Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Sunday Salon - Inaugural Post


I've been eyeing the Sunday Salon for a while now. I usually don't blog over the weekend, but I've decided this is just too much fun to pass up. The Sunday Salon is described this way:

What is the Sunday Salon? Imagine some university library's vast reading room. It's filled with people--students and faculty and strangers who've wandered in. They're seated at great oaken desks, books piled all around them, and they're all feverishly reading and jotting notes in their leather-bound journals as they go. Later they'll mill around the open dictionaries and compare their thoughts on the afternoon's literary intake....

That's what happens at the Sunday Salon, except it's all virtual. Every Sunday the bloggers participating in that week's Salon get together--at their separate desks, in their own particular time zones--and read. And blog about their reading. And comment on one another's blogs. Think of it as an informal, weekly, mini read-a-thon, an excuse to put aside one's earthly responsibilities and fall into a good book.

What's not to like about that?

So I'll begin this first post with my reading plans for the day. Since the weather is unsavory here--a balmy 38, wet, icky--it's the perfect day to curl up with a book. As you regular readers know (because I've mentioned it 87 times), I'm reading Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens for My Year of Reading Dangerously. It's slow going mostly because it takes an iota of concentration, and concentration has been in short supply as of late. Therefore, I'm keeping a steady stream of secondary reading at my side. First it was my initial book bust of 2008, The Jew of New York, by Ben Katchor. Now I'm reading my very favoritest author in the whole wide world...Paul Auster. The novel of the moment is Travels in the Scriptorium, his latest offering.

A blurb:

On the centennial year of Samuel Beckett's birth, Auster's new novel nods to the old master. We open with a man sitting in a room. The man doesn't remember his name, and a camera hidden in the ceiling takes a picture of him once a second. The man—whom the third-person narrator calls Mr. Blank—spends the single day spanned by the book being looked after, questioned and reading a fragmentary narrative written by a man named Sigmund Graf from a country called the Confederation who has been given the mission of tracking down a renegade soldier named Ernesto Land. During the course of the day, a former policeman, a doctor, two attendants and Mr. Blank's lawyer visit the room, and Mr. Blank learns he is accused of horrible crimes.

This is a slim volume, weighing in at a mere 145 pages. The nod to Beckett in the blurb above makes me a little nervous, and confirms a feeling I had by the time I reached page 9 of Travels in the Scriptorium. More absurdist fiction. I definitely need to be in the mood for the absurd. For characters that sit a lot and wonder and talk good bit of gobbledygook. Don't get me wrong, I actually do enjoy Beckett...loved Waiting for Godot...but I also realize that it takes a very well-defined mood for me to enjoy literature of the absurd. Thus the crash and subsequent burning of The Jew of New York.

So, while I love Paul Auster, I'm willing to admit that today might not be the time for this particular book. After all, as my BiblioBuffet column professes, I'm The Finicky Reader. And if the mood isn't right the reading goes south in a heartbeat.

I'll keep you posted...

Addendum:

A few hours later, and I've officially made the switch. Instead of Travels in the Scriptorium, I'm happily reading Monica Drake's novel, Clown Girl. Published by one of my favorite indies, Hawthorne Books & Literary Arts (publisher of one of my 2007 Top Tens, 501 Minutes to Christ), Clown Girl is probably going to make you scratch your chin when I tell you about it. I spent the better part of this post talking about how I'm not in the mood for the absurd, but now I'm blissfully chowing down on a novel that goes a little something like this:

In this darkly comic novel, Clown Girl lives in Baloneytown, a neighborhood so run down and penniless that drugs, balloon animals, and even rubber chickens contribute to the local currency. Against a backdrop of petty crime, Clown Girl struggles to find her place in the world of high art; she has dreams of greatness and calls on the masters, Charlie Chaplin, Kafka, and da Vinci for inspiration. But all is not art in her life: in an effort to support herself and her under-employed performance-artist boyfriend, she is drawn into the world of paying jobs, and finds herself unwittingly turned into a "corporate clown," trapped in a cycle of meaningless, high paid gigs which veer dangerously close, then closer to prostitution.

OK, so admittedly, it sounds absurd, but it's actually not the absurd I'm talking about in reference to Beckett and Auster. Drake's novel, thus far, crackles with a sharp wit, a humorous intensity, and it's just damn intriguing! How could I resist a novel with this first line?

Balloon Tying for Christ was the cheapest balloon manual I could find.

Oh yes. Monica Drake could be my new literary girl-crush (move over Miranda July!). The writing is great, the humor is outrageous and the story is wonderfully weird. And all seemingly "literary" at the same time. But more on that later. I feel I will need to gush about this book at length in a future post.

12 comments:

  1. I've been thinking about doing this one too. Good job on your first one. I hope to get some serious reading done on The Scarlett Letter today. The Custom House stopped me cold last weekend. I hear it gets better.

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  2. Kristy, it gets MUCH MUCH better after The Custom House. I think the first time I read and really enjoyed The Scarlett Letter, I skipped The Custom House altogether. I came back and read it later and appreciated it, but it really stood in the way of my enjoyment the first time around. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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  3. Hi Andi, thanks for coming over to Table Talk. I've bookmarked you and will come visiting regularly. I re-read 'Great Expectations' on a regular basis; I think it's one of the greatest novels of a very great novelist. And every time I read it I feel exactly the same emotion - an overwhelming desire to take hold of Pip and shake him until he squeaks! He is such an idiot! Give me Herbert Pocket any day of the week. This, I think, is real genius, that no matter how many times I read it, Dickens still manages to engage me so completely. It's like my reaction to 'Romeo and Juliet' - I'm always convinced that this time it's all going to turn out OK. But it never does.

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  4. I haven't taken the plunge with the Sunday Salon, yet. I keep looking, though. I don't usually post on the weekends either but am at work again today. I know what you mean about having to me in the mood regarding reading, especially for the absurd. I think I have set a new record as I have not yet put aside a book this year. I have so far read or am continuing to read everything that I've started. I'm sure it won't be long though.

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  5. I love this line..."If the mood isn't right, the reading goes south in a heartbeat."

    That happens to me, and I'm always a little reluctant, and then a little chastened, to "make the switch" - but a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

    I'm not sure I'm ever in the mood for literature of the absurd. I guess I'm just a realist at heart.

    Good luck with Great Expectations (one of the few Dickens novels I've managed to read, albeit in 1969), and with your Clown Girl. I'll be back to check your progress.

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  6. Welcome to the Sunday Salon! And some great books to begin with. I have to pick my moments for absurdist fiction, but Clown Girl sounds great.

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  7. Ann, I completely agree with you. Definitely a hallmark of a great novelist and a great novel that we hope it will somehow have a happy ending, or in Pip's case, that he won't be such a putz. ;) Thanks for dropping in!

    Congrats on your good 2008 track record, Lisa! I hope it continues and you don't have to set many aside this year. And it would be great if you joined the salon! I always look forward to your posts.

    Ravenous Reader, I used to be really reluctant to set a book aside. Not sure why that was, exactly, something to do with failure, I'm sure. Blah. Whatever. Grad school broke me of that habit. As long as I'm reading something and I'm happy with it, life is good. ;)

    Thanks for stopping in, LitLove!

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  8. Clown Girl sounds great. It might be what I need to read next; I'm reading Suite Francaise and will definitely need something lighter next.

    Wish I could be at home reading today. It's so gloomy and cold, at least for Houston.

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  9. Finally! People who enjoy Dickens! I love Dickens. Many moons ago when I would mention him people would cringe and complain about how tedious his writing is. After reading the posts, I now know there hope in this world haha!

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  10. Purl, it's cold here, too. 34 so far today, and there's still ice and snow on the ground in the next town over where I went shopping this morning.

    You should definitely give Clown Girl a try. It's delovely.

    Fem, he can be tedious I suppose, but more often than not I think of him as twisted. And twisted makes me happy! Got your note and $$$, by the way. I'll send the buggers out later this week.

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  11. Welcome to The Sunday Salon, Andi!

    I agree with you in that sometimes the mood has to be just right or a book just doesn't stick to me.

    Clown Girl sounds like a riot. I will have to keep my eye out for it. Have a great week, Andi.

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  12. LF, definitely keep an eye out! You may not run across it simply because Hawthorne isn't always in the biggie book stores, but do consider ordering from them if the spirit moves. Their books are gorgeously put together, great covers, sturdy for trade paperbacks. I just wanna pet 'em.

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