Monday, May 10, 2010

Miscellany redux

I was lucky enough the other night to read two books of utter captivating charm. Both are strongly recommended!

They came in a box from Amazon, ordered by me (unlike many of the books which come my way from publicists and publishers - some of these are delightful too, but some of them are not at all what I would ever read...).

I had an Amazon hiatus earlier this year, in an attempt to adopt habits of frugality (John Waters: "Being rich is not about how much money you have or how many homes you own; it's the freedom to buy any book you want without looking at the price and wondering if you can afford it" [!]), but it did not really stick, I am trying to get a higher proportion of things from the library but there are occasional brand-new books that I really cannot get from the university library system and that I must have....

In this case, it was Diana Wynne Jones's latest book, Enchanted Glass, which is so very much exactly the sort of book I most like to read that I was almost ready to weep when I finished it - but fortunately what awaited was Elif Batuman's extraordinarily appealing The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them.

The Samarkand essays are particularly moving and funny (the descriptions of her two teachers there are especially well-written), but really there is something on almost every page that made me laugh out loud - a thoughtful and moving and hilariously amusing book that for reasons I cannot quite explain (something about the diction and also the argument about the relationship between life and literature?) reminded me of my favorite novel of all time, Rebecca West's The Fountain Overflows.

I am in a sense the perfect audience for this book - I too was bit by the Russia bug long ago, only in my case the thing I found enchanting in elementary Russian language classes was the nature and range of the answers one is allowed to give to the question "How are you doing?" (Kak dela?) The cheeriest permissible is "Not bad," but really all the words in the textbook range from "Pretty awful" to "Absolutely ghastly"! (I paraphrase.) Elif's book is really a delight from start to finish - it will definitely go on my notional and/or actual best-of list at the end of the year.


  1. Ooh, I loved-loved The Possessed too.

  2. The Fountain Overflows is my favourite novel of all time too!

  3. I keep hearing so many good things about The Possessed--I think I've got to read it!