Reading: 2020

Titles Read = 79

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 (-)

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

Chinatown Angel — A. E. Roman
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 (+)

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.