Great Jones Street – 3/5 Stars
This is an early Don Delillo novel that is ostensibly about a rock musician who seems to be in his mid-to-late 30s, living in a hotel on Great Jones Street in New York City. I don’t know a ton about New York, but I did happen to see Great Jones Street this summer, and these days, it’s a relatively bland and corporatized street in lower Manhattan. In the novel of the novel, it’s a little more sinister feeling, but that’s also generated by the tone of the novel which captures the protagonist’s feeling or despair, suicidal thoughts, and apocalyptic visions. The musician is being encroached upon from all sides and all interested parties as they await whatever decision he is making about his life and his music. In the meantime, like I said this is what it’s ostensibly about, we also get a lot of early 70s Dellilo-esque (which in my mind is basically Pynchon-esques but in fewer words and with fewer fart jokes) paranoia and irony.
Smoky Joe’s Cafe – 3/5 Stars
So a few years ago my parents went to New York for the first time. On their trip, they went to see two Broadway shows: Jersey Boys and Smokey Joe’s Cafe. I knew what Jersey Boys was, and they vaguely described the other but I didn’t really pay attention and/or don’t recall. So I picked up this book by the South African/Australian author Bryce Courtenay and figured I’d see what the show was all about.
Imagine my suprise when the book ended up being a pretty stark depiction of PTSD from war told around several Vietnam veterans’ experiences in the war, the specific mental and physical health fallout of the war and Agent Orange, and then an illegal, but justified drug manufacturing scheme to raise money for the veteran’s and their children’s wellfare. Kind of crazy. I was specifically interested in learning about how different Australia’s presence and role in the war was compared to the US, and how those differences would manifest in the book, especially compared to many of the films and novels I’ve read about American experiences in the war.
And then I kept thinking, man how was this a musical that my parents saw? Well it turns that this book and that show have nothing to do with each other. This confusion did lead to some interesting throughts as I read however.
The Divine Comedy
It’s a weird thing to review this book, especially giving it a score. Dante wrote it almost a thousand years ago, and its influence is undeniable. It’s also been spun into a thousand new versions including sci fi and fantasy versions, video games, novels, operas, etc. The model is also quite riffable, putting new sinners and saints into the ranks that Dante lines up for us here. This is my first time reading Purgatory and Heaven, so that was an interesting experience, but interesting in an education way, because the stories themselves are not super compelling. Inferno still has all the flashy violence and gore, but the rest is less compelling from an entertainment perspective. But it’s a checklist book for me, and consider it checked off. The title of this post is NOT a quote from The Divine Comedy, but from Collective Soul.
Junkie Quatrain – 2/5 Stars
This is a small collection of interlinked stories or more so overlapping stories that take place several weeks after what we might call a zombie apocalypse. The nature of the apocalypse is a little different however, and instead of a meteor or a fast-acting disease, this is more like a toxiplasmosis situation — with a very human bent — where the disease causes its victims to try to bite or have sex with (or rape) others as a way to spread. I won’t really spend any time with thinking through that as a metaphor. The stories don’t really, so I won’t. For the most part it makes sense to treat this merely as a zombie story collection. The stories or more or less linked, but more so overlapping as a character in one tends to be in the next and so forth. The collection also doesn’t amount to a full circle or anything like that. The collection is fine, and certainly not transformative. It’s entertaining for what it is and what it amounts to.
The Eye of the World – 3/5 Stars
For a long book, this book isn’t even all that long. I compare this book to other Michael Kramer/Kate Reading audiobooks, and this book is a little longer than the second Mystborn novel. It’s 15 hours shorter than the first Stormlight book. So my point is, wow it feels way longer than that. The next several books in the series are even longer. But this series starts off slowly. How slowly? Well, how about a page devoted to describing the shape of the road sign compared to the old road sign of the little rural village we’re going to spend a third of the book in? You got it. It’s like that. They say a journey of a thousand miles starts off with a single footstep. But then, what if you also describe every single footstep of that journey, and after that’s done, you’re just at the first new town. The writing is pretty good or competent. The book is chaste chaste chaste like a lot of fantasy novels, and it’s very early 90s/late 80s in fantasy. It’s weird because so many other books from the 60s and 70s laid the groundwork, and we’re ground-breaking as well. So I don’t know yet where I go from here.
Things Fall Apart – 4/5 Stars
This is one of those books that I’ve read a handful of times and I am in such a different place each time that I have a very different reaction each time. I read it in high school, and it was one of my out of class texts for an AP class to use on in-class writings. I don’t know how much I was able to get into the book based on my unguided and ahistorical look into the book.
I also read the book in college after reading Wole Soykina, Chimanda Adichie and other writers whose work reflected very similar contexts and gave further understanding.
Now, I am reading it again, and again have more studying, reading and thinking under my belt, and even more so, I have read a handful of other Achebe novels. This provides some even further context.
In a lot of ways, this book presents an accidental Nigerian (Ibo) Maconda. This is neither the fault nor intention of Achebe or his novel. But it’s clearly been taken up as a kind of emblem of “the African novel” and I’ve read a lot of other Ibo, Nigerian, and wider African novelists react to it similarly.
What stands out to me in this rereading is taking the character of Okonkwo at his word, and thinkning about how to understand a novel where he’s our protagonist. He’s lost to the future world, and he loses his son to colonial missionaries who are willing to take “the worst land” in the area. But he’s also a failed father who even breaks his own people’s rules and traditions to enact even more severe and brutal beatings on his wives and children. And in doing so, he drives his son into the church. This was lost on me the first time I read this. He’s presented as a tragic figure, and I made the mistake of seeing that as synonomous with sympathetic.
Gone to Earth – 3/5 Stars
I picked this book up because it’s one of the books that Matilda gets from the library in Roald Dahl’s novel. She also reads things like Nicholas Nickleby etc, but I had never heard of this so I looked into it. It takes place in the western parts of England in a rural/small town setting. Our heroine is the product of a loveless marriage between a Welsh “witch” and a strange beekeeper. The novel spends its time telling us about her life and love life, especially in a love triangle with a farmer and a local minister. The novel is sweet and interesting, but man her dialect in this book is wild.
Guns of Avalon – 4/5 Stars
Part two of the long series (long in terms of number of entries — they are all bite-sized ultimately) of the Chronicles of Amber. We again are sticking with Corwin who has been inprisoned in darkness and blinded for five years after being forced to be part of the cornonation process of his more powerful brother on the throne of Amber. When his eyesight returns through his regenerative powers, he uses his backdoor out of Amber. He heads toward Avalon, where his brother Benedict reigns. There he finds his brother well, if suspicious, and also missing an arm. They bond and he is offered haven so long as he doesn’t attempt to overthrow him.
He also meets his brother’s granddaughter, and they spar in fencing, and well, there’s some incestual feelings and eventually they hook up. It’s complicated as they’re ageless super powerful beings and all. Well, he has to decide what his next steps are and who he can trust. He also starts to wonder if he’s made some mistakes along the way.
Another solid entry that carries the story forward. The scope of these books is hilariously broad, which is also kind of fun.
The Earth is Weeping – 2/5 Stars
This book begins with an introduction taking some pot shots at Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. It tries to be clever about it by saying, it’s not REALLY taking pot shots and then does. The idea being that Dee Brown’s “Indian History” has held sway in public opinion about the details, sympathies, and control over the history of the indigenous people in North America. And that this book is adding balance. If there are fair criticisms of Dee Brown’s book, and I am sure they are, I don’t think they need to come from a white writer basically suggesting that there needs to be more balance in the record, toward a more white-centered history. Because that’s what is being argued for here. Dee Brown’s book is drop in the ocean against a tidal wave of white histories of native peoples. There’s been a lot more books since then that have been written to continue to try to complicate history, and more books that came before then or contemporary to Brown’s work have become more well known since. But the idea that a writer now needs to “balance the record” is absolutely absurd.
And that’s just the introduction. From there, there’s the implication that Andrew Jackson wasn’t that bad. There’s the casual use of “Indian”, which might be more forgiveable except that it’s in constant service to lump together multiple groups. There’s still some attempt to name specific individuals and specific native groups, but too often there’s a false monolith presented.
It’s also not a very compellingly told book at that.