The (S)word in the Autumn Stone: What Are You Reading, Fall 2022?

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dow, Saturday, 24 September 2022 17:01 (two months ago) link

Link to the old thread, for good luck:

Bright Remarks and Throwing Shade: What Are You Reading, Summer 2022?

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Saturday, 24 September 2022 17:21 (two months ago) link

I've nearly finished a memoir by Elaine Pagels entitled Why Religion?. I've been finding it interesting for reasons that might not greatly interest others here. She experienced two consecutive deep grief events in her mid-life, the death of her first child at six years of age and the death of her husband in mountaineering accident a couple of years later. So, the book is mostly about her grief and how she coped with it. The title is a bit misleading, in that religion was an aid in her struggle, but not in ways most people would recognize as 'taking comfort in religious belief'. This has some resemblances to my own life, Hence, my interest.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Saturday, 24 September 2022 17:34 (two months ago) link

Sounds good. Many years ago, I read her The Gnostic Gospels, which indicated, however accurately, evidence that the teachings of Jesus were more broad-minded overall than the sum that made it into the Bible. Think her husband, Paul, also had a progressive interest in theology, but prob just knew of his writing via reviews.
A little later, at an opportune moment, I came across A Grief Observed, by CS Lewis, which was much less formal than its title and otherwise expected: about the sudden death of his wife. It was brief, concise, articulate, deeply felt---early days, but he seemed to be managing well enough.
(Also, more secular of course, but like the title says: Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking.)

dow, Saturday, 24 September 2022 19:34 (two months ago) link

[Minor Detail - Adania Shibli/i]

Devastating. Starts just after the formation of Israel and then concludes decades later in Ramallah. 2 narrator's, one covers the first half of the book another the 2nd. the 2 halves are very different stylistically. despite knowing from the blurb that something horrifying happens in the first part and the narrator being in fact the perpetrator I still found this portion the easier read. the 2nd half was more challenging for me but once I got used to the rhythm it really conveyed the sense of dread and anxiety that one imagines living under occupation must feel like. I hadn't read anything quite like this before.

oscar bravo, Saturday, 24 September 2022 19:45 (two months ago) link

shoot messed up the italics tags

oscar bravo, Saturday, 24 September 2022 19:46 (two months ago) link

it's ok, this thread isn't relevant for another year anyway

flamenco drop (BradNelson), Saturday, 24 September 2022 19:48 (two months ago) link

Sorry, I just now put in request for correction.

dow, Saturday, 24 September 2022 20:16 (two months ago) link

Started Koko by Peter Straub this afternoon.

Les hommes de bonbons (cryptosicko), Saturday, 24 September 2022 20:31 (two months ago) link

Richard Brody - Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life Of Jean-Luc Godard
Christopher Ricks - Tennyson

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 24 September 2022 20:33 (two months ago) link

I read The Ax(e) by Donald Westlake. Such a great premise and so expertly carried out. 'Rooting for a psychopath' isn't exactly new but Burke is so up in late capitalism's face, it's hard not to identify with him and his, ah, project.

Joe Moran's If You Should Fail is a series of consolatory essays about the inevitability of failure. It's not de Botton, thankfully, and Moran's research is wide-ranging and unusual. The essays on Natalia Ginzburg and failed poet and Soho vagabond Paul Potts are a signature example of the form. Recommended for sure.

Now reading Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football by David Winner. The majesty of Cruyff by way of Vermeer, Dutch situationism and spatial theory? I'm in.

Shard-borne Beatles with their drowsy hums (Chinaski), Sunday, 25 September 2022 10:03 (two months ago) link

Barry Adamson Up Above the City, Down Below The Stars
memoir of Manchester post-punk bassist, Pretty well written, if this is all him he should think about writing more stuff.
So far I'm still in his childhood in the mid 60s. I hadn't heard about him having physical problems at birth that he has had to overcome.
Anyway this is great and I'm enjoying this looking forward to reading about the band stuff which is going to be 15 odd years away I guess.

Representation Stuart hall ed
Great book on the methods by which things are represented like,.
methodologies of language, semiology, and various other phenomena.
Pretty interesting.

INsurgent Empire

The invention of The White Race Theodore Allen
a look into the process by which the concept of the white race came about. First volume looks into the way that England tried out various processes they would use later in colonisation across the globe prototyped in Ireland in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was that that made me cue this as the next thing to read after having bought it a couple of years ago. I bought it thinking i would read it more immediately .I could have waited and got the omnibus edition of the 2 volumes of the book together from Verso but that was several months away from release when I grabbed this from them. I heard it being talked about a few years back, possibly on here and meant to get to read it.
THe subject of the trial runs of several colonial techniques here came up in a couple of discussions in a conference on Travellers last weekend.
I have only got about half way through the introduction so far but have hear dit is a classic so hope i do get to read it before long.

Stevolende, Sunday, 25 September 2022 11:05 (two months ago) link

my carry-along bag for the month I just spent away on business included Baldwin's Another Country, Bioy-Casares's The Invention of Morel, Imre Kertesz's The Union Jack, Duanwad Pimwana's Arid Dreams, and that was as far as I got during the month away which I knew would happen if I pivoted to a short story collection (Arid Dreams), the forward momentum is always hard to sustain for me. So I got a lot less read than I'd hoped but the Kertesz, brief as it is, left a huge impression, incredible style -- I grabbed several others in used bookstores as soon as I'd finished it.

Now enjoying my second book by Igor Stiks, The Judgement of Richard Richter. Amazon Crossing publishes some really good stuff and I have complicated lover-of-books-in-translation thoughts about that.

J Edgar Noothgrush (Joan Crawford Loves Chachi), Sunday, 25 September 2022 11:29 (two months ago) link

I read the Bioy-Casares over the holiday last year: a lot of fun.

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Sunday, 25 September 2022 12:05 (two months ago) link

I posted the first two responses to this thread and confirmed their existence, but they seem to have disappeared, which is interesting.

I am reading A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee and Motichur: Sultana's Dream and Other Writings of Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (OUP translation).

youn, Sunday, 25 September 2022 14:46 (two months ago) link

I've read The Witness by Juan José Saer and I found the philosophical reflections muddy and a real mismatch with the events in the book, that have to do with a boy captured by a cannibalistic tribe in the New World. I haven't been too lucky with my Spanish/Latin reading ever since I picked up one each from Saer, Marias, Vila-Matas, Vallejo and stopped Hopscotch quarter-way. The Vallejo was real fun, a "treat", just no masterpiece.

I've also made excellent use of all your NYRB recs and I've read Leonora Carrington, J.L. Carr and John Williams with immense pleasure this year. Butcher's Crossing was the last one before the Saer and I still have Elliott Chaze lined up.

Nabozo, Sunday, 25 September 2022 16:12 (two months ago) link

I've held the Carrington book in hand several times. I dig the drawings.

Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Sunday, 25 September 2022 16:15 (two months ago) link

I don't understand the thread title.

the pinefox, Sunday, 25 September 2022 16:34 (two months ago) link

As noted on other thread, vaccines have made me incapacitated and thus I've been reading a lot of things that I somehow found easier to manage.

Ross Macdonald, THE BARBAROUS COAST (1956) - notably more action-driven than the previous RM I read, maybe because it's earlier and the protagonist is younger.

Ross Macdonald, THE GOODBYE BOOK (1969) - less action, and the protagonist has an affair with a person of interest in the inquiry. I thought he was generally too principled for that.

The quality of writing in both is excellent in being terse, communicative but also capable of regular bursts of descriptive metaphor. These enliven the novel but don't overwhelm the story. The dialogue is also generally terrific.

It gradually occurs to me that fine detective writing like this is, in a way, better than other writers to which it compares, eg: on one hand Hemingway - who wrote the simple prose that detective authors use, but then didn't do anything *interesting* with it as they do; on the other hand stylists, like (anachronistically) Martin Amis, who can flex the metaphors but only really has those, the style, to offer, not the intrigue of story. Macdonald is in a way a more complete, balanced writer than either of those, before and after him.

I looked for another detective novel and found John le Carré's A MURDER OF QUALITY (1962). It's remarkable that JLC started as a detective writer, in effect. Again he makes great use of Smiley. My one problem here is that I'm not sure how well the murder mystery itself holds up, especially by the standards of 'fairness to the reader', relevance of clues and all the notional rules that on the one hand people claim are absurd but on the other we may feel are quite intuitive. Beyond that, the novel is a) a super satire of English class, at an extreme pitch - the arcane archaisms of a historic public school where the staff remark on a tradition and say 'of course, you probably know this', as if their traditions are famous; b) terrifically decorated with novelistic detail, observation, perception. I reflect that JLC was only about 30 here and already so good at the craft of the novelist.

Still not feeling great, I turned to the closest thing I could see to a detective novel, at a far lower calibre: Robert Arthur, ALFRED HITCHCOCK AND THE THREE INVESTIGATORS IN THE SECRET OF TERROR CASTLE (1967). This is a children's book; its prose is simple; sometimes it's marred by geez-whiz tones and excessive narration of a character's thoughts about something that's already obvious. It is about detection and involves some of the features we'd expect - a gradual deduction from clues - and it did surprise me by having more twists than expected. It shares with Macdonald's BARBAROUS COAST a Hollywood background, thus in both novels action sometimes takes place amid film sets, props etc. I'd quite like to read another in this series if I can justify it.

the pinefox, Sunday, 25 September 2022 16:49 (two months ago) link

* The second Macdonald is THE GOODBYE LOOK.

the pinefox, Sunday, 25 September 2022 16:50 (two months ago) link

I don't understand the thread title.

― the pinefox, Sunday, September 25, 2022

I never know if you're serious, and that's as it should be, but just in case, don't miss this: (That's all of "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut," by JD Salinger, originally published in 1948.)

dow, Sunday, 25 September 2022 17:05 (two months ago) link

The Goodbye Luck would also be a good WAYR? title.

dow, Sunday, 25 September 2022 17:07 (two months ago) link

recently learned that ross macdonald's wife, margaret millar, was also an award-winning mystery novelist. haven't yet read any of her stuff tho

mookieproof, Sunday, 25 September 2022 17:11 (two months ago) link

(xpost The Goodbye Luck would also work for WAYR?)

Have only read her novella The Iron Gates, set in WWII Canada: a wintery hothouse, insular, well-to-do, well-fed, somewhat feverish older people for the most part (most younger men, and some women, are off in the military). Some glancing social critique works with stage magician's use of distraction re clues of this whodunnit. Apparently the kind of thing she was known for, and several of her books finally came back into print a few years ago. James Morrison is the Millar expert around here.

dow, Sunday, 25 September 2022 17:24 (two months ago) link

It's too bad that she apparently did not make friends with Eudora Welty, her husband's penpal (a collection of their correspondence has been published, come to think of it).

dow, Sunday, 25 September 2022 17:27 (two months ago) link

I never know if you're serious, and that's as it should be

I'm afraid I don't understand this statement either.

I have read that Salinger story - over 20 years ago, and thus certainly don't remember every, or indeed any, phrase in it.

But even once one notes that the phrase is from Salinger, how does it fit with the thread ie: what are you reading in Fall, or, as some would say, Autumn?

That question is premised on the notion that previous threads (which I believe were mainly named by poster Aimless) had titles that were in some way appropriate to the seasons in question. Though I'm not sure how far back that small tradition goes.

the pinefox, Sunday, 25 September 2022 18:45 (two months ago) link

Thanks to another ILB tradition of linking back to the previous WAYR threads when starting a new one, I rambled back as far as Dec, 2013 and the split between seasonally appropriate and non-seasonal thread titles was about 50-50.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Sunday, 25 September 2022 19:03 (two months ago) link

really loved 'brilliant orange' when I read it years ago and lots of it made even more sense when reading Dennis Bergkamp's sorta autobio many years later

oscar bravo, Sunday, 25 September 2022 19:33 (two months ago) link

youn, interested to hear what you think of A Gesture Life. I believe I had to read it for summer reading before my junior year in high school— as was often the case in those days, I was the only one who liked the summer reading book.

broccoli rabe thomas (the table is the table), Sunday, 25 September 2022 19:44 (two months ago) link

Recent reads:

Either/Or - Elif Batuman
Simply what the campus novel should be. I liked it even more than The Idiot. A while back I wanted fiction that eschewed plot but held my interest with humor, insight, and detail, and those two books fit the bill. I'll be sad if she keeps her word and there is no third installment.

The Passion According to GH - Clarice Lispector
Just did not care for this, did not have time for it, and bailed before I had to suffer through the cockroach-eating scene. May be some class issues at play RE: my view of the narrator as well. Prior to this I had read some of Lispector's earliest short stories from that collection.

The Invention of Morel - Adolfo Bioy Casares
Borges-influenced classic novella that holds up.

Cuba: An American History - Ada Ferrer
A little over halfway through now -- young Castro has just gotten out of prison. One of those times you decide to pull the trigger on reading something if the right reviewers are calling it anti-American. A very well-written summation of the island's political history (there are references to the broader culture -- music, literary movements, etc. -- but she only mentions them in passing and doesn't delve into them).

Chris L, Sunday, 25 September 2022 21:50 (two months ago) link

xxxpost use of the zingy quote was just meant as a little fun with readers in general, including myself, that hopefully could be enjoyed by readers in general, and meant for all seasons. I figured it was likely that you had read the story, but like I said, posted the link just in case, because it's a good 'un.

dow, Sunday, 25 September 2022 22:13 (two months ago) link

I never know if you're serious, and that's as it should be

I'm afraid I don't understand this statement either.
It's good that you keep us on our toes with your queries, as Fizzles recently said.

dow, Sunday, 25 September 2022 22:19 (two months ago) link

That's what I meant, I mean.

dow, Sunday, 25 September 2022 22:20 (two months ago) link

If anybody wants to change the title, it's okay by me.

dow, Sunday, 25 September 2022 22:27 (two months ago) link

i don't care about the title, but this entire process is fully established as aimless's thing and one should wait for him to either make a new thread or abdicate the role

and he hasn't done the latter

mookieproof, Monday, 26 September 2022 00:43 (two months ago) link

B-but I've done it several times, so have Chinaski and some others. Take this one if you want it, Aimless, all good.

dow, Monday, 26 September 2022 00:50 (two months ago) link

My main complaint is that it’s much too long, but then again we’re all readers here, so whatever!

Reading Wanda Coleman and some others at the moment.

broccoli rabe thomas (the table is the table), Monday, 26 September 2022 01:00 (two months ago) link

this entire process is fully established as aimless's thing

nope. check the stats, mookieproof. it's a team effort.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Monday, 26 September 2022 03:40 (two months ago) link

okay man!

mookieproof, Monday, 26 September 2022 04:06 (two months ago) link

I'm far enough into Les Misérables that I think I'm officially "reading" it. Good so far.

jmm, Monday, 26 September 2022 04:10 (two months ago) link

Seeing by Jose Saramago - enjoyable but more whimsical, less profound - and less depressing - than Blindness.

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt. A novel comprised of diary extracts, interviews, and the like, about a female artist, exasperated that her work is taken less seriously than that of men, who decides to hide her work behind 'masks' of other male artists. Brimming with philosophy, psychology, history, as well as imaginatively drawn characters.

Second Place by Rachel Cusk - I'm half way through, not sure if it's a serious study of a very thoughtful woman or a comic piece about a pathological overthinker. Maybe the ambiguity is intentional. Where the Outline trilogy was full of fascinating and often profound glimpses into other people's lives and thoughts, the narrators thoughts here are often opaque or cryptic - to me anyway - but not in an off-putting way, I want to figure them out.

ledge, Monday, 26 September 2022 08:30 (two months ago) link

It's remarkable that JLC started as a detective writer, in effect.

I think much spy fiction, certainly including JLC, is very close to detective fiction anyway: there's usually a mystery with lots of twists, and the noir vision of a fallen world where everyone's out for themselves and any moral man will be driven to despair fits like a glove to Cold War realpolitik.

Daniel_Rf, Monday, 26 September 2022 09:02 (two months ago) link


This one features an invasion of Gnomes.

the pinefox, Monday, 26 September 2022 09:39 (two months ago) link

to me -- as a bit of a JLC sceptic (three good books tops) -- i do think it's interesting that he realised he had something with smiley as a character like right away (ie in call for the dead, his first book) and so wrote a folloow-up presumably feeling (i) that ordinary spy fiction didn't quite suit this character in the role he envisioned (or wouldn't interestingly sustain several books in the mode of call for the dead) a and (ii) maybe tec fiction could! he could dispense with one set of conventions and drag out another!

so he immediately switched to a gentleman-amateur whodunit and tried it out and evidently (equally immediately) decided that no, tec fiction wasn't going to be it (he's right, it's not one of his three good books) so he then straight went back to spy fiction and gradually fashioned a new mode of it where this character as he envisioned him could be successfully central (for at least one great book = tinker tailor; with actually a longtail aftermath of increasingly tiresome entries but by then he'd blocked himself in)*

smiley's roles in the spy books before TTSS are i guess a useful fashioning of backstory but it's not really of consequence that it's smiley undertaking them except as a token in a broader world-building (the circus)

*ok i do quite enjoy smiley's people as a sequence of setpiece scenes (and toby has good stuff in it) but it's sentimental fan service at best (even the toby stuff if im really real abt it) plus karla's daughter is a classic jlc dud (he can write women but if they approach any intensity of damaged sexiness that right there is his achilles heel)

mark s, Monday, 26 September 2022 09:42 (two months ago) link

i am so pleased you are reading the THREE INVESTIGATORS books pinefox, even if it means you are probably not better yet -- get well soon!

mark s, Monday, 26 September 2022 09:43 (two months ago) link

Thanks Mark S, I greatly appreciate your last post.

I have one more THREE INVESTIGATORS on the shelf which I may yet manage.

But why do you think A MURDER OF QUALITY is not good?

I think it is excellent except in that I am not certain that the murder mystery quite adds up. The surrounding description etc I find very fine.

It is funny that Smiley is in THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD (the next book), but in a supporting role. Very curious for an author to do that with his main creation.

the pinefox, Monday, 26 September 2022 09:59 (two months ago) link

I've always liked the thought of Hitchcock being called away from setting up a shot on eg Topaz to help out the Three Investigators with the case of the stuttering parrot.

Ward Fowler, Monday, 26 September 2022 10:00 (two months ago) link

I am sure that I have read the Parrot one, which is flagged as next at the end of TERROR CASTLE. But I don't seem to have a copy of it anymore.

The Hitchcock Introduction to VANISHING TREASURE is truly desultory. But the lady with the Gnomes is supposed to be a friend of his.

the pinefox, Monday, 26 September 2022 10:03 (two months ago) link

it's 20-plus years since i read a murder of quality so i don't remember anything beyond a general impatient disappointment and no wish ever to reread it, even when it came time to reread all the smiley books (which are very variable)

if i hazard a partial guess i am out of the sympathy with the milieu it's set in (tho this doesn't for example set me off with christie or sayers) and i am never terribly invested in the fine clockwork of the precision of a good whodunit itself, but both of these arise from the shape of the wider genre and not of the book itself. and tbh i would generally say i am fine with the wider genre, even if i come at it from a slight angle (i don't really care who dun it)

but most of my books are packed up right now so a diagnostic reread will have to wait

mark s, Monday, 26 September 2022 10:16 (two months ago) link

On milieu: the milieu, ie: the old private school, is alienating, and this could put a reader off -- but it becomes very clear that JLC is at odds with this, rather than promoting it. His satire of the vicious snobbery is quite direct.

One tic that worked well for me was a schoolmaster repeatedly telling Smiley something about the school's rituals and adding 'of course, you probably know this already' - ie: assuming the fame of his own institution. JLC doesn't comment on this but lets us observe it. I have been in slightly similar conversations myself, when briefly stepping into unfamiliar cultural zones like this. Like Smiley I nod and imply, as far as possible, whatever they want to think.

the pinefox, Monday, 26 September 2022 10:24 (two months ago) link

given his moment and who he overlaps with there's another dimension to holmes always worth digging into: conan doyle isn't a decadent but SH sometimes very much is (lassitude, shooting up, plays the violin). viz holmes as lawrence llewellyn-bowen as oscar "this wallpaper will be the death of me" wilde -- a horrible murder is the private detective's excuse to break open an englishman's home/castle to public view and there deploy snark abt his horrible curtains as the "solution" to the "crime" (of course for wilde and llewellyn-bowen they ARE the crime)

i mean lestrade aren't going to solve the mystery via attention to drapery

mark s, Monday, 28 November 2022 14:37 (one week ago) link

lol s/b lestrade isn't

mark s, Monday, 28 November 2022 14:38 (one week ago) link

“lestrade aren’t” to become canon plz

Fizzles, Monday, 28 November 2022 14:47 (one week ago) link

but holmes as decadent aesthete i think is correct. and there are strong fin de siecle elements in the stories more generally. eg if you take Robert Louis Stevenson’s New Arabian Nights as an essential model.

Fizzles, Monday, 28 November 2022 15:02 (one week ago) link

Charles J. Rzepka specifically compares Holmes to Wilde (p.131) and, more surprisingly to me, states that DORIAN GRAY and THE SIGN OF FOUR were both commissioned by the same publisher at the same luncheon.

the pinefox, Monday, 28 November 2022 15:30 (one week ago) link

Rzepka's book is very good on centuries of detective fiction, and has whole sections on Poe and Holmes. I would recommend it to anyone who wants a critical and historical book on this material.

Fizzles, re Holmes he a) gives good professional and scientific context for Doyle, b) articulates Watson's qualifications for being the sidekick, and an idea of 'bohemianism'; c) explores ideas of 'rivalry' between Holmes and other detectives and thus the reader; d) produces quite a detailed reading of THE SIGN OF FOUR.

FWIW he also gives a very elaborate reading of Poe's 'Rue Morgue'. I think he mentions that Paris had no Rue Morgue avenue at the time (but New Orleans did? Or Dylan and Lloyd Cole later sang about one anyway).

the pinefox, Monday, 28 November 2022 15:37 (one week ago) link

I haven't got back into The Sign Of Four with my son because the length is a little daunting. Does this thread rate it?

Tracer Hand, Monday, 28 November 2022 15:57 (one week ago) link

i think all the novels are a long slog in places

(hound maybe least so?)

mark s, Monday, 28 November 2022 16:07 (one week ago) link

Truth is, I haven't even read THE SIGN OF FOUR yet!

I have read SCARLET and would say: it's not long at all, but - as previously discussed with Mark S, and agreed by Rzepka - it has a preposterous proportionately long Mormon interlude which has basically nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes, which is not ideal for a ... Sherlock Holmes novel.

Rzepka actually states that this bad fictional structure is directly drawn from Gaboriau's Lecoq mystery, THE HONOUR OF THE NAME (unknown to me, but incidentally J-F Lyotard ends his most famous essay with that phrase).

the pinefox, Monday, 28 November 2022 16:18 (one week ago) link

well like A Study In Scarlet, the first crime and Holmes parts are the best and the “here is a long explanatory narrative set in our former territories and dominions” less so. that said the whole victorian attitude to the mormons is kind of fascinating.

Baskervilles remains the best imo as it has the least of this and Dartmoor is a brilliant setting, also used in the excellent Silver Blaze of. it’s surprisingly underused as a literary landscape - its laureate Eden Philpotts aside, who needs to go on the “authors no one reads any more” thread), Sign of Four is v enjoyable as they race around London, and ASS (sorry) introduces Holmes, so all good.

Fizzles, Monday, 28 November 2022 16:45 (one week ago) link

that first para referring to The Sign of Four. (consistently referred to as The sign of the four in the text)

Fizzles, Monday, 28 November 2022 16:46 (one week ago) link

Confusing divergence that!

the pinefox, Monday, 28 November 2022 16:56 (one week ago) link

apologies! comes from lazily/inattentively posting on my phone

Fizzles, Monday, 28 November 2022 17:21 (one week ago) link

Silver Blaze is so good.

Tracer Hand, Monday, 28 November 2022 17:39 (one week ago) link

Fizzles, though I do often find your posts quite difficult, in this particular instance I was just remarking that it's an odd divergence that people variously refer to THE SIGN OF FOUR and THE SIGN OF THE FOUR. Think this may actually have been a US / UK publishing divergence.

I would now like to go back and read many more of these stories. Though there seems only to have been 3 years of them in the first instance.

the pinefox, Monday, 28 November 2022 18:35 (one week ago) link

there is a considerable decline in quality after Conan Doyle brings him back.

Fizzles, Monday, 28 November 2022 18:40 (one week ago) link

I thought I had read all of the stories, but I have read the plot summary of "Silver Blaze" and for the life of me I don't remember it.

immodesty blaise (jimbeaux), Monday, 28 November 2022 18:41 (one week ago) link

Speaking of John Watson, there is an amusing exchange at the beginning of The Sign of Four, where Holmes is being insufferably pompous and Watson is entirely correct. Holmes' response is pathetic:

“There is no great mystery in this matter,” he said, taking the cup of tea which I had poured out for him; “the facts appear to admit of only one explanation.”
“What! you have solved it already?”
"I have just found, on consulting the back files of the Times, that Major Sholto, of Upper Norwood, late of the Thirty-fourth Bombay Infantry, died upon the twenty-eighth of April, 1882.”
“I may be very obtuse, Holmes, but I fail to see what this suggests.”
“No? You surprise me. Look at it in this way, then. Captain Morstan disappears. The only person in London whom he could have visited is Major Sholto. Major Sholto denies having heard that he was in London. Four years later Sholto dies. Within a week of his death Captain Morstan’s daughter receives a valuable present, which is repeated from year to year and now culminates in a letter which describes her as a wronged woman. What wrong can it refer to except this deprivation of her father? And why should the presents begin immediately after Sholto’s death unless it is that Sholto‘s heir knows something of the mystery and desires to make compensation? Have you any alternative theory which will meet the facts?”
“But what a strange compensation! And how strangely made! Why, too, should he write a letter now, rather than six years ago? Again, the letter speaks of giving her justice. What justice can she have? It is too much to suppose that her father is still alive. There is no other injustice in her case that you know of.”
“There are difficulties; there are certainly difficulties,” said Sherlock Holmes pensively;
Damn straight there are difficulties, and Watson is entirely correct to point out that Holmes is overreaching by saying he'd pretty much cleared up the mystery, in fact the mysterious bit of the mystery remains entirely. His response really is very silly, and Watson is correct to point out elsewhere Holmes' vanity.

There's also this interesting exchange at the beginning of A Case of Identity

“My dear fellow.” said Sherlock Holmes as we sat on either side of the fire in his lodgings at Baker Street, “life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generation, and leading to the most outre results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable. “
“And yet I am not convinced of it,” I answered. “The cases which come to light in the papers are, as a rule, bald enough, and vulgar enough. We have in our police reports realism pushed to its extreme limits, and yet the result is, it must be confessed, neither fascinating nor artistic.”

Holmes here is in an enjoyably baroque and fantastical strain, and suggests he does see something magical in it all - the *outre results* of life. Watson, who is often accused of romanticism by Holmes, is enjoyably brusque in response, and again there's a lot to be said for his view.

I mentioned RLS's New Arabian Nights upthread and I really should emphasise how much of an influence they had on literary London (like Sherlock Holmes they were serialised in a London periodical). They are well worth reading. Conan Doyle was a big fan - The Pavilion on the Links (seven years before A Study in Scarlet) was one of his favourite short stories. They set the template for anything being possible in London, and the visits 'low disreputable corners and suburbia', ie beyond Camberwell. Both Machen (in his very bad, very good The Three Impostors) and Conan Doyle take its geography and cadences. The idea that the stories that emanate from the commonplace are more fantastical than those that emanate from the upper classes is here too.

Fizzles, Monday, 28 November 2022 19:14 (one week ago) link


>>> “My dear fellow.” said Sherlock Holmes as we sat on either side of the fire in his lodgings at Baker Street, “life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generation, and leading to the most outre results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.
“And yet I am not convinced of it,” I answered. “The cases which come to light in the papers are, as a rule, bald enough, and vulgar enough. We have in our police reports realism pushed to its extreme limits, and yet the result is, it must be confessed, neither fascinating nor artistic.”

is extremely good material.

the pinefox, Monday, 28 November 2022 19:28 (one week ago) link

1: the first statement about rooftops directly resembles something that Dickens wrote in DOMBEY AND SON.

2: the second, on 'realism', takes you towards that Wildean territory of, say, life not living up to art. James Joyce said related things - that journalism was about the exceptions, fiction about the norm, or something.

the pinefox, Monday, 28 November 2022 19:29 (one week ago) link

"most stale and unprofitable"

also sounds like Hamlet?

the pinefox, Monday, 28 November 2022 19:29 (one week ago) link

i think it's prob a deliberate reference on the part of holmes.

Fizzles, Monday, 28 November 2022 19:34 (one week ago) link

and yes it immediately struck me as an important section, probably something that was playing out in CD's mind. how to frame his dramas, out of what material to make them, how close to watson's view, how close to holmes'.

Fizzles, Monday, 28 November 2022 19:35 (one week ago) link

we read the speckled band in middle school (age 10ish). that feels like a solid intro to conan doyle for kids.

𝔠𝔞𝔢𝔨 (caek), Monday, 28 November 2022 22:29 (one week ago) link

Dickens, admittedly making a different point from Doyle:

Oh for a good spirit who would take the house-tops off, with a mole potent and benignant hand than the lame demon in the tale, and show a Christian people what dark shapes issue from amidst their homes, to swell the retinue of the Destroying Angel as he moves forth among them! For only one night's view of the pale phantoms rising from the scenes of our too-long neglect; and from the thick and sullen air where Vice and Fever propagate together, raining the tremendous social retributions which are ever pouring down, and ever coming thicker!

the pinefox, Tuesday, 29 November 2022 00:00 (one week ago) link

In his very namedroppy autobio Conan Doyle talks about having tea with Wilde before the unpleasantness, and states something like "cannot believe the writer of such beautiful fiction could be all bad". Mind you, he is militant about trying to say a good word about everyone he meets, unless they're disgusting German soldiers of course.

Daniel_Rf, Tuesday, 29 November 2022 11:09 (one week ago) link

Parable of the Talents, Octavia Butler.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Tuesday, 29 November 2022 17:53 (one week ago) link

Thanks for the Dickens quote, pinefox! Where is that from? I sympathize with the frustration in that, more evident than (though also detectable in) Holmes' flight of fancy---was already thinking that newspaper accounts aren't necessarily any more reliable, and maybe moreso back then, with xpost bald accounts (which *might* be something for bored newspapermen, to push agains, concocting Jack The Ripper, at least as correspondent x super-serial kiler).
Doyle seems to set Holmes and Watson as a balancing act, based on aspects of his own personality or persona, but I think he may have been closer to Holmes, in terms of outside thinking that's sometimes more pie-eyed than magpie---ACD the adamant believer in fairies etc---but as an artist he knew he needed Watson in there.

dow, Tuesday, 29 November 2022 22:02 (one week ago) link

and maybe less (reliable) back then, I meant.

Re-reading some of xpost The End of the Affair deepens the impression that you don't have to be a Christian, or engage in willing suspension of disbelief (in that, though as I said I do want to keep believing that Greene is a good writer), to find your attention span humming like a sympathetic string along this increasingly stress-tested, already scorched homeland Commons ov forked paths (core characters are neighbors and/or family, others easily find them).

dow, Tuesday, 29 November 2022 22:17 (one week ago) link


the pinefox, Tuesday, 29 November 2022 22:20 (one week ago) link

Colson Whitehead, THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD (2016).

the pinefox, Wednesday, 30 November 2022 22:04 (six days ago) link

I greatly enjoyed Whitehead's The Nickel Boys and would gladly read his other works.

immodesty blaise (jimbeaux), Wednesday, 30 November 2022 22:07 (six days ago) link

Heinrich Heine - Travel Pictures
Bei Dao - City Gate, Open Up

Typed a short post about these in the Prose works by Poets thread.

xyzzzz__, Wednesday, 30 November 2022 22:34 (six days ago) link


all by ali Smith. enjoyed them but probably the first one most, and that was a reread. nice mix of politics and literature and art mentions in them but I'm not sure they'd hold up in 20 years without notes on what exactly was happening at the time because they are kind of specific

(that said, the mentions of COVID in detention centres aligned perfectly with the news of diphtheria in detention centres so maybe not)

this was followed by Mother Of Invention where i was hoping for more examples than just the 3. but i kind of agree with her main point, that we can't basically ignore 50% of the population

and rounded the month off with the last 80% of Pandora's Jar which i enjoyed more when i had some idea of the stories beforehand (ie pretty much all of them bar Phaedra).

koogs, Wednesday, 30 November 2022 22:49 (six days ago) link

I finished "The Blunderer" by Patricia Highsmith, an entertaining and effective crime noir novel, although I thought the first half was brilliant, and the second half merely good. Highsmith is especially entertaining on the social behavior of the mid-century American upper middle class, and its impossible to put the book down as she sets the trap that will ensnare the comfortable Long Island lawyer protagonist. As the focus shifts a bit to the less interesting immigrant bookseller and ambitious detective characters, and as the plot becomes more predictable, the excitement flags a bit, but still overall an effective and impressively nihilistic thriller.

o. nate, Thursday, 1 December 2022 16:16 (five days ago) link

I greatly enjoyed Whitehead's The Nickel Boys and would gladly read his other works.

― immodesty blaise (jimbeaux),


Malevolent Arugula (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 1 December 2022 16:19 (five days ago) link

Be Boy Buzz bell hooks
Classic existential work on the potential involved with being a child self defined as male. Very short read.
Like slam poetry or something but anyway quite profound for the economy of verbiage.

Stevolende, Thursday, 1 December 2022 16:45 (five days ago) link

Here's what I read this year, a mix of genre stuff, new fiction, and binging on Didion (who I had never actually read before). And Karamazov, which I loved. Also really liked the Kate Folk and Joshua Cohen books.

Fyodor Dostoevsky - The Brothers Karamazov
Stanislaw Lem - The Cyberiad
Stanislaw Lem - The Star Diaries
Stanislaw Lem - Memoirs Found in a Bathtub
Ben H. Winters - The Last Policeman
Ben H. Winters - Countdown City
Ben H. Winters - World of Trouble
Jennifer Egan - The Candy House
Joan Didion - Slouching Toward Bethlehem
Joan Didion - The White Album
Kate Folk - Out There
Emily Mackay - Bjork - Homogenic (33 ⅓)
Joan Didion - After Henry
Joshua Cohen - The Netanyahus
Joan Didion - Let Me Tell You What I Mean
Joan Didion - South and West

Currently reading Marcel Theroux's 'The Sorceror of Pyongyang', which I have high hopes for, and going back to the last hundred pages of that long Thelonious Monk bio.

Any suggestions for the next Russian classic to read next year that's as enjoyable as Karamazov?

change display name (Jordan), Thursday, 1 December 2022 17:19 (five days ago) link

Dostoevsky's Demons is great if you haven't read that. The Idiot is good as well.

The Bankruptcy of the Planet of the Apes (PBKR), Thursday, 1 December 2022 17:27 (five days ago) link

I greatly enjoyed Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk: Selected Stories of Nikolai Leskov when I read it recently. Don't let the title fool you, there are some novellas in there too.

o. nate, Thursday, 1 December 2022 17:58 (five days ago) link

Anna Karenin is great

the new George Saunders “A Swim In A Pond In The Rain” is basically a book version of his Russian short story course and it’s great. the short stories themselves are included in full (Chekhov, Tolstoy, Gogol, Turgenev)

Tracer Hand, Thursday, 1 December 2022 18:44 (five days ago) link

i’m not a huge fan of Saunders’ own stories so it was a nice surprise

Tracer Hand, Thursday, 1 December 2022 18:45 (five days ago) link

Oh, I didn't realize that's what it was. I was debating about reading the new book of his stories so this might be the perfect thing.

change display name (Jordan), Thursday, 1 December 2022 19:44 (five days ago) link

Yeah, wanna check that. The only Didion full-lengths I've read are Where I Was From (dig pasttense) and The Year of Magical Thinking, both amazing.
Re Whitehead, don't sleep on Zone One, as commented on upthread.

dow, Thursday, 1 December 2022 20:20 (five days ago) link

I haven't been keeping up on new Colson Whitehead very well, but I'm still fond of The Intuitionist / Sag Harbor / Zone One.

change display name (Jordan), Thursday, 1 December 2022 20:39 (five days ago) link

I greatly enjoyed _Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk: Selected Stories of Nikolai Leskov_ when I read it recently. Don't let the title fool you, there are some novellas in there too.

an extremely good collection.

Fizzles, Friday, 2 December 2022 18:46 (four days ago) link

I really liked The Nickel Boys, too— was surprised. My dad gave me the new one for my birthday, the only present he gave me which didn’t go in a little free library.

I have been reading some books I purchased on a recent California trip, including a full length as well as a chap from Norma Cole. Also finished a first read of the annotated version of Prynne’s ‘The Oval Window,’ which was an interesting experience— not sure I wanted it, to be honest. Annotations kind of ruin the poems?!?

Anyway, this morning I decided to take a break from the old folks and began Joshua Wilkerson’s trilogy of short books about malls, contagion, and the sacred, ‘Meadowlands/Xanadu/American Dream.’ Nothing groundbreaking so far, but some interesting connections being made between the “terra nullius” ideology of Manifest Destiny and the development and death of mall culture in the US.

Goose Bigelow, Fowl Gigolo (the table is the table), Saturday, 3 December 2022 14:25 (three days ago) link

Harmony Holiday on My Pinup, Hilton Als's "conflicted love letter to Prince," which sounds like a must-read---Als can make it work for a whole book if anybody can:

dow, Tuesday, 6 December 2022 20:27 (three hours ago) link

My reading life took a big crash over the past eight weeks. I've been slowly making my way through Parable of the Talents, Octavia Butler and I'm about 3/4 through it. It's very grim, deliberately so.

My basic take is that both this and the previous book, Parable of the Sower, form a kind of "how to" manual for BIPOC on surviving the complete social collapse of the USA into chaos, lawlessness and fascist tyranny. In service to this goal Butler chose to depict every form of brutality, torture and social violence she could imagine arising, so as to suggest the best manner of surviving them, both physically and emotionally.

But, damn, it is just a relentless horror show and she walks just as close to bleak hopelessness as was consistent with her deeper purpose of pointing a way through such all-encompassing darkness.

Oh yes, I nearly forgot. Happy Holidays everyone!

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Tuesday, 6 December 2022 20:52 (two hours ago) link

I started Leena Krohn's Collected Fiction Part 1: The Novels, having bought it on sale from Google Books several years ago. So far, I think it's lost something in translation.

immodesty blaise (jimbeaux), Tuesday, 6 December 2022 20:58 (two hours ago) link

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