Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Old School, by Tobias Wolff

 Great book. One of the many "school" books out there. Not on this list, but should be.

Spoilers below:

In short, this book is about plagiarism. The main character blatantly steals a story from an author at a girl's school nearby his private school. Change a few names, voila, brand new story, that no one has read. But this one wins the competition leading to an audience with "Papa" Ernest Hemingway. Prior to that, the school had been visited by Robert Frost and Ayn Rand. The main character got sucked into The Fountainhead, reading it, IIRC, six times, but then Ms. Rand came to the school and ruined Atlas Shrugged for him simply by answering questions and dissing Hemingway. 

Hemingway never makes it. The setting/timing places this story right at his suicide. No matter, the main character gets caught stealing the story and is booted from school. In an interesting twist, he has lunch with the author of the original story five years on, and she blows it off as a lark. 

The main guy ends up doing just fine, with wife and three kids and apparently an actual writer (he's been invited to his alma mater, the one that threw him out weeks before graduation). So, all's well that ends well. 

Spoilers above^^^

I'm going to have to look up more books by Mr. Wolff. This one was excellent. 

Saturday, November 19, 2022

By Night in Chile, by Roberto Bolaño

 My first Bolaño. And very strange. Only two paragraphs in the entire 130 pages. And the second paragraph was one sentence long, and about 10 words. One of those stream of consciousness-type books. 

No spoilers on this one. There's a priest. He's recalling his interesting life. If I knew more about Allende and Pinochet and Chile, it might have meant more to me. Still, not knowing d!ck about Latin American history, it was still an interesting book. The writing was excellent. The translation was excellent. (Thank you Chris Andrews.) I'm new to the translation game, and having difficulty with simple turns of phrase, and this book was just constant thoughts and commas and more thoughts and et cetera. Really good job. 

Oh, and this is the ninth translated book I've read this year, so I'm one away from the "Linguist" level for the Books in Translation Challenge. w00t!

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Galapagos, by Kurt Vonnegut

 Did this man write a bad book? I keep reading him, and keep loving his writing.

Spoilers hence

What a strange book. I know I say that all the time, but to think the narrator would be someone in 1,000,000 AD, what? Then, a ghost? Also, Kilgore Trout's son? (Vonnegut is famous for having characters appear in different books, even as passing mentions or super minor characters.) 

Galapagos has everything: one remaining male, sire of all of humanity after 1986. And a million years hence, what happens? We all turn into marine mammals, hands all but useless for anything but navigation, and mouths evolved for fishing. 

Did Leon Trout's father show back up and escort him through the blue tunnel after the million years? Some readers would say yes, as Leon cited himself with a death date of 1,001,986. Others, like I, may think he left it open for us to decide. (If Vonnegut himself resolves this question in a later book yours truly hasn't read yet, please don't spoil it for me.)

Spoilers done.

I ended up getting the Library of America boxed version of Vonnegut's books on sale and read Galapagos in the beautiful hb with black dj. I'll read all future Vonnegut's in hb as well. (Next up on Rachel's list is Slapstick.)

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Black Knight in Red Square, by Stuart Kaminsky

 This is my second book in the Porfiry Rostnikov series. The first was Death of a Dissident, which I read back in 2020. This one had the same issues the first one did, editing-wise, which I blame on the publisher:

"...more man fifty yards away..." (p182) man vice than (twice I noticed this error, the other on p.217)

Rostonikov vice Rostnikov (p195)

"This afternoon rostnikov..." (p195)

"...almost bald. he was very..." (p195)

This one I blame the author and/or the editor. On p197 Rostnikov tells a manager that his boss is "Procurator Timofeyeva." Any Russian (who the manager is) would know the procurator is a woman (the -a of the last name gives it away) but what follows is four paragraphs of discussion and thoughts, then the manager: "...though I would like an official memo from him." "Her," corrected Rostnikov. (p198) 

Likewise the last name used by one of the policemen trailing a suspect in the book. The cop is male, but the last name is Ivanolva. That -a again. I did some searching online and in a Russian genealogical site, and the only Ivanolva they found was for a woman who lived in Samara, b. 1915 - d. 2001. 

There might have been another inconsistency. Kaminsky never comes right out and mentions what year this story is set in, but early on says something about the Moscow Olympics happening in the past, so I knew it was after summer 1980. Then, one of the characters mentions "your leader Andropov," who I double-checked on Google reigned from Nov 1982 to Feb 1984. But several chapters after the mention of Andropov, another character lets the reader know it is 1981. 

None of the above took away from the story, though. This is another wonderful detective story set in a city I know very well. I love reading stories set in places I've lived, especially places I miss. Alas, that whole place is controlled by a mad man. 

Friday, November 11, 2022

Sea and Sardinia, by D.H. Lawrence

 I picked this book because 1) I never read a D.H. Lawrence book and b) I needed a 1921 book for my Century of Books challenge. 

This is a great book. It started slowly and I almost stopped, but I pushed through the first dozen pages and I'm glad I did. Many great lines and words.

Man can live without food, but he can't live without fire.

I like Italian newspapers because they say what they mean...[they] read as if they were written by men, and not by calculating eunuchs. /ouch!/

chunder: To rumble loudly, to roar; to vomit

This book is a travelogue and very well done. Made me want to read Black Lamb and Gray Falcon and Journey to the Western Isles. And the bits of Italian in it, of course, made me want to restart Italian! (I know I can do better than 1/2 in the DLPT.)

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Quick Service, by PG Wodehouse

 Quick Service is another great book by Plum. This is the PG Wodehouse book for November. No spoilers today, just a quick post to say that this is another book with love at first sight, boy gets the girl, etc. Much aristocracy hi-jinx, stays in the country, misunderstandings, butlers butling, etc. Got this one on Audible. 

Unsure what the next Wodehouse book will be, and I'm not gonna look. I like to be surprised. Right now I am reading DH Lawrence's Sea and Sardinia. I needed a 1921 book for my Century of Books, and the library had it. Nice so far, I love well written travelogues. 

In Audible, I'm going to start Martian Chronicles tomorrow on the way to work. Wife is reading it in Kindle and she's raving about it, so thought I'd try it.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty

 Read this because Halloween. Almost finished it in time. Wow, what a book. 


I'd never seen the movie. Only the sections of it that are always shown when people talk about The Exorcist: the spinning head, the vomit. 

But it's so much more. So much. Lovely writing. Some of the best writing ever. "...on a splintered table the color of sadness." "The child was slender as a fleeting hope." Phrasing like those. Wonderful. 

Blatty could really write characters. Kinderman, the cop, was genius. Karras the priest, dare I say the actual Exorcist, was a very intriguing individual. I wanted more. 

Regan, the one possessed, was so much more. The demon was awesome, subtle, teasing the reader with meeting the requirements for an exorcism. And the ending, one that I expected, but still so well done. 

No more spoilers.

Next step is to watch the movie. Waiting for my wife to read it first.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

October, 2022

 October flew by.

Books read:

  • The Gardener's Guide to Cactus: The 100 Best Paddles, Barrels, Columns and Globes, by Scott Calhoun. I'll go back to this often. I love growing cacti.
  • Eversion, by Alastair Reynolds. Great, strange book.
  • Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson. A classic for a reason.
  • Pigs Have Wings, by PG Wodehouse. Hilarious. As expected.
  • The Mosquito Coast, Paul Theroux. Great writing, horrible protagonist.
  • Houseplant Warrior: 7 Keys to Unlocking the Mysteries of Houseplant Care, by Raffaele di Lallo. My new favorite houseplant book. 
Books bought:
  • Crows: Encounters with the Wise Guys of the Avian World, by Candace Savage. Kindle deal for a couple bucks.
  • The Hand of Fu-Manchu Being a New Phase in the Activities of Fu-Manchu, the Devil Doctor, by Sax Rohmer. Free!
  • Language: An Introduction to the Study of Speech, by Edward Sapir. Free! This and the Fu-Manchu because I haven't read any books published in 1921 yet.
  • Trouble with Lichen, by John Wyndham. Two bucks.
  • Treasure Island, by RLS. $1.53.
  • Our Lady of the Artilects, by Andrew Gillsmith. Seemed very interesting, and two bucks.
  • Pigs Have Wings, by PGW. Free on Audible!
  • The Gardener's Guide to Cactus, by Calhoun. Not free, but worth it.
  • Succulent Container Gardens, by Debra Lee Baldwin. Got this out of the library and loved it, so bought myself a copy.
  • Agaves: Species, Cultivars & Hybrids, by Jeff Moore.  
So that's my October. Still doing Serbian/Croatian. Test right before Thanksgiving. 

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Eversion, by Alastair Reynolds

 What a strange book, but not so strange considering the author's education. Reynolds has a PhD in Astronomy and worked in the European Space Agency until quitting for full-time work as author. (Read his Revelation Space series, and you'll see how good he is at hard sci-fi.)


This one, however, weird. I didn't know what I was reading at first. Three masted wooden sailing ships, exploring the fjords of Norway? Steam-ships doing the same, but in the Pacific off Patagonia? Airships a la steampunk? 

But then the sci-fi creeped in. Were these simulations? Holo-deck? What was the reason, though? Reynolds cleverly introduced the conflict(s), without insulting the reader's intelligence by simply telling us what the dealio was. Nicely done, sir. 

I guessed early that Coade was a computer code, or could be, yet the author still didn't confirm till much later, which was nice. Kept me guessing. Ada threw me, so that was nice. And Coronel Ramos was well-done, one of my favorite characters, not just in Eversion

When the reader finally is brought to "reality" s/he can see where the earlier simulations paralleled (that's not the right verb, but I can't find one now) what the crew actually were going through. Spelunking, diving, water, small passages, claustrophobia. And finally: Death.

Spoilers end.

Eversion, btw, despite the squiggly red lines under the word as I write, is an actual word, with many definitions, including scientific ones. And this won't ruin the novel (thus this paragraph outside my spoilers): Eversion is the act of turning inside out, scientifically if you flip your upper eyelid up, that's eversion of the eyelid (and gross). If you want to really get deep into the math of eversion, way down a rabbit hole, go here to discuss sphere eversion with other 50lb-heads. 

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson

 What a great read! My SIL picked this for our family book club and I'm so glad she did. Why did I not read this as a youth? What a fantastic, exciting, adventurous novel. The kid was the hero. And so brave...

To be clear, I listened to it, and narrator Richard Williams was wonderful. He did great voices, especially for Long John Silver and Captain Flint /snort/. Audible, oh how I <3 you.

I'm not going to do any spoilers. Most people know this book, have read it or seen some sort of cinematic adaptation of it. (I haven't, but might try to find one. Which movie is best?) 

October's been slow for me, reading-wise. I've been terribly into houseplants lately and have been reading books on that subject. (Which I may or may not review, but I'm not fully reading them; more like poking around in them.) I've also been busy with language study (still Serbian/Croatian) so that's been a drag on my time. I am just about done with an Alastair Reynolds, which I'll review here soon. 

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Mosquito Coast, by Paul Theroux

 This book was the selection for Classics Spin #31. I got it out of the library over two weeks ago! My God, this book took me forever.

The reason is, I've become obsessed with plants lately, and any free time during the day is spent reading up on all the various, and interesting, plants there are and that I want. In my house. Now. Then when my head would hit the pillow, I'd manage maybe 3-5 pages and zonk out. Frankly, I got most of my reading done while working out, between sets. 

But finish I finally did. Not sure how I feel about this book. Again, a character I really grew to loathe (cf Rabbit Run). SPOILERS, possibly: Theroux did a great job of making Allie interesting at the start. An everyman, renaissance man, whatever you want to call him, he could make or fix anything. Sure, he's caustic, point-blank, but didn't that farmer come back to him begging him for help? 

But he had crazy ideas. Even worse, he was horrible to his family. I'd never seen the movie but I have the feeling he isn't so bad on the silver screen. Who would want to see Harrison Ford playing such an awful man? I sure do hope vultures take part in his death though. SPOILERS DONE.

My first Theroux and not my last. I have Dark Star Safari on my 50 Classics List, perhaps I'll read it before or during a trip to Africa? 

Old School, by Tobias Wolff

 Great book. One of the many "school" books out there. Not on this list , but should be. Spoilers below: In short, this book is ab...