Reading: 1999

Total Items = 116

Uncle Tom’s Cabin — Harriet Beecher-Stowe (+)
This was a very interesting text. I’m sure it would have been expanded for me in a classroom setting, but sometimes I was unsure of how I was supposed to react, both in an attempt to remain adequately pc and also musing about how I would have responded as an original reader living in New York, or in Charleston? This text is so full of archetypes, I wonder how much of our American sub-conscience on slavery and the South consists of shadows from this vaunted cabin. A very influential book and highly readable.

Bridget Jones’s Diary — Helen Fielding (-)
“Kathy” meets “Keeping Up Appearances” … fluff (guilty fun I suppose).

The Tale of the Unknown Island — José Saramago
A small, exquisite tale told by a great modern author.

I, Claudius — Robert Graves (+)
Every sentence was perfect and it was interesting that Graves’s prose completely overcame any recollections I had of the PBS series. This is a must read — amazing character studies, interesting history (once again, a lot of brutality but not so graphic as Cormac), a masterful interweaving of times and places and characters, and the clear prose that ties it all together. I’m putting the rest of Graves on my reading list.

Lazarillo de Tormes — Diego Hurtado de Mendoza
I enjoy these 16th century picaresque novels so much … they bring out the rascal in me. This short work is published with The Swindler in a Penguin edition. Like much early literature (Chaucer?) this work isn’t as much a novel as it is a series of episodes, some strong and some weak .. almost as if different section of the text were at different stages of rewrite.

Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant — Anthony Powell
Second Movement, Book Two (#5 of 12) — even more intertwining of the characters. Still interesting reading although the biggest challenge is keeping all those characters straight.

The Reader — Bernhard Schlink
Okay, I liked this one and since it is an Oprah selection I’m just a little confused because it would almost be as easy to hate this book (a very un-Oprah response). Think about it, a 40 something year old ex Nazi concentration camp matron who seduces the young before she sends them to the gas is sexing-up this 15 year old boy who later reads novels to her — this is Oprah? Well, you have to read it ’cause it’s not as simple as it seems. Not a great book by any means but I found it interesting and somewhat provocative.

Death on the Installment Plan — Louis-Ferdinand D. Céline (+)
In this follow-up volume to Journey to the End of Night, Céline steps back and develops the fundamentally warped background of his hero in a strange and often very funny narrative replete with more ellipses than ten other novels. As in the first novel, Celine’s characters are wonderfully drawn through fast-moving narrative. Highly recommended (but don’t look for dialogue).

Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West — Cormac McCarthy (+)
Cormac is a great story teller and I really enjoy his prose .. but this is one of those El Topol texts and, although I think it would be good for everyone to understand that this “politically correct” world grew out of some really nasty times, sometimes the gore and cruelty can be a bit gratuitous. I think the author here, though, handled it well. Definitely not a chick book (oh, I guess that’s not a pc thing to say).

The Ground Beneath Her Feet — Salman Rushdie (-)
Embarassing, stupid, insipid junk. What reaction was the author looking for? Try this — at one point he relates that the Californian’s were blaming the bad weather on an Orange County handyman named Elvis Niño. Unless this was supposed to be a complete farce (and even then it was a failure) this is just crap. Ask yourself — would Ezra Pound have written this? [Bend over, take the money].

How Green Was My Valley — Richard Llewellyn (+)

Story Magazine — Sprng 1997
I’m going back to catch up on some delightful contemporary shortstory writing.

At Lady Molly’s — Anthony Powell
Second Movement, Book One (#4 of 12) — I’ve decided this is exactly suited for an extended Masterpiece Theater run — the Upstairs Downstairs of the year 2000 — not exactly exciting, but somewhat fascinating to follow the lives of all these characters and they intertwine.

The Raphael Affair — Iain Pears
An entertaining and educational mystery. Simple hidden-masterpiece-is-it -fake-murder-why fare, but fun.

An Echo of Heaven — Kenzaburo Oe
The premise of this text initially impressed me but the whole thing was generally pedestrian, albeit very well written. The author should have stopped telling me how I was supposed to feel about Marie and concentrate more on showing me the Marie I could really understand and support.

To the Lighthouse — Virginia Woolf (+)
An influencial author that demands your attention. I read almost the entire first section before I realized this and had to go back and pay attention. I can’t vouch for every single sentence but in general this is an essential “modern” novel. Only Joyce does it better.

Murther & Walking Spirits — Robertson Davies (-)
New author for me and, despite the rotten online reviews I found this book to be only unsatisfactory, rambling, dull and stupid. I guess Davies isn’t going to be on my Christmas wish list after all (those big juicy trilogies looked so good, too).

Acts of Worship — Yukio Mishima
Seven stories by a sensational Japanese author. These are first rate — a pleasure to read and to sit back and contemplate. I understand the author has 20 volumes of short stories but only a few are available in English translation.

The Secret Names of Women — Lynne Barrett
An excellent collection of contemporary short stories by the author. Perhaps a little slick, but generally delightful and insightful. The cover makes this more of a womens book than it really is.

Nip the Buds Shoot the Kids — Kenzaburo Oe
A powerful story of reformatory boys struggling to survive during war and pestilence. Two comparative texts come to mind — Lord of the Flies, of course, and The Painted Bird. I believe this is Oe’s first work.

Family Honor — Robert B. Parker
Sunny Randall is the new Boston P.I. supposedly written specifically for Helen Hunt. Hard-boiled? I’m reserving judgment right now but it seemed a lot like Kinsey Spenser to me?

The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn — Robin Maxwell (-)
Anne Boleyn, the original feminist — I think I wanted this to be better but it was boring and smarmy.

Swann’s Way — Marcel Proust (+)
I decided to re-read the English translation before moving on the the original French text. I was actually amazed while reading this first volume of Recherche that it is so approachable — there really is nothing to keep an average reader from enjoying and understanding Proust. .

One Hundred and One Ways — Mako Yoshikawa
Grandama was a Geisha but Kiki grew up in New Jersey. Not bad (a little Joy Luck and a little Northern Exposure).

Human Voices — Penelope Fitzgerald
Dry British humor reminded me of an old read — The Office. The story is about the seraglio, the BBC broadcast House during the point in WWII when the cw indicated the Germans were going to land on British soil any day (and they wanted to get good recordings of the first Panzer division rolling towards London. There’s life, death, birth and a teaspoon in this interesting early work (is PF starting to pump ’em out lately?).

Wrong Information Is Being Given Out At Princeton — J. P. Donleavy
A picaresque tale of New York. Entertaining, even fun at times, but not fully satisfactory. This is from his “Chronical of One of the Strangest Stories Ever To Be Rumoured About Around New York” period. The Lady Who Liked Clean Restrooms was better (and shorter).

Dance Dance Dance — Haruki Murakami
This story picks up after A Wild Sheep Chase but it can be read separately. The author is getting more and more polished in his works and this text just flew along. Murakami is a very good story teller (if his ending were better he’d get another star).

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors — Roddy Doyle (+)
A captivating story as Doyles earlier works but always with a touch of evil lingering, hiding, waiting until the powerful and frightening conclusion to the text. The story is love and addiction and abuse. Not to be missed.

Sieze the Day — Saul Bellow
Another short novel by Bellow. Everything he writes is recommended.

Jack Maggs — Peter Carey
Struck my fancy is B&N so I picked it up at the library in both audio and print formats. The audio book was too theatrical for my tastes and I switched to the text after only a few chapters. Although the story was entertaining, I think I would have preferred seeing it on HHofF.

The Acceptance World — Anthony Powell
This is the third volume of A Dance to the Music of Time. One review compared this work to Proust but I didn’t see any real similarity in the first two volumes (I guess if your text is long it has to be compared to Proust). I think I’m getting into the narrative and the characters are started to fill out and the interplay to become more interesting (don’t look for excitement in this text).

A Soldier’s Legacy — Heinrich Böll
Another German treatment of the war (in this case WWII) — compare it to All’s Quiet (not as powerful).

The Lifted Veil — George Eliot (-)
A short, early work by the author. Pretty much a gothic but not so well executed.

The Lady Who Liked Clean Restrooms — J. P. Donleavy
I was fascinated by this author many years ago when I read The Ginger Man so, when I noticed a healthy batch of titles on the library shelf, I decided to sample a few. I was not disappointed. This short tale follows the decline of a woman from riches and influence to living on the streets and considering suicide .. but it’s not a tragedy .. it was fun.

The School of Love — Phyllis Barber (-)
In my continuing study of the short story, this collection was nice (not great praise, I guess).

The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman — Louis de Berniéres (-)
This author writes excellent novels — generally entertaining (although British, the texts read more like Marquez). You should read his 3 books as if they were one large work (which they really are). Unfortunately, by the third volume I was getting tired of the author’s technique of stringing together quaintly interesting characters and episode with somewhat “hip” prose (I began to get a hankering for Thomas Hardy and George Eliot). Read all three of these entertainments in order, but only if you’ve already spent some time with Marquez.

The Enchanter — Vladimir Nabokov
A different treatment of the Lolita thing. Much less complex (and shorter) and less sophisticated. Nabokov’s prose is delicious.

Ulysses — James Joyce (+)
This re-read may put me in double digits — I just pulled it off the shelf recently and started reading. There’s also a pretty good edition on tape at the library (but who has time for 30 tapes). If you haven’t read Ulysses, start now … and start often! Five stars is insufficient praise.

The Romance Reader — Pearl Abraham
A pleasant story of traditional Jewish life and a young girl who begins to question it all. Enjoyable with interesting characters but not too deep.

Story Magazine — Summer 1999
I have ordered all the back issues of Story for the last few years and have a lot of catching-up to do.

The Age of Innocence — Edith Wharton (+)
What a tremendous author! I slammed through this text many years ago and missed a lot of the nuance. Now I can take my time and savour the writing. This one should be required undergraduate reading (perhaps even HS) as it has both quality prose and interesting themes. A friend told me they saw the movie and thought it a huge bore … really?

Animal Dreams — Barbara Kingsolver (+)
This author is a favorite of my daughter and myself. A wonderful storyteller, she also writes fine prose. This text included the expected Southwest setting and topics and develops some very real human relationships that held my interest despite their outcome being somewhat obvious. I’ve already cast the movie in my head. Who would you pick?

A Buyer’s Market — Anthony Powell
This is the second book from the “First Movement” of A Dance to the Music of Time — 10 more to go. I was able to get a bit more into the story with the 2nd volume. Still pleasant and keeping my interest (I almost went directly into the third book but I think I’ll catch up on a few other books on my shelf before I return to Powell.
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World — Haruki Murakami
This author delivers a rich and rewarding, albeit offbeat, experience. Two stories intertwine — one a story of the mind, the other a bit of science fiction. You can see the author’s improvement in this text. I’m ready for the next!

The Kitchen God’s Wife — Amy Tan
This text might have been added to Tan’s first novel. It tells the story of China brought through WWII through the life of one woman. Like the earlier novel, the story also allows the comparison of generations. Certainly as good as The Joy Luck Club although perhaps not as focused.

Story Magazine — Spring 1999
Some very, very good stuff in this little magazine. I’m impressed!

The Matisse Stories — A. S. Byatt
A Matisse painting, a Byatt story … very similar. These three stories were wonderful.

Love In the Time of Cholera — Gabriel Garcia Marquez (+)
My daughter bought this for me; then she read it and said it was great. She was right. Marquez likes to start at the end and then rewind the coil to let it run back out. This love story is easier to follow so I would recommend reading it first to absorb Marquez’ prose style before reading One Hundred Years of Solitude. Very highly recommended.

A Book of Five Rings — Miyamoto Musashi
Like The Art of War, this small text is poetic, insightful and very interesting, especially how killing and combat is presented as such a spiritual, artistic event.

Clea — Lawrence Durrell (+)
The 4th volume of the Alexandria Quartet. I should have read these texts closer together — more like a single novel. This final volume pulls a lot of the information together from the first volume and I unfortunately had only a general recollection of some of the characters and events. Even so, the Durrell prose is so beautiful it stands by itself. As I previously suggested, this would make an interesting thesis for grad school and I would enjoy reading it.

The Voyeur — Alberto Moravia
I haven’t read Moravia since college and he is really an amazing author. This text is superior to Kundera. This is not the story of a peeper, but rather an interesting study which implies that almost anything is a form of voyeurism. Crisp and fascinating.

The Bluest Eye — Toni Morrison
Morrison’s first book is not as subtle, nor as convoluted as some of her later works, but you immediately know it’s Toni. Recommended.

A Question of Upbringing — Anthony Powell
This is the first book from the “First Movement” of A Dance to the Music of Time — 11 more to go. Actually it was a nice, pleasant read which was designed to give the initial background introduction to the 4 characters we will follow through the 12 books. Although the text was satisfying, it cannot be read by itself — you must continue. I liked it so I will.

Shampoo Planet — Douglas Coupland (-)
Mildly entertaining; this Genereation-X stuff is not very radical at all. The author has a long way to go with his prose. Nothing bad — just nothing good either.

How Proust Can Change Your Life — Alain de Botton (+)
Absolutely fascinating! I must immediately start reading Recherche again (I have it in French and in English translation). Then again, I also have A Dance to the Music of Time, The Raj Quartet, etc. I need to find some time!

Snapshots — Alain Robbe-Grillet
Anything by R-G is four-star because I am completely prejudiced. However, in this re-reading I could see the great stuff to come, but also accept the stories as not entirely perfect. Ok, R-G lost a star .. he’s still a fanscinating author.

The Box Man — Kobo Abé
Abé is one of the key authors in the highly-personal pantheon of Mike Parker’s favorites. This text is in some ways more approachable than some of the other Abé texts and I thought it reminded me a lot of some of the early Robbe-Grillet (another pantheon member). The story is a paranoid journal scribbled by a man who has moved his entire life into a large cardboard box that he wears over his body like a snail. Recommended.

Players — Don DeLillo (-)
Is it me or is it DeLillo or does this book just suck? Poorly written; trite (shock value badly dated); junk.

Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice — A. S. Byatt
Crafty little pieces but only one caught my imagination.

The Stones Cry Out — Hikaru Okuizumi
“Even the plainest, most ordinary pebble has the history of the universe written in it.” Interesting and effective balancing of metaphors build an elemental view into the human conditions — rocks, caves, swords, maggots; WWII to student riots in a small, poetic text . Worth reading as is so much modern Japanese literature.

Auto da-Fé– Elias Canetti (+)
An obvious comparison to Kafka. A man of intellect who lives only for his books is destroyed by his illiterate housekeep and brutish caretaker. Yes, there is a dwarf — this is a German book. I suspect that this text will actually improve with re-reading. Highly recommended.

The Yellow Wall-Paper — Charlotte Perkins Gilman (+)
Fantantastic! Ok, it’s really a story with a lot of analysis from the Feminist Press wrapped around it, but what a story. A must read, not so much for it’s message but more so for the structure. Perfect.

Memories of Rain — Sumetra Gupta
Heir to Virginia Woolf?

The Gift of Stones — Jim Crace
A very interesting text set in a mythos somewhere at the end of the Age of Flint. Well written and evocative (not smarmy like Jean Auel). This author is very good and I see several other interesting titles I’ll be trying. Perhaps he is taking over for William Golding as England’s most imaginative novelist?

The Grandfathers — Conrad Richter
Richter was one of my mother’s favorite authors and I remember her reading and reading some of his books. Her mother lived a lot of the experiences Richter develops in his books. This particular text isn’t one of his top titles but it was an interesting read and really put you back in another time and another place — isn’t that what a novel is supposed to do?

Managing Projects with Microsoft Project 4.0 for Windows and the Macintosh — Gwen Lowery
This was a fairly good overview but unlike the other MS Project book I read, the emphasis here is how to use the MS Project product rather than how to manage projects. It’s good but I liked the Day book much better. Note that I had both these books sitting around for some time before I actually read them; I have also peeked at the titles in B&N that relate more directly to the newer versions of MS Project and wasn’t impressed.

Microsoft Project 4.0 for Windows and the Macintosh: Setting Project Management Standards — Peggy J. Day
This is an excellent book demonstrating how standardization of even simple project management disciplines can be intergrated with project management software to assure project success. The specifics of MS Project are almost incidental although this would be a valuable book to update for the newest version of the software.

Lotus Notes 4.5 for Dummies — Stephen Londergan & Pat Freeland
This is the first Dummies book I ever looked at and I was pleasantly surprised. One of my people attended the recommended company training for $187 out of my budget and didn’t get a tenth of the information contained in this nice little book.

The Way That Water Enters the Stone — John Dufresne
I very much enjoyed these short stories. I wish I was as pleased with the author’s novels.

40 Stories — Donald Barthelme
I’m starting tto get very interested in short stories and DB is a master. I have this and 60 Stories on hand for breaks in reading when I need a quick change of pace without a lot of commitment (sounds like an affair). I found myself re-reading many of the stories in this volume, both for comprehension and also for repeated pleasure.

The Harafish — Naguib Mahfouz (+)
Very similar to Children of the Alley. These magical histories are both captivating and culturally interesting. As I suggested before, read them along side Marquez .. Macondo on the Nile.

I Married a Communist — Philip Roth (-)
Roth’s latest .. unmistakeable Roth .. not the best.

Winesburg, Ohio — Sherwood Anderson (+)
Another American classic I ignored when I studied English literature. Now I ask why? This episodic novel (not really a shortstory collection) is full of interesting themes and characters, but I was most impressed by the simple, clear style of the author. Everyone should read this — a Top 100.

Hush Money — Robert B. Parker
Saw RBP on TV the other day explaining why he started a new character (the publisher only lets him write one Spenser a year and RBP is not a patient man). Anyway, here’s this year’s Spenser and it’s pretty good. Did you also hear that RBP has yet another main character coming out soon? and it’s a female!

Mountolive — Lawrence Durrell
This is the third volume of the Alexandria Quartet. The more Durrell I read, the more important I think he is (even though I still sorta lump him in with the authors we all thought were important in the sixties, like Richard Fariña). The Quartet is both rich in language and rich in characters. Durrell interweaves a small group of characters with a sense of time and history that moves backwards and forwards as required to relate his story. With each volume I am more impressed.

Babylon Revisited — F. Scott Fitzgerald
Fitzgerald writes some pretty imaginative stories. Like Hemingway, usually better stuff than in his novels.

The Double Tongue — William Golding (+)
Julius Caesar comes to the oracle for advice … but this is the story of the young girl who was selected to rise to the position of the Pythia, the mysterious channel that sat in the fissure of Orpheus passing the words of the gods on to mortals. But the crowds are dwindling and the roof, being over 600 years old, needs to be repaired. This is Golding’s last novel left unfinished at his death but only a few gaps are evident. It’s such a shame that all most people read is Lord of the Flies. (Oh, the Oracles told JC he would be a cut above others).

Little Women — Louisa May Alcott
Amazingly smarmy didactic that’s still a charming read.

Black Dogs — Ian McEwan
A new author for me and not bad. What were those dogs all about?

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love — Oscar Hijuelos
This was a nice story but I hate to admit it, I kept wishing the author had kept to the good times and left the bad times for another volume. I wanted more of the abandonment, the excitement, the noise, the music, the costumes, the swagger — all that stuff. It must have been great! I haven’t seen the movie but I might look it up. Of interest, I read Desi Arnaz’s autobiography years ago and I think memory of it enhanced the experience of this text.

The Flanders Panel — Arturo Perez-Reverte
Pretty much on a par with Club Dumas — an interesting, maybe sophisticated or erudite, mystery. The flaw in this novel is that there is really no justification for the mystery in the first place — there is no reason for the murders (and the confession at the end just points out what was missing throughout). Actually, it was the same problem in Dumas; that’s probably why the author started throwing in that devil stuff — trying to make things more important than perhaps they were. However, this was a fun read and is recommended despite being rather flawed.

David Copperfield — Charles Dickens (+)
Dickens goes in and out of literary style but no one can contest the richness of his stories. In this one text are some of the authors best characters — Peggotty, Micawber, Uriah Heep. A must read for certain.

Beruit Blues — Hanan al-Shaykh
Told through a series of letters to friends, relatives, lovers, the city and even the war, the author shows a woman attempting to understand and control her life despite the insanity and destruction of the war in Lebanon. The text, although richened by remembrances of the awful TV shots of rockets tearing through apartment buildings, people fleeing open gunfire in the street, blindfolded hostages being held for months and years, unfortunately didn’t have the same impact; maybe the epistolary format is too talky for a subject such as this. Compare it to the earlier Story of Zahra.

Envoy Extraordinary — William Golding
This very imaginative story takes place in the time of the Caesars. If you thought the Chinese invented the rocket and Fulton the steam boat, I’d like to introduce you to Panocles — Envoy Extraordinaire.

Clonk Clonk — William Golding
In the volume with The Scorpion God and with the same primitive locale and primative magic.

Hamlet — William Shakespeare (+)
Hamlet Agonistes … what can I say about this great work. I re-read the play amidst a positive orgy of extra-credit viewing of Hamlet on celluloid with my daughter — can you name the four versions? (she also has an extra-credit with S. in Love).

The Spire — William Golding (+)
Everyone has read Lord of the Flies but it seems that there are quite a few other novels by this author that need our attention. Golding is very imaginative in his choices of subjects for a story. This novel deals with the most basic of human foibles evinced in the struggle to build a towering cathedral spire without a foundation. Satan is sometimes there; or is it the angel? I enjoyed this text very much.

The Scorpion God — William Golding
One of Golding’s imaginative short novels. Interesting.

South of the Border, West of the Sun — Haruki Murakami (+)
A wonderful story full of the quirks of love and life. Although I have as yet not read The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, this text is a departure from the earlier Murakami I have read and was like mixing Kawabata with Yosimoto. Very highly recommended. It was also interesting to read this just after the Tanizaki — Murakami is not the same kind of author for certain.

The 158-Pound Marriage — John Irving (-)
Weak and derivative, even for Irving. Not a bad book but not good enough to overcome the out-of-date themes. Once again it’s college wrestling, this time explored in parallel to an open marriage lifestyle (thankfully there were no dancing bears) and, although Irving at times allows us to crawl into the multi-family bed and get really close, the story is really about what happens to the sexy swingers when they find the other guys shorts in their drawers and the kids forgotten and the swapping turned into an elaborate payback scheme. Only for strong Irving fans.

Captain Shigemoto’s Mother — Junichiro Tanizaki
I enjoy this sense of history and tradition that Tanizaki exhibits in all his works. Stories such as this, derived from 10th and 11th century tales are fascinating, although not always exciting, reading. I prefered the “love” story in this text to that in The Reed Cutter (also in this volume).

Women of Sand and Myrrh — Hanan al-Shaykh
A very interesting look into the lives of four women in “the desert” — as with the author’s short story collection, Shaykh provides thoughtful insight into her major theme — being a woman in an Arab country. I was fascinated by the extreme contrasts, often involving the sexual attitudes of the Arab people. This work did not have the impact of the earlier Zahra but it made you think more.

Summer Rain — Marguerite Duras
“Love, art, fear and haunting sadness” — Duras is exquisite.

The Story of Zahra — Hanan al-Shaykh
The portrait of a modern Arab family, a psychologically stressed woman, and the death an destruction of civil war. Very very good.

The Reed Cutter — Junichiro Tanizaki
Short, poetic — a sense of belonging in the stream of time that is certainly missing from our current world. It’s interesting to consider this type of Japanese literature with the Native American stories — the reverence for nature and ancestors. The love story was ok but the image of the river persists.

The Ordinary Seaman — Francisco Goldman
I enjoyed Night of White Chickens more, but this was still a good story. Unlike Boyle’s Tortilla Curtain, Goldman is honestly simpathetic with the situation and doesn’t turn it into a sitcom.

I Sweep the Sun Off Rooftops — Hanan al-Shaykh
A very interesting collection of short stories by this Lebanese author. Most of the themes deal with Arab women and the Arab world. Nothing too deep, but still nice.

Blindness — José Saramago (+)
This is an amazing parable of the fragility of our civilization. Saramago tosses an epidemic of blindness at society and watches it wither into a pile of excrement. The prose (translated from the Portuguese) is simple, clear, effective; the story is frightening; you’ll read it in a sitting, but let it run through your mind for a few days. Highest recommendations — worth reading twice.

The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto — Mario Vargas Llosa
Very erotic, imaginative story told in very sensual prose; however, the best part to me were the various parenthetical chapters where the author attacks hypocracy, pornography, lawyers, politicos, and especially, organized sports. This is a very enjoyable read and I guess it’s not really important to know when things are real and when they are imagined.

Shella — Andrew Vachss
Weird sex; stone killer; pure garbage; kinda fun.

Redburn — Herman Melville
It’s pretty common to see Melville on someones hate list of books they were forced to read but I really don’t understand that at all. Melville is a pleasure to read, his prose isn’t stilted or difficult and he tells a great story, especially if you are of a nautical bent. This text is very autobiographical in relating the title character’s first voyage to sea from New York to Liverpool. You can begin to see some of the themes that Melville develops in his later novels. Read Melville, he’s good!

NP A Novel — Banana Yosimoto
Another fascinating tale of love in it’s many mysteries. Yoshimoto’s prose is simple but her narrative is rich in emotional moment that made me stop and ponder the feeling. This is an author that everyone should read.

Kitchen — Banana Yosimoto (+)
A wonderful story told be a talented author. Here is love and regret and magical moments told simply and lovingly. Compare the relations in Kitchen to Almost Transparent Blue. Recommended.

Moonlight Shadow — Banana Yosimoto
A magical short fiction piece included in the Kitchen volume. Yosimoto shows us new ways of looking at love and relations. I really like her stuff.

Almost Transparent Blue — Ryu Murakami
A recent review of Coin Locker Babies introduced me to this new author and I wanted to read this earlier work first. It’s the story of Japanese street freaks back in the late ’60s and it’s not Sayonara. There’s lots of smashed bugs and body fluids and I suspect that ATB will still shock a few people even though exposure to this drug and sex subculture is more common than it was in 1976. I recommend this text highly; the prose is not sublime, but it wouldn’t read well if it was.

Billiard’s at Half-Past Nine — Heinrich Böll (+)
Excellent. Böll tells the story of Germany from WWI to a present in the fifties through interwoven narratives involving the generations of one family. Although the underlying theme is the destruction forced on the people of Germany by the two wars, it is not a story of the war. Interesting that the library copy I read was the 1962 First Edition of the translation (usually means a limited readership).

Literature Lover’s Book of Lists: Serious Trivia for the Bibliophile — Judie L. H. Strouf
I spent a lot of time reading in this volume; just as the title says, it’s a compendium of lists about books, literature, authors, etc. Some of the lists were less that enlightening but all in all I had fun with it. I’d recommend everyone pick it up at the local library and I’m sure some will want it on their bookshelf.

Gone Tomorrow — Gary Indiana
Despite the ditzy picture of the author inside the cover, this text shows how Indiana is maturing as an author. In Rent Boy it was quick hitting homosexual lust punctuating each page; in Horse Crazy the playful lust gives way to the fear of AIDS; in Gone Tomorrow the homosexuality and the AIDS are still there, but they are only a part of a solid novel that deals with them in a more universally mature manner — AIDS is a feared killer but it also changes lives and takes away friends and loved ones. Recommended.

Et Tu, Babe — Mark Leyner (-)
Self indulgent tripe, occasionally humorous. One gets the feeling the author wishes it was all true (self-fulfilling prose?).

A Book of Memories — Péter Nádas (+)
How could you not be intrigued by a thick, juicy novel by a Hungarian author that the Wall Street Journal compared to Musil, Proust, Joyce and Mann? I was constantly amazed by the richness of the prose, albeit in translation (I even stopped, whipped out my Pelikan, and wrote out a few of the long, involved, fascinating paragraphs in longhand just to feel the prose flowing. This text is wonderful, weaving several complex multilayered narratives together couching precision in sensuousity; the writing is deceptively easy but pay attention! Highly recommended … might even be a five.

Pincher Martin — William Golding
Compare the complexity of A Man In Full with the starkness of Pincher Martin — one man alone, shipwrecked on a small uncharted rock in the middle of the ocean with only algae and bivalves for company. But in this story of survival, Golding unveils an Adam-like character who needs to control his world and to hold onto his humanity. Or is it an extended death rattle as nature devours him. Recommended.

A Man In Full — Tom Wolfe
I’m amazed at the control Wolfe has over his prose and the careful crafting of a complex collection of characters and circumstances. But in the end, this is just a really good entertainment … a novel for sure, but let’s not confuse TW with Faulkner, Bellow or even (this hurts to say) Hemingway. Once every ten years I highly recommend you read a Tom Wolfe novel.

Love in the Ruins — Walker Percy
I preferred The Moviegoer but this is apparently Percy’s key work. It’s a future world that’s a little wild and crazy and then our hero, both outpatient and doctor in the same hospital, gives us the Ontological Lapsometer, a stethoscope for the human spirit which may save the world.

The End of a Family Story — Péter Nádas (+)
What is the family story? This fascinating text is full of stories and dreams — from the history of Judaism in Europe to communist suppression as well as stories of personal escapes. This is the story told by a small boy who tells stories that his grandfather told him … and the stories intertwine, stories within stories. A wonderful read.

Three Soldiers — John Dos Passos
The lives of several individuals caught in the WWI army where “all legs are made the same length on the marching fields”. Unlike All’s Quiet, Dos Passos does not deal with the horrors of war, but rather with the dehumanizing aspect of military service where death in combat or a lifetime in Leavenworth might be preferable to having even one more order shouted into your face. Straightforward, interesting, not as moving as Remarque or even Hemingway.

The Blue Flower — Penelope Fitzgerald (+)
Fitzgerald is really in control of her prose — she evokes a new world and time in each of her novels without relying on overt description. Here you are in Germany walking alongside Goethe … read it with Werther.

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