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Magician's Nephew Reads More Books

75 Books Challenge for 2012

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1magicians_nephew
Dec 28, 2011, 3:32pm Top

Stop the presses!

2drneutron
Dec 28, 2011, 5:42pm Top

Welcome back!

3richardderus
Dec 29, 2011, 4:04pm Top

Ah. Here you are. Good.

4alcottacre
Dec 29, 2011, 11:21pm Top

Why are we stopping the presses, Jim?

5magicians_nephew
Edited: Dec 30, 2011, 2:09pm Top

Well if they stop the presses - stop printing books - I might catch up on the mountain of books I haven't read yet.

But the original intent was ironic - me reading more books would Not bring about banner headlines in 2012

6jadebird
Dec 30, 2011, 12:38pm Top

Happy reading in 2012!

7alcottacre
Dec 30, 2011, 11:44pm Top

#5: Even if the presses stopped printing, I am a hopeless case. I will never catch up!

8mckait
Dec 31, 2011, 12:06pm Top



Forgive me for not catching up... I am just trying to stake a place :)

9cameling
Dec 31, 2011, 3:07pm Top

Well here, you are, Jim! Now that I know what your handle is, I'll be able to follow your thread this year.

10kidzdoc
Jan 1, 2012, 8:00am Top

Now that I know what your handle is, I'll be able to follow your thread this year.

Same here; hi, Jim!

11qebo
Jan 1, 2012, 11:37am Top

Happy New Year!

12magicians_nephew
Edited: Jan 11, 2012, 12:30pm Top

First Books of 2012:

(1) Brazzaville Beach read for a book group, was a book I wanted to like more than I did.

It's the story told as a memoir of a woman scientist who fell in love, married, fell out of love, went to Africa to study chimpanzees and found herself having to fight for the truth of her findings about chimps, and even to fight for her life in the terror and strife of African civil war.

I liked the narrator who is on the beach of the title telling the story and i liked the writing VERY much.

But in some place the memoir tone distanced me from what are really some violent and powerful events.

And I'm not totally convinced about the female first person narrator.

Lots of lovely details about life in Africa and about the day to day existance of the chimp society and the day to day patience and intelligence of the lowly field research scientist.

There's a mathametics in it too, but it seemed dated to me - maybe not to everybody.

13magicians_nephew
Edited: Feb 7, 2012, 9:14am Top

(2) In Cold Blood

I had read this before but for some reason wanted to read it again. And the faithful Kindle delivered it to my bedside. ("Thank you, Thing").

It's the most amazing story of two drifters who set out to rob a Kansas farmer and wound up butchering four members of the family for pocket change and a portable radio.

It's been called the first non-fiction novel and it reads like one. Remembering the movie "Capote" showing effeminate, lisping Capote going out to do research on the case and standing in awe of his ability to get into the heads of small town Kansas farmers and sheriffs and record and report - clearly calmly without judgement.

Easy to forget that for all his New York sophistication Capote was just a small town southern boy too.

The books sort of runs out of gas when the men are captured and the part about their execution goes on too long. Capote makes us look at people who kill people - and sometimes the people who kill people are us.

A classic.

14qebo
Jan 10, 2012, 2:14pm Top

12: This is one for the wishlist. Read a few other reviews. I'll accept literary flaws in exchange for chimpanzees and math.

15magicians_nephew
Edited: Jan 11, 2012, 12:24pm Top

Had a yen to read some old fashioned spy novels and picked out one I haven't read forever

(3) Moonraker is very early James Bond and a very good story too.

Love to read about the idea of Britain building and launching its own guided missle before the Russians or the Americans could.

And love to read about the high-stakes game of bridge between Bond and the villain. I think when I first read this book I didn't know anything about bridge and just read it blindly. Now I can really enjoy the lovely trap the villian finds himself in as card after card is dropped on the green baize.

Nice to see a girl in a Bond book who isn't a simp or just along to be rescued.

A shame they didn't make the movie and base it on the book. But the science had moved on - and perhaps James Bond had moved on too.

But fun to read again on the trusty ol' Kindle.

16magicians_nephew
Edited: Jan 11, 2012, 12:33pm Top

And now for something completely different.

(4) Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is John Le Carre's masterpiece and it works brilliantly in so many different ways.

As a character study of George Smiley, who is forever Alec Guiness to me.

As a history of a certain time in the world where Spy vs Spy wasn't just in the pages of Mad Magazine.

And just as a crackling good read.

These are not the spies who go to Blades and drink champagne and play thousand pound stakes at Bridge.

(I always thought that the scene where Smiley and Guilliam eat dinner in a sad flyblown "transport cafe" was one in the eye for the Bond books - perhaps not)

Though I think Jim Prideaux would have a few things to say to James Bond, if ever they crossed paths.

A dazzling high wire act.

17magicians_nephew
Edited: Jan 25, 2012, 8:57am Top

(5) The Gods will Have Blood is Anatole France on the French Revolution.

It's very much a classic French novel with everyone declaiming their positions in page or multi page speeches, yet France is such an interesting writer than even so the characters come out live and real and vivid.

A Good Man - a more or less starving artist - is almost by chance given power in the days after the fall of "The Tyrant" and uses it to cleanse Paris and then to settle old scores.

His passionate adherance to the purity of the Revolution - a girl crying out "Long Live the King" is sentenced to death - is both ghastly and heartbreaking.

Easy to judge him - but not sure any of us would have been any better than he was in his situation.

Calls to mind the rigidity of the New Soviets after the Russian Revolution

A Bad Man - a sensualist and an aristocrat - is pulled down to the gutter and yet finds in himself generosity and warmth and spirit to help and to endure.

Interesting characters and France is clever at letting his audience make up their own minds about things.

A new author for me and I'm not sure yet if I'll read any more. But this book made me think - and made me care.

The Sensual and the Dark rebel in vain,
Slaves by their own compulsion! In mad game
They burst their manacles and wear the name
Of Freedom, graven on a heavier chain!


18ffortsa
Jan 13, 2012, 8:44am Top

Now where did you find that? I looked it up through the indispensable Google and learned all sorts of things about Coleridge I never knew.

19tloeffler
Jan 19, 2012, 9:55pm Top

Hi, Jim! Just wanted to stop by and tell you how much fun I had Tuesday night! I'm glad you were there--I think it made Keith feel just a little better about having to hang out with his Mom's friends since there was another male figure. He told me he had a good time (and he wouldn't say it if he didn't mean it!). I also had a great time--thanks for meeting with us!

20magicians_nephew
Edited: Mar 14, 2012, 8:15am Top

(6). Disgrace is an amazing
little J. M. Coetze novel that I read for a book group.

I had read and loved his "Foe" (a take on the Robinson Crusoe tale) and was ready to enjoy this one.

God what a writer!. Simple sentences - this is not a man who shoots off Roman candles - but sentences and descriptions that stick in the mind long after you put the book down.

David Lurie is a twice divorced professor of "Communication" at a technical college in Cape Town South Africa. His regular sexual outlet - an obliging prostitute - is suddenly removed from his life and he begins an ill-starred relationship with a female student. Seduction? Rape? Stalking? Can't find the word to describe this inappropriate relationship but it comes out and - hit-in-the-head number one - he has to leave his position and leave Cape Town.

He goes to live with his adult daughter and - hit-on-the-head number two - their small holding is invaded by a group of black men and the daughter is raped.

Judy almost didn't want to read this book because of its grim nature - and grim it is as David faces his own limitations of action and understanding in the new post apartheid South Africa.

Impossible to summarize the many threads of the plot. David is working on an opera about Lord Byron in Italy - and the shape of the opera - even the hero of the opera - morphs and contracts as his life morphs and contracts.

While with his daughter he befriends and beds
(can't find the right word to describe this relationship) a neighbor woman who runs a volunteer animal clinic and learns a few things about caring and the quality of mercy.

Disgrace in the precise term means "a lack of grace".

To be in "a State of Grace" can mean to be standing in the presence of God.

God is not mentioned much in this book but that defination was in my mind as I read it.

Haunting and beautiful.

What is the worst of woes that wait on age?
What stamps the wrinkle deeper on the brow?
To view each loved one blotted from life's page,
And be alone on earth, as I am now.

21magicians_nephew
Edited: Sep 17, 2013, 4:13pm Top

Dory Previn who taught me so much through her music about living bravely and honestly in a dark and scarey world, passed away tonight.

Her words were literate and passionate and beautiful and clear eyed and full of fierce wisdom.

Grateful her voice will always be alive on my turntable and CD player

lover lover be my cover
till the night begins to fade
oh the demons i have danced with
lover lover i'm afraid
to fall asleep
the night is dark and deep
and i am so afraid to sleep
to fall asleep and dream


Sleep Dorothy. It's OK now.

22cameling
Feb 14, 2012, 9:47pm Top

Whooop.. what a great review, Jim. I've already got Disgrace in my TBR Tower ... looks like I should move it up the ladder a little so I read it this year.

Hope you and Judy had a wonderful Valentine's Day!

23ffortsa
Feb 14, 2012, 10:05pm Top

Without tattoos.

24kidzdoc
Feb 17, 2012, 7:33am Top

Nice review of Disgrace, Jim.

25magicians_nephew
Edited: May 24, 2012, 4:29pm Top

Back to book gridlock again it seems. Picked up a copy of The Great War and Modern Memory which had been recommended and just fell into the wonderful writing and solid and angry history. (Watching Downton Abbey and noticing again how they glamorize and glorify the war - as Fibber McGee's wife Molly would say "Taint the way I heard it")

And I have to read A visit from the Goon Squad for my book group.

And Nixonland which is a huge powerful political history (but LOOOOOOOOONG!) glares at me from the dresser.

May be spending the week in 1916 I think - and pulling down John Keegan's book on The First World War and others to refresh my memory.

26karspeak
Feb 25, 2012, 5:46pm Top

I enjoyed A Visit from the Goon Squad, I'm interested to hear your thoughts.

27magicians_nephew
Edited: May 30, 2012, 4:09pm Top

How to describe
(7) A visit from the Goon Squad?

Bennie is a rock and roll record producer and Sasha is his hip and knowledgeable assistant.

Or Bennie is a nouveau riche guy feeling out out place in a wealthy suburban tennis club and Sasha is a runaway thief and semi-prostitute in a hippie squat in Naples.

The book goes back and forth and around and around in time, showing us Bennie and Sasha at all ages of their lives. For good measure it shows us some of their friends and family and brazenly pushes ten years into the future too.

It's a collection of very sneakily connected short stories culminating in a bravura scene where a made up flash mob converges at "The Footprint" to hear a washed up rock and roller now curiously popular with the under five set.

It's a warm and compassionate meditation on youth and age and rock n roll.

Didn't like it at first thought it was too hip and snarky to live but like good sipping whiskey the book sneaks up on you and before you know it is all inside you.

I loved it. Can you tell?

Rock and roll is dance music. Then it's Art. Then it's boring. Then somebody comes along and makes music to dance to again.

"Poddy grew up and had another Poddy. And then the world was young again"

28cameling
Mar 7, 2012, 10:08pm Top

"Poddy grew up and had another Poddy. And the world was young again"

I love this quote, Jim .. and what a good review. I am going to need to add this one to my obese wish list. I can't remember if they made this into a movie or not? The title sounds familiar.

29magicians_nephew
Edited: May 30, 2012, 4:11pm Top

Judy and I are such New Yorkers that when we visit other cities we often turn very touristy - country cousins gawking at the bright lights and the painted ladies.

But whenever I visit San Francisco - a city I love - I have to make the pilgrimage.

"Spade went to John's Grill, asked the waiter to hurry his order of chops, baked potato, sliced tomatoes. He was smoking a cigarette with his coffee when the car came"

John's Grill is still there on Ellis Street in San Francisco, right off of Powell, where it was when Dashiell Hammett sent his "blond Satan" off into the cold dark night after his dead partner to solve the mystery of (8) The Maltese Falcon.

(The other place Spade goes to eat, the States Hof Brau, is long gone, alas)

We so take it for granted now that the change the book made in American mystery fiction can be underestimated

Hammett made murder messy and violent and squalid again - and then created a hero who could look murder and betrayal and treachery right in the eye.

"The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter"

Spade wasn't a dilettante who solved murders for fun. He wasn't a goody two shoes policeman either.

"People lose teeth talking like that. If you want to hang around you'll be polite"

He walked the narrow and foggy streets of San Francisco with his own code of ethics and his own sense of honor.

"Don't be too sure I'm as crooked as I'm supposed to be"

They made it into a movie three times before they got it right - and the movie they made with Bogart and Lorre is so pitch perfect you suspect they used the novel as a shooting script.

"He adjusted to a world where beams fell, and they didn't fall any more, and he adjusted to that"

Only one novel and a handful of not very good short stories in Black Mask (and Bogart!) and we have Sam Spade.

"If they hang you I'll always remember you"

And the food at John's is still great.

30magicians_nephew
Mar 8, 2012, 3:45pm Top

28:> Most recent news I saw is that HBO or some other pay cable outfit is going to make it into a mini-series.

Probably the best path - a two hour movie couldn't touch the complexity of this one

31karspeak
Mar 9, 2012, 4:01am Top

Glad you enjoyed Good Squad so much, I really enjoyed it, too!! It's hard to describe, though, isn't it?

32magicians_nephew
Edited: May 30, 2012, 4:11pm Top

Our book group meets in the basement of a bookstore in Brooklyn and when we meet I like to buy a book or two - just to help pay the rent.

It helps that the basement is where this bookstore (an independent, God bless them) stores half price books and what have you.

So I picked up a copy of (9) The Attenbury Emeralds
which is Jill Paton Walsh tap dancing - no, CLOG dancing - on the grave of Dorothy L. Sayers.

It's a Lord Peter Wimsey book, with Harriet Vane and the Dowager Duchess and the whole cast and crew. Its 1951, and Bunter the old family retainer has gotten married (where did he find the time?) and all is "cosy" and well bred.

People may not remember that England was on food rationing after the war until 1954 but they talk about rationing here endlessly.

Don't know if anyone could have written Wimsey in the 1950's and make it work but this lady just has a tin ear for dialogue and a real lack of understanding of how to plot a mystery.

Talky and jarring and in the end, dull.

A shame because a new Wimsey novel would be welcome in these parts.

33magicians_nephew
Edited: May 30, 2012, 4:12pm Top

Just finished(10) The Falling Machine a "Steampunk" novel I wanted to like but honestly didn't.

"Steampunk" can be a lot of fun. Postulate Charles Babbage actually getting "The Difference Engine" an early mechanical computer to work and the technology of the 1880's looks very very different. So what's wrong with this one.

Look I know it's supposed to be a comic book without pictures, but even so. The girl is all plucky and brave in her long bustle and corset, the men all tool around in high powered (steam powered of course) amazing suits of armour, and the villains are sinners of the deepest dye.

But it's set in New York City, not London and the gimmick "Fortified" Steam isn't really explained very well, and the mechanical man who is more or less the hero of the book is totally unconvincing.

AND it breaks off at page 215 and says "Continued in next book". well it may be, but not for me.

Back to William Gibson's The Difference Engine for a palate cleanser.

34LizzieD
Mar 26, 2012, 11:01am Top

Your review of *Goon Squad* makes me happy, Jim - also your tribute to Hammett. I'm not likely to forget how well he could write, but I love to be reminded!
And I would have steered clear of JPW anyway, but I'm happy to have the image of her clogging on DLS's grave to remind me.

35ursula
Mar 26, 2012, 6:10pm Top

I just stumbled upon your thread. We have some books in common*, so I'll be following along with what you read.

*In Cold Blood, which I really loved, and Disgrace, which has been sitting around unfinished for a while now.

36magicians_nephew
Mar 27, 2012, 9:41am Top

Welcome, Ursula

37magicians_nephew
Edited: May 30, 2012, 4:12pm Top

Read Emile Zola’s
(11) The Belly of Paris for a book group and I’m still not sure what to make of it.

OK, Paris. Second Empire.
Les Halles is the big farmers market on the outskirts of Paris where the wholesalers sell to the retailers and the shops. Food porn alert – talking about veggies and fish and beef and all laid out in the stalls to be purchased and taken home and eaten will make you drool.

To this comes Florent, a political rebel who comes home after escaping from Devil’s Island. You’d think that would be interesting. You’d be wrong.

But he hooks up with his half brother who has married and now runs a bar and grill in a nice part of Paris. His new sister in law is La Belle Lisa a cold hearted beauty who was poor and is now middle class and jolly well intends to stay that way.

There is a fishmonger named Le Belle Normandie, who starts out hating Florent (remember him?) and then likes Florent but is perfectly happy to throw him under the bus if needs must.

We start out seeing food beautiful and fresh laid out in the stalls. But this book is called the Belly of Paris. Food in the belly is apre being chewed and digested – not so appetizing.

For every mouth watering chapter like "The Symphony of Cheese" there is another chapter to put you off food altogether -- like the description of making blood pudding.

My first crack at Zola – the famous fighter for justice of “I, Accuse!” and for me it’s a swing and a miss.

This book is book three of a twenty book sequence so perhaps I’m not being fair.

But it left – no pun intended – a sour taste in my mouth

For what's the sound of the world out there?
Those crunching noises pervading the air!
It's man devouring man, my dear!
And who are we to deny it in here?

38magicians_nephew
Edited: Jun 10, 2012, 9:42am Top

Thank you Book Circle!

From out of the blue of the Western sky my Book Circle decided to read
(12) A Study in Scarlet and
(13) The Sign of The Four the first two Sherlock Holmes novels.

Delicious! As always the devil’s food is in the details – the lovely spikey interactions between Holmes and Watson. It’s a mistake to see Watson as only “The Poor Sap” – the dumb sidekick along to be the reader’s surrogate and give the hero someone to talk to. Holmes and Watson have a real relationship – and the little flat on Baker Street is as real to me as the walls of my own apartment. (But there’s a maid – and sometimes a page boy – who fade in and out - and sometimes you realize that Conan Doyle was really really making it up as he went along).

Curious to remember that Doyle didn’t really seem to trust his character to be sufficiently entertaining – In “Scarlet” the Holmes story is sort of a framing device for a grim little story of Mormons in the American West – and in “Sign of The Four” Holmes himself is offstage for long periods of time while Doyle works out his romance plot between Watson and Mary Moran.

Surely the best of Holmes and Watson are the short stories – and all the novels have their draggy parts.

But even the villains are sympathetically drawn – and oh! the streets of London. I love every cobblestone and every billow of fog.

Send the boy down for a four-wheeler and wrap yourself in your Inverness cape – the game’s afoot!

39alcottacre
Apr 20, 2012, 9:31pm Top

*waving* at Jim

40tloeffler
Apr 20, 2012, 10:20pm Top

The Great War and Modern Memory leapt unbidden onto my WWI list of books to read. Thank you (I think)!

41magicians_nephew
Edited: Jun 10, 2012, 9:43am Top

Hope you enjoy it Terry.

(14) The Great War and Modern Memory
is a fiercely scholarly book reminding us of all the Oxford and Cambridge boys who went off to fight for King and Country.

And a fiercely angry book - a book about war and lies and how people are shaped - and broken sometimes - by both.

And an elegantly written book that deserves its place on the shelves next to Sasson and Wilfred Owen and Graves and the others.

Just like broken hearts lead to the best country music, terrible wars sometimes lead to the most beautiful writing.

42magicians_nephew
Apr 22, 2012, 10:27pm Top

Sitting watching (on the local Public Broadcasting outlet) a new TV version of Birdsong which I had some troubles with but which captured I think very well the madness and the horror of World War I

43magicians_nephew
Edited: Jun 20, 2012, 9:36am Top

Peabody here. Setting the Way Back Machine for todays journey. The year - 1880 - the place - New York City,

And Slam! Bam! we're in the middle of (15) The Waterworks E.L. Doctorow's lovely little adventure in historical fiction / time travel.

We meet a newspaper editor and his best "freelance" and we meet a feisty artist and an honest cop (Diogenes would be shocked!) and are exposed en passant to the shocking and horrifying plight of the homeless feral children of the city.

And the fabulously ruthlessly rich of the city too with their fabulous and devious plots - perhaps even more feral than the children.

Even Boss Tweed whose reign is coming to an end has a few lovely cameos.

This was Doctorow's little homage to Poe and we learn why Poe wrote mostly short stories - its hard to keep the atmosphere going in long form.

The plot careens wildly from horror novel to mystery novel to soap opera and the driver isn't always in control of his team.

But read the book for the scrupulously accurate historical re-creation and for some charming and engaging set pieces.

Then go back and read Billy Bathgate or if you're ready Ragtime.

Not my favorite Doctorow but even his middle passage is better than some folks top hole writing.


So how can you tell me you're lonely
And say for you that the sun don't shine?
Let me take you by the hand and lead you back to New York City
I'll show you something, to make you change your mind

44magicians_nephew
Edited: Dec 30, 2012, 1:43pm Top

Judy's having better luck than I am with her pick up mysteries.

I grabbed (16) Blueprint for Murder off a bargain shelf at our local bookstore. It's a mystery-suspense novel by an author who was popular in the '50's but has fallen out of favor since.

Well he has fallen out of favor with me too.

Creepy cousin comes home from World War II and hooks up with his uncle and his good cousin, who run a paint factory in post war Britain. There’s a motor launch in there somewhere too.

So Creepy cousin decides to murder his uncle and inherit the pile. So he sets up a "perfect alibi" murder involving hitchhikers and switched signposts and for a while all is ticking along nicely.

The murder too.

But guess what! The murder is discovered by the beautiful medical student who lives next door, and she and the good cousin fall in love, and little cartoon cupids swim around cooing little love songs.

And then the creepy cousin hijacks the motor launch (Rule Number 6: if you introduce a motor launch in chapter one, it has to come back in the story in chapter 19) and tries to make it to Holland. And it’s a cracking storm. And the good cousin and his new love interest stow away aboard.

The Colombo TV show made mysteries where you know who the murderer is from the jump look easy. It ain't. This very dated very obvious pot boiler is case in point

see Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd for more on this topic

45richardderus
May 10, 2012, 12:35am Top

Roger Bax reminds me of another Brit of the era whose work failed to find a home within my breast: Leo Bruce wrote the most condescending crapulous mishegas imaginable (eg, Case for Three Detectives icky icky ptoo ptoo), and still makes it onto some folks' yippee-skippee lists to this day.

*shrug* People. Go know from their all-in-the-athlete's-foot-infested-feet taste.

46magicians_nephew
Edited: May 11, 2012, 3:11pm Top

Blueprint for Murder isn't that bad it's just a "perfect alibi" murder mystery suspense novel that got hijacked by a romance novelist.

In the words of the poet, "Include me Out!"

On the other hand The House without a Key the first Charlie Chan mystery is also a murder mystery hijacked by a romance novelist and I liked that one main well.

47richardderus
May 11, 2012, 5:35pm Top

I've never read a Charlie Chan mystery. Never occurred to me, after the Saturday afternoon movies I saw. Hmmmm

48magicians_nephew
Edited: May 21, 2012, 4:41pm Top

I started reading Charlie Chan after reading a curious book last year about the man who was more or less (really rather less than more) the model for the character.

I've read most of the series and liked 'em.

"House" is fun for me because a character tells the house boy to bring her a drink "Wiki wiki" - and so we learn that Wiki is the Hawaiian word for "Quickly"

49tloeffler
May 18, 2012, 4:42pm Top

You make me laugh, Jim.

I've also read quite a few Charlie Chan books, and I've enjoyed them. Maybe not classic literature, but I was sorry when the library "ran out of them" (read: I read all that they had).

50magicians_nephew
Edited: Jun 10, 2012, 9:45am Top

Why are history nuts such lousy writers?

I picked up a highly recommended tome from the "Military History Book Club" called the Devil's Alchemists.

The gag is that a Nazi officer under Albert Speer blackmailed a group of Jewish scientists to work on a Nazi atomic bomb project.

The author gets names and places right, even the obscure ones, but only the other history nuts will care.

Heisenberg was Hitler's best and the chairman of the "Uranium Club" and he thought the bomb could not be built in time to help in that war (He said this in 1941). And Hitler diverted money and resources to the V-1 and the V-2.

(Some people thought Heisenberg was stalling - refusing to build a bomb for Hitler - and some thought he wasn't enough of a practical physicist to do the job anyway.)

But (in the book) the Jewish scientists go away to an island near Denmark and manage to build a primitive atomic pile. And then the plucky blond American sexpot amateur spy gets involved - and the autistic Danish boy - and you spend the rest of the book casting the movie of the week and trying to stay awake.

The Danes get a shout out in a rather tacked-on sub plot for risking a lot to ferry their small Jewish population to safety in Sweden.

But . . . characters of soggiest cardboard, dialogue to cringe from and a story that runs out of gas long before the cataclysmic and apocalyptic finale.

Not Recommended.

Don't make me come up there.

I mean it.

51richardderus
May 18, 2012, 5:49pm Top

Oh me oh my that sounds *agonizing*!

52magicians_nephew
Edited: Jun 10, 2012, 9:49am Top

It's hard to know where to begin to talk about Watchmen Alan Moore's "Graphic Novel" about heroes and individuals and society. (Artwork by Dave Gibbons)

I mean the thing is a comic book, for Pete’s sake - garish four color printing in little boxes arranged in crowded little nine by nine grids on pages of cheap paper.

But it’s also a book with a lot on its mind.

Quick synopsis: it's 1988. Richard Nixon is still president. America has won the Viet Nam War, but the "Cold War" between America and Russia is hotter than ever.

Guys (and gals) used to run around in absurd costumes and "fight crime" (Some of them anyway)

A paranoid government fearing the power of a group they cannot control has forced most of the "masks" underground.

"Dr. Manhattan" is one of the few "super" heroes with real power - and he has the power of a god. As the result of a lab accident he has become the atomic powered “ultimate weapon” The fact that he is more or less on the side of America is what keeps the Cold War from going over to "Boiling".

(But perhaps his radiation causes cancer - - - doesn’t everything?)

As the book opens, "The Comedian" - one of the few "masks" operating openly - is found murdered. Rorschach another costumed vigilante suspects a "Mask killer" is on the loose – maybe from the government?

Rorschach is particularly unlikeable - he's paranoid and vulgar and prone to violence and not too fussy about personal hygiene. But he puts on his mask (one of the few times he is seen without it he cries out "Where is my face?") and goes out and tries to put away the bad guys. He's Batman without Bruce Wayne's money.

He tries to take responsibility for his share of the mess. His mask is an oily ink blot that shifts and changes shape like the smoke over a burning city.

But then there is Dr. Manhattan – does “Power corrupt”? Well in this case at least power isolates - creates distance. Dr. Manhattan who can see the past and the future in a single gestalt can see no reason to involve himself in the silly trivial affairs of mere mortals - (yes they talk like that) - and sits lonely on the moon and wearily waits for the rest of the universe to catch up. He's abdicated his responsibility – at least for now. Dr. Manhattan is cool blue – naked - invulnerable – untouchable.

And Adrian Veidt - who does have Bruce Wayne's money - has hatched a scheme to end the war and bring about a peaceful world - whether you like it or not. Maybe he’s right – but he’s not taking a vote on it.

I think Moore is fascinated by the concept of the individual as opposed to the hero - or perhaps the individual as hero.
(Judy found the book "very Ayn Rand-ian")

These characters and others swirl around in past and present and we see some very vivid and complex character studies.

Why, indeed does a person wear a mask?
How do people "change the world"? By rescuing people from a burning building? Or by burning down the building to kill the mice?

The Dark Knight movies (which owe a lot to “Watchmen”) give us an idea of how people would really behave if some nut in a costume suddenly showed up and started throwing his weight around.

The title comes from the Roman poet Juvenal – someone who knew something about decaying empires – and goes “Who Watches The Watchmen? Who guards us against the Guardians?”

To which Moore replies: Society consists only of the actions taken by responsible human beings. What do you think about that?

It's only an accident of history that George Zimmerman wasn't wearing a mask and cape on his "Neighborhood Watch" Bat-patrol in Florida.

Book Circle colleagues complained about the book being hard to read - I guess my eyes have grown accustomed to the form. But the little square cells and the obsessive detail is deliberate - part of Alan Moore's way of telling a story. We're used to literature giving us sly allusions and references that we may get and may not get. Why can't a "Graphic" literature do the same?

Like any new genre it takes time to learn the idiom. I would submit that taking the time has its rewards.

Watch closely. And don’t! blink!

No mask but truth to cover lies
As to go naked is the best disguise


53richardderus
May 24, 2012, 2:32pm Top

I'm glad the idiom rewards you. Very very good synopsis and review, thanks!

54magicians_nephew
Edited: Jun 10, 2012, 10:58am Top

Bernie Rhodenbarr, the delightful burglar detective invented by Lawrence Block, likes to describe his cop friend Ray Kirschmann as "looking like he was wearing a suit that had been custom made - for someone else".

Maybe The Cemetery Club is that kind of book for me - custom made for someone else.

The town of Rocky Point has had its share of horrors, described in a prefix, going back to colonial days. But our story really begins as the author helpfully states "Twenty Years Ago"
where four high school kids got down into an old crypt in the cemetery and met up with - what - something - that scared them and blew them all away. One kid winds up in the mental hospital, one kid winds up on the street, one just runs away out of town. And somehow the Big Bad gets chased back into its hole.

But now it's "Today" and smoky monster-y things like Black Smoos are roaming around, and people are dying by the boat-load, and its sort of a zombie novel except when it thinks it's a novel about alien invasion, and somehow it's up to these four kids to do something about it.

Of course the Police Chief in the town is a small minded skeptic, and to make matters worse, the deputy major is the mean jealous petty ex-husband of the girl in the club. So no one believes them, and our stalwart band must figure out what to do to end the horrors of "The Horde".

(Stephen Sondheim once explained to me that "Horde" was the collective noun for a group of retired prostitutes - but I digress).

So we're in Stephen King country, and I wish I liked it better. But the kids never rise above lazy stereotype, and the monsters never rise above not very scarey, and I put it down about two thirds of the way through.

My first LT "Early Reviewer" book and it has taken me a while to get to the bottom of it.

But I owed LT a review.

Here it is.

55magicians_nephew
Edited: Jul 8, 2013, 3:54pm Top

Try this for a scenario:
It's 1968.
President John Kennedy is just finishing up his second term in office.
The President asks for time on television to talk to the nation.
He reveals a deep dark secret: He's NOT John Kennedy.
John F. Kennedy was asassinated in Dallas in 1963 BUT the Democratic Party quickly and secretly hired a good actor to take his place and carry out his programs for the good of the nation

I imagine he would just about get that far before the nation rose up in a body and tore him and everyone who supported the mascarade limb from limb

Yet that is the exact premise of Double Star by far my favorite of all Robert A Heinlein's novels.

It's about a down on his luck actor who gets picked up to double "temporarily" for
a leading political figure who has been kidnapped - and then falls ill. But the politico dies - and the actor is asked to stay with the role - perhaps for life!

What's striking is that nobody asks the question - is it ethical for the party and the actor to lie to all the people on four planets who voted for "John Joseph Bonforte" and are going to be handed four years of some "actor fellow" pretending to be Bonforte instead?

Yes, a political leader is not a man but a team we get that. But if the leader of the team dies - then it's a new team? Right?

In the middle of having fun throwing around theatrical slang in the Space Age Heinlein seems to have ignored the main question: Would "Bonforte" -- who believed in honest dealing and open government - agree to have his place taken by a small time (if very well intentioned) actor? Forever? I suspect not.

And people in politics who believe that the solar system would end in fire and flood if their man and their party were out of office give me a quick pain in the you-know-where.

Anyway the book is a good read and short. But if I could conjure up the ghost of Bob Heinlein, that's the first thing I would ask him.

56ffortsa
Jun 10, 2012, 8:19pm Top

Did you see that Terri thinks you're a 'a worthy and well-respected personage'?

57richardderus
Jun 10, 2012, 9:23pm Top

>55 magicians_nephew: I wish you'd posted this review so I could upgethumb it.

58magicians_nephew
Jun 11, 2012, 8:30am Top

>57 richardderus::

To hear is to obey

59magicians_nephew
Jun 16, 2012, 9:27pm Top

Michael Creighton's The Great Train Robbery is a hoot and a half - a fancy caper novel set in the glittering and glorious world of late Victorian England.

There really was a "Great Train Robbery" two men really got onto the South Eastern Railroad and opened the safes and got away with thousands of pounds in gold meant for the British troops fighting in the Crimea. They were caught and put on trial - and then escaped in ways that are still seen as mysterious.

But Creighton's book is just a romp - full of fascinating sidebars on fears of premature burial and "ratting sports" and manners of executions.

He has a lot of fun with the criminal slang of the period ("He speaks a wav lag from Liverpool and can voker romaney") and makes the characters really come to life.

The "pull" is done with a flourish and there are many hairsbreadth escapes - and Creighton adds many a lovely detail that really make the story gallop along.

Creighton isn't my favorite writer but this is one of my favorite books.

60richardderus
Jun 16, 2012, 9:30pm Top

I loved that book, too, Jim. It kept me really involved from giddy-up to whoa. *ponders re-read*

61magicians_nephew
Edited: Jun 25, 2012, 8:53am Top

Not ”The Year of the Cat” this time but The Year of the Hare the best Finnish novel I’ve read all year.

What’s it about you ask? Well a middle aged journalist, bored and out of sorts, driving home from an assignment, runs over and hurts a hare, a wild rabbit. For no particular good reason he jumps out of the car, tends the hare’s hurts, and more or less adopts it.

Without a backward glance he abandons wife and job and his whole life, basically, and heads off into the woods in the wild north of Finland with said hare poking his head and ears out of the top of his knapsack.

Well morning comes and you're still with her
And the bus and the tourists are gone
And you've thrown away your choice and lost your ticket
So you have to stay on

In a curious deadpan tone of voice (is that the translator?) the author recounts the journalist’s wanderings. He always seems to find a job, he has comic misadventures with comic backwoods Finns and blustery bureaucrats and always manages to hang on to the hare while leaving a trail of devastation in his wake.

The book turns serious when the journalist heads off after a bear and crosses into Russia, and maybe into The Twilight Zone at the same time.

But the drumbeat strains of the night remain
In the rhythm of the new-born day
You know sometime you're bound to leave her
But for now you're going to stay


So maybe it’s just me. But neither the journalist nor the hare ever really develop much of a personality, (or much of a relationship) and the comic misadventures ain’t all that darn funny, and when you get to the end of the book the box of tissues you laid in to wipe away tears of laughter will probably still be there unopened.

Not sorry I read it. But it didn’t leave much impression behind it either.

62magicians_nephew
Edited: Jul 6, 2012, 11:39am Top

Pop quiz:

How many of you have ever heard of Alan Reed?

I see a lot of blank faces.

Let me try again:

How many of you have heard of Fred Flintstone?

Alan Reed who passed away in the '70's was for many years the voice of Fred Flintsone on the show. But wait! There's more.

Alan Reed was also a man who did vaudeville, stock theatre, radio, movies and more for years and years and knew everybody and had great stories to tell.

And somewhere along the line he told them in a lovely little book called (What else?)
Yabba Dabba Do! The Alan Reed Story (hmm no touchstone?).

The best of the book is that I got it from Audible and it's a "spoken word" book.

Now I like these but I mostly "read" them at the gym on my iPod while working out.

But this book is read by Mr. Reed's son - Alan Reed Jr. - and it's a treat - he "does the police in different voices" as T. S. Eliot says, and uses his great talent as a voice artist and mimic to make each story come alive.

Doing theatre in the Village with a young Bette Davis - doing radio with the great Fred Allan - working alongside Mel Blanc and others - nice interesting stories and Reed Jr. makes each one really come alive.

Don't know if this book would have made the same impression of me if it was read on the printed page - but as a audiobook it's a corker.

someday maybe Fred will win the fight
and that cat will stay out for the night


Lots of fun here!

63tloeffler
Jul 6, 2012, 12:37pm Top

:-( Not only does my library not have the audio book, they don't have the regular book. On the "Lookout List" now, though!

64richardderus
Jul 7, 2012, 6:23pm Top

Oh boo hiss...my county liberry system doesn't have either one, either! *fumes*

65magicians_nephew
Edited: Aug 29, 2012, 3:40pm Top

I went back and forth about The Radetsky March a classic novel that - prior to Book Circle - I had never even heard of.

It's a long winded book about the Austro Hungarian empire (Remember them) in the long lazy autumn leading up to World War I.

A low-born Lieutenant of Infantry happenes to save the Emperor's life during a little military scuffle and becomes a Baron and an Hero and an Officer with capital letters.

But the story of his heroism is turned into schoolboy mythology to prop up the Empire, and our new Baron takes offense and resigns his commission and goes home in a huff.

That's Book One and you know, I was sort of tuning out.

Then we meet the grandson and you know, his story caught my fancy. He's an officer in the peacetime army, and spends his time drinking and gambling in a border outpost and really doing not much of a much.

But he's an appealing character touched with the sad awareness that he and his brother officers are rather pathetic and their lives rather meaningless. But he tries – and his duels and love affairs and financial woes are melancholy and for me quite moving.

(It called to mind for me From Here to Eternity another book about a different peacetime army gone (maybe) to seed)

Of course in a book like this you know the ending - Archduke Franz Ferdinand takes one between the short ribs and all the assumptions of Pre War Europe are swept out with the trash. In the end, so is our hero.

A moody story with lots of lovely local color and period details and the gay bravado of the March floating ironically uber alles.

Glad I read it.

a million guns were loaded
and World War I exploded
She had no brains
Neither did he
How bright could I turn out to be?

66lindapanzo
Edited: Jul 18, 2012, 12:15pm Top

Hi Jim: Thanks for the comments, over on Joe's thread, about Lonesome Dove. I'll report back when finished.

Have you read all of the others? What are there, 4 of them?

67magicians_nephew
Jul 18, 2012, 1:24pm Top

I did like Streets of Laredo the other sequels were hit and miss.

Enjoy riding the trail with Gus and Woodrow

68magicians_nephew
Edited: Jul 24, 2012, 9:44pm Top

So many authors are using witchcraft and Paganism as springboards for cute n cosies that it's a pleasure to read a book where the pagan ritual and practice is well researched, accurate and engaging.

Guardian of the Balance brings us up close and personal to a Beltane Fire (the Spring Fertility Rites) and makes it real and powerful and moving. This ain't your mothers Arbor Day.

If you read the famous Mary Stewart trilogy of the Merlin story, you may remember that Merlin was celibate and sort of drew power from his isolation from human sexuality.

Well in this book the author postulates that the Merlin of the Arthurian legend did once give in to passion at the annual Beltane (May Day) orgy and out of that came a daughter, Wren.

From their the author spins a fine yarn about Merlin and Wren traveling through Britain, dealing with magic and belief and the beginning of the Christian faith taking root and weakening the belief in the Old Ways.

And the rise (and fall) of Arthur.

The author can tell a story, and she tells an interesting one. Like any picaresque it wanders, and sometimes you want to shout "Hurry up!" at the characters.

But Wren and her journey is wonderful and - mythic - and I want to read more.

(Her stay on the Isle of Glass (Avalon) and her initiation into the Old Ways is worth the price of admission)

An LT Early Reader Book

69magicians_nephew
Edited: Dec 11, 2012, 10:53am Top

Sometimes the book gods just sneak up and tap you on the shoulder.

Last week somebody pointed out it was Phyllis Diller's Birthday (The lady is 95) and somebody else pointed me to a signed copy of her autobiography on sale on Ebay for a cool 2.99. How could I resist?

Phyllis Diller was the funny old auntie of comedy when I was growing up and watching stand up on the Ed Sullivan show and later on the Tonight Show. She was loud and full of life and oh that great laugh.

And so we have Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse a curious book that I'm glad I read.

Most books by comics are just cut and paste printouts of their comedy routines flattened on the printed page like Boris Badenov flattened by a cartoon steamroller.

But this book, while it has a lot of funny stuff in it, is also a serious shot at telling la Phyllis' life story, warts and all.

People who roared when she made jokes about "Fang" her kookie husband didn't know she had a real husband who was industrial strength crazy and who really put her over the bumps until she finally divorced him.

And she had a son die young - not funny for anybody I know.

And one beloved daughter that wound up schizophrenic and institutionalized.

And success. And Happiness. And some nice stories. And some laughs.

Here's to you Phyllis.

Thanks for all the laughter.

70tloeffler
Jul 29, 2012, 8:38pm Top

TWO books to add to my list???? You need to do more dancing and less reading so I can catch up.....

71ffortsa
Jul 30, 2012, 9:58am Top

flattened like Badenov, huh? You always surprise me.

72magicians_nephew
Edited: Aug 7, 2012, 9:30am Top

Erik Larson has written some amazing books. His The Devil in the White City was really two books in one - a lovely and wonderful story of the Chicago World’s Fair and a chilling and horrific story of the madman mass murderer who roamed the streets of Chicago in the same era.

Now we have In the Garden of Beasts (OK that is the literal translation for "Tiergarten") and I can’t say enough about it.

It’s a little story about a Midwestern family who wind up in Nazi Germany in the early 1930’s -- and it’s a Big BIG story of how Germany was transformed by Hitler in the early years of his rise to power.

History’s hindsight is always 20-20. But in the early days of Nazi Germany Hitler was seen (a) as a passionate anti-Communist (we liked that) and (b) a rather unimportant little man that the German army would sweep out of power whenever he got too big for his britches. Well yeah.

The ambassador a little man who happened to be casually friendly with FDR, kept sending back communiques that Germany was becoming more and more violent and more anti-Jewish.

(There is a haunting scene early in the book where a woman forced to wear a placard saying “I gave myself to a Jew” is paraded through the streets by a jeering mob)

And FDR’s rather anti-Semitic State department was only interested in two things: (a) Would Germany pay the war reparations it owed from World War I (don’t hold your breath waiting) and (b) would Germany continue to be anti-Communist. Well yeah.

Ambassador Dodd’s daughter Martha was a lively one -- a writer and intellectual who was friendly with Thornton Wilder and Sinclair Lewis -- and also rather a hot pants who had one passionate affair after another, including one with a sexy Russian who turned out to be a spy and an important one.

(Don’t forget this was at a time when America had no formal diplomatic relations with "Red” Russia at all).

It’s Nazi Germany writ small but the devil (and I do mean devil) is again and again in the details. And the details are incredible

And by the way this Larson guy can really write!

Very highly recommended.

And not just for history nuts.

73magicians_nephew
Edited: Aug 9, 2012, 3:11pm Top

Edith Wharton never dissapoints.

Had a great time this past week rediscovering her wonderful The Custom of the Country a deliciously well written book that catches you by surprise every step of the way.

Little Miss Undine Spragg, a blond beauty from the boonies (but with a "new money" rich father) comes to New York to make a splash in “Society” only to find that Society isn’t much interested.

We’re in the Gilded Age, somewhere between the Civil War and the Great War, and New York City has subways and “The Elevated” and some daring souls have purchased motorcars.

And the "Quality" don't have much use for out of towners who think their $$$$$ earn them a place in the Five Hundred. But Undine blunders her way along, spending her father’s money and trying to crash in using her youth and beauty (and her wardrobe) as her primary assets. And a total lack of morality.

And along the way she catches the eye of a true blood blue blood and marries him on the jump, only to find that he really can't afford to support her in the style to which she would like to become accustomed.

And the snappy little jokes about the mindless catty socialites start to fade out and what comes in is something darker and stronger - and angrier.

Wharton is after bigger fish here – in a "Plague on both your houses” look at both old money and new money and a rotten society on the brink of collapse.

Liked it a lot. Glad I read it. If all you know of Wharton is reading (ugh) “Ethan Frome” in high school, give this one a try

She's out for blood.

74magicians_nephew
Edited: Aug 29, 2012, 3:38pm Top

read Wolf Hall a while ago and just now got around to posting about it. But I think it's an amazing achievement.

This is our old friend Thomas Cromwell the hissable villain from "A Man for all Seasons" set back on his feet and allowed to be himself. Thomas More shows up - and shows himself to be a consummate ass too.

Of course we meet Henry VIII and the Boleyn girls and a lot of other people of the period, both high born and low.

It's a gutsy risk taking performance by a writer that pays off again and again. None of that "hey nonny nonny" and "Thou Varlet" stuff - these people talk in very colloquial modern English.

Which allows us to see Anne Boleyn as a jumped up Kardashian with delusions of grandeur and her sister as a girl just trying sail between a rock (the King) and a hard place (her sister) and get out on the other side alive.

And to see Henry VIII as a real figure with his own real problems and issues - not just the fat guy on the playing card with the six wives.

Some people have been put off by the author's pronouns - "He Said" is used everywhere and not always perfectly pre-established. But if you get that "He" is usually Cromwell you'll get along OK. We see these people and these times wonderfully and deeply while standing at Cromwell's elbow - practically on Cromwells's shoulder - and that makes the book very lovely and real.

Danial Boorstein said about writing history that "It's all about then - and it's all about now" This book is like that. Aside from the candlelight and the horsecrap these are very modern people who we can really relate to and get involved with.

Looking forward to the sequel - and the one after that.

75tloeffler
Aug 20, 2012, 8:39pm Top

I have loved everything I have read by Erik Larson. In the Garden of Beasts (a signed copy, no less) is sitting not very patiently on my table, waiting for me to move it up to the short list (which is getting taller by the day). You aren't helping. I just moved John Boyne's Crippen up because I was anxious to read more about him (Crippen) after reading Larson's Thunderstruck.

76magicians_nephew
Edited: Aug 25, 2012, 4:37pm Top

77magicians_nephew
Edited: Aug 29, 2012, 3:39pm Top



Evil Muttley Laugh

78magicians_nephew
Edited: Aug 28, 2012, 4:55pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

79tloeffler
Aug 28, 2012, 4:59pm Top

*chuckle*

80magicians_nephew
Edited: Oct 4, 2012, 10:10am Top

All I know about gritty real world "police procedurals" I learned from Joseph Wambaugh, whose The Choirboys does for urban police work what “Catch-22” does for World War II. Yes it's that good.

So I came to read Lush Life by Richard Price a novel from 2008 about urban crime, I had my fingers crossed to maybe discover a writer who could do for New York City - my home town - what Wambaugh did for East Los Angeles.

Perhaps that's asking too much.

Three yuppies are bopping down the street at 4AM on the Lower East Side, the last great melting pot of the city, when they are set upon by two young black kids, one with a gun. Most people get this – you give the guy with the gun your wallet, and maybe live to fight another day.

But curiously, one of the kids waves off the muggers with an almost mystical “Not tonight my man” and the kid panics and pulls the trigger. Pop Pop!

The police come and make some mistakes and ball things up seriously. But you know - they're trying. It ain't as easy as it looks on TV.

Everyone in this book has a dream I think but good luck on getting anywhere realizing them.

We get a good look at what urban police work and police office politics looks like in New York City post Giuliani.

We get a good look at the yuppies and the white kids who have invaded the Lower East Side, and their rather pathetic posturing and their rather childish dreams.

We get an inside baseball look into the lives of people working the yuppie restaurant racket on the "gentrified" part of the Lower East Side.

We get a good look at our shooter, not to excuse him or to explain him, but merely as reportage, to complete the story.

It’s a grim dark story, without the mordant wit of Wambaugh (although there are some bitterly funny things in it) and overall I think it's a swing and a miss. It’s hard to care about and get involved with a gang of mopes like this.

Some dazzling dialogue ( the author wrote for the HBO series ‘The Wire” and it shows) doesn’t quite make it all worth the journey.

If Weegee the famous crime photographer wrote a book instead of taking photographs it might come out something like this.

But the writer captures well the many layers of culture and society that churn around the LES, and if you're not from around here, that's going to be an eye opener.

81magicians_nephew
Edited: Oct 17, 2012, 4:49pm Top

Is Code Name Verity a Young Adult book? a Book for children? Truthfully?

Maddie and Queenie meet as the war in England is just getting on the boil. She is a ferry pilot in the civilian Auxiliary; she is a German speaking intelligence officer and interrogator (and once and always , a Scot!)

We see them in training, we see them doing the work, bravely and uncomplainingly, and at last we see them make a run into occupied France, and through one misstep after the other, we see one a captive and one on the run. Young women - girls really - fighting against the Nazis for patriotism and for their homes (and for themselves)

It speaks frankly and clearly about sex and pain and torture and being a woman in a man's world and being a woman and a girl (and a soldier) in the middle of the "night and fog" of World War II.

The book is Queenie's "Confession" in captivity and a bit more besides. Her fierce intelligence and stoicism is awe inspiring.

And the book is Maddie (FLY THE PLANE, MADDIE!) learning to endure and learning to fight and learning, in the end what a friend is and what bravery is.

I loved every page of this book. Lots of great details of flying airplanes from a woman writer who knows her stuff, and a lot of real details about the war and about how sometimes women and girls fought in it too.

And a wonderful gotcha at the end that will have you tearing back through the book again to pick up everything that you missed that the author left out in plain sight for you.

Branding this a book for YA only is to deprive us in the over 16 set a rare treat and a rare experience.

VERY Highly recommended.

They raised Dunkirk with its harbor torn
By the blasted stern and the sunken prow;
They had reached for fun on an English tide,
They were English children bred and born,
And whether they lived, or whether they died,
They raced for England now.

82magicians_nephew
Edited: Oct 15, 2012, 10:11am Top

It’s fun sometimes to see a noted historian pushed out of his comfort zone – but sometimes it’s not.

William Manchester was a remarkable writer who gave us thoughtful and insightful books about Douglas MacArthur, Winston Churchill and the death of President Kennedy. But he's a 20th century guy.

So when a friend asked him for a preface for a book about Magellan, Manchester suddenly decided to immerse himself in “the Calamitious 14th century” – Martin Luther and Pope Leo and the Borgias and all the rest.

The result was A World Lit Only By Fire and while it’s readable and fun, it ain't very good history. In a lot of places it’s lazy and in a lot of other places it's just plain wrong.

Manchester has a lot to say about the times and the people and his skill as a writer has not deserted him.

He has a lot of fun sticking up for the famous poisoner Lucretia Borgia seeing her as a nice Italian girl who liked sex and didn’t like being told what to do by her brothers. (He tells the wonderful story of how Lucretia, then eight months pregnant, was solemnly pronounced "Virgo Intacto" by the College of Cardinals so she could legally remarry)

He loves to tell the stories about Luther’s scatological obsessions and all of this is more or less in the writings.

His picture of Magellen's voyage around the world has immediacy and energy. (If only the source material wasn't so questionable).

But he loses his way trying to find a theme to the work, and he commits a few real howlers due to careless reading or simply to preferring the good story to the truthful one.

Good writing but bad scholarship . . . a pity

And if the Pied Piper of Hamlin wasn't dead he would have a defamation of character suit here he could retire on.

83magicians_nephew
Edited: Nov 2, 2012, 9:53am Top



The Official mascot and motto around here

84magicians_nephew
Edited: Oct 26, 2012, 9:05am Top

If you think that you own the books you have on your Kindle or Nook - read this:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/prospero/2012/10/e-book-business

85ffortsa
Oct 26, 2012, 3:51pm Top

This is what made me hesitate so long before becoming an e-reader. Not 'owning' the books in the traditional sense sometimes gives me an odd feeling.

86magicians_nephew
Edited: Nov 2, 2012, 9:55pm Top

Spent the blackout reading a lot of old favorites on the Kindle, mainly - Nero Wolfe and Ellery Queen and James Bond.

But what fell out of the bookshelf was Washington Journal Elizabeth Drew's indispensable study of Congress in the last years of the Watergate kerfluffle.

A lot of names you'd have to strain to remember - Peter Rodino, Liz Holtzman, Barbara Jordan, Charles Sandman.

Documents a level of decency and let's-get-along that seems to be missing from the current crop of Congress critters.

Drew is amazing at charting the decision process of members of Congress, always thinking of themselves and their districts(and their re-election chances) at least as much as they think about the country. Is a Congressman supposed to represent his constituency? Or do what he thinks is right?

Always will be amazed that a nobody back bencher from Newark like Rodino threaded his (and our) way through the morass and kept his head. Goddess rest his soul.

But maybe the only lesson of Watergate turned out to be - don't tape record yourself. Seems like people in power are still wrapping themselves in the flag while still picking our pockets.

And all "for our own good" You're sort of allowed to lie to children if it's for their own good - aren't you?

But are you allowed to lie to the country "for their own good"?

Like Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror looking back at the Watergate process is a good way to get a handle on the Washington process of today.

87magicians_nephew
Edited: Oct 23, 2013, 9:14am Top

Watching Colonel Allan West the Tea Party favorite from Florida fight like a wolverine (and lose) his race for re-election to the house recalls to mind the wonderful Do Not Ask What Good We Do a slightly biased but I think fair view of the last two years of the Congress in Washington.

If you watch the news you probably only get to see the big dogs (i.e. the speaker and the minority leader) wrestle with the mud. This book is quite wonderful showing the rogue caucus that came in with the Tea Party backing, knowing nothing (and proud of it ) about the workings of government, and loosing mice in the washroom at every opportunity.

Like this:

Costello: We're going to cut 100 billion from the federal budget this year
Abbot: Where?
Costello: I don't care! Across the board!
Abbott: You can't do that! You have to take responsibility for programs that will be cut!
Costello: I don't care! Naturally! Who? He's on first and I don't give a darn.
Abbott: What's that?
Costello: I don't give a darn!
Abbott: Oh he's the Speaker of the House

The public only saw John Boehner fight it out with Obama - this book shows Boehner fighting it out (and lnot doing such a great job) with his own caucus. The Grand Bargain (that would avoided the Fiscal Cliff) might have passed if not for the blind refusal to compromise from the newly seated Tea Partiers

People who like lawmaking and sausage making should never watch either being done.

A book for political junkies. Curiously I really did not spend a lot of time following the most recent election in this sweet land of liberty so this book was a useful cover.

“Congress will rise (adjourn) June 1st, as most of us expect. Rejoice when that event is ascertained. If we should finish and leave the world right side up, it will be happy. Do not ask what good we do: that is not a fair question, in these days of faction.”

—Congressman Fisher Ames, May 30, 1796

88magicians_nephew
Edited: Nov 30, 2012, 11:30am Top

Probably the best thing you can say about The House of Silk a 'New Sherlock Holmes Novel" is "Nice try".

The author starts off well. Holmes and Watson are hanging around on a foggy day back at 221B (Though this is during the times of ONE of Wat son's many marriages) and The Great Detective is doing the kind of "mentalist" style messing with Watson's head that we all know and love.

But then the client arrives, and while it's lively and busy, it never really comes to life. Bits of "The Man with the Twisted Lip" and "The Greek Interpreter" are tossed at random into the hopper, and some of it works quite well. There is a Dickensian villain that most readers will spot long before Dr Watson does. And an ending that is curiously UN-Holmesian and extremely unsatisfactory

But of all the unknown Sherlock Holmes cases locked up in the secret dispatch case at Cox and Company, Charing Cross, this is perhaps the one I least wanted to hear.

But then the last Holmes novel not by Conan Doyle that I enjoyed was The Seven Per Cent Solution so just put me down as a curmudgeon and a purist.

So they still live for all that love them well: in a romantic chamber of the heart, in a nostalgic country of the mind, where it is always 1895." -

89magicians_nephew
Edited: Dec 8, 2012, 3:49pm Top

My Tuesday night book group took a swing at Heart of Darkness a book everyone knows and surprisingly few people have actually read.

Of course everyone who hasn't read it thinks they know the story because they have seen Marlon Brando's mad scene from "Apocalypse Now". I say - yes and no.

(I would submit that Western Civ shat on Viet Nam in so many ways differently than it shat on the Belgium Congo, that IMHO comparing the two works of art is unfair to both.)

Anyway this is one of the great American "journeys upriver" and though it scarcely runs 100 pages, it's dense with imagery and symbolism and writerly magic.

Marlow is telling the story of his trip up the river to meet and succor the mad Mistah Kurtz the ivory hunter who may have gone mad and set himself up as a god.

And musing in wonderment about civilization and savagery - and good and evil - and the confines of civilization and the Law of the Jungle

As with good old Huckleberry Finn, the journey is all, as Marlow moves deeper into Africa and colonialism and the Night and the Fog and the illness that pervades everything.

God what a writer! This Fever dream is described with huge broad strokes and then fine little miniatures, like the accountant who maintains a starched collar deep in the African bush.

(Yes Conrad did spend time in the Congo and did pilot a river steamer once, but pay that no mind. He is after bigger game here. I'm told there are some people who think "Walden" is about growing beans.)

My club was divided into two groups - people who didn't get it at all and people who were haunted by it. Put me in the latter camp. We all face our darkness. The lucky ones come out of it as well as Marlow. The unlucky ones - do something else.

These are facts, historical facts, not schoolbook history, not Mr. Wells' history, but history nevertheless!

90magicians_nephew
Edited: Dec 19, 2012, 2:09pm Top

Who on here was reading The Destiny of the Republic that new history of the life and death of James Garfield?

I finally picked it up and raced through it. The author makes this little known figure of history come to vibrant lusty life - and makes us see him and makes us care about him.

Lots of wonderful little details. Garfield got nominated for president while at the convention making a nominating speech for - someone else! And then got saddled with corrupt party hack Chester A Arthur as his Vice President.

Of course in those days you didn't "run" for president - you got nominated and then went home and sat on your front porch looking wise. It worked for Garfield.

Can't even conceive of a president of these United States who put aside two hours every day to receive and hear the special pleading of any nutcase with the patience to wait on line.

Can't conceive of a president of these United States who lived in the White House with no guards no protection at all from assassination. Putting guards around a president made him seem "imperial" and not in touch with "the people" so people said.

Lincoln's assassination was fresh in everyone's mind but it was seen as an act of war - not something that could happen again.

Lovely stories about good old Roscoe Conklin the famous King of Patronage and his downfall and the beginning of the merit system of civil service - began by -- Chester A Arthur!

A fascinating story deeply and movingly told.

Highly recommended

91qebo
Dec 9, 2012, 12:14pm Top

90: Who on here was reading The Destiny of the Republic
Buncha people, including our leader drneutron. Candice Millard spoke at the National Book Festival / LibraryThing DC meetup last year. Have you read The River of Doubt?

92drneutron
Dec 9, 2012, 3:28pm Top

Yup. Read it and loved it. Saw Millard speak at the National Book Fest. And loved River of Doubt!

93magicians_nephew
Edited: Aug 2, 2013, 10:36am Top



Happy Christmas to all from Jim and Judy and Bo, the First Dog

94magicians_nephew
Edited: Dec 30, 2012, 9:11pm Top

Just to close out the year.

Poor Things was a new one for me from Scottish novelist Alasdare Grey (and you have to love the D in Alasdare).

It's a lovingly crafted book - the author wrote it, designed it, and drew the illustrations -but at the end all I could think of to say was "Alas! Dere ain't much here!"

It's the story of a man who creates a sort of a female Frankenstein monster in Glasgow circa 1880. Though in an adult's body she has the mind of a child and so sees things from a "tabla rasa" sort of innocence.

The man who created her (and who is he, do you wonder?) and another doctor train her to be a "lady" and send her off bull-in-a-china-shopping into the world to have adventures and make discoveries and comment on Our Modern Society.

So it's Frankenstein and Candide and My Fair Lady all rolled up into one - and parts of it are very funny indeed.

But our author/illustrator/designer drives a tack with a sledge hammer, and pretty soon you are way ahead of him in his own plot, and the whimsey lays as curdled marmalade all around you - Deep and crisp and even.

Nice twist at the end I didn't see coming I admit

Memo to the women: if you ever look to get a job working in a French bordello, recall that the whole of the job entails just lying on your back and murmuring "Formidable!" at intervals.

Walter Scott! Come back! All is forgiven.


The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated.

I sold flowers; I didn't sell myself. Now you've made a lady of me, I'm not fit to sell anything else.

95magicians_nephew
Edited: Dec 30, 2012, 1:49pm Top

Read Cutting for Stone a while ago and just got around to entering it here.

It's a book about life in the slums of Ethiopia - and having recently visited the slums of Afghanistan and the slums of Mumbai I guess I was not really looking forward to taking the tour again.

You know - plucky orphans , low comedy from the native servants, noble self sacrifce, suffering tugging the heartstrings - all as read.

OK so I was wrong.

This book takes us to a Mission (Missing) hospital run by guts and by God in the poor quarter of town. And to this place come an Indian nun and a British doctor, each for their own reasons. And the book spends a lot of time with them and then drops them so quickly it would make your head spin.

The book is really about the twins born out of wedlock from this curious union, and how they grow up and learn and fight and love - with the background of Ethiopia in peace and war to color and shape things.

There is a lot about being a surgeon and being a nurse that I quite liked.

It's a first novel and the author I think threw in everything but the kitchen sink - but he is an agreeable companion and eventually everything ties together.

One of those messy sprawling novels and I despair or anyone making a movie out of it - but people who stayed with me and people I cared about.

I am sometimes suspicious of best sellers - that they take the lowest common denominator and then descend to sloppy sentimentality. This one does some of that - but you know by then I didn't mind it so much.

It's a big book but a good 'um. Give it a try. I think it will stay with you.

Out in this desert we are testing bombs,

that's why we came here.

Sometimes I feel an underground river
forcing its way between deformed cliffs
an acute angle of understanding
moving itself like a locus of the sun
into this condemned scenery.

Group: 75 Books Challenge for 2012

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