Reading: 2012

Total Items: 99

Star Cafe — Mary Caponegro (+)
Challenge your mind. Read these stories.

60 Stories — Donald Barthelme (+)
I have been reading this collection in the background for a couple of years now. Barthelme’s stories, like some foods, are just too rich and need to be nibbled at over time.

The Bizarro Handbook: Blue — Eraserhead Press
This second collection of Bizarro fiction from Eraserhead is once again a tremendous introduction into the genre. I have been reading this volume in between other books so it has taken a lot of time but the level of imagination in the Bizarro authors is truly refreshing in this dull age of only-for-profit publishing.

Goodbye to Berlin — Christopher Isherwood
The basis of Caberet.

Erased— Jim Krusoe
The second book of the trilogy. I enjoy the author’s breezy style and despite apparently dipping into mild fantasy once in a while, what you end up with is an imaginative approach to some of life’s mysteries. Not great literature but entertaining.

Go In Beauty – William Eastlake
The first volume of what is now called the Lyric of the Circle Heart but is also known as The Bowman Family Trilogy. This volume might be called, Tony Hillerman Goes Under the Volcano.

Never Mind — Edward St Aubyn
The first volume of the Patrick Melrose series. I’m hooked.

Mercy of a Rude Stream: A Star Shines Over Mt. Morris Park — Henry Roth
A very interesting continuation of the experiences in New York City around the time of the Great War. Roth has a technique which is to include what is assumed to be the author’s comments, both on the fiction and the writing of that fiction. But the most interesting thing about this work is the life of the author and the thirty-five years between his first novel, Call It Sleep, and the writing that became this novel and the final work, An American Type.

Fool — Christopher Moore
Black Adder meets King Lear. Entertaining.

Valmouth — Ronald Firbank
In this fascinating short novel by Firbank I began to see the effects of the author’s writing all his prose on postcards during his travels. I thought of one of the gods of literature, Alexander Pope, who wrote couplets that often were epigrammatically complete and oh so quotable.

The New New Rules — Bill Maher
A favorite. Just for fun.

The Last of Mr. Norris — Christopher Isherwood
This novel and the novel Goodbye to Berlin have been collected as The Berlin Stories.

The Diary of a Young Girl — Anne Frank
Almost a cliché I was surprised when I finally got around to reading this work that it was mature and literate. I learned that Anne Frank revised and edited it for publication before she was discovered, her father edited it further, and a capable translator inevitably cleaned up some of the less mature prose, but it still was good and if you haven’t read it, you should.

La Place — Annie Ernaux (+)
Written simply but with great thematic depth. The author explores many conditions of the society and the generations with the central theme possibly being how the newer generation grows and differentiates itself from the parents’ generation. The English translation is titled, A Man’s Place.

Mauprat — Georges Sand
An interesting novel in the development of what passes for Feminism in the 19th century. Here the story is of an enfant savage who is tamed and civilized by a good woman. Note the twist where the woman is well educated and the man not, in opposition to the model Rousseau suggested. I like to read Sand because she gathers in the elements of many different genres to create her own novels. Sometimes Sand is a tad dated but even if read for academic interest, she is a good read.

Call It Sleep — Henry Roth (+)
An amazing accounting of immigrant life in turn of the century New York City. Roth writes an interesting amalgam of dialect:  he seldom reverts to Yiddish but often makes it clear that the dialogue is actually in Yiddish; he also has a very believable ear for the highly broken English that these kids (and their parents) must have spoken whether they we Jewish or Italian or whatever. Not too short but a must read.

The Bottle Factory Outing — Beryl Bainbridge
A curious book. I didn’t know if it was a Black Comedy or a serious exploration of what happens when a terrible event must be dealt with by less that heroic people. The author may be forcing me to read yet another of her titles.

Watchmen — Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
Watchmen is a collection of illustrated books which as kids we called comic books but now are generally referred to as graphic novels. It was interesting to see how Moore was able to deal with a narrative which jumped about through time in this graphic form, perhaps easier than in a traditional book since the reader has the advantage of sight to recognize the time shifts (the character looks older or younger, for instance). Like all good graphic texts, Watchman includes several sub-texts as the narrative progresses (I learned to read all the panel as a youth with the early issues of Mad Magazine). Very entertaining, imaginative, worth reading.

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont — Elizabeth Taylor
Precious. A gem.

The Girl in the Polka-Dot Dress — Beryl Bainbridge
A fiction weaving between real life events, but not very involving … more like connect-the-dots and you end up with an obvious simple lined figure. It may keep your gray cells entertained but not challenged. First novel I read by this author (I probably will try another before passing judgment).

The Lake — Banana Yoshimoto
Yoshimoto is one of my favorite authors. Her fiction is wonderful but I have always faulted her for going too big (like Amrita). She should stay with the simple, atmospheric fictions like Kitchen or this more recent novel, The Lake.

Prancing Nigger — Ronald Firbank
Very short.

Absalom, Absalom! — William Faulkner (+)
Faulkner at his best … move over The Sound and the Fury.

Girl Factory — Jim Krusoe
Book one of a trilogy. I really enjoy Krusoe’s deadpan narrative, even as it veers into a slightly off-kilter landscape. Here a worker in the Frozen Yogurt store in the Mall learns that a person can be kept alive for later reanimation is a  solution of yogurt. Guess what he finds in the mysterious basement.

The Flower Beneath the Foot — Ronald Firbank
A delightful but obscure gay author from earlier in the last century.

Wonder Wonderful Life — Elfriede Jelinek (+)
A fantastic novel. The basic story if of the decay of society after the war. In some ways it reminds me of Cocteau’s Les Enfants Terribles (similar but different). What is most amazing about the book is the depth of thematic material that the author injects in the basic narrative, inviting the careful reader to uncover evven more satisfaction in the novel than just the surface story. This novel is why Elfriede Jelinek won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her works are too important to miss.

The Black Dwarf — Walter Scott

1001 Cranes — Naomi Hirahara
A young girl of Japanese descent growing up in California. A juvenile but pleasant and instructive.

The Color Purple — Alice Walker
I saw the movie. Now I have read the book. It’s a close bet which is better but since the title is The Color Purple, I vote for the movie because it was in color.

Country of Origin — Don Lee
Pleasant, well written for a popular novel. I enjoyed the elements of Japanese life and the Japanese language which the author integrated into his narrative. Movie of the week material but a good movie of the week.

The Figure in the Carpet — Henry James

Vineland — Thomas Pynchon (+)
Survivors from the sixties counter-cultures meet the world of Ronald Reagan and overzealous government agents in the foggy mountains of the Northern California coast:  fish, drugs, trees, Ninjas, communes, the FBI, and all the rest.

The Finkler Question — Howard Jacobson
The won the Mann-Booker Prize for 2010 but it certainly wouldn’t have been my choice. Tedious at best.

Red Wind — Raymond Chandler

Goldfish — Raymond Chandler
Another short novel. Having been in LA during the 1950s, a lot of the locale Marlowe frequents is nostalgically familiar.

Damned — Chuck Palahniuk
This one caught my fancy: it might be a lousy book … just my kind of lousy. Just don’t expect Palahniuk to eclipse Dante.

Difficult Loves — Italo Calvino
Short stories from various points of the author’s career. All worth reading.

Finger Man — Raymond Chandler

Trouble Is My Business — Raymond Chandler
Did Chandler ever write a bad story?

The Great Fire of London — Jacques Roubaud (+)
Roubaud is a member of OULIPO. This novel has the full title of The Great Fire of London [A Story with Interpolations and Bifurcations] and I recommend you start out with a minimum of three distinct bookmarks because you’ll probably only read a few pages before a link sends you off to those interpolations and bifurcations. Similar to authors who use a great deal of over-long footnotes, this might be thought to interrupt the narrative and spoil the novel, but fortunately, there really is no narrative and in interruptions serve more to fill out the topics under discussion, sort of compartmentalizing the text. It’s not you straight forward novel and it requires paying attention and thinking about what you are reading, but it is far more satisfying than those overrated pop novels that crowd themselves into the local bookstore.

Conversations with Professor Y – Louis-Ferdinand Céline
Although the text purchase was (surprise!) dual-language, I only read the English at this time but the book is going back on the shelf to read it again in French (it’s not too long).

Palafox — Éric Chevillard (+)
Palafox is a small creature that hatches out of an egg but as the narrative progresses the reader is treated to a confusing zoological excursion through the imaginative writing of the author. What is palafax? How do humans approach and make use of the tiny, furred, flying eight-legged creature that cuts the heads off of horses and eats elephants for dessert? Very interesting. I did notice that this novel is so unpredictable that reading it in French is doubly-difficult because the expected clues surrounding new or difficult words are just not reliable. I was lucky to have both the French and the English translation in my library.

An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris — Georges Perec (+)
A small treatise where the author attempts to exhaust the description of a single locale in Paris. Perec quest was to describe what happens when nothing happens … the “infra ordinary.”

Shalimar the Clown — Salman Rushdie
If a few words can set-up and character or an event, why not use whole chapters. As with much of Rushdie, the narrative line is corkscrewed by the authors love of overwriting.

Tyrant Memory — Horacio Castellanos Moya
Fascinating history, good character studies, tricky narrative structure. I enjoyed this one partly because Moya (a favorite) writes so well, but I did have minor reservations.

Between the Acts — Virginia Woolf
The authors last work. It was a pleasant read and I could see that more was being said than a surface read was going to discover, but I wasn’t in the mood. Maybe if I reread it some day.

Killer In the Rain — Raymond Chandler
Short novel. Classic Chandler. I think I’ll look up some of the other titles I may have missed.

Tripticks — Ann Quin (+)
The author’s last novel before her apparent suicide. Her most controlled and mature work. Highly recommended (my favorite of her four novels).

Invisible Man — Ralph Ellison (+)
Rough, crude, and totally enthralling. The subject matter is dated but it still affects life in the United States. One of the most important books to come out of America. I wonder if it is time for another, more up-to-date, Invisible Man to rattle what seems to be an increasing racism in this country.

Marya: A Life — Joyce Carol Oates
I’ve noticed that JCO tends to string together parts of her novels more like a picaresque, albeit not always with a scamp for an anti-hero. Marya almost read as if the author had used previously prepared chapters and only changing the names to coincide with the book in question. A “one-from’column’A” approach to writing may be a suggestion as to the author’s impressive output. Once in a while her work is strong and unique, but I am seeing more similarity in many of the other novels and that suggests Oates may be more of a hack wriiter than she at first appears.

The Prospector — J. M. G. Le Clézio (+)
Evocative, thoughtful, ripe with thematic elements yet a simple tale of life, albeit mostly in an island paradise. Excellent author (Nobel in Literature 2008).

The Spoils of Poynton — Henry James

Rough Weather — Robert B. Parker
The man in gray returns.

Now and Then — Robert B. Parker
For this one you should know about the split between Susan and Spenser.

Pastime — Robert B. Parker
Older Spenser. Paul returns. I think Parker was more prone to more complex stories with allusions to the earlier novels, but after adding Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall, he had another way to interweave his stories.

Stardust — Robert B. Parker
Older Spenser. A good one.

Crimson Joy — Robert B. Parker
Older Spenser. Felt good. I for the umpteenth time carefully checked the bibliography and once again discovered that I had not read one of the Spenser novels .. in fact, five of the Spenser novels. Since they generally take no more than a few hours to read, I’m intending to catch up this week and maybe then I can look into the authors that have been chosen to continue the franchise after the death of Robert B. Parker.

Jacques the Fatalist — Denis Diderot (+)
Great fun and very entertaining. I can just hear readers that get no further than the front rounder at Barnes and Noble complaining of the narrative structure and the language of this early novel that might better be considered a picaresque, but I found it fascinating.

The Map and the Territory — Michel Houellebecq
Quite different from other novels by this author and difficult to fully appreciate. Like many others out there, Houellebecq is a character in his own novel, but the book is not about literature, rather art in general. I think the narrative twist Houellebecq uses in great but I wasn’t sure the rest of the novel held together from part to part.

The Secret Sharer — Joseph Conrad

Passages — Ann Quin (+)

Audition — Ryu Murakami
A shocker but very much in the tradition of Japanese horror. Also watched film adaptation.

Three — Ann Quin (+)
The young woman boarding with a married couple has died. Suicide? Quin recreates the situation not only by having the couple continue the narrative and discuss the event, but also by including evidence from the victim herself, like pages from her diary. Not an easy book but clear evidence that Quin was a serious writer.

A Pushcart at the Curb — John Dos Passos
The author’s only published collection of poetry (early work).

One Man’s Initiation—1917 — John Dos Passos
A peek at World War I from the eyes of an American ambulance driver. Write what you know, right? Dos Passos and his friend Hemingway were both ambulance drivers during that conflict (ee cummings too?)

The Iron Heel — Jack London
Called the first dystopean novel, Jack London develops the future struggles in America between the oligarchy and socialism, management and labor. Very powerful and strangely relevant to the political and social events of today. A must read.

Rosemary’s Jungle Torture — Martin Hughes
Somebody is inevitably going to suggest that I was attracted to this title because my ex-wife was named Rosemary. Truth is, I read the entire novel before I even made the connection so it’s either very deeply hidden in my lizard brain or unfortunate poppycock. This is an title from the venerable Olympia Press (but from a newer incarnation), publisher of pornography as well as many naughty avant-garde books that we now accept as great literature. This one, unfortunately, was more slanted towards the quaint obscenity that titillated our elders in the early ’50s.

brütt, or The Sighing Gardens — Friederike Mayröcker (+)
An excellent example of the German Erzähnlung and fascinating reading.

The Castle in the Forest — Norman Mailer (-)
This just didn’t work for me. The idea that the world is overrun with the minions of Satan in opposition to God’s angels is silly and sounds too much like the CIA against the KGB. Add to that all the evil coincidence that develop in the young Adolph Hitler character and it just gets too weird, even for me. I got the impression that Mailer in his final days threw together a few of the ideas he had for future novels and this is his last triumph before he dies:  too bad its such a rotten book.

The Radetzky March — Joseph Roth (+)
A great novel. The narrative involves three generations of Austrians:  the grandfather who saved the life of the Emperor Franz Joseph at the battle of Solferino, the son who is the District Officiall, and his son who enters the military for a life of glory and heroism. But this is the period before World War I when honor and glory is going to give way to carnage and mud. As Roth writes at the end of the novel, just after the war had started:  “The long sabers got in their way …”. A must read for all.

Iceland — Jim Krusoe
This kept reminding me of Candy (Maxwell Kenton) and I wrote in the weblog about the picaresque. I’m not sure you can consider Iceland a picaresque, but it comes close. The narrative was fun, not too complex, and was definitely structured (at one point I even thought of The Odyssey) and I would suggest everyone read it to see how prose fiction can be written, just on the edge of the absurd. Not a great book but a good read.

Normance — Louis-Ferdinand Céline
The subject is the siege of Paris but it’s really about what happens to people as their world collapses around them and everything turns to fire and kaboom. This is the last novel by the controversial author which was translated into English:  definitely Céline, fast moving and often very funny. Get it!

The Adventures of Sindbad — Gyula Krúdy
A wonderful collection of stories from that Hungarian bon-vivant, Gyula Krúdy, starring the author’s alter-ego Sindbad, dead or alive. Worth reading.

Berg — Ann Quin (+)
Kathy Acker mentioned Ann Quin and I ordered a couple of her novels from Dalkey, but I didn’t realize the personal story of the author. Quinn writes more like a European author rather than the hard-luck working class fiction that was so prevalent in that period in England. Reading Berg I can see the influence of la nouveau roman and la cinema vague. This is a must read but first, I have to share the opening:  “A man called Berg, who changed his name to Greb, came to a seaside town intending to kill his father …” One of the best ever!

Death With Interruptions — José Saramago (+)
It’s getting to be that a Saramago title is easy to spot. The premise of this novel is very interesting and somewhat imaginative, but still, signature Saramago. But then it changes and the author gives us one of the most unusual and imaginative love affairs in all of literature. A must read.

Madame Chrysanthème — Pierre Loti
A reasonable depiction of the relationship between the Japanese culture and the western colonialists—in this case France. Very popular in its time, this novel was instrumental in creating the western stereotype of the Japanese and was used to write the later story which became the opera, Madama Butterfly. I disliked reading about the little, monkey-like Japanese that, if they actual had a thought or an opinion, it didn’t interest the superior westerner. But Parker’s Rule #8 says we shouldn’t judge by today’s standards and just accept that the historical record isn’t always praiseworthy:  I still don’t like it, though.

Spurious — Lars Iyer
I wanted to like this more than I did. From the publishers blurb and other write-ups, Spurious is a whimsical story of the ongoing debate between two intellectuals:  one a writer and the other a philosopher. It was whimsical all right. I suppose if you view it in sort of a Beckett like manner, it looks better. The wet apartment reminded me of the uptown flat in JR that was left with the water running.

Tender Buttons — Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein is an innovative and often insightful lousy writer who has an inordinately overblown opinion of herself and her talents. Otherwise, an interesting little book.

You Are Not So Smart — David McRaney
The author maintains a weblog by the same name and has collected many of the fallacies of thinking and logic that he writes about in the weblog and published this book. Excellent reading and a lot of fun. But as a reader, try to be honest … is that you he is describing?

Knowledge of Hell — António Lobo Antunes (+)
Antunes vision of the disintegrating Portuguese colonies in Africa. Powerful.

Parabola — Lily Hoang (+)
Complex but easy reading. The author, much like Raymond Fedderman, creates a narrative out of fragments,anecdotes, poems, mathematics, photo and pictures. But it all holds together. I was also reminded of W. G. Sebald. The narrative takes two paths:  the young Vietnamese woman that is relating her life in America and the character Herr Doktor who relates his own life. How these narratives intertwine is one of the secrets of the text. A first novel for the author but very well done.

The Baron In the Trees – Italo Calvino (+)

Ferdydurke — Witold Gombrowicz (+)

A Frolic of His Own — William Gaddis (+)
A wonderfully entertaining and masterfully executed send-off of the legal system which effects so much of our lives in the United States. [more at Frolic]

i never knew what time it was — David Antin (+)
I have mention before that I was accepted to UCSD back in the sixties and would have been a classmate of Kathy Acker. I have been amazed discovering all the talent that was at UCSD at that time, and here I thought it was only an Engineering school. Too late now; but I didn’t do too bad at UCLA. Oh, David Antin was there and one of the things he mentions in this excellent book is how difficult it was to watch Kathy Acker die. You can call this a novel, a memoir, a ramble, whatever:  the author leaves out all forms of punctuation that might suggest it was formal writing and not just words flowing from his mind. It is an excellent selection and should not be missed.

Crazy Shitting Planet — Mykle Hansen
If I tell you the title of the first chapter is “The Fat People” will you need a further insight into this short novel? Like the cover blurb says:  A touching parable of love, friendship, and feces.

The Possibility of an Island — Michel Houellebecq
Let’s try to not get confused:  an immortal neo-human is relating the life of the last human real human before the cloning began and when the clone dies, a new neo-human clone picks up the narrative where the other left off. Oh, and there is no contact between the neo-human clones except in a digital manner similar to online chatting at Google. One thing is for sure, Michel Houellebecq isn’t concerned with telling a fun and rosy story about the future of the human race. Fascinating but not as in-your-face as his earlier novels.

Journey to the Center of Agnes Cuddlebottom — Mykle Hansen
A Bizarro  slant on the old story: a woman is going to die unless an experimental method is used to reduce the doctors and send them straight into the body of the woman to eliminate a blockage. The twist on this one is that since it is an intestinal blockage, they go in the most obvious way. Then, because it is such a headline worthy event, the press is all out (or is it in?) to follow the story like “The Big Circus.” The local Starbucks even has a kiosk constructed in Ms Cuddlebottom’s rectum to keep the coffee starved reports happy. What happens next?

Monster Cocks — Mykle Hansen
A short, predictable bizarro novel but it was interesting if you work in the computer service field. The author has done better.

Pyramid — William Golding
Not what I expected and sort of pleasant compared to many of the heavier Golding pieces.

D’entre les Morts — Boileau and Narcejac
Adequate mystery made into a better Hitchcock movie, Vertigo.

The Paper Men — William Golding
I liked the theme of this book; it was well executed; the writing was crisp. Otherwise, not too exciting.

The Dog King — Christoph Ransmayr (+)
Ransmayr is a genius. His ability to create an alternative history that doesn’t directly represent any true history is fascinating. We all know that his novel is a fantasy treatment of an alternative aftermath of WorldWar II in Germany, but an alien dropping in from the nearest star would never get the connection just be reading the book. Even though Ransmayr is one of my favorite authors, this is still a great read and highly recommended.

Juan the Landless — Juan Goytisolo (+)
I can’t say enough about Goytisolo. This revision and new translation of Juan the Landless is superb. I especially like the way Goytisolo has such fun with such devastating topics. In my mind I kept associating him with Jonathan Swift, especially the The Dean writing A Modest Proposal.

Tropic of Capricorn — Henry Miller (+)
Miller is a damn good writer. He does get a little philosophical at times and I prefer it when his prose is more grounded in the reality around him, no matter how naughty it may be.

The Cloven Viscount — Italo Calvino
A little gothic fun to stretch your imagination. This novella was published with the novel below and in older editions was originally published with yet a third work by Calvino.

The Nonexistent Knight — Italo Calvino
A fantasy from the court of Charlemagne involving a perfect, reliable knight who wears an empty set of pure white armor. Lots of juicy allegory here as well as fun reading.

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