I may be liking the second half of the series better. It's the 80's, everyone's older, and AIDS has become an inescapable reality. I really like the wI may be liking the second half of the series better. It's the 80's, everyone's older, and AIDS has become an inescapable reality. I really like the way that Maupin handles AIDS, actually. This series began as a fun romp through San Francisco, but then this horrible diseases shows up and takes everyone by surprise, just like in the real world. It's a testament to Maupin's skill that he addresses it without allowing it to consume the book. Significant Others continues to be a full view of life in contemporary SF. That's the best part of the Tales series. We get to grow with these characters and watch the evolutions in their lives in real-time. Sometimes, they take a bad turn. I'm not talking about AIDS here, I'm talking about Mary Ann. By this point in the series, she's a total diva, and I was glad she didn't show up much in Significant Others.
Much more than the previous four, this one separated the characters into distinct groups. It was a smart move that let Maupin really develop his theme of "significant others." Sometimes that's a couple, and sometimes that's just a best friend. Either way, we got to dig deeper into relationships than in the previous books, and I really appreciated that. ...more
This did get better as it went along, but I could've done without all the sad young man stuff. A broken heart (and subsequent slut spiral) is a fine tThis did get better as it went along, but I could've done without all the sad young man stuff. A broken heart (and subsequent slut spiral) is a fine topic for most books, but when presented alongside a project making leaps and bounds in AI it just becomes a lot of noise. More DrBass, less weird sex cult, please. Also, there were a lot of times when I found the narrator just plain offensive. There was one instance where he's bemoaning the price of life in San Francisco, and he says something along the lines of life is tough here if you don't have money, but if you're like most people it's fine. Observations like that peppered the book and they came across as tone deaf....more
This series keeps powering on. This one, I would say, is the most complete. By that I mean, it reads like a full concept in a way that the other onesThis series keeps powering on. This one, I would say, is the most complete. By that I mean, it reads like a full concept in a way that the other ones didn't. The previous three books read more like a series of events in these really interesting people's lives. There were arcs, but they seemed incidental to just hanging with these people. Babycakes definitely feels more fully conceptualized. It starts with Queen Elizabeth landing at SFO on a raining day three months before Easter, and ends with the Queen again just after Easter. Throughout, we jump back and forth between SF and the UK. The season in both places is rainier than usual. Operating in the background is the death of Michael's lover from AIDS (this is one of the very early mentions of the plague in fiction) and Mary Ann's struggle to conceive a child.
Overall, Babycakes is the most somber of the books (so far), but since this is Maupin, that's still a far cry from a tearjerker. I really enjoyed this one, and I get the sense that he was wrapping up a lot of things from the first half of the series. I anticipate the next set of novels to take our friends from 28 Barbary Lane in a new direction. I'm pretty excited for the journey....more
Mostly set in and around college campuses, the seven stories in Rebecca Lee’s Bobcat describe a niche milieu of publishers, authors, marriage brokersMostly set in and around college campuses, the seven stories in Rebecca Lee’s Bobcat describe a niche milieu of publishers, authors, marriage brokers and architects. While each story is beautifully rendered, often through a scrim of nostalgia for the recent past, they provide few surprising evolutions on traditional themes of infidelity, shame and perseverance.
The title story finds a group of literati gathered for a dinner party, at which talk about the new Salman Rushdie memoir fails to compete with romantic intrigue and a suspicious tale of wilderness survival. In “The Banks of the Vistula,” a plagiarist discovers that the worst part of her deceit lies not in the offensive source material she passes off as her own, but rather in getting away with it. And in 1989, during the chaotic days leading up to the expulsion of Vietnamese refugees from Hong Kong (then a British colony), college student Sarah finds herself in the awkward position of selecting a bride for a friend in “Min.”
Lee’s imagination produces great copy, but her stamina quits before the collection does. The earlier stories maintain a cool, dispassionate narrative distance, while still providing a pleasing (if predictable) emotional wallop. The latter, weaker ones, however, remain flat on the page and read more like conceptual sketches. Overall, the collection pushes its reader to the edge of a grand revelation that never arrives, ushering them instead through a series of worlds where none of the characters get quite what they want. Lee may not offer a new understanding of life’s thorniest questions, but her elegant prose serves as a reminder to savor the beauty in the everyday.
This one is more of a mystery than the first, but that's not really why you're reading, is it? You keep reading to spend some more time with this campThis one is more of a mystery than the first, but that's not really why you're reading, is it? You keep reading to spend some more time with this campy soap opera. "Wait. Can you repeat that again? What's that about Mrs. Madrigal?" "What happened to Michael?!" Cruise ship. Bordello. Twist. ¡Escandalo! Basically, that's the loop going on in my head as I read these books. Love it!...more
Welcome to San Francisco, girl! Here's a joint, and to paraphrase Mrs. Madrigal, don't you dare tell your mother!
Basically, all you need to know is thWelcome to San Francisco, girl! Here's a joint, and to paraphrase Mrs. Madrigal, don't you dare tell your mother!
Basically, all you need to know is that Mary Ann Singleton moves to S.F. and embarks on a wonderful new life with a cast of zany friends. Whenever I'm new to a city (like Mary Ann) I like to read some fiction that's very clearly identified with that place. I read Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy in Brooklyn and several books by Dennis Copper in L.A.. But so far, Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City has been, by far, the most fun - and I loved those other ones. Oh my goodness, what a romp! This book is a soap opera replete with snappy dialogue, outlandish plot twists and characters so wooden you'd think they wandered in from a lumber yard. But who cares? Not me. I ripped through this thing in three jags, and I'm dying to pick up the next installment this weekend.
I really can't say enough good things about it. I just want to see what's next for May Ann, Michael Tolliver, Mrs. Madrigal and the rest of them!...more
When speaking about his writing process at the Edinburgh book festival, Murakami said: "I have my own basement in my mind. It’s dark and scary.You havWhen speaking about his writing process at the Edinburgh book festival, Murakami said: "I have my own basement in my mind. It’s dark and scary.You have to be physically strong to go down to the darkness and return to the surface." As I reflect on Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage I can think of no better way to describe Murakami's style than to say it's demanding in a physical way. To read it is to feel something shift inside you, to be the one doing the shifting.
This may be my favorite of his books and that's saying a lot; I've read everything that's available Stateside (and even some that isn't). I'm an evangelist for his work, always pushing people to give him a chance, confident that they'll love him as much as I do. Without fail, when people have asked me which of his books is my favorite, which I recommend they start with, I've said Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World because it balances so many of the elements of his work that I love in a way that some of the more polished novels have failed to do. Colorless, though, may just have struck that same magical balance while achieving an incredibly high level of polish. It's simply breathtaking.
To speak of Murakami is often to speak of his love for the West, to say that his novels are remarkably "un-Japanese," more obsessed with American culture than Japanese traditions. Certainly, there's some truth to this. The prototypical Murakami protagonist is a solitary, unambitious man likely to be un- (or under-) employed. It's a far cry from the concept we have of the worked-to-death Japanese businessman, but in viewing his work that way I think we miss something uniquely Japanese about the work of Murakami. He's written nearly 20 books, and it's not such an exaggeration to say that they're pretty much the same each time. It's not for nothing a typical synopsis of his work goes: man makes pasta, listens to music, and finds himself in an alternate reality. Rather than diversify Murakami has dedicated his life to perfecting that story, and that commitment to excellence is very much a Japanese characteristic. I think it took me till this book to really understand that. His style is paired down, simple, direct, and precise here. Aside from one or two (literally no more than that) lumbering metaphors the prose flows smoothly and clearly, like saki streaming into a cup. And reading it is just as pleasurable as sipping from that cup!
Yet, I return to that quote: to be physically strong; to go down to the darkness. It's a statement that evokes heroism without action, accomplishment without accolades. Again, this is a departure from the American fetishist we might be tempted to read into all those references to jazz, cinema, and cuisine. I can think of no better counterbalance to that epitome of American mass cultural output the Hollywood action blockbuster than Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. The heroes journey is completed here without a body count, without explosions, without the grateful adulation of a citizenry that has just lost half their city to the hubris of power and domination. Which is not to say the novel is without its stakes. Murakami often draws explicit (if ephemeral) connections between individual lives and the world at large (I'm thinking in particular of 1Q84 here). True, Tsukuru's journey is a deeply personal one, but it resounds with broader implications. That Murakami obsession with expressing a solitary man's isolation appeals to us (and his own countrymen—it's not for nothing the book sold one million copies in Japan its first month) precisely because it is easily a stand in for all of us, for our collective ennui—our cultural torpor. To be physically strong. To go down to the darkness. That is what's required of Tsukuru if he's to overcome the deep wounds blocking him from fully engaging with life. That is what's required of us as readers and as human beings, too. It's an imperative journey and one for which there is precious little fanfare. And once you do go, you still have to find the strength to return to the surface....more
Capitalism and politics go toe-to-toe in John le Carré’s latest caper, A Delicate Truth. The prolific espionagOriginally appeared in Time Out New York
Capitalism and politics go toe-to-toe in John le Carré’s latest caper, A Delicate Truth. The prolific espionage writer best known for his Smiley novels—a series of Cold War tales following a fictional MI6 master spy—here tackles a new world order, in which reliable intelligence proves elusive and military maneuvers increasingly devolve into skirmishes between private sector hired guns.
Three years ago, an aggressive minister of the British Foreign Office colluded with both the American government and private interests to stage Wildfire, a highly secretive counterterrorism operation in the British colony of Gibraltar. Wildfire was officially deemed a success, earning the minister’s eyes on the ground a cushy sinecure befitting his guilelessness. Disgruntled insiders, however, insist the operation yielded different results and threaten to blow the whistle; this would expose an embarrassing, and potentially catastrophic, cover-up. Now, Toby Bell, an up-and-comer in the Foreign Office, must decide whether or not it’s worth sacrificing a promising career to uncover the truth of what happened.
Typical of Le Carré’s brand of brainy fiction, A Delicate Truth aspires to something grander than cheap thrills; the author maintains command of a subject that every day proves more complex, cynical and opaque. But this time, the novelist’s reach falls short. War may have gone to the mercenaries, but just as the Soviet operatives in Le Carré’s earlier novels refrained from presenting simple quandaries of good versus evil, so, too, should agents of privatization resist easy generalizations. Much about a for-profit war machine deserves criticism, but Toby and company appear all too eager to don metaphorical white and black hats. We get the broad moral brush when a finer-edged ambiguity would’ve better served....more
It was serendipity in the form of a Goodreads New Releases mailer that brought this book to my attention. I've been curious about the famous South AmeIt was serendipity in the form of a Goodreads New Releases mailer that brought this book to my attention. I've been curious about the famous South American "Liberator" for some time now, and, then, there it was featured by the awesome editorial team: a new biography!
Bolívar led a pretty interesting life. The son of a very wealthy Venezuelan family, he lost both his parents and a brother very young. As an orphan, he was passed around from one relative to another, all of whom were more interested in his wealth than in his well-being. Nonetheless, he received a first class education and got the opportunity to travel wildly, particularly to Napoleon's france. It was in Europe that Simón met the love of his life and discovered his true calling. Blah blah blah. A lot happened, including bloody and protracted wars of independence. In short, the whole reason why he's famous. You'll want to read the book for the nitty gritty.
While I really enjoyed the history here, and the intimate portrayal of this iconic personage, what most fascinated me was the way he really is the template for so much of what we associate with Gabriel Garcia Marquez's infamous South American dictators. He's fiery, impulsive, at once an autocratic ruler and a man philosophically opposed to dictatorship or any whiff of a monarchy. It's no coincidence, of course. Garcia Marquez wrote a whole historical novel chronicling The Liberator's final voyage.
Still, the time didn't come alive for me. While reading this I kept having to remind myself that all this actually happened, that it wasn't a novel. Partly, it's my ignorance of South American history, but I think it's partly also the book's tone. It just felt a lot less weighty than some of the other histories I've read recently. I wish I could be more specific with my criticism there, but unfortunately, I can't point to any one thing in the text. I'm curious to hear what other readers, who are more familiar with the history, think about this.
My take away: Why don't more people in this country know about Simón Bolívar? He pulled off something way more impressive than Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan or Napoleon - certainly something more impressive than the (North) American Revolutionary War. He either directly or indirectly freed an entire continent from Spanish colonial rule. And he did it with a truly integrated military force, drawing on a vast diversity of race, culture and class.
Recommended for fans of Latin American history, military history and history in general....more
Overall, I found le Carré's writing to be very strong and engaging, but at times, it could veer into the overly prosaic. There were definitely parts tOverall, I found le Carré's writing to be very strong and engaging, but at times, it could veer into the overly prosaic. There were definitely parts that I plodded through. His strong control of the story kept me coming back.
I've not read any of the earlier Smiley novels, though I did see the Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy movie, so I was, at least, familiar with the characters and the world. I assume there were some subtleties that were lost on me starting in medias res, as it were, but the key moments were well grounded in this novel. Basically, Smiley comes out of retirement for one final showdown with his arch-nemesis, a Soviet spy know only--and enigmatically--as Karla. The political climate has changed since Smiley was last active, and Le Carré does an excellent job stoking Smiley's nostalgia throughout, adding to the overall drama. The stakes are high here, but more on a personal level than on a geo-political one, which is not to say that there aren't some serious concerns in the balance. Failure for Smiley would've been personally devastating--he's settling an old score, after all--but from a broader perspective, meant simply continuing with a status quo that was already waning in the final days of the Cold War. ...more
I don't normally go in for inspirational or business books - let alone one geared specifically at women in the workforce - but I found myself continuaI don't normally go in for inspirational or business books - let alone one geared specifically at women in the workforce - but I found myself continually enraptured by what Sandberg had to say, not just about women but about the challenges of the modern workplace as well. Perhaps, a lot of this resonated with me because as a gay Latino I rarely find myself in the majority of anything. The "lean in" message, thus, transcends gender; it's more broadly applicable to those traditionally marginalized.
But I don't want to get too far into the weeds of marginalization here. Instead, I want to reflect on the positive lessons. Leaning in is about applying yourself at work in an ambitious way, but it's also about knowing where to draw your own line of engagement. Sandberg presents some fascinating statistics that show, on average, how much more we're all working than our antecedents. The result, of course, is that we all have less time for family and personal life. Sandberg makes a strong case for asserting your ambitions in both the office as well as the home, while at the same time acknowledging that both spheres require a flexibility that our traditional work/life ideas don't adequately address.
All in all, Lean In is a pretty awesome, accessible and eye-opening read. I definitely recommend it for anyone thinking through their place in an organization or looking to reassess priorities as circumstances evolve....more
Hiaasen is reliably awesome. Bad Monkey is chockablock with zany characters, Floridian schadenfreude, and political malfeasance. I loved it. I particuHiaasen is reliably awesome. Bad Monkey is chockablock with zany characters, Floridian schadenfreude, and political malfeasance. I loved it. I particularly love how Hiaasen's novels paint a picture of such complete corruption. The state of affairs are so far gone in his Florida that even the good guys must resort to fraud and bribery to get anything done. ...more
Luis Negón’s debut story collection, Mundo Cruel, is a study in verve, sass, and voice, peppered with a dash ofOriginally Appeared in Lambda Literary
Luis Negón’s debut story collection, Mundo Cruel, is a study in verve, sass, and voice, peppered with a dash of spirituality. Short and sweet, this slim volume delivers its wisdom in one breakneck sprint through the cosmopolitan barrio of Santurce, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Negrón’s work has garnered comparisons to Manuel Puig, the late Argentine pop author best known for his novel Kiss of the Spider Woman. It’s an apt comparison. Like Puig, Negón’s prose crackles with the voice of the street, constructing deep meaning out of absurdity and satire. But Negrón is his own writer.
Presented as a play, two reactionary mothers read a queer neighbor boy (and his kin) for filth, disguising their bigotry as altruism in “So Many, or On How the Wagging Tongue Can Cast a Spell.” “The Vampire of Moca” examines the life-cycle of jealousy through the eyes of an aging queen vying for the affections of an ostensibly straight macho stud. An anointed adolescent “fag” spreads the Good News in unorthodox fashion through an eager congregation in “The Chosen One.” And, taking a somber turn, “The Garden” finds Nestito reflecting on the incarcerating nature of affection as his terminally ill lover, his lover’s sister, and he prepare to ring in the New Year.
Negrón leverages the subversive camp of queerness here, taking every opportunity to lambast bigotry and internalized homophobia in equal measure. These brilliant, tightly constructed stories are peopled with characters meant to represent a sexual polarity: either they’re out-and-proud queens, or they’re staunch heterosexuals, loath to cop to disruptive desires. Those that do trip across the no man’s land of fluid sexuality do so quickly, deliberately, and in ritualized fashion, all the better to facilitate a neat justification. Mundo Cruel is a shrewd celebration of subversion, to be sure, but for all its bravado the broader point here is a quiet reaffirmation that we all possess the innate capacity to subvert the status quo. Queerness is merely one mechanism (perhaps the most fun) by which it can be accomplished. ...more
Professor Joseph Skizzen has spent a lifetime distilling a single thought into its purest expression. This misOriginally appeared in Time Out New York
Professor Joseph Skizzen has spent a lifetime distilling a single thought into its purest expression. This mission is something Skizzen’s creator, the famously deliberative William H. Gass, no doubt sympathizes with deeply; Middle C is the 88-year-old writer’s first novel in nearly 20 years.
Fearing the stain of Nazism, fiddler Rudi Skizzen adopts a Jewish identity to secret his young family out of Austria and into Blitz-era London. Rudi doesn’t stick around for long, however, absconding to Canada the first chance he gets. With little more than a handful of counterfeit identifications, the remaining Skizzens immigrate to rural Ohio. Because son Joey lacks proper papers, assimilation proves difficult. Joey makes his way by exploiting an aptitude for piano, eventually forging the documents necessary to secure a position at a middling local college. While piano provides stability, Joey’s true calling is his “Inhumanity Museum,” a secret archive housed in his attic. There, he obsessively catalogs mankind’s atrocities—everything from arson to genocide—and rebukes the perpetrators.
Gass orchestrates his fiction with thematic elements as a composer might a symphony, reworking the events of Joey’s life to more thoroughly explore the idea that all individuals share in a universal guilt. Just as his father shirked responsibilities for Joey and his family, Joey seeks to eschew the blame for the ugliness he gleefully documents in his museum, coming to embrace his once-shameful, fraudulent identity as an ethical circumvention. Typical of Gass’s subversive fiction, Middle C forgoes easy moralizing in favor of a more ambivalent relativism. In the case of Joey Skizzen, it’s mendacity, not truth, that will set you free....more
Entertaining enough, but definitely not as good as the detective Erlunder series.
the premise revolves around a secret plan hatched in theEntertaining enough, but definitely not as good as the detective Erlunder series.
the premise revolves around a secret plan hatched in the final days of WWII to spirit away Hitler to a deserted island off the coast of Argentina. This ploy is so secret, and so sensitive that people have to die over the course of 50 years to protect it.
I don't buy it. Especially by the time of the narrative moment. I just can't see it being such a huge conspiracy. I mean, sure, it would've been a big deal, but, come on, I just don't buy the huge deal. Governments do all sorts of shady things and cut all sorts of deals. The fracas would've passed. But I digress.
Other than that the writing was pretty good. Indridason is good at pacing an his characters are always entertaining. Plus, visiting Iceland via fiction is always a treat!...more
A great, lyric achievement - a well-deserved classic of mid-century American prose. Gass is approachable, graspable, If you will, in a way rare amongA great, lyric achievement - a well-deserved classic of mid-century American prose. Gass is approachable, graspable, If you will, in a way rare among his cohort of literary giants. I found the five stories here to be an endless spiral of inventiveness, pulled off in distinct voices.
I don't have it in front of me to directly quote at the moment (and, frankly, I'm not keen to transcribe the whole passage anyway), but there is a brilliant, four page, tour-de-force monologue in "Icicles," which boils the whole of existence down to a simple exchange of ownership. Pick up a copy of this out-of-print collection if you can!y...more