You know how people say that you don’t really understand complex somethings until you can parse those somethings down into things any dummy can grasp? That’s how I feel about a novelist who can put big ideas into a good story. Philosophy is one thing, but philosophy placed in a physical world, with no dialectics and no arguments but just so – and then given life through characters – is quite another.
By the numbers, here’s a recap of the Masthead’s 2018 reading year and, with one last quarter to close out before its second birthday on the 15th, a quick peek into each book read and reviewed over the past three months.
Cheers! Continue reading
I’m doing this a little differently than last year. My 2018 reading year was one of five standouts, a handful of good reads and a string of books that, for of the most part, lolled about, neither good nor bad but certainly indifferent to taking a shot at greatness.
I had to do something to add a little year-end spice to the list because the same mentions for everything just isn’t all that fun, is it? I scrapped the 5-4-3-2-1 format of 2017 as well as my separate review of authors. Neither was going to work for the 2018 year-end recap.
Apart from the two disappointments of the year (obv), take each category below as a recommendation. Teaser? 2018 gave me a new all-time favorite novel.
So here goes: what was tops in 2018?
The Long Valley
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
Thank You for Smoking
The Little Friend
The Kreuzer Sonata
The Death of Ivan Ilyich
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Philip K. Dick
The Three Musketeers
This Side of Paradise
F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Makioka Sisters
Mrs. Rosie and the Priest
The Magic Mountain
The Three Theban Plays
Still Life with Woodpecker
The Essex Serpent
Happy New Year!
Sarah Perry’s Essex Serpent is a bizarre tale. It’s bizarre not because of its serpentine mystery, but because it’s a good novel when everything about it would say otherwise.
You couldn’t say that The Essex Serpent is historical fiction or mystery or thriller, nor does it have a Victorian pastiche or the effervescent pall of a fantasy about it. Or it does, but not quite. It’s a curious novel but one clearly meant for the present day, the present year, a sort of amalgamation of past place and present principle. It’s odd. Continue reading
Still Life with Woodpecker is a most postmodern postmodern fairytale.
For a man who can end a sentence with dildos and wax poetic about a good sucking off, it’s going to be a hard guess as to how he managed to end his story with individualism and true love. Tom Robbins takes an obvious pleasure in the process, delighting in a vocabulary that lends itself well to diarrhea of the mouth.
He’s also, incidentally, a fantastic storyteller. Continue reading
With the sun packed away by half past 4, we’ve nearly paid back our debt and have only its interest left. Though I won’t really feel it ‘til mid-January, when the rays shine for a noticeably longer interval, I can hardly complain: winter, so far, has been kind – and it’s lefse time here in MN!
In just under a week we’ll begin to creep toward spring little by little, but with that renewal comes the year’s end and that means a review of the past 12 months.
What has been new here at the Masthead? For one, I’ve read a great many more first novels than I’d have expected of myself (and just added three more to my shelves this month). I chanced for a spy thriller that wasn’t and a Cain and Abel story whose conflict could hardly justify the outcome. But I also risked a fantasy that endeared itself to me at once and a novel of growing up that told his contemporaries that 24-year-old F. Scott Fitzgerald had promise.
There were books that have graced my shelves for years unread only to give me a good time this year: I found my receipt for the plays of Sophocles tucked neatly inside it; I had bought it August 29, 2015. The myth of Oedipus is more than Freud would have us believe. Others I brought home and started almost that same day, like Larraquy’s queer little Comemadre. That’s the beauty of a growing library and buying to my heart’s whims. I’ve amassed a collection whose books hold my interest in an ebb and flow tide. Unread books from three years ago don’t concern me; I’ll read them when the mood strikes and enjoy them all the better.
I read a book I felt was missing in my younger years, but 1984 didn’t hit me like many will say it hit them. I found it overly didactic and made dull through the years by every amateur politico’s shouting over it.
And I read a bit of sci-fi, but while it was a good diversion, Dick’s electric sheep still felt like a bridging novel – but then, the book before it and the book after it were each so good that maybe I shrugged it off with undue haste. Or maybe I just don’t like sci-fi so much.
Regardless, it’s been a good 12 months, and by the time December is up there should be at least one – and likely two – more reviews before recapping the year in full and making my picks for what was tops in 2018. Come January, the Masthead will blow out the candles on its second year of book reviews with the wish for another year of good reading – just about the time that sunshine sparkles ‘til half past 5.
As always, happy reading.
When every purchase gives you a bounce-back coupon…!
Garth Risk Hallberg, City on Fire
Omar El Akkad, American War
Emily Fridlund, History of Wolves
Fridlund’s chilly Minnesota novel is likely going to be my next book. History of Wolves was a finalist for the 2017 Man Booker – and it’s Fridlund’s first novel. I can get behind a MN girl who writes good stuff 😉
I’ve been thinking of picking up the Hallberg for a verrry long time. Read a few pages here and there and know it gave the author a sizeable advance: a healthy $2 mil. The same guy who recommended American War to me (and who knows my reading tastes) seconded City on Fire as being more than worth my time. So…I bought it!
School-age grudges and backroom bargains line up the chips against ladies’ secrets and counterfeit fathers in The Adolescent, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s penultimate novel and one that built on his previous work with surprising maturity.
Vladimir Nabokov, in his Lectures on Russian Literature, said of Dostoevsky that the man “seems to have been chosen by the destiny of Russian letters to become Russia’s greatest playwright, but he took the wrong turning and wrote novels.” Though he was talking about The Brothers Karamazov, which Nabokov called a “straggling play,” the comment holds for The Adolescent, a gossipy soap opera done in high style. Continue reading
We all know the basics: Oedipus offed his father and married his mother.
Oedipus the King, though, isn’t about the incestuous prophecy, but instead about Oedipus’ relentless pursuit – no matter the cost – of the truth, what he does with that truth and how he’s treated in spite of it all.
More than the story of ancient myth and its piecemeal modern echoes – thank you, Herr Freud – Sophocles gave us the measure of the man: integrity unmatched, good intentions to the last, a sense of justice that places no king above the law.
It’s a shame we only remember the sullied reputation. Continue reading