I Who Have Never Known Men by Jacqueline Harpman 1997 (206 pgs)
What is it that makes up the human experience? Are we defined by our family, our possessions, our personal history, a life lived with purpose, who we are in relation to others? The narrator, a survivor of an unknown apocalypse has less than that. She lives a solitary life focused entirely on mere survival. And yet she strives, she desires, she learns for the enjoyment of pure knowledge regardless of its usefulness or applicability. She is in short, entirely human.
Previously reviewed here.
The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier 2006 (252 pgs)
A global illness is wiping out humanity. Isolated in Antarctica, a single survivor remains. As she tracks across the brutal landscape, Laura Byrd plumbs the depths of her memories to distract herself from the harsh conditions. In an afterlife city, the longtime residents begin to notice the population changing drastically. As the pandemic takes hold, the recently departed funnel into a city, and even more rapidly disappear, until mere thousand are left from billions. For the inhabitants can only dwell there for as long as they live in the memory of the living.
In this haunting (or shall we say haunted?) narrative, Brockmeier illustrates the power of memory and the connections we form throughout our lives. Both portions of the story are separately compelling and it’s fun to see how they connect. And I always appreciate a book that doesn’t tie everything up in a pat little fluffy bow- but rather leaves the ending open to interpretation and imagined possibilities.
Twenty Jataka Tales retold by Noor Inayat Khan, illustrations by H. Willebeek Le Mair, orig pub 1939 (152 pgs)
A collection of short Aesop-esque legends of the former incarnations of the Buddha that relates tales of wisdom and kindness. Here he’s a lion, kindly correcting a panicking hare who thinks the world is ending. There he’s an stag convincing the king through his willingness to sacrifice himself for any of his fellow creature that all animals are worthy of respect. The tales are simple and fun & the morals subtle enough to compliment and not overpower the sweet nature of the book.
The ones I gave up on:
Can a Robot Be Human?: 33 Perplexing Philosophy Puzzles by Peter Cave 2007 (192/read 130ish)
Somewhat interesting, but written in an overly twee style that I could only take in short doses.
Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski (320 pgs/read 40) 2007
Love this book, but I’ll have to get it again later. So little time, so few renewals.
The Soul Thief by Charles Baxter (210 pgs/read 95) 2008
Reads like an art school cocktail party. In a good way. The prose is sophisticated and intellectual without being pretentious. It’s the perfect style for this tale of the entanglements of graduate students searching for connection, while one tries to steal the other’s identity.
Solitaire by Kelley Eskridge (353/read 213) 2002
Mmm, comfort book. One of my fav books, about a woman sentenced to solitary confinement in a virtual cell in her own mind (which is the point I started this time round). I love the evolution of her character and how being completely alone forces her to face herself.
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri (333/read 45ish) 2008
Short story collection from an excellent author who winningly captures the dichotomous nature of the emigrant experience.
The Third Domain: The Untold Story of Archaea and the Future of Biotechnology by Tim Friend (296/read 35) 2007
Archaea are microbes older than bacteria that are being discovered thriving in the most extreme environments- from volcanic vents to streams deep within icebergs. It’s a fascinating topic, but the meandering writing failed to grab me.
Read a couple of grown-up picture books this week:
The Tale of the Unknown Island by Jose Saramago, illustrated by Peter Sis 1999 (51 pgs)
The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip by George Saunders, illustrated by Lane Smith 2000 (84 pgs)
They’re both fanciful illustrated fables. Island is about seeking the unknown for it’s own sake and following your dreams, but was somewhat forgetable. Gappers was hilarious- spikey orange balls who love nothing more than goats, and shriek with joy unendingly when they find one. Much to the goats’ dismay. Great illustrations from the guy who illustrates The Stinky Cheese Man. Also a moral about misfortune being random, not earned and living the golden rule.