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Only a Blockhead


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Books David Finished in 2015

  • Joanne Kyger: On Time: Poems 2005-2014

    Joanne Kyger: On Time: Poems 2005-2014
    This is a lovely day-book, a Zen-inflected chronicle of Kyger's days beginning in the Bush-the-Lesser era, and continuing until the present. The poems are witty and observant, the language bracingly sparse: Art that almost seems artless.

  • Sarah Pinborough: The Shadow of the Soul: The Forgotten Gods: Book Two (The Forgotten Gods Trilogy)

    Sarah Pinborough: The Shadow of the Soul: The Forgotten Gods: Book Two (The Forgotten Gods Trilogy)
    Most trilogies sag in the middle volume. This one, which I waited a long time to start after not being all that impressed with the initial volume, rises. Pinborough gives us an intriguing enough mixture of gritty urban noir, police procedural, and horror that I've already gone on to volume three: no long hiatus this time.

  • Zoran Zivkovic: Four Stories Till the End

    Zoran Zivkovic: Four Stories Till the End
    The standard form for swords-and-lords style fantasy is the quest. Thus there are a lot of fantasy tomes that feature characters walking around. Zoran Živković writes a different kind of fantasy, and uses different forms. I'll write more about that in my piece on this book forthcoming on the Kurodahan Press blog. The URL will be added when, you know, I finish writing it.

  • Zoran Zivkovic: Compartments

    Zoran Zivkovic: Compartments
    Another demonstration of the rigor that makes Zoran Živković's fiction so successful. More here: http://www.kurodahan.com/mt/e/catalog/rs0006cate.html

  • Sarah Caudwell: Thus Was Adonis Murdered

    Sarah Caudwell: Thus Was Adonis Murdered
    I've been hearing about Sarah Caudwell's mysteries for years, and the people from whom I've heard about them are discerning, so I looked forward to this. I wasn't disappointed. The sentences drip with wit and style, the humor is actually humorous (something which can't be taken for granted), and there's a depth of learning underlying the nonsense that successfully supports it. I'll read on in the series.

  • Lea O'Harra: Imperfect Strangers: An Inspector Inoue mystery

    Lea O'Harra: Imperfect Strangers: An Inspector Inoue mystery
    Lea O'Hara's Imperfect Strangers is set in Japan, and as such must necessarily tell us about the country. She mostly does a good job of that, avoiding particularly tedious info dumps and by teaching us things about Japan that are actually, you know, true. The puzzle she creates--who murdered the head of a small Christian university in Kyushu--is fun enough to try and unravel, though she does take her time about introducing one or two characters who are keys to figuring things out. All in all a diverting read by this first-time mystery author.

  • David Lagercrantz: The Girl in the Spider's Web: A Lisbeth Salander novel, continuing Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series

    David Lagercrantz: The Girl in the Spider's Web: A Lisbeth Salander novel, continuing Stieg Larsson's Millennium Series
    David Lagercrantz does a good job of continuing Steig Larsson's Millenium Series. The politics underlying the novels remain the same, and the characters don't do or say anything that seems at odds with the characters as Larsson depicted them. As riveting as Larsson's narratives could be he was not always a graceful writer, and the info dumps sometimes clunked down rather heavily. Lagercrantz--intentionally?--follows in the master's footsteps, both in creating a gripping narrative, but also in the heavy clunks.

  • Elizabeth Jane Howard: All Change (Cazalet Chronicles)

    Elizabeth Jane Howard: All Change (Cazalet Chronicles)
    This is the fifth and final volume of Elizabeth Jane Howard's Cazalet Chronicles. As such, it has a valedictory feel to it, but is nevertheless a necessary read for those who've followed the family through the generations. As a whole the series is a skillfully done social chronicle of a hundred or so years of English life.

  • Zoran Zivkovic: The Library

    Zoran Zivkovic: The Library
    This is a reread. I picked it up again because I'm writing a few short pieces for the Kurodahan Press blog about Zivkovic. The stories are as fresh as when I first read them: good fun in the key of Borges.

  • Anthony Trollope: Phineas Redux (The Palliser Novels)

    Anthony Trollope: Phineas Redux (The Palliser Novels)
    At a pace of about one volume a year I continue to work my way through Trollope's Palliser novels. In Phineas Redux the central character, Phineas Finn, turns radical in a way that is surprising from a writer as essentially conservative as Trollope. Finn becomes entirely disillusioned with the government of which he has always wanted to be a part, and seems, at novel's end, to have, angry and disgusted, withdrawn himself from it entirely. One expects this won't last, and that even his marriage to the wealthy, attractive, and very independent Madame Goesler--a marriage, by the way, of a Catholic to a Jew in Victorian England--will not be enough for him.

Books Julian Read Recently

  • David Mitchell: Slade House

    David Mitchell: Slade House
    David Mitchell is a master of plot, storytelling, voice, setting, and bringing a period to life. His latest—a short, supernatural thriller set in a gray UK town--is a compelling tale of fiendish cleverness and surprise. Mitchell is a writer who has to pay the rent, and if this is the kind of stuff he wants to write, it’s fine by me. Reading him is sheer pleasure, and I’ll follow him anywhere. (*****)

  • Crispin Sartwell: Obscenity, Anarchy, Reality

    Crispin Sartwell: Obscenity, Anarchy, Reality
    It’s philosophy, and philosophy is hard, and I’m not even sure that everything he says is true. But it’s written with a swagger and raw personal honesty, and I found it as enlightening as opaque, as useful as baffling. Actually I first read it 10 years ago and I got a lot more from it this time. I expect to return again to this take-no-prisoners, balls-to-the-wall pursuit of the elusive truth of life and death. (****)

  • Dolores Payás: Drink Time!: In the Company of Patrick Leigh Fermor

    Dolores Payás: Drink Time!: In the Company of Patrick Leigh Fermor
    Charming, intimate memoir of the great PLF in the last few years of his life in his Greek villa above the sparkling Mediterranian, written by his Spanish translator. Though facing the infirmities of age, and struggling with the third volume of his Constantinople trilogy, he never let those interfere with the pleasures of life: booze, books, laughter, conversation, dancing, food, and friendships. (***)

  • Alice Munro: Dear Life: Stories

    Alice Munro: Dear Life: Stories
    A wonderful collection of stories, each impeccably wrought. The everyday settings are vivid, as are the troubled voices they hide. The language is scintillating: I often paused after reading a sentence to marvel at its aptness. The volume ends with some autobiographical fragments, also written in fine style. Alice Munro: a master at work. (****)

  • Naoki Higashida: The Reason I Jump: One Boy's Voice from the Silence of Autism

    Naoki Higashida: The Reason I Jump: One Boy's Voice from the Silence of Autism
    Through some miracle, an autistic boy found a way to communicate and worked hard to do so. The result is this short book in which he explains what’s going on in his mind behind the odd (to the non-autistic) behavior he exhibits. Fascinating. (**)

  • Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski: The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life

    Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski: The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life
    The most profound book I can remember reading. It makes the case, supported by research, that death-awareness influences our thoughts and behavior, widely and mostly unconsciously. We buy into a worldview, and bolster our self-esteem as ways to veil the horrific awareness of our own mortality. We do it for our own sanity, and it’s not something we can or would wish to overcome, but I’m glad to know a bit more about how my mind works. I’ve only this one life and I want to understand it as clearly as possible. (“I” “have” “life.” No, but a necessary illusion.) (*****)

  • Roman Krznaric: The Wonderbox: Curious Histories of How to Live

    Roman Krznaric: The Wonderbox: Curious Histories of How to Live
    A self-help book that mines history to show how we arrived at our current ideas about love, work, travel, life death. The purpose is to highlight useful insights that have been forgotten in modern times. School-of-lifesque, which I mean as the highest praise. Thought provoking, and entertaining both. (***)

Films Julian Watched Recently

  • The Intern
    The leads are excellent, but they aren’t given a lot to do. It’s thin gruel--funny but not funny enough; charming but not charming enough; smart but not smart enough. It needed a Nora Ephron to punch it up and give it more truth or entertainment. Catch it on a plane for Hathaway and De Niro. (Theater) (**)
  • Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
    This is all you'd hope a Mission Impossible movie would be. The twist-filled plot is more-or-less comprehensible. Tom Cruise is ageless. A resourceful heroine (Rebecca Ferguson) is a welcome addition. The non-stop mayhem and extreme peril was thrilling when it didn’t make me look away. It was, all in all, exhausting. The next Bond movie “Spectre” opens on December 6, so I have two months to get over this movie and be ready for that one. (Theater) (**)
  • Selma
    A powerful, eye-opening history lesson about the courageous fight in 1965 for racial justice in the U.S. South against seemingly insuperable odds. David Oyelowo’s Martin Luther King is a wonderful performance that catches King’s private struggles and his compelling public oratory. The movie is also a memorial to the blood shed and the lives given by people unwilling to follow a status quo they knew was wrong. (Theater) (****)
  • Wolf Children (おおかみこどもの雨と雪)
    A wonderful third animated feature (after The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and Summer Wars) from Hosoda Mamoru. It begins in Tokyo, with student life and first love, and growing up human but different--well, I suppose the title gives that away. It honors Miyazaki and Totoro when the action first moves to the country, and it honors the efforts of neighbors in helping each other, and of parents in helping their children find their way in life. In only one climactic scene did I think the movie lost the plot, but I give it 5 stars anyway. (DVD) (*****)
  • The Imitation Game
    On the one hand, true stories rarely fit the arc of a satisfying drama. On the other, they can cry out to be dramatized. Faced with this enigma, the filmmakers have wrestled a passable drama from an astonishing story, and the superior acting makes it work better than it might. It is long, and I was riveted throughout. (Theater) (****)

Things NC Consumed Recently

  • F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby
    More than forty years on since my last reading, this classic novel is remarkable not so much for its romantic longings as for its emphasis on American violence, its depiction of a country in which California hardly matters and its meeting of the Mid West and East Coast. Plus its succinct nine chapters, its elegant prose and its almost noirish tone: Tom breaking Myrtle's nose would seem to foreshadow Lee Marvin throwing hot coffee in Gloria Grahame's face in The Big Heat - and the use of flashbacks helps too. I'd like to thank the publicity for the recent film version and my current cold for sending me back to the novel (and my young self).
  • Isabelle Eberhardt
    In 1904, Isabelle Eberhardt drowned in the desert, leaving behind, among other things, various writings in French (a novel, travel notes, a journal, short stories), Islam, Lake Geneva, a husband, debauchery in kif, sex and alcohol, and a small collection of male clothing, which she wore habitually, along with her man's name. The lazy say she was an early hippie, because of her nomadic, hedonistic life, and being the first one to die at 27. Lindqvist has her in a line from Villon, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Celine and Genet. Her story can only get stranger and more fascinating. "In The Shadow of Islam", "The Passionate Nomad", "The Oblivion Seekers" and Annette Kobak's biography are one way in. You'll find there an apt fatal romanticism for vast desert spaces and a depiction of Islam to ponder. Among other things.
  • Listen to Britain - Humphrey Jennings
    Terence Davies is surely right to say Listen to Britain is in part an attempt to define the nation on the eve of its being invaded. But that invasion never came. A little prematurely, Humphrey Jennings's film records what left later, with something messier, less defined usurping through the back door. Terence Davies is surely right to say Listen to Britain is one of the greatest things these islands have produced.
  • Patience (After Sebald)
    Grant Gee's documentary uses a palette of pale black and white, maps and talking heads to comment on W.G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn, an account of his walk through Suffolk. Unlike the book, where a variety of genres (and photographs) coheres to make a recognisable whole, the film suffers slightly from a lack of direction. It is too specific to serve as an introduction and lacks an overriding arc that might describe a thesis. However, with its archival footage, interviews with the author and shots of the route taken, it is essential viewing for those already in thrall to all things Sebaldian - even if the ending, alas, veers close to Conan Doyle and fairies-in-the-garden territory.
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