[A blog post retrieved from 20 June 2008.]
Don Lemna, When the Sergeant Came Marching Home (Holiday House 2008)
Stieg Larsson (translated Reg Keeland), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005, Quercus 2008)
Jacob G. Rosenberg, Behind the Moon (Five Islands Press 2000)
joanne burns, an illustrated history of dairies (Giramondo 2007)
David Sedaris, When you are engulfed in flames (Little, Brown 2008)
Cornelia Funke, Inkspell (Scholastic, Chicken House 2005)
In the last week and a bit I’ve been to a workshop in the US, which involved large slabs of time in planes and airports and close to 24 hours in a Golf Country Club in Taiwan, the latter because my Taipei–Sydney flight had vanished from the schedule. I’ve had lots of bloggable adventures, but for now, here is What I Read:
Sydney–Taipei: I first met When the Sergeant Came Marching Home years ago in the form of four short stories submitted to The School Magazine. We published them with the series title, ‘Scenes from a Canadian Childhood’, and reprinted them more than once. Now, in hard covers and with an overall narrative arc, they’re still a joy: two boys come to terms with their father’s return from killing Nazis and almost immediately uprooting them and their mother from their suburban lives to take on the life of a struggling farmer. For the book, someone has decided to transplant the farm from rural Canada to US-book-buyer-friendly Montana, but other than that the stories are as fresh, their ironic comedy as laugh-out-loud as ever. (The mother is called ‘Mum’ once, and it’s a rare case of a proofing error – if it is one – that gave me pleasure, providing as it does an archaeological trace of the family’s past life as Canadians.)
Taipei–Los Angeles, Los Angeles–Boston: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was recommended to me as ideal plane reading. It’s a Closed Island Murder Mystery that morphs on its way to a predicable surprise ending into a Hunt for a Serial Killer. The original Swedish title translates literally as something like ‘Men Who Hate Women’, which as you might expect reveals a good bit of the plot. The English title has the virtue of focusing the reader’s attention on the novel’s most interesting character; sadly, the alluringly feminine Quercus paperback cover gives a radically false impression of her. But spiky hair, piercings, and a hint of the sociopath probably wouldn’t have sold as many books. It’s the first of three books, will almost certainly be made into a movie, and was in fact perfect plane fare, and the right length for this trip. I finished it soon after arriving in Boston.
Boston, then Boston–Salt Lake City, Salt Lake City– Los Angeles: I also packed two slim vols of poetry, which also turned out to be perfect travel fare: taking up hardly any room, they provided satisfyingly complete short reads before sleeping the sleep of the sleep-deprived and jetlagged; they were excellent for quelling panic when I turned out to have been booked on a non-existent flight with nothing to do but wait for my name to be called on the hastily found alternative; and when on this flight and in Taiwan I found myself bookless, they bore rereading.
So I consider myself in Jacob G. Rosenberg and joanne burns’s debt, even though many of the former’s poems, despite giving the initial impression that they are a sonnet sequence, read like fairly prosaic notes on the way to his wonderful memoirs East of Time and Sunrise West (as if the gruelling subject matter made attention to anything much more than bald narration seem pernickety), and I read a number of the latter’s offerings with bemused incomprehension. Inspired by Jeanette Winterson on The Book Show, however, I spent a good bit of this leg of my travels memorising poems, and they richly repaid the effort. For the record, I can recite number xii of jb’s ‘diversions’ (beginning ‘The wall longs to be rubble’) and her lovely elegaic ‘ecce’. From JGR’s book, I have taken possession of ‘My Sister Pola’, one of the Holocaust poems.
Los Angeles–Taipei: I don’t suppose Los Angeles Airport is anyone’s favourite place in the whole world, but it’s just moved down a peg or two in my affections. After queuing for maybe a total of an hour to check in, to have my check-in baggage x-rayed, to pass through immigration and to submit to a shoeless personal security check, I discovered that if I wanted a book to read over the next 25 or possibly (and as it happened, factually) 49 hours, I had a grand total of 16 books to choose from. The spanking new collection of David Sedaris essays was the only one that beckoned to me, and it proved to be a diverting read. Sedaris’s charming self deprecation and irony sometimes makes it hard to hear his more serious voice, but it is there, and the book offers meditations on death and lyrical celebrations of his beloved partner Hugh without becoming unreadably earnest. The long section on giving up smoking while holidaying/vacationing in Tokyo is full of delights. I decided two things, however: if possible, I’ll take any future Sedaris aurally, because he’s much funnier and more moving that way; and I’ll read some essays by Montaigne, originator and master of the form.
Taipei: The search for something to read continued in my enforced 24 hour layover: nothing but golf magazines and a 14 year old tourist booklet in the Miramar Golf Country Club, which was also miles from the nearest shop of any kind, let alone English-language bookshop. An anguished email home (thank heavens there was an Internet nook) gave rise to much merriment.
Taipei–Sydney: It was a relief on arriving at Taipei International Airport to discover there was a bookshop, even though it had only a couple more English-language books than LAX: the choice boiled down to The Kite Runner for 530 new Taiwan dollars or Inkspell for 350. I opted for the children’s book, sequel to the marvellous Inkheart. I’ll write about it when I’ve read more than 50 pages (because, yes, I slept, and even watched a movie).