So I read all the stories, which I didn't enjoy nearly as much as I did the last time, years ago. I kept meaning to get around to the novels, but thenSo I read all the stories, which I didn't enjoy nearly as much as I did the last time, years ago. I kept meaning to get around to the novels, but then something happened. What happened was that I stopped spending evenings on the fire escape, and began eating other things besides beer and salad for dinner. I started wearing clothes to bed, and even dug up a light blanket, to supplement the sheet. My fan's gone still and silent, and when I wake up in the morning now I brew coffee and drink it hot, instead of icing it and holding the glass to my forehead as I sweat and iron work clothes, cringing at the warm fabric. I've swept up the sand, washed and folded the bikini, and I'm feeling oddly studious and am in the market for new boots.
In short, it is Fall, and I don't know that I can really read crime fiction after Labor Day. So this guy's headed back to the library, I think, and I'll take him out with the white shoes and try again next year.
My general impression this time is that it hasn't aged well, or I haven't. I do prefer Chandler, though I feel like that's not cool or something, and I did want to like this more than I did. It's very vintagey, which is where I got most of my kicks, because I do love that type of thing, but the problem is that it isn't enough anymore. I liked Hammett a lot more when I was younger, in the same way that I liked all vintage dresses and cars then, just because they were old and that's cool. I still think all old stuff is cool and I do like Hammett, but not as much as I did, because I am more discriminating: some old stuff is cooler than others.... Hammett's Continental Op is a lot cooler than MacDonald's Archer because he's ugly, and the procedural stuff in here's nice, as is my Bay Area, but I've renewed the book too many times and now it's got to go back. It's been sitting here too long, and I can't justify it. Them's the rules. I have so few that I do need to follow them, or chaos will result.
I have no idea what to read next. I've lost my will to review lately, which might be linked to the fact that I'm not so excited about the books I've been reading.
What's good autumnal reading? Also, anyone know any good Vegas books? I really want something great to read when I go there next week. Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated!...more
Man, I really loved this. Memoir might be another one of those things that I think I really hate, but in fact don't. I might just hate the idea of it,Man, I really loved this. Memoir might be another one of those things that I think I really hate, but in fact don't. I might just hate the idea of it, of how rampant it's become and how much memoir embodies this idea that's so pervasive right now about how everyone's individual story is so fascinating and important just because it's true, and how any level of event or emotional pain so significant and unique and worth moaning on about, only because it happened... A lot of the reviews on here took issue with the "emotional purge" quality of this book, which I get because it's the kind of thing that would normally bother me too, but for me it really worked here, not just in spite but because of its endlessly repetitive -- and arguably narcissistic -- exploration of psychic trauma and self.
The Sisters Antipodes passes the My Dark Places memoir test, i.e., it answers with an aggressive "yes" the question "Did anything unique or remarkable happen in your life that is worth exploring in a memoir?" The book is about Alison's family which, while probably not any less happy than your average family is unhappy in a more interesting way. In 1965, when Alison was four, her parents -- an Australian couple in the foreign service -- met another couple -- Americans, also in the foreign service, with two daughters around the same age as Jane and her sister. While the details of what happened next remain a bit unclear, both couples immediately divorced and reconfigured in only slightly altered mirror images of each other, and of what they had just recently been. Jane, her older sister, and their mother moved to the United States with Jane's stepfather, Paul, while her father stayed in Australia with his new wife and her two daughters. None of the four girls saw their biological fathers for the next seven years, acclimating to their new families and countries with the knowledge that on the other side of the globe, there was a shadow family for whom they'd been unceremoniously swapped. The book is about what this experience was like for Alison, and particularly focuses on her relationship with Jenny, her counterpart step-sister down-under, and both girls' serious issues both with each other and with their complex configuration of fathers.
As the child of an infinitely more prosaic divorce myself, I found a lot of this story seriously resonated with me. The concept of the book is successful because the premise -- which is, let's face it, far too schematic and contrived and unbelievable for a novel -- really works as a literary device through which to look at common experiences using an exceptionally poetic situation. In our culture, I'd say, the experience of father absence to some degree is far more common than not (see Chodorow, 1979). While this seems to be changing, a very large percentage of women my age and older can probably relate to a lot of Alison's obsessions with her father's attention and approval. A lot of the things she gets into about jealousy and competition in reconfigured families is also very common and is well-treated here. I mention this because I think part of my prejudice against memoir is that it's solipsistic and inherently navel-gazey, and I didn't find The Sisters Antipodes to be because, like good fiction, it was about a lot more than itself.
That said, there are some things in here that I can see not everyone could get into. For one thing, it must be said that Jane Alison is a good-looking blonde who went to Princeton. This fact isn't incidental to her story: it is a crucial point, and necessarily comes up a lot. Rightly or wrongly, some of us might have a very hard time relating to the problems of a good-looking blonde who has had an interesting, and in some ways privileged life, who's endowed with certain natural advantages and talents. Despite the difficulties she's faced at times, Alison is a winner, and the book is about how she wins, not at all in a celebratory inspirational way, but in a fairly ruthless and Darwinian sense that I found both profoundly honest and fascinating. I think there's a tendency in first-person accounts to play down one's winningness, because most readers can relate best to the aw-shucks underdog schmucky type who's more like us. But The Sisters Antipodes isn't about someone like that; it's about a girl who has a lot going for her, and knows it, who is competitive in ways that are difficult and damaging not just to people in her life, but to her. And that's a story that's maybe harder to relate to for a lot of readers than that of the hapless wallflower Jane-next-door, but it's also a lot more interesting, to me anyway.
Another thing about this book is that I really liked the language. It's very lush and descriptive, which is not always my thing, but it's cut with a certain dry cynicism that I think helped tether it to the ground. The environments and eras are so well evoked -- 1960s Australia, 1970s Washington D.C., a perplexingly unnamed South American country, etc. -- that I felt I'd been in them, in particular the author's childhood house. Due to my prejudice against memoir, I haven't read much of it, so I can't really compare this example against others of the genre. However, I was struck by the lucidity of her memories, and of how they triggered my own thoughts of times in my life I haven't remembered in years.
Finally, I sat down and read this book pretty much straight through, neglecting everything else in my life until I had finished. This hasn't happened to me in awhile, and I am really grateful for the experience. The writing was so vivid and immersive that I feel as if I'd inhabited the author's world and mind during the time I was reading. I do feel bad for Alison's family -- I am surprised that all these memoirs haven't inspired more murders of telling-all authors by their pissed-off siblings and parents -- but as a reader I benefited a lot from her candor, and I'd recommend this book to people (especially women, and men interested in specifically female experiences, who are, as noted here on previous occasions, unfortunately a minority) who might get into this kind of thing....more
My sister recommended that I read the final essay in here, "Goodbye to All That." I did, and it made me burst into tears on a westbound flight out ofMy sister recommended that I read the final essay in here, "Goodbye to All That." I did, and it made me burst into tears on a westbound flight out of JFK....more
I'm not sure I can star-rate books of short fiction. Some of these stories (e.g., "Off") I loved so much that I nearly cried when I read them, while oI'm not sure I can star-rate books of short fiction. Some of these stories (e.g., "Off") I loved so much that I nearly cried when I read them, while others (e.g., "Fruit and Words") I hated to the point of becoming physically ill. In her dart-throwing at axes mapping "Whimsical Quirk" and "Nihilistic Depravity," Bender does on occasion hit some sublime points. I'd read "Off" in an anthology, and it was like doing some weird new exercise that doesn't feel all that special at the time, but the next day you wake up sore and can't walk right for a week. Some of her stories are very, very good. My problem was that when craaaazy stories like this (many about children made partly or wholly of inanimate objects) don't quite come off, the results feel excruciating, like watching some pathetic exercise in imaginative contortion: "Look Ma, I'm Creative!" Bear in mind though, I have a severe allergic reaction to whimsy. Also, don't get me wrong: these stories are incredibly dark and disturbing. And, for the most part, they were pretty good. I'm not sure I should keep reading whole books of one author's short stories in a block like this. I think it makes me get really tired of the person's shtick, even when I basically do like what they're doing....more
**spoiler alert** Haven't read this one in years either, but thinking tonight about how much I love Diana Wynne Jones and remember this being another**spoiler alert** Haven't read this one in years either, but thinking tonight about how much I love Diana Wynne Jones and remember this being another one of my favorites (not as good as Fire & Hemlock, though). This Diana Wynne Jones woman is a frikkin' GENIUS. IMO these are the greatest kids' books EVER WRITTEN. This one starts out when this kid who lives in some sort of strange time and place that never actually existed stumbles upon a group of Them (Them being hooded, sinister gamers who are possibly among the most haunting figures in kid lit due to horrific combination of general creepiness and very disturbing model of cruel and indifferent gods). They catch the kid spying on Them while they're playing, and as punishment cast him out into a collection of alternate worlds, which it turns out are all these alternate realities manipulated by Them, as Their form of amusing game. Because the kid discovered the players behind the curtain, he is forced to become a Homeward Bounder, doomed to scramble around between the worlds, trying to find his way back to his own home. As the story goes on, you start to get the feeling this might be trickier than originally thought, as the kid begins to encounter other Homeward Bounders, including the Flying Dutchman and the Wandering Jew, who have been at this homeward bounding for quite some time.....
Okay, so DIANA WYNNE JONES IS A GODDAMN GENIUS, AND I THINK SHE WRITES THE BEST ENDINGS EVER AND I DON'T CARE WHAT ANYONE SAYS.
It is not just about how she blends traditional legends and mythology with her own crazy made-up ideas and recurring worlds/characters (I was probably 14 before I realized Guy Fawkes Day was not Jones's own invention -- whoopsie!). It is also about her ability to write this chaotic, artistic, meaningful literature for children. At the end of this book (I'm spoiling here! So lookout!), the characters suddenly confront the significance of the anchors that They use throughout the book as a sort of symbol. This is a really important point in the plot, because it's only then that the protagonist has the revelation that "hope is an anchor" -- that is, that hope and faith in the future is a prison, a deceptive trap being used to enslave the Homeward Bounders and to keep in place the nefarious system of worlds They've established.
Isn't that SO COOL??? Okay, maybe I wouldn't consider that such a profound message if I found it in a grownup book I'd be reading today, but for kids' fantasy fiction, that is some pretty heady stuff, am I right??! Hope is an anchor! It keeps you in chains! The way to become liberated is to abandon all your hopes and optimistic expectations, as only then you can really be free!!! That is just such a terrific message for kids to learn early on, especially in such a very lovely and entertaining format.
GOD I love this writer. I wish I could meet her someday, but I don't really know what I would say. I've got to go back and read these all again, but they're all at my mom's in California, and if my lovely out-of-print/first-edition hardcovers got lost in the mail, I'd have a terrible nervous breakdown for sure and never recover....more
This book made no sense to me (no, I didn't read it en español, that was just the best cover). I thought the characters were totally crazy, and couldnThis book made no sense to me (no, I didn't read it en español, that was just the best cover). I thought the characters were totally crazy, and couldn't relate at all to their bizarre obsessions and behavior. I could not for the life of me figure out why anyone in her right mind would look forward to bleeding out of her private parts, let alone what was so desirable about wearing a bra, or growing breasts in the first place, let along pubic hair (ew!). Later on, sadly, I would become all too familiar with these types of concerns, but Margaret and her friends' ways of dealing with these issues never did make sense, even then.
This book did do two good things for me: one, it helped me appreciate the short period of childhood still left to me when I read it and two, by preparing me psychologically to confront one day a complex system of pads and belts, AYTGIMM made me appreciate advances in menstruation technology I would otherwise have taken for granted.
This book really did it for a lot of girls, but in my opinion Judy Blume's done much better elsewhere (e.g., my review of Peeping Tony the Dyspeptic Pervert Boy Moves to Long Island)....more
Sadly, it's too late for me to grow up to be Joan Didion. She does shit with commas that should be illegal all in fifty states, makes it work, and theSadly, it's too late for me to grow up to be Joan Didion. She does shit with commas that should be illegal all in fifty states, makes it work, and then stands in tropical humid heat, smoking calmly, without breaking a sweat.
If I weren't already dreaming of a move to Miami, this book might have nudged me in that direction. It's not really so much about Miami, per se, but about Cubans there in the eighties. I recommend it, if you're into that sort of thing....more
Okay, so I loved this, but I can't decide whether to give it three or four stars. It lost some steam towards the end, and also I felt like a book thatOkay, so I loved this, but I can't decide whether to give it three or four stars. It lost some steam towards the end, and also I felt like a book that's told from the perspective of four different people needs to make a stronger and more successful effort to differentiate their voices.... BUT, this ruled and I really did enjoy reading it. For some reason it reminded me of Jacqueline Susann, but for/about men instead of women, and set in the seventies.
I recently got into a really embarrassing fight with a stranger on facebook when I overreacted to moralizing about my refined sugar consumption and other vices; I count books like this among the things I love that are shameful and likely giving me cancer. Recently I've stalled out on books with any nutritional value or moral virtue, and The Shark Infested Custard was the perfect antidote to that, basically a KFC Double Down topped with whipped cream and washed down with scotch. If you've recently quit smoking, drinking, sex, pills, or pretty much anything else fun, this might be a good read because a) it feels deliciously bad for you and b) it makes all those things I just listed seem totally gross.
In case you did not, as I didn't, "get" the title, The Shark Infested Custard takes its title from what Willeford calls an "old Miami riddle": "What is sweet, bright yellow, and extremely dangerous?" Apparently there is also a British kiddie TV show called this, after the same joke, which seems odd considering how well the title worked to convey the lethal sleaze of 1970s Miami.
Aw, hell, I'm giving this thing another star because I really did enjoy it. The best thing about the book is that it's from the point of view of these completely screwed up, horrible, unsympathetic guys, but it never breaks character or winks or gets meta for even a moment, and so you really do see things from their perspective. I would guess that most of the people whom I like and respect would really hate this book and, by extension, would hate me for liking it, so I don't recommend it unless you're a bad person or have at least got a wide unsavory streak.
I'm only on page thirty, but this is one of the most fucked-up books I've started in kind of a long time.
In other words, so far it's pretty awesome. I've already learned a new (to me) term, "strange," my new favorite-ever slang for pussy, and one of the main characters' outfits was described like this:
Hank came into the living room, looking and smelling like a jai-alai player on his night off. He wore white shoes with leather tassels, and a magenta slack suit with a silk blue-and-red paisley scarf tucked in around the collar. Hank had three other tailored suits like the magenta -- wheat, blue, and chocolate -- but I hadn't seen the magenta before. The high-waisted pants, with an uncuffed flare, were double-knits, and so tight in front his equipment looked like a money bag. The short-sleeved jacket was a beltless, modified version of a bush jacket, with huge bellows side pockets.
Don was the only one of us with long hair, that is, long enough, the way we all wanted to wear it. Because of our jobs, we couldn't get away with hair as long as Don's. Hank had fluffed his hair with an air-comb, and it looked much fuller than it did when he slicked it down with spray to call on doctors.
"Isn't that a new outfit?" Eddie said.
"I've had it awhile," Hank said, going to the table to build a drink. "It's the first time I've worn it, is all. I ordered the suit from a small swatch of material. Then when it was made into a suit, I saw that it was a little too much." He shrugged. "But it'll do for a drive-in, I think."
"There's nothing wrong with that color, Hank," Don said. "I like it."
Hank added two more ice cubes to his Scotch and soda. "It makes my face look red, is all."
"Your face is red," I said.
"But not as red as this magenta makes it look."
"When you pay us off tonight," Eddie said, "it'll match perfectly."
Unfortunately, I can't tell you the really fucked-up stuff, because that would be spoiling. But hopefully you've gotten a taste of its obvious awesome.
I remember when I read Where I Was From a couple years ago, Didion referred a lot to her novel Play It As It Lays and I thought it sounded really bad.I remember when I read Where I Was From a couple years ago, Didion referred a lot to her novel Play It As It Lays and I thought it sounded really bad. About a year ago I found an old edition someplace with this enormous and brain-numbingly awesome picture of Didion with her cigarette and legendarily icy, ironical stare. I really came close to buying it just because of that image on the back, but then I had a real stern confrontation with myself in the used fiction aisle about the folly and immaturity of buying a book I'd never want to read just for the author photo.
Well, silly me. Yesterday I found myself the grudging owner of a deeply unappealing FSG reprint that looks like an, I don't know, J. T. Leroy book or something else totally inappropriate and awful and contemporary. No fun at all! So it's funny to be reading something I never thought I'd have any interest in, but isn't that sort of the essence of maturity? I feel like I've sort of grown into Joan Didion. She used to epitomize all these things I hated, but now I find a lot of that same stuff pretty appealing.... story of my life, right? Story of most of ours, probably.
But anyway, yeah, this book. Well, I didn't have such a strong reaction to it, but like everything of Ms. Didion's I've read, I found it very well-written. I'd recommend this to anyone who liked Less Than Zero, who thinks they might enjoy essentially the same nihilistic LA-story more if it were set in the sixties, about a grown woman instead of a teenage boy, written by a better writer. I'd also recommend this to people who loved Valley of the Dolls yet who cling to certain literary pretensions. Since both these definitely describe me, it's not surprising that I did enjoy this book. I mean, it's a beautiful-woman-crashing-to-pieces yarn, and everyone loves those, don't they? No? Well, then don't waste your time. Read some of her essays instead....more
I've actually read quite a few Idiot's Guide type things in my day, but I'm always way too embarrassed to post them on here. I'll admit that I read thI've actually read quite a few Idiot's Guide type things in my day, but I'm always way too embarrassed to post them on here. I'll admit that I read this, though, because it's been really helpful. If you really know fuck all about motorcycles but are planning to start riding one, this is a pretty decent basic introductory guide. I referred to information in here when I was in the market for a bike and again when I started riding, and it's been helpful. The writing's personable and clear and the book's pretty balanced and, unlike motorcycle experts in the real world, not aggressively biased towards or against certain kinds of bikes and not spouting a bunch of macho bullshit or technical jargon and complicated explanations that don't make sense to the uninitiated. The appeal of the Idiot Guide series is that they really assume you don't know a single thing about the topic in question, which was great for me in this situation because I pretty much did not. This book is a good starting point for the abjectly ignorant, and will make you more confident about riding and also about seeking out higher-level sources of advice....more
The summer I graduated from college my boyfriend and I had an abrupt, ugly breakup, and I moved out of the apartment we'd shared and into a studio onThe summer I graduated from college my boyfriend and I had an abrupt, ugly breakup, and I moved out of the apartment we'd shared and into a studio on the other side of town. It was the first and only time I ever lived by myself. The apartment was in a large, smelly building downtown, and had a Murphy bed, a clawfoot bathtub, and an antique apparatus to speak with any visitors who buzzed in from downstairs. I don't know if the phone thing worked, as I had very few people stop by while I lived there. All my friends were in Southeast, and I kept my car across the river because there was nowhere to park near my place. All I remember eating the whole time I lived in that apartment was pasta salad, and I did almost nothing that summer but drink whiskey and read crime novels. It felt nearly impossible to do anything else. I got drunk by myself and read the classics -- Chandler, Hammett -- and an unholy amount of Elmore Leonard. I couldn't read any other kind of book at all.
That summer's crime spree was my only real foray into that genre, and though I enjoyed it a lot, I haven't felt much need to go back to them since. What I remember thinking then is that most of the crime books I read seemed to be thinly disguised romances, written for men. This is definitely true of Elmore Leonard. The books of his I read were essentially hardboiled emotional bodice-rippers, with exceptionally well-crafted dialogue. The other thing I remembered about the crime novels was their obsession with the question of masculinity. The detective is always a tragic hero, who epitomizes the ideals of what a man should be, while struggling with its more painful implications (you know, loneliness and violence, stuff like that).
What I remembered about Chandler was only the style, and that was still there when I went back this time. What I hadn't remembered, maybe because it's more present in the later novels, is his obsession with loneliness, and with ethics, and the question of how to be a truly moral man in a deeply corrupt world. Chandler talks about the traditional mystery novel as being a puzzle to solve; his own puzzle seems to be this riddle of ethics, and how to live correctly amidst depravity. Marlowe's the sinner you scratch to get the saint, the cynic who's obviously a wounded romantic. It's a type and a cliche, but he helped create it, and the whole thing's great to watch and a lot of fun. I read the novels in here in reverse order: his last book Playback(1958), followed by The Long Goodbye (1953) (his best, I think), then The Little Sister (1949) (fun) and finally The Lady in the Lake (1943), this last being the only one I'm sure that I'd read before. Then I did the essays, his letters (also fun), and the depressing chronology of his interesting life, which was nice because it did provide some context for the fiction, and confirmed a lot of the thoughts I'd been having about his approach to writing.
Chandler only seems to care about a couple of things, and he cares about them a lot. One of those is style. In his letters he basically comes out and says that he really doesn't give a shit about plot, which should already be fairly obvious to anyone who's read him. Chandler has a very rigid and developed theory of the crime novel, and concern with plot is not a big priority. There's this part in one of his letters where he complains about contemporary fiction and sort of summarizes what he thinks is essential in writing:
Can I do a piece for you entitled The Insignificance of Significance, in which I demonstrate in my usual whorehouse style that it doesn't matter a damn what a novel is about, that the only fiction of any moment in any age is that which does magic with words, and that the subject matter is only a springboard for the writer's imagination.... (p. 1028).
And later, to somebody else:
A good story cannot be devised; it has to be distilled. In the long run, however little you talk or even think about it, the most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the most valuable investment a writer can makes with his time. It pays off slowly, your agent will sneer at it, your publisher will misunderstand it, and it will take people you never even heard of to convince them by slow degrees that the writer who pus his individual mark on the way he writes will always pay off. He can't do it by trying, because the kind of style I am thinking about is a projection of personality and you have to have a personality before you can project it (p. 1030).
I stared. She caught me staring. She lifted her glance half an inch and I wasn't there anymore. But wherever I was I was holding my breath.
There are blondes and blondes and it is almost a joke word nowadays. All blondes have their points, except perhaps the metallic ones who are as blond as a Zulu under the bleach and as to disposition as soft as a sidewalk. There is the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters, and the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-cold glare. There is the blonde who gives you the up-from-under look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm and is always very very tired when you take her home. She makes that helpless gesture and has that goddamned headache and you would like to slug her except that you are glad you found out about the headache before you invested too much time and money and hope in her. Because the headache will always be there, a weapon that never wears out and is deadly as the bravo's rapier or Lucrezia's poison vial.
There is the soft and willing and alcoholic blonde who doesn't care what she wears as long as it is mink or where she goes as long as it is the Starlight Roof and there is plenty of dry champagne. There is the small perky blonde who is a little pale and wants to pay her own way and is full of sunshine and common sense and knows judo from the ground up and can toss a truck driver over her shoulder without missing more than one sentence out of the editorial in the Saturday Review. There is the pale, pale blonde with anemia of some non-fatal but incurable type. She is very languid and very shadowy and she speaks softly out of nowhere and you can't lay a finger on her because in the first place you don't want to and in the second place she is reading The Waste Land or Dante in the original, or Kafka or Kierkegaard or studying Provençal. She adores music and when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindesmith she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat too late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them.
And lastly there is the gorgeous showpiece who will outlast three kingpin racketeers and then marry a couple of millionaires at a million a head and end up with a pale rose villa at Cap Antibes, an Alfa-Romeo town car complete with pilot and co-pilot, and a stable of shopworn aristocrats, all of whom she will treat with the affectionate absent-mindedness of an elderly duke saying goodnight to his butler.
The dream across the way was none of these, not even of that kind of world. She was unclassifiable, as remote and clear as mountain water, as elusive as its color. I was still staring when a voice close to my elbow said:
"I'm shockingly late. I apologize. You must blame it on this. My name's Howard Spencer. You're Marlowe, of course." (from The Long Goodbye, pp. 490-491)
If you have no use for this, you have no use for Chandler. I myself do (far more use than I have, say, for blondes).
I find pretty frequently that when I return to characters who seemed purely cool and glamorous to me when I was younger, through adult eyes I see that they're tragic and flawed. Women love Marlowe (with alarming frequency), but he's really alone, consciously lonely, and desperately so. Marlowe's only real intimacy is with his reader, and the staggering sense of alienation and impossible yearning to connect with others was much more intense here than I'd remembered. Since (for reasons I simply could not guess at myself) loneliness is becoming one of my personal favorite literary tropes, I did enjoy that. Marlowe is sort of the stylish model for how to be alone amidst all the urban anomie and whatnot of the modern age. How sorry I am to have missed that era. If Marlowe'd had Internet, he would've been screwed.
I obviously also enjoyed all the pulpy nuts crime stuff in its nostalgic glory! This is a mid-twentieth-century-LA landscape peopled with sensual blondes, mysterious brunettes, and sinister, syringe-wielding doctors. The police brutality comes hot and heavy, here as do hip references to the dangerous narcotic marihuana, which is clearly on par with a drug like heroin, and not with the alcohol being consumed in these pages at a liver-stiffening rate. Even just as a study in changing cultural mores, these novels are fascinating. There are shows on TV now about sympathetic drug dealers, but if you put this much smoking into a show today, it'd be banned.... If the Reefer Madness-style drug references seem a bit naive and dated, and if the sexpot names Eileen, Mildred, and Mavis have not aged well, and if the non-white characters would make your average 2009 reader screech in agonies of offense.... well, the cinematic descriptions of characters and sets are as flawless and beautiful as anything like this that has ever been written. I don't feel the need to get into how the master of this genre was the master of this genre, but clearly Chandler was quite the master of this genre, plus quite a bit more, and I'd be glad to slug it out in an alley in Bay City with any two-bit thug that'd argue otherwise.
Chandler himself seems to have been a pretty interesting, tragic guy, sort of the classic damaged romantic-cynic with passionate ideals and a horrific drinking problem. He'd had a classical education in England, and comes off in his non-fiction writings as something of a tortured and self-aware snob who can't miss the irony that snobbery's the reason his own genre fiction is not taken seriously. I'd actually be interested in reading a biography of Chandler at some point, and I also want to revisit his earlier novels. These books are addictive as hell, and an immersive pleasure. I myself have gotten a lot more hardboiled just from reading Chandler, and I'd recommend him to anyone who'd like to do the same, provided you're not currently trying to quit smoking....more
I initially misunderstand the intention of this book, which was probably why I was little disappointed by it. This book is not funny. I mean, there arI initially misunderstand the intention of this book, which was probably why I was little disappointed by it. This book is not funny. I mean, there are funny things in it, but it's not joke book or a send-up of Martha Stewart or anything like that. Instead it's pretty straightforward guide to entertaining (the having-your-friends-over kind of entertaining, mostly, with a just little making-a-spectacle-of-yourself-to-amuse-others kind of entertaining thrown in here and there). As a guide to throwing parties, this is a pretty good book. It does an excellent job of reiterating what the point and the spirit of entertaining is all about, i.e., having your friends come over as guests and showing them all a good time, and has some practical advice about how to do it. I had my Lucky '07 New Years party right after reading this book, and some of the points she made were helpful in planning and execution (I either forgot to read or Amy forgot to write the part about not drinking too much, but I suppose that's really neither here nor there).
As a person who likes throwing theme parties, I can't imagine actually using most of the ideas in here, since I'd rather come up with them on my own. In general, a lot of these food and decoration ideas were brilliant, but it'd be kind of weird to execute them yourself because people would show up at your Kentucky Derby/Orgy party and say, "Oh, you you made Amy Sedaris's Spanish Fly Mint Juleps (that's just a dumb example, I can't remember her actual party themes), I love the crocheted horses-humping-each-other coasters, just like the ones in the book, how cute" or whatever, and that would probably be embarrassing and not impressive like having come up with the idea on your own.
Ultimately, this book just made me want to become friends with Amy Sedaris, so she'd invite me to her amazing parties. Since this is unlikely to happen, this book left me feeling a little left-out and cranky, but I guess that has more to do with me (and my friends who do not love crafts, baking, and devising ways to amuse me and introduce me to the most handsome and witty conversationalists they know) than with Amy Sedaris. ...more