Sunday Salon: The Dare Begins; Haruki Murakami vs. Raymond Carver; Goodbye Christa Wolf

TTBR Final Darehe TBR Triple Dog Dare has begun.  I’m on vacation, today is the last day, so I purposely lose track of time, but I think this is the third day of the final TBR Dare. So far so good.

I’ve already “finished” one book that has been on my TBR shelves for years, started another that I bought late last year (December 29 to be exact) and begun a new short story reading project.

For  a couple of years I’ve done the Deal Me In Short Story Challenge that Jay at Bibliophilopolis runs.  Assigning one short story to each card in a deck and then reading which ever story you randomly draw each week.  I lost momentum over the summer, as one sometimes does with reading challenges.   But I do have all these short story anthologies in my TBR stack.

So I’ve set up a little tournament of short stories activity to inspire my reading.  Yesterday I started with two from Raymond Carver’s anthology Cathedral and two from Haruki Murakami’s Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.  Who will win???

I freely admit that I bought this book for its beautiful cover. I’ve been collecting these Vintage paperback editions whenever I find them. A great book deserves great cover art.

I read the first two from each and am pleased to say that I loved all four stories.  This is my first experience with Raymond Carver who, spoiler alert, wins this round.  I loved “Feathers”, the first story in Cathedral.  It reminded me of Ring Lardner’s wonderful 1922 short story The Golden Honeymoon. Both are about an established married couple who encounter another married couple.  In each story, the encounter leaves the first couple with a new view of their own marriage.  Both stories are humorous overall, I laughed several times at each, but Carver’s story has  a darker ending that I don’t think Lardner could have gotten away with in 1922.

In Carver’s story, the first couple Jack and Fran go to have dinner with one of Jack’s co-workers Bud and his wife Olla.  Bud and Olla have an eight-month-old baby and live 20 miles out of town.  Jack and Fran have so far not ventured much outside of their own relationship. Fran doesn’t understand why they need to go, why they need to meet other people.

As soon as they arrive at Bud and Olla’s house a large peacock jumps on the hood of their car.  The evening’s events get strange from there.  They learn that Bud stole Olla away from her first husband, who didn’t love her much.  When they see a plaster set of teeth on top of the television, they learn that Bud paid for Olla’s braces so that she could be as beautiful as she always wanted to.  Olla made the dentist give her the plaster cast he made of her original teeth so  she could always remember how wonderful Bud has been to her.  When Olla finally brings the baby into the room, Jack and Fran are shocked to see how ugly it is.  Olla and Bud dote on their baby son, but even Bud admits the child is ugly.  He says that he has time to work on him and that he’ll be a football star one day.

Meantime the peacock is at the door screaming to be let in.  Olla explains that she always admired the bird of paradise so much so that when Bud had the opportunity to purchase one for her, he did.  She now lets the bird roam the house as well as their yard.  The peacock loves the new baby, plays with him, calms him.  In fact, the baby will not go to sleep most nights until the peacock has had a chance to run his feathered head and neck over him.

Does this not sound like a Haruki Murakami story?  Both of the Carver stories I read this time, “Chef’s House” was the other, had this strange sense of quirky reality that I expect to find in Murakami’s work.  One key difference in my opinion  was that Carver’s stories both dealt with relationships between people while Murakami’s dealt with characters who live more isolated lives.  Murakami’s characters tend to watch what other people do rather than to interact as part of a relationship.

I read “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman”  and “Birthday Girl” for this round.  Each is about a character who meets someone, a family member in one, a stranger in another.  While Carver’s stories were about how people in relationships can still be isolated, Murakami’s characters are isolated and on their own to a much larger degree.  Another key difference is that while Murakami’s stories did contain elements of fancy, neither has much in the way of magical realism at all this time, Carver’s stories made me laugh.  The peacock, the ugly baby, the deformed teeth.  While I love Murakami like a good fan-boy should, he’s never made me laugh.

For making me laugh, I’m giving Raymond Carver the win.  Though both collections are excellent so far.

I tried to read a couple of Christa Wolf stories this week but failed.  I read one but didn’t get it at all, tried another and gave up.  Christa Wolf is a German Author who lived in the former East Germany.  She was considered one of its intellectual stars, an author who worked for justice, but was later discovered to be one of the many who worked for the Stasi as an informer.  I read her novel Cassandra a few years ago and loved it.  So much that   I’ve continued to try reading her only to fail at it  until today. Today I am giving my copy of “What Remains and Other Stories” to my local Friends of the Library book sale.  I find that as I get older, I have less and less patience with books.  This week I returned Satin Island by Tom McCarthy after reading only 30 pages.  And I read ever other chapter of the final 100 pages of the book I’ll be reviewing for tomorrow.  

Yes, I’ll be reviewing a book I didn’t finish. It’s come to that.

Next week I plan on having my students calculate how many books they can read this semester if they read 20 minutes per night on school nights.  For most of them this will come to 5 to 9 books based on their words-per-minute rate and an average of 40,000 words in a middle grade book.  My hope is that when they see just how many books they can read in a few months with so little time spent reading that they’ll be inspired to do it.  We’re also going to play Book Bingo this semester with prizes, so that may help, too.

Doing this has me thinking that no matter how many books I read per year, 70 to 90 typically, it will be a finite number.  I have 213 books in my TBR pile and 240 in a re-read pile that I’m saving for retirement.  At my reading rate those 453 books will take five to seven years to read.  Meantime, you all are pointing me towards even more wonderful books out there that I simply must read and at age 52 I am in the spring semester of life. At about 80 books a year, should I love to be 100 I’ll be able to read another 3,800 or so books.

So who has time for stuff you’re not loving?  I mean really loving.  Liking a book is fine, too, but shouldn’t we try stick to the stuff we love when there is so much of it?

That’s the end of today’s ramble.

Now I really do have to get to that stack of papers I’ve been putting off for the past two weeks.

12 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: The Dare Begins; Haruki Murakami vs. Raymond Carver; Goodbye Christa Wolf

  1. Gee, I started the year off with a disappointment. I thought would try a YA book, the plot sounded interesting but it seemed like a stream of consciousness type of book. I ended up ploughing through it and my review. Now having trouble reading a book on Seattle politics. I am looking forward to my win from GoodReads, A Cancer in the Family by Theodora Rose, MD;,Phd. Since I have MGUS (sometime a precursor to Multiple Myeloma a bone marrow cancer), I had a bone marrow biopsy last year. Not only did it have information on my blood cancer genes but on other cancers. So I am getting interested in the genetics of cancer. Then after that! Drum roll, I have books that have sitting on my shelves and I have dying to read them.

  2. I say go straight for the stuff you really want to read and read it for as long as you want to. I hate it that blogging about books tends to turn finishing books into an assignment of sorts, something we feel we have to do. We don’t have to.

    I’m inferring that your health is good from this comment. I hope that is so and that it continues to be good.

  3. Cathy and I are divided on Murakami. She reads everything he does and I have stopped. Once I twigged that almost every novel features a very plain man that women find irresistible I just got more and more irritated. Probably this is just jealousy but I like to think it is for a much, much higher-minded reason.

    1. He’s clearly an author who divides reader into love him/hate him or maybe love him/meh. I’ve read a pretty big majority of his work, and I love him. You are right in your critique, but I think it’s true that most authors fall into a meta-story they write over and over again. As long as I don’t read too much of him at once, I’m okay with it.

      1. I think I broke your rule and over did it with him early on. My first book by him was Windup Bird which I thought was just brilliant and I’d like to reread. I should probably have a look at his stuff again. The last one I read was his non-fiction on the Tokyo gas attacks which was good. I think it might be like Woody Allen films. Sometimes it’s good when he’s not in them.

  4. Thanks for your “old age …don’t have to read it… I”. I need to remember that.

    🐒 Joyce Voge Derr🌹 “We’re each given one life, and it is our job to make it useful, beautiful and fulfilling “. S.Jio


  5. Sometimes I think about running out of time to read all the books I want to read… I am a good bit older than you and have at least 1000 books that are unread. I wonder if I will read them all and I am focusing more on reading what appeals at the moment. Sometimes, though, I find that I do love a book that I thought would be too gritty or too cozy or too uncomfortable.

  6. James, I’m 67 and reading as fast as I can…and the realization that I will never read all the books I want to read hit me hard about the time I turned 60. I’ve been keeping a list of the books I read since February 1, 1970…a lifetime ago, years that include me just out-of-school, just married, a young father, a mid-career businessman, and finally a retiree. For the last few years, I’ve read about 120 books a year but over the whole span of years it’s averaged at something under 65 per year. And I’ve only read 2,952 books to this point. I’d like to think that I have another 3,000 in me at my current rate of reading, but who knows? It’s going to fun trying, though.

    1. I’ve kept lists of books I read each year for many years but not for continuous years, I have one for three years grades 7 to 9 for example, but your list dating to 1970 makes me a bit jealous.

      And it will be fun trying to read all those books, yes, it will.

  7. I’m not hugely keen on short stories and in fact I’m eyeing a set that’s coming up on my TBR but is labelled “startling and provocative” with unease right now. And I agree – one becomes less patient with books OR better at not wasting time pushing through those that are not great. I only had 4 DNFs last year, but that’s because I’m getting better at selecting out those I really don’t fancy. Happy reading for 2016 – hope you get through that TBR pile!

  8. Its taken me a while but I’m slowly coming around to the realisation that its perfectly ok not to push on to the end of a book i’m not enjoying. My other lightbulb moment is that newly published books are not necessarily better than the ones I already have in my private library so why do I feel compelled to want to read the new stuff??

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