Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Our Wives Under the Sea by Julia Armfield


Couldn't finish. Same sex women, atmospherically done. Lost interest.

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver


Beautiful heavy book. 1992? First Kingsolver I've ever read, in preparating for DEMON COPPERHEAD.

About sisters in Arizona, environmental/political issues of the 1980s (one sister goes to Nicaragua to aid the contras).

Beautiful description of why the liver, and not the heart, should be the metaphor for human desire and soul. Heart is an incredibly strong, tough muscle, difficult to cut into and repair. Liver is like a stack of damp tissue paper, dissolving at the touch.


Monday, November 28, 2022

The Abstainer by Ian McGuire


Fenians in Manchester, England and in the U.S. in the period right after the American Civil War.

Liked it, but nowhere near as powerful as his THE NORTH WATER.

It is the solitude of death that frightens him. Not the pain but the loneliness.

Everything different, he thinks, but everything the same. Time becomes memory, and memory becomes the ditch where we drown. [244]

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Here Goes Nothing by Steve Toltz

Toltz's prose style is stunning. I stopped turning over page corners to mark especially pungent sentences, as there were too many. Fatalistic, funny, unswerving look at mortality and its alternatives.

The way I saw it, faith in the Lord was like walking around in a suit of gold that looks fancy but weighs you down. [27]

Congratulations, bitches. It's an arranged marriage, and you arranged it. [33]

My mind was a tour de force of what the fuck. [68]

Like a secret tradition on the road to the road to perdition/
To think and talk in mediocrities/
Fake philosopher, you are bluffing, "I know I know nothing"
Fool, ignorance doesn't make you Socrates. [114]

Whenever I hear someone reciting a poem, I also hear the hours of practice they put into memorizing it just for the occasion of saying it to you. It's excruciating. [114]

Gracie went downstairs and knocked at the front door from the inside. Who is to say this is not how summon ghosts? [166]

"Now raise your glasses. That was a joke. Put your glasses down. Who toasts a baby? What are you, alcoholics?" [227]

Being born is okay for personal growth, but aside from that, what's it good for? [227]

Tears and laughter are the only common language between all people on earth. [227]

'He who does not answer the questions has passed the test.' - Franz Kafka [249]

Take it from me-- when you get sad enough, you'll vote for the precipitous over the slow decline every time. [255]

It had occurred to me that all my self-criticisms were innuendo and hearsay, everything I'd ever pretended to be was for someone else's benefit, and if people were ever looking at you, it was actually to see if you were looking at them, and if they were paying you attention, it was only to gauge your level of attention. [364]

"Notions of beauty are socially constructed, to be sure, but ugly is ugly." [369]

Gracie put her head down on the bar, muttering, 'I didn't want to be more sinned against than sinning. I wanted to sin too.' [369]

"You're playing God."
"God isn't. Someone has to." [371]

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Liberation Day, Stories by George Saunders


The story "Love Letter" is worth the price of admission alone. Not blown away by anything else, some retreads of his earlier theme-park-as-existence m.o.

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Bubblegum by Adam Levin


Another strong, fascinating, disturbing, sometimes annoying work.

Check in: halfway through. Deeply annoying. Levin goes on deep dives that are remniscent of DF Wallace but he lacks DFW's genius. The middle section of manuals, case studies, video descriptions about caring for the robotic pets that are the central theme of the book -- is just deadening.

On the other hand, the long two letters from a mother to her son as she is dying of cancer, and about to overdose to end her pain are absolutely breathtaking.

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Mercury Pictures Presents by Anthony Marra


Well, it seemed to go on forever, but I got through it. Terribly overwritten, in my opinion, not just in the prose but in the jarring shifting points-of-view and flashback/forwards. I thought A CONSTELLATION OF VITAL PHENOMENON was so tremendous that I opened this novel with trembling hands. He's gifted - and the story was intriguing and intricate - but the structure was not great. Reading CHRIST STOPPED AT EBOLI at the same time - one of the many texts Marra acknowledges in his afterword - couldn't have helped, as EBOLI is a masterpiece of concision and beauty.

Mount Chicago by Adam Levin


Extraordinary, and extraordinarily weird, story. Funny and sad. And weird. Levin riffs and raffs hilariously. It's a book about his mind more than it is about Chicago. But marvelous.

The consciousness and point of view of Gladman's parrot Gogol were particularly outstanding. Everything you wanted to know -- and much much more --about parrot sexual reproduction is explained [362-363].

That there were basically only two things to fear: flocklessness and death. [247]

Penguins having oral sex: cloachalingus.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Mr. President by Miguel Angel Asturias


Astonishing hidden-Modernist novel written in the 1920s by the Guatemalan Miguel Angel Asturias, but only published after political exile in 1946. One of those books that might have made a different historically had it been published in its own time.

Cesaire described Asturias as "a mountain perennially green, on the horizon of all mankind. [xiv]

The prisoners continued walking by. To be them, and not to be the onlookers so happy not to be prisoners. [xxix]

"I'm the Apple-Rose of the Bird of Paradise, I'm life, and half my body is a lie, the other half truth... I am the lie in every truth, the truth of all fiction.' [19]

"You'll either die or go blind reading." [17]

"Sir, he couldn't bear the two hundred lashes because he died first. "[30]

She took comfort in remembering her son. She imagined him still in her womb. Mothers never completely empty of their children. [102]

When fingers tremble bonelessly, hands shake like gloves. When jaws tremble, unable to speak, they telegraph worry. When legs tremble, someone is standing up in a carriage harnessed to two runaway horses like souls the Devil is about to usurp. [108-109\]

"Love, my girl, is a cherry snow cone. When you start eating, there's tons of red syrup and you're happy. Then it drips all over and you've got to lick it before the top tips over. Then you're left with a tasteless, colorless clump of ice." [112]

You would fit perfectly
In the keyhole of heaven:
The locksmith carved your body
On a star, on the day you were born. [115]

Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi


Where do I start about this remarkable book? A political prisoner in Italy, a doctor and painter, in 1942-1943 is sentenced/banished by the fascist Mussolini regime to a remote peasant region in the southern part of the country. Whereupon he makes notes for an anthropological, social history of the region and its people. The peasants' superstitions and conduct are vividly conjured.

"We're not Christians," they say. "Christ stopped sort of here, at Eboli." "Christian," in their way of speaking means "human beings." and this almost proverbial phrase that I have so often heard them repeat may be no more than the expression of a hopeless feeling of inferiority. We're not Christians, we're not human beings; we're not thought of as men but simply as beasts, beasts of burden, or even less than beasts, mere creatures of the wild. (p. 3)

tax collector who is also a clarinetist (35)

disgraced priest (40-41)

The mayor and schoolmaster was at this moment exercising his teaching function. He was sitting on a balcony just off the classroom and having a smoke while he looked at the people in this square below... He had a long cane in his hand, and, without moving from his chair, he restored order within by striking through the window with astonishing accuracy... (44-5)

public latrine built by fascists - no function (46)

man who inflates dead goats to strip the skin and make flasks of it (46-7

drawing room cut up into dark prison cells (50)

two political prisoners who take turns cooking lunch for each, and setting it out - but who are not allowed to see each other and fraternize (51-2)

He was on obese, heavy, deaf old man, greedy and grasping like an enormous silk-worm. (59)

the peasants relationship to the state (76-78)

shitting outside (96)

Giulia physical description: Her face as a whole had a strongly archaic character, not classical in Greek or Roman sense, but stemming from an antiquity more mysterious and more cruel which had sprung always from the same ground, and which was unrelated to man, but linked with the soil and its everlasting animal deities. (105)

Thrust by Lidia Yuknavitch


Saturday, August 13, 2022

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

The Candy House by Jennifer Egan


Meh. Apparently there are recurring characters from GOON SQUAD, but I don't remember it clearly enough for continuity. Some interesting stuff but thought the second half trailed off instead of building up to something.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle


Re-reading another favorite book from my childhood - now that Disney has made a movie of it, we get a new edition -- with photos from the movie production, including Reese Witherspoon as Mrs. Whatsit and Oprah Winfrey as Mrs. Which. And Zach Galiafinkis as the Happy Medium. And whatshername as Mrs. Who.

Another horror of the modern age. 

Might have to see it, just for the blood-bath of criticism it will stir up in me.

I last read and considered this novel in 2010.

Read a different edition this time, and had just as pleasurable an experience this time as I did 12 years ago. If pleasure is the right word for one of the best, and most unusual, novels about WWII.

In the special introduction to the 1976 Franklin Library edition of the novel, Vonnegut wrote:

The Dresden atrocity, tremendously expensive and meticulously planned, was so meaningless, finally, that only one person on the entire planet got any benefit from it. I am that person. I wrote this book, which earned a lot of money for me and made my reputation, such as it is. One way or another, I got two or three dollars for every person killed. Some business I'm in.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Every Good Boy Does Fine by Jeremy Denk


Look at Me by Anita Brookner

I enjoyed this novel, yet found myself constantly turning back to the copyright page, to reassure myself that I had read it correctly and that the novel was published in 1983. I think it takes place in the 1960s, but indeed it reads like a novel of the thirties or forties. Concerning a watchful, self-torturing, quiet female librarian in London, embarking on her first real friendship and love affair, who is just beginning to take writing seriously and plans a career doing it, it is correct and laced-up in diction, in character, in dialogue. On the surface,there is no hint of anything swinging about London except the occasional "sex shop" the narrator passes in walking around the city. There is no mention of technology beyond the occasional shared telephone.

That said, the book is a withering, compact 200-page study of loneliness, social vs. private character, and the power of the bold and attractive and lively, over the cautious and quiet.

The savageness is not in the setting, but in the seething feelings the narrator reads in the faces and words of those around her.

"I saw the business of writing for what it truly was and is to me. It is your penance for not being lucky. It is an attempt to reach others and to make them love you. It is your instinctive protest, when you find you have no voice at the world's tribunals, and that no one will speak for you. I would give my entire output of words, past, present, and to come, in exchange for easier access to the world, for permission to state 'I hurt' or 'I hate' or 'I want.' Or, indeed, 'Look at me.' And I do not go back on this. For once a thing is known it can never be unknown. It can only be forgotten. And writing is the enemy of forgetfulness, of thoughtlessness. For the writer there is no oblivion. Only endless memory."

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb


Cool plot, excellent music writing about performance, violins, and music culture.

Less enchanted with Slocumb's prose, which is often workaday and one-dimensional, gushing, emphatic, and repetitive.

Friday, July 01, 2022

Late in the Day by Tess Hadley


Didn't love it as much as FREE LOVE. Hadley writes briliiantly about an over-privileged, self-conscious, whiny demographic - it gets to me, over time. Still, gorgeous prose. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr


Really enjoyed reading this, after some trepidation after reading alot of the review. As a follow up to the stunning ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, it pales somewhat, as it is more in the line of CLOUD ATLAS, a blurring interwoven text about some humans shared devotion for a fragmentary Greek text. It covers from Ancient Greece until some time well in the future aboard an interplanetary spaceship, and visits the sacking of Constaninople,1950s-to-present day Idaho, a  murderous climate activist, and the Korean War.

Quicksand by Steve Toltz


Shades of PANAMA by Thomas McGuane, one of my favorite novels. Toltz's style is frenetic, brilliant and blinding: he stacks up aphorisms and similes like nobody's business, it's too packed with great lines to quote here with any comprehensiveness.

Now he was saying he was tired of thoughts so self-pitying he believed he could hear God throw up in His mouth. (60)

from The Black Riders by Vallejo: 
There are blows in life so violent-I can't answer!
Blows as if from the hatred of God; as if before them,
the deep waters of everything lived through
were backed up in the soul. . . I can't answer! (91)

"Was it Valery who called music a naked woman running mad in the pure night?" (96)

Liam, I don't know about you, but I am just plain furious that I never ever grew out of the adolescent male mind-set. You know, that if your only tool is a penis, every problem looks like a vagina. (158)

I say, "It's an atrocity."
"What is?"
"Your life."
"Not as bad as some, which in a way makes it worse, because I have to feel guilty for not being grateful for my atrocity." (175)

I'm a talented loser. The worst kind. Talented losers become self-aware madmen. (201)

I had an overwhelming craving for a quick fuck and a long nap. Nothing new about that, your Honor. I've been horny and tired my whole life. (220)

If you can't be great, be vague. If they don't know what you're trying to achieve, they can't see that you haven't succeeded in achieving it. (239)

... and besides, he said, like a true poet, my most redeeming shortcoming was my ability to commit 100 percent to a bad idea. (252)

I say: Don't name a disease after me. Name one before me and see
if I run into it. I say: I've racked my narrative
for signs of hubris. (255)

The future is some kind of newfangled yesterday I want no part of... (304)

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Orientalism by Edward W. Said


The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick by Peter Handke


Strange unsettling sort of boring story of a construction worker who used to be a soccer goalie and gets fired and murders a woman. Rest of narrative follows his unraveling sanity - I guess - as language and time become unreal to him and he waits to be apprehended. Sort of remember seeing a film version of it in college.

The World As I Found It by Bruce Duffy


An amazing experience of a novel, about the imagined life of Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell, and G.E. Moore. Duffy's writing seems almost out of another time, recalling Henry James, and even some of the Victorians. It's a dense, moving, obsessive book

The piano wire was humming, and ever so faintly he was trembling, thinking what a thing it was to dread one's own self -- and to see the self as enemy or other, not as companion, guide, sanctuary. (p. 31)

letter from his father:  No doubt you think your work is an obligation, if one patently self-proclaimed. But if you truly had such a vocation, I am convinced, the world already would have found you. This has not been the case, as is evinced by your own telling lack of convictions; or perhaps by a fear that, beneath it all, you may only be ordinary. (You are not, and will never be, ordinary.) (62)

fully nine-tenths of the world's business was pointless lunacy in the cause of general employment (83)

What is mind? - sniff - no matter. What is matter? - sniff - never mind. (84)

More than life separates the dead from the living, and more than logic separates this world from the next: with logic, there is illogic, too. (121)

Grief (121)

... as his mind, like a dog sled, pulled him along, still thinking... (148)

This is not how things are, and yet we can say how things are not. (148)

(p. 306-307)

Here, I would commend Lichtenberg's suggestion that instead of saying, "I think," we ought to say, "It thinks." (479)

Words were like buckets, he was saying. Each word carries only so much, but the odd thing was how a word might carry more than its measure of meaning, so that it spilled over in a flood.

Monday, March 21, 2022

The Catherine Wheel by Jean Staffod


The prose in this extraordinary dense novel is difficult to pluck from: it is one long glorious knotty vivid piece.

No longer than it took the Catherine wheel to spin itself to nothing and leave the summer sky to the stars did it take her to see that he could not, could never see her. [82]

... these vivacious creatures, brimming with gossip and personal style, loving to quote from Dr. Johnson's dictionary, perpetually happy because their work was finished and all the demands upon them had been withdrawn and they were married to their houses and their habits and their infirmities...[164]

.... she was cast into a shadow by their conflagration, for they were so very young! And their hearts were very simple, and their minds were so clear and shallow, their ambitions so modest and direct that she was certain they would never come to grief. Theirs, in the end, was the supreme talent: they had the talent for happiness and it radiated from them even in their perpetration of these addled, adolescent idiocies; it was their one depth and it amazed her for they had had neither the help of heredity or environment to bring about its cultivation. [263-264]

The Small Back Room by Nigel Balchin


A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh


Can't believe I had never read this. Marvelous. Driven to it by its echoes in the Thomas McGuane short story "Fugitives."

Waugh seamless goes from satire to comedy to tragedy, almost in the same sentence sometimes.

Ending more tragic, black humor.

Monday, March 14, 2022

The Complete Stories by Evelyn Waugh


This, from Hollywood satire "Excursion To Reality," I found strangely prescient, from 1932.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

The Little Drummer Girl by John Le Carre


Mind numbingly long and complicated acting-within-acting-within-terror-cells. May or may not finish it. Awesome early 1970s Greece slutty hippies, which is something.

Friday, February 18, 2022


Tedious John Lennon "book," apparently finished in 1980 but not published until 1986. Some semi-interesting autobiographical stuff about the Beatles, but mostly tedious Joycean punning and Monty-Python-life nonsense. Some good illustrations though.

Nobody's Family is Going to Change by Louise Fitzhugh


Drab, pulseless final "YA" novel from the noted Louise Fitzhugh.

Featured Post

Buy my books.

Buy the books on Amazon, and watch videos of some readings.   Please.