Master List of Reviews

 

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Spring

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“Naked Came the Stranger”

Naked 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

The 1969 literary hoax/oddity authored by two dozen Newsweek writers and published under the name Penelope Ashe. I read a 1970 Dell paperback edition.

Buy the Book (the only way to buy it “new” is in ebook form, otherwise, it can get pretty pricey)

3 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

Seen the Movie: No.

The Plot:

Angry about her husband’s affair, Gillian Blake sleeps with as many men as she can.

Naked Came the Stranger is a curiosity; a book written by committee to “prove” that the reading public will go for titillation over literary merit, it actually sold more copies after the hoax was revealed, kind of ruining the whole experiment. The argument of “the public is dumb and reads dumb things” still rages on and is still annoying as hell. Let people read what they want to read and don’t get sore if audiences would rather have a fun time with escapist plots than plod through 500-page literary tomes about middle-aged ennui.

The authors were white dudes who decided to publish the work under a woman’s name. And it feels so obviously, offensively written by a bunch of white dudes. Despite being about Gillian’s conquests, the book isn’t about Gillian at all – or any of the wives, beyond labeling them “bitches” or “cows” – it’s obsessed, of course, with the men and their pleasure. It’s an interesting artifact of white male perspective in the late sixties, saying more about their hangups and biases than the public which they found so appallingly low-brow (see note [3]).

And, screwing up their thesis, Naked Came the Stranger is totally entertaining, a series of Mad Magazine-esque punchlines. Most chapters are offensive, but a couple are clever and the framing device (Billy & Gilly’s radio show introducing each conquest) works well. Continue reading

“Bluebeard” (Post 1/2)

Bluebeard 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 2


One of Kurt Vonnegut’s last novels, published in 1987. I read a 1988 Dell paperback which has seen better days.   

Buy the Book.

4 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 2

The Plot:

Failed artist Rabo Karabekian is spurred to write his autobiography by a famous author who is crashing at his Hamptons house for the summer. She’s also dying to know what he’s got locked up in the potato barn.

Like most of Vonnegut’s work post-Cat’s Cradle, there’s not much of an active plot here. Bluebeard is a scattershot character study, jumping around in time, going from thought to thought. The major plot point is figuring out what’s in Karabekian’s potato barn (the answer to which won’t come up in this review. Some things I just won’t spoil).

What draws me to Bluebeard more than Vonnegut’s other later novels are the characters of Circe Berman and Marilee, who call Karabekian (a thinly-veiled Vonnegut) out on his shit. Vonnegut seems aware of some of the criticisms against him and acknowledges their validity. Bluebeard is his ode to women – their strength, the abuse of – while still set firmly in classic Vonnegut style. Continue reading

“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”

Wonderful Wizard

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

L. Frank Baum’s 1900 classic. I read a Dover edition paperback. 

Buy the Book

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: At least 5. 

Seen the Movie: There are so many different versions of it. Yes to the 1939 Judy Garland version and yes to many variations/inspired-by versions.

The Plot:

Young Dorothy is swept away to the magical land of Oz. While trying to find her way back to Kansas, she befriends the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman and the Cowardly Lion.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was my first favorite book. I read all of Baum’s 14-book run as a kid, but had few clear memories. I’ve been on an unofficial side quest of revisiting children’s fantasy classics (or reading them for the first time) and had an urge to go back to Oz.

Even though I’ve only seen the 1939 film a couple of times (usually synced with The Dark Side of the Moon), the film has replaced the book as my mind’s default version. But there are many differences; enough to make both versions worth experiencing. Continue reading

“Heaven’s My Destination”

Heaven 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Thornton Wilder’s 1935 novel. I read it from my beautiful Library of America edition.

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3.5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

Traveling textbook salesman George Brush butts heads with others by adhering to a strict religious and moral code.

A mostly episodic tale in the style of Wilder’s The Cabala and Theophilus North, but instead of solving the problems of others like those leads, George Brush leaves a trail of angry and perplexed people behind.

I hate this complaint, but I can’t figure out the point of Heaven’s My Destination. Why did Wilder write it? What is he trying to say? Brush grapples with his faith – questioning it, losing it, seemingly finding it again – but he seems to be at the same place in life in the end as he was in the beginning (perhaps a little more mature…?).

In any case, Brush belongs to that genre where a simple man, speaking his truth, causes ripples around him. (Being There is of a similar vein.) In these tales, we’re supposed to see the virtue of simplicity and faith but Wilder seems to be turning it on its head. Brush is often wrong. He meets people who believe in evolution and science (and women who smoke! God forbid!) who defend their beliefs much more eloquently than Brush. And he refuses to engage in dialogue with them, instead arguing and stalking away.

There’s also a Vonnegut flavor here; somewhere between Player Piano and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, except that Wilder loves all of his characters and all of humanity. He sees people as misguided, not inherently evil.

Even if I’m unsure of the point of all this, I enjoy spending time with Wilder’s characters and prose.

Because I read a Library of America edition containing several other Wilder books, the page numbers are strange (250-408). There’s a very good Notes section in the back that I will use for references when possible. When I do that, I’ll include the page it’s on.


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“Fight Club”

Fight Club

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 debut novel, a fixture of pop-culture after David Fincher’s 1999 film. I read a first edition hardcover.

Buy the Book

3 out of 5 stars. 

Times Read: 3

Seen the Movie: I turned fourteen in 1999. I have seen the movie so many times…

The Plot:

A modern thirty-something with a perfectly fine life (condo, career, college degree) is drawn to a suicidal woman and anarchist man.

Oh, Fight Club. I pray for you to be satire and worry that you are actually taking yourself seriously. Please be as convinced as I am that your narrator is a whiny, privileged white man who is making his own problems. And please be trying to convey that Tyler Durden is a terrible figure to idolize.

Fans of Fight Club can be abrasive. Some seem to believe that Tyler is the hero of this piece, totally missing the point (like how some men read The Collector and decide that kidnapping a woman would be jolly good fun).

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Doris Lessing: Stories (Post 4/4)

Lessing 05

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Doris Lessing: Stories Introduction Post

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[129] “Mrs. Fortescue”

1 out of 5 stars.

The Plot:

Fred has conflicted sexual feelings about the upstairs tenant, Mrs. Fortescue, and his teenage sister, Jane.

A cruel, ugly, meaningless story which feels depressingly male or from the viewpoint of a self-hating woman.

I’m a horror fan and I’ve watched my share of torture-based movies. They’re not my favorite. They usually lack a point beyond, “look how gross this is – can you handle it?” This story is the literary version of that: “look how depraved and cruel and twisted this boy is – can you handle it?” I can read it, but I’m not going to like it if you don’t give me a point along the way.

[130]

He scooped [the baked beans] out of the dish with the edge of his fried bread, and she said: “What’s wrong with the spoon?”

“What’s wrong with the bread?” he returned, with an unconvincing whiskey glare, which she ignored.

(p.512) Continue reading

Doris Lessing: Stories (Post 3/4)

Lessing 04

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Doris Lessing: Stories Introduction Post

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[86] “Each Other”

 2.5 out of 5 stars.

The Plot:

A brother and sister carry on an affair.

Other than the incest, this story is written like any husband-goes-to-work, lover-comes-over affair. There’s not enough here to become more than a shock piece. There’s no context, the characters are paper dolls. I need more information: How did this sexual relationship start? When? Where are their parents? Do they have any other family?


[87] “Homage for Isaac Babel”

3 out of 5 stars. 

The Plot:

A young girl tries to read Isaac Babel to impress an older boy.

[88] First question: Who was Isaac Babel?

Isaac Babel (1894-1940) was a Russian-language journalist, playwright, literary translator, and short-story writer. Loyal to, but not uncritical of, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Babel fell victim to Joseph Stalin’s Great Purge as a result of his long-term affair with the wife of NKVD (People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs) chief Nikolai Yezhov.

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Doris Lessing: Stories (Post 2/4)

Lessing 03

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Doris Lessing: Stories Introduction Post

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[44] “The Other Woman”

4 out of 5 stars.

 The Plot:

Rose breaks her engagement after her mother’s death, then spends years searching for what she’s lost.

Another 50+ page story. It has the same problem as “The Eye of God in Paradise” (Post 1, note [26]), feeling like two stories awkwardly glued together. The first half, following Rose, is a beautiful and sad meditation on a woman losing everything during the war. After her father’s death, the perspective changes to her married lover, Jimmie, turning into a tale over to a pathetic double-crosser. Though the end is pleasantly unexpected.

[45] First sentence:

Rose’s mother was killed one morning crossing the street to do her shopping.

(p.157)

[46]

“Being sorry doesn’t mend broken bones.”

(p.157)

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Doris Lessing: Stories (Post 1/4)

Lessing 02

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Doris Lessing: Stories Introduction Post

Buy the Book


[1] “The Habit of Loving”

4 out of 5 stars. 

The Plot:

Aging George marries a younger woman, if only to ease his loneliness, before understanding her own pain and depth.

Written so well.

[2] Reference:

George and Bobby drank a great deal of red wine and of calvados.

(p.13)

 

Calvados is an apple brandy from the Normany region in France.

[3]

“You know what, George? You’ve just got into the habit of loving.”

“What do you mean, dear?”

She rolled out of bed and stood beside it, a waif in her white pyjamas, her black hair ruffled. She slid her eyes at him and smiled. “You just want something in your arms, that’s all. What do you do when you’re alone? Wrap yourself around a pillow?”

He said nothing; he was cut to the heart.

(p.15) Continue reading