Tuesday, June 17, 2014

I Kiss Your Hands Many Times, nonfiction from Marianne Szegedy-Maszak

Hearts, Souls, and Wars in Hungary

"Over wine, steeped in Budapest, feeling close, I asked my parents what their romance had been like.  They exchanged quick looks....But for once my father took charge. Smiling, he reached for another piece of bread and said with the sealed air of finality, "My dear, that is none of your business."

The title of this book grabbed me, the implied sense of surprise and gratitude captured in a simple act.  But there's nothing simple about the family history of the author.

Fortunately,  daughter and author Marianne Szegedy-Maszak  makes it her business and with interviews and family documents reveals the momentous love story that spanned decades and stayed alive despite the Holocaust, long absences, mental issues, and a loss of class station.  Szegedy-Maszak describes how the Holocaust separated them, but what I found more interesting was the period they experienced leading up to the Holocaust.  The family's lifestyle and activities, and how devastated their lives became was severe and particularly focused on their Hungarian origin.  Their Jewish heritage also doomed them and the details of what they went through are hard to read.  Especially because this is non-fiction....supported by names and dates. Fictionalized accounts of this time period are many but they don't compare.  She describes her discoveries as a "gossamer sliver of time, that dividing line between one way of looking at the world and another."  

While they survive, their family is not the same.  Stripped of their wealth, unsure even of their identities (and all the facets of identity that we know about ourselves), they rebuild.  They succeed, even if that meant for some suspenseful reading.  Someone compared it to The Hare with the Amber Eyes, a history of a well-known Jewish family torn up by the same time period but focusing on the collection of netsuke curated by a descendant.  The similarity is apt but this feels more personable, more gut-wrenching while the other seemed to border on being polite rather than describe the violence (still well worth reading).

The book also encompasses the political and financial impact of the aftermath of the Holocaust and strengthening the Hungarian nation, with politics in the US and large amounts of money changing hands to try and assure a future beyond those of individuals.

Published by Spiegel & Grau

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

My Next Purchase: Salon's Laura Miller recommends "How Not to Be Wrong: What the Literary World Can Learn From Math"

So there's this:

Laura Miller at Salon has pointed out two inspiring new books that have jumped the line to the top of my wishlist of summer books.  I'm sure I'll get to The Goldfinch sometime...

First, How Not to Be Wrong: What the Literary World Can Learn From Math, by Jordan Ellenberg is discussed at length, and at one point Miller quotes Ellenberg's observation that a simple word choice can make all the difference and how it matters mathematically (not just as a variation of lexicon).

"Ellenberg pauses, for example, to fantasize about going back in time to “the dawn of statistical nomenclature” so he could persuade statisticians to use the term “statistically noticeable” instead of “statistically significant.” “Mathematics has a funny relationship to the English language,” he writes, and here’s a prime example. In statistics “significant” does not indicate that a result is “important” or “meaningful,” only that it is at least a little bit off what we would expect from pure chance. Such a finding should be viewed as no more than “a clue, suggesting a promising place to focus your research energy.” Only when well-designed experiments consistently deliver the same finding can we start to treat it as a fact."

Probability and statistics and how numbers are manipulated makes for some tantalizing reading, and tying it into literature, as Ellenberg does in the book, is a brilliant angle.  Word choice is everything these days, from logic classes to what an advertiser is allowed to claim on a label.  Even more so, word choice is what allows the media to make vague accusations and still stay in business.

(Just for kicks, there's a related article from the University of Texas by Dr. James Pennebaker about what word choice says about us, our status and our honesty, entitled "Word Choice Detects Everything from Love to Lies to Leadership" at  http://www.utexas.edu/news/2011/08/01/pennebaker_word_choice/)

Also mentioned in Miller's article is a similar book, The Improbability Principle (by David J. Hand) that is "simpler and sometimes clearer" and equally likely to be on my wishlist of new titles to read through the summer.  

These sound appealing in the sense that the Malcolm Gladwell books explained things so uniquely and accessibly and "scientific-y" (although those often left me with more questions than answers, and sometimes a feeling of nausea).  

Yes, I am a nerd.

See the link for Miller's article, which is featured as part of her regular columns at Salon:


Saturday, May 31, 2014

Europa World Noir Giveaway: Two New Crime Titles, Laidlaw and The Cemetery of Swallows

Thanks to Europa Editions, I have two finished copies of some new books in their series of World Noir.

From Scotland, they've reprinted William McIlvanney's Laidlaw, a classic in Scottish noir from the 1970's.  A murder must be solved despite close families that want to exert their own revenge aside from the investigation by the police.  This is part of a trilogy that features Laidlaw, a brooding detective that no one in the force likes.  Review coming soon, so read it now and offer me your two cents:

The other title is The Cemetery of Swallows by an author with the pseudonym Mallock.  Another series with another moody protagonist, this features a bizarre murder that crisscrosses the world.

To enter:  please leave a comment with your name and contact info.  On June 15th a random winner will be selected.  US only.  Both will be shipped via USPS once the winner is confirmed.  Enter now!