Reading: 2020

Titles Read = 157

Cult X — Fuminori Nakamura
Modern day bio-politics with evolution, terrorism, sex, and religion thrown in. A novel of ideas?

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner — James Hogg
Interesting structure. Allegory? Preserved scribblings from the grave of a sinner?

History of the Kings of Britain — Geoffrey of Monmouth
History from the Marvel Universe .. but a good read despite all the bloody hacking and hewing.

A Bloodsmoor Romance — Joyce Carol Oates

The Fall of the Stone City — Ismail Kadare

The House On the Borderland — William Hope Hodgson
A contemporary of Lovecraft and writer of similar fantasy fiction. Have you read this author? Definitely worth a try.

The Eighth Girl: A Novel — Maxine Mei-Fung Chung
Careful. Multiple narratives and multiple personalities with gender bias and racism thrown in. Good story.

Balzac’s War — Jeff Vandermeer

White Jacket, or, The World On a Man-of-War — Herman Melville
Everything you’d want to know about serving on an American Man o’War. And you thought Moby Dick explained too much about whales; but unlike Moby Dick, White Jacket is missing a plot or cosmic theme (unless arbitrary cruelty counts).

The Forty Days of Musa Dagh — Franz Werfel (+)
Read this book. It’s long, informative. and very powerful. Between Musa Dagh and Seven Pillars, the Turks don’t receive or deserve much sympathy. Next, Masada.

Group At the Grand Cafe – Georges Simenon

Rebel Publisher: Grove Press and the Revolution of the Word — Loren Glass
Having gone to university and grad school in the ’60s, this treatment of the history of Grove Press and Barney Rosset brings back volumes of memories. I was especially thrilled when my exact copy of a book was illustrated and discussed. I wonder if I have any saved in a box somewhere?

Juneteenth — Ralph Ellison
Powerful. Timely. I wonder about all that text Ellison wrote that didn’t get into the final edited version (but then, we owe a lot to the editor who organized the dead author’s jumbled writings into a coherent novel. We can leave the extra jottings to future scholars.

Breasts and Eggs — Mieko Kawakami
What has breasts and eggs but cannot stand sex?

Slapstick or Lonesome No More! — Kurt Vonnegut

The House of Impossible Beauties — Joseph Cassara
Homosexual sex, cross-dressing, drugs, hustling, AIDS, and a lively intermixture of street language, both in English and in Spanish. Not for the prudish reader.

As a Man Grows Older — Italo Svevo (+)

Sanshiro — Natsume Soseki

Bellefleur — Joyce Carol Oates
First book of Gothic series.

Trans-Sister Radio — Chris Bohjalian
Good themes but pedestrian execution.

Norte — Edmundo Paz Soldan

Stranger In a Strange Land — Robert A. Heinlein
Decent treatment of thoughtful subjects but I was uncomfortable with the nature vs. nurture theme and frankly I just got tired of having to grok everything. Note: This is the full (long) original text, not the popular text that was published in the 1960s. I wonder if the editing of that edition was to soften the free-love theme?

Independent People — Halldór Laxness (+)
Powerful, evocative: definitely deserves the fame and praise it has received. A must read.

Come Rain or Come Shine — Kazuo Ishiguro
Nice short story from Faber series.

Revulsion: Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador — Horacio Castellanos Moya
Moya trashes San Salvador in the best tradition of Thomas Bernhard. Note that history of this piece is quite interesting. I wonder if there is a similar American work that trashes the USA (deservedly).

Flash and Filigree — Terry Southern

Killing Commendatore — Haruki Murakami
Murakami has become a problem for me. This is a good example: an excellent, mind-challenging mystery is set up and, for me, falls flat with a deus ex machina that leads the narrative down a path reminiscent of the old Adventure game or a boring engagement with Dungeons and Dragons.

Fresno Stories — William Saroyan
A few early (and delightful) stories from the author’s youthful impressions of growing up in Fresno, California.

Martin Eden — Jack London
Autobiographical? Too socialist? London is a hot and cold author but some of his works are excellent: this is one. A good one-two is Martin Eden and Iron Heel. What is the final message?

Chinatown Angel — A. E. Roman

The Cockroach — Ian McEwan
A cockroach morphs into the Prime Minister who reverses the British economy so that works must pay for their jobs and the wealth of the richest becomes worthless. Quick fun.

Beowulf’s Return — Tim Hodkinson
Beowulf fights the marauding dead: a short tale in easy, clear modern popular English. Since I studied Beowulf in the original Old English, the incorrect pronouncing of Apple’s speech algorithm brought a smile to join the gore and destruction. Geats Forever!

Can You Kick a Ghost In the Nuts? — Steve Higgs, Gemma Higgs
Short, Breezy.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom — T. E. Lawrence (+)
Powerful, detailed. It’s matter of fact history (memoir) of a part of the war many people forget, if they ever even knew of it. Of course there was the movie, which was very good and followed Lawrence’s book with few modifications for cinematic effect.

The Historian — Elizabeth Kostova
Well done; however, the interleaving of three generations of related characters can become confusing (at least there was no Arcadio or Aureliano) and why do authors in the Age of Dan Brown feel the need to smear a perfectly good and meticulously detailed quasi-realistic narrative with supernatural muck?

A Terrible Thing That Happens — Carlton Mellick III
Supermarket Sweep meets Pacman.

The Wings of the Dove — Henry James

The Pussy — Delicious Tacos (+)
Stream-of-conscious sex addiction with all the naughty bits on display, but also refreshingly real and honest. My rating is strictly personal based on the author’s clear understanding of the effects of gravity on the older man’s balls.

Hard Candy — Andrew Vachss

A Walk On the Wild Side — Nelson Algren (+)

How I Won the War — Patrick Ryan
Fun. Now I want to see the movie with John Lennon. Oh, did i mention that it takes a darkly humorous view of war and destruction?

My Dark Vanessa: A Novel — Kate Elizabeth Russell
Young girl has an affair with a much older teacher who may be a serial molester, but they are in love so it’s okay? Ineffective treatment of the theme of female molestation with added nuances of slut shaming. Good for topic but otherwise unsurprising fiction.

Naked Came the Manatee — Various Authors (-)
Florida and the plot complexity of a Bazooka comic.

Balcony in the Forest — Julian Gracq
An untypical realistic narrative in the author’s treatment of the Phoney War.

A Taste of Honey: Stories — Jabari Asim (+)
Stories like Winesburg, Ohio is stories. Excellent narrative expressing the black experience in St. Louis culminating in the riots which followed the assassination of Dr. King. Having gone to Graduate School in St. Louis the environment was somewhat familiar although I did take a peek at online Maps to refresh my memory. I might even have discovered the ancient apartment building I lived in back in the sixties.

Michael Strogoff; or The Courier of the Csar — Jules Verne
Reading Jules Verne dips your old soul back into the excitement and wonder of the spirit of youth.

The Lucky Star — William T. Vollmann (+)
Vollmann returns to the San Francisco Tenderloin: lesbians, transexuals, prostitutes, addiction, violence, sex, sex, sex. What the author makes clear: these are real people with their own ups and downs, loves and hates, weaknesses and strengths. Like Judy Garland they are tragically forced into a destructive future.

Strange Weather In Tokyo — Hiromi Kawakami
Meh.

Japan Sinks — Sakyo Komatsu
Aside from great special effects, thoughtful depiction of how a government which values the lives of the citizens over any economic or nationalistic concerns should act.

The Crime At Black Dudley — Margery Allingham
The first Campion. Need more.

La Terre — Émile Zola (+)
Seems to be the most openly sexual of the series.: an amalgam of barnyard rutting and societal misogyny. Two things made me think: the plight of the French farmer who once was self-sufficient, and the global effects of such things as American grains flooding the market. Make America rich and destroy the lives of countless peasants around the world.

And Then There Were None — Agatha Christie

The Blackboard Jungle — Evan Hunter

Lady Audley’s Secret — Mary Elizabeth Braddon (+)
I liked this novel. It’s classically dated but with enough twists and turns that it’s interestng and entertaining.

Lost For Words: A Novel — Edward St. Aubyn
A fresh approach to prestigious book awards. Great satire.

Piercing — Ryu Murakami
Competent but disappointing (not enough gore?).

Frog — Stephen Dixon (+)

Until I Find You — John Irving
Tattoo artists, church organs, cross-dressing film stars, penis holding, and multi-generational schtupping: Typical Irving.

Tokyo Decadence — Ryu Murakami
Short stories with an edge. Author tends to weave similar themes throughout the stories. Run Takahashi!

The Story of Lucy Gault — William Trevor (+)
Engaging narrative that for some reason reminded me of the great Giuseppe Lampedusa.

The Man Who Walked Through Walls — Marcel Ayme (+)
Fascinating short stories to try to get your mind around.

Other People — Martin Amis

The Third Rainbow Girl — Emma Copley Eisenberg
The story of a killing in West Virginia. Fictional non-fiction.

The Draining Lake — Arnaldur Indridson
A rapidly draining lake in Iceland uncovers a skeleton and the narrative alternates between the investigation and cold war repression.

Nymphomation — Jeff Noon
If you believe dominoes is the devil’s game then this one’s for you.

Dairy Queen Days: A Novel — Robert Inman
Pleasant Hallmark Special.

Our Mutual Friend — Charles Dickens (+)
Long, leisurely. and very satisfying.

The Book of Disquiet — Fernando Pessoa (+)
Packed with erudition and head-scratchers. Not a traditional novel at all.

When She Was Good — Philip Roth

The Canterbury Tales: A Retelling — Peter Ackroyd
Having specialized in Medieval English Literature in grad school, I naturally read and studied Chaucer in the original Middle English. This was an easy, fun reminder of the stories without the extra demands of the language.

Ice Station Zebra — Alistair MacLean
Exciting. Would make a good movie .. Rock Hudson? .. you don’t say.

Suggested Reading — Dave Connis
YA treatment of fighting suffocating censorship in a private southern school. Commendable although I hesitate to approve of any book that champions reading Catcher In the Rye.

Acceptance: A Novel — Jeff VanderMeer
Third volume of Southern Reach trilogy. Is there something wrong with me? I wasn’t impressed.

Flynn’s World — Gregory Mcdonald
A good series by the author of the Fletch books but this last piece is weak.

Black Rain — Masuji Ibuse (+)
Hiroshima See It Now.

Loitering With Intent — Muriel Spark

The Giant Rat of Sumatra — Richard L. Boyer
Sherlock Holmes and Rodents of Unusual Size.

Judgment Day — James T. Farrell (+)
Final volume of Studs Lonigan trilogy.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius — Dave Eggers
Entertaining but not great. I wonder if it echos another recent read .. the stable genius one?

Robert B. Parker’s Angel Eyes — Ace Atkins
Spenser takes on Scientology-like grift out in Hollywood (with Z).

Hard Case Crime: Colorado Kid — Stephen King
Moose-Look .. Cabot Cove? Interesting narrative format: sorta Liberty Valance.

Monsieur Pamplemousse Takes the Train — Michael Bond

Blue Movie — Terry Southern
It’s a recurring cliché: let’s make a first-run stdio supported porno movie. I’ve seen it in serious (?) fiction, comic fiction, pulp fiction, and even in the proverbial stroke book. Terry Southern uses the idea for a fun satire.

The Marquise of O— — Heinrich von Kleist

Camgirl — Isa Mazzei
Hyper-realistic personal documentary exposing capitalist pornography. Lame.

I Am Charlotte Simmons — Tom Wolfe
One big cliché. It’s interesting how Wolfe creates a completely believable academic world in a total fiction. Avoid the urge to Google DuPont University.

Quo Vadis — Henryk Sienkiewicz (+)
As a non-believer, this story of the early spread of Christianity in the time of Nero was epic but often silly. Treated as historical fiction it is a great book. The depiction of Nero’s Bread and Circus slaughter of the Christians by hungry beasts was very vivid. Crucifixions were reminiscent of a later novel and movie, Spartacus.

Thy Neighbor’s Wife — Gay Talese (+)
Talese provides a highly readable excursion through all the years of the growth of sexual freedom which I lived through. My thought: you cannot bemoan “If I knew then what I know now” because it took a lot of time. pain, and brave people to get where we are now.

At Night, I Become a Monster — Yoru Sumino

The Pilgrim’s Progress — John Bunyan (+)
Plus for historical significance and excellent example of allegory in literature. New editions are easy to read but the subject matter is fading fast.

The Portrait of a Lady — Henry James (+)

A Single Man— Christopher Isherwood
The author in Academia (and Los Angeles) after the war. I really enjoy Isherwood’s writing.

Me & Mr. Cigar — Gibby Haynes
Silly and stoopid, although competently written.

Humbold’s Gift — Saul Bellow (+)

December 6 — Martin Crus Smith
A possible oil scam, a Gaijin in Japan, Tojo in mufti,  the Japanese fleet heading for Malasia or Indonesia or Pearl Harbor. Will he get out on-time .. alive?

The Boy In the Earth — Fuminori Nakamura

10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World — Elif Shafak
The dead body of an Istambul prostitute wonders if anyone will find her. And then to flesh out the novel, her life is recalled. Is this thinking-corpse a Turkish thing?

The Wanderer — Fritz Leiber
Many years ago I was fascinated by disaster narratives like this but a sub-genre which posits that a rogue planet will eat the moon and cause devastating tides and fires is (or in this case will become somewhat tedious. Otherwise fun with some nostalgic historical references (is Der Drump an even greater disaster than the Wanderer and will the WH suggest there is nothing to worry about, trying to preserve their numbers).

Contempt — Alberto Moravia
Saw the film now read the book. Narrative of the film tracks well with text but Moravia is creating an internal viewpoint whereas in the film, the viewer is creating the viewpoint and that makes some factors in the narrative subtly different.

The Curse of Lono — Hunter S. Thompson
Not the best Gonzo narration.

Death Without Company — Craig Johnson
I think I prefer the characterizations in the novel rather than in the cable television series, except possibly that of Walt Longmire.

Bringing Out the Dead — Joe Connelly

The Shooting Party — Anton Chekhov

Robert B. Parker’s Old Black Magic — Ace Atkins

Zinky Boys — Svetlana Alexievich
Written as a collection of Soviet soldiers’ memories of the Afghanistan war. Brutal and eye opening. Although the lack of preparedness of the Soviet troops was emphasized, it didn’t take too much effort to remember the disaster that was and remains the Bush/Cheney war.

Mrs. Fletcher — Tom Perrotta
Light entertainment. HBO series closely follows book but with the advantage of Kathryn Hahn.

The Ugly American — Eugene Burdick (+)
Historical value and shows a view of American diplomacy that makes you wonder, especially in today’s world where we might be seen openly as the bad guys.

The Octopus On My Head — Jim Nisbet
Entertaining: Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll and Inky Cephalopods. Does get a little bit “Silence of thee Lambs” so bring your own fava beans.

The Haunted Bookshop — Christopher Morley

Daniel Deronda — George Eliot (+)

Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded — Samuel Richardson (+)
Virtue: what a concept! Well written and historically relevant but so many pages and so little happens. Note: Epistolatory design is no hinderance to the narrative.

Stories In the Worst Way — Gary Lutz
Very interesting, mostly short. Author is considered too difficult to translate but I’m thinking Donald Barthelme is more difficult.

The Revisionists — Thomas Mullen
Time travel, corporate espionage, dead bodies, romance, and cheesy American T-shirts. Sometimes fun, sometimes exciting, often confusing.

The Débâcle — Émile Zola (+)
The Franco-Prussian War. Things didn’t go so good for the French.

The Time Invariance of Snow — E. Lily Yu
A narrative in many pieces.

Mother and Child — Carole Maso
The interesting thing with this work is how realism and fantasy, contemporary themes and dystopian projections, are so smoothly intertwined by the author in the narrative. It all works.

The Beautiful Poetry of Donald Trump — Robert Sears
Somewhat clever rearranging of Der Drump’s unfortunate words. Clearly shows that he’s a moron.

The Monkey Link: A Pilgrimage Novel — Andrei Bitov (+)
A novel of ideas in three parts. Lots to think about here … the Big Questions. Needs close reading and plenty of time to think.

The Heart of the Matter — Graham Greene (+)

The Mansion — William Faulkner (+)
The third volume of the Snopes trilogy. This one covers a lot of time and many events and characters. The trilogy is much more traditional than many of Faulkner’s novels.

The Moor’s Last Sigh — Salman Rushdie (+)

The Poet X — Elizabeth Acevedo
A Back-To-School Special but intriguing and not too smarmy. Best, however, is that it is comprised of a chain of prose poems such as a young girl might have written: it’s a novel in poem form .. or is it a series of related poems that read like a novel?

Robert B. Parker’s Little White Lies — Ace Atkins

Shamanspace — Steve Aylett (-)
Silly.

Tribesmen: A Novella of Supernatural Cannibal Horror — Adam Cesare

Castle Rackrent — Maria Edgeworth

House of Incest — Anais Nin
Very poetic.

Maigret’s Holiday — Georges Simenon

A Very Stable Genius — Philip Rucker and Carol Leonig
Everything you already knew or assumed about our worst nightmare.

Severance — Ling Ma

The Designated Mourner — Wallace Shawn (+)
A very evocative one-act play. Shawn is a smart guy.

House of Beauty — Melba Escobar
Strong treatment of societal ills, corruption, and the mistreatment of women centered around a beauty salon in Bogotá.

The Memory Police — Yoko Ogawa

Hard Case Crime: Nobody’s Angel — Jack Clark
A thin novel of crime and detection but chock-full of information about taxis, cabbies, and neighborhoods to avoid in Chicago. Small insights in this story do make you think about how society has created disadvantaged neighborhoods through corruption and racism.

Pow! — Mo Yan (+)
Meat!

Mac’s Problem — Enrique Vila-Matas (+)
Very interesting. Mac (not the bartender) doesn’t like novels; intends to rewrite the short story collection originally written by a local author; documents his efforts in a rambling memoir; and the covering theme is repetition. Erudite and engrossing.

The Dogs of Riga —Henning Mankell

Angle of Repose — Wallace Stegner (+)
History, generations, concrete: an expansive narrative of love, loss, disappointment, triumph. Following the trope of contemporary offspring reconstructing the lives and events of their historical family in a detailed family histry, this novel both engages and satisfies. I have always enjoyed generational novels ever since reading Buddenbrooks as a young man. The structure of this novel compares quite nicely with Byatt’s Possession.

The Ginza Ghost and Other Stories — Leikichi Osaka
Short mini-mysteries.

Growth of the Soil — Knut Hamsun (+)

The Testaments — Margaret Atwood (+)
Chilling and not even outlandish considering the fundamentalist direction of this nation. The situation between Gildead (ex-USA) and Canada (the good guy) was interesting, although the author IS Canadian. Note that Gilead collapses and there is ample historical evidence to incriminate the perpetrators. The two Gilead books are must reads (I did not see the Hulu series).

Palm Beach, Finland — Antti Tuomainen
Inventive concept. Plot not so much.

The Beirut Hellfire Society — Rawi Hage (+)
I’ve read several fictional treatments of the war in Lebanon. This one, centered on a local undertaker, is possibly the most violent and visceral. Pulls no punches. Well done.

Snow Falling On Cedars — David Guterson
Decent novel but predictable subject matter. But please, let’s not diminish of forget the effects of fear and hatred on the mistreatment of a people that does not look, act, or worship like some mythical American patriot … especially today.

The Water Dancer — Ta-Nehisi Coates
Very evocative text but there are many treatments of slavery, the underground railroad, etc. that should also get our attention.

Carter Beats the Devil — Glen David Gold
Fun entertainment but a little too long to maintain interest.

The Topeka School — Ben Lerner
Good but not great. Interesting take on High School Forensics.

The Miller’s Daughter — Emile Zola

Quichotte — Salman Rushdie (+)
Fun and thought provoking romp through Don Quijote, Walt Disney, and a bunch of other highly identifiable trops. One question: At times the author drops an extremely current reference that could easily be totally forgotten in weeks if not days; although this makes the novel more accessible to the contemporary reader, does it also show a disregard for any future consideration? Are we writing for the fast sell and expecting a lingering life on the remainder racks?

Hard Case Crime: Slide — Ken Bruen

Robert B. Parker’s Slow Burn — Ace Atkins

The Children Act — Ian McEwan

Serotonin — Michel Houellebecq (+)
One of my go-to authors, not for the weak or amateur optimist. This is a strong, challenging treatment that investigates the question oft attributed to Peggy Lee (a huge favorite of mine).

Terrorist — John Updike
Not perfect but a very good treatment of adherence to rigid fundamentalism and how a youth without critical thinking skills can be easily influenced. Note that the unstated (and presumably unintended) idea that a religious Muslim can become a mass killing terrorist is unfortunate and dangerous in itself.