[See also previous and subsequent posts in this series.]
ALL THINGS CONSIDERED — G. K. CHESTERTON
Ridiculously, I can’t remember a single thing about this one.
THE STAMP COLLECTIVE — PAUL SCHIERNECKER
A pleasant but unremarkable take of three mismatched young-adult brothers who put aside their differences to gain revenge on a father who they feel has let them down. I have the sequel on my Kindle (having downloaded both when they were temporary freebies) but don’t have much inclination to read it. I probably will do eventually.
ALL MARKETERS ARE LIARS — SETH GODIN
One of the most depressing books I’ve ever read. It’s not just clever and insightful (which I would expect from Godin, whose blog is a treasure trove of pithy observations) but also deeply cynincal about what makes an organisation successful — whether it’s a business, a charity, a church or what have you. The cynicism would be easy to cope with if I could just push it aside, but Godin argues so convincingly that I left feeling that he’s probably right: that marketing, even when composed of outright lies, is much more important than actual substance. (Certainly the US presidential race seems to corroborate this hypothesis.)
LEGACY CODE (LEGACY CODE BOOK 1) — AUTUMN KALQUIST
Can’t remember this one at all. Even after reading a brief plot synopsis, it didn’t ring any bells. Sorry, Autumn!
HOW DID ALL THIS HAPPEN? — JOHN BISHOP
Very disappointing, which is probably not John Bishop’s fault. One of my very favourite books is Stewart Lee’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate, which is (among other things) a fascinating dissection of how his very subtle comedy works. I’d hoped to get something along similar lines from Bishop’s book. But it’s basically an autobiography, and contained virtually nothing about what his comedy is and how it works. (And having since seen one of his sets, I realise that what he does is very broad and unsubtle anyway, so that he probably doesn’t have anything like the kinds of insights Lee has.) Still, on its own terms it was an enjoyable enough read.
ALARMS AND DISCURSIONS — G. K. CHESTERTON
A collection of short columns — basically blog-posts — from the master of the unexpected insight. Very digestible, and a fine book to dip into. Much to enjoy, much to ponder. I will come back to this, probably multiple times.
THE BIG SLEEP — RAYMOND CHANDLER
This is an absolutely classic of the hard-boiled detective genre, which Chandler is usually considered to have invented. Since this was his first novel, I guess you could say that everything in the genre, right down to Veronica Mars, traces its lineage to The Big Sleep. So I wanted to go back to the roots.
It’s good stuff, and well worthy of its reputation. Tightly wound, minimalist, complex and ultimately satisfying. Chandler is, above all, an efficient writer: he sketches maybe a dozen to fifteen major characters in the space of 270 pages, and each one of them is clearly distinguishable. When their behaviour seems inexplicable, it gets explained.
It’s satisfying when a classic turns out to be all it’s meant to be. (See also: The Spy Who Came In From The Cold; do not see Gormenghast.) I will be returning to Chandler with enthusiasm, but not until I have a good, solid block of reading time. Like Le Carré, he writes in a way that demands undivided attention.
By the way, after I read this, I watched the classic 1946 film of the book, starring Bogart and Bacall. I felt it did a pretty good job of capturing the book, even if I never quite feel I understand what is supposed to be so compelling about those two on screen together. I must watch the 1978 film, with Robert Mitchem, some time.
THE AUTHORITIES — SCOTT MEYER
Like Off to Be The Wizard, this is a novel by cartoonist Scott Meyer, who I know from his wonderful Basic Instructions. Both Wizard and Authorities are the first in their respective series; but while that book has a unique and fascinating science-fictional premise, this one is relatively more mainstream — and for that reason, I found it less compelling. It’s still an enjoyable read, because Meyer is a breezily engaging author, and I will happily gobble up the sequels as and when they are discounted to a price that I’m happy with.
E.M.P. — WILSON HARP
A deeply disappointing book that fails to capitalise on a promising premise. The narrator has driven out to a small town in the American mid-west to visit his parents when a sunstorm gives rise to an electro-magnetic pulse that knocks out all electronics and most electrical systems. How does the town cope with its isolation and powerlessness? There could be a good novel about this, but EMP falls short by majoring on minors and never really getting anywhere. By the end, all the narrator has achieved is a decision to strike out cross-country in search of his estranged wife. That’s it. The writing, which is taut in places, too often falls back on clichés and the narrative becomes repetitive. Not really worth bothering with.
STAR ISLAND — CARL HIAASEN
Hiaasen is the king of what Dave Barry describes as the bunch-of-South-Florida-wackos genre — one that Barry himself has dabbled in, without quite approaching Hiaasen’s work. I’ve read about a dozen of his novels now, and to be honest they can slightly blend into one another. But despite the loathesomeness of most of his characaters, the books somehow manage to be more or less good-hearted, and they are never less than compelling reading. Funny, too. This one is about an off-the-rails starlet in the Britney Spears/Lindsey Lohan/Miley Cyrus mould. (It’s depressing how many of these there are.) Avaricious parents, a disfigured bodyguard, an overweight paparazzo and various drug-addled rock-stars round out the cast. Somehow it all makes sense. I’ve read all of my Hiaasens more than once, and this will be no exception.