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Books David Finished in 2018

  • Edward Dorn: Two Interviews

    Edward Dorn: Two Interviews
    Some useful tidbits here to deepen one's appreciation of the work of Edward Dorn.

  • Edward Dorn: Gunslinger

    Edward Dorn: Gunslinger
    In the ferment of the long 1960s it seemed especially incumbent upon young artists to, as Pound is popularly believed to have urged, make it new. When making it new it is, unfortunately, easy to make it bad. Happily, the works of those whose zealousness exceeded their ability to innovate fruitfully are not remembered. Attempting to recall them--was there a poet who names himself after a deer's horn?--though, brings the raging success of a work like Edward Dorn's Gunslinger into stark relief. In this long narrative poem, he succeeds in giving us something we hadn't had before, something that, though grounded in its time continues to sing fifty years after its genesis.

  • Jane Thynne;: The Winter Garden by Jane Thynne (2014-10-09)

    Jane Thynne;: The Winter Garden by Jane Thynne (2014-10-09)
    Another in Jane Thynne's series of historical thrillers set in and around World War II Europe. In this one, the protagonist, Clara Vine, is still in Berlin in the run up to the war, and Thynne continues to write well about that period, instructing us in history that is particularly interesting, because her focus is often on what those years were like for women during those years. It's also a heck of a thriller, though the unveiling of the bad guy was less of a surprise than I had hoped for. It was the sadistic Nazi after all, rather than the idealistic upper-class Englishman. Imagine that!

  • Patricia Hampl: The Art of the Wasted Day

    Patricia Hampl: The Art of the Wasted Day
    This is ultimately a satisfying look at the importance of leisure to the life of the mind. One reason for that is that Hampl successfuly combines the essay, travel writing, and literary criticism, to create a satisfying generic mash-up. It circles around Montaigne, a writer and thinker who took the time he needed, alone in his tower, to think about things, and then to "meddle with writing" to get some of it down. As is often the case with books of this sort, one's eyes glaze over a bit when Hampl drifts into her gently religious philosophizing, but open again when she recounts her own travels, both literary and literal.

  • Michael  Pronko : The Moving Blade

    Michael Pronko : The Moving Blade
    Once upon a time it was the project of modernist literary titans to capture their cities in the novels they wrote. Now that literary work seems largely to have passed to those writing detective fiction. Michael Pronko's Detective Hiroshi series, of which this is the second, is in this tradition, Tokyo being as important a character as Hiroshi, the city as compelling a story as the plot. There are no Fu Manchus here, no sultry geisha, but instead a city that those who know it will recognize. We look forward to joining Pronko on further explorations of his city in forthcoming Detective Hiroshi tales.

  • Junko Tabei: Honouring High Places: The Mountain Life of Junko Tabei

    Junko Tabei: Honouring High Places: The Mountain Life of Junko Tabei
    The first women (that we know of) to summit Everest happens to have been a graduate of the university at which I teach. That's one thing that spurred me to read this book, but much more important is Tabei's accounts of the expeditions she took part in and led. Especially appealing is her honesty: She doesn't hesitate to let us in on the in-fighting among the mountaineering clubs that were, apparently, very important when Tabei was starting out, and also the bickering among the climbers who joined her on her expeditions. Also, of course, the book is a feminist document, an account of how a determined woman overcame the resistance she encountered in a "men's" sport.

  • Jane Thynne: Black Roses

    Jane Thynne: Black Roses
    This is an excellent historical novel which has, as it's main character, an English actress who finds herself in Berlin in the run-up to World War II, and who finds herself spending time with top-level Nazis and their spouses. I recommend it, and am happy to report it's part of a series. I've downloaded the next three (they were about $2.00 each) and will probably download the fifth in the series when it becomes available.

  • Leonard Orr: Don DeLillo's White Noise: A Reader's Guide (Continuum Contemporaries)

    Leonard Orr: Don DeLillo's White Noise: A Reader's Guide (Continuum Contemporaries)
    A useful overview of the things DeLillo writes about in White Noise, and the things that have been written about what DeLillo writes about in White Noise.

  • Don DeLillo: White Noise (Contemporary American Fiction)

    Don DeLillo: White Noise (Contemporary American Fiction)
    One of the nice things about teaching is that one is forced to go back and reread the books one is teaching, and any book worth teaching, worth reading, is worthy of rereading. This is certainly true of Don DeLillo's White Noise, probably the best American novel of the '80s. The prose is so good that one rereads sentences and paragraphs as one goes just to re-experience the joy to which perfectly-wrought words give rise. One laughs again at DeLillo's deadpan take-down of American weirdness, and shudders at the accuracy of his vision of what America is. If you haven't read this for a few years, go back and do it, and then head on the rest of DeLillo's oeuvre.

  • Jane Bowles: Two Serious Ladies

    Jane Bowles: Two Serious Ladies
    I'll be teaching this, so I've just reread it. It is rich enough that it bears many rereadings. Jane Bowles never wrote a boring sentence, and also creates characters who, in their actions and decisions, are mysterious enough to be compellingly human. As Millicent Dillon has pointed out in her excellent biography of Bowles, the novel is autobiographical, not in the crude story-of-my-life-lightly-fictionalized sense but in that each of the characters has Jane Bowles in her: her neuroses, her wit, her dissatisfaction, her splendor.

Books Julian Read Recently

  • Andrew Sean Greer: Less

    Andrew Sean Greer: Less
    A failing writer is turning 50, has parted from his partner, and decides on a whim to travel around the world from one dubious author gig to another. It’s rare (Elizabeth Strout; Ian McEwan…) to feel that I am in good hands: that this writer will steer me true, and Greer joins the list. It’s another book to thank the Pulitzer for steering me toward. Comic and profound. (****)

  • Basil Hall Chamberlain: Things Japanese
    To read this is to journey back 100 years to Meiji Japan, an exotic topsy-turvy land given encyclopedic treatment by a British expat whose observations, while level-headed, are shot through with the empathy-lite class and racial prejudices of his time. 500-plus pages of often fascinating detail about a country joining the modern world at breakneck speed after 200 years of isolation; its art, music, food, bathing, war with Russia, new colony Formosa and all else, the wonder being not how much has changed since 1904, but how much has remained the same.
  • Louis Sachar: Holes

    Louis Sachar: Holes
    An excellent yarn for kids and adults, simple yet complex, short and expansive, fantastic and real, with memorable characters and situations, and a story you can’t predict. It’s serious and funny, and, above all, fun. I’d say it only puts a foot wrong once, at the end of Chapter 18. (*****)

  • Tim Kreider: I Wrote This Book Because I Love You

    Tim Kreider: I Wrote This Book Because I Love You
    Tim Kreider’s latest book of essays is as fun to read as his last “We Learn Nothing.” He riffs on relationships, sex, teaching, religion, politics, keeping a pet, summer vacation and more. Kreider is intelligent, extremely gifted as a writer, and is honest enough to be very funny. We are sometimes asked who living or dead we’d invite to a dinner party, and Kreider would be on my list. (No drawings in this volume, so I’m going to have to order one of his earlier books of cartoons to get my Kreider cartoon fix.) Color me grateful to have a book like this to read. (*****)

  • Elizabeth Strout: Abide with Me

    Elizabeth Strout: Abide with Me
    Abide with Me, Elizabeth Strout’s “difficult second album,” is about a minister in a small US town in the 1950s, and it centers on loss. Compared to other Stout novels, I had less of the vivid sense of “yes, this is how people are,” but it has moments of flickering brilliance, and is never less than an enjoyable read. (***)

  • Jon McGregor: Reservoir 13

    Jon McGregor: Reservoir 13
    Wow. An entirely original novel: an objective report of life in a North-of-England village, the environment and the people, over a number of years. I had a hard time remembering the characters: my only criticism. Otherwise, it’s an exquisitely balanced, somewhat profound narrative, with observations of flora, and fauna human and otherwise, of all ages, that are gloriously right. (****)

  • Adam Johnson: The Orphan Master's Son

    Adam Johnson: The Orphan Master's Son
    A novel about North Korea. The storytelling is competent. The content is entirely shocking: In the 50 years or so since the Korean War, has a society really evolved into this hell (I don’t use that word lightly) on earth? What a privilege it is to read novels—this novel—that transport me to experiences, to lives, outside my own. (***)

  • Ian Buruma: Inventing Japan, 1853-1964

    Ian Buruma: Inventing Japan, 1853-1964
    This is a brief history of the nation from the Meiji era to modern times based, as is customary, on politics and international relations. Buruma has digested a library of source material and rendered it with astonishing concision, while including enough colorful detail to bring the history lesson alive. A pleasure to read, and I learned a great deal. (****)

  • Ian McEwan: Nutshell

    Ian McEwan: Nutshell
    Nutshell is both audaciously original, and quintessential McEwan in story, mood, humor. It’s dense with big ideas (e.g., the horror of the possible collapse of civilization vs keeping perspective on the simple joys and privilege of being alive), too dense for me to absorb in one reading. So it didn’t exactly jell for me, as, say “The Children’s Hour” did. But I sure was sucked into the plot, unputdownable toward the end. (***)

  • Patrick Leigh Fermor: The Violins of Saint-Jacques

    Patrick Leigh Fermor: The Violins of Saint-Jacques
    A small gem of a novel set in the olive groves of Greece, and during Mardi Gras on a small ill-fated Caribbean island. The history, the local French nobility, the verdant surroundings, the heat and the pageantry are lovingly sketched, with the writing sometimes reaching an ecstasy of description. A celebration of dubious colonialism that ratchets to a gripping and moving finale. (***)

Books Mark read recently

  • Lorrie Moore: 100 Years of The Best American Short Stories (The Best American Series ®)

    Lorrie Moore: 100 Years of The Best American Short Stories (The Best American Series ®)
    This is a treasure trove of short stories, each one a gem. The short stories in this volume progress from the year 1915 to 2015. Read chronologically, I gained notions on how short stories writers changed and improved over the years. Interspersed with autobiographical notes on each author, as well as commentary from the editors on the eras in which they wrote, the stories feel bound to a good home in this collection. A heavy book, but I could not put it down. My personal favorites were Fitzgerald's "Babylon Revisited," John Updike's "Pigeon Feathers," Joyce Carol Oates' "By the River," Charles Baxter's "Harmony of the World," Jamaica Kincaid's " Luella," Akhil Sharma's "If You Sing Like That for Me," and Jhumpa Lahiri's "The Third and Final Continent." I will go back to these stories again in the future. Such beautiful writing. Such a magical book. (*****)

  • Cesare Pavese (author): The Beautiful Summer (Penguin European Writers)

    Cesare Pavese (author): The Beautiful Summer (Penguin European Writers)
    An intimate, buoyant story of one summer for a seventeen year-old woman attempting to fit-in with some older experienced Bohemian artists. Pavese captures her lack of confidence perfectly as she falls in love with a handsome painter and encounters her co-horts teasing and bullying. A small, fun book to read, and for the most part, the reader feels the exuberance of youth in the 1930's, in an Italian city, and the possibilities and boredom that accompanies a Bohemian lifestyle there within. (****)

  • Sebastian Barry: A Long Long Way

    Sebastian Barry: A Long Long Way
    Sebastian Barry takes you by the hand and leads you into the trenches of Belgium during WW1. This is one Irishman's story of the horrors of war. Brutal, and extremely well written, A Long Long Way is unflinching in detailing man's inhumanity and cruelty toward each other. (****)

  • Edited by James Thomas and Robert Shapard: Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories

    Edited by James Thomas and Robert Shapard: Flash Fiction Forward: 80 Very Short Stories
    I purchased this collection to find stories for my EFL students who claimed my previous short story selections were too long. This collection of eighty very short stories solves that problem, (each story is about a page and a half,) but I found most of the stories underwhelming and quickly forgotten. A few standouts however are worth mentioning here: "Stories," "The Voices in My Head," "Jumper Down," "Bullhead," "All Girl Band," and "My Date with Neanderthal Woman." These contained tension and/or light-hearted comic energy that most readers will appreciate in this very short format. (**)

  • Donna Tartt: The Secret History

    Donna Tartt: The Secret History
    A neurotic bunch of Classics majors at a small Vermont college are led by a brainy handsome character named Henry in a plot to commit murder. A thrilling page-turner with turns and twists galore; and heavy drinking. Beautifully written, intelligent, fun-- if not ever so slightly, long-winded. (*****)

Films Julian Watched Recently

  • Call Me By My Name
    As languid as an Italian summer, a tale of first love that, thanks to impeccable performances, feels true, calling us to dare to open our hearts. (DVD) (****)
  • Darkest Hour
    Gary Oldman’s terrific Oscar-winning Winston Churchill impersonation aside, this movie moves glacially, and the rewriting of history brings little. Snoozefest. (Theater) (**)
  • Isle of Dogs
    Dogs are under threat in an affectionately stereotypical future Japan. It’s a leisurely tale told in whip-fast animation, liberally peppered with humorous touches. The voice work and animation are clever and fun. Pure Wes Anderson dark whimsy. (Theater) (4 stars for me, but 2 for my moviegoing companion.) (****)
  • Paterson
    A movie observing likeable people going about their lives; a love song to a city and to poetry. Sounds more or less up my street, so why am I thinking of friends who’ll enjoy it more than I did. As far as movie-ness (artificiality), there are no more coincidences than in something by Rohmer. For me, it played fine but just didn’t spark. (DVD) (**)
  • The Post
    This is how, in the Vietnam War era and pre-Watergate, a whistleblower and US newspapers bravely confronted the Nixon White House over freedom of the press. It’s also the startling story of a Washington society matron confronting gender prejudice, internalized and external, when thrust into a history-making role. It's a solid, suspenseful, satisfying account, tidily acted by Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, with clear parallels to current times. It also sent me to Wikipedia to learn more about The Pentagon Papers, Daniel Ellsberg, Katherine Graham, Ben Bradlee and the rest. (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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