Saturday, January 31, 2009

Review of the Day: Blackbird, Farewell

 

Blackbird, Farewell is the seventh novel in Robert Greer’s mystery series featuring bail bondsman C.J. Floyd. The specs look good – set in Denver instead of a more typical mystery locale; a hero who is neither a cop nor a lawyer (and, in this installment, out of town on his honeymoon, leaving his female, ex-Marine partner and an amateur-sleuth sidekick to solve the case); several entrenched characters, mostly from Denver’s old-school African American community; and the double homicide of a Pulitzer-winning journalist and a freshly-minted NBA star. 

Great set up. The problem is in the execution. This reads like a first novel, not a seventh. The narrative is clunky, making it almost impossible to be absorbed in the story.  Greer tries to pack too much back story into single sentences, leaving them unnavigable on a single read through. This habit is particularly irksome when the clunkers are incorporated into the dialog. Greer does a decent job with casual speaking voices, but no conversation between two long-time friends and business partners includes sentences as long winded as this:
But ever since Pinkie saved Damion’s behind last summer up at the Pawnee grasslands when Damion got himself all tangled up in that Eisenhower Tunnel murder case I was working, they’ve been as tight as Dick’s hatband.
Sentences like that taunt me to brush off the diagramming skills I learned in high school, but they do nothing to pull me into the story. Unfortunately, Greer drags the reader over several boulders just that big. 

Things smoothed out and picked up in the second half. There were a couple of solid plot twists, a reasonably exciting climax, and generally good overall resolution. But these improvements were not enough to salvage what, at best, is a mediocre mystery novel.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Review: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle



Popular author, Barbara Kingsolver, and her family made the decision to spend one full year “eating locally” – primarily by raising their own food – and to write about their experience in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. Kingsolver wrote the main narrative; her husband, Steven Hopp, provided nerdy, information-packed sidebars; and her teenage daughter Camille covered the nutritional angle and recipes.

Kingsolver is a talented writer and she makes a year of gardening and poultry husbandry entertaining and even, at times, fascinating – her descriptions of natural turkey procreation are enough in themselves to make the book worthwhile. She augments the “life on the family farm” memoir with stories of family road trips, holiday and birthday celebrations, her second honeymoon in Italy, and general reminiscences. She makes an excellent culinary case for eating what local food is in season, and only when it is season.

Unfortunately, Kingsolver and crew also lard the book with offputting lectures about “food politics” and “ethical” food choices, disparaging opposing views. I am all for eating locally grown produce, meat, poultry, and fish. I am fortunate enough to live in Oregon, a state with natural bounty enough to keep me fat and happy year round. This local food is fresher and tastes better than the same types of things shipped in from half-way around the world. And I am happy to support Oregon’s always anemic, now suffering economy.

But Kingsolver and Hopp’s holier-than-thou attitude about eating local food rubs me the wrong way. They beat the readers over the head with dire warnings about the imminent catastrophe of global warming, large-scale agriculture, and Big Oil, always following the party line to the letter. Whether they are right or wrong, they are boring. Nobody likes a scold. I found myself arguing with them even when I agreed with them, just because they got my back up with all their bossing.

OTHER REVIEWS

If you would like your review of this book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cookbook Library: Creme de Colorado and Greens

Following the phenomenal success of my "no carb left behind" holiday campaign, I have been combing my cookbook collection for low-carb recipes to undo some of the damage. My favorite Junior League and vintage cookbooks are generally pretty starch-centric. But there are options. So far, I have found a couple of great recipes that are destined to be standards in my kitchen. One is Best Ever Brisket from the Creme de Colorado Junior League cookbook; another is Warm Red Cabbage Salad from The Greens Cookbook. My plan is to post those recipes here. But I will have to wait and do an update late -- both books went into a box this weekend in preparation for moving house.

Book Give-a-Way: Washington Square

Laura Grimes continues her rocky literary relationship with Henry James, here. After being ready to dump him for good, Grimes's interest was piqued when she discovered that others were enamoured of him -- isn't that so typical? Jealous of these rivals -- her neighbors, no less -- Grimes buckled down with Washington Square last weekend, and discovered that she liked it! Grimes is now hosting a contest to give away a nice little Modern Library edition of Washington Square. To enter, leave a comment to her article addressing specific questions she raises about Washington Square. You have to register to leave comments, but you do not have to subscribe to The Oregonian. The deadline is February 3. Good luck!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Author of the Day Redux: John Updike

John Updike passed away today. He was 76. R.I.P. Ever since he captured my fancy (and informed my adult sex life) with Rabbit, Run, Updike has been a favorite of mine. He is on my relatively short list of authors whose works I plan to read in their entirety. Sadly, that task became easier today. Salon has a terrific and lovely retrospective.

Review of the Day: Franny and Zooey



If John Cheever and Paul Coelho had set out to collaborate on The Royal Tenenbaums, the result would have been Franny and Zooey.

J.D. Salinger’s short, two-part novel is the story of sister and brother, Franny and Zooey Glass, the youngest of seven precocious whiz kids who grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Ostensibly, Zooey is trying to help Franny, who is in the midst of a breakdown. It soon becomes clear, however, that both have been unmoored by the suicide of their oldest brother Seymour and the related, self-imposed academic exile of their next-oldest brother Buddy.

The problem lies in the supplemental religious education Seymour and Buddy sought fit to bestow on their youngest siblings. Frightened “at the statistics on child pedants and academic weisenheimers who grow up into faculty-recreation-room savants,” Seymour and Buddy decide to set the youngest two on a Zen-like quest for “no-knowledge” – a quest to be with God in a state of pure consciousness, or satori. As Buddy later explains in a letter to Zooey:
We thought it would be wonderfully constructive to at least . . . tell you as much as we knew about the men – the saints, the arhats, the bodhisattvas, the jivanmuktas – who knew something or everything about this state of being. That is, we wanted both of you to know who and what Jesus and Gautama and Lao-tse and Shankaracharya and Hui-neng and Sri Ramakrishna, etc., were before you knew too much or anything about Homer or Shakespeare or even Blake or Whitman, let alone George Washington and his cherry tree or the definition of a peninsula or how to parse a sentence. That, anyway, was the big idea.
All this mystic education, or “religious mystification” as Salinger describes it, estranges Franny and Zooey from their childhood and college compatriots, leaving them lonely and angry. Zooey insists that they are both “freaks” incapable of being around other people as they both cling to their intellectual superiority.

When Seymour’s suicide demonstrates that the supposed wisdom that comes from the quest for pure consciousness is not enough to make life worth living, the metaphysical rug gets yanked from under Franny and Zooey’s feet, precipitating their mutual breakdown.

Salinger’s book is clever, heartfelt, and sad. The value of its final lesson lies, not in understanding the details of Franny and Zooey’s existential arguments, but in appreciating the emotional crisis the siblings face. The idea that we should strive to be our best for God’s sake – and not our own satisfaction in acquiring wealth, knowledge, prestige, or even wisdom – may not be original, but it is an idea worth contemplating.

OTHER REVIEWS

(Please leave a comment with a link if you would like your review posted here.)


NOTES

Franny and Zooey appears on Radcliffe's Top 100 and Boxall's 1001 Books.

Monday, January 26, 2009

List of the Day: The Guardian's 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read

A new list! The Guardian newspaper just published a list of 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read:
Selected by the Guardian's Review team and a panel of expert judges, this list includes only novels – no memoirs, no short stories, no long poems – from any decade and in any language.
The list is organized around seven themes: love, crime, comedy, family and self, science fiction and fantasy, war and travel, and state of the nation. I will never read all of these (too much sci fi for me and it includes American Psycho, which I will not read), and I will likely never post the list on this blog. But a new list is always exciting and I will keep lackadaisical track of my progress here. Hat tip to Michelle at Fluttering Butterflies for bringing this list to my attention.

Issue of the Day: Sam Adams

Rose City Reader is a book blog -- not a political blog. I generally avoid politics here. But the Sam Adams thing has me riled up -- The Oregonian even published a Letter to the Editor that I submitted. And while this is a "political" issue, it is not a partisan issue, so pardon this brief departure from books. Sam Adams is the mayor of Portland. He now admits that, when he was 42 and a city commissioner, he had a romantic relationship with a 17-year-old (who described a couple of dates and make-out sessions), which became a sexual relationship only after the kid turned 18. Adams lied about the whole thing before last fall's election, not only denying the accusations, but accusing anyone who believed them of, essentially, gay bashing. Most people seem pretty outraged by the whole thing, but some take the position that it is no one's business if a 42-year-old public figure has sex with an 18-year old. I fall into the majority camp. Call me a prude, but I don't think 40-somethings should date high school students. And when a particular 40-something is an elected official, I think it is fair to expect them to be on their best behavior. Portland already had one mayor who had sex with a teenager, which is one over our quota. Is there something in the water at City Hall? We are going to get a reputation as a pedophile-friendly zone. True, I may be more sensitive to pedophilia issues because most of my law practice involves representing the victims of childhood sexual abuse in lawsuits against the perpetrators and institutions that turned a blind eye to such abuse. But just because I am overly sensitive, does not mean I'm wrong. Here is the letter that The Oregonian printed:
Adams Seduced Teen Sam Adams used his position and age -- and the glamour that came with them -- to seduce a teenager. Whether or not Adams waited until Beau Breedlove turned 18 to have sex with him, the relationship he nurtured when the young man was 17 is what gave him the opportunity and authority to seal the deal. In my line of work (I represent the victims of childhood sex abuse in lawsuits) we refer to a perpetrator's befriending and "mentoring" of a young victim as "grooming." It's key evidence used to prove a case of child molestation. Does Portland really need a mayor whose pastime is grooming teenagers for sexual adventures?


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Opening Sentence of the Day: Franny and Zooey

"Though brilliantly sunny, Saturday morning was overcoat weather again, not just topcoat weather, as it had been all week and as everyone had hoped it would stay for the big weekend -- the weekend of the Yale game." -- Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger. I'm in. It hooked me.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Review of the Day: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy



It took me years to get around to reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Once I did, I understood why it is so popular -- and why I do not like science fiction. Stories about other planets and other kinds of creatures, with lots of whiz-bang gimmicks are just not interesting to me. This one in particular had some appealing sophomoric humor, but overall it was too smart-alecky for my taste.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

List: 100 Greatest Books Ever (Easton Press)

"The most renowned works of literature by history’s greatest authors," according to the Editorial Advisory Board of Easton Press.  It is an interesting mix because it goes back to ancient times, covers the globe, and includes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.  Easton Press sells the whole set in very fancy covers, but all of these books are available in about a zillion different editions.

Those I have read are in red.  I've read 63 of them, plus bits and pieces of others in high school or college, but I don't count those as finished.  Those currently on my TBR shelf are in blue.

As always, if anyone else is reading the books on this list, please feel free to leave a comment with a link to your progress report and I will add it to this post.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Gulliver's Travels by Johnathan Swift

Moby Dick by Herman Melville (reviewed here)*

A Farewell To Arms by Ernest Hemingway

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling*

The Odyssey by Homer

The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (reviewed here)

Paradise Lost by John Milton

Tales From The Arabian Nights by Richard Burton

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (reviewed here)

Candide by Voltaire

Oedipus the King by Sophocles

The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo

The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper*

The Sea Wolf by Jack London

Cyrano De Bergerac by Edmund Rostand

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Collected Poems by Robert Browning

Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (reviewed here)

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Collected Poems by John Keats

On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

Collected Poems by Robert Frost

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories by Washington Irving

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

The Iliad by Homer

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas*

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Aesop's Fables by Aesop

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas*

Politics and Poetics by Aristotle

The Aeneid by Virgil

Madam Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Pygmalion and Candida by George Bernard Shaw

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe*

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

The Cherry Orchard and The Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri

The Analects of Confucius by Confucius

A Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare

Collected Poems by William Butler Yeats

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio

Beowulf

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

The Necklace and Other Tales by Guy de Maupassant

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

The History of Early Rome by Livy

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

The Talisman by Sir Walter Scott

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Alice's Adventure in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Dracula by Bram Stoker (reviewed here)

The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám by Omar Khayyám

The Red and the Black by Stendhal

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

The Republic by Plato

Collected Poems by Emily Dickinson

Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Tom Jones by Henry Fielding*

The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay

Silas Marnerby George Eliot

The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

Billy Budd by Herman Melville

The Confessions by St. Augustine

Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe

Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler*

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (reviewed here)*

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Grimm's Fairy Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain*

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

NOTES

* Marks those that I have in the fancy Easton Press edition, thanks to a lovely Christmas gift from Hubby.

Last updated on August 7, 2015.

OTHERS READING THESE BOOKS
(If you would like to be listed here, please leave a comment with your links to any progress reports or reviews and I will add them here.)


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sometimes a Great Notion . . .

. . . ends. And just in time for Book Club tonight. This is an amazing book. There were parts I really had to wrestle with. And I am still mulling over its bigger ideas and pondering what the "take away" is. But this one will stick with me for a long time.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

More on Justice Denied

The Internet Review of Books published a short version of my review of Justice Denied by Marci Hamilton in the January issue. They ran it in the "Brief Reviews" section (f.k.a. "Worth Mentioning"). There are some interesting books reviewed in this issue. I plan to go back and spend some time.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Opening Sentence of the Day: Blackbird, Farewell

"The $4 million Nike athletic-shoe contract in Shandell Bird’s shirt pocket wasn’t about to solve his problem – couldn’t even put a dent in it – and neither would the $3.2 million he expected to start drawing in October, once the NBA season started." -- Blackbird, Farewell by Robert Greer. Tantalizing ideas, but a little clunky. This is the seventh in Greer's C.J. Floyd series of mysteries, but only the first one I have read. I am only on the first chapter, so cannot tell yet if it is going to grab me.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Literary Lushes: Part II

Bob from ArtScatter contributed so much to my list of Dipso Lit that I couldn't leave his valuable information languishing in the comment section. Here are Bob's thoughts on the subject, with a few links added by me:

Oh, what a fun list for a cold winter's day! Lots of possibilities out there: Of course, there's Bond, James Bond, but I don't read the books, I only watch the movies. And, anyway, stirred's just fine by me. You could categorize: desperate drinking, civilized drinking, drinking for comic effect (the last of which can shade both ways). And of course, there's plain old habitual drinking. Among the desperates: Malcolm Lowry and Under the Volcano; William S. Burroughs; lots and lots of Hemingway and, with a touch more glamour, Fitzgerald; Henry Miller, most of whose desperate sexual exploits were accompanied by the bottle. Among the civilized: J.R.R. Tolkein and his tippling Hobbits, whose English love of a small sip is echoed in Agatha Christie's murder-mystery cozies and John Mortimer's plonk-obsessed barrister, Rumpole of the Bailey. For comic effect: the rip-roaring idiot savant Svejk and his various and assorted captains and companions in Jaroslav Hasek's wonderful World War I satire The Good Soldier Svejk. And the great Falstaff, through the Henry IV/V plays and The Merry Wives of Windsor (a lot of people drink a lot of booze in a lot of Shakespeare). Intriguingly, for all of his comic relief and fascinating wisdom-of-the-cowardly outlook on life, Falstaff becomes almost a tragic figure at the time of his death in Henry V, and the bottle has a lot to do with that.

So much to think about and so much to read! My thoughts: I cannot believe that I forgot about Under the Volcano. I feel hungover just remembering that book. And I often think about how they incorporated hot peppers into the tequila, lime, and salt ritual. Intriguing. Reading Hemingway always makes me want to drink during the day. Sort of like reading Raymond Chandler makes me want to drink rye (and sock anyone who cracks wise). And along the same Prohibition era line as Fitzgerald, the cocktail-centered scenes in The Thin Man are over the top. Bathtub gin never sounded so fun. My plan is to tackle The Lord of this Rings this year -- I am sure I will enjoy the tippling hobbits much more than the orcs, or even the walking trees. Do the trees drink? The Good Soldier Svejk is also on my TBR shelf, as antidote to All Quiet on the Western Front. Glad to hear it really is funny. And finally, I have never really thought of the drinking that goes on in Shakespeare, but I think I'll start counting the bottles. Thanks Bob! My further pondering led me to an entertaining article in the Portland Examiner about "pairing books with cocktails and hard liquor." In it, author Michelle Kerns takes the opposite approach from mine -- instead of letting literature inspire her choice of libation, she suggests books to go along with particular drinks. And she includes my favorite cocktail quote: "I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three I'm under the table, after four I'm under the host." From The Portable Dorothy Parker. Wise woman, that Dorothy Parker. Cheers!


Literary Lushes

Heading into another cold, soggy Oregon winter weekend, my thoughts have turned to hooch. I'm planning to snuggle up in front of the fireplace with a warm Hubby, a cold martini, and a good book. Ever since I posted my review of Martin Amis's Money, I've been mulling over the notion of books about booze. Not books that are officially about alcoholic beverages, but books by drinkers about drinkers. Maybe because I've become a lightweight myself, I sometimes enjoy a good sodden literary romp -- like Money. The Martin Amis apple did not fall far from the Kingsley Amis tree. Amis, père is my all-time favorite literary lush. Lucky Jim's drunken "Merrie English" speech is hilarious. And his description of a hangover as a huge raw egg rolling around inside his skull has stayed with me my whole drinking life. Amis's other books are similarly alcohol-centered. His Booker Prize winner, The Old Devils, involves a group of older friends who spend most days drinking. The inn keeper hero of The Green Man devotes a lot of energy in hiding the quantity of booze he puts away. Amis even has a dipsomaniacal collection of short pieces called Everyday Drinking. But the Amis clan does not have a lock on libation literature. There must be others. Please share your suggestions. And I'll keep pondering. Jim Harrison springs to mind. Others?


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Review: Water the Bamboo



Water the Bamboo is a metaphor for success,” writes Greg Bell, a former lawyer, now a “speaker, trainer and facilitator” who works with companies and organizations to improve communication and relationships.

The bamboo analogy is based on the idea that giant timber bamboo takes three years of nurturing without any sign of growth before it peeps out of the ground, but once it starts, it grows to incredible heights in only 90 days.  Bell ties his “21 Strategies for Extraordinary Results in Your Profession or Team” to this central theme of bamboo farming in order to show that “overnight success” really takes years of focus and effort to achieve.  Bell does a good job of using the bamboo metaphor with a light but consistent hand – neither straining nor muddying it.

Given the premise, it is no surprise that Water the Bamboo is not a quick-fix, self-help book. Like the best of its genre, it emphasizes values, integrity, and long-term diligence over slick tricks and fancy packaging. Bell’s “strategies” include working from core values, setting effective goals, tending relationships, and developing self-discipline. Seven Habits enthusiasts will appreciate much of Bell’s approach.

Bell goes beyond outlining the concepts by suggesting practical exercises to implement his strategies. He recommends keeping a journal in conjunction with reading the book, and using the journal to complete the exercises in each chapter. Other hands-on suggestions include forming a “Bamboo Circle” – “a group that meets on a regular basis who listens and brainstorms solutions and strategies, and generally supports and helps each other be accountable.”

Bell’s enthusiasm and good will shine through in his upbeat writing style. No dense passages of leaden prose slow the quick tempo of the book. If anything, it moves a little too fast in parts. A few more real world stories – apocryphal or biographical – would slow things down enough to let more sink in. Likewise, Bell could do more in places to tie some of his more minor strategies to the larger, overriding principals behind the major strategies. For example, including more reminders of how core values should guide the other strategies would give more cohesion to the book as a whole.

But these are minor quibbles with what is, overall, a solid and helpful book. A lot could be gained by reading it through once, then going back and completing the practical exercises, then keeping it around for reference. After all, it takes a long time to grow bamboo – but the payoff is spectacular.

Opening Sentence of the Day: The Quotable Ronald Reagan

"This book had its beginnings in January 1993, although I did not realize it at the time." -- The Quotable Ronald Reagan by Peter Hannaford (Ed.) Not a gripping opening sentence. I wonder if I should consider the first sentence of the actual book, or the first sentence of introductions. If someone else wrote an introduction for a book, that's easy -- do not count that as the opening sentence. But if the author wrote an introduction contemporaneously with the book (not added in a later edition), then I think that counts for the opening sentence. Which means that some, like this one, are not going to be real sizzlers.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

There are the 2009 Books!

Finally! There is finally a book over there on the right side because I finally finished a book in 2009. Not that I set out to start off 2009 with the incredibly grim All Quiet on the Western Front. I actually started the year reading Sometimes a Great Notion and The Mists of Avalon, both very long and slow (SAGN in an intense, involved, good way; TMOA in an overwrought, fantasy/romance kind of way). I still have both of them to finish before their covers will pop up on my 2009 list. All Quiet is the second book I finished this year. I finished Water the Bamboo by Greg Bell two days ago, but there is some kind of gremlin in my LibraryThing widget that prevents the cover from appearing.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Award of the Day: The Premios Dardo Award

The Premios Dardo Award! I do not know who started this award, but I thank No BS Book Reviews for recognizing my blog by "awarding" it to me. I will now pass along the good fortune. (I confess that I am artistically challenged -- it took me quite a while to figure out that the cool picture is a typewriter with words coming out.) This award "acknowledges the values that every blogger shows in his or her effort to transmit cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values every day." The rules to follow are: 1) Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who granted the award and his or her blog link. 2) Pass the award to 15 other blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgment. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award. Here are the blogs that I would like to acknowledge (if you have already received this award, sorry for making extra work, but be thankful you are so well regarded): Art Scatter Bookoholic's Boklista Books 'N' Border Collies BurmudaOnion ChainReading Fluttering Butterflies Fresh Ink Books Hotch Pot Cafe The Internet Review of Books Blog J. Kaye's Book Blog Julia Hedge's Laces Letters on Pages Linus's Blanket Rebecca Reads Tip of the Iceberg Great blogs -- I encourage you to visit them all.

Review: Sister Carrie



Although Theodore Dreiser finished Sister Carrie in 1900, years of stutter steps on the part of various publishing companies delayed its full American publication until 1908. Even then, as Dreiser describes, “the outraged protests far outnumbered the plaudits.” Dreiser’s new “realism” was shocking to readers.

While Sister Carrie may not pack the same punch 100 years later, the story is sprightly and still relevant. It moves right along, with plenty of dialog and even some exciting adventures. The period details of Carrie’s life may be particular to fin de siècle New York, but the story of Carrie’s efforts to rise above her situation, in contrast to the pathos of Hurstwood’s decline, is still compelling.

The only off-note was the last minute “moral of the story” message that seemed tacked on in the last two pages. That money cannot buy happiness is a common message, but a little hard to go along with when weighed against the alternative presented by Hurstwood’s fate. Compared to the pages and pages of sermonizing that wrap up Dreiser’s American Tragedy, however, the final homily is blessedly short.

OTHER REVIEWS

If you would like your review of this book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.

NOTE

Sister Carries made it to the Modern Library Top 100 list.  I am particularly fond of my Modern Library edition because it has the funky dust jacket image.

Friday, January 9, 2009

List: All-TIME 100 Novels


In 2005, TIME Magazine critics Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo picked the 100 best English-language novels from 1923, the year TIME began publishing. Lacayo offers a thorough explanation of their process on the magazine's website, which is also a good resource because the official list includes links to the original TIME reviews.

This list differs from the Modern Library Top 100and Radcliffe Top 100lists in a couple of ways, mostly because of the date range covered. Because it includes only novels published from 1923, it leaves off many significant earlier novels, for better (Henry James) or worse (Ford Madox Ford, James Joyce).

Likewise, it includes several books published after 1999, the cut off for the other lists. Some of these, such as Never Let Me Go and Atonement, I think are worthy of the distinction. But I wonder if some of the more recent books will stand the test of time (pardon the pun).

Finally, not necessarily related to the date range, this list is heavy on science fiction, which will probably prevent me from finishing it any time soon.

This is the complete list in alphabetical order. Those in red are the ones I have read. Those in blue are on my TBR shelf.

The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow (reviewed here)

All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren (reviewed here)

American Pastoral by Philip Roth

An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

The Assistant by Bernard Malamud (reviewed here)

At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien

Atonement by Ian McEwan

Beloved by Toni Morrison

The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

Call It Sleep by Henry Roth

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell (discussed here)

The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

A Death in the Family by James Agee

The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen

Deliverance by James Dickey

Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone

Falconer by John Cheever

The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

Herzog by Saul Bellow

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul

I, Claudius by Robert Graves

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Light in August by William Faulkner

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Loving by Henry Green

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (reviewed here)

Money by Martin Amis (reviewed here)

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Naked Lunch by William Burroughs

Native Son by Richard Wright

Neuromancer by William Gibson

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

1984 by George Orwell

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey

The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski (I finished as much as I could stand)

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion (reviewed here)

Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth

Possession by A.S. Byatt

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

Rabbit, Run by John Updike

Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow

The Recognitions by William Gaddis

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (reviewed here)

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (reviewed here)

The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carre

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

Under the Net by Iris Murdoch

Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry

Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

White Noise by Don DeLillo

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (reviewed here)

NOTES

Updated July 17, 2016.

OTHERS READING THESE BOOKS

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Book Notes: Sometimes a Great Notion

Like I mentioned the other day, Sometimes a Great Notion has really gotten to me. I am now about halfway through and am all caught up in the life of the Stampers, the conflicting themes of loving the natural beauty they live in at the same time they try to tame it and cut it down, the family conflicts, the tortured and inadequate self-awareness -- all of it. Living in Oregon, and growing up here for the most part, makes the whole overgrown, drizzly mess of it even more poignant. Vernon Peterson has a great essay about SAGN on Art Scatter. My mind is already in tumoil over this book; he gave me even more to mull over.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Opening Sentence of the Day: Sometimes a Great Notion

This is why I do not make New Year's resolutions -- here it is only the 7th of January and I already forgot the half-hearted resolution I made to record the first lines of the books I read in 2009. Better late than never:
Along the western slopes of the Oregon Coastal Range . . . come look: the hysterical crashing of tributaries as they merge into the Wakonda Auga River . . .
Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey (ellipses in original).

Review: Money



Martin Amis’s Money is a stumbling, swirling, sodden romp though the protagonist’s brain. As anti-hero John Self bounces back and forth between London and New York, pursuing a questionable movie deal, he spins the hilarious tale of his drunken, pornographic life.

Comparisons to Kinglsey Amis’s Lucky Jim are inevitable, as both are comic novels dealing with sad-sack, affable drunks. Where Lucky Jim is charming, with likable characters and a coherent plot, Money is chaotic, with abrasive characters and a shaggy, almost stream-of-conscience plot. Money is also a little longer than it needs to be (it gets repetitive) and uses a few post-modern tricks that are too cheeky for my taste (Martin Amis is a character, for example).

But what makes Money worth reading is that it is funny. Sometimes it is laugh-out-loud funny. That, and the feeling that John Self is not quite the ogre he makes himself out to be, keeps the pages turning.

OTHER REVIEWS

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Where are the 2009 Books?

Over on the right side of this blog is a long list of book covers showing the books I read in 2008 (thanks to LibraryThing that supplies this nifty blog widget). What are the 2008 books still doing there? Isn't it time to throw out the old and ring in the new? Here it is January 6 already. The answer is that I have yet to finish a book in 2009. As soon as I finish one, I will update the book cover widget so it starts showing 2009 book covers and ditches the 2008 covers. I'm leaving the 2008 list up as an inspiration to me to get going. It is taking me a long time to get some 2009 titles up there because the two books I chose to start off my reading year are really long. I'm listening to The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley on my iPod. It seems like I've been listening forever and I'm only a tenth of the way through it. It moves at real time, I swear. The other slow goer is Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey, my book club book for this month. It took me a while to get into it, because I had to get used to all the different voices mixed up together and the stream of conscious parts like the psychedelic dream sequence at about page 50. But it has gotten under my skin. Now I feel like I'm living with those Stampers down in their river compound. I have another 400 pages or so to go before book club on the 21st. I also started Water the Bamboo by Greg Bell, for when I need a break from the Kesey book. This one is short and I will probably finish it first. Then I can change the book cover widget.

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