I gallop apace. From a tentative two books a month I’ve reclaimed my past normal of 4 books at the same time. Reading challenges continue to give me the courage to work my underused novel-reading muscle. The Morning News has a summer one (started last year, I think?). I never read all the selections: I look for author names that don’t sound white with exceptions made for books in translation/favourite authors/favourite genres.
Census counted as a favourite author’s title. My love for Jesse Ball is not at all equal to what I’ve read from him–a few poems and a Paris Review short story about a decade ago. His unique, quiet, arresting voice took up space in a corner of my reading mind and never left. I bought his first novel but never got around to it–buried in the interminable TBR pile–and so went the rest. The challenge’s schedule kept me disciplined and my approach afforded me unlooked for flexibility. I didn’t commit to all the books so I started Census long before its July slot. However, I found myself adrift among the book’s pages. I enjoyed Ball’s voice, as always, but the story’s parts hung haphazardly on my mind’s clothing line; lots of gaps and pieces only just hanging on. Since I had reached the halfway point ahead of schedule I decided to reread it up to chapter G again to see if I would understand it any better. Oooh, what satisfaction. I doubt I would have done this without a challenge structure and the promised discussion with TMN’s featured moderator, “judges”, and commentariat.
I fell back in sync with Rebel Women Lit’s selections for summer. The July title is The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline. Reader, it is not going well. It turns out I am weary of dystopian futures and teenage protagonists. I am not a devoted science fiction reader but this subgenre has taken over film and television as well as books, and it has become a bore. Here is all this creative energy put into imagining our destroyed futures. Nutten else cyaan gwaan fi wi? If the writing were stylistically daring or inventive I could muster some excitement but they are all, to a fault, straightforward first or third person narrations in which earth is destroyed all is dark where is hope oh here it is nestled within this charismatic child and may she lead us to a brighter tomorrow the end. I went through something similar with Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone but the fantastical Nigerian setting and the nuanced relationship between the two main female characters kept me in long enough to reach the gripping climax. I hoped The Marrow Thieves’ First Nation leads would do the same for me but its beginning is not as compelling. We are already in the scorched landscape, in a surviving forest, by the fire, the elder about to drop that secret knowledge and gag me if you’ve read, seen, written this your damn self before. I’m about to gag my damn self.
It may get better? It may get better. I may not be in the mood for this kind of work at this time. This is where I ought to exhort you, dear reader, to recommend all the groundbreaking dystopian titles that will rock my world but it would be a hollow gesture. I have such a lovely collection of fantasy titles in Eastern settings by Eastern authors, who could care. There might even by a dystopian among them secure in its ability to amaze and transform. Yeah? So, it’s okay, it’s okay.
Dear Author, a review blog most popularly known for its romance coverage, expanded its review offerings in the past year or so. It’s not that surprising, then, that it’s conducting a summer read-a-long for Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. I long aspired to become acquainted, even familiar, with the Russian greats, but only ever managed to know Vladimir Nabokov, and just his English works at that. (I started Demons by Dostoevsky back in my Canada years but, though I remember enjoying it, I did not finish it.) So this project is a godsend.
As on my very brief sojourn with Dostoevsky, Bulgakov proves to be a perfect delight. There’s a lot of absurd humour, wry satire, surreal scenes, moonlit conversations in asylums, with a charismatic, devious, nonchalant Satan at the centre of it all in the figure of a Mr Woland, “specialist in black magic”. I enjoy the metafictional weavings which slip from the main thread to a chapter belonging to one of the character’s novels, which Bulgakov presents seamlessly. Classics can have a fusty, formidable reputation; it’s a treat when they end up being a lot of fun.