The smoke from the coming apocalypse is, quite literally, hanging in the sky here in sunny Los Angeles. This was the kind of few weeks where every bit of personal good fortune seem shameful, odious, in light of the planet’s impending demise and the terrible misery of the human species. Also I went to Vegas for the first time which did nothing for my mood. Vegas makes Nairobi look like Amsterdam and Belgrade look like heaven. Amid this self-indulgent melanchol, I read the following.
The Counterfeiters by Andre Gide – The existential travails of a cadre of wealthy Parisians, with much philosophizing and an occasional uneven structural flourish. This is the sort of archaic feeling novel in which no character acts or speaks in any remotely human fashion, and occasional hints of frowned upon sexual activity are meant to resound like fireworks in a closed room. I did enjoy the occasional Emersonian uplift, but I can’t say it did much for me.
The Golden Cockerel and Other Writings by Juan Rulfo – More tales of Post-Revolution Mexico, some fantastical, all very grim. Rulfo is a talented, nasty writer, and one can clearly trace his earthy, blood-soaked influence throughout modern Latin American fiction.
Anglo-Saxon Attitudes by Angus Wilson – A portrait of an aging academic and his wide if unloved circle of family and colleagues, with an engaging through line regarding the destructive effects of falsity. Three weeks in England was enough for my Anglophilia to rub thin, but reading this on the flight back to LA was nearly enough to make me buy a return ticket to Essex. Haha—I’m kidding, the sun never comes out and they’re all weird looking. Anyway, this was clever and enjoyable, I liked it more than I’d figured.
The Sea Dreams It Is the Sky by John Hornor Jacobs – Lovecraft meets Bolano in the waning days of the Pinochet regime. Fair warning, John is a friend or at least an associate, but all the same this was creepy and evocative, and indisputably better written than 95% of the genre. Good stuff.
Matasuburo the Wind Nymph by Kenji Miyazawa --- A collection of pleasant if unspectacular modern Japanese fairy tales, sort of Neil Gaiman meets Studio Ghibli. I didn’t love this but I imagine a lot of other folk would. That’s kind of the theme of this months’ reading so far.
More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon – A misfit collection of psychics might just be (are) the next form of human evolution. If you are thinking this is not the only time this idea has been explored, you are probably correct—off the top of my head I can think of Odd John and that one Roger Zelazny (I think it was Roger Zelazny) wrote with the demons and the UN. Anyway, the first 2/3 are weird and well-written but then it devolves into that peculiar form of mid-century sci-fi which reads like a philosophical essay from a well-meaning but verbose college freshman.
The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue by Frederick Forstyh —Frederick Forsyth wrote a book called Dogs of War that I liked so much I decided to rewrite as The Builders. He was also a journalist, pilot, spy, and general bad ass, stories of which he traces in this thoroughly entertaining pseudo-biography. The early bits reminded me a bit of Patrick Leigh Fermor, except for the endless descriptions of churches, and all the ‘I-would-have-been-killed-by-the-German-arms-dealer-if-not-for’ stuff was a lot of fun.
Missing Person by Patrick Modiano – An amnesiac traces his identity through the dark days of the French Occupation, with the joke being that everyone he interacts with proves equally obsessed with their past. I liked this more than any of the other Modiano I’ve read. The actual mystery is shamefully slapdash, but at least he’s trying a little here, and the hint of actual shame and menace provided by Vichy France gives his usual nostalgia more of a charge.
Dawn By Octavia Butler – A woman survives WWIII only to be awoken aboard an alien ship hundreds of years in the future, forced to come to terms with her rescuers/captors, an alien species of monstrous visage and unknown aims. This is a solid entry into that genre of sci-fi which consists of a lot of blunt exposition in service of a broader commentary about the nature of humanity/existence. Probably you can tell that this isn’t really to my taste, but others