Currently reading…

upcoming reviews 2

That yellow rain slicker, the gray rapids of a flooded street…the little newspaper boat that floats toward the stormdrain…and then the carnival smell of popcorn and the shining silver eyes of Pennywise the Clown as he offers up a balloon to young Georgie Denbrough.

The first scene in Stephen King’s IT is one of my favorite openers of any novel. It’s been probably two years since I last read any King. A new IT movie comes out September 8th though, and the novel is out in a great new edition from Scribner, so…I’m getting back into it! Truth be told, I left this one 70 pages to the end last time I read it (really, 94% through the book and I left off!) I remember the story slowing considerably toward the end, but from what I’ve heard I was at the edge of something good.

Kurt Vonnegut who, when reading him is to do mental gymnastics, is hit-or-miss for me. Slaughter-house Five is a great book and Sirens of Titan amused me last summer, but this one – Deadeye Dick – is so far just a jumble of stuff that is kind of a chore to read. I’m only about a fifth of the way into it, and I hope he’ll come around to please me with the usual zaniness.

I’m nearly finished with E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View and want to publish the review by end of week. Forster was a bit like an English Edith Wharton: wry, compassionate and, at times, acerbic.

What are you reading?

Interlude: second quarter wrap-up at the Masthead

The Masthead is closing out its second quarter! A quick look at the past three months:

Books reviewed: 8 (6 novels, 1 book of short stories and 1 play, Rose’s Twelve Angry Men)
Translated fiction: 2 (from 2 languages: Russian and Turkish)
New-to-me authors: 7: all except Tolkien were new for me!
Oldest book: Collins’ The Woman in White (1860)
Newest book: Tóibín’s House of Names  (2017) *but…it’s the oldest story 😉
Longest book: Collins’ The Woman in White (672 pages)
Shortest book: Rose’s Twelve Angry Men (73 pages)

A pithy recap of each book read and reviewed here since April 15:

4321, Paul Auster
A master book of meta-fiction! Auster’s recent novel is full of what ifs and, with the help of four Archie Fergusons, tells us there’s no point in dwelling on the past (or, for that matter, on the future either).

Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
Disappointing. A cut-and-dry mystery that lays bare the evidence and alibis of 12 people and then virtually ignores it in favor of a hunch felt by Christie’s cult hero, Monsieur Poirot.

The Enchanted Wanderer and Other Stories, Nikolai Leskov
A book to keep close at hand, there is so much to these stories! Leskov, he just wants to tell you a story, even if it you think it’s a little far-fetched. A little magic and a little fairy tale.

Twelve Angry Men, Reginald Rose
When the jury couldn’t give a damn but the verdict is life or death…what then?


The Fellowship of the Ring
, J.R.R. Tolkien
Tolkien’s classic fantasy plays on our simplest fears. Middle-earth is alive in its history, in its shadows, in its very hills…terror crescendos in an instant and drops back in the next. Prose and poetry and characters – every one of them satisfies.

Snow, Orhan Pamuk
This one could not have contributed to Pamuk’s Nobel. A good premise and the potential for artistic politics but instead…reads like daytime T.V.

House of Names, Colm Tóibín
A modern retelling of an ancient Greek story. Tóibín ennervates his characters through the tricks he pulls with linguistics and brings the cursed House of Atreus (with its hand-me-down violence) into our popular fiction.

The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
Victorian gothic: all sneaking suspicion and none of the usual Victorian fussiness; a thriller to meet our modern thirst.

♠ Be sure to check out the Masthead’s first quarter wrap-up and the review archive! ♠

Currently reading/Up next

Even as Frodo and company are only leaving Tom Bombadil’s at sun up, I’ve already started thinking about my next reads.

Currently reading:

The Fellowship of the Ring – JRR Tolkien
Snow – Orhan Pamuk

Up next?

The Godfather – Mario Puzo (re-read)
Ham on Rye – Charles Bukowski

But THIS is what I’m really excited about:

House of Names
Colm Tóibín, House of Names

May 9, 2017
Scribner, 278 pages (hardcover)

The story of Clytemnestra:

[…] how her husband deceived her eldest daughter Iphigeneia with a promise of marriage to Achilles, only to sacrifice her because that is what he was told would make the winds blow in his favor and take him to Troy; how she seduced and collaborated with the prisoner Aegisthus, who shared her bed in the dark and could kill; how Agamemnon came back with a lover himself; and how Clytemnestra finally achieved her vengeance for his stunning betrayal—his quest for victory, greater than his love for his child.”

— summary from Goodreads

Sounds so good! I saw a review in the Minneapolis Star Tribune shortly before its release and continue to *almost* pick it up – only scared it will fall short (I’ve not read Tóibín before so I really shouldn’t have this fear.)

A peek into this week’s reviews

upcoming reviews - Leskov, RoseIt’s a little sad to leave Leskov behind…the cozy samovar-on-the table/bast-shoes-under-the-bed kind of feeling he gives….Leskov wrote most of the stories in this collection as anecdotes, apropos of something said between travelers at an inn, among passengers on a boat or just so: he created characters and scenes for the purpose of introducing his stories, and he provided these characters with listeners (who sometimes interrupt, only making that cozy, chummy feeling cozier and chummier). The copy I have is from my favorite translators, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, and is one for which I’ve already reviewed the title story, The Enchanted Wanderer, as it’s own piece).

Also publishing a review for the classic teleplay Twelve Angry Men. Disconcerting to read how cavalierly a jury could play with a man’s life. Rose wrote the play in 1954, when the Civil Rights movement was just barely starting to simmer. The way he slowly skins his characters down to their piths is masterful. Seventy-three pages, one setting (a drab jury room), no physical action…but the psychology of it is beautifully done that it hardly matters; its theatrical plainness is to its credit.

Estimated publishing dates are Thursday and Saturday (May 18th and 20th).

Interlude: end of quarter at the Masthead

The Masthead is closing out its first quarter! A quick look at the past three months:

Books reviewed: 11 (10 fiction and 1 play: Shakespeare’s Othello)
Translated fiction: 5 (from 3 languages: Russian, French and Arabic)
New-to-me authors: 4 (Doerr, Atwood, Camus and Chabon)
Oldest book: Shakespeare’s Othello (1603)
Newest book: Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See (2014)
Longest book: Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (704 pages)
Shortest book: Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (87 pages)

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

The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky
Detailed in its vision of mankind’s hypothetical innocence; experimental, psychological, emphatic; similar elements as in The Brother’s Karamazov and Demons

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
Conventionally pretty, if also self-conscious and superficial; structurally cohesive with strong motifs but a little lacking in story and characters

Shame, Salman Rushdie
A serio-comedy in the same vein as Midnight’s Children (and almost equally as good); a vivid and terrifying account of how insidious and far-reaching shame can be

Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
Verging on the grotesque, a dystopia that engenders pity and anguish more than it provokes fear

The Stranger, Albert Camus
Argues for both the absurdity of life and its mundane value; existentialism without the crisis

Naguib Mahfouz: three novellas of revolutionary Egypt
The 1952 Revolution: what it was meant to be and what it turned out to be; literary works that give three different perspectives

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon
Tight writing and a decades-spanning story of superhero proportions

Othello, William Shakespeare
A play pricked on by spite – and with a fifth act that takes an unusual turn for Shakespearean tragedy

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote
A vagabond life ≠ Wanderlust and Holly’s glamour isn’t a happy glamour

♠ Browse the review index to see all reviews from the Masthead ♠

Mahfouz, Chabon and new books

I’m shooting to have the review up by mid-week for Autumn Quail and am working on a series recap to come shortly afterward that compares the three novellas. Mahfouz was a tremendous writer and keenly aware of the lifeblood of Cairo’s every corner. He was Egypt’s Tolstoy. He did win the Nobel prize for literature.

My introduction to Mahfouz was through his Cairo trilogy a few years ago. The way he wrote about the British occupation and then of Egyptian independence through one merchant-class family showed all the glamour, richness, decrepitude, sadness; showed all…everything…that was alive in Cairo through the first half of the twentieth century. He gave this same attention to his writings of the ’52 revolution that I am now reviewing.

 

♠ Also reading…

chabon-kavalier-and-clay
I’m halfway through Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I’d been meaning to get to his work for a while and started in on this one per the recommendation of books n’at.

I might also pick up Julius Caesar once I finish Mahfouz – we’re near the storied Ides of March after all, and I haven’t read Shakespeare in years – but a couple of other books are also pulling me into their orbits. Read on.

Continue reading

Five tough books on the TBR

I didn’t read War and Peace for the purpose of saying that I’ve read it. I read it because I fell in love with Anna Karenina. I’ve since read as much Tolstoy as I can get my hands on.

But there are books I want to read, if not because I think I “should” (though there are these, too), then because they intimidate and frustrate and confuse and disarm, and, and…and?

And allure me.

A peek at five of the books staring me down:

Continue reading

Preface

I read too much and write too little and my head ends up overfull and a little too confused.

Characters march in with their dirty boots and put up a righteous din. “Guillotine, guillotine! Shu shu shu!” They shout, they boast, they mope and argue and cry and proclaim.

There’s word of a policeman, tied to the back of a bear, floating down the Neva. A blind musician tunes his zither and plays to a married man’s seduction of an Egyptian singer. And there’s another man, off to the side, who relives the passionate bullfights of Pamplona, though he is impotent to passion itself.

I invite them willingly, drunkards and English ladies alike, but I must turn this crowded tavern into a salon or I will never hear any of them properly. We’ll see whether Dolokhov comes in from the window and behaves himself.

Reviews here at the Masthead will be more than reviews, and I forewarn that I cannot always avoid spoilers (though I’ll try to hide such nefarious things under the carpeting of “read more.”)