Books I Read January 14th, 2019

It’s been cold (sort of) and rainy (ish) here the last two weeks, and I’m going to come right out and say it; weather is bullshit. Weather sucks. All that crap about the leaves changing and the smell of fresh snow but you really only enjoy it for a couple of hours and then your shoes are wet with sludgy ice or your underwear sticks sweaty up against your skin, season depending. Fuck that noise.

The last two weeks I read the following.

Missionary Stew by Ross Thomas – A war-junkie journalist and a political fixer on the trail of a conspiracy which could alter the 1984 election. Shades of Elmore Leonard and George MacDonald. Sharply written and enjoyable, but I found the climax lacking.


City of Ash and Red by Hye-Young Pyun – A faintly-drawn corporate stooge goes to work as a rat killer in a foreign country, finds himself embroiled in a Kafkaesque nightmare of moral and environmental collapse. Utterly predictable literary unpleasantness. I didn’t get a lot from this, except for a few facts about rats.


Mudbound by Hillary Jordan – Racism turns out to be a bad thing in this book club melodrama of two southern families, one white, one black, and the well-telegraphed tragedies that befall them. Middlebrow shlock.

Revenge by Yoko Ogawa – A collection of atmospheric if somewhat vague nightmares. They’re stylish and creepy but I found too many to be of the ‘my landlord used to be an old woman/she was spooky and I thought she might have killed her husband/we never found out for sure’ variety.

Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxieties by Sigmund Freud – I genuinely don’t understand why I keep reading these. Some fetish for completionism?  

The Makioka Sisters by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki – In the years just prior to WWII, a fading family of Kyoto patricians tries to get honorably married off. It feels in some ways strange dated, reminiscent of Western novels from a half century or more before it was written – shades of Henry James in the elaborate descriptions of the character’s (seeming) motivations, and of course the subject matter is pure Austen – although Tanizaki himself had made his name as a bold, even deviant stylist. That said it’s quite masterfully done, the characters lushly rendered, the prose subtle, the array of characters wide and rich. A justifiable classic, worth your time.

Pure by Andrew Miller– An engineer tries to clear a possibly haunted Paris graveyard in the years just before the Revolution. At once an eerily disturbing work of horror and a strange and sly satire of Enlightenment thought, part Poe and part Zola. Unpredictable and entertaining.

Bangkok 8 by John Burdett – A Thai cop tries to find his partner’s killer in this gonzo Buddhist neo-noir. There’s an admirable effort to resolve conflicts without the simple expedient of physical violence, though in places it got peculiarly moralizing in its politics, and I wonder what a native would make of some of its depictions of Thai society. Still, this is pretty much everything you could ask for in an airplane book, fast-paced and wacky enough to warrant the price of admission.

The Gangster We Are All Looking For by Lê Thi Diem Thúy – A dream-like depiction of the childhood and early adolescence of a Vietnamese immigrant in South California. Lyrical and evocative, I’ll keep my eye out for more from the author.


One Out of Two by Daniel Sada – Two identical twin sisters prolong a courtship in rural Mexico. Weird, strange, well-written, too short for me to make much judgment on whether Sada’s reputation as one of the recent lights of Mexican literature is deserved, I’ll have to grab another.


Running Wild by JG Ballard – A psychologist investigates a mass murder in an elite English housing estate. Intermittently hysterical and horrifying, Ballard had a unique genius for identifying the fault lines of late-Capitalism, intuiting horrors generations before they would come to fully flower. Alas for how unpleasantly prescient this book feels.


A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James – There is a core of genius in this polyphonic retelling of an assassination attempt on Bob Marley; James’s characters are deftly-sketched, and his mastery of an elaborate range of patois generally impressive. But its bloated, with viewpoints overlapping one another, unnecessary repetition, pointless complexities and an exhausting tendency for characters to recapitulate previous events. Which is too bad, really, because shortened by about 300 pages it would be something of a masterpiece.