Michelle Bailat-Jones

Writer, Translator, Reader

Last week was my birthday, and I had an exceptionally bookish week that resulted in a nice haul of new books and a stack of Jane Austen BBC adaptations – none of which I’d actually seen before.

The first in the haul—and the only book I’ve started to read already—is Charles Dantzig’s Pourquoi Lire? (Why read?) I’d never heard of Dantzig until this lovely little book found its way into my mailbox. A gift from my mother-in-law, who is very good at selecting books I wouldn’t otherwise have come across. Dantzig’s homage to reading is so far really lovely. Funny and clever and sweet. Each chapter begins with another reason to read, like “We read because of love,” about falling in love with characters and stories, or “Read to get past the halfway point of the book” about those interminable books of 1000 pages and how we love them and hate them at the same time. This book promises many little gems.

The rest of my new book stack contains:

  • Chris Bohjalian – The Double Bind
  • Damon Galgut – The Quarry
  • Téa Obreht – The Tiger’s Wife
  • Julia Otsuka – Buddha in the Attic
  • Siri Hustvedt – The Summer Without Men
  • Colm Toibin – The Empty Family
  • Jeannette Winterson – Written on the Body
  • José Saramago – The Elephant’s Journey
  • Michael Cunningham – By Nightfall
  • Orhan Pamuk – The Museum of Innocence
  • Julian Barnes – The Sense of an Ending

I am really looking forward to reading the Otsuka, as I’ve already sampled two chapters in recent issues of Granta. The book is about mail order brides coming to America from Japan, and written in the first person plural. The samples I read simply blew me away, like this passage from “The Children” (Granta 115):

Sometimes we tried cutting off all our hair and offering it to the goddess of fertility if only she wold make us conceive, but still, every month, we continued to bleed. And even though our husband had told us it made no difference to him whether he became a father or not – the only thing that mattered, he had said to us, was that we grew old by his side – we could not stop thinking of the children we’d never had. Every night I can hear them playing in the fields outside my window.


8 Responses to “a bookish week”

  1. ClaireMcA

    ‘Pourquoi Lire’ sounds like a gem indeed, I recently read a lovely book of essays called ‘The Reading Life’ by the writer Pat Conroy, a lovely reflection on a lifetime of reading and influences.

    Jeanette Winterson’s new autobiography sounds like a must read too.

    Love Granta!

    • Michelle

      I’d heard of the Conroy essays, can’t remember now from who, but had marked it as one I would like to read, so thank you for reminding me. I’m very eager to read this latest Jeannette Winterson. I loved The Passion. Loved, loved, loved it.

  2. Biblibio

    First person plural… hmm. A technique not often used, though I’ve found that it can serve as a much better method of allowing a reading to relate to the characters than first person single. Something about the way it includes both the internal story characters and the external reader… I’ve always liked it. Coupled with strong impressions the writing leaves… seems like Otsuka is an author worth investigating.

    • Michelle

      I think it was Joshua Ferris’s And Then We Came to the End that was also in the 1st person plural, and it started to grate on me, but that was also a weird satire novel, so maybe it had more to do with that then the POV. Otherwise, I’ve always liked the 1st personal plural and the 2nd person, for the reasons you mention. I like the way both implicate the reader.

      • Biblibio

        I actually really liked Then We Came to the End. It was a bit weird, yes, but it’s exactly the kind of weird I typically like. Second person (plural or single) can be done nicely, but typically drives me nuts when employed for long periods. I’m not sure why… something about it feels a little too general for my taste, whereas first person plural feels like someone’s letting me share the story. There’s obviously no logic in preferring one over the other, but… there it is, regardless…

  3. Shelby Siems

    Hi, Michelle — Shelby here. I think my first post didn’t go through. I wanted to say hello and see how you are. Are you still in Switzerland? I have a childhood friend who lives in Zollikon, Switzerland. I think that’s the name of the town. She’s also bookish and very smart (Brown University) like you. I think you would like one another. Anyway, I would love to hear from you.


  4. Michelle

    Bibliobio – I’ve wanted to try the Ferris novel again at some point, because I’m still not able to articulate why I didn’t like it – and maybe it’s just one of those unexplainable things. The result of a mood when I read it. I do have a very strange fondness for the 2nd person singular – I love it, it’s weird and illogical and asks the reader to be inside the text. But I think I read it first with Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place, and it is used to well, so sharply, that I’ve never forgotten how powerful it can be.

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