Archive for John Steinbeck

Hitch’s tricks

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2020 by xi'an

As I was watching the first minutes of the 1944 under-rated Lifeboat by Alfred Hitchcock (and John Steinbeck as the script writer!), a series of objects floating by the lifeboat to convey the preliminary mutual sinking of an Allied boat and a Nazi U-boat contained a cover of the New Yorker. Which while being iconic sounds like a weird inclusion, given that this is the very first issue of the magazine, in February 1925, hardly the first thing I would carry across the Atlantic at war time! Maybe being iconic was the reason to keep this issue rather than a more recent one, another mystery about the great Hitch allusions and clues interseeded throughout his films.

the 101 favourite novels of Le Monde readers

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2020 by xi'an

Le Monde called its readers to vote for their five favourite novels, with no major surprise in the results, except maybe Harry Potter coming up top. Before Voyage au bout de la nuit and (the predictable) A la recherche du temps perdu. And a complete unknown, Damasio’s La Horde du Contrevent, as 12th and first science fiction book. Above both the Foundation novels (16th). And Dune (32nd). And Hyperion Cantos (52). But no Jules Verne! In a sense, it reflects upon the French high school curriculum on literature that almost uniquely focus on French 19th and 20th books. (Missing also Abe, Conrad, Chandler, Dickens, Ishiguro, Joyce, Kawabata, Madame de Lafayette, Levi, Morante, Naipaul, Rabelais, Rushdie, Singer, and so many others…) Interestingly (or not), Sartre did not make it to the list, despite his literature 1953 Nobel Prize, maybe because so few read the (appalling) books of his chemins de la liberté trilogy.

I did send my vote in due time but cannot remember for certain all the five titles I chose except for Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit (2nd), Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (74th) and maybe Fedor Dostoievski’s Brothers Karamazov (24th). Maybe not as I may have included Barbey d’Aurevilly’s L’ensorcelée, Iain Pears’ An instance at the fingerpost, and Graham Greene’s The End of the affair, neither of which made it in the list. Here are some books from the list that would have made it to my own 101 list, although not necessarily as my first choice of titles for authors like Hugo (1793!) or Malraux (l’Espoir). (Warning: Amazon Associate links).

challenged books

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 9, 2017 by xi'an

After reading that Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was one of the most challenged books in the USA, where challenged means “documented requests to remove materials from school or libraries”, I went to check on the website of the American Library Association for other titles, and found that The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nigh-time and the Bible made it to the top 10 in 2015, with Of Mice and Men, Harry Potter, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Brave New World, Hunger Games, Slaughterhouse Five, Cal, several of Roald Dahl’s and of Toni Morrisson’s books, Persepolis, and Tintin in America [and numerous others] appearing in the list… (As read in several comments, it is quite a surprise Shakespeare is not part of it!)

What is most frightening about those challenges and calls for censorship is that a growing portion of the reasons given against the books is “diversity“, namely that they propose a different view point, were it religious (or atheist), gender-related, ethnic, political, or disability-related.

do novel writers need to make exceptional beings of their characters?

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2013 by xi'an

In the French literature part of the baccalauréat exam my daughter (and 170,000 other French students) took on Tuesday, the essay was about the above. It was quite a congenial theme and she seems to have enjoyed the opportunity to review her favourite books to argue the point. (She however declined to write a shorter version for the ‘Og, even in French..!) I wish I had time to expand on this, as it is a fairly rich field for arguing both ways, from Rabelais’ Gargantua and Dumas’ D’Artagnan to Melville’s Bartelby and Raymond Carver‘s characters (who often even remain unnamed). Opposing Flaubert’s Emma Bovary and Maupassant’s Jeanne for instance. Although my daughter considered Emma was in the “ordinary” camp… And discussing the characters in The Grapes of Wrath since this was one of the included texts. In my conclusion, despite advices not to answer the question in a definitive manner, I would however lean towards the quantum physics analogy that writers impact on the exceptional nature of their characters, since they become exceptional if only by appearing in the novel… (Check a mediocre online correction.)

A Quiet Belief in Angels [not a self-promotion]

Posted in Books, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2012 by xi'an

Interesting, most interesting! As I was thinking about writing a post on this book, Andrew pointed out the author, R.J. Ellory, had been caught red-handed, writing a highly positive review on his own book and criticising other authors on Amazon… Given that reviews on Amazon are not edited, I am not surprised at authors hitting back at anonymous reviewers (and noticed the same for this book I severely criticized a few months ago! Five glowing five-star reviews from the author and relatives…), even though they sound rather silly when being exposed. As Andrew points out, this disguised self-promotion is still a far cry from plagiarism and is just a wee…silly. (Even the French public radio mentioned the thing on the evening news. Maybe in connection with the high popularity of Ellory in France.)

For the life of me I did not know who they were talking about, and for some reason it did not matter.A Quiet Belief in Angels

Anyway, this is another of those books I bought in Bristol last Spring for two pounds, mostly at random (and also by being confused between Ellory and Elroy!). The book is quite special, as far away as one can think from an usual thriller or detective story (which may explain the author’s scathing criticism of “the seemingly endless parade of same-old-same-old police procedurals that seem to abound in the UK”). Actually, as the action is taking place in Georgia, I thought the author was American, rather than English. In short, I found the book fascinating, moving, highly disturbing, imperfect, unrealistic, often if not always well-written, original, and incomplete. With a final chapter that is completely unnecessary. The book relates very much to (and borrows from) the older realistic literature of the 40’s and 50’s, from Steinbeck to Capote, to Dos Passos, of course, but the underlying horrific murders make the book indeed quite an original read. Having started at random, I am rather interested in reading other books from this author, self-promotion or not! (I can guarantee that Xi’an is not a fake pseudo used by R.J. Ellory!!!)  Reading from his auto-bio-sketch, I can also see some links between the main character of A Quiet Belief in Angels and its author. I just hope the other books get away from this autobiographical source…