The Library Basement
Reading under ground

Readings for January 2012

I asked for and received some excellent reading materials this Christmas, and I got started on them in January.

We, The Drowned by Carsten Jensen

And now for something completely different. I spotted We, The Drowned on a featured shelf in my local library. Now I do not often pick up random books - I typically read my trusted authors or recommendations from friends - but on that day I was feeling adventuresome. As it happened, this was an excellent choice to fit my mood.

Carsten Jensen's novel is a multi-generational seafaring epic. It follows the life of a Danish seafaring town through the tumultuous 19th and 20th centuries. The book is by turns comedic and wrenching, always a page-turner The characters are vivid and the plots are on the wild side, but Jensen pulls the whole thing off to great effect.

I really enjoyed reading this, and I recommend it to anyone wanting to try something completely different. The translation was nicely readable, so have no fear on that account. Just sit back and take in a good story.

Periodicals

I had the opportunity to start a new subscription and sample a 'zine this month. Overall I get the feeling that there is a lot of good content out there which I am missing. Here are the magazines I completed this month:

  • Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet #27. I am considering subscribing after enjoying a one-off issue. "The Sale of Midsummer" by Joan Aiken was a favorite short story.
  • Scientific American December 2011. Mark W. Moffett shares a fascinating account of ant warfare. Glad to know that we humans are not unique in depravity.
  • Harper's January 2012. "The pharmacist from Jena" by Michael Dahlie was a memorable short story.
  • Tin House #50. Wow. I am so pleased to be taking a subscription to this magazine (which happens to be published right here in Portland). Great stories, great essays, great poetry. "Beautiful Monsters" by Eric Puchner is a great example of speculative fiction. Loved this and more, and I cannot wait for the next quarterly issue.

Lavinia by Ursula K. LeGuin

I specifically listed LeGuin with Cormac McCarthy as a genre-bender - not only blurring genre lines, but fusing the line between "genre fiction" and "literature." LeGuin is already recognized for both science fiction and fantasy, but withLavinia she adds historical fiction to her repertoire.

Of course it is not your standard historical fiction, as should be expected of LeGuin. The master story teller extrapolates a compelling story from ancient epic poetry. In spite of the plot being a near-total invention, I can tell that LeGuin did her homework in researching ancient Italy for this novel.

As usual, LeGuin keeps her writing short and sweet. Laviniacombines great storytelling with a fascinating premise, and it is definitely recommended.

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