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.

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:
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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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“Remember me!”

Though it lacks the celerity of its titular continental train, Graham Greene’s novel Orient Express still bears the fervid desires of fleeting travel.

Orient ExpressOrient Express · Graham Greene · 1933
Penguin, 2004 · 197 pages, paperback

Greene’s novel feels, to borrow a line from its prose, “as if all the floors of a house fell and left the walls standing.” With Orient Express Greene puts our perceptions of the temporary to great effect. He doesn’t exhort us to seize the day! as seems most common for stories that trade in the temporal. Instead, he promotes its unreal and delaying nature, the idea that this, too, shall pass and that, by extension, its affairs don’t actually exist.

Moreover, Greene uses the more common aspect (i.e. making use of a moment) to etch more deeply this feeling of unreality: the rare instances in the novel where his characters do act on impulse are immediately subverted by their juxtaposition with the mere thoughts, the unfulfilled wonderment, of what going all the way might entail.

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John Steinbeck, The Long Valley

The stories in The Long Valley are sly. Their coloring may be Steinbeck through and through, but their tone is surprising. Sure, the men get down on their haunches and do some figgerin’ while the sun scars the black earth, but damnit! there’s humor in these stories! There’s suspense in these stories!

Steinback, Long ValleyThe Long Valley · John Steinbeck · 1936-‘38
Library of America, 1996 (The Grapes of Wrath and Other Writings) · 205 pages, hardcover

Many of the stories in The Long Valley, namely “The White Quail” and “The Snake,” coax us to expect a certain ending and yet, lurking on the last page or in the final paragraph, is a surprise or a subtle turn of phrase that drops the floor of your stomach real quick.

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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