Recent reads in brief

While I am slowly making my way through more than 600 pages of Sophie’s Choice, I am actually a little behind on book reviews, so here are some brief thoughts on recent reads.

Letters to a Young Poet
by Rainer Maria Rilke
translated from German by Stephen Mitchell

This small volume was written 1903–1908 but its advice still feels relevant and wise, which is presumably why it quickly became a classic.

Franz Xaver Kappus was put in touch with Rilke by the chaplain at his military academy, who had known Rilke when he too was a student at the school 15 years earlier. Kappus aspired to write and Rilke was a revered (rightly so) poet. These 10 letters constitute Rilke’s advice on how to look at life as well as how to write and some non-advice observations from Rilke such as his thoughts on Rome (he was not a fan) and other places he travelled to (all the letters seem to be written from a different location, and often include reference to months spent somewhere else in-between).

What most caught my attention was Rilke’s thoughts on gender equality. He was a feminist if ever I read one. He truly believed that the two sexes were created equal and that society still unfairly favoured men as a relic from a bygone age when man’s superiority of strength and size was relevant to everyday life. Rilke not only believes that the time will come when women will be considered equal in all respects to man, he also thinks that in time women will take their turn as the gender running the show.

Rilke is sweet, earnest, but also troubled. He’s also extremely eloquent. Because he’s Rilke.

“Things aren’t all so tangible and sayable as people would have us believe, most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered, and more unsayable than all other things are works of art, those mysterious existences, whose life endures beside our own small, transitory life.”

Briefe an einen jungen Dichter published 1929 by Insel Verlag.

This translation first published 1984 by Random House.

Source: Shakespeare & Sons, Berlin.

Continue reading “Recent reads in brief”

The lens feels like another person in the room

someday-someday-maybeSomeday, Someday, Maybe
by Lauren Graham

I’ve been meaning to read this novel for a couple of years, and this month it seemed that all signs point to it. Lauren Graham is the star of Gilmore Girls, which I love and which is coming back after nine years in a Netflix miniseries that starts on 25 November. It’s marked in my diary and I am very excited. Someday, Someday, Maybe was Graham’s debut novel, soon to be followed up by Graham’s collection of essays Talking As Fast As I Can (pub date 29 November; apparently it includes some spoilers of the new TV show).

This novel is pretty nakedly inspired by earlier events in Graham’s own life, though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it autofiction. It’s about Franny Banks, a wannabe actress struggling to make it in New York City. She has given herself a strict three years to achieve her goal – that is, to earn enough from acting to live on – and that deadline, when the book opens, is six months away. She’s not a hopeless case – she’s done an advert, has an agent and goes to acting classes run by the highly selective and respected John Stavros. But her agency only books commercials, her only income is from working as a waitress at a comedy club and her dream of one day appearing in An Evening with Frances Banks at the 92nd Street Y is receding.

Continue reading “The lens feels like another person in the room”