Total Items: 167
The Falls — Joyce Carol Oates
The author is very skillful in developing this story with Niagara Falls always in the background. I like the way JCO is confident enough with her writing to develop characters and then kill them off. Also, the character of Ariah is certainly good for discussion in any reading group, not to mention the whole subject of polluting the earth.
The Problems of Philosophy — Bertrand Russell (+)
I’m really liking this British philosopher. I can feel my brain growing right now.
Don Quixote — Kathy Acker (+)
Excellent Acker! Here Don Quixote has decided to go on a quest for love (this is after the abortion allows her to become a knight searching for a quest.) Of course Kathy veers off into some excellent exposure varying from Margaret Thatcher to the best sex toys for energetic masturbation.
The Double — Jose Saramago (+)
This author is a master. Here he gives his rendition of The Double which allows him to work with the concept of the self, what it means to be an individual, even some cloning considerations. I especially enjoy it when Saramago, the narrator or the author, breaks the verisimilitude to comment on the action or to engage in a little philosophical discussion. Saramago’s last several novels have been both great and also approachable. This guy deserves the awards he has received.
Why I Am Not a Christian — Bertrand Russell (+)
This collection of essays by Russell focuses on the philosopher’s approach to organized religion. No contest — religion loses. The title essay and a couple of others should open anyone’s eyes to the reality behind the smoke and mirrors.
Arc d’X — Steve Erickson
Actually, I’m not sure about this one. It reads easily and I appreciated the author not feeling the need to explain every time shift and let me do the discovering. But I’m not sure that it all holds together. Certainly better than last years Kindred but perhaps not up to the hype.
The Final Solution — Michael Chabon (-)
Silly and hardly worth the trouble reading. Chabon is so adept at including his checklist of good fiction that they gave him in writing school that he doesn’t miss anything. So it you want a sterile shaggy dog story that leaves you muttering, try this one. My suggestion though it to read something decent.
Henry VI Part 2 –William Shakespeare
The second part of this history. I still have to read back on the history of Henry VI.
I Am Legend –Richard Mathesen
Here is a good example of a skillful writer creating an enticing and believable story with rather pedestrian prose. The writing definitely comes second to the story and perhaps that is as it should be in genre fiction. Another interesting thing about this text is comparing it to the movie it spawned — Omega Man. There were many good changes and the ending was more dramatic but I think the book was better (and not just because I’m not a big Charlon Heston fan.)
Nova Express — William S. Burroughs (+)
This is the third and final volume of the Nova trilogy and it was a lot of fun — definitely the most science fiction seeming of the set. Burroughs once in a while forgets that fantasy and actually explains some of his imagery. The quasi-science fiction elements are thrown in with drug culture and the typical Burrough’s underworld of nefarious characters. Remember — Junk is Image! But is it green or blue? Burroughs is brilliant. Loved it!
After Henry — Joan Didion
Fascinating essarys for the most part written in the days of George Herbert Walker Bush. Didion is a pretty slick writer and seems to effortlessly relate events that are highly charged with emotional involvement. I just wish I had read some of this when it was first published.
The Death of the Novel and Other Stories — Ronald Sukenick
From the late ’60s this is an excellent short story collection full of imaginative fiction. Some of the shock value has been dulled by the years but it’s easy enough to step back in you mind and relive the intensity of this prose.
Jude the Obscure — Thomas Hardy
After reading Gissing, Hardy seems terribly simplistic and his prose less powerful. This was the darkest of the major Hardy novels but not as dark as The Netherworld.
The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge — Jean-François Lyotard
This is the introduction to the term “postmodern” and the philosophy is quite interesting but I don’t think reading Lyotard in necessary.
Clear Thinking — Hy Ruchlis
At first I thought this was an excellent overview, or what it calls “A Practical Introduction,” to the basic principles of critical analysis but I found the more formal discussion in The Philosopher’s Toolkit more direct and more useful. When the author took an entire chapter to explain how Astrology worked, even after making it clear that it was faulty thinking, he lost me. I guess this one was just too chatty for what I wanted.
The Philosopher’s Toolkit — Julian Baggini & Peter S. Fosl
This is an excellent introduction to the tools of the philosopher which are generally elements of logic and critical thought. I became awash in all the terminology and each page glowed neon yellow from all the mark-up I did. The first read-through was just for orientation. Now it is a reference book I want near me at all times. Recommended.
Postmodernism — Glen Ward
Unless you are going into this topic in a degree forum for Philosophy or Literature, I think this is about all the understanding of Postmodernism most people need. In fact, I learned just about as much about architecture and film making as I did about literature. Look for this in the Philosophy section, not the Literary Criticism section. Recommended for a good overview.
Narralogues: Truth In Fiction — Ronald Sukenick
I like this guy and his idea, quite well represented in this collection, of combining narrative and dialogue actually makes sense and leads to some very rich prose. But I think Sukenick deserves more of my time and more than just a little thought.
The Contemporary American Comic Epic: The Novels of Barth, Pynchon, Gaddis and Kesey — Elaine B. Safer
An interesting and most acceptable premise with a lot of good discussion into the early epic writers and the works of the postmoderns that are included in the title. Now I have to read The Recognitions, Giles Goat Boy, Sometimes and Great Notion and V to see how accurate the discussion was.
Henry VI Part 1 –William Shakespeare
The first historical drama we are reading and I must say, a load of characters. I have to read back on the history of Henry VI and re-read the play.
The Inner Circle — T. C. Boyle (-)
I think straightforward prose narrative just bores me and Boyle is very disappointing with this title despite his reputation. The story is of the inner circle of people working with Dr. Kinsey is the landmark investigation into human sexuality. Now that I see a movie is coming out about Kinsey I’m wondering if Boyle didn’t slap together this ho-hum repetitive teaser just to cash in on the revival of interest in Kinsey. This one is a clunker.
The Nether World — George Gissing (+)
Forget Dickens if you want a representation of life in London amongst the lower working classes. Gissing arguably writes better than Dickens (he did not serialize his novels so they flow much better but were less read). Sometimes you want to reach out and throttle a character who is hell bent on further degradation but the downward spiral into the Nether World is unavoidable. Gissing’s chapter describing a day at the great exposition is a fine piece of writing that should be in any period anthology. Highly recommended.
A Box of Matches — Nicholson Baker
The author writes these minimalist interior dramas that stretch an hour into a couple of hundred pages and usually keep you as amused as an peeper confronted with curtain washing day. This one is more of a chain of like events, all hanging on the image of lighting the stove with a single matchstick from the box. Like Groundhogs Day with some variation, the author’s Bill Murray keeps repeating early morning activities until the last match in the box and then the book stops. Mildly successful but not as good as his early work.
Melancholy Baby — Robert B. Parker
“Being a detective is mostly about not knowing and asking and looking until you do know at least something.” — Sunny Randall. Has anyone noticed that all of the characters in Parker novels seem to have a problem with marriage? Sunny was a little more Sunny and less Spenser in this one so I would say Parker is improving the character.
Checkpoint — Nicholson Baker (-)
This little waste of time was obviously dashed off to show, imaginatively, the author’s great fear and loathing towards the George W. Bush administration. Just like real life, though, the regime change is planned (in this case a crude assassination) but when it’s all over, Dubya is still in office.
Shadows on the Rock — Willa Cather
The author leaves the American prairie and tells a story about an early period in Canada’s history with a lot of French Catholic attention (actually, this is more of a story collection than a fully developed novel.)
The Bell — Iris Murdoch
This earlier work doesn’t have the complexity of the author’s later pieces but tells a decent story with more than enough understandable symbolism to keep the average scholar happy. There was some discussion at the reading group whether this was a religious story or not; I would say yes, especially knowing the author.
JR — William Gaddis (+)
Jump right into this one and let all of life flow around you as Edward Bast, Jack Gibbs and JR Vansant tumble you through a whirlwind of satire that dents capitalism, high finance, education, publishers, lawyers, and just about anything else that the author includes in the imaginative text. Be forewarned that it’s immediacy and power comes from an almost 100% reliance on dialogue in the text, dialogue like real people are speaking, often fragmented and never attributed. Gaddis does not receive the recognition he deserves.
Two Gentlemen of Verona — William Shakespeare
The last of the three early comedies with a predictable plot.
Zodiac — Neil Stephenson
This title has somehow been relegated to the science fiction stacks in the local bookstore but one might wonder what corporate stooge decided that industrial pollution was science fiction. Now this isn’t high art but it was fast moving, fun and at time rather educational (to those who have a weak background in chemistry). Imagine a plot out of Clive Custler with the theme of Silent Spring written by Douglass Coupland — that’s Neil Stephenson. Now I can read his more famous titles starting with Snow Crash.
The Soft Machine — William S. Burroughs
This one was not as strong as the earlier The Ticket the Exploded but coming as the middle text in the trilogy I suspect I can’t really understand the author until I read The Nova Express (assuming I will ever understand the author). For those Burroughs lovers, this text continues the author’s obsessive imagery — green slime, blue silence, melting, ejaculation, explosions, drugs, homosexuality, raw sex, South America & Mexico, jelly, medicine, time travel, excrement, neon, ozone, movies, lizards … etc.
About Schmidt — Louis Begley
Although I was prepared not to like this title, an online book discussion clued me that the recent movie (which I slept through) wasn’t anything like the book. Boy, that is for certain; I think the title character’s name is the only thing transfered to the screen. Even so, this isn’t the deepest of texts but it does capture very well the difficulties a man has when he grows older, retires, loses his wife and has a grown daughter trying to declare her independence. Ignore the ending which was designed to assure at least one sequel but enjoy the nuances of the story.
Ghost Town — Robert Coover
This was one of Coover’s shorter works and I suspect it should be read more than once. The author, of course, has a wonderfully vivid imagination and the postmodern fearlessness that allows logic and reality to dissolve into a great story. Here’s the low-down … if it’s a ghost town the cowboy rides into shouldn’t it have ghosts? A great fun read but not too profound.
Strangers and Sojourners: Stories from the Low Country — Mary Potter Engel
Admittedly I grabbed this collection of stories because I will be moving to the Low Country of South Carolina in a few months. This author, who has a degree in theology, is very very interesting. I found the stories each different but at the same time interconnected because of the repetition of the locality (the author has created her own county and town, like Faulkner) and of certain supporting characters. In a sense it was like Sherwood Anderson but with a touch of Gullah with your shrimp and grits.
On Parole — Akira Yoshimura
This tale of a man convicted of a crime of passion that is paroled from prison after 15 years is both compelling and a bit clichéd. I think it was an interesting read, however, and recommend this author for his power of observation and his ability to create a realistic environment in his novels, albeit typically Japanese.
I Am Madame X — Gioia Diliberto (-)
Although the subject matter says adults, the writing in this novel says juvenile. The research was good but the non-fiction story of the famous painting and it’s infamous model (Strapless) is preferred to this silly fictional account.
Lucy Gayheart — Willa Cather
A simple but tragic story as only the author can write. Cather seems so effortless and her prose is so pristine.
A Smuggler’s Bible — Josephy McElroy
This is McElroy’s first book, I believe, and it shows both an fresh exuberance and at the same time a definite lack of control in the somewhat complex structure of the novel. As in most postmodern works, this one is the story of transporting manuscripts which themselves are stepped into as another level of the story. It’s not hard to keep track but sometimes you have to check to make sure what time period you are in while you are reading (note that the page and chapter headings are clues). Overall a satisfying read but not as good as the author’s later work.
The Taming of the Shrew –William Shakespeare
Another early play; this one seems to be trying out a few of the techniques used in other plays with questionable effect. The love-play between Petruchio and Katherina is choice, though. I was, however, reminded very much of that episode of Moonlighting.
Invitation to a Beheading — Vladimir Nabokov (+)
Nabokov’s prose is sooooo good and his close work with his son in doing the translations makes the original Russian not as important (for those of you who hate reading translations). The narrative is a combination of Dumas, Kafka and Koestler with some very Nabokovian themes salted throughout the text. Watch out for that spider!
Morality Play — Barry Unsworth
A new author and a very imaginative text. The story is of a small wandering group that stages morality plays to enlighten the small villages and make a a few pence. A wander priest joins them and suggests that they put on a real-life play since the big Guilds are taking away all the business with their extravaganza mystery cycles. It seems that there has been a murder in this town so they use the murder as the subject of the play but as they are working out the staging they begin to realize that the real life solution that has will soon execute the miller’s daughter doesn’t seem to make sense. So, the only way they can show the reality of the situation is through the artificiality of the play. Clever and lively prose.
Sapho — Alphonse Daudet (+)
This is an awfully good author and it would seem that he has been highly influential throughout the world of literature, but I seldom see his works on group reading lists outside of French Literature. The story is that Daudet wrote this piece to demonstrate to his sons the trouble they will get into if they consort with loose women. Not long but not easy to obtain; highly recommended.
Old School — Tobias Wolff (-)
Certainly a nice, easy read; not too challenging however. Wolff’s prose is clear and accurately portrays the events and characters of the novel; it’s just a little dull (no zip), highly derivative of earlier works and trite. The novel seemed to have a confused theme (was it honor or rules or breaking rules or Hemingway adulation?) and read more like a memoir with a couple of other stories attached to make the page limit.
Pinocchio In Venice — Robert Coover
The is a tough one to read and to accept but it’s worth the extra effort. It seems this old two-time Nobel prize winning author is returning to Venice to finish the last elusive chapter of what might be his last book when he is chased down by the local constabulary and recognized by the police dog as the long awaited Pinocchio (yes, the dog talks). Sharpen up your Italian (especial the risque words) and get ready to rock; this is a strange adventure.
Great Expectations — Kathy Acker
Acker as postmodern author dips back into Dickens and makes it her own.
The Ghost in the Mirror — Alain Robbe-Grillet (+)
This is more than an autobiography as it gives the reader an insight into the workings behind the novels. This is a great read and shows how lucid R-G can be when he is writing straightforward prose.
Music, In a Foreign Language — Andrew Crumey
Although this is the first work by this author, I have at least three more titles on the shelf to assure his staying power. I loved this book; full of time shifts, differing points of view, history, philosophy, science, personal experiences and made up references. If you are tired of boring every day novels, this post-modern text is highly recommended.
The Setting Sun — Osamu Dazai
A Japanese classic exploring the social and moral crises that followed the war. The author’s style sets him aside from many of the more prolific Japanese authors but Dazai should be read both for his ideas and for his historical contributions to the development of the modern novel in Japan.
Introducing Foucault — Chris Horrocks & Zoran Jevtic
My daughter has the primary works available for me to read but I need a head-start in this philosophy business. Even so, I find it fascinating.
Mosaic Man — Ronald Sukenick (+)
This author is both fun and erudite. Word associations, puns, you name it (sometimes embarrassingly silly) punctuate this study of being Jewish in the twentieth century and the nature of reality in general.
The Sot Weed Factor — John Barth (+)
A huge rollicking sendoff of the historical novel and still a genuine 18th century novel even if written in the 20th century and often playing fast and loose with “real” history. I think this was the best reading experience I have had in ten years. Not to be missed!
La Maison de Rendez-vous — Alain Robbe-Grillet (+)
Not quite Le Voyeur but almost as good. The exotic location makes this novel doubly intriguing.
A Beginner’s Guide to Marguerite Duras — Martin Crowley
A basic overview of the author and her major works. Not especially valuable.
Le Voyeur — Alain Robbe-Grillet (+)
Re-reading this novel I am even more convinced that it’s position in my Top 20 list is well justified. This novel killed the traditional novel for me probably more than even Ulysses. Everyone should read Le Voyeur at least once and what better reason does one have to learn French than Robbe-Grillet.
Dark Age Ahead — Jane Jacobs
This extended essay started great with a very interesting and believable discussion of what causes Dark Ages. The author then goes on to discuss the various characteristics of a declining civilization and makes some strong connection to our own times and the situation in the United States. However, although it keep my interest throughout I kept expecting a more clearly developed conclusion with relevant warnings and was mildly disappointed.
The Decline and Fall of the American Empire — Gore Vidal
This little book is clear and direct and believable. Gore has a strong handle on the politics of this country.
Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: How We Got to Be So Hated — Gore Vidal (+)
Well documented historical development leading up to the current adventurism into Iraq. It’s hard to ignore such elegant documentation. I never took American History (well, in Junior High) so I was surprised, especially at what a bigoted jerk Teddy Roosevelt was. I recommend reading this one.
The Triumph of the Spider Monkey — Joyce Carol Oates
“Slowly we are overtaking the earth … Spider-monkeys twittering climbing leaping leering … on discount banjos.” This is a wild one. One thing I like about JCO is the breadth of her works.
The Letter Left to Me — Joseph McElroy
A generally straightforward inner narrative of a young man growing up after the loss of his father. You can see McElroy manipulating the language and stuffing his prose but not as dense as Women and Men or Actress In the House. Didn’t “wow” me as the cover blurbs suggested but a satisfying read.
Shipwrecks — Akira Yoshimura
The cover tells it all — a thrilling tale of murder and retribution set on the wild seacoast of medieval Japan. An interesting and entertaining Gothic tale, if rather obvious.
Miracle Play — Joyce Carol Oates
I found the most interesting thing about this play was the cast of the first production, including Robert Guillaume (1973 — pre-Benson?) and F. Murray Abraham.
Literary Theory: An Introduction — Terry Eagleton
I whipped through this a year or two ago and constantly refer back to some of the concepts. To help my muddled brain I started back at the beginning to refresh my knowledge of LitCrit. This is a pretty good text.
The Book of Illusions — Paul Auster
Someone suggested this to me as being similar to something I was reading at the time. I’m not sure what I expected but the connection is lost on me. Auster is a good writer and the text was certainly satisfactory but I guess I just thought it would be edgier. Worth a read.
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy — Laurence Sterne (+)
Wow! This is my third time reading Tristram and I have to admit that it’s gets better every time. Tristram is one of those classic and influential novels that is becoming less and less read. I suppose the lack of narrative and plot can be maddening but if you just read the text for the humor and the humanity in it, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this rollicking madcap novel.
Ontological Proof of My Existence — Joyce Carol Oates
A somewhat surrealistic drama from Three Plays.
Introducing Derrida — Jeff Collins & Bill Mayblin
I was musing about the depiction of autism in Motherless Brooklyn and thought I saw a parallel with some of the stuff Derrida does. I could have read Writing and Difference but this was shorter.
Motherless Brooklyn — Jonathan Lethem
This was a fun and interesting read and I’d recommend it, but don’t expect high literature.
After the Quake — Haruki Murakami
This collection of short stories was excellent (far better than the earlier collection The Elephant Vanishes). Each story has a connection to the Kyoto earthquake but they are not all about the quake. Recommended highly.
The Comedy of Errors — William Shakespeare
The first play being read in the new Bill Shakespeare reading group. I liked the Plautus more but this is an early one so we’ll give the author the benefit of the doubt.
“A” Is for Alibi — Sue Grafton
This is the first of the Kinsey Milhaun series that is now up to “R”; a chance to have some light fun and carrying it around on my Palm meant I could have it and several other novels reading to read whenever I had a few minutes.
The Smithsonian Institution — Gore Vidal
This is Artemis Fowl meets Myra Breckingridge; interesting, especially if you try to figure out the permutations of the meddling with history through time bending, but not wholly satisfying. Read Myra and Duluth first.
A Tenured Professor — John Kenneth Galbraith (+)
Although probably not a four star novel, I loved it! Galbraith is viscous in his satire of the country about at the time Ronald Reagan was three radishes short of a rutabaga and the economy was being artificially inflated by uncontrolled spending. This is sort of an academic novel but as you might imagine with Galbraith, the discipline is economics. I chose this novel as the best ignored title I have read in several years. Go find a copy and enjoy.
The House In Paris — Elizabeth Bowen (+)
This is one of those near perfect novels that quietly draws you into the complexities of human experience. My edition had a wonderful introduction by A.S. Byatt that carefully places the text in the Modernist period and also shows how a reader’s reaction to the novel varies through the years; A must read by an excellent author.
The Master of Secret Revenges — William H. Gass
The final novella in the collection.
Belle du Seigneur — Alfred Cohen (+)
Wow! Being a Big Fat Book there’s a lot of stuff packed into the nearly one thousand pages but I don’t agree with some detractors that Cohen needed a strong editor. It seems to me that the author’s playing with words was just right and I wouldn’t want him to cut anything out. It’s interesting that he writes long, rambling stream-of-consiousness passages and turns around a concludes major plot lines with a terse, suggestive sentence or two. This is the third volume of a trilogy but the earlier titles are not even in print and you don’t really need them (I would like to find used copies though, just to read more Cohen). This is a story of the nature of love and human relationships and it’s not to be missed.
Emma Enters a Sentence of Elizabeth Bishop’s — William H. Gass
The key word here is “enters.” This short novel not only gives you a taste of Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore but it also slams the reader with a somewhat horrific turn at the end.
Les Gommes — Alain Robbe-Grillet (+)
This early novel by the father of the nouveau roman is considerably more approachable than his later works but you begin to see the techniques being applied. Les Gommes demands a fairly careful read to keep things straight but isn’t too tough. I’m not sure I buy the criticism that emphasizes the parallel to the Oedipus tragedy but it’s an interesting view. Recommended for new R-G readers to get started.
Bed and Breakfast — William H. Gass
An excellent, moody short novel with an interesting development at the conclusion.
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven — Sherman Alexie
This early collection of short stories by the author is an excellent introduction to contemporary life on the reservation as well as a good insight into the author’s views on the condition of his people. I’ve heard complaints but I love his prose style.
Cartesian Sonata — William H. Gass
This piece is in a collection of novellas by the author. Don’t think you’ll just sit a while and read this stuff; it’s pretty dense prose and makes a lot of demands on the reader. Even so, what interesting prose it is! This author delivers.
The Collector — John Fowles (+)
This is a deeply disturbing book that is far more complex than it’s surface story. I realized about half-way through that I had read The Collector back in the ’60s when I thought my memories were only of the movie. Even so, it was definitely worth the re-read.
Yes I said yes I will Yes. — Nola Tully (ed.)
A fun collection of Joycean tid-bits to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the original Bloom’s Day (16 Jun 1904). Really puts you in the mood for a re-read (a good introduction to the author too).
Secret Rendezvous — Kobo Abe
Definitely Abe and not too bad. An uncalled ambulance whisks this guy’s wife off to the hospital and he spends the remainder of the novel searching for her in the underground corridors of a strange hospital that seems to be dedicated to sexual activities. Imagine the cure for impotence being to whack a stud in half and graft the bottom half on the impotent patient creating a horse with an erection and a not-an-erection. Needs to be read twice and carefully outlined to fully understand (as with most Abe).
The Beautiful and Damned — F. Scott Fitzgerald
Early Fitzgerald with a less subtle view of the society life than his later works. Probably too long for the effect but and good read. Read on cruise to Caribbean..
The Da Vinci Code — Dan Brown (-)
Reading this pile of crap immediately after the Doc Savage title I can accept TDC as pulp fiction and that’s being generous. I personally enjoy any of the stories that pass for religion and can accept that this fictional account is no worse than other accounts but it is so poorly written and tries so hard to make stupid interpretations sordid and mysterious that it becomes almost funny — Jesus never watched TV; neither did Herod; coincidence? I think not). Read on Palm in lounge chair at the pool in between ogling nubile sunbathers (I’m so ashamed).
The Man of Bronze — Kenneth Robeson
A wild and fun ride with all the humor and adventure you expect in a pulp novel. This is the first title and I understand they are still writing Doc Savage novels and stories, all under the nom-de-plume of Kenneth Robeson. I hear the first one hundred titles are great but then they lag a bit (and you can download them all from the internet). I read this one on my Palm.
Vita Sexualis — Ogai Mori
An early Japanese novel by a great author that blends the realism of the naturalist school with an important spiritual awareness in its frank treatment of sexual awareness. Elegant in it’s simplicity and historically important in the canon of Japanese literature.
The Magus — John Fowles (+)
Back in the ’60s I read the original version of this novel and I remember it as being only slightly less brain stomping than peyote. We all ran around then analyzing the weak seams of reality and smokin’ a lot of reefer. Well, times have changed, Fowles has re-written and expanded The Magus and I’m left with mainlining insulin and a grande americano at B&N. But back to the book; is it any good? Well, much better than most with the author doing a pretty good job keeping his prose on target when his subject tends to fly around all over the place. I can see that repeated readings of this title should get a bit tedious but I still have to give the novel high marks. One rap is that Fowles is no Kazantzakis when it comes to giving us the feel and spell of Greece in his prose. Even so, The Magus is a good exercise for the brain and highly recommended.
Double Play — Robert B. Parker
Excellent. Parker has created yet another hard guy character that makes Hawk and Spenser sound like softies. The story is a mixture of fiction and history — tough guy Burke is hired to protect Jackie Robinson when Mr. Rickey calls him up to the show. Lots of minimalist action and the usual thugs that show up in a Parker story. But good stuff (except maybe the love story part).
The Gourmet Club: A Sextet — Jun’ichiro Tanizaki
This collection of six long stories contained some great stuff and a few clunkers. Overall it was a strong collection from an excellent author.
Diana, the Goddess Who Hunts Alone — Carlos Fuentes
My second Fuentes and I’m ready for more. This love story wasn’t that exciting but I could see the quality of the author’s prose and was interested in the way you never new what was real and what was fiction. Fuentes just doesn’t put much of a wall between his own life and his fiction (or so it seems).
The Adult Life of Toulouse Lautrec by Henri Toulouse Lautrec — Kathy Acker
The last title in the collection of short novels, Portrait of an Eye. Acker’s discussion of Capitalism and Friendly Fascism are pretty scary — thirty years later it is coming true. This was a good one all around.
The Reivers — William Faulkner
A fun picaresque with plenty of stuff to make into a movie (which I have not seen). Not exactly deep but not really meant to be either. I like the current allusions in the text which were current when I was first reading Faulkner (we forget that he was still writing into the ’60s).
Buying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather — Gao Xing Jian
This small collection of short stories from the Nobel Prize winner is excellent. I have to pick up his big novels (note: I didn’t like his last experimental story but the others reminded me somewhat of M. Duras)..
Folly and Glory –Larry McMurtry
Number 4 in the Berrybender saga and I feel trapped. It’s just barely good enough to keep you reading ahead to see what happens, who shows up, how the author can somehow assure that some of the characters show up at every major event in American history. But Larry keeps churning them out and I keep reading them. Does everyone remember the ultimate torture at the end of A Handful of Dust? (Note: the series is only four titles but you know how author’s lie).
The Farming of Bones — Edwidge Danticat (+)
Here I think the author got it right. The subject is openly slaughter and injustice but the author keeps the prose under control, low-key, patient. The effect is to actually make the Trujillo slaughter of Haitians in 1937 even more horrendous and despicable. Recommended.
Blood and Guts in High School — Kathy Acker (+)
This is an amazing text full of highly readable, if controversial, prose, obscene line drawings, complex three-dimensional diagrams of imaginative places, Persian poetry (in the original script plus an English translation), Acker’s own poetry … and more and more. Don’t look for a plot and the theme might be somewhat akin to shaking your fist at the sun but everyone should read this book (and believe me, few will love it but it should trigger something deep inside every reader). Note: despite the title, it has absolutely nothing to do with the recent spate of High School commandoes.
Nana — Daniel Odier
Although this is the second title the author wrote, it is actually a pre-quel to Diva and fills in the background of Alba and Gorodish. Fun.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves — Lynne Truss
Hey, for nine bucks it’s almost as cheap as reading it in B&N at the coffee corral. I love these kind of books — punctuation rules!!!! (is that a double entendre?)
The Tattooed Girl — Joyce Carol Oates
This one catches you early on. It’s the story of love, or the lack of it, and hate, however misguided. A good one.
Starr Bright Will Be with You Soon — Joyce Carol Oates as Rosamund Smith
The author betrays all possibility for suspense right from the beginning so this psycho-twin-serial killer novel is more about the inner demons and the warped relationships between twins.
The Dew Breaker — Edwidge Danticut
The author writes a competent and interesting story but there’s no fire in her prose. I think it needs more passion.
Dirt Music — Tim Winton
I haven’t read much Australian literature but I’m planning to rectify that situation. This author writes a good story (although the ending was a bit too much and the music discussion was not well integrated) and I plan to read more of his works. Nothing exciting but the prose is competent.
Illness as Metaphor — Susan Sontag
The author’s earlier discussion of the metaphors used to discuss an illness. See her later essay about AIDS and Its Metaphors for a similar, more directed and more personally express theme.
Diva — Daniel Odier
This is the first volume of the fascinating criminal adventures of Gorodish and Alba. There is more action and interest in these quick 148 pages than in many texts over 400 pages. Great fun and always keeps you on your toes (follow-up volumes are Nana, Luna and Lola).
The Farmer’s Hotel — John O’Hara
O’Hara sometimes seems a little dated (like a sepia print) but he’s a pretty good writer and might deserve a bit more attention (some of his stuff isn’t that different from Steinbeck and John won the Nobel Prize in Literature). This one reminds me of Bus Stop with a little touch of Hitchcock; it would make a great Playhouse 90.
Living By Fiction — Annie Dillard
This author really is awesome (makes me look so dumb). Her discussion of postmoderism is right on! There’s a lot in this relatively short volume to think about and to inject into your own critical thinking. I’ve got Pilgrim At Tinker Creek around here somewhere; I’ll have to read it soon.
Death Kit — Susan Sontag
The author drew me in on this one much earlier than The Benefactor but just over half-way done it did start to slow down, despite being quite interesting. Sontag throws in so many ideas and holds extended discussions (even if it’s one guy talking to himself) that you tend to want more on the ideas and lose track of the fact that this is a novel with a narrative. I ordered just about all of Sontag’s essay collections from B&N and they all arrived … fast.
Beasts — Joyce Carol Oates
This one is Sylvia Plath meets Ira Levin with a little Fire Starter thrown in. Very edgy.
Big Mouth and Ugly Girl — Joyce Carol Oates
JCO calls this her first juvenile and I suppose since the subject involves High School kids and growing up she’s probably right. The prose isn’t complex and the story would make a tremendous After School Special, but at the same time, there’s a lot in this text to think about, whether you’re young or old.
The Rise of Life on Earth — Joyce Carol Oates
The story of a woman on the edge that enjoys hanging around hospitals. JCO is right there dangling precariously with her tight prose and direct narration. Darn good.
First Love — Joyce Carol Oates
A small, satisfying volume by an amazingly prolific author.
The Assignation — Joyce Carol Oates
My first exposure to JCOs short stories. I love the really short ones. I must say that the author is really in control of her prose (there’s no room to spoof quality in these short stories).
Black Water — Joyce Carol Oates
JCO takes a significant episode of American history and retells it from the point of view of the victim trapped in the car as it sank away from the Senator who saved himself. The author does an amazing job of sustaining the high emotion and panic from page one until the black water fills her lungs and she dies. Good stuff.
Reading Susan Sontag: A Critical Introduction to Her Work — Carl Rollyson
An excellent overview although not too deep in the criticism department (mostly quotes from reviewers).
The Ticket That Exploded — William S. Burroughs (+)
Wow! You have to take your time with this one and don’t search too hard for hidden meanings — just let the prose roll over you. You can see WSB’s cut and paste technique used heavily in this novel to paint the picture and at the same time to keep you on your toes. This is truly great stuff.
Jade Palace Vendetta — Dale Furutani
The second in the Samuri trilogy; fun reading and always a scene showing homage to Akira Kurasawa.
Regarding the Pain of Others — Susan Sontag
I don’t think I’m going to rate these essays any more since each one seems to open up my mind and make me think. Love them.
I Lock My Door Upon Myself — Joyce Carol Oates (+)
This small story has a big impact and the author’s control of her prose is amazing. My shelf is full of JCO and I am going to eat them up.
AIDS and It’s Metaphors — Susan Sontag (+)
Wow! I think Sontag is a top notch essayist; I found this little gem fascinating and will immediately seek out a copy of her earlier essay Illness As Metaphor.
The Benefactor — Susan Sontag
This is a tough but interesting author. I found this first novel fascinating but a little rough around the edges and perhaps relying on some rather cliched structural elements (although I should consider how far back it was written). I know a lot of reading groupies that will love her open-ended, unreliable narrator narrative but it was a bit too obvious. At times Sontag’s text reminded me of Ozecki. And what about those dreams — hard to figure out.
The Reef — Edith Wharton
I believe this is the last of Wharton’s major works for me to read and it was interesting. Well written as usual but with a simple story that didn’t have the same impact as The Age of Innocence or The House of Mirth. Oh, I may be stupid but can someone explain the title to me?
Accomplices of Silence: The Modern Japanese Novel — Masao Miyoshi
This critical look at the development of the modern Japanese novel is fascinating. Not only do the authors have to overcome the social strictures, they also have to deal with a complex language that has many ways to write the same thing, with variances of class, importance, emphasis, etc. I definitely want to read some of the earlier novels discussed in this interesting text.
Death At the Crossroads — Dale Furatani
This is the first of the Samuri murder mystery series by the author of the Inspector Tanaka series and it was a lot of fun. Believe me, you can’t help but see Toshiro Mifuni as you read along. Light but satisfying.
Aloft — Chang-rae Lee
A darn good read. Lee really isn’t an Asian author although one or more of his characters tend to be Asian. This novel, perhaps with a more carefully developed ending, might well have been written by John Updike. Lee is that good.
Stone Cold — Robert B Parker
Parker’s Jesse Stone isn’t as vivid as Spenser, but he’s perhaps more complex because of his vulnerabilities. Good story.
Invisible Monsters — Chuck Palahniuk
I’ve decided that this author should be read by all, not because his prose is that wonderful but because he takes a chance with the plot or structure or characters … etc. whereas too many other contemporary authors are content to follow the time honored and horribly tedious rules of the conventional novel. Palahniuk might not be the best writer but he certainly gives your mind a twist with each of his novels.
Obasan — Joy Kogawa
The author might wax poetic a bit much but her story is so strong you hardly mind it. I really didn’t know that the treatment of Canadians of Japanese descent was even more brutal, unjustified and frightening than the internment in the States had been. Highly recommended for several reasons.
Don Quixote — Miguel de Cervantes (+)
Only surpassed by Ulysses in my mind. The new translation is much more immediate, reading like contemporary fiction despite being possibly the oldest true novel. Nothing stuffy in the text; Cervantes always keep a sense of humor. If you’ve never read this one you should put all your other novels in a box in the basement until you have enjoyed Don Quixote — the Knight of the Sorrowful Face and his loyal squire Sancho Panza.
The Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula by The Black Tarantula — Kathy Acker
Fascinating. We begin to see Acker using other characters and situations to tell her personal story — where is Acker the person, Acker the writer, Acker the character, The Black Tarantula, the other named characters? As I said, fascinating (with rather direct adult language, of course).
The Tattoo Murder Case — Akimitsu Takagi
Very traditionally plotted mystery with a locked room murder and a boy genius that see the solution that has eluded the police for months. Just like Hercule, the boy genius carefully explains his reasoning to find the real killer. Fun; makes you want more.
The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency — Alexander McCall Smith
Interesting to read this light romp at the same time as Cry, the Beloved Country. I went out and bought the next three so it’s pretty good and very upbeat.
Salammbo — Gustove Flaubert (+)
I started to read this a couple of years back and was told it was just a military story. Well, it’s hardly that. Salammbo is the first leg in an interesting study of the excesses a human may go to in food or lust or violence. The story of Hamilcar, father of Hannibal, and his seductress daughter Salammbo it was the novel that was mentioned in Au Rebours by J. K. Huysmans and of course Au Rebours was the influential novel mentioned in The Picture of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde. Read the three texts in order to get the full effect (I read them backwards). The Flaubert guy is pretty good.
Maigret and the Hotel Majestic — Georges Simenon
An excellent Maigret. As the plot thickens, Maigret can see beyond the obvious and solves the case.
Bad Business — Robert B. Parker
Spenser is back and this is a pretty good one. Even the thug and thug colloquy between Hawk and Spenser seemed natural and not so annoying this time. Best part? Vinnie (the mob’s stone cold killer) shows up to help Spenser protect a client, take a couple of sawed-off shotguns out of his duffle, a 44 magnum and his iPod! Even a hitter needs his iTunes.
Roscoe — William Kennedy (+)
This is Kennedy’s best novel to date. I think it is the 9th volume in the Albany cycle and it even outshines the award winning Ironweed. Kennedy is the best author in America (outside of Bellow and Updike) when it comes to controlling the flow and lilt of his prose. You find yourself re-reading passages just for the quality of the sounds and the aptness of the ideas. If you haven’t read Kennedy, what are you waiting for?
Cry, the Beloved Country — Alan Paton (+)
A wonderful book on so many levels. Paton (a native of South Africa) perfectly captures the feel of the lands and the people in his sparse prose sprinkled with bits of Zulu and Afrikaner to lend the little touches of reality. In this modest novel you discover the problem with SA after the war and what many of the people were willing to do to overcome the disparity between whites and blacks. The feelings are understated but right on target. You may not cry but you certainly will ponder. (Although recent history has changed this area of Africa considerably, this novel isn’t dated at all — it deals with human being in difficult times). Very life-affirming.
The Atrocity Exhibition — J. G. Ballard (+)
This is the revised edition with the author’s annotations. It hard to say anything about this book other that to suggest that if public assassinations, executions and car crashes are your idea of high art, then get this book! Even if they aren’t, there’s a lot to think about in this text.
The Venice Train — Georges Simenon
A good thriller as only Simenon seems to be able to churn them out.
Pussycat Fever — Kathy Acker
This short novel is actually from the book Pussy, King of Pirates. It has been encased in appropriate artwork and makes a great fairy tale for perverted minds. Loved it!
All She Was Worth — Miyuki Miyabe
Named the best mystery and best novel of the year in Japan. Seemed a little simple but I did learn a lot about Japanese finances.
Eagles and Angles — Juli Zeh
Translated from the German this text is not bad; it’s fundamental structure is enfolding the retelling of the main character’s past with the present (he’s relating his early exploits into a tape recorder). Sometimes you get confused but the key is to look for the female name (Jessie is past; Clara is present). The ending is an understandable last minute twist which seems to work (even if 300 pages are brought to a sudden 8 or 10 page conclusion).
Artemis Fowl — Eoin Coifer
I enjoyed this juvenile fantasy much more than Harry Potter although the writing was on a par with Rowling. I’d read another.
Hannibal Lecter, My Father — Kathy Acker
This is a fascinating collection of some of Acker’s earlier works, an interview and even the documents from her obscenity trial in Germany. Leaves you wanting more and more. Includes a selection from Politics (her first work) and the complete pieces New York City in 1979, Lust, The Birth of the Poet, Translations of the Diaries of Laure the Schoolgirl, Algeria.
The Hatter’s Phantoms — Georges Simenon
A very interesting and satisfying psychological from the author of the Inspector Maigret series. In this one you know the murderer (even the guy across the street knows the murderer) so you get to go inside and watch him unravel. Good read.
The Cat Inside — William S. Burroughs
If Thomas Stearns Elliot can have his Old Possum’s Book of Cats then William S. Burroughs can have The Cat Inside. Little vignettes; little book.
In the Miso Soup — Ryu Murakami
The Tokyo sex trade, brutal murders, fun with noodles. This one is much more controlled than the disappointing Coin Locker Babies.
An Eye For an Eye — Bandula Chandrarantna
Another look into the life in an Arab country with everyday brutality and Firebird dreams. Although I thought the prose could have been more sophisticated, this was a good one.
The Yellow Rain — Julio Llamazares
This author is very good. He tells the story, suggested by his real life, of the death of a small village in the Pyrannes through the eyes of the last inhabitant. You should like this. A quote: “Time is a patient yellow rain that slowly douses even the fiercest of fires.”
By Night In Chile — Roberto Bolaño (+)
A very powerful work by the Chilean author which gives you a whole background in Chilean literature while telling the story of his country around the time of Peron. This title packs a lot in its sparse pages.
Scandal — Shusaku Endo
Endo writes so well and the theme of this text was quite interesting but it just didn’t have the impact on the reader (me) that I thought it should. Endo almost dips into the domain of Abe and Murakami with this one (even though his perpetual Catholic themes prevail).
Featherstone — Kirsty Gunn
Reviews make this title far more effective than it really is — sometimes the evocative poetry gets in the way of the narrative and blurs understanding and intellectual enjoyment. There is one point in the novel, however, when the generous amount of description is just right to emphasize the turn in the plot.
SS Proleterka — Fleur Jaeggy
A small but sharp little novel dealing with the age old Father & Son dilemma.
Had Enough? A Handbook for Fighting Back — James Carville
Fun and scary at the same time. Makes a pretty convincing case against the fraudulent Bush administration and the embarrassing war they have mired the country in. Carville’s main suggestion that the people of America should come first, before the economy of America (’cause we all know who benefits first from a strong economy).
Werewolves In Their Youth — Michael Chabon
An interesting collection of short stories by an author that writes so-so novels; he should stick to short stories.
Yellow Dog — Martin Amis
I thought this title alternated deftly from being complete crap to sections of great insight and glorious, albeit non-traditional, prose. I gave it three stars ’cause I wasn’t sure if I loved it or hated it. The porno section was awfully funny, though. I was somewhat gratified to see that Amis and I write about the same stype (he’s better). Guess what a Yellow Dog is …
A Rebours — J. K. Huysmans (+)
Excellent! I love the lush old-fashioned prose, almost Keatsean. There was also a lot of interesting discussion in this novel that still makes you think. Try this author.
The Custom of the Country — Edith Wharton (+)
Wharton is some much the better writer than almost anything being done today and this title is no exception. I actually enjoyed this more than The House of Mirth but I thought the author’s theme was too wobbly (book club discussion was all over the place).
The Scarlet Letters — Louis Auchincloss
The tie in with Hawthorne was perhaps stretched a bit but the author (so prolific) is a slick writer that always keeps your interest. It’s amazing that this somewhat generational novel actually was a short as it was; Auchincloss knows how to pack a lot in without getting burdensome. The ending was strangely unsatisfying.
The Informers — Brett Easton Ellis
Not much better although the structure was a bit more interesting.
The Rules of Attraction — Brett Easton Ellis (-)
Same old rich kids living the life of sex and drugs. Gets boring.
Outlet — Randy Taguchi (-)
Unfortunately, I found Ms Taguchi’s branching out first novel pretty strained and juvenile. It has an interesting premise but by the end of the novel it’s so hokied up with para-psycho-babble that it falls flat (despite the reviews telling you it has a shocking conclusion, it sucks) … I am reminded of Camilla’s Sense of Snow which was intriguing until the author went overboard in the arctic. Both authors should take a page from Hitchcock — never show the monster! As long as there are unexplained phenomena or heavy breathing just outside the door, you’ve got my attention; but when the monster pops up there’s too much of a possibility of going “is that the best you can do?” and ruining the story. Of course it’s not really a monster in Outlet, just an Outlet, but it’s still lame. Randy may have to go back to being the Queen of the Internet and leave the fiction to better writers.
Diary — Chuck Palahniuk
Interesting structure using the Diary as a method of telling the action of the novel, but the occult twist wasn’t very original or satisfying (leave this stuff to Tom Tryon … even though he’s dead).
Not the End of the World — Kate Atkinson
A fine collection of short stories by a pretty imaginative author. I especially liked the first story where you begin to realize that shopping at the Mall isn’t happening in the world as you know it. The author played this one just right.
By Sorrow’s River — Larry McMurtry
This is the third volume of the Berrybender Narratives and I was at first hesitant since the last volume was pretty much a waste of time for me. However, I seemed to have gotten into the saga and it’s a lot smoother sailing than before even though much of the prose is still pretty silly. I guess this is the Western equivalent to the Dark Tower series or maybe Sweetvalley High.
Spies — Michael Frayn
An intriguing novel; very well written (my first by this author).
The Bloody Chamber — Angela Carter
This author can really write. The title story in this collection was great (as were all the others). Carter is the best at post-modern gothic. Her little tales actually remind us that the original fairy tales were pretty dark and gruesome and nothing like the silly Walt Disney adaptations.