Reading List

Randy’s point about the fall TV lineup is good. There is so much material, so little time. The days of 3 channels are long gone. I have the same problems with reading material. I have picked up several mystery or thriller titles, primarily serials, out of loyalty to the writer. I see them on the new release or Fast New shelves in the library so I am not throwing cash away on a one time read. I pick them up because the product is predictably entertaining, familiar characters acting in familiar situations. On the other hand, it isn’t always that good, and I find myself wondering why I bothered.

I just finished Lee Child’s The Hard Way. Last week it was Gail Bowen’s The Endless Knot. A couple of weeks ago Elmore Leonard’s The Hot Kid and Robert B. Parker’s School Days. Some weeks ago, other picks off the hot shelf included John Connolly’s The Black Angel and Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down. I have read most of Parker’s Spenser series, all of Bowen’s previous books, and several of Child’s Reacher series. Connolly is new. Leonard doesn’t write serials, but I have read many of his earlier novels. Hornby has been a newer choice. I have read his soccer essays in Fever Pitch and another novel, How to be Good this spring.
Lee Child has pace and plot. I reviewed this one for Blogcritics. His novels are laid out like a suspense movie, with the point of view shifting occasionally from the good guy to the bad guy to build suspense or to help the ungifted reader stay with the story. The good guy is impossibly competent at violence. The suspension of disbelief starts early, but righteous violence stirs the guts.
I also reviewed Gail Bowen’s book for Blogcritics. It was interesting to cut into Kilbourn’s little moment of indignant self-realization when her old friend tells her that her late husband thought she moralized, and her boyfriend comfortingly tell her that she is moral. The scenes are a bit clean – her whole presentation of is impossible articulate. In real life, the scene and the language would have been dirtier. Her lover is careful to comfort her by telling her she is moral, but her morality is more conventional and less principled than she thinks. Since she can’t resist poking her nose into things, but thinks she is a model of womanly wisdom and concern, as well as a paragon of liberal tolerance, she really blows up when someone basically calls her a smug (insert word not used in polite company). A social morality of non-judgmental tolerance is a mere posture. Of course people judge, quarrel, control, interfere and fight. Morality is often the excuse, after the fact, for doing what we wanted to do.
Parker is an experienced and clever writer. Spenser has quite a body count after this many novels, but he has settled down into something like a life with a lover, friends and a wry perspective on life. I reviewed School Days for Blogcritics.
Elmore Leonard is always fun. His characters tend to have flat emotional lives and are concerned with making money and having fun. It’s a nice break from the exposition of the emotional lives of the trembling, buzzing introverts that populate American literary and semi literary fiction. No bees. No whispering to horses. No bright colours or crystals. Bootleggers, hookers, bank robbers, Klansmen, strikebreakers and lawmen shooting it out in Kansas City in the day of Dillinger and Bonnie & Clyde.
Connolly has a couple of things working. His lead character has the lovely name of Charles Parker, and his conscience makes his mind play tricks. He has such a strong sense of revulsion at some of the criminals that he runs into that he tends to have visions and premonitions of the demonic. There is a good case of supporting characters, and a lot of musical allusions. The latest hardcover has a CD of songs mentioned in this and previous novels.
Hornby is a pretty good writer. Those fluffy movie treatments of some of his books don’t do justice to his eye and his voice. A Long Way Down is about a bunch of dissimiliar people who meet on New Year’s eve on a roof top. Each has had the idea to jumping off. They talk each other out of it, and then decide to meet and talk to each other. There is a middle aged woman with a disabled child, a disgraced TV talk show host, a teen nihilist, a failed musician, and one or two more that I don’t remember. They can’t stand each other, but they dislike each other less than other people, which is enough to keep them from jumping.
I like Hornby and a few other modern British writers better than the typical run of American or Canadian literary fiction. Zadie Smith, Hornby, Martin Amis, are great writers with social themes. I can’t stand stories of weeping, screaming, bleeding victims of social oppression and emotional abuse, characters who are Wounded or Deeply Unhappy because someone has Hurt their Feelings, whose Rich Textured tales Resonate. Sentimental pornography. Get over it.
Give me a trashy shoot-em-up or a cynical Elmore Leonard, or a clever Brit.


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