Mesa, AZ, United States
I absolutely love the prose of Jack London. I wonder exactly how many people have died, pulled North to the Wild by the romantic pen of Jack London. I finished a while back and was crying as I listened to it with my kids.
Norman Dietz did an OK job narrating, but his stretched sonorant vowels kinda drove me nutty after awhile. I didn't have the dedication or endurance to listen to long stretches of Dietz describe the frooooooont and reeeaaaaaar of London's cooooold siiiiiiilent landscaaaaaaaaaaaaaapes.
Ross Macdonald definitely dances down the same literary streets as Hammett and Chandler. This hardboiled detective novel, the 8th in the Lew Archer series, feels like it was written in one continuous sitting (that is a good thing).
'The Galton Case' has a naked narrative intensity that is well-supported by its witty dialogue and California Noir setting. Macdonald is one of those authors who is so spare and bare that it is hard NOT to be impressed by the clean, minimalist architecture of his writing. If Proust was edited by Hemingway, liked bad girls (well OK, sometimes Proust liked bad girls) and wrote hardboiled novels, he'd be Ross Macdonald.
It has been awhile since I've read Robert Littell. This wasn't one of his best novels (*** 1/2), but it was still fascinating. At its core, 'Young Philby' is an ahistorical, fictionalized telling of the early life and background of Kim Philby, the most famous of the Cambridge Five.
Littell's fictionalized account imagines the possibility that Philby was actually more than just a double agent. I would tell you more, but then I would have to kill you. Anyway, 'Young Philby' was well-written, well-developed, and nuanced enough to make Littell's argument credible.
One of my big regrets over the last couple years is that I never met Michael Hastings. He wrote some of the "great" long-form journalism pieces for Rolling Stone Magazine during the last decade ('The Runaway General' & 'Bowe Bergdahl: America's Last Prisoner of War'). Hastings' genius was a combination of gonzo passion with the ability to laser-in on stories months or years before they became news.
'The Last Magazine' gives us an energized, barely fictionalized, account of Michael Hastings' time at Newsweek. There is Nishant Patel & Sanders Berman (read Fareed Zakaria & Jon Meacham). There is sex. There is hackery. There's plenty of politics and porn, transvestites & bottom feeders. There are even twin narrators. Two sides of Michael Hastings. There is Michael Hastings the naive intern and A. E. Peoria the jaded combat vet who seems to have an inevitable destiny with self-destruction.
Like most unpublished novels discovered only after their famous authors have died, 'The Last Magazine' is a hot mess. There are parts that are repetitive, segments that go on too long, underdeveloped ideas, etc., but there is also a current and energy that is hard to contain. 'The Last Magazine' is raw and it is FUNNY.
One of my favorite tropes is Michael Hastings' dance on the fourth wall. In the beginning of the novel he details how many words he thinks the novel will be, the book's dangers, its pitfalls, etc. Hastings the author (not the narrator) reappears again and again to apologize for going too slow or too fast or for writing too much. This voice is difficult to pull off, but Hastings manages it with grace and doesn't typically overstay -- Hastings the author and the magician knows how to both make a scene and make a dramatic exit.
A fascinating exploration of debt, money, barter, and the credit systems used by man for thousands of years. Sure it has biases and like 'Capital in the Twenty-First Century' is a bit too idealistic, but still -- wow -- an amazing book. While most economic books are still battling over the binary capitalism::socialism salvos, Graeber quietly flips both boats (or if not flips, rocks both boats HARD).
I mean really, when was the last time my wife let me read to her about social and economic transactions? Answer: Never. She has NEVER, EVER before let me read to her about money or debt or interest rates or the buying and selling of goods. This was an early rule in our marriage. It was practically a sacred cow, a promise made with a flesh-debt. We even broke bread sticks over it (I still have my stale tally). We kept our bargain, till this book, till last night. THAT is how good it is.
Anyway, go ahead read it in bed. Read it to your wife -- in bed. If you are really equals she will tell you after a few minutes whether she is in your debt, or you are in hers. And, that's OK. We are all debtors anyway.
le Guin's 'The Dispossessed' represents the high orbit of what SF can do. Science Fiction is best, most lasting, most literate, when it is using its conventional form(s) to explore not space but us. When the vehicle of SF is used to ask big questions that are easier bent with binary planets, with grand theories of time and space, etc., we are able to better understand both the limits and the horizons of our species.
The great SF writers (Asimov, Vonnegut, Heinlein, Dick, Bradbury, etc) have been able to explore political, economic, social, and cultural questions/possibilities using the future, time, and the wide-openness of space. Ursula K. Le Guin belongs firmly in the pantheon of great social SF writers. She will be read far into the future -- not because her writing reflects the future, but because it captures the now so perfectly.
A good first novel, just not a world-class bildungsroman that I'm going to push to have my daughter read immediately. Don't get me wrong, Green writes good characters and builds tight little novels (I can use the plural 'cause I've now read two). Sometimes, however, I feel a bit like I'm reading a Jennifer Egan MFA project: something clever, funny, tight but although it desperately reaches to matter ... it never quite grabs the matter. The Universe is a finicky bit@h.
This upsets me, because I really like the YouTube persona that IS John Green. It would be like falling for Mark Twain's personality and finding out he wrote only mediocre novels. My take is John Green is a C writer but an A+ promoter (not a bad thing if you want to make a living selling what you write).
As a friend of mine (Jacob) on another site said, "It's like emotional cotton candy. Simple and uncomplicated. They can make you cry without making you think, force you to laugh without having to reflect, and it's all so...upsetting to me."
I have an 11-year0old daughter. So, yeah there is that. Oh, so we have a rule that we read (or in my case listen or read) before we watch (except for voyeurism which makes reading before you watch a tad problematic). Also, we are a family of Green brother nerdfighters, so there is that too.
Perhaps, I should have had my 11-year-old daughter review it and just poach from her (the cost for me buying her the book, buying her movie tickets, indulging her 11-y-o whims and fangirl proclivities).
Oh, and today was a weird day to read the book and watch the movie. A good friend of ours just got diagnosed with 'Butt Cancer'. So, a cancer-rich day indeed.
Quick disclaimer, my reading/listening to John Green novels in no way should suggest I will EVER read 'Divergent'. My reading of contemporary YA fiction is VERY limited. My time on this planet is a short infinity of limited time and will not be filled with vampires, zombies, stormtroopers, or teen-crushes (too often). Well, unless my daughter cries, and then I'll probably just do what she wants.
Also, 'Butt Cancer' friend -- fight hard and fun hard. We are rooting for you.
Another great author I backed into. Don't misinterpret me. I haven't just run backward over/into Gass. I haven't just "discovered" or "uncovered" the author. I've quoted him often. I've admired him and scanned used bookshelves for him. In my collegiate years I presumed to know more about Gass than I had a right to presume. I've carefully kept The Tunnel displayed, peacocking, on my shelf for decades. I've collected Gass essay collections, Gass criticisms, other Gass fictions. But all my Gass has, until today, remained unread, his books unopened, those pages uncut, words undisturbed.
'Middle C' is a funky book. A musical prose that dances around the center. A mediocre family in flight, in disguise from Austria to London to the Middle of Middle America. A narrator that hides and disguises, that plots and twists. He jumps from school to store to library to university. He climbs the American ladder, remaking each rung as he climbs. He creates a fictional life and dreams that mankind must perish but also fears we might just survive. He creates an inhumanity museum for himself; an exhibit of disasters and man-made horrors, clipped from papers and hung on flypaper. He lives with his mother, dreams of his father, and gains a certain satisfaction "at being to the world an artifice".
This isn't a plot driven novel. It is an ode to identity, a concerto between the two-selves of a man whose two identities (Joey and Joseph) are the contrapuntal themes we ALL listen to, if we listen closely, to those fuguing, fuging voices in our own head.
It is hard not to like Eric Ambler's amateur spies. They aren't reluctant, just lucky and persistent. They seem to have seeded an entire generation of suspense novelists. Reading Ambler I see exactly what inspired le Carre, Furst, Steinhauer, etc.
Ambler has a voice and style which are matched by his ability to capture a reader's interest with characters and setting. He is like a magician that spends an elaborate amount of time carefully setting a formal table just so at the very end he can pull the cloth out -- leaving the characters shaking from the movement, but readers stuck within their own inertia.
It is hard to judge Ambler once you realize every reference point you have to judge him by contains a fragment of Ambler. He is the Raymond Chandler of European espionage fiction. The genre doesn't exist separate from the author and 'A Coffin for Dimitrios' is one of his greatest works.
I might need to rethink this and give it five stars. It is still gnawing at me a couple days later. Ambler's thriller centers on a British poet that travels to a Balkan/Eastern European dictatorship to cover the show trial of Papa Deltchev for treason.
It is a thriller that owes a lot to Kafka and to Buchan's The 39 Steps. Ambler slowly unravels the conspiracy wrapped around conspiracy as Foster (the poet narrator) uncovers the truth about the former leader and his family. It is hard to read these Ambler novels without seeing the future novels by le Carré, Furst, & Steinhauer standing behind every closed door and lurking in every dark shadow. The novel is worth the read just for the kangaroo court scenes.
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