Books I Read November 21st, 2016

I'd rather just not go into the whole thing right now, if it's all the same to you, thanks so much. Maybe I'll have something to say about it later. I will see my nephew for Thanksgiving, from our calls I gather he has mastered the chaining together of words to make phrases and sentences, is being indoctrinated into that happy cult of language which sets as superior to the beasts of the field (and the air as well, though some of them can comfortably mimic it.) He is ever-laughing, my nephew, and often dressed in seasonal outfits. That is to say I have things for which to be grateful. I hope that the same is true of you, reading this.

City of Light, City of Poison by Holly Tucker – A visitor – the inhabitant of a sad, distant metropolis, one bound in fog and rain 15/16ths of the year, one talking constantly of past glories, dead poets, half-forgotten heroes, a city in which no amount of money will enable you to find remotely decent Mexican food, and I'm not even talking great Mexican food, just, you know, a tolerable fucking quesadilla – anyway, was shocked to be introduced to the New York custom of stoop side recycling, that is to say, putting something you do not want outside and returning to find that it is no longer there, whatever it is that you have left, and however brief your sojourn, as if the entirety of the five boroughs was inhabited by a race of morlock like creatures, cowering in the sewers and living off our refuse. Suddenly this ritual seems less charming.

But no, it's nothing to do with any of that, and only that there is always someone here in the city who views your refuse as prize. Passing through a corner of Brownstone Brooklyn, coming across a discarded library I forced upon my aforementioned visitor the collected short works of Graham Greene, a hardcover the weight of a brick that he graciously accepted. I took this one, meanwhile, not realizing at first that it was an ARC copy, that is to say, not really meant for public consumption. But by the time I realized I was too far along to stop reading. Anyway, I promise I'll go out and buy a copy of it when it comes out next spring, and if you wanted to do the same also that would go some way towards assuaging the bloody remnants of my conscience. Thank you.

End of prelude. This is a thoroughly enjoyable work of popular history, dealing with a wave of poisonings which shocked the court of Louis the XIV, and which, rumor long held, involved his most intimate acquaintances. Drawn largely from the secret files of the chief of the Paris police, Ms. Tucker has a sharp eye for the sort of vivid detail which engrosses a reader, and the backdrop – of high society and of the very lowest slums of the Parisian underworld – is devilishly entertaining. Take this with a grain of salt because my commercial instincts are unerringly bad, but it wouldn't surprise me to see this being a break out hit in about 9 months.

The Hawkline Monster by Richard Brautigan – Right. The last of these Brautigan shorts, and I think my least favorite. Not that it's bad, it's not at all. It's weird and savage, a truly original work of genre fiction, sort of a sci-fi True Grit, about two murderers who get hired by two sisters to kill a monster their professor father had created in their laboratory. I liked it, and its influence is clear (Sister's Brothers, lots of other books, I'm looking at you) but for my money Brautigan's genre pastiche is less entertaining then the raw humor of his prose. Not surprisingly I enjoyed Confederate more than this or Babylon. Still, the three of them collected present a strong argument for spending more time with Brautigan, something I plan on doing once I read about two dozen other books in the queue.


Barbarians at the Gate – Another winner I pulled up off a stoop. Oh man, this was fun – like a true life Bonfire of the Vanities, an intimate portrait of the leveraged buy out of RJR Nabisco, business at the height of the Reagan Era, just before the crash. Riveting, just absolutely riveting, I was up at three in the morning learning about the development of junk bonds. Readers of Game of Thrones and these sorts of world spanning epics will feel right at home with the large cast of corporate raiders, dishonest bankers, arrogant business leaders, masters of the universe politicking against one another endlessly, driven mad by greed and sheer machismo. Strong recommendation.


Aegypt by John Crowley – I appreciate Crowley as a truly original writer of speculative fiction, innovative and influential in. Little, Big and Engine Summer I regard very, very highly, particularly the former which I think probably belongs in the first ranks of 20th century novels, but I confess I found this to be the sort of books one more endures than enjoys. Aegypt (excuse the incorrect spelling, I don't feel like researching how to make the A and the e come together properly) is the story of a failed historian who becomes convinced that there is an alternative history of the world, one which exists in myth and the collected unconscious. An alternate history which, if it was put down in words, might see the return of magic and the realignment of the world. As this book is the first of a tetrology, a fact I belatedly discovered about two-thirds of the way through, our hero does not actually write this book, nor even start it, but just sort of thinks a lot about starting it, sharpens his pencils and whatnot. I'm not kidding as much as I'd like. Even a sympathetic reader is likely to find this immensely dull in parts. When Crowley can reign himself in a bit he is an absolutely first rate writer, but there is sadly not much of that restraint on evidence here. The text is always spiraling, higher and higher, a conscious and deliberate affectation but one which grows exhausting all the same. And while Crowley eschews most of the conventions of the genre – there are no villains, and the only conflict to speak of is existential – he remains faithful to that most loathsome of errors common to works of fantasy, that is to say, not having an ending. There is clearly a lot of genius here, Crowley's is an intricate and brilliant mind, and I imagine if I stuck with the next three books there'd be a pay off. But I also can't help but feel it's unlikely I'll ever make the attempt. Who knows.