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Books David finished in 2017

  • Eliot Weinberger: Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei (with More Ways)

    Eliot Weinberger: Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei (with More Ways)
    I could quite happily spend the rest of my reading days seeking out and devouring all that Eliot Weinberger has written. This short book, the best I have read on translation, and in particular the translation of poetry, is rich with Weinberger's wit, insight, and his impatience with fools and the foolish attempts they have made to translate a fragment by Wang Wei, make the book a treat.

  • Renee Gladman: Event Factory

    Renee Gladman: Event Factory
    This is the opening volume of a trilogy that will, I believe, be centered around and in a place called Ravicka. The protagonist of this volume is a linguist who is visiting this vaguely Eastern- or Central-European—but really, unidentifiable—culture, and whose encounters are only slightly more Kafkaesque than those most of us experience in culture's that remain opaque to us, cultures we can visit perhaps too easily thanks to the convenience of modern travel. Gladman's prose is the perfect vessel with which to communicate the protagonist's disorientaton.

  • Ross Macdonald: The Underground Man (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)

    Ross Macdonald: The Underground Man (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)
    Although this was one of the most popular of Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer series, and also the volume that many consider among the best, it seems to me to be, while good, not the most riveting of those I've read, and I've just about made my way through the whole saga. In it, Macdonald employs the standard formula—in short, everyone's related to everyone, and Southern California is rotten and decadent—but the formula is not tired. It's kept alive by Archer's bruised and mordant view of the world he passes through.

  • Yukio Mishima: Confessions of a Mask

    Yukio Mishima: Confessions of a Mask
    It's not surprising that this is more or less required reading for those who are gay in Japan or interested in gay life in Japan. Mishima's "confessions" seem candid, and they are, at least in Meredith Weatherly's translation, beautifully written, but then one remembers that they are the confessions of a mask, the candid revelations of that which is designed to conceal one's true identity.

  • Michael Allen Zell: Run Baby Run

    Michael Allen Zell: Run Baby Run
    The protagonist of this novel is an academic criminologist, Bobby Delery, who has left academia in Chicago and returned to his hometown, New Orleans, to assist the police. When one sees that Delery has an immediately antagonistic relationship with the police handling the case he is meant to help with it is hard not to assume we're going to have the traditional template: out-of-touch but brilliant expert trying to work with gritty, uncouth street cops, but oddly the novel becomes something different. The case is solved, but neither thanks to Delery's book learning nor the street smarts of the police. It's solved more or less by accident, and Delery happens to be at the right place at the right time. Along the way we get some diverting views of the always fascinating New Orleans, though as many of the most interesting characters are African American, one sort of wants to see what some African American New Orleans residents would have to say about the novel, considering that the author, Michael Allen Zell, is white. Then again, is he white? Maybe he shares a secret with Bobby Delery.

Books Julian Read Recently

  • John Berger: To the Wedding

    John Berger: To the Wedding
    This story is told in a flat, grave, fragmented style, with a complex, quasi-mystical framing device. It leads up to the wedding in the final pages, a tour-de-force that leaps off the page and might have worked better as a self-contained short story. (**)

  • Michael Chabon: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

    Michael Chabon: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
    A rollicking saga about cousins growing up Jewish in New York and in Prague in the 1930s, and the birth of comic books. This fiction woven with fact is funny, tragic, epic, and intimate by turn. It’s fluidly written as it sprawls all over the map, with a cast of characters you are glad to follow anywhere. Glorious. (****)

  • Shirley Hazzard: The Great Fire

    Shirley Hazzard: The Great Fire
    This novel quietly paints horrors and tragedies of war, in this case, in the aftermath of World War II. It is also a love story. I was sometimes jarred by a suddenly shifting point of view, or befuddled by high-flown and, to me, opaque passages, but the story and writing carried me along. The ending, encapsulated in the final line, earns it an extra half-star. (****)

  • Elizabeth Strout: My Name Is Lucy Barton

    Elizabeth Strout: My Name Is Lucy Barton
    Centered on a stay in a New York hospital, a woman relates incidents from her life. This novella is artfully artless, with an honesty that leads deep into human motivation and emotions, including the functions and dysfunctions of family, how we hurt ourselves and others, and the aching ecstasy that accompanies love. This is my second Elizabeth Strout, and it’s every bit as good as her "Olive Kitteridge." (*****)

  • Colson Whitehead: The Underground Railroad

    Colson Whitehead: The Underground Railroad
    Some stories need to be told over and over: tales of war, genocide and slavery, so that we can feel the horror from the inside, and be repulsed by the injustice and inhumanity. Reading the fantasy/reality of “The Underground Railroad,” I experienced the slavery of the American South more powerfully than before, and realize how it stretches its bloody fingers forward to shape the present still. Masterful and important storytelling that I’m grateful to have read. (*****)

  • Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day

    Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day
    A British butler looks back on his life. A tour-de-force of voice--that was what impressed me. It's also an eye-opener to its time. I liked it more than The Buried Giant which I gave 3 stars to, but less than books I give 4 stars to. 3.5 stars. (***)

  • Elizabeth Strout: Olive Kitteridge

    Elizabeth Strout: Olive Kitteridge
    A set of short stories of extreme verisimilitude about the inhabitants of a US small town, each story centered on, or including, or at least mentioning the title character. It’s about doing the best we can, of putting up a front, of trying to relate successfully to others, of trying to survive our circumstances… and the insecurities, frailties, and anxieties that lie beneath all that. I feel I know more about and have more compassion for myself and others for having the curtain ripped back like this. For me the book was at its most effective when it examined ageing and loss. Now I can’t wait to read more by Strout. (*****)

Films Julian Watched Recently

  • Manchester by the Sea
    Acting comes first in this portrait of a volatile New England man and his extended family. Like "Moonlight," it’s unconventionally made. The eccentric soundtrack music sometimes screams, “This is art.” But it more than gets the job done: It’s real, powerful, sometimes funny, and it may move you. (DVD) (****)
  • Lion
    I enjoy a good cry almost as much as a good laugh, and this tale of families, and a horrendous social problem, builds into a powerful tearjerker. The telling is surreal yet straightforward; empathy-inducing yet unsentimental. It’s an introduction to both India and Tasmania, and is beautifully acted. There’s a lot to like here. (DVD) (****)
  • Moonlight
    If compared to other movies in a vacuum, I’d rate Moonlight no better or worse than average, but thanks to the Academy awarding it Best Picture, it showed up at the local multiplex. It was exciting and moving to see a movie set in a to-me unfamiliar racial/cultural world. In 2017, through its existence and its celebrity, Moonlight adds to the momentum of embracing diversity, i.e., the marginal and despised, into a world of equal human beings. The story is extremely sad. It might also be, below its particular surface, the most improbably old-fashioned of love stories. (Theater) (*****)
  • 海街diary (Our Little Sister)
    Like Kore’eda’s masterpiece "Aruite mo Aruite mo" (Still Walking), this movie is rooted in a particular place and time of year, and the rituals that go with that. In this case, it’s the Shonan area centered on Kamakura and, although the movie follows a year of seasons, it’s the spring with its cherry blossoms, new beginnings and endings, that has center stage. The story and setting are a mixture of the idealized and down to earth. With so many characters interacting to push the plot forward, this very Japanese family drama may sometimes approach soap opera, but it is engaging, emotional, and never less than charming. (DVD) (*****)
  • La La Land
    This tuneful musical romance falls well short of, yet modestly updates its classic predecessors. While it genuflects to every cliché, it consistently surprises. But mostly it’s a heartfelt and clever homage to Hollywood, the city of Los Angeles, and to jazz. As a friend said, “I was entertained.” (Theater; IMAX) (****)

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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