Reading: 2006

Total Items = 153

The Map of Love — Ahdaf Souief
A very interesting multi-generational novel that gives an Egyptian perspective on the affairs of the 20th century. Not a bad love story, either.

Götz and Meyer — David Albahari
A low-keyed investigation of the history of a character and the German solution to unwanted populations during WWII. The author is quite good. Note, however, that he does not use any paragraph breaks, let alone chapters and such.

The Confusions of Young Törless — Robert Musil
For its time this little novel was both shocking and brutally honest. The narrative deals with a group of boys in an exclusive school and explores the maturing awareness of the title character.

Alice Adams — Booth Tarkington
A breezy narrative of an innocent era that is lost forever. Discussions with other readers seemed to suggest a more serious approach to the novel than the humor I saw and enjoyed.

The Plague — Albert Camus (+)
An excellent novel on many levels where Camus uses the narrative of a city and several significant characters responding to a major outbreak of the plague to express his theory of the Absurd in the form of a good story.

The Sound of the Mountain — Kawabata Yasunari (+)
Exquisitely written the author tells a simple tale of a family and the crises of growing old and the confrontation of change. A highly recommended author and a highly recommended title.

Playback — Raymond Chandler
It’s always fun to read about Southern California from around the time you were a kid. Marlowe is good but not at his best. The local ambience, however, is worth the read.

My Life in CIA — Harry Mathews
Living in Europe (or for whatever reason) the author was erroneously assumed to be working under cover for some spy organization like the CIA. Of course this wasn’t true but that didn’t stop Mathews from playing off of the spook spoof once in a while. This novel is then a fictionalized account of a fictionalized series of evens in a real life … I think … or was it all real? Unlike some of Mathews other, more experimental stuff, this one reads easy and is rather entertaining.

Vendetta — Honoré de Balzac

Under the Shadow — Gilbert Sorrentino
The narrator toward the end of this novel speaks of ” … the razzle-dazzle ‘theatre of velleity’ offering, Key Passages, a series of fifty-nine waywardly abstruse blackouts …” I’m a sucker for novels like this where the author weaves themes and events throughout a number of seemingly unrelated short-short stories until it becomes more and more obvious that we are dealing with a different kind of unity of structure. Burroughs did this but sometimes the reader never sees the connections either because they are too obscure or because the author just left them out. Sorrentino is a much neater author than Burroughs and this novel is both accessible and intriguing. I have a lot of Sorrentino to read but I like this one the best so far.

A Passion in the Desert — Honoré de Balzac
This short narrative is almost a fable … so if you’re into man on ferocious feline amoré, this is for you,

Timbuktu — Paul Auster
The best dog story since Call of the Wild … maybe better.

The Maranas — Honoré de Balzac

The Lights of the Earth — Gina Berriault

The Red Inn — Honoré de Balzac

Ray — Barry Hannah

The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium — Harry Mathews

Philebus — Plato

Le Rendez-Vous — Justine Lévy
I picked up this novel because Lydia Davis was the translator and was surprised to see that the author is the daughter of the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy. The story isn’t too imaginative but it held my interest. Like many novels nowadays, it is a bit non-traditional in that the narrative is completely one-sided, almost a memoir by a young woman waiting for her mother in a Paris bistro. As a first novel it’s okay.

Watt — Samuel Beckett
Beckett can certainly be a demanding read, although this novel wasn’t as obscurely written as many of the others — you could follow along with the narrative even if you never were too sure what the author was getting at. I found it mildly interesting that I read Houellebecq’s What and Beckett’s Watt so close together.

The Hard Life — Flann O’Brien
Very Irish and very roguish. This was a fun read and at one point I actually did laugh out loud. My one thought while reading this novel was that Roddy Doyle owed a lot (everything?) to Flann O’Brien. I have two more novels by the author and hope to work them in to the schedule soon.

The Demon — Hugh Selby, Jr.

The Recruit — Honoré de Balzac

Northanger Abbey — Jane Austen

Natural Novel — Georgi Gospodinov

Airships — Barry Hannah

The Ice Storm — Rick Moody

An Episode Under the Terror — Honeré de Balzac

Moscow to the End of the Line — Venedikt Erofeev

The Succubus — Honoré de Balzac

Kaddish for a Child Not Born — Imre Kertész

Singular Pleasures — Harry Mathews

The Left-Handed Woman — Peter Handke

The Voyage Out — Virginia Woolf

The End of Alice — A. M. Homes

L’Etranger — Albert Camus (+)

Les Chouans — Honoré de Balzac

Les Enfants Terribles — Jean Cocteau (+)

The Waves — Virginia Woolf (+)

Wylder’s Hand — J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Indiana — George Sand

A Strange Commonplace — Gilbert Sorrentino

Aunt Safiyya and the Monastery — Bahaa’ Teher (+)

Berlin Alexanderplatz: The Story of Franz Biberkopf — Alfred Döblin (+)

Whatever — Michel Houellebecq
This is Houellebecq’s first novel yet it is carefully constructed and interesting. I’m not sure that this is the L’Etranger of the cyber age but it has it’s moments. The author has gone on to write several novels that have attracted a great deal of attention and praise (unfortunately, not from me). Note that the title in French is Extension du domaine de la luttle.

The Ramayana — R. K. Narayan
This retelling of the classic Indian epic was an excellent way to begin to familiarize oneself with this literature without getting too bogged down in the historical and spiritual details.

The Night Inspector — Frederick Busch (-)
This seemingly exciting tale includes some of the most clichéd, unbelievable events. I believe The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was more realistic. I’m afraid that the author’s creative writing classes must be concerned with a checklist of important scenes, events and themes to slap into your novel to make it widely marketable; too bad there evidently isn’t much time taken in that class to discuss how to make a novel with at least some quality.

The Subject Steve — Sam Lipsyte
Steve (not really his name) is the very first person to be dying of an unknown and unnamed disease that doesn’t seem to have any symptoms but might be something like being bored of life. Very entertaining and I really enjoyed the author’s unique turn-of-phrase — there are some gems in there.

Blue Screen — Robert B. Parker
Although a Sunny Randall novel, Sunny teams up with Jesse Stone for this one and it’s pretty good … but not Spenser.

Kathy Goes to Haiti — Kathy Acker
The cover blurb suggests that the author’s delivery in this frightening story is rather Dick and Jane but I was also noticing a bit of influence from the Nouveau Roman. In both instances, the impact of the story is certainly heightened by the simplicity and directness of the prose. This is one of the author’s more approachable pieces and they are all recommended, especially if you only read the traditional “best-seller” novels. Acker can be a real eye-opener.

Florida — Kathy Acker
Although extremely short, this little novel treatment might remind you of Hemingway — a Hemingway that isn’t so long winded.

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason — Sam Harris
I certainly appreciated this book and am very much in agreement about the author’s ideas on religion; however, I felt that his arguments, especially later in the book, were too fast and ignored valid options or alternate explanations. Overall, a book everyone should read but I’m sure there will be a great deal of valid counter-argument.

The Volcano Lover — Susan Sontag
I enjoyed this novel immensely. It was full of great characters and great events and great ideas, but like most of the author’s fiction, it isn’t as tight and insightful as her essays. I do think this is the best of her works (although I have still In America to read) and highly recommend it to those that enjoy historical fiction and the novel of ideas.

A Fine Balance — Rohinton Mistry
Despite being skillfully written and rather entertaining, one might suspect that the rumored reunion of Cheech and Chong will be to make the film version of A Fine Balance, screenplay by O’Henry. I was amazed that, knowing very little about the history and politics of India, I was able to foresee almost every turn in the plot of this novel. For my money that makes it one long cliché, tossing in every formulaic theme to elicit the correct response — even cute little kittens. Oh, I know that Mistry has been compared to Dickens but I’m wondering why he didn’t toss in a Little Match Girl to cinch the deal. In the final analysis, A Fine Balance offers a few nights of top entertainment but as literature it is egregiously overrated.

Midnight’s Children — Salman Rushdie (+)
Although long and involved, this novel was fascinating and may have revived my faith in the author after the dreadful The Ground Beneath Her Feet. Rushdie gives a good, albeit fictionalized, overview of the lead-up to independence in India and the after effects. His technique which is considered Magic Realism (but I don’t agree) allows him to play with the characters and the plot in a way to provide a more immediate representation of the turmoil in the nation. I thought it was often forced and uneven but I see that other critics consider this a part of the representation of the unevenness of the growth of the nation (I almost never accept that poor writing is done on purpose). Not perfect but definitely a book that everyone should read.

Myths to Live By — Joseph Campbell
This collection of lectures and papers the author delivered between 1958 and 1971 certainly develops some interesting topics in helping us to better understand the fictions we encounter in our everyday lives. I especially found the discussions of the differences between the East and the West fascinating and can now see that I should be reading more of the Eastern texts.

Running Wild — J. G. Ballard
Short but disturbing.

Bad Behavior — Elizabeth Gaitskill
This is the first collection of stories by the author and it is easy to see why she was receiving the attention she did. Gaitskill is rather direct and deals with subjects in a natural way that other writers usually slide by in a fog of metaphor and innuendo — prostitution, S & M, lesbian love, sexual abuse, etc. Although I didn’t think her recent award nominated novel Veronica had the same edge as her early stories, Gaitskill may be an author to watch. Recommended.

After Silence — Jonathan Carroll
Carroll is interesting and fun, if a bit uneven at times but I found this title lacking in either the fun or the fantasy. I suspect that critics will find it a more serious work and will therefore find something good to say about the author. I couldn’t.

A Death in the Family — James Agee (+)
Although a near perfect novel, I’m sure it will appeal to some more than others. I found that the publishers inserting of additional text arbitrarily between the sections was not effective and interrupted the narrative too much — they should have put it all at the end in an appendix. Agee certainly controls his prose to give the reader a very detailed view which is captured in all the senses.

Because They Wanted To — Elizabeth Gaitskill
After reading Veronica recently I got re-interested in this author and pulled out all the titles from my shelves for reading or re-reading. This is a collection of short stories (some of which are almost long enough to be considered short novels). Gaitskill can take the reader into some rather dangerous territory but she always does it with excellent prose. Definitely recommended.

The March — E. L. Doctorow
This fictionalized account of the march of the Army of the West under William Tecumseh Sherman was rather entertaining. Despite having centered the narrative around several totally fictional characters, Doctorow pulls it off without seeming silly. High literature it isn’t but an entertainment for a few hours is also a decent goal. I am not a Civil War buff and probably haven’t had any American History since Junior High but if the historical references in this novel were not accurate, they certainly seemed so.

Glory — Vladimir Nabokov
Nabokov is a master of language.

Portrait of an Artist, as an Old Man — Joseph Heller
This uneven novel deals with a fictional author (that sounds a lot like Heller himself) struggling with his failing muse and his inability to settle on a theme for his next novel. What makes the novel interesting and fun is the narrator’s inability to overcome all the literature that other, usually superior, authors have published. He is desperate for something original and tries out several variations on existing themes, often with rather humorous effects. Heller, of course, is famous for his first book — Catch-22 (a term which he uses several times in Portrait) — but hasn’t been that well received since. So now, as an old man, this novel is both a fiction and perhaps a bit of autobiographical angst.

Wittgenstein’s Mistress — David Markson (+)
Throughout this novel you never leave the head of a woman that admits that at one time she went crazy. She relates her life as the last person on earth and does a pretty convincing job but the novel is also about how we know and learn — epistemology. Endlessly fascinating and quite different for Markson (although you do see those catalogs popping in there at times).

Boone’s Lick — Larry McMurtry
It was refreshing to read a McMurtry that didn’t suck like the Berrybender series. Nice story; not great literature.

The Monster — Stephen Crane
Reading these shorter works of Stephen Crane you really see the loss his early death on literature.

Unholy Loves — Joyce Carol Oates
An early novel and not very strong; I do like to read these fictional exposes of academia though. JCO uses a string of faculty parties as the structure of this novel which spends a lot of time inside the heads of the various professors, administrators, wives and husbands.

The Open Boat — Stephen Crane
A fascinating little study of a small group of men facing death in a small lifeboat after their ship sank off the Florida coast.

Our Lady of the Flowers — Jean Genet (+)
One of the most amazing books I have ever read. You have to get past the over sexuality of the situation and realize what the author is doing in his mind while alone in a small prison cell.

The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky — Stephen Crane
Just a short story but it answers the question of how to take deadly revenge on the newly married sheriff — shoot him or don’t shoot him?

Narcissus und Goldmund — Hermann Hesse (+)
Despite the translation and despite the association with the Summer of Love, I am rediscovering what an excellent author Hermann Hesse really was. Plotting and theme are very strong in his works and the narrative flows naturally whether he is in an imaginary land, on the banks of the Ganges or skulking down an alley in Berlin. Not only that but his works are chock-a-block with ideas to ponder. Unfortunately I think I have read all his major works now at least once and doubt if I will go back for a re-read unless it is a group selection.

The Blue Hotel — Stephen Crane
Although well known for his novel The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane has written several shorter works that can only be described as exquisite — this is certainly one of them.

The Mistress of Spices — Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni (-)
I can’t believe this author teaches creative writing, even at the world renowned Foothill College. The text started out okay, although the overly precious prose was aggravating until I realized I could just scan through it rapidly; I got the impression this was going to be Magical Realism comes to San Francisco or the No. 1 Spice Agency. Then the author introduced the American and the novel fell into an intensely stupid and unbelievable love story. The author might have been better off stringing together a bunch of semi-magical stories about the Indian population of Oakland and how the mystical spices effected changes in their lives. Anything would have been better than the stupidity that assumed the connection between an Indian from the sub-continent and an American Indian would be unique and imaginative. Please … Unfortunately, I selected this turkey for reading at the Asian Literature Reading group. Of course, just because the author is Indian doesn’t automatically make the novel good.

The Marriage of Sticks — Jonathan Carroll
The author really creates a Twilight Zone world in this one. I was considering what makes up Fantasy Fiction. There are certainly Fantasies that create wild and fantastic worlds inhabited by wild and fantastic creatures and “people.” However, there are also the Fantasies that deal with a world that looks very realistic until something unusual happens — the dog talks, your life is being shown at the local drive-in, long dead people stop by for a chat. Suffice it to say that most of Carroll’s Fantasies are of the latter type and The Marriage of Sticks is a strong example. I don’t suggest that Carroll is anything approaching great literature but I have been having fun reading a few of his titles. If I had a complaint, it would be that Carroll piles on the fantastic elements and, although done in a seemingly natural way, the reader isn’t going to find any quiet subtlety in his works.

The Path to the Spiders’ Nests — Italo Calvino
Calvino’s first novel is a bildungsroman that deals with the Italian Resistance during WWII. It seems that the author has revised this text several times so it might be hard to say that it shows his great prose style early on but I understand that many of the revisions were to restore previously censored passages and the preface. Don’t look for any of the Calvino textual gymnastics in the novel — Calvino, in the start-stop Preface, calls it Neo-Realism and although certainly superior, it can be compared to Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Whores for Gloria — William T. Vollmann (+)
Excellent! Tough, crude, shocking. You see deeply into the tenderloin of a city and the dementia of a mind. Includes a handy Glossary of street terms in case you are considering a life on the streets. Reading this immediately after Maggie: A Girl of the Streets provides quite a contrast between eras.

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets — Stephen Crane
Maybe even four stars. Although almost an overlong short story, Maggie certainly gives a vivid picture of the degradation of poverty in old New York.

He Who Searches — Luisa Valenzuela
Okay. Two novels that leave me shaking my head in only one week. In this one, just when I thought I was understanding the story it changed and I was lost again. There was some good stuff in there, though; I just couldn’t tell you what it was about.

14 Stories — Stephen Dixon
Sometimes Dixon makes me mad but for the most part his stories are exquisite. Don’t look for poetic language or subtle positioning, Dixon slams it down in front of you and it’s up to you to do some thing with it. I’ve read a lot of Dixon and there’s a lot to go …

Outside the Dog Museum — Jonathan Carroll
Not quite but damned good — a little fantasy, a little geopolitics, a little romance, some human understanding, and even some architecture. Carroll always seems to ground his most imaginative pieces in basic human considerations. I shall read more!

Willie Masters’ Lonesome Wife — William H. Gass
I haven’t rated this slim volume because I don’t fully understand it yet. Gass cuts and pastes several narratives, tosses in some naughty photos and several graphic tricks but at the same time you know he is saying something beyond the textual pyrotechnics — I’m just not sure what.

Everyman — Philip Roth (+)
The author tells the story of one man’s life with all the hope and despair, happiness and anguish that Updike masterfully interpreted in the Rabbit Angstrom series but Roth does it equally effectively in this one slim volume. If you read one Roth …

Shoot the Moon — Billie Letts (-)
A serviceable drugstore novel with little of the simple magic that made her earlier novels sparkle.

White Apples — Jonathan Carroll
This novel has been recommended to me for years and now I have finally read it. Compared to many of the other more fantasy minded authors, Carroll is excellent and I want to read a few more of his titles. However, it seemed to me that he just threw in a bit too much in this story of dead people and I felt he could have been tighter in his plot and theme.

Krupp’s Lulu — Gordon Lish
This is Lish’s last collection of short fiction and as with all his work, it is both interesting and uneven. Some of the fictions are fun or thought provoking while others just pass time. My favorite, however, consisted of ten blank pages — not one word other than the title — Barthes’s ultimate writerly text! Oh, in this one story Gordie’s friend Krupp has this dog named Lulu …

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen — Kevin J. Anderson
Straight from the comics and the LXG movie this was fun but not very literary.

James Joyce’s Ulysses: A Study — Stuart Gilbert
This is a venerable old guide to Ulysses and although it can’t be criticized too much, it is rather old and a lot of literary study has gone on since Joyce clued Stuart in on the schema for his great novel.

Veronica — Mary Gaitskill
Now I like Mary Gaitskill but I can’t imagine how this was considered a worthy challenger to Vollmann magnificent Europe Central. Oh, Mary (who teaches creative writing at Syracuse) hits all the right topics of interest — modeling, prostitution, bi-sexualism, AIDS, birth, death, infinity — but despite the excellent prose that carefully avoids most clichés, it just isn’t special.

Introducing Semiotics — Paul Cobley & Litza Jansz
A good quick overview of the subject without being bogged down in too much analysis and sticky prose.

The Comfort of Strangers — Ian McEwan
A quick entertainment requiring no thought.

The Communist Manifesto — Karl Marx & Fredrich Engels
A must read for everyone.

The Marx Family Saga — Juan Goytisolo (+)
Declared Spain’s greatest living author, this postmodern writer tells the story of the family of Karl Marx and the story of the author of the story of Karl Marx and a lot about the history of the Communist movement and a lot more all at the same time. Excellent and I want more (at least Goytisolo is heavily translated, unlike others).

The Dead Father — Donald Barthelme
An enchanting, but rough allegory, of the transportation of god (who is dead, sort of) to his final resting place. Now god is very very large and being pulled along the road on a cable by all of his followers (although they are not following, are they?) but sometimes he undoes the cable and goes into the woods to slay anything and anyone in his path. Interesting fable but in this case I think some of the author’s language manipulation just serves to get in the way.

Sea Change — Robert B Parker
Jesse Stone and a floating sex ring. Mild entertainment.

Fortress Besieged — Qian Zhongshu (+)
This novel is so very Chinese and at the same time so very human (not to mention rather funny too). Highly recommended.

Europe Central — William T. Vollmann (+)
Hugely interesting this apparent history book engulfs the reader with the lives of the people that are effected by the repression and violence in both Fascist Germany under Hitler and Communist Russia under Stalin. It only seems to be about the war but finally leaves you wondering that our so-called civilization could have allowed this situation to exist not so many years ago. I also was impressed by the parallels possible between the repressive governments in the middle of the last century and the current direction of America today. I’m not sure that Vollmann intentionally allowed this comparison but it was certainly there. This one is worthy of any prize it receives and outside of the Proust is far and away the best I have read this year.

C Is for Corpse — Sue Grafton
Pleasant entertainment without taxing the little gray cells too much.

Number 9 Dream — David Mitchell
Kinky Friedman meets Haruki Murakami. Fast entertainment at best and rather disappointing.

One Man’s Bible — Gao Xingjian
A fascinating look into the repression of Communist China and the life of a serious writer. I’ve noticed that many contemporary novels are rather episodic and this one is not exception yet I never had the sense of it being pasted together as too many are today. Recommended.

The Defense — Vladimir Nabokov
Not the author’s strongest work but interesting in it’s use of the chess motif to tie the novel together. Everything is seen in terms of a chess board and the dynamics of the game until the Chess Grandmaster makes the ultimate sacrifice to escape the opponents trap.

Mr. Mee — Andrew Crumey (+)
Another tour-de-force by the Scottish author! Although a follow-up to Pfitz and The D’Alembert Principle, it can stand on it’s own quite nicely. Ostensibly the novel weaves three separate but tenuously linked stories together but by the time you finish, it might be hard to identify the fiction. Many layers and lots of fun. Highly recommended.

Sapphira and the Slave Girl — Willa Cather
You have to get past the racial references in this story (we don’t want to be revisionists, do we) and what Cather gives us is a reasonable powerful slice of life in the South and the institution of slavery just before and after the War Between the States. Not the best but simple, interesting, and entertaining.

The Portrait — Iain Pears (-)
A weak and predictable story with little to recommend it.

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler — Italo Calvino (+)
I actually had to buy a second copy of this book to give to my daughter when the Yahoo group selected it for discussion so I read it through again. It’s interesting that there were comments suggesting that reading this text so far beyond the onset of postmodernism made it dated and less exciting yet didn’t seem to take into account that the modern novel, using Henry James as an example, doesn’t suffer from an endless cycle of repetition and sameness. Highly recommended.

Mostly Harmless — Douglas Adams
Well, I sat down today and finished reading this last volume of The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. My only comment: the novelty wore off long ago.

The Portrait — Iain Pears (-)
This one sided conversation thing isn’t very imaginative and the plot was way too predictable This might have made a good Twilight Zone episode but, even though relatively short, it was too long for a novel.

Seeing — José Saramago (+)
This sequel to Blindness (sort of) reminded me of Costa-Gravas’s “Z” in the way it showed the corruption of government & the police and how it finally worked itself out. Knowing what is going on in the world today, Saramago’s hard-hitting satire is even more frightening. This novel is not as good as Blindness but it gets four stars for its effect on the reader.

Pale Fire — Vladimir Nabokov (+)
This novel is, unfortunately, a regular assignment for Freshman English courses and suffers from too many highly imaginative interpretations — and not just students but honorable literary types that should know better. Nabokov’s playing with the difference between fiction and reality is well established before he wrote Pale Fire and I was surprised to see the number of interpretations that missed this point and sought to find the parts of the novel that were real when the only answer I could see was — It’s all fiction!

Young Zaphod Plays It Safe — Douglas Adams
A short story but a part of the continuing Hitchhiker’s Guide series.

Second Skin — John Hawkes (+)
This is probably the most complex Hawkes I have read and possibly the best. As I read the author’s prose I am constantly wishing I had written that sentence or that metaphor. He is good and constantly fresh.

No Country for Old Men — Cormac McCarthy
No high literature but an exciting story that just flies by. I have to fill in the blanks in my Cormac McCarthy reading.

The Wild Boys — William S. Burroughs
Touted as perhaps the author’s most approachable work, The Wild Boys actually made sense … most of the time. Burroughs hit on most of his usual topics but male-male casual sex predominated. I like the way it jumped around in time without bothering with transitions or explanations.

A Dictionary of Maqiao — Han Shaogong
I purposely called this book A Dictionary of Macondo in one of my reading groups and no one picked up on it. Yes, it reads very much like One Hundred Years of Solitude in Southern China and, although full of wonderful, if somewhat odd, characters and events, it just didn’t satisfy and I was racing to get it over with so I could tackle some meatier fiction. I did like some of the author’s discussions of the power and magic of language but even that eventually became repetitious.

The American — Henry James
Although I’m not a huge James fan I did read this novel with an open mind and it was fine … but certainly nothing special. I had read James’s discussion of the changes he is credited with making in fiction and I really didn’t see it, although it should be understood that this is an early novel. Even so, I found the narrator just as artificial and intrusive as in the fiction James is criticizing and on at least two occasions James slips and addresses the reader directly — something he insists should never be done if the reader is going to be drawn into the fiction.

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish — Douglas Adams
The saga of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy continues. This was one of the weaker novels. I have now seen the movie (which was mildly entertaining).

Yes: A Novel — Thomas Bernhard
Although very interesting writing (despite being translated from the original German) I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I might be. I’ll give the author another try soon.

The Blind Owl — Sadegh Hedayat (+)
An extraordinary work by an Iranian author. Although a short novel, it is full of haunting symbolism and surrealistic imagery. Imagine a cross between Franz Kafka, Naguib Mahfouz and Edgar Allen Poe.

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion — Yukio Mishima (+)
Mishima at his best. One of the few novels I have read in years that I almost am obligated to immediately re-read.

America: The Book — The Daily Show
This spoof of an American History text book is very funny and like The Daily Show rather insightful at the same time. I read this a little bit at a time over several months and keep it around for a reminder of how funny a serious subject can be — or is it to remind me how satire can often expose more truth than one imagines.

Tsing — David Albahari
An interesting treatment of the death of his father; compare with Handke’s treatment of the death of his mother in A Sorrow Beyond Dreams.

Gilead — Marilynne Robinson
A primer in how to write a nice-nice novel to deaden the reader’s senses and assure a wide audience of sodbusters. Hard to say anything bad; hard to say anything good. I referred to this one as “placebo fiction” and incurred the wrath of my Yahoo reading group.

D’Alembert’s Principle: A Novel in Three Panels — Andrew Crumey
Crumey’s work is fascinating and although I enjoyed reading this, especially the third panel which ties into the earlier Pfitz, I wasn’t as excited and as intrigued as I was when I read Pfitz. Now for the third volume — Mr. Mee.

Critical Terms for Literary Study — Frank Lentricchia & Mark Johnson
I took at least one class from Frank Lentricchia back in the ’60s and he even wrote several recommendations for me to get into Grad School (I remember his suggestion was Stoney Brook). Now he’s a famous professor at Duke and this is one of his top publications. It was interesting that this text taught me about all the new stuff in literary criticism that came after I did my college work — it’s all new to me! I read this one slowly, keeping it on the kitchen table and hi-liting beaucoup. Most topics were fascinating but I think I’ll have to review my notes before it all sinks in to my New Criticism head.

Dear Mr. Capote — Gordon Lish (+)
Fascinating in form and subject. Lish is a minimalist and his text is rather detailed. The format is an extended letter written by a serial killer and accomplished whack-job to the Truman Capote. The idea is that Capote will write a bestseller based on the crimes and the profits will then go to support the killer’s young son. I must read more of this author!

Doctor Faustus — Thomas Mann (+)
This wasn’t such an easy read but that is probably because it was so full of text, making the discussions of music and philosophy in Magister Ludi seem like an introductory gloss. I would say that this one demands a couple of readings to be fully comfortable with it. Highly recommended both as a companion to the similar Magister Ludi and also on its own.

Bel Ami — Guy de Maupassant
An excellent book, even in translation. The author writes very accurate prose and as a Naturalist, his story is interesting and well crafted. I know de Mauppasant is mostly thought of as a short story writer so I better start reading more of those.

Metaphors We Live By — George Lakoff & Mark Johnson
Absolutely fascinating and this book does a great job of systematizing the representational nature of our language and how that language effects our lives and our culture. I left this book with so many things to think about and an urge to study more and more.

The Glass Bead Game (Magister Ludi) — Hermann Hesse (+)
I read this first back in the 1960s and was very impressed. Since then Hesse has lost a lot of his cult value but re-reading this novel and having read a couple of other titles recently, I don’t think Hesse should be reduced to a lesser author as seems to be the current view. Although in translation, the prose is excellent and clear and the fiction is interesting and convincing. Thomas Mann is also being looked down upon nowadays — is it just German writers of the period? I think I’ll read Mann’s Doctor Faustus as a follow-on to Magister Ludi.

The Sound of Waves — Yukio Mishima
A very nice story, nicely told, without the expected Mishima violence and sexuality.

The Motorcycle Diaries: Notes on a Latin American Journey — Ernesto Guevara (+)
Not only is this early adventure of Ernesto “Che” Guevara interesting but his writing is delightful and often damn funny. It makes one think about the demonization of this man by the United States government. Seems rather like a hero to me.

Pfitz — Andrew Crumey (+)
Absolutely the most fascinating novel I have read in years. The creation of an imaginary world populated by imaginary people that are causing some difficulties for their creators. Okay, what’s real? And to think that the author has two more titles in this series!

A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burthen to Their Parents or the Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the General Public — Jonathan Swift
And still more preparation for Gulliver’s Travels. This is the one that put me on a path of satire back in my undergraduate days.

Short Letter, Long Farewell — Peter Handke
This is the third piece I have read by this author and I wonder that he is not more internationally acclaimed.

El Alchemista — Paulo Coelho
An excellent fable (and a good choice for my stumbling Spanish.) I have heard this text dismissed but I loved it — reminded me of Naguib Mahfouz.

A Discourse Concerning the Mechanical Operation of the Spirit — Jonathan Swift
More preparation for Gulliver’s Travels.

A Full and True Account of the Battel Fought Last Friday, Between the Antient and the Modern Books in St. James’s Library — Jonathan Swift
Tuning up for Gulliver’s Travels. Swift writes the best satire.

Konfidenz — Arial Dorfman
The author is from South America and writes in Spanish but his novel fits in with the German literature of the period. Most of the action takes place during phone conversations and until the end of the novel, the main characters haven’t even met. Skillfully done and quite interesting.

A Sorrow Beyond Dreams — Peter Handke (+)
Although short enough to be considered a story, this fictional account of the life and death of the author’s mother is powerful. But at the same time it is an opportunity for the author to explore the concept of Truth, especially as it relates to fiction. Highly recommended.

Swann’s Way — Marcel Proust (+)
This is a group read for 2006 so I intend to finish. This third time through Swann’s Way was amazingly clear — I guess with any text, familiarity makes it seem obvious and simple.

The Consolations of Philosophy — Alain de Botton
I find Botton’s works fascinating — fascinating in how the author makes such complex concepts seem everyday and entertaining at the same time.

The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick — Peter Handke (+)
The author’s style reminded me very much of Alain Robbe-Grillet, especially in the novel Le Voyeur, that I suspect it was written with Le Nouveau Roman in mind. Excellent.

Life, the Universe and Everything — Douglas Adams
It’s starting to get a little tedious reading Adams but there’s still an element of fun that will keep me going.

An Irish Eye — John Hawkes 
Not what you’ve come to expect from Hawkes (rather more traditional) but still a pleasant read competently written.

Man Crazy — Joyce Carol Oates 
They talk about Vollmann being fixated on the underbelly of society but sometimes JCO digs into it too. The is a wild ride on the dark side.

The Sensualist: An Illustrated Novel — Barbara Hodgson 
A mystery involving rare books, museum murders and apparent possession. Not too intense but printed with color plates that are wonderful. A delight to read but not that special.

Astonish Yourself! 101 Experiments in the Philosophy of Everyday Life — Roger-Poi Droit
I love this book! It gives your little exercises that really force you to pay attention to the act of living. Although I read through it, I confess that I have only done a few of the experiments but I intend to do them all eventually. Examples: Overeat, Run in a Graveyard, Empty a Word of Its Meaning, and 98 more.

The Succubus — Honoré de Balzac
One of Balzac’s longer stories.

The Blood Oranges — John Hawkes (+)
Excellent. It’s The Tempest meets Emmanuel in a glorious pool of sparkling prose and natural imagery. Perhaps a comparison with The Magus is apt. The multi-sex-partner theme may not be so shocking any more but this is a fine read and deserves more attention. I understand they made a movie out of this (in the ’60s?) but I haven’t seen it.

The Death of the Heart — Elizabeth Bowen (+)
I read this one very slowly, savoring the prose and making sure I caught each nuance of the relationships. Bowen is amazingly good..

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe — Douglas Adams
Entertaining re-read before knocking off the other volumes that I haven’t read yet.

House of Leaves — Mark Z. Danielewski
For a couple of years this sat on my shelf making lumps in my neatly ordered bookshelves. Why did I ever buy this, I told myself? Then I read it and all my hatred melted away. It was actually good — not great, but competently written and I have to give the author credit for maintaining all the various voices and fictions for over 700 pages. There were even some passages that struck me as well written, even quotable. However, the author is sometimes just too consistent and page after page of letters and quotes and index entries got to be a bit too much. I enjoyed the footnotes, however, realizing that the whole thing was a fiction I looked for the wit or humor in each item and sometimes got quite a chuckle out of it. I can see how this novel might put some people off but I suspect it will adversely effect those without a sense of humor. Is it scary? Hardly, but I have read other purportedly scary texts and those authors tend to run out of things to say after only a few pages (like bad pornography;) Danielewski, to his credit, keeps up the fiction for hundreds of pages and I will even admit that at times I had to stop and contemplate how horrifying a scene might be in real life. My biggest grip about House of Leaves might be that it is too much of an exercise — maybe a little less intellectual gymnastics and a little more feeling. There are times, however, and anyone that doesn’t read the entire text is missing the full picture. (Okay, you don’t really need to read the index.)

Resistence to Government — H D. Thoreau
Also called Civil Disobedience, this short essay by Thoreau is almost frightening in it’s applicability to the current government in America. A must read by all!

The Man in the High Castle — Philip K. Dick
I was reviewing my reading inventory and although I had read a few Dick titles, I had not read The Man in the High Castle which is purported to be the author’s magnum opus. The quick evaluation is that TMITHC is a satisfactory read that whips along and doesn’t waste too much time. There’s lots of discussion (Dick likes to have a character TELL rather than SHOW) around the themes of the marginalization of parts of humanity (including the extermination of aboriginal populations around the world,) the difference between a real object and a fake object, the blossoming of technology, adherence to an arcane spirituality to live life by, the tenacity of the human spirit, etc. These are all good topics but Dick just isn’t enough of a writer to carry the same old same old from book to book — after you’ve heard the spiel, dressing it up in a new package doesn’t make it new — it’s still yesterday’s oat meal.

Devotion — Botho Strauss
I found this German novel an excellent treatment of lost love and the emptiness it causes. Most of the action is internal, but not terribly confusing (nothing like Beckett.) A good start for this type of contemporary literature.

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