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)
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
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
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
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'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 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)
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
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)
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.
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
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
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
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
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. (***)
Nick Hunt: Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor's footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn
In 2011, Nick Hunt sets out to replicate Patrick Leigh Fermor’s 1933 walk across Europe, for the experience, and to see what had and hadn’t changed. The surprise is that Hunt is every bit as perceptive and eloquent a writer as Leigh Fermor was. He has crafted a vivid, poetic book from his epic adventure. Above all, it gives us a sense of the way of life and thought of each country he trudged through: Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria… countries that used to be little more than names to me. Thoroughly enjoyable armchair travel. (*****)
Takashi Hiraide: The Guest Cat
Beautifully observed, sometimes almost magical word pictures of the twists and turns of a couple’s quiet life on an old estate in a Tokyo suburb as Showa became Heisei. With appearances by the title cat. (***)