I've always enjoyed mystery novels, not so much for the plots, as for the characters and, particularly, the settings. A character on a mission to solv...moreI've always enjoyed mystery novels, not so much for the plots, as for the characters and, particularly, the settings. A character on a mission to solve a crime provides a great lens to explore places, and societies, that are different from the world I encounter every day. By that standard, 'The Cold Dish' is mostly a success. The likable-if-curmudgeonly narrator is a small-town sherriff in Wyoming, and he's a good observer of the complex social rules of the community.
Unfortunately, mysteries also have to have plots, and this one didn't work for me at all. I saw the resolution coming and thought 'please don't go there,' and it totally did. I have the second book in the series out from the library and I'll probably give it a shot. If Johnson keeps these characters and setting, and improves his plotting, it could be really enjoyable. (less)
I'm not completely sure what I just read, but I didn't want to put it down, and that counts for something.
Published in 1962, 'The Man in the High Cast...moreI'm not completely sure what I just read, but I didn't want to put it down, and that counts for something.
Published in 1962, 'The Man in the High Castle' presents an alternate version of history, in which Japan and Germany won World War II and jointly control the United States. The story is told from the viewpoints of several characters whose lives intersect, but the storylines never completely converge. The lack of clear resolution to any of the stories ought to feel unsatisfying, yet there's something hypnotic about the prose. None of the characters are in control of their own fates -- and at least one of them is manifestly insane (though even this isn't clear until late in the book.) They're spun around like pinballs, making the best of bad situations. The only thing they all seem to have in common is that they're fascinated by a novel which provides its own alternate history of a world in which Germany and Japan had lost the war (though, from what we see of the book, it's not exactly the same as our real world, either).
In the course of talking about the fictional novel, Dick has a character hint at the old adage that all fiction is really about the time and world that it's written in. So if the fictional novel was commenting on TMitHC's internal 'real' world, presumably this real novel was meant to say something about Dick's perception of the real 1962. Reading this in 2008, though, it's difficult to figure out what that might have been. Something about the Cold War, American imperialism, racism, space travel? Damned if I know. Still, this was a fascinating work by an acknowledged American master, and I expect that Dick's haunting mirror universe will linger with me for a while. (less)
This is the story of Shadow, an ex-con on a road trip through the American landscape of the supernatural.
I feel like this book deserves a 5, because i...moreThis is the story of Shadow, an ex-con on a road trip through the American landscape of the supernatural.
I feel like this book deserves a 5, because it really stuck with me. On the other hand, I tried to re-read it, and I discovered I had no desire to. I didn't get anywhere in 'Anansi Boys,' either, and on paper it's exactly the kind of thing I should like.
I continue to ponder the mystery of numerical ratings systems.
And I used to have a hardcover copy but my brother had it in his house during a hurricane and it got ruined along with everything else. Either that or he dropped it in the bathtub.
ETA: I did get around to rereading this for book club and was happy that I liked it as much as I remembered. Not sure why I got stuck on rereading it in 2005 except that I was teaching/just-post-grad-school and my brain wasn't processing much, long-form-reading-wise. I'd also completely forgotten that I had an edition signed by Neil Gaiman, though I distinctly remember the signing because I know I babbled and he said I didn't need to be so nervous (I thought the book I got signed was a different one, though.)
Anyway, I should really take another run at 'Anansi Boys' though I can't seem to find my copy so possibly I unloaded it at some point (which makes sense since apparently that was NOT the edition I got signed; that would be this now-beat-up American Gods paperback, which I clearly bought to replace the one my brother ruined in the bathtub and/or hurricane.(less)
I just found out there was a new book in Reginald Hill's Dalziel & Pascoe detective series, ie, my all-time favorite series. I did *not* realize u...moreI just found out there was a new book in Reginald Hill's Dalziel & Pascoe detective series, ie, my all-time favorite series. I did *not* realize until I bought it that the book is partly based on 'Sanditon', an unfinished Jane Austen novel. (All of the books in this series have some geeky literary hook; this is the second visit to Austen-country, following up the terrific "Pictures of Perfection." I'll be very excited to get to this; I got 'Sanditon' out of the library today (since I'm not enough of a Janeite to have actually read it) so I may at least look that over first.(less)
This is a novel written 50 years ago that feels like it was written last week -- except it really couldn't have been written last week, because the le...moreThis is a novel written 50 years ago that feels like it was written last week -- except it really couldn't have been written last week, because the level of detail, like specifically *how* an office worker in 1955 would get through the week without doing any actual work, isn't the sort of thing that a contemporary writer would be able to invent.
There are several graduate theses on society and gender and God-knows- what-else bo be unpacked from this book. But mostly, Richard Yates could flat-out write. I can't say I liked the characters in this book -- I can't say I hated them either. Those kinds of judgments are almost beside the point. I felt like I knew them, like the other knew them so completely and was doing such an intricate job of showing them and the world they lived in that it didn't matter that hardly anything happened in the book. Things *do* happen, big things, but when they do they're so conventional they're almost disappointing, and can hardly live up to the psychological atmosphere the author has created.
I don't feel like I'm doing a particularly good job of selling this book -- I really can't imagine how it's going to make a successful movie, though I'm definitely going for Leo in those shirts -- but I really did love this book. Beautiful and despairing without ever being falsely sentimental. It just works.(less)
I didn't actually finish this, but I got as far as I was going to, I think. This is an unfinished novel, so at a certain point it dissolves into somet...moreI didn't actually finish this, but I got as far as I was going to, I think. This is an unfinished novel, so at a certain point it dissolves into something that looks more like notes than an actual story. So it's more scholarly interest than anything.
Basically, reading this was pretty sad b/c I could see the flashes of potential for a great novel -- possibly a larger, more ambitious social novel, the kind you could see Jane reaching towards before she pulled back, in 'Mansfield Park.' And knowing that she died (probably of breast cancer, for which there obviously wasn't any treatment at the time) shortly after she put down this manuscript (which was partly a satire of the medical establishment of the time) is extra sad.
I was mostly reading this as preparation for Reginald Hill's "Price of Butcher's Meat", to help me catch the allusions, so now I can move onto that book, which is the cool part.(less)
I don't think I'm going to finish this. It has some interesting realistic detail but the story isn't grabbing me. And it's got the choppy-short-POV sw...moreI don't think I'm going to finish this. It has some interesting realistic detail but the story isn't grabbing me. And it's got the choppy-short-POV switching chapters thing going. Once I noticed this as a thing that bothers me, I'm starting to see it everywhere.(less)
I actually bought this book a couple years ago and just got around to reading it, as a book club selection. (I haven't actually made it to book club f...moreI actually bought this book a couple years ago and just got around to reading it, as a book club selection. (I haven't actually made it to book club for a couple months but I keep doing the reading!)
This was much different than I expected. Somehow I thought it would be a dreamy, contemplative kind of thing. It's actually a war book with *lots* of action, and for the most part it moves really quickly. Brooks writes terrific prose and her immersion in the historical period she writes about is evident; it's particularly impressive that she can convey so much information without ever having it feel like a lecture. I don't know if I've ever learned so much history from a book that moved so quickly.
There are aspects of the book that didn't really work for me. The "March" in the title is the narrator, and he's supposed to be the father of the March girls in "Little Women," relating his experiences as a chaplain in the Civil War. I see what Brooks is trying to do, and in theory I like the idea of mainstream cred going to what's essentially fanfiction. But I don't really know if this is a side of the "Little Women" story that's crying out to be told, and the references ended up distracting me more often than they helped. The real meat of the book concerns March's role on a cotton plantation in Northern occupied land, and once that story ends, the denouement (including a brief shift to the point of view of Mrs. March) is much less interesting.
Still, recommended to people interested in good Civil War fiction, the abolitionist movement, or the transcendentalists. Not necessarily to fans of "Little Women".(less)
I enjoyed this book though I suspect it's not going to hold up very well if I think about it very much. It's most remarkable for the atmosphere and po...moreI enjoyed this book though I suspect it's not going to hold up very well if I think about it very much. It's most remarkable for the atmosphere and point-of-view -- a woman in the present day remembers coming from Sweden in the 60s to stay with an eccentric family in rural England, and there's something captivating about the way the layers of narration create an interesting narrative voice. Once you get beneath the surface, there's not a lot of *story*, more a mishmash of story elements from dozens of Victorian novels and detective stories, with some splashes of modern psychiatry thrown in. Still, there's something mesmerizing in the way the story is told that I expect will stay with me.(less)
Audiobook for my trip to New York. I listened to the whole thing in the car. Like all the Dortmunder books, it's brain candy that really works your br...moreAudiobook for my trip to New York. I listened to the whole thing in the car. Like all the Dortmunder books, it's brain candy that really works your brain. As usual, Dortmunder & gang have a heist to pull; as usual, things don't go according to plan. Westlake also manages to sneak in commentary on the American class system -- our heroes are working stiffs, even though their 'work' consists of planning elaborate robberies and/or revenge schemes, and the 'victim' in this case, is a crooked CEO who thoughtlessly screw over everyone he touches. And still, because of Westlake's deft touch with character development, we do feel for the guy in his own way.
I think this might have ended up being the last Dortmunder book, before Westlake passed away a few months ago. That's a sad note to think about; on the other hand, it's nice to see that his writing stayed this sharp through such a long career. (less)
I got this to listen to in the car, along with a couple others. Don't know if i will get to it, depends on my mood and the length of the trip. I start...moreI got this to listen to in the car, along with a couple others. Don't know if i will get to it, depends on my mood and the length of the trip. I started to read this some time ago, and I enjoyed it, but got distracted and didn't finish for some reason.(less)