A new year, am I right? Time for another reading list. I just finished reading The Maltese Falcon, which, since I began it last week during the way-way-back time of two-thousand-nine, will be cataloged with the books I read in that year.
But enough of the past! It is now the Future!
I’ve got a new copy of Blood Meridian on the night stand, which I intend to crack open right now. Though it won’t actually *crack* because it’s a trade paperback. Which is a nice enough format but doesn’t fit in my pocket and that can be a drag….
Anyway! On with books! There will be some blurb reviews here with this list, and links to longer reviews as the mood strikes me. Feel free to comment with reading recommendations, brilliant and/or scatological insights, harsh ad hominem attacks, or whatever else you like.
1. Blood Meridian, or, The evening redness in the West – Cormack McCarthy (1985)
Intense, nihilistic brutality rendered in some of the most stunningly beautiful prose you’ve ever read; that’s the best way I can describe this book. I imagine McCarthy presenting this one to the populace and saying, “You like Cowboys & Indians stories? Fine: here’s a Cowboys & Indians story for you. Enjoy it, assholes.” It is not something I would recommend to most people – I don’t even feel comfortable talking about it in so-called polite company, but I’ve definitely benefited for reading it. McCarthy is a master artist and I am already craving more of his writing…
…but not quite yet. Right now I need a lighter fare, something enjoyable on a visceral, and not just an intellectual level. So I am going to re-read:
2. Good Omens – Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett (1990)
A very funny book about the apocalypse, written by two of my favorite authors. The anti-christ is a likable kid, and demons and angels are big chums. Any fan of either Pratchett or Gaiman has probably already read it; for anyone else it can be a good intro to both authors (as was the case for me when I first read it 10 or so years ago).
3. Nightwood – Djuna Barnes (1936) [DBC]
This seminal piece of lesbian fiction contains rich, deeply layered language, some very clever turns of phrase and a few wry-smirk-worthy moments; but having set it down at about 2/3 finished and gone a full weekend without picking it back up, I must admit to myself that I probably don’t intend to finish it. With more philosophizing and ruminating than genuine character building (to say nothing of the plot – which is what it appears to be: nothing), I just can’t bring myself to read any more about the tragic sexual malaise of wealthy world-traveling bohemians (woe!). The best comparison I can make for Nightwood, in my reading experience, is another brilliantly empty novel, Justine (though I was at least able to finish that one).
4. The Sandman – Neil Gaiman (1989-1996)
Having spent a good chunk of my adolescence strenuously fanboying over comic books, I went nearly 20 years without picking one up (NB: ‘fanboy’ is now a verb). A couple years ago I finally read Watchmen, and I enjoyed it enough that it had me wanting to read comics again. Cut to now, and I’ve finished the first volume of the much more massive (but possibly less brilliant) The Sandman. [Click to read reviews of Volumes 1 through 10 as I post them]
5. Novel Without a Name – Duong Thu Huong (1995) [DBC]
With startling images of death and loss, mingled with scenes of love, angst, and people just trying to live their lives, Novel Without a Name is a somber yet clear-eyed look at the US/Vietnam war, seen through the eyes of a communist Vietnamese soldier. This book is banned by the government of Vietnam for it’s unflattering assessment of the realities of communist revolution.
11. Murder With Mirrors – Agatha Christie (1952)
My first foray into the world of Agatha Christie mysteries, I picked this up at a library sale for 50¢ (pocket-size paperbacks FTW!). Once the rather dry table-setting first act was complete and the story started to pick up momentum, Murder With Mirrors (published originally in the UK as They Do It With Mirrors) turned into a pretty entertaining whodunit. Most of the characters are predictably two-dimensional (maybe 1.5-dimensional?) but the star sleuth Miss Marple was a lot of fun. This one proves to me yet again that most famous authors are famous for a reason; I will definitely pick up more Christie soon.
12. The Good Soldier – Ford Madox Ford (1915) [DBC]
I know Ford was important in early 20th century literature, more for his promotion of other writers than for his own writing. This I learned in college when we read DH Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, Jean Rhys, et al. What I had heard about Ford as an author was that he was a pretentious, no-talent hack (but that this is somewhat forgivable given his contributions to literature as a whole). Well, nothing in the first 1/3 of The Good Soldier has yet disabused me of this preconception. So far what I’m reading is another tale of the woes of the idle cosmopolitan rich and their seedy little love triangles (alas!). Yawn, mostly I’m just wishing horrible death on all the characters. The writing isn’t completely terrible and the structure is somewhat interesting (non-linear flashback-driven narrative), so I will finish it; I’ll post here if anything in the rest of the book changes my opinion, but I suspect it will not.
13. Forever Peace – Joe Haldeman (1995)
Not really a sequel to Forever War, this is more of a companion piece, examining separate issues around the idea of hyper-advanced technology as applied to war in the future. Where War was philosophical and highly fabulistic in its scrutiny of the effects of one absurd, endless war, Peace is immediate and gritty, set closer to the present, and vastly more violent. The connections are merely thematic, but both books are excellent, and bookend the ultimately pacifistic sympathies of the author (who is himself a veteran of an absurd, seemingly endless war).