Reading: 2014

Total Items: 108

A Heart So White — Javier Marías (+)

Zombies and Shit — Carlton Mellick III
Full of Bizarro imagination but at the same time, taking ideas from earlier works and adding that Mellick twist. Have you seen the movie The Running Man?

Snow Crash — Neal Stephenson
Started out to be a graphic novel and probably should have stayed simple. The pre-history connections were an unnecessary stretch. Needs more tana leaves. Stephenson now says the met averse is so ten-novels ago.

Z. Marcas — Honoré de Balzac

The Green Man — Kingsley Amis
Ghosts, alcohol, sex, history, mystery, more sex, and the Green Man … how could it miss?

Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales — Yoko Ogawa
This is a very imaginative writer you should definitely add to your list.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History — Elizabeth Kolbert
Clearly we are doomed! Written by a journalist but with just the right amount of wonky science to engender worry and fear and anger at the idiots who deny climate change.

The Garlic Ballads — Mo Yan

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers — Xiaolu Guo
A young Chinese woman is sent by her parents to England where she is to learn English. The major conceit is a periodic trip to the dictionary to learn a new word which will then be reflected in the narrative. The novel often gives good insight into the differences between life in China and life in England (or on the continent).

The Fisherman and His Soul — Oscar Wilde

Morbidly Obese Ninja — Carlton Mellick III
Bizarro, of course. A top ninja is wounded and nano-bots rush into his body. The only way he can survive is to eat a 45,000 calorie diet each day.

Rules For Virgins — Amy Tan

The Blind Man’s Garden — Nadeem Aslam (+)
Not so much for its literary success but more for the subject and its themes: here the literature of the Middle East is catching up with the daily news: 9/11 has brought the destruction of the Americans down on people who aren’t really involved in the conflict but feel a need to assist their Moslem brothers. There’s lots more in this very rich and instructive novel.

Daddy Love — Joyce Carol Oates
Your small son is abducted while returning to your car at the Mall, taken to a distant state, and tortured until he doesn’t dare to disobey his Daddy Love. The premise is chilling but JCO is not gritty enough to convey the horror.

The Young King — Oscar Wilde (+)
A wonderful story suggesting that our rulers don’t see the burdens they put on the populous while at the same time the populous needs a demanding ruler to serve. Lots to think about here is just a little story.

Greed — Elfriede Jelinek (+)
A country policeman seduces women for their property. Difficult: multi-narrator narrative requires attention but returns awards. Definitely on the “read it” list.

Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy — John Le Carré (+)

Cities of the Red Night — William S. Burroughs

The Royal Family — William T. Vollmann (+)

Armageddon In Retrospect — Kurt Vonnegut
Published by Kurt’s son: Stories, speeches, short writings, all insightful and often fun.

Women — Charles Bukowski
The more you read Bukowski, the better he gets. This novels flows through the life of the author’s alter-ego, Henry Chinaski, and moves from one relationship (or event) with a woman to the next. Hank is usually brutally direct with both women and booze. Good stuff.

Maigret Meets a Milord — Georges Simenon

I Hunt Killers — Barry Lyga
The son of a serial killer, raised to follow in the family business, much deal with his own fears in pursuit of a new copycat killer. A Young Adult novel but a not a subject for children.

Sellevision — Augustan Burroughs
Light, fun, and focuses on one of the truly idiotic institutions of our capitalist nation.

A Briefer History of Time — Stephen Hawking
I always assumed this was a re-editing of the original work, A Brief History of Time, but since I del upon an available digital copy I gave it a read. Of course the author had, in the intervening years, some time for rethinking his subject and for new elements of science to be discovered, but moreover, this is the type of book you can never tire of: like Cosmos, the awe inspired by the universe goes on and on.

Momo (The Life Before Us) — Romain Gary (Emile Ajar)

Dandelion Wine — Ray Bradbury
The summer of 1928 in a small town with a ravine and dandelion wine … sort of like Winesburg, Ohio only not as good.

Sky Saw — Blake Butler
Like McElroy’s Plus, hard to follow. But in this case I kept thinking the author was just making absurd images which served only to confuse the reader. I know readers that think James Joyce does this in Ulysses or (goodness) Finnegans Wake and since I know they are mistaken, I will ponder Sky Saw and maybe even read it again.

The Periodic Table — Primo Levi (+)
The best science book ever written? It has been called that. But it is also a story of the author’s life, a history of the restrictions being Jewish during the war entailed, a collection of interesting, related stories, and a solid structure for a fiction based on the elements: graphite, mercury, nickel, etc. Levi, being a trained chemist, provides some interesting insights into the processes and uses of chemistry as well as the personal lives of his characters. I know Levi is a Holocaust survivor and writes of his experiences, but this novel is more universal and quite good.

Metropolis — Thea von Harbou
You’ve seen the famous movie but have you read the book the movie was based on? Book and screenplay both written by von Harbou who conveniently was married to Fritz Lang.

The Queen’s Necklace — Italo Calvino

Return To Manure — Raymond Federman
An amazing author. Read everything he has written (he died recently so you have the complete body of his works available). Since Federman’s novels tend to intersect with parts of his life, it might be a good idea to read them in order, but what order?

Praise the Dead — Gina Ranalli
An uninspiring zombie tale full of clichés. Here a couple of kids hold the power and the adults just get their faces eaten off.

A Grain of Wheat — Ngugi wa Thiong’o (+)
This book has everything: characters, events, history, passion, and Kenya. Two things I noticed reading this novel: first, I really didn’t identify the “black” characters as being any thing other than oppressed people trying to live their lives under the cruel yoke of British colonialism, and second that I could see no redeeming value for the “white” colonialists. I began to see that freedom and slavery are two sides of the coin and whether it is called colonialism or slavery, it is still evil.

The Riddle of the Sands — Erskine Childers (+)
A fascinating tale of sailing and espionage and impending war that had me running to Google maps to investigate the coastline of Germany (much easier with Google but not as adventurous or as exciting).

In Our Time — Ernest Hemingway
A collection of short pieces—stories and vignettes—from Hemingway’s early writing. Historically interesting I suppose, if you like Hemingway.

The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge — Rainer Maria Rilke
Often brilliant but without a clear narration so a bit choppy. Novel of ideas? Deserves rereading.

The BFG — Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl writes children’s books … or does he? This early work is scrumdiddlyumptious. Oh, BFG is short for Big Friendly Giant, but you knew that, right?

Tomorrow In the Battle Think On Me — Javier Marías (+)
Fascinating narrative. Marías draws you in and then overwhelms you with the details of his fiction. He gets you to think! It all starts out with an assignation with a married woman who dies in the bed before the hero (and narrator) can do anything about it: call the husband who is away in another country? call a neighbor to take care of the young son? call a doctor? wipe the fingerprints off, wash the wine glasses, take the tape from the answering machine, and leave quietly?

The Toughest Indian In the World — Sherman Alexie
Collection of interesting and informative stories about the experiences and thoughts of real native Americans (who refer to themselves as Indians).

Borstal Boy — Brendan Behan (+)

The Nigger of the Narcissus — Joseph Conrad

Letter To a Christian Nation — Sam Harris
Further arguments that suggest organized religion is the most dangerous movement humanity has ever faced, even more dangerous that that T-Rex that tried to get into your cave last week.

Helmet of Horror: The Myth of Theseus and the Minotaur – Victor Pelevin

Razor Wire Pubic Hair — Carlton Mellick III
Imagine a future where men are no longer needed and fantastic sentient multi-gender sex toys are developed to become the provide recreation,  sex, procreation, and all around debauchery, purchased and delivered to your door. But there are still some problems …

The Jungle — Upton Sinclair (+)
Read this novel and you might look at your processed meat products differently, but the evils of the meat packing industry and only a symptom of what life would be life without laws and regulations: imagine a world where corruption is the rule and there are no regulations to control abuses. Now imagine what this country would be like without a Federal government controlling the corporations, sort of like it is rapidly becoming now where the corporations control the government. Guess who loses?

The Stone Raft — José Saramago (+)
The Iberian Peninsula breaks away from Europe. Was it the result of a large stone being thrown into the sea? Five people travel through Spain and Portugal looking for answers.

Toto-chan — Tetsucko Kuroyanagi
Small episodes in the life of the author’s alter-ego, each teaching an important life lesson. Although directed to juveniles, most adults will find a lot of good in this delightful novel.

Stoner  — John Williams (+)
Practically a birth to death saga of the hero, Stoner, who escapes from the farm to become a university professor in English Literature. The story develops his passion for poetry, shows the difficulties and disappointments of marriage, uncovers office politics, extramarital affairs, human dissipation, and gradual decline and death. Good story but rather traditional.

To Let — John Galsworthy (+)
The final volume (although the saga of the Forsyte’s continues in another series, I understand) where many loose ends are resolved, a few more characters die off or just leave the scene, and you actually do get a sense of losing good friends (or at least interesting acquaintances). Top notch reading and quite an author.

Awakening — John Galsworthy
A little interlude, but I noticed that the author uses these partially to fill in some gaps in his extended narrative.

Gone With the Wind — Margaret Mitchell (+)
I never read this novel because the film version was too vividly in my mind. I will attest now, after reading the book, the movie does sometimes interfere but the novel itself to easily as powerful as the movie. Furthermore, there is a lot of historical information in the book which, at best, was used as a scene depiction in the movie … or to put it another way, the movie showed only the results of what the book took time to build up and provide the historical reasoning behind the South and the War Between the States. Movie was good; book was better.

In Chancery — John Galsworthy (+)
The second book in the Forsyte Saga. Even though I read this years ago it still fascinates me … even though I know approximately what is going to occur in the novel, I still can’t wait to read it all again. But the third novel in the saga is mostly new to me (according to my old bookmark) so I’m really looking forward to how it all turns out.

World War Z — Max Brooks
It is my fervent hope that all zombie related literature and films die a swift death (same for the current festering wound in our sensibilities caused by teenage vampires and other things that suck). That being said, Max Brooks (yes, Mel’s son) writes some of the more credible how-to and history books on the subject of modern day zombies. Worth reading for entertainment … and gore.

Summer of the Big Bachi— Naomi Hirahara
An intriguing novel, part mystery and part nostalgia, revolving around the hibakusha in Los Angeles: the survivors and offspring of the survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Japan at the end of the war. Note that the tone of the narrative is light and pleasant reading. The only thing that gave me pause was a Sunday outing at the Rams game. This is the first in the author’s series following Mas, the Japanese gardener and amateur sleuth.

Indian Summer of a Forsyte — John Galsworthy
A short interlude in The Forsyte Saga.

The Man of Property — John Galsworthy (+)
The riveting story of wealth and privilege at the end of the Nineteenth Century in England. My advice to readers is to get the names and relationships down and the reading will be much less confusing. My edition had a convenient family tree insert that made everything clear.

No Longer At Ease — Chinua Achebe
An early work gives a strong interpretation of what it means to be African but educated in the UK.

Skios: A Novel — Michael Frayn
A madcap story purely for entertainment. This is one of those novels that have you thinking as you read about who you would cast in the Hollywood movie. It’s that deep.

Tarzan of the Apes — Edgar Rice Burroughs
A lot of fun and surprisingly well written. I can see reading a few more by this author: maybe some Tarzan, maybe some Barsoom.

Giles Goat-Boy — John Barth (+)
Geopolitics as university rivalry. Like all of Barth, GGB is funny, dense, often confusing, and big. My only concern with Barth, and this novel in particular, is that he might carry his “shaggy-dog” narrative a bit too far. Would Barth be Barth if he tightened his prose and wrote shorter books?

The Wine of Youth — John Fante
Good stories but I missed the scenes of early Los Angeles.

Are These Eyeballs? — Garry Charles
A little Bizarro and a little gruesome …but fun.

Gold: Being the Marvellous History of General John Augustus Sutter — Blaise Cendrars
Having grown up in California (the state where they require all students to take California History) I knew quite a bit about John Sutter: I have visited Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento and the site of Sutter’s Mill in Coloma: I have even panned for gold in the American River and caught trout in the Stanislaus. But I learned a lot from this simple historical treatment and, although I recognize that it is fiction, I felt much closer to the people involved in early California history (notwithstanding the unfortunate omission of Paladin and Zorro).

Filth — Irvine Welsh
Hard to say about this one. The Scottish idiom, dialogue, and persistent obscenity makes Filth difficult to read (although it’s just like any other Irvine Welsh novel—Trainspotting for instance—other than the tapeworm). I do very much want to see the movie they made from this unfilmable novel.

We Need New Names —NoViolet Bulawayo
A fascinating coming of age story of a young girl growing up in Zimbabwe who comes to the United States to live with her aunt in the Detroit area. Much snow, no guavas. Recommended even though this was a first novel and not highly literary, the story was the hook. It was interesting to see the cultural differences and (warning all American Exceptionalists) despite the problems in Zimbabwe, this young girl recognizes when American commercialism is padding profits at the expense of the people.

Parsifal — Jim Krusoe
A mildly entertaining adaptation of the story of Sir Percival

Popular Hits of the Showa Era — Ryu Murakami
This Murakami (Ryu not Haruki) certainly has his bloody violence side (see also Audition). His novel is both an interesting indictment of the boredom brought on by the effects of modern life and the struggle between the older and the younger generations. Or maybe it’s just a good bloody gore-fest. Read it and find out. Read Audition too.

Monkey Brain Sushi — Alfred Birnbaum ed.
I’ve had this book for awhile in my car for those times when I get stuck for something to read. It is a collection of new fiction from Japan and provides a good introduction to a very imaginative group of writers. Read lots of Japanese fiction!

An Ideal Husband — Oscar Wilde
Compare the scandal in this drama to what happens every day in the United States. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

Happyland — J. Robert Lennon
First, I bought this ebook on impulse because the description suggested the type of transgressive literature I crave: it’s about dolls and taking over a quaint village to house and display dolls: a cross between Cabbage Patch Kids and Martha Stewart. But it was well written, despite the hackneyed approach to the narrative, and kept my attention for the several hours it took to read. Although I often refer to a novel as being ready for a movie of the week in a pejorative way, in this instance, I make the suggestion as a valuable direction for the book. For many it will be seen as a wonderful entertainment … but it isn’t going to win any awards.

Mood Indigo — Boris Vian (+)
Wow! I have to get the movie now. Just weird enough to make you wonder about reality.

Antwerp — Roberto Bolaño

In Watermelon Sugar — Richard Brautigan
A light little dystopean piece filled with the summer of love.

How It Is — Samuel Beckett

The Sea — John Banville
Very well written but the narrative was just too reminiscent of several other novels. Besides, although there was a smattering of youthful perversion, it wasn’t enough for my demented tastes.

Revolutionary Road — Richard Yates (+)
A serial narrative with a realistic representation of life in the 1950s. Written beautifully, honestly, and engagingly. A top novel that all should read.

Old Masters — Thomas Bernhard (+)
Bernhard at his snarliest best. Did you know the toilets in Austria have a shelf in the bowl so you can check out your shit?

Akhenaten — Naguib Mahfouz 
In a Rashomon style, the author has his narrator question many historical people about the heretic pharaoh, Akhenaten. Easy, good read.

The Man Who Loved Children — Christina Stead
Quite good but a little messy (possibly because of the publishers having an Australian story altered for American tastes). I can’t see how this one made Time Magazines list of the Top 100 novels.

Maigret Goes Home — Georges Simenon

House Made of Dawn — N. Scott Momaday

Household Gods — Aleister Crowley

Trout Fishing In America — Richard Brautigan (+)
What do you call a text that might seem like a collection of related vignettes (or possibly a collection of short personal essays or an episodic narrative) which doesn’t really have a plot, is rather thin in character development, pops up with themes more often seen on Burma Shave signs, but is absolutely delightful to read? I have decided that Trout Fishing In America is about a time and a place … not to mention a few fish. Brautigan, like Hemingway before him, ended his own life; I like to thin that it was because he didn’t want to see anymore of the destruction the century was bringing on his vision of the good life.

Out — Christine Brooke-Rose
Robbe-Grollet showed us that close observation and reporting of even the most mundane parts of life can create complex and often puzzling literature. Christine Brooke-Rose reminds me very much of Alain Robbe-Grillet and in both cases, the prose is challenging but very rewarding.

Man In the Dark — Paul Auster
Auster is up to his somewhat overused postmodern tricks with this one: he writes the story of a man who has trouble sleeping so the man makes up stories in his head and the story in his head is of a man who wakes up in an alternate history who, along the way, falls asleep and dreams about a man … you get the point.

House of Holes — Nicholson Baker
A trivial riff on sex, body parts, and several varieties of holes or a highly crafted and literate expansion of our perception of smut? Baker joins several earlier authors who attempted to write filthy literature with imagination and humor.

Casino Royale — Ian Fleming
Entertaining. My first James Bond book. The movies certainly took liberties on the original dull and uninteresting depiction of James Bond.

Of Human Bondage — W. Somerset Maugham
Too traditional (I felt like I was reading a Zola novel without the detailed research or the prose style. Do they even teach Maugham any more?). This is not to say that Maugham wrote a bad book: it’s actually quite good. I suppose the question should be: why do I consider Proust so high and not Maugham: both authors write a somewhat traditional narrative?

 The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life — Steve Leveen
A short book from the founder of Lervenger’s which attempts to answer many common question like, what does it mean to be well-read? or when can you give up reading a book and throw it out the window?

Bleeding Edge — Thomas Pynchon
Pynchon held it together with this one (for the most part). This novel, however, does suffer from seeming up-to-date and sadly ending up very much out-of-date. I suppose, since the World Trade Center is involved, outdated technology is just right for time. Still, the book moved fast and was just flip enough to be fun but not strained.

Satantango — László Kransznahorkai (+)
Bleak but inspired fiction.  The structure is effective; the prose is excellent; the punctuation is postmodern. A dying village, with cobwebs and rain, waiting for the redeemer. A little Beckett; a little Kafka; even some Peter Markus. Read and reread.

The Confessions of Nat Turner — William Styron (+)
A vivid retelling of a piece of American history that reminds us of our shameful past and shows man, even if a black slave, as an ultimately heroic figure with a deep sense of honor and worth.

The Hawkline Monster: A Gothic Western — Richard Brautigan

I Spit On Your Graves — Boris Vian
Controversial noir but quite good with an interesting twist: a French author who had not been to the US dealing with the race problem in America … trying to outdo James M. Cain?

Mr g — Alan Lightman
A fantasy recreation of the creation and demise of the universe by a scientist who knows what he’s talking about.

Express Elevator to Potential Nothingness (The Fate of Flight 2190) — Andre Duza
Zombies, exorcisms, plane crashes, gore and body parts. A little fun piece.

Zeroville —  Steve Erickson
I don’t know if it was the Hollywood/Movies connection or just that the author writes a lively, fun story, but I quite enjoyed this one.

The Palm-Wine Drinkard — Amos Tutuola
A pastiche of folk tales built into a fascinating picaresque. Unfortunately, I am not familiar enough with the traditions this work was based on but it will keep me reading.

The Spy Who Came In From the Cold — John Le Carré (+)
Not my usual fare so I might be less capable of forming an opinion of this novel; however, with my limited experience in the genre, this is a good one and I expect to try another George Smiley story quite soon.

The Strange Case of Benjamin Button — F. Scott Fitzgerald
Short but well written however the recent movie seems to be a poor adaptation … read the book.

The True Deceiver — Tove Jansson
Having recently read Sjón this novel fit right in. It is about real people but told in a manner that suggests a tale by Hans Christian Andersen. There are several apparently highly symbolic elements in this story that have my mind continually thinking about the experience. That’s a good thing.

1919 — John Dos Passos (+)

De Profundis — Oscar Wilde (+)
Essentially an extend letter to the man who bankrupted the author and had him sent to prison. The writing is superb and for anyone interested in Wilde, this is a must.

First Love — Samuel Beckett

Worstward Ho — Samuel Beckett

Desert — J. M. G. Le Clézio (+)

Jesus Freaks — Andre Duza
Starting the year off with zombies just to get it over with … although I also have World War Z on the schedule.

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