Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Bookstore Diet, The Difficulty of Buying New Books, & Kristin Lavransdatter

I am on my Official Bookstore Diet.  I buy a book for every pound I lose.  If the same pound keeps going away and coming back, is it cheating?  But I'm interpreting my dieting rules literally. 

The diet works like this.  Lose one pound.  Buy a book.  Stay at the Relative's for two days.  Gain one pound. Keep the book.   Go home.  Lose the pound again.  Buy a book.

And if you ride your bicycle four hours, you can have a cupcake.

The sun came out and I rode my bike to the bookstore.  I was not looking for any specific titles. Here on the NEW shelves are the books booksellers want you to buy.  None of these appealed to me.  Tom Clancy and John Lescroart spark sales.  Lots of thrillers and pop books the publishers depend on to support the "literary" selection.

I considered Leslie Daniels's Cleaning Nabokov's House, a short, witty novel, according to several reviewers, about a bemused divorcee who moves into a house inhabited by Nabokov, but it looked too slight, too inconsequential to trade a pound for.  Louise Dean's novel, The Old Romantic, will turn up at the library.  I read one of her books a few years ago and enjoyed it.

Then I decided not to buy a book by a New Yorker or an Englishwoman.  I am always buying books by New Yorkers and Englishwomen.  So this eliminated others I was vacillating about.

Susand Froderberg's Old Border Road looked very good. How did I select it from the new shelves?  By the blurbs.  Robert Olmstead and Ivan Doig had good things to say about it.  I sat in a big chair and read a chapter of this lyrical Western, the style and storytelling both rapid-fire and oblique.  But I am afraid to take a chance on someone unknown, because I made a few errors in impulsive choices last fall.  And then it turned out the author lives in New York anyway and I had to say no.

I ended up buying a new novel by a well-known, but not too well-known, writer, Sheri Holman.  And then, oh no, I got home and learned she lives in BROOKLYN.  I thought she was a Southern writer.

Meanwhile, I'm reading Kristin Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset's masterpiece.  This fascinating trilogy, written in luminous medieval-style language, chronicles a Norwegian woman's life in the 14th century, spanning her childhood, teens, love affairs, marriage, religious dilemmas, religious pilgrimages, and the disappointments of life with Erlend, her weak husband. Undset won the Nobel Prize in 1928, and is also known for The Master of Hestviken, a tetralogy set in the Middle Ages. Kristin Lavransdatter is one of my favorite books, read again and again, and I own the "Nobel edition" published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1929, the Charles Archer translation. I own the old translations, but Kristin Lavransdatter is also available in a beautiful new Penguin translation by the award-winning Tina Nunnally. 

I am still on the first volume, The Bridal Wreath.  Many of the events in Kristin's childhood shape her religious views.  A boyfriend is killed in a fight with a man who attempts to rape Kristin.  She begs to go to a convent after his death, but is not meant to be a nun:  she meets another man.   Earlier, when her younger sister, Ulvhild, is crippled in an accident, Kristin is influenced by Lady Aashild, a healer who tends to Ulvhild and teaches Kristin much about medicine.  Lady Aashild is an aristocrat, a passionate woman who left her rich first husband to live with a lover later accused of murdering the first husband.  Long married to her second husband, Lady Aashild is very philosophical, and when Kristin questions her about regrets, she says:

"Good days may last long if one lives wisely and deals warily with what one has; all wise folk know that, and 'tis therefore, I trow, that wise folk must rest content with good days--for the best days of all cost very dear.  In this world they call him a fool who wastes his heritage that he may make merry in the days of his youth.  As to that each man may deem as he lists.  But that man only do I call a fool and a very dolt who rues his bargain after it is made; and twice a simpleton and a fool of fools is he who thinks to see more of his boon-companions after his heritage is gone--"

I always feel very Catholic when I read this novel.


StuckInABook said...

The only Sigrid Undset novel I've read is Images in a Mirror (or possibly Image in a Mirror...) - the font was so large that I turned each page before I knew what was happening on it. Do you ever get that? Still, the other week I bought a copy in a charity shop, as the one I'd read was from the library. Maybe I'll try again one day.


Tracie Cooper said...

Really, Sheri Holman is a Southern writer--I mean, it's not as though a Chicagoan can move to Savannah and be one. So it's hard to disqualify a Virginia farm girl who winds up in Brooklyn. Besides, when I've read her, I've found so much "Southern-ness" in her descriptive power and attention to the still and quiet moments that I would have pegged her as south of the Mason-Dixon even without reading her bio. Is it her new one Witches on the Road Tonight that you're reading? I'm in the midst and really really liking it.

Frisbee said...

To continue...before I dash off to the office. Actually, what I need is a copy of New Stories from the South to introduce me to writers who live in the south. Tim Gautreaux, James Wilcox, Bobbie Ann Mason, etc. It's interesting to see who stays and who goes. Nobody can be expected to stay in one place all his life, but I like to support "regional" writers from all parts of the country. And, honestly, it CAN be difficult to find books not writen by writers who live in NY. That's what I found as I looked the other day...

Tracie Cooper said...

Point well taken. Makes me wonder if, particularly in a contracting publisher market, the relationship and referral process (getting agented, getting sold, getting promoted) has grown harder for regional writers. Seems to be real vitality and geographic diversity in the journals, but less so among book-length publishers. There's such a rich literary tradition in the South; I'd hate to see that lost.

Frisbee said...

Simon, I recommend Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken.

Tracie, I don't read the journals but am sure there are many good writers I've never heard of. Borders used to carry several obscure mags, but we are lucky now if we can get a copy of The Paris Review.

Buried In Print said...

I've yet to read Kristin Lavransdatter but have been thinking about it for this year...that translation in particular. The edition I have is a sweet edition from the 30s: do you think there would be a charm to an earlier version, or should I hold out for the more accessible style?

Frisbee said...

BIP, I've read KL in both the old and the new editions and love them both. Tina Nunnally, the new translator, has won awards, so that's something to think about. But you might as well try your '30s edition and see how it goes... They're both excellent.