The last two weeks I went to Tahoe, I went to a moon festival in Chinatown, I wrote a lot and studied a little Spanish and did some other things also, I mean that wasn’t the entirety of it, for instance I also listened to and read the following.
· Oooh, Ted Hawkins where you been all my life.
· I want to have something bad to say about Mac Demarco but I don’t really.
· Also Jonwayne is pretty solid for a white rapper.
Bomb Squad: A Year Inside the Nation's Most Exclusive Police Unit by Richard Esposito and Ted Gerstein – An interesting subject but the writing is shlocky as hell and its badly structured.
Shogun: The Life of Tokugawa Ieyasu by A.L. Sadler – Most of my knowledge of Japan’s pre-eminent conqueror comes from the book Shogun, which it turns out wasn’t 100% accurate, so this was a useful corrective. I’m not sure I would recommend it more than any other book written on the subject, but it’ll give you an overview.
Katalin Street by Magda Szabo – Beauty, tragedy, and memory among a trio of families living on the eponymous boulevard in Budapest in the years before WWII. This is another one of those where I can’t really say anything bad about it except that I’ve read a number of similar works, that is to say, attempt by central Europeans to grapple with the destruction of an idyllic pre-war world using fractured narratives and fantastical elements. Actually, thinking about it, this is one of my preferred genres, along with world noir. In any event, it’s well-written and clever, and you’ll probably enjoy it more than I did.
Zinky Boys by Sveltana Alexievich – More of Ms. Alexievich’s trademark multi-voiced histories, this time focusing on the Soviet Union’s war with Afghanistan, ill-fated as wars with Afghanistan tend to be. Alexievich is a fabulously talented historian, this is horrifying and excellent.
Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned by Walter Mosley – Episodes from the life of one Socrates Forlow, an aging con, recently out of prison, trying to find a way to survive without compromising his late-developed moral code. Anyone who’s read City Dreaming will know I have a thing for genre stories told in non-traditional formats, and though some of these, presumably because they began their life as short stories, fall a little too hammer-heavy with the moralizing, the stranger ones – a first visit to the beach, euthanizing an old friend – are really fabulous. Overall this was quite strong, I mean I went out and grabbed the sequel pretty quick.
Sand by Wolfgang Hernndorf – An amnesiac finds himself at the heart of international political intrigue in the Sahara. An anti-genre novel which utilizes classical tropes as aesthetic weapons, basically, forcing the reader to confront the absurdity of the format. I found the essential nihilism – this is the sort of book where every success is immediately followed by a reversal, and no one ever, for instance, enjoys a sandwich – exhausting. Not that I disagree with it on principal, particularly, but it’s limiting for a narrative of this length.
The Barbarous Coast by Ross MacDonald – The uniformly strong nature of the Lew Archer novels make it kind of pointless to write much about any specific one. Here you’ve got what you’ve usually got – very strong writing, a powerful moral viewpoint, some clever character work, and one too many twists.
Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others, and Me: The Best of Teffi by Teffi – A rather scattershot collection of stories and recollections from Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya, a highlight of the pre-Revolution literary scene in St. Petersburg. The writing was lovely, her stories about the eponymous interesting, this was a pleasant way to kill a subway ride to Santa Monica.
An Outline of Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud – Freud would have a field day on why I spend so much time reading Freud, given I think most of it’s nonsense. But it’s not all nonsense, and the parts that aren’t are pretty entertaining.
The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing – An over fecund bourgeois family pays a horrifying price for their familial bliss with the birth of their fifth child, who might be autistic or might be a goblin. There’s a certain faint theme of political commentary here, of which the reviews seem to have made too much, but really this is pure horror, playing to that underlying feeling in all of us that we don’t deserve the good things we get, that our happiness is thin tissue for the nightmare of human reality. In any event, one of the most effective horror stories I can remember reading in a long time, disturbing and weird and masterfully well-written. I’m excited to try out more by Ms. Lessing, and while I do I would highly recommend you grab a copy of this and scare yourself awake, season what it is, and all.
The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty – A woman returns to her small Mississippi town to bury her father, with appearances by her father’s nightmarish second wife and various awful townsfolk. One peculiarity one runs across as a writer is that stupid people are so stupid that the stupid things they say are too stupid to be written into the narrative—they have to be made more intelligent, or at least more comprehensible, or a reader will find them unbelievable. The early parts of this book, and the second wife in particular, feel too close to the real thing, but the final section, in which our heroine’s rambling mind comes to grips with the past, was very strong.
Warner: Selected Stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner – This thing sat on my night table for like two straight months before I could bring myself to finish it. Part of that is just that I find this format – very long short story collections – particularly difficult to push through. There’s certainly nothing wrong with it, Townsend is a talented writer, but except for the last five stories or so, which are about fairies, they did tend all to be rather exhaustingly English, tiny and over refined, and there was an awful lot of It was a terrible amount of trouble to bring our wretched grandmother these scones but at least she’s happy cut to Grandma thinking God I hate these scones.
Walkin' the Dog by Walter Mosley – More episodes in the life of Mosley’s ex-con/philosopher, struggling to adjust his savage temper and bitter moral sense to a corrupt America. There are a couple of clunkers, but basically this is some really weird, well-written, insightful noir.
Kolyma Stories by Varlam Shalamov – Observations and episodes from the six years the author spent in the most far flung of the Soviet gulags. Beautiful observations about the natural environment of his distant prison, bleak depictions of the reality of gulag life, a scathing but sincere moral viewpoint, I guess you can figure out why it’s considered a classic.