Master List of Reviews

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Wood Drawing - Full

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“The Diving Pool”

Diving Pool

[Explanation of Reading Journal/Entries]

Three novellas by Yoko Ogawa, originally published in 1990-91 and translated by Stephen Snyder in 2008. I read a Picador paperback from my great, wonderful library.

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3 out of 5 stars (averaged).

Times Read: 1

My second Ogawa outing (after Revenge). I’m getting a handle on her style and liking it quite a lot. These stories, like all in Revenge, are told in first person. The language is straightforward and full of somewhat universal elements (food, weather, animals) while giving very few cultural-specific references (I think the only city mentioned by name is Tokyo). I can’t remember the last author I had to look up so few references for. It makes Ogawa’s work extremely accessible.

Ogawa’s translator, Stephen Snyder, is also very good. The stories don’t feel translated. The sentences are smooth and clear, the images (even surreal ones) conveyed well. Continue reading

“Fever Dream”

Fever Dream

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Samanta Schweblin’s 2017 novel, translated the same year by Megan McDowell. I read a first edition Riverhead Books hardcover from the library.

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5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

Amanda, dying at a medical center, speaks with David, a young, mysterious boy.

A book called Fever Dream could easily descend into confusing surrealistic madness, but Schweblin has built a fascinating tale into the scaffolding of deathbed conversation. I always understood, visually, what was occurring even when the characters were shrouded in mystery.

Fever Dream is the most effectively terrifying and unsettling piece of fiction I’ve ever read. Every moment is charged with fear. Something terrible is coming. Something murderous, poisonous, or tragic. Doom is approaching but from where?

Credit to Megan McDowell, as well. Preserving tension, clarity, and author voice while translating is an impressive feat. Continue reading

“Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales”

Revenge 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Buy the Book

Yoko Ogawa’s 1998 novel built with short stories. I read my library’s 2013 Picador paperback translated by Stephen Snyder.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1.

The Plot:

Eleven first-person stories interweave to tell the dark events of a city.

Ogawa builds her stories on refreshingly simple language; short and to the point with touches of darkness, poignancy and surrealism. The reality within the fiction is challenged in fascinating ways (some stories are “written” by other characters, but those fictional characters interact with other “real” ones). It has a clever Pulp Fiction vibe without feeling showy or derivative.

An interesting thing about Ogawa’s style, which I didn’t notice until typing these notes: no characters are given names. At most we have a “Mrs. J” and “Dr. Y.” Otherwise, Ogawa sticks to simple pronouns or family positions (he, the woman, the father, her son, etc), which adds to the campfire, ghost story feel.

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“Hiroshima”

Hiroshima 01

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

John Hersey’s classic 1946 account of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. I read a 1966 Bantam paperback, which does not contain the final chapter added in later editions.

Buy the Book

4 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 2

The Gist:

The experiences of six citizens of Hiroshima in the aftermath of the United States’ first atomic bomb attack: Toshiko Sasaki, Dr. Masakazu Fujii, Hatsuyo Nakamura, Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, and Reverend Kiyoshi Tanimoto.

Hiroshima is an Important Book. Putting that cliché on a work immediately shoves it into a dated box, making people who haven’t read it see it as a chore. But Hiroshima is readable as well as Important, the sort of book that should be required in high school history (and read by adults who missed it in school). It’s not a long book (Reading Length puts it at 46,825 words, about three hours for the average reader) and Hersey’s style is matter-of-fact and informative, despite the horrific material presented. He’s not making this political, he’s not making this about governments, he’s simply recounting what these people experienced in their immediate vicinity. Continue reading

“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.

Buy the Book

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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