Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

Goodness, let’s see if I still know how to do this. Three months is a long time to keep most of my bookish thoughts to myself…

After a very hectic year, I needed a break from book blogging and I’m very glad I stepped away from the feverish book talk that is the book blogging world. I definitely missed reading reviews and engaging with all my favorite literary-minded types, but wow, I needed to just relax and take some distance for a few months.

Which I did. Hooray.

Now, let’s see, what did I do all summer? For starters, I finished my Houellebecq project. Part of me suspects that reading Houellebecq so intensely may have contributed to my need for a blogging break. He is a difficult writer to read from A – Z. Having done this, I wouldn’t recommend reading him this way. I think he is better taken one book at a time, with a few years pause between each book. Mainly because he is thematically redundant – in a big way. But also because his pessimism quickly becomes claustrophobic. I finished Plateforme and had a really hard time working up the energy to read La Possibilité d’une Ile. Both interesting books with a lot to discuss, but I was just really tired of Houellebecq at that point.

I have a lot to write about him, although I may not get around to writing about each book here. I’m finishing a long essay on Houellebecq, which I hope The Quarterly Conversation will accept, so for anyone interested in his work and the strange/unsettling/interesting experience of reading him, we’ll have a chance
to discuss when/if the essay comes out.

Other than Houellebecq, I managed to read some wonderful novels this summer. My favorites are The New Moscow Philosophy by Vyacheslav Petsukh, Hunger by Elise Blackwell and Katzenjammered by Norma Kassirer. The Petsukh and Kassirer I reviewed over at Necessary Fiction. Blackwell’s Hunger
I would still like to write about here. It is a neat little book, almost a novella, about the Siege of Leningrad and obviously about starvation, but also about desire and want. I really enjoyed how Blackwell mingled those two ideas.

Finally, I read a tiny little book by Agota Kristof. I’ve mentioned her here before but for anyone who doesn’t remember, she is a Hungarian/Swiss writer most known for her trilogy Le Cahier, La Preuve and Le Troisième Mensonge (The Notebook, The Proof, and The Third Lie) about a set of rather disturbing twins during World War II. The little book I read this summer is her memoir, called l’Inalphabète. As far as I know it hasn’t been translated but Kristof, sadly, just passed away this summer and I suspect (hope) it will find a home at a small publisher in the US.

I won’t say anything else about it right now, because I’d like to write a proper post on it. Suffice it to say that l’Inalphabète, at just over 50 pages, was one of the most moving and beautiful récits autobiographiques I’ve ever read.

4 Responses to “summer reading”

  1. Anthony

    The New Moscow Philosophy is arguably the finest book that I finished this summer, and I am deflated that Pyetsukh has nothing else in English translation.

    • Michelle

      Me too – I’m hoping the success of The New Moscow Philosophy will prompt more translators and/or editors to get cracking on his oeuvre. I’d really like to see what else he’s got.

  2. nicole

    Welcome back! I do hope The Quarterly Conversation accepts your essay; I’ve not read Houellebecq (mainly because I anticipated the drawbacks you mention…though I’m sure I should) and I look forward to hearing your extended thoughts after such a long project.

    Lots of other interesting stuff too that sounds very good…and I should really get to Agota Kristof sometime, I remember when you wrote about her ages ago and I immediately thought I should give her a try.

    • Michelle

      Hello – although I’m moving quite slowly, it is nice to be blogging again. I’d love to know your thoughts on Houellebecq at some point. He’s a strange one. And I think you’d really like Agota Kristof, if ‘like’ is the right word. Her trilogy is really dark, even an uncomfortable read, but I’m still thinking about it months later.

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