Rainy Day Reads: Selections for Black Friday

“Bartleby the Scrivener” by Herman Melville: The ultimate ‘Just say no’ tale. Bartleby is famous for his catchphrase: “I would prefer not to” which you can, like Bart, apply to aspects of your life.

Get up early to find deals at the Big Box stores? “I would prefer not to.” Do all your Christmas shopping in one, hours-long amazon.com binge? “I would prefer not to.” After all that shopping for others, get yourself a little something special? “I would prefer not to.”

Hang out with your gathered friends and family? Eat Thanksgiving leftovers for the next week? Be in good cheer? Bartleby has the answer.

 

“The Man Who Spoke Snakish” by Andrus Kivirähk: Learn a new language and never have to buy anything again!

A weird fable that apparently is a runaway success in its native Estonia — they even made a board game out of it. Kivirähk’s first novel to be translated into English combines an amazingly bizarre mythology with a strangely poignant meditation on cultural change.

Le Magazine Littéraire describes it thusly: “Imagine it is the end of the world, and Tolkien, Beckett, Twain, and Miyazaki (with Icelandic sagas and Asterix comic books stuffed under their arms) are getting together in a cabin to drink and tell stories around the last bonfire the world will ever see.”

The book centers around the last speaker of Snakish, a dying tongue that allows him to control animals. As more and more of his people move out of the forest and into the (Christian, medieval) village, he wonders why they decided to forget Snakish and do back-breaking manual labor to grow their food: “We needed to eat, there was a word that would get food for you, and the deer knew that word and obeyed it.”

After reading this book, you’ll be wondering if you haven’t unwittingly made life harder for yourself with all your buying and slaving away after a paycheck.

 

“A Strangeness in My Mind” by Orhan Pamuk: There’s nothing like a beautifully-woven tale of grinding poverty to make you to lose your urge to purchase crap. The latest outing by the Nobel Prize winning Turkish author follows the life of a boza seller.

What is boza? It’s good that you ask. “Perhaps I should explain for foreign readers who’ve never heard of it before, and for future generations of Turkish readers who will, I fear, forget all about it,” Pamuk writes. Boza is a barely-alcoholic drink enjoyed by Turk during the Ottoman era (back when alcohol was forbidden). The only problem for our boza-selling hero is that now alcohol is legal and the boza is no longer selling.

But he toughs it out, and even as everyone around him is getting rich as burgeoning Istanbul, he walks the ever-changing streets with the melancholy cry of “Bozaaa.”

Like all Pamuk’s work, “A Strangeness in My Mind” is part love-song to Istanbul, and the cover art comes from the author’s own sketches.

 

“Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert: The classic case of credit overcharge.

Madame Bovary likes pretty things, and who can blame her, life in provincial France sounds terribly dull. So what if she likes to liven things up a bit with fancy dresses, expensive parties and ill-advised love affairs — A little fun never hurt anybody. You know, right up to the part where she can’t pay it back and ends up committing suicide. Credit’s the best! Spend, spend, spend.

Also, an excellent work on the tendency of novels to give you outsized and expensive expectations out of life.

Editions are available at all sorts of prices, but while you are at it, go for the leather-bound, gilded Easton Press edition, just $64.90. Charge it.

 

The Expanse Series by James S. A. Corey: Once you start this science fiction adventure, you won’t look up from the page until you’re done. With five books out, depending on the speed you read, that could keep you occupied through the New Year.

The Expanse follows the adventures of James Holden and his crew on the Rocinante as they alternatively start, stop and stall inter-galactic conflicts. If aliens have been discovered or wars are starting, you can bet the Rocinante will be meddling in the middle of it.

A fascinating, multi-perspective look at the political, economic and social milieu of humanity as it spreads out into the stars, it may or may not be telling that one of the two men who make up James S. A. Corey was once an assistant to George R. R. Martin.

Books 1-4, “Leviathan Wakes,” “Caliban’s War,” “Abaddon Gate,” and “Cibola Burn,” are available in paperback are $17 each. You can also buy the first three as a boxed set for $40. Book 5, “Nemesis Games,” is still only available in hardback for $27. Plus if you start now, you’ll be ready for the TV adaption is set to premiere on the Syfy channel Dec. 14.

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