Dedicated to classics and hits.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Traitors Head (2019) by Ismail Kadare

Book Review
The Traitors Head (2019)
by Ismail Kadare

   This 2017 nominee for the Man Booker International Prize finally got an American release in June of this year, allowing me to pick up the Ebook from the library after only a couple months on the waiting list. (Not a huge number of Ismail Kadare fans in the Los Angeles Public Library system?)
Ismail Kadare is THE Albanian author to read if you are going to read one Albanian novelist, and he's got a great reputation in France.  Also, he's the kind of writer the New York Times calls a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize in Literature.   Seems like a long to medium shot to me, and he's generally in the same category as Ohman Pamuk  (2006 winner).   Or I guess you could call him a Balkan writer- which hasn't produced a winner since 1961. 

  The Traitors head is historical fiction, set in the time of the Ottoman Empire, and it is quite literally about the head of a traitor having his head transported to the so-called traitor's niche in Istanbul, where the head's of traitors are displayed and maintained by a doctor so the public can bear witness.   Like many of Kadare's books, the characters- there are maybe a dozen different narrators, are obsessed with power, and Albania's relationship to power. 

Audiobook Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Image result for tom stechschulte
Narrator Tom Stechschulte

Audiobook Review:
 The Road
 by Cormac McCarthy

    The Road is one of those classics: best seller, critical hit, great movie version; to which I find myself returning.   Cormac McCarthy is an author  in my top 10, if you are talking about contemporary American writers it would be McCarthy, Pynchon and Roth at this point.  For each of those writers, I'm going  back through the various back catalog titles and formats, filling in the blanks as it were.

   Cormac McCarthy and the Audiobook seem like a particularly good combination of canon level author/and format- most of his Audiobooks are narrated by actor Tom Stechschulte, including The Road.  He's the first Audiobook narrator who seems a star in his own right- it helps that all of McCarthy's books work SO well as Audiobooks.   His prose-style is unmistakable: economical and violent, and it translates directly into the spoken words.

  Hearing McCarthy's sparse descriptions of what we call "the After Time" around here, are particularly compelling in Audiobook.  At times more evocative then the also very good movie.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Wolf and the Watchman (2019) by Niklas Natt Och Dag

Bok Review
The Wolf and the Watchman (2019)
 by Niklas Natt Och Dag

   There is no question that the "Scandanavian Noir" genre has a pedigree which carries the potential to ascend into the precincts of literary fiction, from Smila's Sense of Snow to the Girl With A Dragon Tattoo, we are talking about close to two decades of critical-popular cross-over hits in English translation, with movie adaptations in the bargain.   One of the characteristics of the genre is a thematic darkness that is more apt to evoke the Marquis de Sade than Raymond Chandler as an influence.   Sexual abuse, torture, sexually abusive torture, all figure prominently and it's possible that the idea of European sophistication allows some of these writers to get away with material that would be beyond the pale if set in America.

   So, when critics call The Wolf and the Watchman a combination of Sherlock Holmes and True Detective, but set in early 18th century Stockholm and when said combination wins best Swedish Crime Novel in 2017, the reader can be assured shit is going to get mental.  Just the set up should be enough:  A corpse is discovered floating in the water around Sweden.  It is limbless, eyeless and has had it's tongue ripped out.  Who is the victim?  Who did this to him, and why?

  I listened to the Audiobook- it was a good choice for the format, as crime/detective fiction always seems to be.  At slightly over 10 hours, The Wolf and the Watchman runs a bit long, largely because Natt Och Dag splits his narrative between a handful of narrators.   The Sherlock Holmes character, a consumptive lawyer-detective and his sidekick, an alchoholic night watchman with one arm, haunted by his experiences in the Swedish-German wars of the late 18th century, turn into an appealing duo and the general similarities with "Sherlock Holmes" are overwhelmed by the difference in setting and Dag's interest in the actual history of Sweden. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Power Trip: The Story of Energy (2019) by Michael E. Webber

Book Review
Power Trip: The Story of Energy (2019)
 by Michael E. Webber

  There is a school of thought that our whole modern civilization is basically a century long ponzi scheme based on the exploitation of our available fossil fuel resources.  Once the fuels are gone, so our the advances that we have attributed to our human ingenuity.  It's a hypothesis that is intriguing even without the bonus kicker: that it is these fossil fuels that are causing global client change and the imminent collapse of said civilization enable by fossil fuel exploitation.

   Michael E. Webber is an engineer/professor/energy executive, not a liberal climate-change obsessed muckraking journalist, and Power Trip goes deeps into the the role of energy and energy exploitation in human history.  He is deeply concerned in the same way you might imagine the chariman of Exxon/Mobil might be in his/her private moments: Sure, the planet faces some pretty stiff challenges, but we wouldn't even be here without fossil fuels, and we've got plenty of ways to fight this thing together!

  Contrast this perspective to the more alarmist The Uninhabitable Earth, which covers many of the very same subjects but without the engineering/energy industry can-do enthuasism for ways we can get out of this mess.    It's an interesting take- I'd recommend the incredibly detailed product page written by Basic Books.

Last Day (2019) by Domenica Ruta

Image result for domenica ruta
Author Domenica Ruta
Book Review
Last Day (2019)
by Domenica Ruta

  I'm trying to keep up with contemporary literary fiction.  This basically involves subscribing to the book review feed of the New York Times, the Guardian (UK), Kirkus Reviews (not very useful), The New York Review of Books and The London Review of Books.  The physical copy of Entertainment Weekly, to which my girlfriend is a subscriber.  The physical copy of the Los Angeles Times Sunday edition.  The nominations for the Booker Prize, the National Book Award and the Pulitzer.

  I managed to check out the Ebook edition pretty close to the release date of May 28th.  Ruta has a non-fiction best-seller about her childhood, and the New York Times review raved about this book. I wasn't taken by it, but that might be because of the Ebook format- which does a disservice to any title that strays outside of conventional genre territory: ok to read crime fiction or science fiction, but not literary fiction.

 Last Day is a book about people and their relationships, covered with an alternate world situation where the End of the World is celebrated each year in the same way that we celebrate New Years.  The various characters- nerdy Sarah and Kurt, her reprobate love interest, crazy Karen, on the precipise of homelessness as she struggles with mental illness and an international cast of characters on the space station orbiting above the earth.

  Details on the holiday are scarce- that's one way to tell that Last Day is a work of literary fiction, not genre fiction.  It's more of a collection of short stories about the various characters then a conventional novel, linked by the temporal element of the Last Day celebration.


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