New feature!

You know those recommendation sites where you plug in the books that captured your heart and they spew out a list of supposed good reads for your reading pleasure? Like, let’s say I type in The Brothers Karamazov and A Farewell to Arms. I eagerly wait the .233306 seconds for the list of books and what do mine eyes espy? A recommendation list that proudly looks back at me with Crime and Punishment, Notes from Underground, The Sun Also Rises and maybe Anna Karenina or another token.

Well….no shit. (Though I don’t know what I was expecting, really.)

Anyway, I categorized the books I’ve reviewed here and maybe that will be a little more helpful (see that shiny new “Recommendations” tab up there?). Here’s the caveat: I listed every book I’ve reviewed, even the ones I loathed. Did I like Orhan Pamuk’s Snow? Pretty sure I hated it, but hey, you might think it’s just the ticket.

Down with Big Brother!

Orwell, 19841984 · George Orwell · 1949
Berkley, 2003 · 323 pages, paperback

George Orwell’s 1984 is such a well-rubbed thing that there isn’t much left to say about it. It’s also a much-abused thing, the Bible of oath for fear mongers everywhere and university slicks goading their hordes of vacant-eyed activists.

So let’s step back a little, take a swig of that Victory Gin and let the juniper swallow the swill. Continue reading

“Ever the same three…ever the same d’Artagnan!”

Dumas was sometimes an ass to his heroes. They became better men for it.

Three Musketeers 3The Three Musketeers · Alexandre Dumas · 1844
Richard Pevear translation · Penguin, 2007 · 704 pages, paperback

Judge it by its cover, so long as it’s this edition: Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers contains within its pages a gallantry offset by buffoonery, and each quality falls to perfect measurement. Continue reading

Myth of Mercer

Do Androids Dream of Electric SheepDo Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? · Philip K. Dick · 1968
Del Rey, 2017 · 224 pages, paperback

Most of mankind has emigrated for the colonies (i.e. Mars and other off-planet bodies). Those remaining on Earth are charged with maintaining it. Rick Deckard works as a bounty hunter for San Francisco and “retires” rogue androids with the hope that the reward money could buy him a real live animal to replace that electric sheep. He’s afraid the neighbors are getting suspicious.

Other men, like J.R. Isidore, are “specials, “chickenheads,” “antheads,” whose exposure to the radiation left by World War Terminus has made them ineligible for emigration to Mars. They’re tasked with more menial jobs – repairing artificial pets, say, or collecting trash, a lucrative business as everyone is fighting against a relentless deluge of virtually self-reproducing detritus and trash aka “kipple.” Continue reading

Junshi and a tainted love: Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro

In all the world, I know only one woman. No woman but my wife moves me as a woman. And my wife regards me as the only man for her. From this point of view, we should be the happiest of couples.

KokoroKokoro · Natsume Soseki · 1914
Edwin McClellan translation · Gateway Editions, 2000 · 248 pages, paperback

It was Tolstoy who told us that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, but it’s an axiom that also runs through Natsume Soseki’s Kokoro.

Kokoro is nuanced in its treatment of relationships and the changing values of the older and younger generations as the Meiji period, on its leave, ushered in the new Japan. In light prose, Soseki gives an account of what enduring friendship requires and what fulfillment in marriage looks like under the worst of circumstances. Continue reading

Zadie Smith, White Teeth

White TeethWhite Teeth · Zadie Smith
Random House, 2000 · 448 pages, paperback

The Iqbals: Samad and Alsana and their twin sons, Magid and Millat.
The Joneses: Archie and Clara and their daughter, Irie.

White Teeth is the story of these two families, brought together by a wartime bond as solid and true as Clara’s set of pearly whites, a set that she pops out every night. Continue reading

Interlude: end of Q1 (year 2!) at the Masthead!

The first quarter of the Masthead’s second year is drawing to a close – a quick look at the past three months:

Books reviewed: 8 (7 novels and one collection of short stories, Steinbeck’s The Long Valley)
Translated fiction: 2 (from 1 language, Russian)
New-to-me authors: 5 (Buckley, Clarke, Greene, Obioma and Tartt)
Oldest book: Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886)
Newest book: Obioma’s The Fishermen (2016)
Longest book: Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (1006 pages)
Shortest book: Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich (52 pages)

A pithy recap of each book read and reviewed here since January 15:
Continue reading

Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich

Ivan Ilyich is a comer. Promotion after promotion, he’s making a steady climb in the government. And though each promotion is accompanied by extra roubles (as is only proper), he and his wife are in constant straits. With each rise in status, they’re moving in ever more opulent circles.Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories

The Death of Ivan Ilyich · Leo Tolstoy · 1884-‘86
Pevear and Volokhonsky translation · Vintage, 2009 · 52 pages, paperback

To Ivan it’s a headache. To Ivan it’s fakery. To Ivan…well, it was the same as with all people who are not exactly rich, but who want to resemble the rich, and for that reason only resemble each other.

Like much of his work, Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich snubs affectation in all its guises. With  Ivan Ilyich though, this putting on of airs is a suffocation when time is running short. Ivan Ilyich is dying, so please will you stop pretending?

Continue reading