writereaderly

writing of readerly reviews of writings

Tag: :KAM’s 178 Best 100 Novels of All Time:

Review: James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans”

james fenimore cooper last of the mohicansOnly read because it was on KAM’s list; however, when I took it up again after a 10-day hiatus I was reminded that life is too short to be burdened with weighty waffle. Plot: good whiteys and good Indians fight bad Indians and bad whiteys, and try and recover two kidnapped “gentle ones” (young women) before they are forced into a heathen marriage. I lasted about 200pp because of the historical information (probably dubious, but still better than any already in my mind), but the recent dozen pages of “tracking the baddies” was just too boring. An end to it, I say. Classics need not be tiresome, but they often are.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
Beanbag and bed reads, with little fervour to begin with and even less as time went on
Where it went: Home
Best line of the book: None of note
Who I’d recommend it to:
Classics peak-baggers
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Dashiell Hammett’s “Red Harvest”

dashiell hammett red harvestI had hopes that I would enjoy this as much as The Big Sleep, but alas, it was not to be. Unnamed detective comes to corrupt Prohibition town and sets all the hoochmaking gunslingers against each other. They all die, except for him, including the money-hungry femme fatale who provides the only break from the endless assassinations and gunfights. The end. A shame, I was looking forward to high genre entertainment.

Where it came from: UPB
Time and manner of reading:
Beanbag, bed and sunny chair reads
Where it went: Opshop
Best line of the book: None of note
Who I’d recommend it to:
Classics peak-baggers
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

Review: Philip Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint”

philip roth portnoy's complaintRead only because it’s on KAM’s list. Alex Portnoy is a 33 year old Jewish lawyer who relates, in obsessive melodramatic detail, his relationship with his mother (and father), his masturbation exploits, his love of shagging shikses (non-Jewish women). This is a character with a toolshop of axes to grind. Published in the late-60s, it delights in dropping the c-bomb and every other sex, excretion and masturbation word you can imagine. It’s meant to be funny, but it was like listening to an elderly uncle perform the gag routine that worked when he was 25 and handsome – and he hasn’t changed a line of it since. Lively. Generally a character too lame to find properly pathetic. I now feel I never need to read another Jewish novel ever again, given that most of the clichés live or were born in this one.

PS I feel I should give PR slightly more cred for innovation. This book was the centre of a censorship furore in Australia, so it played a key historical role in establishing standards of literary freedom (even if I think it’s not much chop nowadays).

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
Armchair and bed reads
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:

Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Marcel Proust’s “Swann’s Way (In Search of Lost Time, Book 1)”

marcel proust swann's wayI attempted this under the misapprehension that it was on KAM’s mega-list, or one of the other lists I’m wandering through, and alas, it was not (although it does appear in culturally diverse list). Somebody should be around to blame for that. In two volumes, Swann’s Way is the first of the seven volumes which make up In Search of Lost Time. It is too much of a gimme to relate my opinion of this work to two words in the series title – but I just did it. After over 450pp, half way through volume 2, I just couldn’t pretend to care any more about Swann’s rambling affair, or the tragedy of being of the upper classes and so horribly bored in Paris at the end of the 19th century. It’s hypnotic, momentarily comic, and overwhelmingly aimless. An end to it, I say, “classic but overrated”.

PS It IS on KAM’s list. Thank goodness at least I get those stripes.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
A couple of weeks’ worth of samplers and sits
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Being a classic is no excuse for being boring
Who I’d recommend it to:
Peak-bagging classics die-hards
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Virginia Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse”

virginia woolf to the lighthouseI have a lighthouse-related Winterson on the bedside table waiting to be read, and I suspected that Winterson’s Woolf fetish may make this one required reading. I also knew it would probably be a reread, but it turns out to be a rereread. The Ramseys – tin-pot egotist Mr, controlling family goddess Mrs – consider taking their children and assorted houseguests to visit the Lighthouse (yes, it’s capitalised throughout). What are the thoughts and feelings of each of them during that fateful September day and its aftermath a decade later? Skilled, fluid, artful, insightful. Classic Woolf, I venture to say.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
A wee-smas insomnia read and a lie-in wrap-up
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: A Katherine Mansfield short story? But then, perhaps just of itself, and I’ve blurred books read at a similar time
Who I’d recommend it to:
Readerly readers
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust

Review: Robert Stone’s “Dog Soldiers”

Warning: Cover dysphoria!

Warning: Cover dysphoria!

The dark underbelly of the counterculture, where weak saps go to Nam to make money as writers, smuggle three “kays” of “skag” (aka 3kg of heroine) back to the States to make money, and end up – shock horror – embedded in a web of crooked cops, weapons caches double-dealing, soulless hippies taking more synthetic drugs than there are stars in the night sky, perverted spiritual masters, Mexican wetbacks, and hired killers who are, to top it off, gay (which is clearly worse than being assassins). Etc. An entirely average novel, with no merits as writing or thriller. I can only assume it made KAM’s list because it told Americans in the early 1970s who they really were, man. Now, it can be utterly forgotten.

Where it came from: KAM’s bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
A few evening armchair reads and a morning lie-in
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Zeitgeist should just stick to its damned moment
Who I’d recommend it to:
I wouldn’t
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust; 142 Strand by Rosemary Ashton

Review: James Agee’s “A Death in the Family”

james agee death in the familyThe publication and prize history of this book is a little dubious – according to the assorted prologues, Mr Agee was a revered writer who died successful and relatively young with an unfinished novel on his hands. His friends and editors took the manuscript in hand, “exactly as he left it”, but also confessing they placed certain mystery sections of text as they saw fit; i.e. who knows what Agee meant to do with his own novel? However, between his manuscript, the editors’ loving care, and – one suspects – his fame and early demise, this publication won itself the 1958 Pulitzer. Well done, team.

For it is a good novel, consummately devised and framed, relating the days surrounding the death of one of the thinly veiled Holy Family (I’ll do you the courtesy to not report who died). Parents Jay and Mary, their small children Rufus and Catherine, and assorted brothers, aunts, etc. are all given perceptive narrative streams to flesh out this family’s response to the death. Good book. Recommended.

Where it came from: KAM’s bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Bed and armchair reads
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to:
Seekers of the well-crafted and insightful
Also reading: Being Alive edited by Neil Astley