Fiction: “The Good Soldier Svejk” by Jaroslav Hasek

The February book in Dad’s and my reading challenge.

Eastern European classic, Dad bought it years ago based on a Kundera recommendation. Total farce, hilarious comic novel. Bumbling anti-hero, a miserable idiot…or is he? Really a lot of fun to read. The never-ending “Well that reminds me of” stories and the contretemps…just indescribable. We both loved it. Humbly report, sir…

Somewhat in the tradition of Don Quixote or Tristram Shandy, although Svejk is a bit more self aware than DQ.

Stories: “The Oxford Book of English Short Stories” edited by A.S. Byatt

The January book for me and Dad’s 2008 reading challenge. We picked this b/c Dad had (recently) so enjoyed V.S. Pritchett’s Oxford short story collection.
However, the selection of stories in this book felt very bizarre to both of us. Byatt’s particular idea of “what makes an English short story” was a very specific type and some of the things she claimed were “very particularly Britishly funny” in her introduction were things we either found a) not funny or b) not very British feeling (to us, both non Brits, of course).
So while there were some stories we really loved (some we both loved), there were a lot of stories that we didn’t like / I wouldn’t recommend the collection as a whole.
There were a lot of stories that were supposed to be (per her intro) scary = but weren’t. Or stories that would be scary if they were written differently, but a LOT of stories in this book were very distant / the heavy presence of a “storyteller” telling the story (a very passive voice relating the action) on top of the writer made what was happening in the story seem very far away and hard to connect with. There were a lot of stories I call “afterschool specials” = you know, “message” or “lesson” stories.
And there were a lot of stories that seemed very atypical of their authors. In other words, my dad said, “if the story in this book were the first A.E. Coppard story I read, I would never have been interested in reading him again.” Same goes for Dickens, Hardy, D.H. Lawrence and T.H. White. All great writers, all represented here by bad stories.
While we had different faves, these are eight we both liked.
Dad’s faves were: “”Wireless” by Rudyard Kipling, “”At Hiruharama” by Penelope Fitzgerald, and “An Englishman’s Home” by Evelyn Waugh.
Mine were: “The Tremendous Adventures of Major Brown” by G.K. Chesteron, “Solid Objects” by Virginia Woolf, “A Widow’s Quilt” by Silvia Townsend Warner (and not because of the quilting), “A Dream of Winter” by Rosamond Lehmann, and “Telephone” by John Fuller.
We’d both recommend those (and some others), but not this particular collection. And we both thought “The Destructors” by Graham Greene was a really good story but had an incredibly devastating (and not funny at all) ending.
Given our experience with this collection, and his previous love for the Pritchett, we’ve added that one to our challenge for our last set of stories (even though he’s read it already).

Dad’s and My Reading Challenge for 2008 [Updated]

Alternating short stories & Eastern European novels.

January: “The Oxford Book of English Short Stories” edited by A.S. Byatt

February: “The Good Soldier Svejk” by Jaroslav Hasek

March: Complete Short Stories, David Malouf

April: “The Death of Virgil” by Hermann Brach

May: Collected Short Stories, Isaac Baschevis Singer

June: “War with the Newts” by Karel Capek

July: Stories TBD“The New Granta Book of the American Short Story” edited by Richard Ford

August: “The Man Without Qualities, Vol 1” by Robert Musil

September: Stories TBD“Dead Boys: Stories” by Richard Lange

October: “The Man Without Qualities, Vol 2” by Robert Musil

November: Stories TBD“The Oxford Book of Short Stories” edited by V.S. Pritchett

December: “The Trial” by Kafka