Thursday, January 29, 2009

Left-Handed Dreams by Francesca Duranti

This is the second work of Italian literature I read recently. The other was Snow and Guilt by Giorgio Pressburger. I have been swept away the last few days by Duranti’s beautiful writing.

Left-Handed Dreams follows a short, yet significant, period of time in the life of professor Martina Satriano, an Italian woman who has lived for many years in New York City. The book is written as if she is speaking to her students.

Martina’s life over the past two years has involved the use of something she refers to as the Machine. The device is one element of the ritualized nature of her daily life. She uses the machine to record her dreams in an attempt to determine if the dream life can be made to flow together night-by-night as the waking life is day-to-day. There is also a question of what is reality: when we are dreaming or when we are awake? This ties into another of Martina’s discoveries.

She believes, from a memory of something decades earlier, that she may have been born left-handed, but was forced to use her right hand by her mother. She begins to wonder if her life would have been different if she went through it using her left hand as her dominant hand. How do we become who we are? Is there another “self” moving along with us that would react and do things differently?

Three male characters also help Martina to realize things about herself. The first, and most significant, is Costantino, a boy she loved and experienced a rich sexual relationship with as a young adult in Italy. The second is her next door neighbor Jerry who helps her realize something about her ability to love. The third is an Italian professor who meets several times with Martina during his attempts to encourage her to accept a job offer and return to Italy. A puppy she rescues in her apartment complex also plays a key role in altering her future.

Reading this novel was a true pleasure. I highly recommend it.

Monday, January 19, 2009

How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn

I never came across this modern classic until now. First published in 1939, the book, which was later made into a film, won the National Book Award.

Llewellyn's novel captures daily life in a Welsh valley exceptionally well through the protagonist Huw Morgan. As he prepares to leave, Huw reflects on his childhood and early adulthood, while telling the stories of numerous family members and villagers. The portrayal of his mother and father are particularly moving.

Since this novel takes place in a coal mining village, there are many tragedies, as can be expected. Issues of the rights of the working class, male and female roles, and ethnic identity all come into play. This is a dense work that lovers of complex literature will find compelling.

Finding Freedom: Writings from Death Row by Jarvis Jay Masters

It's time to get caught up on my posts. This is the first of two books I recently finished.

I discovered there was an Amnesty International book club at a bookstore not too far from home, but still a bit of a drive. I was so intrigued that I inquired on what the club was reading for January. I was informed Finding Freedom was the title. When I read the subtitle, Writings from Death Row, I was not sure I would proceed on. Should I wait to see what the group is reading in February? I decided to go ahead and try to read the January book.

Finding Freedom is a collection of short pieces Masters wrote and were compiled together. The copy I purchased is actually the fifth printing. Masters, who is on death row at San Quentin, is a practising Buddhist. Much of the book deals with life in San Quentin, but the final section is specifically about his interest and devotion to Buddhism.

Overall, the book is, believe it or not, an easy read that can be quite enjoyable at times. Many details, including Masters' troubled upbringing, are revealed, but not touched on in great detail. I do not know if I would recommend the book to just anyone, but it does show how someone can find hope in the most horrible of places.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee

Buzbee's creation is part memoir of his years in the bookstore and book publishing business and part world history of bookstores. He worked for many years at two different bookstores in northern California and then as a publisher's representative.

Buzbee's description of the sense of place of bookstores and a chapter on his favorite bookstores were the parts I enjoyed reading the most. This is one for book and bookstore lovers!