“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 one: Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers contains within its pages a gallantry offset by buffoonery, and each quality falls to perfect measure. 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

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?

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Leo Tolstoy, the Kreuzer Sonata

The Kreuzer Sonata is about two things: one, a man past his prime who allows himself to be cucked by a musician, kills his wife, and blames it all on Beethoven; and two, a past due morality in sexual affairs written by a man who struggled to reconcile mortality with religion and right passion.

Kreuzer SonataThe Kreuzer Sonata · Leo Tolstoy · 1889
Pevear and Volokhonsky translation · Vintage, 2009 · 71 pages, paperback

How he came to murder his wife: the perspective of the novella is one year after the fact. Pozdnyshev is a fornicator turned loyal husband who got his comeuppance in a disloyal wife, and now, while on the train, he finds in a fellow passenger a man willing to listen to him as he reasons out his moral penury. Continue reading

Obsession is a reasty little vengeance

We have a too easy capacity for convincing ourselves of anything – for conceiving, nursing, coddling – an obsession, of holding onto one thing (that might not even be true) out of desperation, and Donna Tartt renders this perfectly in The Little Friend.

The Little FriendThe Little Friend · Donna Tartt
Vintage, 2002 · 624 pages, paperback

A certain psychopathology colors her novel, percolates, and forces through the kudzu vines as the decisive factor in the novel’s very density. There’s always that shadow of the 9-year-old Robin hanging from the Tupelo tree. Back and forth, back and forth, a small body rocked from light to dark.

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Hook, line and…sinker

The Fishermen had much to say and ended by saying very little.

The FishermenThe Fishermen · Chigozie Obioma
Back Bay Books, 2016 · 295 pages, paperback

Akure, Nigeria. The Harmattan winds die out. Dust motes sift lazily to the ground. One brother stabs another, and the madman still limps around town, despised and yet hearkened. This freshly swept town, sere and cracked by the Nigerian sun’s whitewash glare, exposes little more than the unholy. Continue reading

Tarred and feathered

Buckley puffs out the talking points of both sides in the tobacco wars, and the result is ludicrous and delightfully incorrect in this day of safe spaces – thank YOU for daring, Mr. Buckley.

Thank You for SmokingThank You for Smoking · Christopher Buckley · 1994
Random House, 2006 · 272 pages, paperback

Nick Naylor is the PR guy for Big Tobacco in Christopher Buckley’s Thank You for Smoking, a laugh-out-loud satire that’s funny because it’s true.

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Magic more formidable than ships made of rain

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell feels like the best of British literature, combining  Sherlock Holmes eccentricity with the warm/cool, fast/slow, fun/grim adventure of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and then dropping in a bit of Wilkie Collins’ gothic ambiguity. In short, Susanna Clarke’s novel is a fantasy that has in it a lot more than a wonderful story.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. NorrellJonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell · Susanna Clarke · 2004
Bloomsbury, 2017 · 1006 pages, paperback

Magic has gone out of England. Magicians as they are now are just ordinary men with their noses in books and whose tongues form words of speculation instead of incantation. Magic isn’t something that is done – oh no, not anymore – magic is something to be theorized, opined about, written down in lines of rhetoric…magic in this age, the Age of Napoleon, is only an armchair philosophy. Enter stuffy Mr. Norrel, recluse of Hurtfew Abbey, practical magician.

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