Reading: 2010

Total Items = 144

Marks of Identity – Juan Goytisolo (+)
Part One of a trilogy dealing with the oppression of Spain by the fascist dictatorship.

Double or Nothing – Raymond Federman (+)
If you love Concrete prose you will have a ball reading Double or Nothing. My one problem was that page that was written from right to left, bottom to top … that was a tough one!

Correction – Thomas Bernhard (+)

Mobile – Michel Butor (+)
Fascinating and a category of its own. Reading somewhat like David Markson’s “not a novels” Butor creates a detailed route up, down, and across the highways of America. In some of the areas where the author dealt with a subject in some detail, I was quite nostalgic for life back in the 1950s. Highly recommended.

The Journey of Man – Spencer Wells
Very interesting. Explains a lot about the development of the human mammal (and doesn’t try to sneak in any religious mythology).

We Always Treat Women Too Well – Raymond Queneau
I loved it but it isn’t you typical Queneau. I give the translator a lot of credit.

The Libera Me Domine – Robert Pinget (+)
A Nouveau Roman and fascinating. I have now read this one twice and have a better idea of the activities in this small town but my mind is still making all the connections. Highly recommended, not so much for the story, but for the structure of the prose. This might also be a good one to read in the VF since Pinget is a problem for translators and the text is tricky.

The Letters of Mina Harker – Dodie Bellamy (+)
A sequel to Dracula? Not really. Mina Harker is now an independent woman in San Francisco but the real story is the way the author blends the fiction with the reality. A fascinating narrative.

Biting the Error: Writers Explore Narrative – Mary Burger ed.
A fascinating look into the study of narrative and the development of alternate forms of narrative as expressed by the San Francisco school of writers.

Pierre et Jean – Guy de Maupassant

Silence – Shusaku Endo (+)
Very religious but a fascinating historical insight.

White Guard – Mikhail Bulgakov
An early work by the author and very interesting; however, this is written before the author began to twist his fiction and the depiction of the revolution in the Ukraine is more of an historical account with some excellent insight by the author. A good read.

The Museum of Unconditional Surrender – Dubravka Ugresic (+)
The structure of this book which deals with the recent Balkan conflicts, is a little scattered and you have to keep you brain in gear at all times.

The Tanners – Robert Walser

The Firm Nucingen – Honoré de Balzac

La Vie mode d’emploi (Life A User’s Manual) – Georges Perec (+)

Dreams of My Russian Summers – Andreï Makine
Translated from the French La testament français.

Some Things Are Better Left Unplugged – Vincent W. Sakowski
Bizarro.

Gambara – Honoré de Balzac

Nikolski – Nicholas Dickner
Mildly entertaining.

Albert Savarus – Honoré de Balzac

The Canterville Ghost – Oscar Wilde
Wonderful!

Kangaroo – Yuk Aleshkovsky

Endgame – Samuel Beckett (+)
I have seen top value in this play and WFG but it is somewhat unfair to the smaller dramatic pieces. Sometimes a three minute drama with few words is actually more focused and intense than these longer works. But I give Endgame and Waiting For Godot a star because they have more meat in them to think about.

Play – Samuel Beckett

Honorine – Honoré de Balzac

The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor – John Barth (+)

The Third Policeman – Flann O’Brien (+)

Rockaby – Samuel Beckett

A Piece of Monologue – Samuel Beckett

The Secrets of the Princesse de Cadignan – Honoré de Balzac

Stone Butch Blues – Leslie Feinberg
Fascinating but relentless.

Act Without Words II – Samuel Beckett

Blue-Eyed Devil – Robert B. Parker
Virgil and Everett.

The Pink Institution – Selah Saterstrom
The way the author tells her story is unique and very effective, but don’t look for a straightforward narrative.

Casablanca – Julius J. & Philip G. Epstein
A wonderful movie and reading the screenplay still has the visuals flashing through your mind.

Split Image – Robert B. Parker
Jesse Stone.

Aunt Rachel’s Fur – Raymond Federman
Much more straightforward narrative, despite persistent digressions, that many of his other novels. More telling of the author’s fictional life in Europe.

Xen, A Novel From the Future – D. J. Solomon
Some good, some lame. I suspect this was originally self-published.

Night Train to Lisbon – Pascal Mercier (-)
The author of this novel is a philosopher and he doesn’t have a clue about how fiction works. It reminded me of one of those Letters to Penthouse where everything is the most and the biggest and the best. Mercier should have set his sites lower and learned how to write fiction rather than this force-feeding of over-blown angst and questionable philosophy.

Moth Smoke — Mohsin Hamid
The destruction of an individual in a corrupt and dangerous country. I like this author for his themes and his prose isn’t bad, either.

Our Circus Presents … – Lucian Dan Teodorovici (+)
A fascinating story of a loose band of people who want to kill themselves but just can’t pull it off. But when death does intervene, they have some very different reactions. Definitely recommended.

An Explanation of the Birds – António Lobo Antunes (+)
This is certainly a favorite author of mine: I really enjoy the challenge of the shuffled narrative and the almost Woody Allen ending was a surrealistic triumph.

Happy Days – Samuel Beckett (+)
One of those pieces where the characters are isolated in an apparently unfriendly world (here, buried up to their necks in the wilderness) but who still see the little nuances in their lives that might pass for happiness when their lives are clearly so limited. Not as involved as Waiting For Godot but presenting a similar view of life.

The Terrible Threes – Ishmael Reed

Catastrophe – Samuel Beckett

Breath – Samuel Beckett
There’s nothing really to read here except the stage directions but I have seen the piece done and it is impressive.

That Time – Samuel Becket

The Terrible Twos – Ishmael Reed (+)
In a nuclear age, how would you solve the problem of surplus people and foreign enemies at the same time and how can Santa Claus replace Jesus Christ as a symbol of all that is good in the world? A very funny and frightening satire, not to be missed.

Shatnerquake – Jeff Burk
The beloved William Shatner has to fight for his life against all of the characters he has played in his thespian past. Bizarro and a whole lot of fun.

The World of Normal Boys – K. M. Soehnlein (-)
One long cliché. I suspect that this novel’s gay theme should allow for some slack, but I wonder if a character being gay makes up for dumb writing?

Western – Christine Montalbetti (+)
A fascinating narrative technique that leaves the plot up to inference and concentrates on the extraneous details, outdoes even Robbe-Grillet himself.

Siamese – Stig Saeterbakken (+)
The twins are a husband that has gone blind and just sits in the dark of the bathroom rocking and chewing gum, and his wife who has been losing her hearing but continues to care for her husband despite his desire to just decompose in place. Add in a young super who comes to replace a lightbulb and the tension escalates into a very ambiguous ending. Good stuff.

Flight – Sherman Alexie
I wasn’t a big fan of the Quantum Leap narrative but the author uses it well to develop his themes.

Flight to Canada – Ishmael Reed (+)
The one consistent thing about Reed’s fiction is that it is replete with inconsistencies … and they are so much fun. Of course, behind the slave owners sharing news about runaways on the telephone, there is a serious theme relating to slavery and the treatment of African people in America. Say, did you know that T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound were Union poets?

The Little Town Where Time Stood Still – Bohumil Hrabal
Hrabal gives such a human picture of life in this small town (continued from Cutting It Short) that you almost miss the effects of first the Nazi occupation and then Communism.

Case Closed – Patrik Ourednik
I liked this and I would recommend it but I’m not sure I understood everything the author was doing.

Nightwatchman – Barry Hannah
Confusing or complex?

The Last Days of Louisiana Red – Ishmael Reed (+)

The Life of Insects – Victor Pelevin (+)

Cutting It Short – Bohumil Hrabal

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie
A metaphorical boner and funny. But one wonders about there somewhat stereotypical insider jokes.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid
A good read although the first person narrative was a bit too Bob Newhart for me (I kept seeing The Continental in a café in Lahore). In a very simply way, Hamid identifies many of the problems with American jingoism and the American empire. I suppose the counterpoint love story was good for the narrative but I found it intruded into the political story.

Boomerang – Barry Hannah
Possibly partially autobiographical and I sure it is, as much as any novel taken from our life’s experiences can be.

Montano’s Malady – Enrique Vila-Matas (+)
A very dense study of literature and life. I’ll hang onto this one for future rereading. It’s very good. One interesting thing about Vila-Matas is that he evokes the works and often the persona of many other authors that could easily develop into a highly satisfying reading list. In MM there are numerous references to Robert Walser, Franz Kafka, and Robert Musil, along with many other writers of personal histories.

Light Boxes – Shane Jones

Never Die – Barry Hannah
A realistic western tale or something Ismael Reed might have thought about? Nothing special, although well written. I enjoyed it.

Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age – Bohumil Hrabal (+)
A short piece where an old man strings together his thoughts in one long sentence. I have heard that Hrabal plays around with the Czech language and is not really translatable. This is one of those works where I wish I was more fluent in foreign languages.

The Fall – Simon Mawer (-)
A sharp stick book for sure. I’m not sure what was more tedious — the oh so exciting climbing argot or the Jamie and Rob and Eve and Ruth and Diana and Caroline and whatever the dog’s name was cycle of rotating beds and sleeping bags. But if you like a traditional novel with a narrative that is easy to figure out in the first few chapters, then this one is for you. Then again, if you like a good novel, it might not be for you.

The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet – Reif Larsen
I wanted to enjoy this and it started out as an interesting adventure but soon became a tedious mess with the author thrashing around in a barrel of themes and topics. It read like a creative writing school project but I would hesitate to give it a passing grade. One thing: I did like the way the marginalia was presented and even though the marginalia eventually was just an afterthought for the author (and tedious for the reader).

I Served the King of England – Bohumil Hrabal (+)
The author has an amazing way of creating an everyday fiction in the middle of harrowing world events — specifically WWII. I also watched the film version of this novel and although they were both excellent in their own way, I preferred the book.

Too Loud a Solitude – Bohumil Hrabal
The persistence of literature under an unthinking trash compactor … or was it communism?

A Boy’s Own Story – Edmund White
Coming of age and gay. Not adventuresome as a novel but the subject matter is fresh for all us old straight guys.

Pigeon Post – Dumitru Tsepeneag
There were spots in the text that stopped me but for the most part it didn’t work for me.

Amalgamemnon – Christine Brooke-Rose

Justine, or Good Conduct Well Chastised – Le Marquis de Sade
Despite what I had heard, Sade writes very well; I think the problem is that he writes as an aristocratic French libertine in the 18th century and as such, his prose appears stilted to the modern ear. In the end, like Richardson, Sade has a good thing going but then it goes on and on and on.

Krapp’s Last Tape – Samuel Beckett
I’ve seen this done “on stage” and it is very powerful. When you read it you automatically insert the pauses and stage action that is as important as the words themselves.

Les Diaboliques — Barbey D’Aurevilly
Decadent for its time, these tales are still interesting to read, both for the text and for the structure of the fiction.

Footfalls – Samuel Beckett
Short drama piece.

What Where – Samuel Beckett
Short dramatic piece with interesting choreography. This is another one that needs to be seen.

Come and Go – Samuel Beckett
Short dramatic piece.

Act without Words I – Samuel Beckett
Short visual-only dramatic piece. Fascinating.

A Case of Exploding Mangoes – Mohanned Hanif
Skillfully written and an insight into Pakistan politics that keeps the reader interested even though the text abounds with clichés (some unavoidable).

Chinese Letter – Svetislav Basara
Open up the head and let the thoughts fall out.

Hotel Iris – Yoko Ogawa
Interesting and disturbing and a similar yet very different treatment from that in The Housekeeper and the Professor.

The Private Lives of Trees – Alejandro Zambra (+)
Why are there so many wonderful South American authors nowadays.

The Foundation Pit – Andrey Platonov
A low-keyed, often symbolic indictment of the Soviet system. A good companion piece to A Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovitch.

The Voyage Out – Virginia Woolf
Although this early novel is not that good, it is pleasant to read the author and see the development of her art.

The Bastard of Istanbul — Elif Shafak
Messy and predictable. The author needs a more unified voice and less scattershot narrative technique.

The Literary Conference – César Aira
Although this author’s works are slim, he is rapidly becoming one of my favorites and I expect to immediately read anything new he writes.

Help! A Bear Is Eating Me! – Mykle Hansen
Bizarro. Sort of an American Psycho with wildlife.

L’Enfer – Henri Barbusse (+)

Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico – Javier Marías

Distant Star – Roberto Bolaño
Bolaño writes this same sort of novel with such facility, I’m impressed by his skill, but the notes for this novel suggest it is a masterpiece … hardly.

The Housekeeper and the Professor – Yoko Ogawa
Pleasant.

Gould’s Book of Fish – Richard Flanagan
Some wonderfully inventive parts but the whole fish thing seemed unnecessary and forced. I give the author credit, though, for developing some topics from more experimental novels in a more mainstream form. The Mr. Limpet ending, though, was lame. Of course the entire novel could be summed up in just three words: It’s All Fiction!

Lavinia – Ursula K. LeGuin
The author has always been able to write an interesting story that masks very important considerations for the continued existence of mankind and this planet.

Degrés – Michel Butor (+)
A teacher at the Lycée decides he will compile a complete record of the school year but when confronted by the need to know everything and to somehow put it into a structure, the reality of the events begin to be manipulated by a more satisfying fiction (Art takes over where Real Life is a jumble). The message, if you will, of this fun and fast moving novel, is a good one to reflect on whenever reading so-called non-fiction.

Poundemonium – Julían Ríos
The second volume of a planned series: after the announcement of the death of Ezra pound, three friends compile this fictional homage to the man who brought us modernism. Footnotes, maps, photographs, indices — I would suggest more than one reading (although at times you will want to pull out your well-thumbed copy of The Cantos.

Du plus loin de l’oubli – Patrick Modiano (+)
Excellent. Simple language à la cinema vague. The author is quite good at making what is ostensibly a simple story into a new world to be experienced.

The Library At Night – Alberto Manguel
Fascinating.

Cairo Modern — Naguib Mahfouz

Take It or Leave It — Raymond Federman (+)
Surfiction as the author names it; extreme postmodernism to most readers. I loved this but it wasn’t an easy read. The idea was the narrator was telling the story that someone else related to him … I often didn’t pick up of the switch between the second-hand narration from the past and the first-hand activities of the present. This is certainly a good candidate for rereading … but there are so many other equally confusing books, many by the same author.

The Invention of Curried Sausage – Uwe Timm (+)
Well written and even if a rather traditional story, this novel is a skillful narrative with several subtexts. Delightful and definitely recommended.

The Cave of Heaven – Patrick Grainville
Lots and lots of words; maybe too many to actually care about the themes (some interesting and imaginative depictions of sex, though).

Op Oloop – Juan Filloy (-)
Didn’t engage me but others … ?

Bartelby & Co. – Enrique Vila-Matas (+)
Exquisite! Footnotes to an invisible text.

The Man of Feeling – Javier Marias

The Skating Rink – Roberto Bolaño
Bolaño in style without the philosophical or psychological backdrop.

Rough For the Theater II – Samuel Beckett

Satan Burger – Carlton Mellick III (+)
Highly recommended as a great classic example of the Bizarro genre (although I was not fully engaged and considered the possibility that some of the shock value had dimmed over time).

Waiting For Godot – Samuel Beckett (+)
How could I resist?

Rough For the Theater I – Samuel Beckett

Ohio Impromptu – Samuel Beckett
Very short dramatic piece for one voice.

Not I – Samuel Beckett
Short dramatic piece for one (two actually) characters.

Embers – Sandor Marai (+)
Almost perfect.

Mulligan Stew – Gilbert Sorrentino (+)

The Passion According to G. H. – Clarice Lispector
No plot. No character development. More of a look into the mind of a woman seeking understanding in the world. Did I mention the cockroach?

Cigarettes – Harry Mathews (+)
An engaging study of the lives of several people that rotates around the character Elizabeth or her portrait. Enjoyable and a well constructed narrative.

The Beautiful Room Is Empty – Edmund White (+)
Everything you ever wanted to know about cruising the men’s rooms on your local campus. Actually, a very careful and seldom tawdry peek into the lives and minds of homosexuals in the 1950s. Perhaps a bit of a traditional narrative, but interesting and good quality prose (eschewing both cliché and florid language). An author you should try.

Notable American Women – Ben Marcus

Dance With Snakes – Horacio Castellanos Moya

Walpurgisnacht – Gustav Meyrink

Amerika, the Man Who Disappeared — Franz Kafka
Not a good novel to for those unfamiliar with Kafka, although probably the most “readable” of the author’s works.

The Passion of New Eve – Angela Carter (+)
Everything Carter writes is good for you to read.

The Yacoubian Building – Alaa Al Aswany
A well done, albeit a somewhat “soap-opera” treatment of life in Egypt at about the time of the war to liberate Kuwait. Mixed in with the more personal sections there is some real insight into the feelings and actions of a basically oppressed people, especially in how the strongly religious Moslems viewed the United States and the coalition that slaughtered their moslem brethren. Not a great book but a good one to add to your reading list.

The Sleeping-Car Murders – Sébastien Japrisot
So much like 10:30 From Marseilles that I checked online and it is an alternate title for the same book (translated from the French, of course).

Monsieur Pain – Roberto Bolaño
Once again, an early work that was only considered publishable after the author became famous. Otherwise it was light but an interesting folowup to Hidden Camera. More paranoia?

Hidden Camera – Zoran Zivkovic (+)
Here is a novel that is carefully constructed and well written at all times but which has no apparent motivating theme in the narrative. Contrast this to Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit which was poorly written and wretchedly constructed, but which carried several thematic elements in its limping prose. Some readers will absolve Winterson for her bad writing because her themes “touch a chord” but I would prefer Hidden Camera which is superbly written but leaves me wondering what it was all about.

The Third Man – Grahame Greene
A short novel which demonstrates how powerful a short piece of fiction can be, especially when distilled down to the important thematic elements in a quick-hitting narrative. This was a reread for me but I enjoyed it even more (perhaps it was because I had lost all recollections of the Michael Rennie television version).

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson
Crap.

Sabbatical, A Romance – John Barth
Thematically, typical Barth … but very readable and for the most part enjoyable. You’ll be ready to take a sailing ship up the Chesapeake after reading this one.

La Bâtarde – Violette LeDuc (+)
A vastly interesting and very readable memoir (look for the little elements of actually history that slip in through the back door).

Expensive People – Joyce Carol Oates
Probably more disturbing back in the ‘60s but rather lame now.

Lunar Follies — Gilbert Sorrentino (+)
A collection of irreverent “reviews” wherein the author illicites a great deal of humour as he hoists postmodernism on its own petard.

A Partisan’s Daughter – Louis de Bernières
A slick entertainment. The author has learned his skill well and is no longer as interesting.

Puss In Boots – Angela Carter
A short horror drama for the radio derived from an excellent short story by the author.

Vampirella – Angela Carter
A short horror drama for the radio.

Billy and Girl – Deborah Levy
Fun but more of an entertainment than an important addition to contemporary literature.

The Company of Wolves – Angela Carter
A short horror drama for the radio.

Come Unto These Yellow Sands – Angela Carter (+)
A short drama for the radio but fascinating.

Nazi Literature In the Americas – Roberto Bolaño (+)
A fun and fascinating narrative made up of totally faked biographical abstracts of the major Nazi writers in the Americas. This technique is very useful for criticizing or just poking fun without seeming too heavy handed. A definite recommendation but don’t look for a plot.

The Fallen Idol – Graham Greene
Short but excellent.

Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter (+)
Wonderfully written; well crafted; fascinating. Carter is possibly the best writer I know that so many people have not read.

The She-Devil in the Mirror – Horacio Castellanos Moya (+)

Riddley Walker – Russell Hoban
I suppose I fell into the trap of actually paying attention to the author’s inventive argot and, unfortunately I spent more time in the early parts of the book circling inconsistencies and errors than I did paying attention to the narrative. And then when I got into the rhythm of the post-apocalyptic jingle-jangle and isolated the geography and timeline, I discovered it was just another version of the post-apocalyptic vision, and not terribly special even then (at least the dog “spoke” in Ellison’s story). Then I only had what I saw as the flawed language to make it special so my final evaluation was … not special.

Kiss of the Spider Woman – Manuel Puig (+)

The Man Who Watched Trains Go By – Georges Simenon

Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon – Jorges Amado (+)
An enchanting story of the grow of a town and its inhabitants from the rule of the jungle to civilization and a machine that makes it’s own ice … and a little romance thrown in for interest.

The Vice-Consul – Marguerite Duras (+)

A Very Long Engagement – Sébastien Japrisot

Homo Zapiens – Victor Pelevin (+)

Monsieur Monde Vanishes – Georges Simenon

The Street of Crocodiles – Bruno Schulz (+)

The Rules of the Game – George Simenon

The Enchantress of Florence – Salman Rushdie
Rushdie apparently looked to the masters for something to model his little parable on. Like Bunyon, he was meticulous in keeping his characters thematic and never allowing them to burst out with too much life. By allowing these non-dimensional characters to wear their themes like badges, Rushdie, again like Bunyon, was able to express his favorite ideas but not be burdened with unnecessary exposition. The result is an entertaining novel with the gravity of dumplings — the surface is delightful but underneath, it is still just stew.

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