Moving…

Hello all.

This is just a very quick note to say I am moving over to a different blog. There are many different reasons behind this move. Most are dull. The main one is because I have begun to dislike this blog. The word ‘Discs’ just makes no sense any more and there are far too many jumbled ideas and no cohesive thoughts. For me, this blog doesn’t seem the best place for me to chat about books anymore (also, OMG, so much spam!). Anyway…

I won’t be deleting this blog as there are links around pointing here for interviews with authors, etc. I do hope you swing by and keep reading my thoughts on books and my inane projects. Please do come along to utterbiblio.wordpress.com and see what’s going on.

Thank you for visiting Dog Ear Discs over the last two years (ish), you are all lovely.

Kisses

x

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

9780701187880Karen Russell is one of the most exciting authors currently working. Her appeal comes from both her beatific writing and her extraordinary imagination. Considering she has only authored one novel and another short story collection, her work is something to look forward to. Vampires in the Lemon Grove is a welcome return to short fiction by the powerhouse of the bizarre and surreal.

As with any collections of short stories, there are some misses, but thankfully there are only a couple here. In fact, they’re not bad stories, they just don’t hold up next to the others. For example, the titular story is well written and contains a unique idea that pulls a reader in, but compared to say ‘The New Veterans’ it loses power. The idea of vampires living out their days in Italy and sucking the juice from lemons rather than the blood of people is witty and appealing – particularly in our current phase of vampire fiction. However, with ‘The New Veterans’ Russell tackles something as poignant as the war in the middle east and adds her flair.

This was easily my favourite story in the collection. A soldier returns home from war and is recommended for deep tissue massage to help with his post traumatic stress. When he lays on the massage table he reveals a tattoo that covers his back and captures a scene from his time in the war. It all sounds rather mundane until the massage therapist begins to work and she interacts with the tattoo on a different level. She finds she can move the position of the sun which changes the soldiers mood, or she can push his fears away by manipulating other aspects of his artwork. Suddenly the story transforms into something infinitely magical while also bringing many emotions off of the page.

While not as sombre, ‘The Barn at the End of Our Term’ is another story that shines for its absurdities. Here the reader meets a stable full of horses which wouldn’t be unusual until we discover that the horses are long dead American presidents reincarnated. They still hold their grudges and they still want the power, but Russell spins it in such a way as to keep you laughing while genuinely pondering death and what lies beyond.

The third story in the collection was the biggest miss for me. The idea of seagulls bringing pieces of the future into the past on a beach is quirky but loses meaning as the story progresses. Whereas ‘Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating’ takes something equally ludicrous and makes you wonder why it has never been written before. The idea of people travelling to the Antarctic to support either the whales or the krill in the annual feasting is intriguing before you even read the first word. I’m Team Krill ’til I die, by the way.

I’ve read this collection over the last month and I suppose the test of time is perhaps a good indication of the quality of the fiction. The better stories are still lodged in my brain today and they are as vivid as the day I read them. Particularly the women who are turned into silkworms.

As I’ve mentioned, the collection is funny and also surreal. There is a bounty of magical realism to behold, but Russell also steps into the realms of fear, as seen in the closing story, which truly set me on edge. It’s clear to see why Karen Russell has such a following. Her ideas and prose are astonishing and the odd damp squib of a story can be expected. They don’t really matter in the context of the book, the brilliance completely outweighs the not so.

Published by Chatto & Windus. This book was kindly sent for review by the publisher.

Fresh Start

Below are three questions I have been asking myself over the past couple of weeks…

  • As a sufferer of Depression, Anxiety and an “Obsessive Personality Disorder” (Wheeee, now there’s a diagnosis!) do I feel confident doing what I do here?
  • Am I being the best blogger I can be?
  • Am I the best writer I can be?

Recently, for one reason or another I have taken a hit to my confidence. I have found myself doubting my own opinions and abilities. I have just finished writing a review of Benediction by Kent Haruf, a book I am very passionate about, and yet I felt as if I’d said everything before. The writing was dull, it lacked any character…

Add to this that I have felt a little jaded recently towards blogging and it explains the lack of posts here and, possibly, the drop in confidence. For some time now I’ve had about six reviews that have needed writing and each time I sit to put down my thoughts I freeze. I end up closing the laptop and picking up a book to read instead. It’s not because I don’t like blogging – I love it. It’s not because I’ve read bad books – they’ve mostly been brilliant. I think I pushed myself into a hole and am struggling to climb out.

The three questions above keep cropping up. I am not navel gazing (to quote a friendly blogger) and I’m not looking for sympathetic head tilts, but it is true, I do suffer from those problems. My every day routine is full of nuances from those disorders that I have to battle. Only the slightest slip in confidence is enough to make me want to hide under the duvet and never come out. One day I may write a little more about how these things affect me on a day to day basis, but let’s just say they’ve thrown an emotional spanner in the works.

I don’t feel I’m a very good blogger. I am inconsistent and while I would love my OCD to push me to blog more often, it sadly doesn’t. So, I’m going to impose a rule for myself that I’m not allowed to move on to the next book until I have reviewed the one I’ve just finished and at least scheduled it on here. I also feel as if my writing never truly conveys what I want to say, so I need to work out how to do better. I have started writing for other websites and literary journals, so I am hoping that working under an editor helps to flesh out my writing a little more. I am declaring a fresh start. I will be writing mini reviews of the books that are waiting to appear on the blog (which will appear tomorrow) and from then on I will try to be more consistent.

I don’t tend to delve into my private life here that much, but I just wanted to say thank you to those people who pop by and read my ramblings, to those who comment and my very good Twitter friends. It has helped greatly while I have been going through recent problems in life. I don’t think people truly realise how much of an effect they can have on somebody through something as minuscule as this book blog. A few months ago I went through a very dark time in my life (for the second time) and my family and friends (both IRL and through book blogging) helped me to carry on.

Here’s to a fresh start!

Benediction by Kent Haruf

9781447227526And Kent Haruf does it again. After my love bubbled over for Plainsong and Eventide, I was concerned about reading the last instalment in the Holt trilogy. I fell in love with certain characters and my mind was comfortable with how Eventide ended. There was a fear that Haruf couldn’t win me over again. I kept putting off reading it for that reason, but also because I knew that when I read it the story would end. Obviously I pulled myself together and sat down to read.

As with Eventide, the story doesn’t follow a set of characters. The Holt trilogy takes a snapshot of life from different perspectives and leaves you to mull it all over. There is no real beginning or end, Haruf only gives you the middle and you’re okay with that. I didn’t approach Benediction thinking that I would meet old friends or that storylines would be wrapped up in a bow. That isn’t what these books are about.

Benediction introduces us to Dad Lewis, a character called so because he is a dad and Dad is dying of cancer. We find this out very early on and the book follows the emotions that result from that situation. Other characters will pass in and out, such as the new preacher in town and his son, but we will always come back to Dad much like we did with the McPheron brothers. But I don’t want to write about the story; I want to write about how the book made me feel.

As with the previous books, Benediction took me through a range of emotions because of the skill with which Haruf writes. The author has the power to use pensive sentences to hollow out your heart and fill it with memorable characters. Each sentence has a delicate touch. The structure is simple and the book is stronger for it. By using such sparse language the emotion seeps out of the page more effectively. The book has a bittersweet tinge to it, in that Haruf will never allow his cast to rise above their issues and solve all their ills.

Kent Haruf is a true master at his craft. I’ve just read back over the previous 360 words and realised not one of them has any power to them. The Holt trilogy has had such an impact on me that it renders me rather dumb for words. I honestly don’t feel as if I can articulate my passion for these novels. Benediction is a jewel that can nestle well with the others and I am sad that it has all come to an end. I may be very new to Kent Haruf, but I can say that I have found a new favourite author whose books are more powerful than I can truly express.

Published by Picador. This book was kindly sent for review by the publisher.

Cuban Dreams

cuban-flag-oldI blame this project idea on Stu. Recently I’ve been reading more and more translated fiction and also chatting to Stu on Twitter. I always enjoy reading fiction from other countries and as Stu dedicates his blog to doing just that, it’s only right that I say I am wonderfully inspired by him. Now, I hope this project works, it will be tough to work it all out, but I will give it a damn good go.

In May 2008 my wife and I flew to Cuba for our honeymoon. While we were there we experienced both the luxuriant beauty, but also the poverty that wracks the country. I fell in love with the people and made some very good friends while we were there. The Cuban people are the most friendly and warm. Despite many of them having nothing, they give, give, give. I remember a tour guide of ours who took us into the town of Morón telling us that he qualified as a high school teacher, but gave up his dream of teaching in order to work in tourism because the money was so much better. While he smiled, you could see a sadness in his eyes and over coffee he explained how much it hurt  to admit such a thing.

On the same trip, the beauty of the people shone in one specific moment. We were drinking in a bar and listening to a Cuban band play when suddenly there was a massive crack of thunder that shook the building. The first rain of the year had arrived and with the grounds so parched, this became a sudden cause for celebration. Within moments we were pulled to our feet to celebrate and dance in the rain with the locals. I’ve never seen such smiles for rainfall and it humbled me, made me thankful for what I had at home. As we left the bar we walked through the rivers running down the road and watched children splash in the gutters, a picture of joy.

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I miss being there, I miss the smiles, I miss the sounds. So, in May I am aiming to read Cuban fiction. I want to spend the entire month reading Cuban translated fiction and Cuban authors, but this will depend on just how many books I can gather together. So far, I have a small list of books that I will attempt to obtain. Here’s the list:

  • Explosion in a Cathedral by Alejo Carpentier
  • The Lost Steps by Alejo Carpentier
  • Three Trapped Tigers by Guillermo Cabera Infante
  • Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas
  • Adios, Hemingway by Leonardo Padura
  • Dirty Havana Trilogy by Pedro Juan Gutierrez

If there are any books you think I’m missing or want to recommend, please let me know. Also, if you have any tips for places to buy them from (that isn’t Amazon) shout. The plan will be to read them in some sort of order so if people want to join in, they can. I will update my progress on Twitter, Goodreads and of course, on here.

Short Thoughts – Bettering Myself by Ottessa Moshfegh

Short Thoughts is a new feature on the blog that will highlight short fiction, essays and creative nonfiction that I have been reading.

Bettering Myself by Ottessa Moshfegh
Featured in Spring 13 issue of The Paris Review.

This story is a heartrending snapshot of an alcoholic depressive who teaches in a Ukrainian school in New York. The story opens with delicate descriptions of the school and as the tale progresses it becomes darker and littered with seedy ideals. It’s a blackly funny story that highlights the mannerisms and behaviour that comes to this woman in her life.

The desperation in her life is hinted at in the second paragraph “I kept a down filled sleeping bag in the back of the class” it is revealed after that this is to sleep off constant hangovers between classes. It goes further and spirals into a trough filled with booze and mistaken sex.

Her interactions with students often brings the comedy as she is truthful with them, blunt in fact. She is open about her occasional forays with sex and often puts her head on her desk and asks her failing students for help. The atmosphere of the story is summed up easily “The floor was black-and-piss-colored checkerboard linoleum. The walls were shiny, cracking, piss-colored walls.”

The writing was tight and witty, the story entertaining, but I wish it lasted slightly longer. The ending was rather abrupt but fitting for the story, I just wanted to see more of the downward slope of the central character. I came away very interested in reading more from Moshfegh and I hope it follows the same vein as this short piece.

The Son by Michel Rostain

9780755390793It is true that each book can have particular and individual effects on different readers. Michel Rostain’s debut will be a book that leaves each member of its audience with a little something, but each will vary greatly. I’ve always seen reading as a way of escaping our world, but I also see it as a way of connecting with our souls. In order to fully appreciate something we must connect with it at the most basic of levels – emotion.

It is emotion that connects us to artwork, or music, or writing. It doesn’t matter what emotion is experienced as long as you connect. Not everyone can look upon the same painting and feel the same outcome. And so certain stories will resonate with different perspectives. The story within The Son is one of parental bereavement and the foundation of grief is experienced differently from person to person.

Some may see within the startling depictions of loss, similarities between the cast and their own experiences, whether they be a grandparent, parent, or indeed, a child. Michel Rostain gets right to the point with his words, there is no preambling – we are launched directly into his characters misery. Where as so many books can be described as a rollercoaster ride or a journey, The Son is more of a plateau with a small ridge at the edge. This is a story of loss and only that, there can be no “happy ending” to such a story. Grief is almost eternal.

Of course, I speak from experience as a bereaved parent. My daughter didn’t die from disease as Lion, the titular son, did. She died due to an accident, due to a wrong time, wrong place situation. I can relate to nearly every nuance of sadness and madness that Rostain displays. This is, after all, partly autobiographical. His displays of the truth of his and his wife’s emotion is there for you to either relate or learn. Each low is exactly described with such a deft skill that those who haven’t yet lost somebody can open a window into a mind wracked with bewilderment.

I felt connected to Rostain in a way I have never felt with another author, but of course, this may be missed on other readers. But then, the similarities of symptoms are worldwide, we all grieve and so I believe that anyone can walk away from this novel with a connection.

The idea that Lion is narrating the book from beyond the grave is an interesting concept and one that plays the heartstrings with even more gusto. However, at times the emotion seems presumed, after all Lion is dead, he cannot know how his parents feel exactly. But then, we must remember that the writer has lived this tale. In that way, the book doesn’t sit as comfortably as I would like. But, this is a minor issue and one that perhaps I only picked up on due to my own life experience.

It is understandable why Rostain is an author on many lips. Aside from his obvious connection with his story, The Son shines for many other reasons. Most importantly is the writing style that is used and translated wonderfully by Adriana Hunter. Each sentence is generally clipped and staccato giving the underlying emotions that extra punch needed to drive home its message. One aspect that I loved, but may not please all readers, is the lack of separating situations. Many small anecdotes roll into one larger page of text in a stream of consciousness. This adds to the maddening feel of bereavement in how the mind marches back and forth from each tale and from important to the trivial.

On the rear of my proof copy of the book is the tagline “This is not a book about death. It’s a book about life”. To some extent this is true as it follows the living from the view of the deceased. However, it is more a book about what makes us who and what we are. How we are made and how fragile we are, no matter our size, stature or strength. It is a book about people.

Published by Tinder Press. This book was kindly sent by the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

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