Thursday, November 25, 2010

Math and Poetry.

I hadn't heard of Yoko Ogawa at all, but when I came across The Housekeeper and the Professor, I knew I had to read it.  I'm obsessed with stories about memory, and the idea of short term memory is always interesting to me.  This is a fairly short book and I read it in two sittings, but it was really enjoyable.

There's something really beautiful about this story, which is really just a simple one.  What I love about the austerity of this book though is that despite it being a simple book told in clean, simple prose, is that it is still very elegant and poignant, complex in its underlying themes.  I was so engaged by the story, even the math, and I found myself, magically, looking at numbers in a new way, as if I were the narrator herself, being exposed to how the professor looked at numbers.  Ogawa must really love math too, to be able to speak about numbers in such a wonderful poetic way.  It crossed my mind that math teachers should give out this book, to be honest, because it makes us less mathematically-inclined people see the sudden music and poetry inherent in numbers, and that is no small feat.  I also just love how an entire relationship is painted through these little snippets and through the numbers -- how the professor finds comfort in them and so we soon see how the hard complex things that he has trouble expressing are often expressed through his relationship to numbers.

Honestly, I think the term "jewel" is thrown around sometimes, but this book to me felt just like that.  Beautiful and wonderful in a small but substantial way, like a small delectable sweet bean cake held out in the palms of somebody's hand or something.  I will definitely be reading more of her books from here on out.

Also, I apologize if these entries are sloppy -- I've become lazy/busy and backlogged, and now my eyes just hurt but I wanted to bang these out.  :)  Happy Thanksgiving!

The Great House

Funnily enough, I was listening to Nicole Krauss's interview on Bookworm the other day for History of Love, and she made an analogy of a novel to a house.  She said a poem was like a perfect room, while a novel was like an imperfect house that you could inhabit.  I wondered if she kept thinking of a novel as a house, and if, in fact, Great House was also referring to that conception of what novels can be, in some sort of meta way.

I have to be honest -- I had high hopes for this novel, because I really love Krauss and her thoughts and her general aura.  History of Love meant a lot to me when I read it, so I was excited by Great House. Well, while I enjoyed the book, I wouldn't say I loved it.  I think the second half was more engaging than the first, plot and tension wise, and I do think the book has a lot of wonderful ideas and poignant moments, but it definitely didnt move the way History of Love did.  There was something genuine about how she inhabited the characters in that book, whereas here, I didn't always feel the characters were as distinct in their voices.  This isn't to say I didn't find her language beautiful or their characters interesting, but there was something that was a bit oblique in the telling that made this book beautiful and interesting to read, but on a different level than I expected.  By the end I was fully engaged, but the stories didn't culminate in a way I hoped they would.  If anything, this novel was more like interconnected stories, but unlike McCann's Let The Great World Spin, it wasn't a circular connection, but a linear one, which ultimately made it a lot less satisfying.

Still though, Krauss is exploring some interesting ideas about loss, and I liked it, but didn't love it.


After reading Let the Great World Spin, I decided to pick up Dancer.  Originally I was going to hold on to it for later since I try not to read the same authors back to back, but, bored one day, I flipped through the beginning pages, and from there I was transfixed.

This is what I want to say about McCann, who has firmly cemented his place for me as a writer I now love: he blows me away.  He's a smart writer, who tackles all sorts of different subject matter, gets away with writing from POVs who are completely unlike himself (gay Russian dancer?), breaks the rules (multiple POVs, starting in different places than where you end up, doing all sorts of confusing time jumps) but gets away with it, and creates sentences that are completely dazzling.  He amazes me.

What I loved about this book most though, aside from the conceit and the writing, is how closely I could relate it to writing.  I mean, okay, I loved this book first just because I love ballet, but also, to read about Nureyev's passion for dance and the way he approaches mastering it was really inspiring for me and also was extremely relateable for me.  I love when he quotes Nietzche about days without dance, and the way McCann portrays his process.

I listened recently to McCann's interview on Bookworm, and it opened some doors for me in my reading of this book -- to understand it also as a story about the little people who also got a piece of Nureyev, and also of how he became an exile from the one place he wanted to return to, despite having the keys to the doors of all other kingdoms of the world.  I highly suggest listening to this interview after you've read the book.

This entry has come late (I've been so swamped), and so I've forgotten the quotes I wanted to jot down.  But needless to say, I loved this.