03 April 2020

Book Beginning: Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih


Book Beginnings is a weekly meme hosted by Rose City Reader. We share the first sentence (or so) of the book we are reading, along with our initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

It was, gentlemen, after a long absence - seven years to be exact, during which time I was studying in Europe - that I returned to my people. I learnt much and much passed me by - but that's another story. The important thing is that I returned with a great yearning for my people in that small village at he bend of the Nile.


 This book is another of my great finds in the clearance section of my local used bookstore. I had not heard of the author before, but the influential literary critic Edward W. Said proclaimed this novel to be "among the six finest novels to be written in modern Arabic literature". It also fits into my plan to read more translated literature. I'm looking forward to this short novel!

27 March 2020

Book Beginning: In the Wake of the Plague by Norman F. Cantor

Book Beginnings is a weekly meme hosted by Rose City Reader. We share the first sentence (or so) of the book we are reading, along with our initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

In the sixth month of the new millennium and new century, the American Medical Association held a conference on infectious diseases. Pronouncements by scientists and heads of medical organizations at the conference were scary in tone. Infectious disease was the leading cause of death worldwide and the third leading cause in the U.S.A., it was stressed. The situation could soon become much worse.

As the world becomes more of a global village, said one expert, infectious disease could by natural transmission become more threatening in the United States. Here monitoring is lax because of a mistaken belief that the threat of infectious disease has been almost wiped out by antibiotics.


Whew. Talk about timely! I've had this book for quite a while now because as a former microbiologist I am very interested in the history of disease. The subtitle of the book is "The Black Death & The World It Made". Hence I thought it would be of historical interest. Now I'm thinking it might be more relevant to today's problems. We shall see.

20 March 2020

Book Beginning: Plum Bun by Jesse Redmon Fauset

Book Beginnings is a weekly meme hosted by Rose City Reader. We share the first sentence (or so) of the book we are reading, along with our initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Opal Street, as streets go, is no jewel of the first water. It is merely an imitation, and none too good at that. Narrow, unsparkling, uninviting, it stretches meekly off from dull Jefferson Street to the dingy, drab market which forms the north side of Oxford Street.



After reading "Quicksand" and "Passing" by Nella Larsen last month, I read an article about women writers of the Harlem Renaissance, and learned of Jessie Redmon Fauset's book,  "Plum Bun: A Novel Without a Moral". The quote on the book cover says "A fine example of the hidden Harlem Renaissance - where the women were writers too." I'm eager to read this book.




16 March 2020

Otherness Explored

The Mountains of Paris: Awe and Wonder Rewrote My Life
David Oates
Oregon State University Press 2019
178 pages


I am more a reader of fiction or non-fiction science books, but occasionally I dip into other genres, especially when I read good reviews about a book. I follow Rose City Reader's blog, and she often spotlights authors from the Pacific Northwest where she lives. It was there I found "The Mountains of Paris" mentioned. My library didn't have a copy and couldn't borrow one from their network, so they nicely ordered two copies on my recommendation. Hurray for libraries!




For me this memoir was a fascinating evocation of otherness, a look into the mind of someone who is seemingly similar to me -- about my age, same country, both white -- and yet is vastly different in the way he thinks about the world. From the start I didn't love it, but I kept reading for this experience of otherness.

The writing is beautiful and reflects the fact that Oates is a published poet. He writes lovingly about Paris, a city I fell in love with when I visited it in 2007. He is also a very spiritual person who seems to feel things more strongly than I do. He writes about "awe and wonder", the sublime, and "a greater mind that we all share". None of which is very meaningful to me personally.

I think I have a more moderate temperament, without the high peaks and low valleys of emotion expressed in the stories he tells, especially the chapters labelled "memnoir". Perhaps I cannot directly relate to his experiences, but I felt it was important to try to understand his view of the world.

So, this book is well written with some gorgeous prose, and some of the stories Oates tells are interesting. (Plus it's about Paris!) It's just not my cup of tea; but try it -- you might love it!



11 March 2020

A Miniature Victorian Novel

The Young Visiters or, Mr. Salteena's Plan
Daisy Ashford
Academy Chicago Publishers, 1991
First published 1919
102 pages


Nine-year-old Daisy Ashford's novella is a lot of fun to read, childish errors of spelling and punctuation and all. It's both short and entertaining enough to be read in a single pass. And if you are at all attuned to novels or TV dramas about the English aristocracy of 100 years ago, it is also quite funny, akin to P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster stories.


Walter Kendrick. a professor of English at Fordham University who was an authority on Victorian literature, assures us in his introduction that this is not just a children's story, but "also a Victorian novel in miniature, a tidy précis of English fiction circa 1890". It even has a double plot, one about love, the other adventure.

As for Ashford's spelling and punctuation, he calls them "hilariously idiosyncratic". She may talk about the "sumpshous" bathroom, items wrapped in "tishu paper", and a room full of "searious people", but she knows what those words mean and tries her best to spell them phonetically. Hey, she's nine!



According to Wikipedia, "The Young Visiters" has been adapted as a musical, a play, a feature-length movie, and a BBC television production. Not bad for a first-time author!

The is my entry in the 20th Century Classic category for the 2020 Back to the Classics challenge.