Friday, July 21, 2017


Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Penguin Books
1985, 1988
Translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman

Ms. Hen decided to read this again after she read THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING by Milan Kundera because the character in that book reminded her of the character in this one. If you read Ms. Hen’s post about that, she decided that Florentino Ariza was less unsavory than Tomas in the Czech novel. Ms. Hen remembered Florentino Ariza as a romantic soul, and she was reminded again why she loved this book so much the first time.

Ms. Hen recalled that the last time she read LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA was eleven years ago. She was a younger hen back then, and not that experienced and wise in the ways of literature. She has since received two degrees in this subject, and she has read countless books since the last time she read this, and thought about them deeply. She was startled reading this in the beginning, because she didn’t remember admiring Fermina’s husband Dr. Urbino that much the first time. During this reading, she found him more sympathetic at the beginning of the novel, but towards the end, she felt more compassion for Florentino.

Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza meet when they are young and have a romantic correspondence. He first sees her at her father’s house when he is delivering a telegram, and he becomes entranced. They write to each other for years, until Florentino follows Fermina in the market, she turns to him, and she tells him that nothing can be between them. From Ms. Hen’s first reading, she does not recall the moment when that happened in the book. She always remembered the couple not getting together, and then she marries the doctor because her father wishes it, and they go their separate ways.

Ms. Hen thinks it’s funny how memory can trick us. She remembered the story one way, but it unfolded in a different way.

When Fermina rejects Florentino, he becomes a womanizer. Not right away, but he does eventually. He travels up the river, and a woman bursts into his cabin on the boat and she seduces him. He doesn’t know who she is, but he thinks it’s one traveling with a group of women who have a child in a birdcage. Multiple birdcages spurt up in this novel in different places; many birds and animals appear, and Ms. Hen enjoyed this.

What she enjoyed most was the mammoth amount of hens, roosters and chickens that appear in this novel, mostly roosters. She took the time to count: she calculated there are twenty-nine times one is mentioned in the book! There are numerous beautiful quotes about chickens, and every time Ms. Hen read one, her feathers ruffled. One of her favorites is, “In Valledupar, she realized why the roosters chase the hens.” Another one she enjoyed is when a widow is talking to Florentino about how old people smell, “‘Now we stink like a henhouse.’"

Ms. Hen remembered when she reread ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE, she discovered the book was full of chickens as well. She might have to read Marquez’s books eventually to find all the chickens that live in his worlds.

Ms. Hen thinks that this is one of the perfect love stories of all time. It shows that a person can love someone his whole life, and wait (in a way) for her forever. Florentino was true in his heart to Fermina Daza, and he one of the most romantic characters that Ms. Hen has read. Ms. Hen loved reading this book again; she consumed it hungrily, it was more than she had remembered, and she was grateful she went back.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews THE BLUE FOX

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
2004, 2008
Translated from the Icelandic by Victoria Cribb

As many of Ms. Hen’s fans know, she went through a spell of reading Icelandic novels right before her trip to Iceland in April. She thought she might have been finished reading those books, but how could she finish? She stumbled across this small gem, and decided to save it for the midst of summer when the weather is sweltering, since it takes place during an Icelandic winter.

At first Ms. Hen didn’t know what she was reading: she didn’t know if it was poetry or short prose. The pages in the first section are spaced like flash fiction. The novel starts with a priest hunting a blue fox in the winter in the wilderness. The fox teases the priest and gives him a hearty chase.

It is also the story of the priest’s life before the fox hunt and the world that surrounds him, including his neighbors and a Down Syndrome girl the people find on an abandoned ship.

A section of the book had the priest and the blue fox arguing about electricity. Ms. Hen had never considered that electricity would be something to argue about, but in Iceland in 1883, when the book takes place, she understands why that would occur. She believes it might have been controversial the way stem cell treatments are now, or enhanced minds will be very soon. Ms. Hen has read a lot about brain implants and the thought terrifies her. She does not want the Internet in her head, but she thinks that this development is most likely inevitable. She fears a world where nobody will take the time to read a novel or look at the blue sky, but it’s already happening, since a lot of people are glued to their phones incessantly. But she does not wish to digress and preach about her opinions on technology.

This novel is brief and it reads like poetry. Ms. Hen dashed through it in two days. She doesn’t usually read a book with so much speed, but this one lent itself to be read that way.

There is one mention of a chicken in THE BLUE FOX, “Wiping the food off her hands, she embraced the young man’s head as he wept in the chicken hatch, comforting him with the following words: ‘Furru ahm-ahm, furru ahm-ahm.’” The disabled woman who was taken into the household tries to help the young man who is crying, but she does not know the language, and she does not know any words. They are in the chicken hatch because they sleep there, since they are outcasts.

Ms. Hen loved this book; it is wispy and air-like. The author is a lyricist as well, and has written songs for Bjork. Ms. Hen thought that she finished it too soon, and it didn’t make her as cold in the middle of the summer as she might have wanted. But her air conditioner works now, so she is not fainting away, dreaming of snow in Iceland.

Sunday, July 9, 2017


By Milan Kundera
Harper & Row
Translated from the Czech by Michael Henry Heim

Ms. Hen happened to buy this at a used bookstore a while back since she had heard it is considered one of the great books. She had no idea what it was about when she started reading, but soon she was engrossed in the story of tortured love.

The title of this novel has to do with lightness and heaviness. The protagonist, Tomas, believes that everything is light and nothing he does, including having numerous sexual partners, matters. His lover, Tereza, who becomes his wife, believes that everything is heavy, and she cannot bear the weight of the world. He believes she came to him in a “bulrush basket” like Moses, and he cannot turn her away, because that would be cruel.

She comes to visit him in Prague after a brief encounter in the small village where she lives. After he seduces her, she gets very sick, and he believes that he has to take care of her. He refuses to give up his other lovers, however, and even introduced Tereza to the sly Sabina so she can help Tereza find employment.

Around Tomas and Tereza, Prague is in an uproar. The Russians are taking over the city with tanks and guns. Citizens are being shot. Tereza, a photographer, takes pictures of what is happening to prove to the world that this is wrong.

Tereza and Tomas leave and go to Switzerland, but come back eventually because Tereza leaves and Tomas follows her. They have a difficult love; he loves her, but he thinks he needs other women.

He chases what he says is the one-millionth part difference between all women. He is a surgeon, and he believes that intimacy with a woman is similar to cutting open a body with a scalpel; he does it to discover how unique each woman is underneath everything else. He considers tastes in art and music interesting, but he is more interested in finding out the secret difference that dwells beneath.

Even though Ms. Hen knows this is one of the great novels, she found the character of Tomas to be unsavory. She doesn’t know anyone like him, nor would she wish to. She found his philandering unpleasant, and she was reminded of another novel she had read years ago, one of her favorites, LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA, in which a man, Florentino, and a woman, Fermina, are in love, but she is forced to marry a doctor because of his money and status.

In that novel, when Florentino’s heart is broken, he sleeps with every woman he can find. Ms. Hen did not find Florentino as creepy in that novel as she did Tomas in this one. In LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA, the character stayed true to his heart. Tomas never stays true to his heart, and that is what disgusts Ms. Hen about him, and it prevented her from loving this novel too much.

There are some chickens in THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, but not too many. What Ms. Hen did learn was the original German meaning of the word “kitsch.” It is “an aesthetic ideal of categorical agreement with being in a world in which shit is denied and everyone acts as though it did not exist.” This can mean actual shit or figurative shit. The word has become used in all Western languages and has changed its meaning. Ms. Hen does not deny shit; she knows it exists; her world is full of it. People who deny shit have rose-colored glasses, and Ms. Hen cannot tolerate that. The world may be full of shit, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good things too; Ms. Hen is not a complete pessimist. But she does not ascribe to kitsch.

Even though Ms. Hen did not love this book completely, she found it illuminating and educational. The world does have unpleasant people in it, like Tomas, and that cannot be denied, but that doesn’t mean that some things can be beautiful.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews ANAGRAMS

Lorrie Moore
Alfred A. Knopf

Ms. Hen decided to read this book because she had read another Lorrie Moore book years ago, and she knows she is one of the great writers of our time. Ms. Moore is known as a short story writer, but is a novelist as well.

When Ms. Hen started reading this, she didn’t quite know what it was. She thought it might have been a novel, but other stories appeared. All the stories in the book have the same characters in different situations, like an anagram. An anagram is a word that can form another word by rearranging the letters; this collection rearranges the characters in the story to make a different story.

A woman, Benna, and a man, Gerard, are sometimes friends or lovers in different stories. Benna has a friend Eleanor, who in other stories is involved with Gerard. The various characters are lounge singers, college professors, or aerobics instructors. They sit in diners and proselytize their thoughts on the world around them. They live in a small town in upstate New York.

At first when Ms. Hen started reading this, she had no idea what year it was published. She didn’t understand why there was no technology until she learned it was published in 1986. She wondered how books about people and relationships have changed since the advent of the Internet and cell phones. She wonders if these characters would have an entire different outlook on life, if they had existed twenty or thirty years later. This book seems like an anachronism to Ms. Hen, a window to the way the world used to be, unlike some other books she had read about this time.

The style of this collection is exquisite. Ms. Hen could not get over how clever the writing is in ANAGRAMS. It is the work of a genius of words; everything that is written is perfect and funny. Ms. Hen doesn’t know if people like this actually exist in the world, who say exact funny things at every moment, but she found it entertaining.

Ms. Hen heard the author Mary Gaitskill give a lecture once about the importance of being original in our writing. That’s all she said for an hour and a half, but Lorrie Moore is another one of the authors who succeeds at that. Ms. Hen thinks it is difficult to pull off such wit for an entire book. Ms. Hen doesn’t think people are as charming as they used to be. In the days before constant entertainment online, people had to work to amuse each other more. Ms. Hen thinks this is sad, that society is losing its tendency to be funny to technology. Everything these days is dumb humor, and Ms. Hen had no tolerance for that.

Ms. Hen did find one chicken in this book. The character, Benna is writing Christmas cards in a diner, and she sees, “the faded photo of fried chicken over the counter: six pieces dead and breaded, arranged carefully in a circle on a plate with parsley and cranberry sauce, red and green, like Christmas.” This is at a low point in Benna’s life; she is depressed because she has to face reality, and other things. Ms. Hen thinks the chicken is there, and she mentions that it is dead, because everything will be dead some day.

Ms. Hen loved this book. It’s strange and entertaining, and a window to a different time. People are still dysfunctional in the same way today. That’s what timeless writing does, it shows us how we are and how we’ve always been.

Sunday, June 25, 2017


Ms. Hen surrounded by Kipple, in the novel Kipple is trash that multiplies

Philip K. Dick
Ballantine Books

Ms. Hen read this because she likes to read science fiction from time to time. She had heard that Philip K. Dick is a great writer, and a lot of sci-fi films are based on his books. She liked this book, but she found herself distracted while she was reading it. She found she couldn’t fully immerse herself in it, that may have been because of the silliness of the book, or the fact that it takes place two years into the future from now, in 2019, and she kept looking for things that were real that weren’t there. Also, the writing is not perfect. Ms. Hen is a fussy hen about writing, and if she reads something that is not exquisite prose, she is disappointed.

This novel is about Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter who retires (another word for destroys) androids that have escaped to Earth after having worked on the colonies in space. His wife, Iran, is a weak woman who clings to their Penfield machine, a device that takes a person’s emotions and gives the emotions of other people away. Isodore is a man who is a “special” meaning he can’t emigrate to the colonies. He meets Pris in his apartment building and wants to help her.

Isodore is considered a “chickenhead,” which Ms. Hen thought was very funny. A chickenhead in this novel is a person who has no skills and a very low IQ. They are considered to be less that other humans. Ms. Hen is a little offended that chickenheads are considered inferior, because she thinks chickens are superior, being a chicken herself. Isodore contemplates, “Can I give her any help? he asked himself. A special, a chickenhead, what do I know? I can’t marry and I can’t emigrate and the dust will eventually kill me. I have nothing to offer.” This is a perfect description of a chickenhead.

Another reason Ms. Hen did not thoroughly like this novel is the women characters. All the women seem to be either nagging housewives or sexpots. There are no complicated, strong women is this 2019, and Ms. Hen was annoyed by it. Ms. Hen understands that this was written by a man in 1967, but Ms. Hen thinks that was not that long ago, and Ms. Hen thinks writers should be ahead of the times with their predictions of the future. But this is not always the case, as she has learned.

After she read the novel, Ms. Hen watched the film BLADERUNNER, which is based on the book. The film is starkly different than the book, but it is a decent film and well made. In the film, Rick Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, does not have a wife. Also, Ms. Hen was shocked by the amount of smoking in the film. She thinks that people in the future shouldn’t smoke so much, and is disturbed that the filmmakers thought that the culture of the future would be the same as when the film was made, in the Eighties. And Ms. Hen kept looking for cell phones or computers, which of course do not exist in this 2019 the way they do now. The film is a stripped down version of the novel.

Ms. Hen liked this novel, but she didn’t like it too much. She was not completely invested in the characters. She thinks the future is something that nobody can predict, but the writers and visionaries should have more advanced ideas of what will come.  This novel was written fifty years ago. If someone were to write something that takes places fifty years from now, it’s difficult to say what will be. The world could be a better or worse version of what it is now, or it could be a starkly different place, or it could be gone.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Ms. Hen reviews A MAN CALLED OVE

Fredrik Backman
Washington Square Press
2012, 2014
Translated from Swedish by Henning Koch

Ms. Hen read this novel because she was planning to watch the movie, but someone told her the book was much better. That’s usually the case, so Ms. Hen read the book and watched the movie. The book is more detailed, of course, and funnier than the movie.

A MAN CALLED OVE is about a man who has recently lost his wife, and afterwards, his job. He doesn’t know what to do with himself, so he decides to end his life. The novel is a journey about his finding reasons to live, and learning to keep his head above water.

The first time he tries to take his life, his new neighbors back a trailer into his mailbox. Ove gets angry that the husband doesn’t know how to drive properly. Ove is a person who thinks there is a right and wrong way to do things, and expects people know the correct procedure for everything. He scoffs at the wife when he discovers that she cannot drive, and doesn’t understand why anyone would buy a car other than a Saab.

Ove keeps trying to commit suicide, but he never manages to do so. Something always gets in his way. Throughout the novel, Ms. Hen also learns about his life with his wife, how he met her, and their relationship, and her problems. Ms. Hen thinks the book is very sad, and she found herself tearing up in public while she was reading it, which she found embarrassing, since she doesn’t think a grown hen should cry while reading a book in public.

Ove is a curmudgeon. Ms. Hen understands that men can be like this, and she has known some in her life. They think the world should be one way, and if things aren’t that way, they get frustrated and angry. Ms. Hen understands that men can be very linear, that their minds only go in one direction, this way or that way. Ove’s wife Sonja, is a typical woman, she is a teacher and loves to read. She and Ove find happiness and love, though they are different.

Ms. Hen liked this novel, but she didn’t love it too much. She found the characters and situations a little too nice and pleasant for her taste. She prefers a novel to have an edge to it. She understands why A MAN CALLED OVE is very popular in book clubs. It’s the kind of novel that women like to read, non-offensive, with nothing disturbing about it, and no darkness. There is sadness, but not desperation. Ms. Hen prefers a novel to take her over a cliff.

Ms. Hen thinks this is a women’s novel, even though it is by and about a man. Ms. Hen believes that a women’s novel can be anything that is soft and non-threatening, which she takes A MAN CALLED OVE to be.

Ms. Hen understands why people love this book. It’s nice, and that’s it. It made Ms. Hen tear up in public, but she found it too sentimental. In her writing workshops, Ms. Hen was taught not to be sentimental in her work. Ms. Hen doesn’t know if this is a universal concept, but either way, it sells books. Ms. Hen would rather lose her breath with excitement, than be too cozy in her reading life.

Saturday, June 3, 2017


The Patron Saint of Ugly
Marie Manilla
Houghton Mifflin

Ms. Hen happened to buy this novel because she read a short story by the author in one of the online journals she reads, THE NEW ENGAGEMENT. She wanted to see what else the author had written, so she looked her up, and she was intrigued by the title of this novel, so she bought it.

Ms. Hen thinks there are not enough words to describe how much she enjoyed THE PATRON SAINT OF UGLY. It’s not just the story of Garnet, the birthmark covered would-be saint, or the family that surrounds her that Ms. Hen loved. It’s the joy in the writing, which makes this book a pleasure to read. Even in its saddest moments, this story is filled with happiness, and the hope that there could be a saint somewhere to cure people of their ailments; the hope that there could possibly be a God who loves the world enough that he will take all the bad things away and bring beauty to us all.

This novel is about Garnet Ferrari’s life, told mostly through letters to a representative of the Vatican who is attempting to prove that Garnet is a saint. She goes through her childhood growing up covered with birthmarks displaying a map of the world. All over her body, different countries appear. Nonna Ferrari thinks this happened because her other grandmother brought the grandfather’s globe collection to Garnet’s parent’s house and her mother’s proximity to the globes before she was born brought out her birthmarks.

Even though Garnet is considered ugly by most people, she does not let that get her down. She is a feisty, headstrong young girl, and becomes the same type of woman. She is not afraid to tell the truth, and she is not afraid of speaking her mind. But she is afraid of her father, and is afraid of going outside to meet the pilgrims who come to her house to be healed.

Ms. Hen thinks this novel is a beautiful story of the love of family, especially women in a family, and it’s bursting with humor and magic. The story is realistic except for the little bits of fantasy thrown in. It’s absurd that Garnet would be able to heal people, but she does, but not all the time. She might have been a saint, or a healer, but only selectively, when she was inspired, though she had no control.

There aren’t any hens in this novel, but there is one mention, “Dad, bless his henpecked heart, slinked over to Uncle Dom’s to beg for a down payment on a house.” Garnet’s father was always tormented by his father and brother. Ms. Hen doesn’t love the term henpecked, since she thinks it’s insulting to hens, but she believes it is the right way to describe the father at this time.

Ms. Hen says, run as fast as you can to buy this novel, and read it. She thinks it’s one of the best books she’s read this year so far. She loved living in Garnet’s world for a short time, and she found she could not put the book down; she read all the time, because she enjoyed the novel so much, she wanted to swim in it, and float in it, letting it envelop her mind and take over her world.