Month: July 2013

2013 Book #32: All the Pretty Horses

imageI only discovered Cormac McCarthy a few years ago. It might even have been The Road that put me on notice. (I loved that book, by the way.) I think I read Outer Dark after that one. Outer Dark is my second-favorite. Blood Meridian is my favorite. So where does All the Pretty Horses fit in, you ask? I’ll put it in the middle, below those I just mentioned but above Child of God, which I didn’t like (and which I read in one sitting at my local Barnes and Noble. I didn’t buy the book). All the Pretty Horses is good – not his best, but good. I enjoyed it, though it’s a bit of a blur since I read through it so quickly.

It’s not as dark as the others, and it’s the first of a trilogy about which I know nothing besides what’s in this one. Parts are graphic and hard to read. It’s about two young cowboys, John Grady Cole and Leslie Rawlins, who leave their homes in Texas to work in Mexico. On the way, a kid named Blevins joins them and causes all kinds of problems. Cole and Rawlins end up working on a ranch, and Cole ends up in love with the owner’s daughter, and things don’t go well. Mexican prison is involved. They eventually decide (separately) to go back to Texas.

I don’t really have much to say about All the Pretty Horses. When I get onto these reading tears, I get through books so quickly that I don’t remember them for long after. At the same time, it’s worth it because sometimes I need to escape from reality for a while, even (and especially) when I can’t do it physically. Which might mean that I’ll slow down, now, since I finally got out of Shreveport: I’m in Ann Arbor, Michigan for a library conference. Except instead of going out last night, I bought a bottle of wine and a corkscrew and spent the evening reading. The TV hasn’t been on in my hotel room, and it probably won’t come on tonight, either.

Anyway. I liked All the Pretty Horses, though it’s not McCarthy’s best, and it’s not my favorite. At some point, I’ll probably read the rest of the trilogy, but nothing about this book makes me want to jump to the next like, say, Game of Thrones does. It’s its own book, and I imagine that the other two are, too, though I might eventually prove myself wrong. I’m not in a hurry.

Bonus: Here’s pictorial evidence of what happened last night!

2013 Book #31: The Third Reich

thirdreichI’m on a tear! Actually, too much of one. Anyway.

The Third Reich is the second Bolaño novel I’ve read. This one was easier to read than The Savage Detectives, but it wasn’t as rewarding. Though it’s still an excellent novel.

It’s about a German named Udo who goes to Spain on vacation with his girlfriend, Ingeborg. He plays war games and writes articles about them. He’s planning on presenting a paper in Paris a few months later, so he brings The Third Reich with him on vacation and sets it up on a large table in his hotel room. His paper doesn’t get written. He’d stayed at the hotel with his parents about ten years ago, when he was fifteen. He had a crush on the owner, and he starts a relationship, of sorts, with her. He begins a game with a mysterious man who owns paddleboats for public rental, and it becomes serious because, as it turns out, El Quemado, as they call him, was involved in World War II and was horribly scarred, both physically and mentally. It’s a complex plot.

And it’s totally worth reading. It’s not as much of challenge as The Savage Detectives was, and I found myself in a hurry to finish it. It felt a little like Kafka‘s Amerikawhich I hated with a special kind of hate reserved for the likes of Things Fall Apart and I can’t think of what else. Anyway. I just wanted Udo to smarten up and get the hell out of there before he got himself killed. He didn’t leave when I wanted him to (or when everyone in the book wanted him to), but he didn’t die, either. There was a weird kind of anti-climax at the end.

I’m certainly not saying that The Third Reich isn’t a really good book or that I didn’t like it – because I did. It was just an uncomfortable world to be in, and I wanted out. Which was probably what Bolaño was going for. Once I started this one, I broke down and bought a used copy of 2666 from Amazon, but I haven’t received it yet. I’m not sure I’m ready to tackle that one, anyway. I put The Savage Detectives up there with Rushdie on the difficulty scale – Bolaño in general, really. While I was happy to escape The Third Reich, it left me thinking. At first, I didn’t know whether I liked it or not, and I spent some time trying to figure out what actually happened to Udo, how he’d changed. I think I have it figured out, but the process hurt my head a little bit, which is a good thing.

So. Bolaño is good. The Third Reich is good. I can’t wait to read his other stuff, though I don’t think I can handle another one for a while.

2013 Book #30: A Moveable Feast

moveablefeastAfter the intensity of Salem’s Lot and The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I needed something more calm and grounded. Enter Hemingway, who is always safe. (Though I don’t particularly like two of his novels, they never make my head feel like it’s going to explode.) A Moveable Feast has been on my list for quite a while, and I’m not sure why I hadn’t read it until now. I think it’s the fear of the non- in front of the fiction part. At the beginning, Hemingway says you can treat it like fiction, but I’m sure that at least most of the stories are true. So we’ll call it a memoir.

It’s about Hemingway and the Lost Generation in Paris in the 1920s, living and writing. He details time he spent with Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald, among others, and how he lived cheaply before he became famous for his novels.

He describes Gertrude Stein just as I’d expect her. I’m not a fan. I don’t like her poetry, and it seems to me that she wasn’t a great artist, but her value lies in opening the path for other artists. Here’s a good example of poetry that I don’t like – and an excerpt from “New”:

We knew.
Anne to come.
Anne to come.
Be new.
Be new too.
Anne to come
Anne to come
Be new
Be new too.
And anew.
Anne to come.
Anne anew.
Anne do come.
Anne do come too, to come and to come not to come and as to
and new, and new too.

UGH. Okay, I know she was a high Modernist and was experimenting with language and so on, but UGH. She reminds me of a certain local artist who also makes me say UGH. Thank God Instagram didn’t exist back then.

Moving on. Hemingway also describes a trip he took with Fitzgerald to Lyon to pick up a car he and Zelda had left there. Fitzgerald can’t hold his alcohol, and trouble ensues. They get back, Hemingway reads The Great Gatsby, and says that he’ll deal with whatever Fitzgerald does because that novel is so good and he knows Fitzgerald can write something even better.

I really enjoyed A Moveable Feast. I gained insight not only into Hemingway’s life, but into the lives of the Lost Generation in Paris. It’s more personal and real than biographies and histories written after the fact, and that makes it oh so much better.

Bonus: Here’s a picture a drunken Hemingway, though it was taken many years later.


2013 Book #29: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

oceanOh, God, I loved this book. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is definitely my favorite Neil Gaiman novel. (If you’re wondering what my least favorite is, it’s Good Omens, which is funny because Gaiman co-wrote it with another of my favorite authors, Terry Pratchett. But that’s another story.) My first Gaiman was Stardust, which I adored. This one has a lot in common with it, at least with the boundary between real and fantasy, but Gaiman often uses such a boundary. (I should note that it’s been several years since I’ve read Stardust, so my memory is hazy.)

Ocean is like a kids’ book that isn’t for kids. It’s a nostalgic fairy tale that makes you recall what you felt like so long ago, bringing back that hazy memory that you’re not sure was real. I have one of those: one night when I was five or six, just after my first great grandmother had died (the first family death of which I was conscious), I have a clear memory of her ghost floating above my bed. I was convinced for years that I had actually seen her, but the farther I get into adulthood, now that reality has a much stronger hold, I’m not sure anymore – and now I’m convinced it was a childhood hallucination of sorts. I also never told any adults about it, simply because there were things you didn’t tell adults since you knew they wouldn’t believe you, anyway. I identify with this kid.

So. The novel is about an (unnamed) adult who goes back to his hometown for a funeral. He dreads it, so he wanders back to his childhood home, and then, farther on, to the end of the lane, where he meets an old friend, and his childhood memories come alive. He is seven years old. An opal dealer steals his father’s car, drives it down to the end of the lane, and commits suicide in the back seat. The police calls the boy’s dad, and they both go. During the investigation, the boy meets Lettie Hempstock, an eleven-year-old girl who lives on a nearby farm (and who is really older than creation), and he follows her on an adventure to the fantastic – but accidentally brings it back with him, causing all sorts of trouble.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is an intense, nostalgic look back at childhood, regret, and memory of what might or might not have happened. The world feels real, and so do the characters. It’s one of those books I didn’t want to leave, and once it was over, I couldn’t get it out of my head.

Ocean belongs next to The Book of Lost Things, by John Connolly, another one I haven’t read in a long time but which has a similar premise and the same sort of dreamy, nostalgic atmosphere. I think I’ll be reading that one again, soon, and Ocean will be in my re-read pile along with it. Ocean is a beautiful novel, and I think Gaiman has outdone himself with this one.

Bonus: I was just tipped off to an entry in Nail Gaiman’s blog that mentions what became this novel:

I’m writing a story about Lettie Hempstock. Who may be distantly related to Daisy Hempstock in Stardust and Liza Hempstock in The Graveyard Book.




2013 Book #28: Salem’s Lot

salemslotI’m gonna get this one out of the way and out of my mind quickly. I didn’t like Salem’s Lot. Here’s yet another case of It’s-not-a-bad-book-but-I-didn’t-like-it. At all, in this case. I don’t read all that much genre fiction, in the first place, and when I do, it’s usually fantasy. I’m kind of a book snob (can I still say that after reading A Game of Thrones?). Salem’s Lot, I guess, is good for what it is: a horror novel. I learned quite a while ago, when I was reading The Monk, that I don’t especially like scary books, especially when they give me nightmares. I was thisclose to giving up on The Monk for that reason. I should note that it’s a far better novel than Salem’s Lot, though that shouldn’t be surprising. Salem’s Lot only gave me one nightmare, and not about vampires (I’ll get to that in a minute): a weird, intense dream in which I thought I was going to die, but it turned out to be an elaborate prank. I won’t bore you with the details. I didn’t wake up happy. The next night, I started a second book, which I do only very rarely.

Anyway. On to the vampires. If I would have known what Salem’s Lot was about before I started reading it, I wouldn’t have picked it up in the first place. I hate vampires. I have disdain for novels about them. Also: TV shows, movies, etc. No interest. I decided to read this novel because my friend Jacob suggested it. The Stand has been on my reading list for a while (tl;dr-ed so far), and he said that Salem’s Lot is better and shorter. Okay, I said, and got a copy for my Kindle. A night or two after, Palmer and I were at a local bar, waiting for our friends to show up, and I told Palmer that I was reading Salem’s Lot and was going to talk to Jacob about it. Palmer laughed and said, “Spoiler alert! It’s about vampires!” In his defense, he’d assumed that I knew what it was about. I responded, “Really? Vampires? Ugh.” Later, Jacob convinced me to keep reading. Which I did.

Quick plot summary: A little town in Maine (of course) is infested with vampires. The end.

I got through it as quickly as I could. It went on and on. I hit the epilogue around 80%, and I was like, what?. Thinking that it would be the end, I slogged through it. After that, it was some newspaper clippings from a scrapbook and “One More for the Road.” I cringed and read that, too. Then came a story set a century before that involved a worm, and I rolled my eyes. That was the best part of the novel, which amuses me. Next came the Deleted Scenes, where I reached my limit. I don’t need to read deleted scenes from a stupid Stephen King novel. I skipped them and read the Afterword, which was interesting enough.

Ugh. I’m glad it’s finally over. I don’t think I’ll be reading The Stand for a while, now, or any Stephen King for that matter. It’s just not my thing. I should note that The Shining is really good, though I bet its sequel, Doctor Sleep, (which, incidentally, involves vampires) will be embarrassing. I also like the Dark Tower novels, though I’m stuck in the middle of the fourth one.

Bonus: Well, kind of. There’s a movie that I didn’t know about. Click here to see the vampire. Warning: it can’t be unseen. Here’s what amuses me. My mom saw this movie. We talked about it the other day. She really didn’t say much. But get her talking about the movie of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and she’s all up in arms about how she wishes she didn’t have that image in her head. Dracula bored me. That is all.

2013 Book #27: A Confederacy of Dunces

duncesHere’s another review I’ve been putting off and another lesson in Don’t Read Your Favorite Books Twice. I hadn’t read A Confederacy of Dunces since I was sixteen or seventeen. I read it, then, partially because it’s my mom’s favorite book (what?) and partially because it’s considered by many (most?) the quintessential book about New Orleans.

I thought it was the funniest book I’d ever read. I loved every minute of it. But, over the years, I also shoehorned it into the you-had-to-be-there box, thinking that unless you had some serious New Orleans experience, you wouldn’t get it.

I was wrong about all of those things. I’ve read several books that made me laugh as hard as Confederacy did back in the day (The Loved One, for instance). It might be the quintessential New Orleans book, but I think that N’Awilins over Easy is funnier and more true to the city, though no one has heard about it. Confederacy is also objectively a better book – there’s no you-had-to-be-there: it’s just a good, well-written novel (though I think the end is a bit of a cop-out, but you know).

The basic plot: Ignatius Reilly is overeducated and impossibly lazy. He gets into trouble in various very New-Orleansy ways, and there are lots of ridiculous subplots that eventually merge into something even more ridiculous. Deux ex machina. The end.

My sort-of disappointment at this second reading isn’t meant to discount the novel at all – it’s better than I remembered. Maybe it’s that I haven’t lived in New Orleans for long enough that the novel seems more distant than it did then. It’s funny and certainly worth a read. I’m sure I’ll read it again sooner or later.

Bonus: Here’s a photo of my mom with Ignatius from way back in 2003.

August 2003 017

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