Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Eaten Ones

So, you know what sucks more than misplacing books? Having your dog eat one! Seriously, I don't think I'm supposed to read this book.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Lost Ones

I am currently reading The Guide by R.K. Narayan. It's a book I started sometime before Christmas, then I misplaced it. I found it a week or so ago, and now I'm starting it again. I know, not very interesting...

Here's the thing, there is no telling how many books I have done this with in the past. Usually when I find them, I don't bother with them again. It's mind boggling when this happens with a book I was enjoying (like The Guide)...what, the magic was lost or something?

My propensity for misplacing books is one of many reasons I put off buying an ereader - fear of misplacing my $200 'book'. So far I haven't misplaced my nook, but it does scare the same time it's harder to actually misplace the ebooks on it, so long as I don't lose the device. .

What this has me wondering is how many great books I've missed out on just because I'm an idiot. I've tried keeping one book at home and another at work just so I don't carry books to and fro, but inevitably I find I'm enjoying one book more than the other, so I end up carrying it to and fro...and, of course, risking misplacing the book. I often find the book months down the road...but these books are still Lost Ones, because I seldom start reading them again. Does anyone else do this odd behavior?

I hope The Guide turns out to be a great book...The Lost Ones deserve a winner.

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

Having just finished American Rust, I figured it was about time to finally get around to reading Cain's classic The Postman Always Rings Twice. Like Redemption Street, this book was on my dying to read list.

Postman and Cain are often lumped in with the Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler school of crime writing. This is a false categorization. Cain actually writes in a more terse, hard-boiled style than either Hammett or Chandler but the comparisons really end there. Postman (and none of Cain's books that I'm aware of) isn't a mystery. It's all about the consequences of crime. Like any good/true noir it is more an exploration of existential themes than whodunnit. Cain does this so well that Camus cites Postman as the inspiration for his famous existential work "The Stranger."

The story centers on the "love" triangle between Nick and Cora Papadakis and Frank Chambers. Frank is a drifter who lands at Nick and Cora's roadside sandwich joint. Frank and Cora, of course, fall into an obsessive love affair that can only breathe if they are able to get rid of Nick. I'll stop there, because I think you know where this is headed, and I don't want to give away any of the particulars that really make Postman special.

The reading of this book was hurt somewhat for me by the fact that I've seen both the 1946 titular American film (I even own it) several times and the Italian neo-realist film "Ossessione" based on the book. (Hint: if you have to choose try Ossessione, it's a masterpiece) So, I knew the story well. Yet, I was still able to enjoy Cain's terse, clipped prose, and the ending is worth the price of the book alone.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday

From the Broke and the Bookish this weeks topic is Books I Wish I had read when I was a kid...

Hmm, I'm pretty sure I won't get to ten.

1. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll - this seems like one of those everyone knows the story, but few have read it books. That's my excuse at least.

2. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson - Pirates! Arrrgh!

3. The Hounds of the Baskervilles - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes is too light in my reading history.

4. Journey to the Center of the Earth - Jules Verne. I have this at home. It seems like the kind of adventure story I would have more enjoyed as a boy than an adult.

5. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Need to have a 'scary' book on the list.

6. Any of the Hardy Boys books. I like mysteries today, seems I would have liked these as a kid.

7. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. I read Huck Finn freshman year of college. It, too, should have been read when I was younger. What was wrong with my teachers?

I guess that will do it for now...

Monday, January 24, 2011

American Rust by Philipp Meyer (+)

American Rust by Philipp Meyer will likely be shelved with the Literary Fiction in your local Barn o' Novels. I came across it in the latest edition of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. This seems to give the book more credence on its Literary-label. It has been compared to Faulkner, Joyce, Hemingway, and McCarthy. I found it most resembled Faulkner (what I know of Faulkner). I also found it to be genre fiction...and literary fiction. But then I find noir to be very literary. Sue me.

The story is set in the dying Pennsylvania rust belt, and delves into the minds, in a stream of conscious Faulner-esque way, of six characters residing there:

Isaac English- a 20 year-old,genius trapped in town caring for his ailing father.
Billy Poe- a 20 year-old, former jock, whose fists are always getting him in trouble.
Bud Harris- the chief of police, who always stick his neck out for Poe, because he is in love with Poe's mother.
Grace Poe- Billy Poe's mother, who can't decide between Bud or Billy's father
Lee English- Isaac's sister, she escaped the valley to graduate from Yale, and is now married to money,though she loves Billy
Henry English- Lee and Isaac's crippled father

The story is simple. Isaac and Billy stumble into trouble with some derelicts as Isaac is heading out of town for good. Billy gets into one of his typical fisticuffs with the bums, and Isaac saves Billy from certain doom, when he accidentally kills one of the bums. The boys 'escape', but find themselves in a greater hell. And this is why American Rust is noir.

Isaac ends up on the road as he always planned. Billy ends up in jail and won't talk in an effort to protect Isaac. And Bud Harris becomes a main character in the narrative at this point as he wrestles with what to do about Billy in this case. All of the characters are corrupted and destroyed in one manner or another by their decisions. It is the psychology behind these decisions, and how each of the characters respond to their descent down this downward spiral that makes American Rust such a fascinating read. The stream of conscious style and narrative from six points of view worked spectacular in this regards.

If there is a weakness in the novel it's that sometimes with all characters narrating in a stream of conscious, there is a "sameness" to their voices. For me, this was mostly with the voices of Poe and Isaac. In my copy of the book, there is Q&A with the Author at the back and he claims that Isaac's and Poe's streams are distinct in that Isaac's mind works more linear, and Poe's more circular -- he goes round and round the issue before settling on a decision. I didn't catch this, but it might be interesting to consider if I ever re-read the book.

In the end, I loved American Rust. The plus sign in this review's title is a measure of its 'kick-assness'.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Literary Blog Hop

This week's theme at the Literary Blog Hop is:

Discuss a work of literary merit that you hated when you were made to read it in school or university. Why did you dislike it?

Believe it or not, this is a touch question. Why? Because I enjoyed most of the books I was assigned. There's a reason they're classics...they're great stories. I think the answer is going to have to be Moby Dick. I was assigned this in HS sophomore English honors. I think the main reason I disliked the book was that the sadistic teacher assigned this AND The Scarlet Letter in the same 6 week period. Moby Dick is just too long of a book to be crammed into that time frame for a HS student IMO, when he/she is studying six other subjects. Specifically, in the book, what I remember is:

1. I liked the beginning.
2. I liked the end.
3. I disliked all the exposition in the middle.

If that seems like a very sparse review, it is because it has been well over 20 years since I read the book. Moby Dick is on a long list of books I hope to re-read some day.

What book were you forced to read, and disliked? Have you since re-read the book? Has your opinion changed?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Redemption Street by Reed Farrel Coleman

Happy New Year blog. It's been awhile.

I just finished reading Redemption Street by Reed Farrel Coleman. It's not literary fiction. It's a private eye novel. It's not part of my effort to read more widely. It was on my list of novels I'm dying to read.

Redemption Street is the second in the Moe Prager series of novels. I've read the books out of order - partly, because I'm growing sick of the genre insistence on series characters; partly because the books are somewhat hard to find. The series is an exception in that there is a well defined story-arc throughout. Part of its appeal is this arc...that and how Coleman jumps around in time throughout the series. The arc is more about family dysfunction and secrets than crime genre minutiae. Another appeal.

So what about Redemption Street?

Well, the story arc isn't a big deal here. It's only alluded to. So, in some ways, this reads more as your straight forward private eye novel than any other novel (of the ones I've read) in the series. The plot involves Prager investigating the circumstances around a fire at a Catskills resort hotel sixteen years prior. This is a Coleman novel, so it can't just be a simple case for Moe. It has to touch him personally, so we have Andrea Cotter as one of the victims. She was one of Moe's high school crushes... Coleman often relies on Moe's soft, cushy side and it seems corny when I write about it, but he's much better at it than I. There also an exploration of Jewish cultural assimilation, which again is a pull on Moe's personal feelings. It is the high point of the novel.

The 'mystery' isn't especially spectacular. And the other more 'characterization' stuff I usually find in a Coleman book isn't quite as prevalent. In the end, it's good enough to keep me reading about Moe, but it falls short of every other Coleman book I've read.