I've kind of abandoned my old book-review LJ for a while, but as a part of some resolutions for New Year's, I thought I should pick up a similar sort of effort. So I've set one up on WordPress:http://wtiw.wordpress.com/
So far I've gone back and made an entry for every book I've read so far in 2010, and plan to continue updating as I read.
The Gutter and the Grave
by Ed McBain
217 pages - Hard Case Crime
This pulp mystery novel was originally published under the pen name Curt Cannon and titled I'm Cannon - for Hire
. The current title was the one preferred by the author. The story follows the adventures of Matt Cordell, who used to be a successful private investigator, but after a series of tragedies he's just another wino hanging about in New York City's Bowery. An old acquaintance tracks him down and pretty soon he is caught in a web of murders and affairs and corrupt cops.
Probably the best thing to do with this novel is to go in with lowered expectations. The main character is supposed to be a homeless alcoholic, but still every attractive woman he runs into comes on to him, and he's able to fight back against toughs, as well as of course solve the convoluted mystery. It's basically full of cliches, but not in a way that I found very entertaining.
Author J.G. Ballard died yesterday. Looking back on it, it's surprising how many of his books I've actually read: the short story collections Memories of the Space Age, Vermillion Sands, The Best Science Fiction of J.G. Ballard
, the semi-autobiographical Empire of the Sun
and The Kindness of Women
, and the novels High-Rise, Hello America,
and The Atrocity Exhibition
(which was an 'experimental' novel that I didn't like at all).
I wouldn't say he was a master fiction writer, as a lot of times his writing wasn't as strong as his ideas and imagination. I think my favourite work of his is the short story "The Man Who Walked on the Moon" from Memories of the Space Age
, which is very sad and bittersweet and has a definite Ray Bradbury vibe.
A couple of notable films were made from his works. Empire of the Sun
by Steven Speilberg is great, and features some definite Ballardian moments. Crash
by David Cronenberg was something I enjoyed when I saw it, but I'm not sure how I'd react to it now. I do think it captured the feel of Toronto though.
On another note, I think I will try to start-up writing reviews again, try for one a day until I get caught up.
I've decided to put this journal on 'hiatus' for a bit, as I haven't really been keeping up with any entries on my f-list for about a month now, and at the same time making entries for the books I've read has started to seem more like a chore than a pleasure. And I've been thinking that I want to slim-down my daily obligations.
So, I'm gonna take a little break from this journal, where I definitely won't be reading the friends list, and probably won't be posting anything either. For an indefinite period.
|The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome
by Tony Attwood
397 pages - Jessica Kingsley Publishers
Asperger's Syndrome is a neurological condition that is considered to be on the Autism spectrum, and has only been recognized widely in the last decade or so. People with this condition generally have difficulty with social interaction, as well as other quirks such as clumsiness, trouble making eye-contact, and usually an exceptional talent or deep area of interest - though the nature of the condition is that it shades into 'normalcy' without any definite defining line. Because it is a neurological condition, it's not something that develops or that can be cured, but instead is life-long and stable. That also means that any treatments for it are focused on adapting to the condition.
This book is aimed at a general audience, with enough references for professionals, but easy enough to read for the general public. Its main goal seems to be summing up what is known thus far, and in that it does a good job, but even though it is meant to be a complete guide it's very noticeable that a majority of the material concerns children with Asperger's. I think this is because this is where most of the resources of psychologists are focused, and where they have gathered the most information. The main reasons for this are probably because most public schools are forced to care for all children that are brought to them, and the parents are likely to have extra health insurance that pays for things such as extensive counseling. There's much less information, in this book and in general, about adults living with the condition.
I read this mainly because I suspect I have Asperger's. After reading this (and viewing some videos), I suspect that if I do, it's somewhere on the borderline between this and normalcy. I'm not sure about the value of putting myself through a formal diagnosis (especially being that 'formal' doesn't seem to be that formal). I found it interesting that a lot of people think that this condition has been around basically as long as people have been around, and that it's likely that a lot of leaps forward have been due to it, as accomplishments like that require people that see things differently from the majority, as well as extreme focus, etc.
Though the stereotype is that Autistic people are good at math, to the point of being seen as human calculators, a lot of them actually have trouble with it. The general separation is between those who are math-inclined, and those who are visual thinkers. I know we shouldn't curse or take for granted the gifts that we're given, but I can't help sometimes feel like it would be much easier to be math-inclined, as there seems to be a much greater utility for those sorts of people.
Reading this, one of the things that kept running through my mind is the wonderful narration at the start of Little Dieter Needs to Fly
: ""Men are often haunted by things that happened to them in life, especially in war or other periods of great intensity. Sometimes you see these men walking the streets or driving a car. Their lives seem to be normal — but they are not."
by Domenic Stansberry
218 pages - Hard Case Crime
The narrator of this novel treats everything in it as his 'confession', which he is writing out, but how much he is actually confessing is, in the end, left up to the reader to determine. Jake Danser is a forensic psychologist living and working in the suburbs of San Francisco, married to a wealthy slightly older woman, and with the personality of a real jerk, complete with ponytail (I think it's a rule that any male urban professional sporting a ponytail is a grade-A ass). He acts as a witness for the defense in the case of a man accused of strangling his girlfriend, but soon the events move much closer to home when he is accused in the similar strangling death of his own mistress. The plot thickens when his estranged wife re-ignites her relationship with the prosecuting attorney in the case.
This novel is a lot different than many of the Hard Case Crime books, as much of the action is internal, dealing with the various thoughts and emotions and possible evasions in the narrator's account. Some people may find that indulgent, but I enjoyed it very much, and even with the occasional references to psychological theory or metaphysical and religious philosophy, I never thought it got too pretentious. Quite a good read, and I liked the writing style enough that I'll keep my eyes open for more of the author's work.
This was the winner of the 2005 Edgar Award
for Best Paperback Original.
by Michael Redhill
469 pages - Anchor Canada
'I doubt a four-foot piece of the True Cross would be enough to stop work on a site in this city. You find a three-week-old potato chip in Montreal, they raise a velvet rope around it and have a minute of silence. But here, no.' (pg.281)
This novel proceeds along two separate time-lines. One narrative takes place around 1997, when the Air Canada Centre
was undergoing construction. A local historian is convinced that the original plates of a complete photographic survey of Toronto from 1856 were sunk in the harbour during a storm on their return from England, a site which over the years was filled in as the shoreline moved outward, and would now be buried on the site where they are excavating for the arena. But the historian is suffering from a fatal illness and commits suicide, leaving his family to try to discover if he was right or just making things up, as his colleagues believed.
The second narrative takes place in 1856, and concerns a pharmacist who arrives from England, leaving his wife and children to arrive later, and starts operating a pharmacy his family purchased. However, business does not go well, as the city's economy is stagnant and he can't compete with already-established pharmacies. A change occurs when he begins to supply chemicals to a photographer, and he finds himself entering a life in conflict with his English upper-class preconceptions.
This novel won the City of Toronto Book Award
for 2007, and was long-listed for the Booker prize. And I think the best way it can be described is that it feels very much like the sort of thing begging for a Booker. Not a lot happens story-wise, and the writing often becomes overly precious. I did like the narrative in the past a bit more, while the present-day story was mostly filled with unlikeable people (and the corporate-historic interest face-off felt like it was manipulated for dramatic effect, and I doubt things would occur that way in reality. Not that bad things wouldn't happen, but not in that way.) I think I wanted to like this more than I actually did.
There's some great pictures of old Toronto in this thread
'I had a thought: he and I were as real as those other people had been, who lived there once. And our being alive and their not being alive somehow wasn't that much of a difference between us. (pg.445)
|The Adversary: A True Story of Monstrous Deception
by Emmanuel Carrère, translated by Linda Coverdale
191 pages - Picador USA
'I thought that writing this story could only be either a crime or a prayer.' (pg.191)
Jean-Claude Romand was, to everyone that knew him, an average if somewhat boring upper-middle-class success. Everyone knew he had a job with the World Health Organization, a wife and two small children, and elderly parents. But when his house caught fire and he was the only one rescued alive, the real facts came out - he wasn't a doctor, he'd never finished medical school; the investments he took from family and friends didn't go into a high-yield account but only served as his personal income, and then when the truth was about to be revealed, he killed his own parents and his wife and children.
Carrere approaches this story in a very personal way, inserting himself and his thoughts and emotions into the story, plainly explaining to the reader the places where he has difficulties and doubts. It's a story that's both fascinating and horrific, and it's told without showy ornamentation, in a clean, plain style.
Ultimately, it's the study of someone so obsessed with maintaining the outer image of themselves, so obsessed with trying to make a favourable impression and being liked, and so afraid of taking a genuine look inside and genuinely mourning that his entire self has been lost, perhaps for good.
|Crime and Punishment: A Novel in Six Parts with Epilogue
by Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky
564 pages - Vintage Classics
Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov is a former student, having dropped out before finishing his studies, who currently lives in a small garrett apartment, and is barely scraping by without much hope for the future. A plan occurs to him to murder an old woman who works as a pawnbroker, but complications occur as he tries to carry out his plan. Inter-weaved with the plot of the killing is the story of Raskolnikov's mother and sister arriving in Petersburg so that his sister can be married (strictly because they are in need of money), and as well another thread where Raskolnikov gets to know a drunkard civil servant and his chaotic family, which includes an eldest sister who has become a prostitute to support them.
This was my second time reading this much-praised story, though it was the first time I read this translation. The first one I read was by Constance Garnett, who is criticized for making all the authors she translated sound the same, like late-period Victorians. That was my first read by Dostoevsky, and went to read most of his works (many in translations by Pevear & Volokhonsky) and I suppose he became one of my favourite authors. But in reading this particular work in the more faithful translation, I have to say it was a bit of a slog, and I didn't thoroughly enjoy it, though I'm not sure if that's because of the rough and scattered style of the original, or simply because time has moved on. Dostoevsky's style has always been very frantic and a bit disorganized (with often noticeable changes in focus over the course of a novel, the result of having originally been published in serialized form), and I did feel like he perhaps could use a good editor like Garnett. The sweep and final resolution of the novel is still very affecting, but I can't say the novel as a whole lived up to my previous memories.'Do you know how I regard you? I regard you as one of those men who could have their guts cut out, and would stand and look at his torturers with a smile--provided he's found faith, or God. Well, go and find it, and you will live. First of all, you've needed a change of air for a long time. And suffering is a good thing, after all. Suffer, then. Mikolka may be right in wanting to suffer. I know belief doesn't come easily--but don't be too clever about it, just give yourself directly to life, without reasoning; don't worry--it will carry you straight to shore and set you on your feet. What shore? How do I know? I only believe that you have much life ahead of you. I know you're taking what I say to you now as a prepared oration, but maybe you'll remember it later and find it useful; that's why I'm saying it to you. It's good that you only killed a little old woman. If you'd come up with a different theory, you might have done something a hundred million times more hideous! Maybe you should still thank God; how do you know, maybe God is saving you for something. Be of great heart, and fear less.'
|The Wisdom of Father Brown
by G.K. Chesterton
200 pages - Penguin Books
This book contains 12 stories featuring Father Brown, G.K. Chesterton's Catholic priest who always finds himself in the midst of some crime, mystery, or puzzle, and proceeds to uncover the truth about events which leave others confused and befuddled. Though there are some crimes involved, other cases are simply misunderstandings, and some others are apparent curses that are eventually debunked.
I think my favourite story here is "The Purple Wig", which is told in the form of an article that an editor is reviewing for publication, and you not only get the story in the piece, but Chesterton makes some funny and apt observations about editors trying to shape and mold the general public's view of reality. Not every story here is fantastic, but enough of them are good enough to make the book a quality read overall. There are some wonderful passages of prose that made me realize what a good writer Chesterton was. Also, these are the sort of mysteries that allow the reader to make an educated guess as to what the solution is, before it is revealed at the end, and that has always been my favourite type of mystery story (as opposed to say, the Holmes stories by Doyle which, for all their other merits, often only present the key clue to the reader at the same time that Holmes is providing his final conclusion).
As an example of the fine writing, the opening paragraph of "The Head of Caesar": "There is somewhere in Brompton or Kensington an interminable avenue of tall houses, rich but largely empty, that looks like a terrace of tombs. The very steps up to the dark front doors seem steep as the sides of pyramids; one would hesitate to knock at the door, lest it should be opened by a mummy. But a yet more depressing feature in the grey façade is its telescopic length and changeless continuity. The pilgrim walking down it begins to think he will never come to a break or a corner; but there is one exception - a very small one, but hailed by the pilgrim almost with a shout. There is a sort of mews between two of the tall mansions, a mere slit like the crack of a door by comparison with the street, but just large enough to permit a pigmy ale-house or eating-house, still allowed by the rich to their stable-servants, to stand in the angle. There is something cheery in its very dinginess, and something free and elfin in its very insignificance. At the feet of those grey stone giants it looks like a lighted house of dwarfs."