Pick up lines (Part Two, 2016)

I read like a farmer: more when there’s less light and the leaves of the trees have fallen (an absence made up for by the leaves that are pages of a book?); less when the sun is high. During cherry blossom season, young minds enter the University and my cultivating duties commence. By Lammas, the feast of the first fruits is in, the semester done, and my summer teaching hiatus begins shortly thereafter.

Here, below, are my reading notes from the second quarter of the year. Two are authors I’ve never read before, their books translated from Afrikaans and from Russian. The short stories are translated from Brazilian. In non-fiction, three are originally in English and one is translated from French.

I have, in keeping with my earlier post, made a record of the first sentence of the books I’ve read . . . the so-called Pick Up Line.

(See part 1 from the first quarter of the year, here.)


Icarus by Deon Meyer begins

Heaven and earth’s conspired to expose Ernst Richter’s corpse, the universe seemingly intent on reaching out a helping hand for justice.

This was my first Deon Meyer novel. I loved the familiarity of it; it brought back so many memories–of winelands and gorgeous scenery, for starters. I was so taken with the recognisability of the characters and the ‘sounds’ of speech, in particular, which powerfully reminded me of home. There is a warmth and generosity to the characters that is so totally southern African; it’s hard to explain but you know it when you feel it (and when you’ve grown up with it, but don’t have it anymore, it’s all the more nostalgic.) It brought also a kind of relief – to ‘see’ characters one doesn’t see, neither in life, nor, too often, in fiction, nor on telly. There’s really something to that need to see oneself reflected and I’m trying to figure out what it is . . . ?

Daniel Stein, Interpreter by Ludmila Ulitskaya. (Trans. Arch Tait.)

The epigraph reads:

“I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all: Yes in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.” (1 Cor, 4: 18-19)

The first sentence reads:

I always feel cold.

I’m on a bit of an Ulitskaya binge presently. As much, that is, as one can binge on Russian literature! This book, I loved. It’s very good on one level on interfaith, on in-culturalism (catholicism!), on (novel to me) Jewish Christians and the relations between these two traditions. I’ve been delving into Margaret Barker’s Temple Theology a bit lately (thanks to Maggie Ross’s Silence) and found a lot of resonance in this novel. Finishing this fictionalised bio, I felt bereft. I was also grateful–to the subject and to the author–that such quietly profound intelligence & sensitivity are available in a world of shouters and sound-bitten media.

Tracker by Deon Meyer

Ismail Mohammed runs down the steep slope of Heiliger Lane.

Reading Meyers’ books is great fun and I gobbled the first two thirds of this one in a couple of days. Something odd happened in the last section – like someone had put the brakes on and changed lanes and it kind of fizzled for me. Still, as noted of the first Meyer novel, there is something deeply satisfying to encounter the rich languages and idioms of people who sound like home and to recognize place names and landscapes. Reading Meyer is like eating comfort food for a person far from home.

The Big Green Tent by Ludmilla Ulitskaya. (Trans. Polly Gannon.)

The epigraph reads:

Do not be consoled by the injustice of our time. It’s immorality does not prove our own moral worth; its inhumanity is not sufficient to render us human merely by opposing it. (Boris Pasternak, letter to Varlam Shalamov, July 9th, 1952)

The first sentence reads:

Tamara sat before a runny omelet on a plate, the vestiges of sleep still clinging to her.

“Russian novel” has become shorthand for a kind of emotionally rich, intricately-plotted, doorstop-sized work of fiction. The BGT fits this profile, weighing in at almost 600 pages. I’m about half way through it and am thoroughly enjoying it. Ulitskaya is sooooo good. I’m reading slowly because I can’t absorb it properly otherwise, and the story and its details call for a kind of attention that I want to give to it. It’s not hard to read. You want to savour it all up. You want it to go on and on and I have known that, after the first chapter, I’d be sad when it was over.

Also, on the bedside pile is also

Clarice Lispector’s Collected Short Stories, Ed. Benjamin Moser (Moser writes a good intro,”Glamour and Grammar”. I was even more fascinated by the afterword by Katrina Dodson, the translator. There is an interview with Dodson in the Asymptote journal.)

Non Fiction (On the Go …)

• Hope Sings so Beautiful: Graced Encounters across the Color Line, by Christopher Pramuk

For much of my career as a teacher in Jesuit Catholic institutions, I have had my feet in two very different worlds: the world of privileged, and largely white, Jesuit education, and the world of black Catholic worship.

This book was a welcome gift from a trusted friend who had found it inspiring. While my personal history of race relations is different from Americans’, and is quite different now, living in Japan, the book has been calling to me. It has an intriguing table of contents. I haven’t gotten to the meat of it yet. Mr Pramuk and I went to the same graduate school, and so I have a sense of where he’s coming from, if only from the pictures he has used. (I keep opening the page with the picture of Thea Bowman because it makes me so happy to look at.) The foreword is by Shawn Copeland so you know this is a work of integrity.

(In connection with the book, I recently came across this article by Fr. Charles Curran, “Facing up to Privilege requires Conversion,” which I found very compelling.)

• The Intuiton of the Instant, by Gaston Bachelard. (Trans. Eileen Rizo-Patron) This slim volume is helping me to think through some ideas forming for an essay I hope to write.

• The Rhythm of Being, by Raimon Panikkar. Started this on Trinity Sunday 2016. I noticed Panikkar’s preface was written at Pentecost, 2009. Not much progress made with it yet.

• Temple Theology, by Margaret Barker. A third of the way through this and, honest to God, have had moments of feeling scales were falling from my eyes. This is radical research!


2 thoughts on “Pick up lines (Part Two, 2016)

  1. What a fascinating reading list. I began to write that I was drawn most of all to Deon Meyer’s books, but then I took another look, and now it may be The Big Green Tent that is tempting me. Then again, Temple Theology sounds pretty delicious too! Thanks, Kate! I always enjoy your posts.


    • Thank you, Susan, for your lovely comment. I’ve enjoyed all four of the novels. Obviously the genres are quite different – well, the Meyers belong to one, but the Russian ones are surprisingly (& remarkably) different. The Big Green Tent is rich and deep and wonderful; it gives a lovely canvas for Ulitskaya’s virtuosity … I’m just in the middle of it, as I think I wrote, but so far, so (very, very) good. 😊


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