Monday, March 8, 2021

Catching Up On a Month Of Reading

I took a hiatus from the blog, but not from reading. Here are mini reviews of what I’ve read since posting about Piranesi last month. I plan to pick back up with reviews soon!

Vladimir Nabokov by Jane Grayson- Recommended

This is a brief illustrated biography of one of my favorite writers, from a series of such biographies. If you are interested in an overview of Nabokov’s life, this is perfect!

Dark Hollow by John Connolly- Recommended/Highly Recommended

The elevator pitch for John Connolly is James Lee Burke does supernatural horror. The supernatural elements are muted here, more or less a literalization of the metaphor of being haunted by grief. The crime story here is compelling. Connolly is bloodier minded than Burke, but the first person narration is in a similar mode. The first Connolly I read, Bad Men, is, I think, the better book, but I like the narrative voice here more. Burke's prose is better (but who this side of Nabokov and Melville writes prose as good as Burke's?), but Connolly's is very good.This is the second Charlie Parker crime novel (yes, his nickname is Bird, but no, the book never makes a big deal of the homage). I was advised to skip the first, and got the gist of it in flashbacks here. If you like crime and horror, I highly recommend this, and I look forward to more in this series. I understand the supernatural elements are cranked up in later volumes. Heavy content warning, but good stuff!

Known to Evil by Walter Mosley- Highly Recommended

The second Leonid McGill book is as good as the first and kept me up late at least one night. Looking forward to the rest of the series. I like Mosley more with each book. If you like dark, bleak crime noir, this is top shelf stuff!

Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller- Canon Worthy

The story of Achilles as narrated by Patroclus. An amazing retelling of the Illiad. Madeline Miller is two for two. I like Circe quite a bit more, but this is fantastic!

X X by Rian Hughes- Recommended/Highly Recommended

It's as if Neal Stephenson and Mark Danielewski (House of Leaves) collaborated on a hard scifi thriller that doubles as a great art object and a dense philosophical argument.

It examines the idea of consciousness as a collection of ideas. It talks about the danger of ideologies that promise a paradise, earthly or otherwise, that justify any atrocity in the minds of their adherents (a favorite theme of mine). It has sentient memeplexes that represent the major ideas of this century and the previous two. It's, for mostly better but sometimes worse, a fierce defense of Enlightment ideals. It's a first contact scifi novel. And it is a mosaic of fonts, art, page manipulation, email exchanges, faux-wikipedia articles, transcripts of all kinds that make the book as object a delight to peruse. There's even an album that was created by the author's sister based on the  review in the book of an album that was recorded based on the signal that provide the inciting incident of the book (and it's really good!).

It was compared to Moby Dick in two of the blurbs, which immediately piqued my interest. In the sense that it is ambitious and long, sure, but that's the only connection.

Ultimately, I liked this, but not so well as I thought something so completely aimed at my interests (and compared to Moby Dick!) would. One, it's a little more hard scifi than my tastes generally run and I had to pause many times because of that. Two, while Hughes frames consciousness as essentially composed of ideas, I think he somehow manages to give short shrift to the fact ideologies are endemic to the human condition. Of course, ideologies are often dangerous,  but the Enlightenment rationalism that the book embodies is itself an ideology. I think a lot about this paradox of seeing the danger of ideology while understanding that vantage point is itself an ideology. I haven't reconciled that in my own thought and I'm still processing the presentation of that argument in the novel. You'd think that would endear the book to me, but it has a more mixed effect. That said, I agree with the quote in the picture I'll repost in the comments that says, essentially "Beware of ideologies."

But the book is thrilling and full of ideas (HA!) that require thought. And the scope broadens out to cosmic levels at the end; reminiscent of 2001 (the film) with a more concrete idea of what's happening. A tough read in some ways. I was a little mixed, but it is definitely worth wrestling through. 


Gold Coast by Elmore Leonard- Canon

One of the best books by one of my favorite writers. After slogging through XX I needed something that moved along more quickly. My fourth read of this. A perfect ending!


Lamb by Christopher Moore- Pass/Mildly Recommended

There were times I cackled delightedly during this and also times I rolled my eyes hard. More of the jokes hit for me than didn't. Don't know where that leaves me in terms or recommending it or not. I'm glad I read it.


The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas by Machado De Assis- Canon Worthy

A great novel from 1800s Brazil. I'm sure I missed a lot through translation, the passage of time and being unfamiliar with the culture. I'm certain there is a fair amount of satire on his day that I'm missing, especially around the slave trade. But despite that distance of culture and time, this is brilliant.

It's funny, clear-eyed, and often cruel. But that cruelty is part of the point. Bras Cubas is dead and telling his life's story in short chapters. It's an early example of the unreliable narrator revealing his own selfishness and cruelty (and presumably his country's, though a lot of that is lost to me) while appearing to not realize what he's doing.

It will take several more readings to understand it better, but on first pass I absolutely loved it!


Fortunate Son by Walter Mosley- Pass

The first Walter Mosley novel that I’ve read that didn’t work for me. I will continue to read him as everything else has been excellent. Up next by him (maybe a few books down the line) Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, the first Socrates Fortlow book.



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