Reading: 1997

Total items = 114

An Artist of the Floating World — Kazuo Ishiguro (+)
“My conscience, Sensei, tells me I cannot remain forever an artist of the floating world.” Start with A Pale View of Hills (you can see that the author has a dimension to the structure of his text) then go on to An Artist of the Floating World (the complexity of the structure, plot and characterization grows and enthralls) and finally to The Remains of the Day (where the author further perfects the structure). Watch the time elements, the spacial relations and the use of memory. Balance the generations. See the Floating World expand. Now I can’t wait to read The Unconsoled.

A Lesson Before Dying — Ernest J. Gaines (-)
I knew that that Oprah recommendation was trouble. I suspect the Cosby trio is a step up from this story. Why is it that we fall for novels that have an important theme and no substance. Gaines must have submitted a query and first chapter, grabbed the advance check and slapped on just enough plot and character to fill this book out to novel length (a thin novel, at that). This had to have been written with a slot on the Sunday Night Movie in mind … although it might not even suffice as an After School Special.

A Pale View of Hills — Kazuo Ishiguro
I was very, very impressed with The Remains of the Day and am looking forward to reading The Unconsoled; but first I decided to drop back and read the two early novels–this and An Artist of the Floating World. This was an excellent read, especially as it was a first-novel. I’m still thinking about its themes and its structure. On to Artist …

Great Jones Street — Don DeLillo (-)
“Brilliant … deeply shocking … Looks at rock music, nihilism, and urban decay.” Diane Johnson, TNYTROB. IMHO Pee-pee-maw-maw … kah-kah.

She’s Come Undone — Wally Lamb (-)
I think this was a terrible book … undisciplined and trite. Wasn’t this originally a made-for-TV movie with Stockard Channing?

Cosmos — Witold Gombrowicz (+)
This text was on the syllabus for an introductory literature course and I had never heard of the author … so I bought it. The author is Polish andthe text was translated into French before later being translated into English. I loved this story — “a metaphysical thriller, [which] revolves around an absurd investigation.” I put Gombrowicz with Robbe-Grillet (different, but related).

The Book of Ruth — Jane Hamilton
Hamilton is a competent writer and her stories are well developed and interesting. They’re good entertainments … but they don’t inspire. I probably won’t be looking out for her next novel.

The Shipping News — E. Annie Proulx (+)
I’m trying to decide if I liked this better than Corelli’s Mandolin. It’s not as rich and varied, but the prose is crisp and the architecture of the text holds together more. Read this book. I’m going to check out the authors earlier stories and the novel Postcards.

Frankenstein — Mary Shelley
I was far more impressed with Stoker’s Dracula. Even so, this is a very different and much richer story than is popularly portrayed (although I have not seen the recent version).

Jealously — Alain Robbe-Grillet (+)
I count Robbe-Grillet as one of my favorite authors yet I still haven’t read all of his works. Time to catch up. I really liked this small novel … it’s acually more of a “story” … it’s almost just a description. If you haven’t read R-G, this might be an interesting one to start with (although I usually suggest Erasers). I recommend reading Jealousy at least twice … bring a protractor and take notes.

The Third Twin — Ken Follett
Okay, this was a gift from a very well-meaning friend who eats this kind of fiction up. When I saw they were already making a mini-series out of it (no, I did not watch it) I figured I had better get it read). It was okay … like a typical made for TV movie … on the USA network … late at night … maybe. Look for the spot on page 250 when the highly intellegent main characters suddenly realise that there must be a third twin … duh.

War With the Newts — Karel Capek
This was really an amazing book. I’m not giving it a high score for brilliant writing (although this translation was excellent and the story just whipped along) or for the subtlety of the satire (it’s pretty hard to miss the point) but rather for the way Capek was able to put it all together … it’s almost believable. Because of the careful construction of the details, Capek was also able to cut and thrust at most parts of “civilization” very effectively. Why don’t they read this in HS instead of Animal Farm? … I know the theme is different, but War With the Newts is a more diverse and complex allegory and I think actually more entertaining (I know, slimey salamanders are not as cute as little pink piggies).

Tortilla Flat — John Steinbeck
I read this originally back in Junior High or something and at one time I had it down as one of my favorite books. I recall that the recent movie version of Cannery Row had indicated that it was an amalgam of Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat (true). Anyway, this is quintessential Steinbeck … character, character, character. Not the greatest, but a satisfying read — less a novel than a collection of vignettes.

Small Vices — Robert B. Parker
Spenser … nuf said.

Galatea 2.2 — Richard Powers
Let’s see — does she want to be a Dutch girl or an American girl; does he prefer reading aloud to a real girl or to the transistorized girl; does he love the real degree candidate or the synthesized candidate; is it the real Powers or the fictional Powers? Not a bad book (although it requires a willing dispensation of belief). I was intrigued by the discussion of the current state of literary study — is it true that Hopkins and Smollett and Sterne are no longer considered adequate for serious study? I recently heard that Cormac McCarthy was being taught in a 200 level survey course … gawd.

Louisiana Power & Light — John Dufresne (-)
This book didn’t work for me. Oh, it was a quick entertainment, but not much deeper than Gregory McDonald’s Skylar (and without the murder mystery). I would compare it less to Faulkner and more to “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” — a comic book rendition of trailer-trash at best, promising but never delivering (actually, MH,MH was better).

Corelli’s Mandolin — Louis De Bernières (+)
There was sort of an Edna Ferber quality to this book. It was excellent throughout with strong characterizations and an interesting, varied background. It is a different story of the war — both from its locale and from its point of view. I would recommend this to everyone. My only problem was with the ending — it lacked plausibility and was out of character with the remainder of the story. Otherwise, a tremendous read — DO IT!

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — Ken Kesey
I started this story back when it first came out in paperback (or when Sometimes a Great Notion came out, ’cause I bought them both at that time and still have them on my bookshelf). I saw the movie, of course, and, as usual, it creates an interesting dynamic as I contemplate the reasons for changes and cuts. Like the Big Nurse — her description is probably not Louise Fletcher (at least at that time) but I think that the actress nailed the mannerisms, facial responses, attitude and spirit of the book. Nicholson, as great as he might have been, really isn’t Randle Patrick McMurphy … but then, Kesey hadn’t met Nicholson when he wrote One Flew Over.

Nine Stories — J. D. Salinger
I’m thinking that I should go back and re-read all of Salinger to put it all in perpective (or find a decent PhD thesis that explains it all to me). My only other thought is that there’s really not that much to Salinger’s body of work (compare Irving).

Family Happiness — Leo Tolstoy (-)
Tolstoy’s views on love and marriage? Somewhat tedious.

Skylar in Yankeeland — Gregory McDonald
I have read most of Gregory McDonald and I am not stopping. This is my guilty read for a lazy afternoon.

The Kreutzer Sonata — Leo Tolstoy (+)
The story of a man who, before his marriage, “practiced debauchery in a steady, decent way for health’s sake” and whose fanatical ideas about the business between men and women (including sex) leads him to kill his wife. You probably don’t want to be inside this guys head — but it’s pretty good stuff.

Like Water for Chocolate: A Novel in Monthly Installments with Recipes, Romances and Home Remedies — Laura Esquivel
This is a delicious little love story but it is made more interesting (and sensual) by building the story around the tastes and smells of a traditional Mexican kitchen (yes, there really are recipes, but they are woven into the narrative so skillfully that they are almost elments of the plot).

Chronicle of a Death Foretold — Gabriel García Márquez (+)
This excellent story even has a hook into One Hundred Years of Solitude (I suppose it could be viewed as a couple of extra chapters). It is wonderful! I’d like to do the screenplay.

Master and Man — Leo Tolstoy
This is more of a story than a novelette. It’s the story of the Master (as in, landed gentry) and his man (servant) who are lost at night in a blizzard. In the end there is dignity (if not a lot of smarts).

Good Benito — Alan Lightman
Einstein’s Dreams was a little jewel so I thought I’d try another by Lightman. This one says it’s a clash between the absolutes of science and the vagaries of human experience–that seems about right. It’s actually a nice, simple story. Lightman is not deep and convoluted; he writes nice stuff and I like him.

The Death of Ivan Ilych — Leo Tolstoy
I needed some Tolstoy to overcome the Dixon. This is one of those superfluous man type stories — even with a degree of power, affluence and respect, Ivan realizes he blew it!

interstate — Stephen Dixon (-)
You’re driving down the Interstate somewhere between Philadelphia and Delaware, the kids are in the back seat; a car pulls alongside and a bad man pulls a gun and points it at your head, laughs and, as the car speeds away, shoots back at your car killing your youngest daughter. What do you do? Dixon apparantly thinks that you begin to recall the variety of socks in your drawer when you were 17 and the different types of lettuce available in the produce section of the market and just about ever other thing imaginable. And after we get completely through the anguish of the story, Dixon tells it all over again, slightly differently (varieties of sexual partners, methods of growing ferns, etc.); in fact he tells the story eight times. Did I mention that there are only a couple of paragraphs in each story–pages go by without a break. I admire Dixon’s ability to dump prose but I prefer discipline (which isn’t apparent in this story). I have Frog on my shelf; I hope it’s better (I’ve noticed that there are no paragraph breaks, though).

Balthazar — Lawrence Durrell (+)
I read the first volume of the Alexandria Quartet a few years back and, although I enjoyed it and was impressed by Durrell’s writing (at times), I guess age had dulled some of the fascination with this author that was prevalent in the ’60s. Now that I’ve read the second volume, I’m back to being impressed. I hadn’t realized the structure which Durrell was building around the story (outlining the structure would be a good project for independent study or a degree thesis … maybe). If you want to read Justine you MUST commit to reading the entire Quartet–Balthazar, Clea and Mountolive.

Smilla’s Sense of Snow — Peter Høeg (-)
I started listening to this story on a long commute to a business meeting and really got into it. I had no prior conception of the story and as it began to unfold as a sort of mystery, I was intrigued. Unfortunately, as the story went along, I began to lose track of the main character who, at first was fascinatingly different, but later became the equivalent of Batman’s utility belt — something for every situation. Too many compressed juxtapositions … and I also kept thinking of Arthur C. Clarke and Europa.

The English Patient — Michael Ondaatje
I steered clear of this for a long time, what with the movie and the awards and all. It was a quick read and, I think, an interesting story (the author did a good job). But this book definitely did not change my life.

The Bellarosa Connection — Saul Bellow
Another novella by Bellow–a “genius of portraiture”–a little memory.

A River Runs Through It — Norman Maclean (+)
I really enjoyed this story (it really was more of a long short-story than a novel). I did not see the movie they made from this and I’m wondering — was it a cinematic tone poem or did they turn it into something that it was never meant to be?

Under the Jaguar Sun — Italo Calvino
This is my first Calvino. I liked the “stories” and the way the theme was developed. Has anyone read Italo Svevo?

Tender Is the Night — F. Scott Fitzgerald
I think a recent viewing of Biography on A&E put too much of Scott’s real life into my head and it interfered with this book. Not as good as Gatsby but worth reading. In fact, read this instead (who can discuss Gatsby without being a bore? unless you’re 19 and innocent). I have carefully avoided reading so many classic American authors for so long, I thought I would catch up with the likes of Hemingway & Fitzgerald. Unfortunately, I have only bolstered my long-held opinion that these guys should have stuck with the short stories.

The Joy Luck Club — Amy Tan (+)
I enjoyed this book very much as it developed the contrasts between cultures and between generations — I intend to add the next Amy Tan books to my extended reading list. (Guilty confession: I thought the movie was very good also).

Ghost of Chance — William S. Burroughs
This is a very small book that covers most of the Burroughs themes — drugs, sex — and lemurs. Fairly haunting. I liked it.

Einstein’s Dreams — Alan Lightman
This is a small book that I slipped into my pocket on a trip to the local Sea Food festival. There’s tartar sauce on page 56. It’s like the Goldberg Variations–little poems, each expressing a variation on the theme of Time.

A Map of the World — Jane Hamilton
I read part of this and listened to most of it in the car. I enjoyed this–the story was intriguing, the characters interesting, the prose competent–but I’m reserving judgment.

Peter Pan — Sir James Barrie
Peter never does lose those baby teeth … really good form.

Seymour An Introduction — J. D. Salinger
Salinger – Irving?

Bright Lights, Big City — Jay McInerney (-)
Trite fun; the movie might have been better.

Kidnapped — Robert Louis Stevenson
Simple characters, direct plot, adventure, Scottish politics, fun.

The Tortilla Curtain — T. Coraghessan Boyle (-)
At first I thought this was only mildly interesting; now I think it was stupid exploitation.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro — Ernest Hemingway (+)
Excellent. Many of Hemingway’s stories are almost perfect. I can’t say that for his novels.

Ark Sakura — Kobo Abe
I find Abe’s work fascinating.

Rent Boy — Gary Indiana
This is a gay novel and it’s a little raw. The prose was crisp and I found the story compelling.

Turtle Diary — Russell Hoban (-)
I must have missed something here.

Room Temperature — Nicholson Baker
I liked this. It read just like when my mind wanders.

Running Dog — Don DeLillo
This was fun but was it supposed to be good?

The Sea Wolfe — Jack London
These stories read just like you’re watching a movie. Who would play Wolfe Larson?

Horse Crazy — Gary Indiana
Another gay piece. This time the story revolves around AIDS. Less vivid than Rent Boy–more personal.

The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea — Yukio Mishima
Very nice. They made a movie of this?

Flaubert’s Parrot — Julian Barnes
Interesting, enjoyable … but it didn’t change my life or anything.

Water Music — T. Coraghessan Boyle
I really enjoyed this book and look forward to others. Boyle has intriguing characters and complex plot action … not to mention a certain twisted fun.

The Mezzanine — Nicholson Baker
This is much better than Vox and more interesting than Room Temperature although the same comment applies.

A Theft — Saul Bellow
I like these short works of Bellow’s. They’re the type of thing you might have seen dramatized on the US Steel Hour.

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, J. D. Salinger — [Novellette]
I read these Salinger stories, but they’re like Chinese food … good Chinese food.

The Odyssey — Homer (+)
This was one of those forced reads in college that I never got all the way through. It was a one credit toss-off that culminated in the professor lighting the hair on his chest with a Zippo. The reading list was The Odyssey, The Brothers Karamozov, Ulysses and something else. The final exam was to read the L. A. Times for a solid hour. I pulled this out to re-read after watching the mini-series.

Islands in the Stream — Ernest Hemingway (-)
Better than some TV.

Kangaroo Notebook — Kobo Abe
Well, this guy wakes up and he has radishes growing from his toes. You have to read Abe.

What Masie Knew — Henry James (-)
This didn’t work for me. The theme (a child of divorced parents) doesn’t resonate the same in the 1997 and James, although certainly replete with strengths, is no Judy Blume.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles — Thomas Hardy
My kid was forced to read this in HS and even she admitted that it was pretty good. Of course I couldn’t let her get ahead of me. I always enjoy Hardy, even with the dialect and localisms.

A Moveable Feast — Ernest Hemingway (-)
Mild historical interest; Hemingway really wasted himself.

White Fang — Jack London
I liked Buck better. Funny how we can accept the deep psychological insights of a dog (or a wolf in this case). It’s OK to read these stories after you grow up.

Chance — Robert Parker
The early Spensers were new and exciting, then Parker slipped out of gear and forced out some less that satisfying volumes. Although his recent works are back in line, I’m thinking we could feed all the earlier works into some Expert system and pump out adequate Spensers for the next 200 years. I love them and wouldn’t miss one … but even Dame Agatha felt the need to branch out … hey, didn’t she even kill-off the little Belgian?

The Rainmaker — John Grisham
I liked the first Grisham I did (The Firm), but most of the other books were not for me and I felt Grisham was only playing one tune. This story wasn’t so very different, but I enjoyed it quite a lot.

Eugénie Grandet — Honoré de Balzac
Balzac, like Hardy, tells a good story with simple insight into human nature (and not a lot of complication). Read them all. This one has a female protagonist — actually, a lot of the 19th century novels we now revere were written by, or about, women. Hmmm … Dickens seems to be an exception.

Dracula, Bram Stoker (+)
The book is much more involved and dramatic than any of the cinematic representations. This was excellent on audio tape.

The Three Cornered Hat, Pedro Antonio de Alarcon
This is an excellent picaresque story. Fun.

Hollywood, Charles Bukowski (-)
CB didn’t get enough out of Barfly so he wrote about writing it. I’m beginning to think the author is just self-indulgent and not worth my time. I’ll have to go back and try a few earlier works, though.

Sliver, Ira Levin (-)
I’ll grab books like this for quick fun, titilation, whatever. This one stunk … bad!

On the Road, Jack Kerouac (+)
Was it ever really like this? How do we go on the road in the ’90s? How do we find that level of joy in life again?

The Actual — Saul Bellow
These short works are gems.

Candide — Voltaire
Everyone should read Candide, right?

Hello Down There — Michael Parker (-)
Drugs and degradation in the South.

Bridge of San Louis Rey — Thorton Wilder (+)
This is one of those “perfect” books (don’t argue).

A Room with a View — E. M. Forster
I saw this movie a few years back and recall commenting that it was as boring and pretentious as Passage To India. When you read any of the Forster volumes though, they’re quite pleasant and much more approachable. I’ll have to remember to skip the flicks.

The Wapshot Chronicle — John Cheever
Good story. I ran back an picked up the follow-up volume. I’m thinking about Cheever and Irving and Salinger.

The Wapshot Scandal — John Cheever
Good continuation of the Chronicle.

Bartleby the Scrivener — Herman Melville (+)
I had a professor that said, “There are novels and there are entertainments — Moby Dick is a novel — the rest are entertainments.” This story and Billy Budd are wonderfully written, insightful, thought-provoking, just plain good. Why does Melville have a bad reputation? He’s great!

Billy Budd, Foretopman — Herman Melville (+)
I read this in HS as a companion to Moby Dick … I think I remember bobbing around on my surfboard contemplating Destiny vs. Free-Will … sure.

The Encantadas, Herman Melville
Melville experimenting, and successfully.

Benito Cereno, Herman Melville (+)
Read slowly and carefully. Nice stuff.

There Was a Little Girl — Ed McBain (-)
The other pop mystery author I read regularly. Don’t ask me why.

Skylar — Gregory McDonald
Skylar is a new central character (this is the first book). My favorite McDonald character is Francis X. Flynn (and the sandwiches!). Most people know the more prolific character Fletch (who is much much better in the books that in the less than satisfactory movies).

The Ghostwriter — Philip Roth
This and the next three volumes go together. I enjoy reading Roth–he’s smoother than Updike–does that mean he’s not as profound?

The Anatomy Lesson — Philip Roth

Zuckerman Unbound — Philip Roth

The Prague Orgy — Philip Roth

Journey to the End of Night — Louis-Ferdinand Céline (+)
Half-way through this book, it dropped off the triage table in 20th Century French Lit. I’ve fondled it often over the years and finally pulled it out for a carefully read — pretty good stuff.

Pride and Prejudice — Jane Austen (+)
Classic. I actually enjoyed this piece (although I thought Persuasion an after school special at best).

Sugar Street — Naguib Mahfouz (+)
The last volume of the Cairo Trilogy. I guess if this was Tolstoy or Dickens this would have been printed in one very large volume. I took a long break between the 1st and 2nd volumes; looking back, I recommend reading the Trilogy straight through. I absolutely do not recommend reading the Trilogy out of order (would you flip to page 400 of Anna Karinina and start reading?).

The Dharma Bums — Jack Kerouac (+)
I realize that On the Road was a much earlier work, but I still prefer this. I wonder how Kerouac effects the youthful readers of today?

Typee — Herman Melville
This is considered a Juvenile and I think it should be required reading long before we make the youth of America loath Melville by forcing them to slog through Moby Dick.

The Castle — Franz Kafka
I’m still not sure about K … I do enjoy the reading but I’m not sure about the value.

The Europeans — Henry James
I have a large collection of James on my shelf, making up for not having read any James until very recently. I think right now I’m appreciating the author more for his reputation than for his work. I’ll work on this opinion through a few more volumes.

The Call of the Wild — Jack London
Another one of those books I should have read as a kid. I like London’s story telling; it’s perfect for audio tape.

Arabian Nights & Days — Naguib Mahfouz
My favorite contemporary author.

Children of the Alley — Naguib Mahfouz (+)
This was a fascinating story. It reminded me a lot of One Hundred Years of Solitude. This is a must read.

Fathers and Sons — Ivan Turgenev
A small, simple book that touches on most of the topics were see in Russian literature. Why don’t they use this in HS to prepare for Karamozov, etc.

Walking Shadow — Robert Parker
I’ve been with Parker since the beginning. For a while there I was an avid mystery reader but now I only follow a few special authors–Parker, McBain, that may be it.

Adrift on the Nile — Naguib Mahfouz (-)
My least favorite Mahfouz.

The Wayward Bus — John Steinbeck
A lesser work, typically Steinbeck.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — Robert Louis Stevenson (-)
This is one of those stories everyone thinks they know, but probably never read the book.

The Mayor of Casterbridge — Thomas Hardy
My daughter had to read this in HS and I, of course, couldn’t let her get ahead of me. Actually, Hardy is one of my top authors (no matter how tedious he seems at first).

Palace of Desire — Naguib Mahfouz (+)
When the first Barnes and Noble opened in my area of the county I spent hours scanning down the spines seeking new and interesting reading material to trade for a healthy gift certificate I had recently received. I believe I had four or five mixed titles tucked under my arm when I came to Mahfouz. Since I had no experience or knowledge of this author I naturally dropped all my books and walked out with the Cairo Trilogy … it was a good thing. This is the second book in the Trilogy.

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