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Tonight I'm Swimming to My Favorite Island

Five more books, zero from the list.

Banville, John. Ghosts. 245 pp.
Heaney, Seamus. The Burial at Thebes. 79 pp.
Nabokov, Vladimir. Invitation to a Beheading. 223 pp.
Nabokov, Vladimir. Transparent Things. 104 pp.
Sisario, Ben. Doolittle. 121 pp.

I picked up a handful of Banville’s novels on the cheap from Half.com when I ordered No Laughing Matter: The Life and Times of Flann O’Brien, but Ghosts is the first of them that I’ve tackled. Banville’s weighty, wordy prose style and the slow-moving drifts of the subject matter are a bit of an odd combination, particularly without the narrative propulsion of Nabokov, but ruminating over the novel after the fact been rewarding, even if the actual reading experience seemed . Given that I just found out that this is the second book in a trilogy (along with The Book of Evidence and Athena, neither of which I own), some of my problems with the novel—foremost how the shadows of character development were both intriguing and somewhat infuriating—are thrown out of the window.

It’s tough to get away from Nabokov, in part because I keep picking up his novels from the library, the book store, or the library book sale, but this pair kept my momentum going. Transparent Things is a successful novella, relatively compelling in its brief length without seeming incomplete. Invitation to a Beheading covers some of the same thematic ground as Bend Sinister, but resides almost exclusively in the prison setting. It isn’t as griping or quite as allusive as that novel, and if you’re going to read one, Bend Sinister is the obvious pick, but Invitation is an excellent alternate pathway to travel. I’m stunned that I didn’t glance at the back cover before finishing the novel—I purchased the book after having read a brief description online—but completely thankful for this, as it gives away every major plot point in the novel. If not for Nabokov’s somewhat neurotic musings (this time it’s about how the novel is always thought of as being inspired by Kafka, yet Nabokov hadn’t read any Kafka prior to writing it), I’d be able to give up reading introductions, forewords, prefaces, et al, altogether.

Burial at Thebes takes an entirely different poetic approach than Heaney’s more famous translation/reimagining of Beowulf, cutting down on the kennings and emphasizing the readability and direct impact of the text for today’s political climate. In terms of his intentions, it’s successful, but the majority of translations lack the risk/reward factor of Heaney-wulf, especially this one given the contrast. Perhaps I’d have a different verdict if I had seen this performed, but if I’m itching to read some Heaney, it’s still going to be his poetry (North in particular) or his version of Beowulf.

Doolittle is the first entry from the 33 1/3 series that I’ve picked up (Loveless will likely be the next). Unlike some of the other books in the series—Joe Pernice’s semi-fictional prose for Meat Is Murder, for example—this is a fairly straightforward contextualization and explanation of the album’s time period, impact, and themes (primarily Surrealism). Sisario drove around with Frank Black, gathering notes and anecdotes, but perhaps the biggest remnant of this experience is a lingering reticence on the part of Black Francis to discuss the album in detail. The other members of the band have far less input—Kim Deal, as per usual, has none at all—but it’s still a worthwhile read. I really like the idea and aesthetic execution of the series, so hopefully the trend of covering albums I genuinely enjoy will continue.

Jon keeps telling me that I need to write a book for this series on Juno’s A Future Lived in Past Tense, but despite our mutual fondness for this record, I’m not sure if Continuum would be able to justify the expenditure. Juno fans seem to be remarkably rabid individuals, but they have not yet funded a grant for this project. The bittersweet thing about this line of jokes is that I would be both thrilled and somewhat prepared to write this book. If anyone wants to fund a 44 1/4 series covering the finest records from Juno, Shiner, Hum, Jawbox, Shudder to Think, and Castor, please do it.

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