... and because my TBR clearly still has room for expansion ...
Task the First:
– Read a book that is set in a snowy place.
Dylan Thomas: A Child's Christmas in Wales
Thomas's lyrical memoirs of his childhood Christmas experience, read by himself ... truly magical. One of the books (or CDs) that I revisit every single holiday season.
Task the Seventh:
– Read a book set during the Christmas holiday season.
Donna Andrews: The Nightingale Before Christmas
The year before last's entry in Donna Andrews's Meg Lanslow series: An uninhabited Caerphilly house has been turned into a show house for the local interior designers' pre-Christmas competition, which Meg has agreed to organize (her own mother being one of the contestants, and Meg's involvement as an organizer having been the price for their own house not to be used as the scene of competition) -- as a result of which Meg is having to constantly mediate between the contestants, who keep going at each others' throats hammer and tongs and are, as a whole, more unruly than a bag of wriggling kittens. It doesn't particularly help, either, that there's a student hanging around the place doing research for an article on the competition that she's writing for the local university newspaper, that moreover, packages containing the contestants' orders of items needed in their decorative arrangements keep disappearing, and that at last someone even takes to vandalizing the house and some of the half-arranged rooms, with merely a few days to go to Christmas (and to the advent of the judges). When the most unpopular of the contestants -- whom the others also hold responsible for the disappearance of their packages and for the vandalization of their rooms -- is found murdered, there doesn't seem a shortage of suspects ... except that every single one of the other designers seems to have a credible alibi.
A more than solid, tremendously enjoyable entry in the series ... having read Duck the Halls just before Christmas last year, I'm seriously tempted to hunt down all of Andrews's holiday books and read them, one at a time, before Christmas each year! She truly has a knack for combining a hilarious storyline with fully-rounded characters (however unusual), a homely and comfortably-feeling small-town setting and a lot of warmth, humor, and common sense. Highly recommended!
Task the Seventh:
– Grab your camera and set up a Christmas bookstagram-style scene with favorite holiday reads, objects or decorations. Possibly also a cat. Post it for everyone to enjoy!
Well, the cat preferred to watch the setup from atop the half-empty box of Christmas decorations instead of being part of the picture, but anyway ... here we go! (And yes, that's a real candle again. :) )
Snow Globes: Reads
... thanks to my mom, who gave me a bookstore gift card, my best friend, who raided my Amazon wish list (isn't it nice to know your loved ones know just what you'll be happiest about?) and a few odd things to which I treated myself:
* Die Briefe der Manns (The Mann Family Correspondence) -- newly released
* Anna Funder: All That I Am
* Ilija Trojanow (or Iliya Troyanov, as he's spelled in English): Der Weltensammler (The Collector of Worlds)
* George Simenon: Maigret & Co. (collection of audio dramatizations of Simenon's mysteries)
* Edwidge Danticat: Claire of the Sea Light
* Jim Butcher: The Aeronaut's Windlass
* J.R.R. Tokien: The Lord of the Rings -- the legendary BBC audio dramatization starring Ian Holm as Frodo, Michael Hordern as Gandalf, and Robert Stephens as Aragorn
* T.H. White: The Once and Future King (audio version read by Neville Jason)
* Christopher Paolini: Eragon (audio version read by Kerry Shale)
* Patrick O'Brian: Aubrey / Maturin -- audio versions of the first six novels, read by Robert Hardy
* Sherlock Holmes: A Baker Street Dozen -- audio adaptations of 12 stories, starring John Gielgud (Holmes), Ian Richardson (Watson), and Orson Welles (Moriarty)
* Val McDermid: Splinter the Silence
* Michael Connelly: The Crossing
* Ian Rankin: Even Dogs in the Wild
... and, also courtesy of my friend, Eric Clapton: I Still Do -- and a kitty coloring book!
Belated Happy Birthday. I don't know how much satisfaction there is to you, these days, in having reached an age which the Ayatollah Khomeini and his acolytes never wanted you to reach, but anyway, since I happen to have been reading your memoir of the fatwā years while you were celebrating your 69th, wishing you well on the occasion of your birthday just seemed in order.
Now having said that, could you please enlighten me as to just what the flying f*ck is up with that third person narrative voice of Joseph Anton? The book is subtitled "a memoir," for crying out loud, and that's precisely what it is – the memoir of one Salman Rushdie, author, of the years when he had to deal with a death order issued against him, for having written a book allegedly offensive to Islam, issued by the supreme religious leader of Iran (notice my not putting that in caps, as a title is wont to be) and loudly propagated throughout the entire Islamic world. It is not, in other words, the would-be memoir of one Joseph Anton, like the characters of the much-maligned Satanic Verses a figment of their author's imagination; an alias composed from the names of two of your own favorite novelists (Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov) and slipped on like an ill-fitting glove that you couldn't get rid of again soon enough, or would have, if Special Branch and the Home Office had let you. It is not the memoir of "Rushdie," the maligned author, separated in public opinion – who for obvious reasons were widely ignorant of the mere existence of Mr. Anton – from the Salman you were privately struggling to remain. It is the memoir of precisely that last person: You, Salman – Salman Rushdie –, proud bearer of a last name that your father had intentionally styled on that of the 12th century sage Ibn Rushd (Averroës) for his enlightened views on religion, and on the world in general. And that being the case, the third person narrative voice of your memoir startled the hell out of me right from the very beginning and remained the one jarringly discordant note until the very end.
Oh, I get it:
"When a book leaves its author's desk it changes. Even before anyone has read it, before eyes other than its creator's have looked upon a single phrase, it is irretrievably altered. It has become a book that can be read, that no longer belongs to its maker. It has acquired, in a sense, free will. It will make its journey through the world and there is no longer anything the author can do about it. Even he, as he looks at its sentences, read them differently now that they can be read by others. They look like different sentences. The book has gone out into the world and the world has remade it."
Very astute: Once a book has been published it no longer belongs to its author alone, but to all of us readers, too. (I actually wish there were more authors, particularly these days, who share that feeling.) But that's not really the point here, is it? Because the story doesn't change. And the story isn't that of Mr. Anton, publisher of vaguely international extraction (as his landlords in London would be told by his representatives), nor of "Rushdie," the first-nameless author of "that terrible book," but – pardon me for harping on it – it's your own story. And to be told that story in the third instead of the first person just didn't feel right, however much you may be distancing yourself in your own mind from the "Joseph Anton" as who you had to accept being addressed even by the protection officers with whom you interacted daily, so as to make it easier for them to think of you as Joe and not accidentally slip in a "Salman" when speaking of you. It seems to me that writing this book actually played a large part in your personal reconciliation with those years. Even more so would it have made sense, then, to be written in the first person: which I suspect (and conjecture from at least one instance of a perceivable slip-up in the transition from "I" to "he") it actually has been, initially. Then why, in the name of everything that is precious (I won't use the word "holy" around you), the switch back to a third person narrative perspective that is so clearly in discord with the narration itself?
It's a heartfelt book, full of the wit, sense of humor, passion and irony, and the trenchant analysis that I've come to love in everyone of your works, fiction and nonfiction alike. I won't even try to imagine what daily life during those years must have been like for you, because I'm pretty sure whatever I can conjure up will still be woefully short of the real thing. (For some reason, probably because of the framework setting of The Moor's Last Sigh, I'd always vaguely imagined your hiding place to be somewhere in Spain. Should have figured it had to be somewhere where the British authorities actually had the power to protect you, which obviously meant somewhere right in Britain.) It was also tremendously enlightening to read about the important role that some of the leading lights of the British and international literary scene have played in, variously, shielding you and supporting your cause for well over 10 years; even if I do admit to considerable envy of your ability to name-drop the likes of Paul Auster, Siri Hustvedt, Bruce Chatwin, Günter Grass, Václav Havel, Harold Pinter, Antonia Fraser, Martin Amis, J.M. Coetzee, Robyn Davidson, Carlos Fuentes, Ian McEwan, John Irving and plenty of others, not merely repeatedly but sometimes even in the same sentence or paragraph. My envy is even greater, though, for the fact that you actually have read, and are able to discuss in the most everyday, matter-of-fact tone, more than half of the literary masterpieces that are still languishing on my TBR shelf, which I know I should have read ages ago, too, and am promising myself to do just that on a regular basis – without however actually making much progress in the matter.
So yes, I certainly am glad I have read Joseph Anton: It answered a lot of questions I would have had of you if I ever had the privilege of meeting you in person, it shed light on plenty of things that wouldn't even have occurred to me but for your discussing them, and it reinforced my belief that, albeit on the grounds of circumstances that I personally wouldn't wish on my very own worst enemy, yours is one of the most important voices to be heard these days, on the issues of religious fundamentalism, racism, and freedom of speech, as well as the state of the world at large.
I still would have wished for your memoir to be written in the first person, however. That third-person distancing, to me, made the experience just that tiny fraction of a degree less than it could, and absolutely should have been.
“Nobody ever wanted to go to war, but if a war came your way, it might as well be the right war, about the most important things in the world, and you might as well, if you were going to fight it, be called "Rushdie," and stand where your father had placed you, in the tradition of the grand Aristotelian, Averroës, Abul Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rushd.”
"This was what book reviewing did. If you loved a book, the author thought your praise no more than his rightful due, and if you didn't like it, you made enemies. He decided to stop doing it. It was a mug's game."
"This was the literature he knew, had always known. Literature tried to open the universe, to increase, even if only slightly, the sum total of what it was possible for human beings to perceive, understand, and so, finally, to be. Great literature went to the edges of the known and pushed against the boundaries of language, form, and possibility, to make the world feel larger, wider, than before. Yet this was an age in which men and women were being pushed toward ever-narrower definitions of themselves, encouraged to call themselves just one thing, Serb or Croat or Israeli or Palestinian or Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Baha'i or Jew, and the narrower their identities became the greater was the likelihood of conflict between them. Literature's view of human nature encouraged understanding, sympathy, and identification with people not like oneself, but the world was pushing everyone in the opposite direction, towards narrowness, bigotry, tribalism, cultism and war. There were plenty of people who didn't want the universe opened, who would, in fact, prefer it to be shut down quite a bit, and so when artists went to the frontier and pushed they often found powerful forces pushing back. And yet they did what they had to do, even at the price of their own ease, and, sometimes of their lives."
“When a book leaves it's author's desk it changes. Even before anyone has read it, before eyes other than its creator's have looked upon a single phrase, it is irretrievably altered. It has become a book that can be read, that no longer belongs to its maker. It has acquired, in a sense, free will. It will make its journey through the world and there is no longer anything the author can do about it. Even he, as he looks at its sentences, reads them differently now that they can be read by others. They look like different sentences. The book has gone out into the world and the world has remade it."
Note to the English Speakers out there: I've read the book in German, and not least because of its author and its topic it seemed logical to me for once to write a review in both German and English, and to put the German version first. You'll find the English version of this review if you scroll to the bottom of the German text and the two photos. Also, all quotes rendered in English are my own translations – they may not be identical with the translations of the same quotes in the English edition of Brandt's memoirs, which is entitled My Life in Politics. (Lastly, apologies for the length of this review: This is, however, the sort of book that merits some in-depth consideration if you're going to tackle it at all.)
Als fast auf den Tag genau vor 40 Jahren Beamte des deutschen Verfassungsschutzes an der Tür einer Wohnung im gehobenen Bonner Stadtteil Bad Godesberg klingelten und sich, nachdem ihnen der Wohnungsinhaber geöffnet hatte, in ihrer dienstlichen Eigenschaft auswiesen, entgegnete ihnen der vor ihnen Stehende: "Ich bin Bürger der DDR und ihr Offizier. Respektieren Sie das!" Der Mann hieß Günter Guillaume und war einer der politischen Referenten des damaligen Kanzlers Willy Brandt; mit seinen Namen verbindet sich bis heute der vor- und unzeitige Rücktritt eines der führenden deutschen Politiker der zweiten Hälfte des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts.