Tuesday, August 29, 2023

The Only One Left by Riley Sager

Highly contrived series of coincidences and melodramatic prose style and sometimes so coincidental as to cause confusion.  

but not without its pleasures. 

The Last Tycoon by F. Scott Fitzgerald

 So at the price of a little immersion in the family drains I had what I wanted. [105]

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

The Periodic Table by Primo Levi


May he have an accident shaped like an umbrella. [p. 13]

Finally reading this after owning it for almost 40 years. Collection of short "fictions" - first one, "Argon," while fascinating, is a completely off-putting journey through the narrator's family tree, mined with Yiddish and Hebrew words and puns. Started it several times and drowned in it as the first story. It's now more appealing to me, since I understand the central metaphor of the book -- and that argon, as one of the "inert" (noble/rare) gases, completely stands in for his distant relatives of whom he knew very little, except in scattered anecdotes and memories and phrases. 

The rest of the stories are marvelous and much less obscure - each concerns a chemical element in a fictional/fairy tale/historical setting.

"Nitrogen" is a strong example - about a lipstick manufacturer who hires young women as workers and insists on kissing each one eight times each morning to "test" the lipstick.

The concluding story, "Carbon," magnificently pulls it all together.

Camino Island by John Grisham


Solid but not great. I turned the pages dutifully, but the plot and milieu -- F Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts, small Southern seashore bookstores, the creative writing community --is a little nauseating.

Too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash.

Monday, August 07, 2023

Somebody's Fool by Richard Russo

Scratching my head on this. I love Russo's work, but don't really remember the first two FOOL novels, so this one isn't snapping into place. There is a sameness to his ironic tone that I'm finding deadening -- every character seems to hear the same omniscient sarcastic voice. Not moving me.

If Not Now, When? by Primo Levi


Mesmerizing, intricate, heavy novel about a band of Jewish partisans in Russia and Poland during the waning days of WWII.

Unbelievably moving account of the war winding down.

On the contrary, I believe it doesn't make much sense to say that one man is worth more than another. One man can be stronger than another but less wise. Or more educated but not so brave. Or more generous but also more stupid. So his value depends on what you want from him; a man can be very good at his job, and worthless if you set him to do some other job. [110]

Do you recognize us? We're the sheep of the ghetto,
Shorn for a thousand years, resigned to outrage.
We are the tailors, the scribes and the cantors,
Withered in the shadow of the cross.
Now we have learned the paths of the forest,
We have learned to shoot, and we aim straight. 
        If I'm not for myself, who will be for me?
        If not this way, how? And if not now, when?
Our brothers have gone to heaven
Through the chimneys of Sobibor and Treblinka,
They have dug themselves a grave in the air.
Only we few have survived
For the honor of our submerged people,
For revenge and to bear witness.
        If I'm not for myself, who will be for me?
        If not this way, how? And if not now, when?
We are the sons of David, the hardheaded sons of Masada.
Each of us carries in his pocket the stone
That shattered the forehead of Goliath.
Brothers, away from this Europe of graves:
Let us climb together towards the land
Where we will be men among men.
        If I'm not for myself, who will be for me?
        If not this way, how? And if not now, when?

Written by me, Martin Fontasch, about to die. Saturday 13 June 1943. Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. [168]



The Confession by John Grisham


Couldn't put it down. Grisham has the thing, that knack for the last paragraph of each (short ish) chapter - he puts some torque on the story and you have to turn the page.

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