Hello, 50bookchallenge! I've actually been doing the challenge all year (I did it last year,
too), but my reading habits have been kind of iffy this year. I probably won't make it to 50, though I may make it to 40 or so. Anyway, here we go:
1.The World of Apples
by John Cheever
Cheever is a legendary chronicler of middle-class, mid-century ennui (and is a big reason why to this day, so many short-fiction authors focus on the suburban experience). I hadn't really read any Cheever before, and I was expecting sober social-realism, so I was surprised at how vivid and how strange (and how funny) these stories are: hallucinatory imagery and bizarre scenarios, gracefully woven into relatable, mundane, east coast suburban settings (and some stuff in Italy, too). Cheever's tone can be overly condescending at times (and, for such a short book, there seems to be a lot of cruel or manipulative women in here), but a writer of his abilities can get away with such things...
by Knut Hamsun
Translated from the Norwegian and with an introduction by Sverre Lyngstad
1890; translation and introduction from 1996
Hamsun is an innovative, influential Norwegian novelist; winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1920 (he was also, towards the end of his life, an unrepentant Nazi sympathizer; I tried not to think about that too much while reading this book). This novel, Hamsun's first, concerns an emotionally troubled writer as he struggles to maintain his modest life, taken as he is by flights of delusional fancy, bolts of depression, spiritual confusion and, of course, hunger - you sense that Hamsun knows only too well what he's writing about (so well that he can effectively satirize it). It's a sophisticated work which, with it's decidedly non-heroic, introspective approach, must've been pretty weird at the time ("The whole modern school of fiction in the twentieth century stems from Hamsun," says I. B. Singer). But man, is it ever dull. The intriguing bits are separated by long stretches of relative aridity - true to life, I guess, but it makes the book something of a chore.
Sum-up: An important book, but I wouldn't really recommend it
by Jerzy Kosinski
I was expecting this short, satirical novel to have a didactic or essay-like tone - to be the sort of thing that strives mainly to prove some sort of point. It's not. There's certainly an air of remove to this book - it's aloof and cool-headed throughout - but there's a psychological depth to it, too. It's a satire of media culture (the plot revolves around an unwitting celebrity) that brings up a lot of ideas around human interaction, socialization and selfhood. In other words: don't let the aloofness fool you - there's a lot going on in here.
by Imre Kertész
Translated from the Hungarian by Tim Wilkinson
2003; translation from 2004
I know it's reductive and unfair to focus too much on the formative traumas that artists go through - we're more than just our suffering, after all - but it seems impossible to talk about Kertész's work without mentioning that he is himself a survivor of Auschwitz. From what I've seen (Kertész is one of my favorite authors), his writing all seems to relate to the ways in which the Holocaust represents a sort of total break, a schism between Before and After - in history, philosophy, morality, and even in friendships, families and romances. This book tells a fairly short, simple story (about a lost book and a love affair), while getting at huge philosophical themes - sometimes through subtle shifts and hints, and sometimes by addressing ideas directly. It was rewarding to read through this book once, but it almost seems like you could reread it endlessly and discover something new every time.
Sum-up: Both simple and complex; recommended
5.Eternal Curse on the Reader of These Pages
by Manuel Puig
Contrary to what some people think, Puig's most-remembered writings are novels, not plays: his novels are so heavy on dialogue that they lend themselves well to dramatic interpretations (most famously, the film and Broadway musical versions of his 1976 novel "Kiss of the Spider Woman"). "Eternal Curse…" is written almost exclusively in dialogues between the two main characters: a wheelchair-bound old man with an ailing memory and a mysterious past, and the relatively young, world-weary intellectual hired as his caretaker. It's engaging, evocative, and even suspenseful in an odd sort of way; it's also unlike anything else I've ever read - a unique book about power, interpersonal relationships, and the strange logic of the human mind. It's the first thing of Puig's I've read; I'd definitely like to read more, very soon.
Sum-up: Unique and compelling