guest … Continue reading The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

Sometimes it’s very hard to pin down why you love a book. Denis Johnson’s very short novella, I found it on a list of brilliant books you can read in a day, tells the story of an abbreviated life.  Robert Grainier is a day laborer in the American West circa 1910.  He never amounts to much.  There isn’t much to tell about his life.  He … Continue reading Train Dreams by Denis Johnson

Of Flesh and Fur by Duncan Barlow

It’s not easy to find these books.  Small, very small, independent press books each of them clearly a labor of love at every step of the way. I found The Cupboard Press at a writer’s and writing conference in Los Angeles last year, two young people sitting at a table in the vast exhibition hall.  I liked their little books, each small enough to fit … Continue reading Of Flesh and Fur by Duncan Barlow

The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan and The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling

It’s just happenstance.  Pure random phenomena that led me to read Karan Mahajan’s highly praised novel The Association of Small Bombs right after reading Rudyard Kipling’s classic novella The Man Who Would Be King.  I didn’t mean to do it.  I didn’t even know Mr. Mahajan’s novel took place in India. I did know about Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King from the very entertaining John Huston film … Continue reading The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan and The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Long into the night Marco Polo sits in Kublai Kahn’s palace telling him about all the cities he has visited, cities the Kahn will never get the chance to see. This is the premise for Italo Calvino’s wonderful novella Invisible Cities translated from the Italian by William Weaver. Each of the short chapters describes one city.  After a few chapters, the dialogue between Marco Polo and Kublia Kahn … Continue reading Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

The Square by Marguerite Duras

All Paris parks are the Luxembourg Gardens as far as I’m concerned. C.J. and I arrived early for the matinee.  (Everything David Sedaris says about going to the movies in Paris is true.) Time to kill and no money to spend, the Luxembourg Gardens just up the street. Thirty minutes later and both of us are tempted to skip the movie in exchange for an … Continue reading The Square by Marguerite Duras

A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert

I was surprised by how this book touched me. Translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell, Gustave Flaubert’s A Simple Heart  tells the story of Félicité , a lifelong servant, and her search for someone to love. Félicité lives a very limited life, only rarely leaving the home of Madame Aubain her employer for over fifty years.  In her youth, Félicité has one great love who abandons her … Continue reading A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert

The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy

I see now that I was wrong about Leo Tolstoy lacking a sense of humor.  At Amatuer Reader’s suggestion I took another look at the opening chapter of The Death of Ivan Ilych–it’s pretty funny.  Funny in the same, slightly off-kilter, dark way that Gogol and Dostoevsky are funny. The Death of Ivan Ilych opens with the departed character’s friends arriving to provide comfort to his widow. … Continue reading The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy

The Duel by Heinrich Von Kleist

This is the first of Melville House’s “Duel” series to feature a serious duel.  The others were life or death situations, but they were part of an overall comic or satirical structure that made fun of dueling or at least critiqued it. In Heinrich Von Kleist’s novel, translated by Annie Janusch, the duel is taken seriously by all involved, author included. Set in the late … Continue reading The Duel by Heinrich Von Kleist

The Duel by Giacomo Casanova

A well connected young man, a libertine from Venice, finds himself in trouble with the law.  So he flees to Poland where he finds a place in the royal court. I really want this story to be true. The inside flap of my edition says the novella is a “thinly veiled autobiography” and that it later appears, with a few small changes, in the author’s … Continue reading The Duel by Giacomo Casanova

The Lifted Veil by George Eliot

I’m afraid this one works as a curiosity but not much more. According to the end notes, The Lifted Veil, written just after her first novel, Adam Bede, is Ms. Eliot’s only first person narrative and her only book to deal with supernatural elements.  It’s probably for the best that she gave both up as soon as possible. The Lifted Veil is an entertaining story, overall, about a man … Continue reading The Lifted Veil by George Eliot