Reading 2017

Titles Read = 124

A Horse Walks into a Bar – David Grossman

A Little History of Literature – John Sutherland
A pleasant overview of English literature for non-English majors. English majors may skip this one and reread Ulysses instead (although this little history might be considered comfort food for those steeped in EngLangLit).

Jerzy: A Novel – Jerome Charyn
A fictionalized account of the life of Jerzy Kosinski. Develops the theme of creating a fictionalize life through the many characters interacting with Kosinski. Left me thinking whether the charge of plagiarism, ghost writers, and outright fabrication, was even relevant in evaluating a novel such as The Painted Bird?

The Western Lands — William S. Burroughs (+)
A favorite author and one of his best. Remember Ben Casey: Man, Woman, Birth, Death, Infinity? This novel is all that and more.

Taipei — Tao Lin (-)
Just another highly derivative running around NYC with occasional drug addled stops on a book tour or a trip to Taiwan to visit the folks.. Not original or specific enough to be interesting (unless you are using the same drugs).

Poetry Will Save Your Life – Jill Bialosky
You might expect that each poem was a part of the relevant life event but it seems more like the author is developing her remembrance and then selecting a poem that fits the recollection (although the other possibility that discovering the poem triggers the remembrance seems, at times, another possibility). Pleasant but without a lot of insight, into life as well as into poetry.

Chocky – John Wyndham
What if your son’s invisible friend was really an invisible friend?

Jumpers – Tom Stoppard
A tidy little play. A bit absurd but I would buy a ticket. Mrs. Peel was in the original production.

Inventing Hell: Dante, The Bible, and Eternal Torment – Jon M. Sweeney
Simple, straightforward exploration of the very human concept of Satan and Hell. Generally sufficiently historical and secular for me but there were times when a bit of the author’s faith seemed to leak in. Still, interesting and informative. I might have to reread the Bible (or check with Asimov).

Chicago Poems – Carl Sandburg
Hog butcher of the world! It’s all good.

Holidays on Ice – David Sedaris
Intriguing, often great fun, stories displaying decent writing and a good eye for the more interesting parts of life. The focus, as the title suggests, is the Christmas season.

The Unlikely Monsieur Owen – Georges Simenon
A retired Maigret on vacation is convinced to solve a baffling crime.

Self-Portrait Abroad – Jean-Philippe Toussaint

The White Dominican — Gustave Meyrink
Sensational fiction. Not quite horror.

Peru — Gordon Lish
Ah, Gordon. Being such a great editor your own novels are strange.

African Psycho — Alain Mabanckou
Interesting parallel with American Psycho.

The Proof — César Aira

Asura Girl — Otaro Maijo (-)
Manga masquerading as a “real” novel. Messy, confusing, and it just didn’t do it for me.

Inter Ice Age 4 — Kobo Abe
Somewhat disjointed but isn’t that typical of the author. This might be the only Abe I hadn’t read. Not the best but his novels are all good for your mind.

High Rise — J. G. Ballard [I.G.H. in Europe]
Ballard uses the social dynamics of a modern high rise condominium as a condensed vision of the breakdown of the social contract. Intriguing but a better author might have lifted the concept above popular fiction. For another version of the apartment house figure, read Georges Perec, La Vie mode d’emploi.

The Penelopiad — Margaret Atwood
It’s not Ulysses but it’s still a fascinating retelling of the story of Odysseus but from Penelope’s point of view.

Her Sense of Timing — Stanley Elkin
In collection of novellas titled, Van Gogh’s Room At Arles.

The System of Dante’s Hell — Amiri Baraka
The City of Newark, New Jersey, as modelled after Dante’s Hell? Loosely. Experimental. Having lived and worked in Newark for several years, Baraka’s sketchy narrative was far more vivid than if I was from the South Side of Chicago.

Yiddish For Pirates — Gary Barwin
A quasi-historical tale told by an African Gray parrot which spouts yiddish constantly. Pirates, Columbus, Moors, all that stuff from the late 15th century. Perhaps a good idea but it became annoying very fast.

Swimmer in the Secret Sea — William Kotzwinkle
A baby, the swimmer in the secret sea, is born and dies and is buried in the woods.

Untitled — Kgebetli Moele
What it’s like to be a young girl growing up in Africa … a male dominated world where young girls are objets for pleasure even amongst those who should be protecting them.

The Boy Who Made the Dragonfly — Tony Hillerman
Zuni myth.

Indemnity Only— Sarah Paretsky
A great woman detective series (and you really can’t get Kathleen Turner out of your mind.

Hide My Eyes — Margery Allingham

The Cater Street Hangman — Anne Perry
The first Inspector Pitt and my first Anne Perry. Pretty good although much of the background information was rather common and clichéd.

The Frumious Bandersnatch — Ed McBain
The crew at the 87th on the job. Always entertaining.

Maigret’s Dead Man — Georges Simenon

The Circular Staircase — Mary Roberts Rinehart

Murder Is My Business — Brett Halliday
My first Mike Shane. Solid.

The Last Days — Raymond Queneau (+)

The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu — Sax Rohmer
Non-stop suspense of a clichéd nature … but still fun. Note dated views on the perils of cannabis and overlook the overt racism if you can.

Monsieur Pamplemousse and the French Solution — Michael Bond

Nightfall — David Goodis

Badge of Evil — Whit Masterson
The inspiration for the film Touch of Evil with Orson Wells and Charlton Heston.

The Black-Eyed Blonde — John Banville as Benjamin Black
Keeping the Philip Marlowe narrative going in what has been called a soft-boiled version of the detective. Good but not Raymond Chandler.

A Rare Benedictine — Ellis Peters
Three short novels (long stories) introducing Brother Cadfael.

Polar Star — Martin Cruz Smith
Smuggling, stealing secrets, defection, death: Arkady, now in criminal exile working the slime line on the factory ship, Polar Star, is selected to investigate a death and in his thoroughness might have gone too far. I like this series; it’s been a long time since I read Gorky Park but I think I’m going to continue with Arkady Renko.

Lullaby — Ace Atkins
Atkins has been keeping the Spenser name and narrative active for the Robert B. Parker estate. Not bad. A lot of connections back to the Parker novels to create continuity … especial comments about Paul Giacomin (which assumes anyone even remembers Paul).

We Were the Mulvaneys — Joyce Carol Oates

The Green Room — Nag Mani
Weak attempt at horror involving a complete set of clichés.

Antwerp — Roberto Bolaño
Snippets of writing as from a notebook. Nothing special but since Bolaño died there appears to have been a dedicated effort to publish everything he ever wrote; unfortunately, some good novels are mixed in with some back-of-gum-wrapper dreck.

Gold Dust — Ibrahim al-Koni

The Tokyo Zodiac Murders — Soji Shimada
Shimada’s novel is like an Ellery Queen: at one point the author steps out and informs the reader that all the clues are available so they should be able to solve the mystery themselves. So the first part of the book is an exposition of the details of a forty year old murder, and the last part of the novel is a detailed analysis of how it was actually done and by whom. In between there is a short burst of narrative activity but not enough to make this novel less sterile than it is.

Barrel Fever — David Sedaris
A fun collection of little stories or essays . Hey, it’s all fiction!

Magrit — Lee Battersby
A Tim Burton film in a fascinating little novel.

Hurma — Ali al-Muqri
At times quite engaging and definitely interesting but especially toward the end the author seems to be simply tossing in major narrative events without structure or even relevance. I guess other than the themes growing up or living as a woman in Muslim society, what is this novel really about?

The Drowning of a Goldfish — Lidmila Sováková
A captivating story of the personal development of a young woman living under the influence of the USSR (Stalin). The image of the goldfish representing, presumably, the acceptable life of the woman in a marriage is gradually overturned as the woman becomes the pants in the family … and the goldfish drowns,

Oracle Night — Paul Auster
Auster plays around with the story-within-a-story and other postmodern conceits. I get the impression that Auster writes easily with complex narratives (not too complex) flowing smoothly in a seemingly studied manner. Auster’s novels are good entertainments that stretch to be stylistic and philosophically important: sometimes he succeeds.

I, the Jury — Mickey Spillane
Hard-boiled detective Mike Hammer. The famous book cover was more exciting

Octavio’s Journey — Miguel Bonnefoy
Reminded me of some Mahfouz: local folklore with a message.

Spook Country — William Gibson
Volume 2 of Pattern Recognition trilogy.

A Cop’s Eyes — Gaku Yakumaru
Related short stories of a police procedural nature. There is a pattern leading to a conclusion.  I understand these were originally written as television segments.

I Did Not Kill My Husband — Liu Zhenyun

Memoirs of a Polar Bear — Yoko Tawada

Adios, Cowboy — Olija Savicevic

Parade — Shuichi Yoshida

The Midwich Cuckoos — John Wyndham
Source of movie, The Village of the Damned.

Ema the Captive — César Aira
A history, not a novel. Boring.

Maigret In New York — Georges Simenon

P. I. — Kamilla Gary Wyatt
A tidy little mystery set in Atlanta with all the familiar references but not too sophisticated. I wonder if the author will continue the series (and maybe improve her writing)?

A Clue To the Exit — Edward St. Aubyn

Ernesto — Umberto Saba
Episodic, autobiographical. A young boy growing up in Trieste and experiencing early sexual events with men and women.

Maneater — Kahoko Yamada
Seems like this is an urban legend I read before.

The Japanese Lover — Isabel Allende
A good, generational novel but the author seems to have included many themes just to make the narrative more interesting: homosexuality, illicit love, child pornography,  war orphans, old age, Japanese internment, gardening, Judaism, etc.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem — Joan Didion
Excellent collection of essays.Some a little dated but for me they were sharp reminders of my past life.

Your Turn, Mr. Moto — John P. Marquand
The first Mr. Moto novel. Is Moto a good guy or a bad guy?

The Easter Parade — Richard Yates (+)

Xala — Ousmane Sembène
A well constructed story representing the corruption of native control that too closely mirrors those of the past colonial regimes through the metaphor of Xala: the impotence of a successful business man who with three wives just can’t get it up anymore. Besides, the women are really in charge anyway, right?

Anthills of the Savannah — Chinua Achebe

The Widow — Georges Simenon

To the White Sea — James Dickey
As in Deliverance Dickey explores the man vs. nature theme, this time with a resourceful tail-gunner trying to escape into the north of Japan after being downed in an air-raid over Tokyo.

Doomed — Chuck Palahniuk
Followup to Damned but not a sequel. Some interesting and imaginative situations in this text.

Sylvie — Gerard de Nerval
An exquisite romantic narrative from an oft overlooked French writer.

The Man Who Folded Himself — David Gerrold
Time travel with overlapping selves and intense sexual attraction. Hey, if you do it with yourself or rather a version of yourself, it’s just masturbation, right?

Haroun and the Sea of Stories: A Novel — Salman Rushdie

Black Spring — Henry Miller (+)

The Names — Don DeLillo
How many languages do you speak?

Radish — Mo Yan

Wool — Hugh Howey
The start of a dystopian tale. Several volumes to go, but okay so far.

Pattern Recognition — William Gibson

Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age — Amani Al-Khatahtbeh
A simple backstory to the creation of muslimgirl.com. If you support racism, want to control women’s bodies, demand a ban on muslim immigration, or are just a a loud-mouthed bad-example of what it means to be an American, then this little book is required reading.

The Mise-en-Scène — Claude Ollier (+)
Ollier is a nouveau roman author from the sixties and it’s still this detailed, objective prose that I find so stimulating. Of course I’ve been a proponent of Alain Robbe-Grillet since the sixties when I fist read Le Voyeur, but there are many excellent examples of the new French novel that are not are mainstream as R-G. Ollier tells the detailed story of a French engineer in Morocco seeking a path through the mountains to a zinc mine. A lot happens but then again, not much happens. You have to read it to understand and to appreciate the nouveau roman.

Dendara — Yuka Sato (+)
Sato is known as a writer of weird fiction and this novel is a good example. It deals with a Village which controls its available food supplies by banishing anyone reaching the age of 70: they Climb the Mountain to die in the wilderness. But on the other side of the mountain is an enclave called Dendera which rescues those left to die, chosing continued life over death at an arbitrary age. Add a rampaging bear, fear of the plague, and unending starvation and the narrative gets both interesting and quite gory. Allegorical?

Hawksmoor — Peter Ackroyd
Lots of praise for this one but I wasn’t that impressed. The story is an intertwining of the construction of several English churches under the overview of Christopher Wren and an up-to-date investigation into the mysterious murders that are happening on the grounds of those now-historic churches. Toss in a hint of devil worship and the reader is supposed to be engulfed in the mystery. Maybe.

The Magician — W. Somerset Maugham
Trilby with a weak-ass Svengali.

Paradise — Donald Barthelme
An older man, semi-retired invites three nubile young women to share his over-sized apartment in New York. Paradise?

Coup de lune — Georges Simenon
Simenon explores the elements of French colonialism in Africa. Interesting and insightful.

The Painter of Battles — Arturo Pérez-Reverte (+)
This author tends to have two or more narrative lines going throughout each novel and this is no exception, be they separated by time or theme. Here is a man painting a mediocre mural of war who was once an honored war photographer who had a strong love interest who in the end contemplates the chance result of even a simple photo on real lives. Or is in a theoretical discussion of the value of a painting versus a photograph? Definitely worth reading … you decide.

Moshi-Moshi — Banana Yoshimoto
A favorite author. Yoshimoto writes in a simple, often ethereal style. This one is just simple. The turn in the love relationship is mildly unexpected but the followup pairing is perhaps cringeworthy. Ah, but who can understand the heart .. or other more naughty bits.

Tinkerbell On Walkabout — Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
A short presumably juvenile mystery but clearly a good start for a series. A detective with a Japanese father and a Russian mother? I enjoyed the locale too.

Pilgrim At Tinker Creek — Annie Dillard (+)
A lush, intensely personal contemplation on life and the world. If you grew up in Brooklyn, this might seem almost like science fiction but there really is a world out there to be explored and held in wonder. A must read.

Violence: Six Sideways Reflections — Slavoj Zizek (+)
An extended essay on violence in the world. In many instances, the author’s analysis—problems and solutions—is spot-on but just when you’re expecting a real-world solution to violence right around the corner, you stop and realize that most of the world is too dumb to even realize they are acting against their own best interests. Zizek does make a good point that the true demonstration of Christian values is Atheism. Interested? Read the book.

The Magic Kingdom — Stanley Elkin
Take some children who are dying from obscure diseases for a last bit of fun at Disneyworld. Makes an interesting dichotomy where youths who will soon lose life in the real world are assumed to crave the gaudy artificiality of the Magic Kingdom. Did they skip Tomorrowland because the children would react negatively to the reminder that they really had no tomorrow? Read and see.

Under Fire — Henri Barbusse (+)
A strong, realistic depiction of French soldiers in trench warfare during WWI. Compare to All Quiet On the Western Front.

Uncentering the Earth: Copernicus and The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres — William T. Vollmann
The story of Copernicus and the heliocentric view. Decent amalgam of astronomical details with non-scientific prose. Leave it to Vollmann.

Concrete — Thomas Bernhard (+)
A great writer. When it comes to fearless writing especially when dealing with the topic of death and disease, Bernhard is almost without peer.

The Illogic of Kassel — Enrique Vila-Matas (+)
Is Kassel illogical or just a McGuffin?

Hill — Jean Giorno
Lush description and an engaging story.

The Sense of an Ending — Julian Barnes

The Museum of Final Journeys — Anita Desai

Unfinished — Carol Oates
It’s the old dead twin comes back to school to warn her sister hack. Short juvenile. Why do I confuse Carol Oates with Joyce Carol Oates?

I Hate Martin Amis et al — Peter Barry
A dedicated but unsuccessful writer, working as a janitor, becomes a sniper in Sarajevo in order to gain experience for his next book. He calculates that a kill has the same value as 40 or 50 of Martin Amis’s published words.

Robota — Doug Chiang [with Orson Scott Card]
A short, Science Fiction story with graphics. Well done.Includes sample illustrations for both a movie version and a comic book version.

Mefisto — John Banville

The Way of Muri — Ilya Boyashov
Keep moving. There are many types of journeys.

Clouds of Witness — Dorothy L. Sayers

Deception: A Novel — Philip Roth

La Curée — Émile Zola
Shady finance and elicit love with a hint of the history of Paris.

Jimmy Jazz — Roddy Doyle
A short piece following up on the Barrytown trilogy.

In the Shadow of the Glen — John M. Synge

It Can’t Happen Here — Sinclair Lewis (+)
Sure. It has all come true unless we resist now!

Before We Visit the Goddess — Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Snakepit: A Novel — Moses Isegawa
Brutal. Realistic view of Uganda under Amin.

Fat City — Leonard Gardener
Amateur boxing and stoop labor, with the city of Stockton, California, standing in for William Kennedy’s Albany.

A Separate Peace — John Knowles (+)
It’s 1943 and the war is on. But at a small New England boys school, they’re still working out the battle plans on the playing fields and learning a lot about life in the process. The story involves the smartest boy in school who happens to room with the most athletic boy in school. Then tragedy strikes.

Naphtalene — Alia Mamdouh (+)
Baghdad in the ’40s and ’50s. Well worth reading.

Bruno’s Dream — Iris Murdoch
A lot of dizzying narrative to juggle. Murdoch does a fine job but it gets a little muddled. Possibly one of the “also-rans” from an excellent Irish author.

Rock n Roll Babes From Outer Space — Linda Jaivin
Fun, raunchy, but ultimately being too cool is tedious.

Maigret and the Old Lady — Georges Simenon