Currently reading: Donna Tartt, Chigozie Obioma and a note on exposition

I’ll have reviews for Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend and Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen up in the next couple of weeks, but in the meantime I’ve been thinking about the importance of exposition. It was Tartt’s novel that got me thinking about it because she wrote it with such inventiveness in The Little Friend. Continue reading

Interlude: end of Q4 at the Masthead

The Masthead will be celebrating its first birthday tomorrow, January 15 – here’s the final breakdown of books read and reviewed in 2017:

Books reviewed: 34
Pages read: 12,487
Longest book: King’s It (1153 pages)
Shortest book: Shakespeare’s Othello (82 pages)
The full breakdown? Here’s a look:

books read by number of pages

Translated fiction: 13 (from 7 languages: Arabic, French, German, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Turkish)
New-to-me authors: 21 (everyone excepting Capote, Dostoevsky, Hemingway, King, Mahfouz, Rushdie, Shakespeare and Vonnegut)
Oldest book: Shakespeare’s Othello (1603)
Newest book: Tóbín’s House of Names (2017; Auster’s 4321 was also published in 2017 but earlier in the year)

And as always, a quick recap of each book read and reviewed here over the past three months (find all of this year’s reviews linked in the review archive):


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson
A sound opener to Larsson’s Millenium series: he’s piqued our interest in the non-cheapskate way: the main story of this first novel wraps up by the end; it’s his characters who demand us to pick up the second. Intricate plotting, strong characters and a good mystery (or two: Salandar’s her own mystery really).

Steppenwolf, Hermann Hesse
This one’s a wild read! A little carnival veneer slicks up some good German philosophizing. Hesse had a good bit to say about defining your life, and he said it in an entertaining way.

The Nest, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
Amateur writing and an insipid story about the loss of some trust fund money combine in this contemporary to make you roll your eyes. That said, this author could probably do some good work if she were to take a risk with her writing; this one’s too conventional to stand out.


2666, Roberto Bolaño
Vulgar in the most pristine way and a real maze of clever writing, this one’s a rough read and all the better for it: its loose plotting and open structure are both to its credit.

Hangover Square, Patrick Hamilton
A modern-sounding novel from the blackout London of WWII, Hamilton writes split-personality perfectly and makes you adore his very messed-up George Harvey Bone.

The Garden of Eden, Ernest Hemingway
True Hemingway style for how the story takes shape (i.e. between the lines).This one has a lot to say about love and about being your own person. But know this: it’s a weaker novel than his more major works.

The End of Days, Jenny Erpenbeck
There’s not even the suggestion of cheerfulness in this one: a novel beautifully written and describing through the deaths (yes, multiple) of one girl the havoc of 20th century Central Europe and the East-West divide.

What’s first in the new year? John Steinbeck’s short story collection, The Long Valley (expected publication date for review is January 19  *edit: January 21); Graham Greene’s Orient Express and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Cheers!

Q1 wrap-up
Q2 wrap-up
Q3 wrap-up
Browse the review archive

End credits: books read 2017


The Idiot
Fyodor Dostoevsky

All the Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr

Salman Rushdie

Oryx and Crake
Margaret Atwood

The Stranger
Albert Camus

The Beggar · The Thief and the Dogs · Autumn Quail
Naguib Mahfouz

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
Michael Chabon

William Shakespeare

Breakfast at Tiffany’s
Truman Capote

Paul Auster

Murder on the Orient Express
Agatha Christie

The Enchanted Wanderer (and other stories)
Nikolai Leskov

Twelve Angry Men
Reginald Rose

The Fellowship of the Ring
JRR Tolkien

Orhan Pamuk

House of Names
Colm Tóbín

The Woman in White
Wilkie Collins

A Room with a View
EM Forster

Deadeye Dick
Kurt Vonnegut

Where Angels Fear to Tread
EM Forster

City of Thieves
David Benioff

Stephen King

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
Dai Sijie

Chronicle of a Death Foretold
Gabriel García Márquez

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Stieg Larsson

Hermann Hesse

The Nest
Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

Roberto Bolaño

Hangover Square
Patrick Hamilton

The Garden of Eden
Ernest Hemingway

The End of Days
Jenny Erpenbeck

Happy New Year!

For the love of books!

I started the Masthead in January as a space devoted to reading and writing. I had the aim to broaden my reading to include those areas I’d neglected – mystery, fantasy, contemporary, drama, dystopia, thriller (can you tell I’m not one for genre fiction?) – and authors I’d never read. I had never written a book review; I’d never written out more than marginal notes scrimped onto 3×6 notepaper that could double as a bookmark.

But the books never did stick with me for very long, no matter how much I loved them (I wrote a little about this here). For the love of books I did something more when I started the Masthead, and when I read over those reviews I’ve already written, the whole novel comes back to me effortlessly – the plot, yes, but everything else, too: its characters, its stylistic genius (or stylistic mess), the feelings I felt…I’ve even had an excitement to read it again (or, in two particular cases, strong reasons to purge it from my shelves…)

I started out easy when I wrote “Pity the fool,” a review of Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. I’d already read a lot of his work, so writing this one wasn’t much of a stretch.

But I was in new territory with my second review, “Diamond in the rough.” Not only was Anthony Doerr a new-to-me author and All the Light We Cannot See a book much hyped, but when I wrote the review for it I found myself on the other side of popular opinion. Doerr did not regale me as he had so many others.

Doerr aside, I’ve found myself taken with a few new-to-me authors and astounded by feats of ingenuity in prose. I’ve picked up books I may otherwise never have – I saw Hangover Square at another blogger’s site and ended up myself quite taken with it! You won’t find Patrick Hamilton at Barnes & Noble unfortunately, and no length of browsing would have brought him to me.

Sure I’ve read some favorites. This project’s to be a fun one and a year with no Hemingway or Rushdie would be such a sorry thing. So no, not everything’s been new, but I have read more from many of those genres I’d neglected and I’m excited to continue the venture in the New Year.

The Masthead has one more book review for you before its quarter ends (and its first birthday pops) on January 15, and the first two weeks of January will be full of end-of-year reflections, recaps and discussions because after all, we’re all here for the love of books!


Interlude: end of Q3 at the Masthead

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

Books reviewed: 7
Translated fiction: 2 (from 2 languages: French and Spanish)
New-to-me authors: 4 (Forster, Benioff, Sijie and García Márquez)
Oldest book: Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905)
Newest book: Benioff’s City of Thieves (2009)
Longest book: King’s It (1153 pages)
Shortest book: García Márquez’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold (120 pages)

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

A Room with a View, EM Forster
Please, just say what you think, not what your friends think! A novel that lambasts with humor our need to be exactly like everyone else (bonus: excellent views of Italy)

Deadeye Dick, Kurt Vonnegut
Copious amounts of guilt for stupid mistakes and twists of fate. This one lacks in substance until the end – a patient read, but stick with it.

Where Angels Fear to Tread, EM Forster
Do you keep your in-law’s burdens even when the blood relation dies and the in-law takes a new (and reproachable) husband? Scandal, prejudice and rue grow out of a humble Italian town and creep their way across the Channel into upright English homes.

City of Thieves, David Benioff
A compact story of Leningrad; emotive and original, adventurous and brutal, but brought down a notch by its gratuitous sex jokes and off-the-mark diction.

It, Stephen King
A tightrope walk along the “kid line” of horror and imagination

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Dai Sijie
Simple prose delivers the irony in China’s re-education program with a cute (not cutesy, but cute) love story to boot

Chronicle of a Death ForetoldGabriel García Márquez
The townspeople – every last one of them it seemed – knew who was to be murdered and knew who the murderers were but not one of them did anything. A novel about passivity in the face of crime.

Q1 wrap-up
Q2 wrap-up
Browse the review archive

“Good books” and Sept/Oct TBR

I’ve had too many books that I adored while reading them which now carry with them nothing better than that awful, says-nothing, lazy accolade: I enjoyed these books, sure I did! They were good books.

Good books, huh? Well, gee…

I don’t doubt there were a great many good books. But why they were any good escapes me now. You’d think it would be easy to remember the good ones.

Continue reading