What are you reading?

This topic contains 530 replies, has 60 voices, and was last updated by  Richard L. 1 month, 3 weeks ago.

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  • 16 Aug 2017 at 9:26 am #9767


    Finished Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars a few days ago. Damn Richard, thanks for the heads up you gave about it. Haven’t enjoyed a book so much in quite a while. Even days after whenever I think of it I just sigh. Truly a pleasure. I can clearly picture the landscapes described in my minds eye, and the unpredictableness of the story as it unfolds, as well as the developement of the characters – is just so refreshing. ! Thank you so much. And for all of your other heads ups as well.

    • This reply was modified 6 months, 1 week ago by  leedriver.
    31 Aug 2017 at 7:01 pm #9779

    Richard L.

    De nada. THE DOG STARS was indeed fun to read.

    We’ve been on vacation in Panama City Beach, Florida. After all the new reading I was doing about our relationship with the ocean, I figured it was time to get some vitamin Sea. I took along Gooley’s HOW TO READ WATER and Wallace J. Nichols’ BLUE MIND, and for beach and poolside reads, William Finnegan’s A SURFING LIFE and Peter Heller’s KOOK: WHAT SURFING TAUGHT ME.

    I also read a bit of Nick Dyer’s WHEN CAPTAIN FLINT WAS STILL A GOOD MAN before going to sleep on it. I’ll try it again when the mood is right.

    I also have recently given up on both Robert Sawyer’s RED PLANET BLUES and Michael Poore’s new book, REINCARNATION BLUES. Both are good, but my mood was not right. Michael Poore’s protagonist gets reincarnated again and again until he is able to catch up with his sweetheart, Death. It starts out like a surfing novel, but it reads like a farce novel by Christopher Moore. In fact, I would not be surprised to discover that Moore and Poore were one and the same.

    Also reading now, recently read, or about to read:

    William Golding’s FREE FALL, for its take on existentialism. Good so far, a tandem read with David Orr’s THE ROAD NOT TAKEN, a wonderful if slow study of Robert Frost and his famous poem.

    Terry Bisson’s Any Day Now. Looks autobiographical to me, a fellow Kentuckian.

    LAB GIRL by Hope Jahren. Know someone who’s a vegan? This book may cure them of that. See also. THE HIDDEN LIFE OF TREES by Peter Wohlleben.

    Anca Lovija’s THE AGING GAP BETWEEN SPECIES. This one took me by surprise. Interesting questions and solid research.

    Penelope Lively’s DANCING FISH AND AMONITES: A MEMOIR. She talks about aging too.

    Deep in September it’s nice to remember how Septembers used to be. I plan on reading a stack of back to school novels including a reread of John Knowles A SEPARATE PEACE, Scott Turow’s ONE L, Curtis Sittenfeld’s PREP, Paul Murray’s SKIPPY DIES (perhaps in tandem with THE MARK AND THE VOID), a reread of Tobias Wolff’s OLD SCHOOL, Michael Chabon’s WONDER BOYS, and Caldwell and Thomas’s THE RULE OF FOUR.

    This upcoming binge read was prompted by my readings of Thomas Cook’s CHATHAM SCHOOL AFFAIR and especially UNDER THE LIONS by Christopher Swann. These coming of age/academic novels were far from perfect, yet they still touch something in me at this September time of year.

    Oh, yeah, I also gave Frederick Crews’ new biography of Freud a chance to draw me in. It didn’t, and it didn’t seem nearly as entertaining as The Sphinx on the Table: Sigmund Freud’s Art Collection and the Development of Psychoanalysis which I read not long ago. Crews wants to throw the Sphinx out with the Oedipus, but the Sphinx remains.

    12 Sep 2017 at 11:24 pm #9805


    ‘My Absolute Darling’, a first by the appropriately named Gabriel Tallent. This was published (launched with something of a splash) a couple of weeks ago. A fine review in, I think, The Times; a major window display of half-price ‘signed’ (printed signature in fact) copies in Foyles and in a not unprecedented but rare enough to be note-worthy move the TLS published a two-page extract in the August 18th edition. Last week’s TLS carried a full review (in company with another novel which I will discuss in another post). There is also (almost inevitably one feels for a work of this kind) a blurb from Stephen King. Having already decided to read the novel I didn’t trouble to read the extract…

    The story is that of the fourteen years old Turtle/kibble/Julia (she is known by all three names) and her father Martin (a well chosen name which, for some reason, I have always found to be deeply sinister). Martin is what we might call an apocalyphile and has spent years training his daughter in survival tactics (guns mainly) to cope with what he believes is the end-times coming round the corner. He also abuses her in horrific ways. The setting is the here and now in Mondecino on the northern Californian coast.

    Though never gratuitous there is a lot in this novel that makes for difficult and at times shocking and repellent reading. I think it somewhat flawed, and not only in the sense that it’s excesses are not easy to justify. There are, however, passages that come off quite brilliantly, not least a great central section, wherin there is a fine metaphore, which I know is going to stay with me. The setting (which is unusual for this type of work) leads to some suprising scenes (not least that central section) and the social gamut is, also unusually, very broad. Martin is a horror but also a much more complex character than this post might suggest, which is not to say I would not have happily blown his head off…

    Of course the TLS review mentions McCarthy. That’s justified but also a little lazy. In fact, within a page or two, I found myself thinking of the group of writers that McCarthy has influenced such as William Gay (with good reason, it turns out) and perhaps Tom Franklin. In particular I sometimes thought I was reading something by a very, very dark Kent Haruf since this is almost the polar opposite of the kind of thing that Haruf wrote. So rather than McCarthy direct, this is, as it were, rather more second generation. I could say more about that but I’ll leave you to find out for yourselves…

    Funnily enough I’ll be be going through Mondecino in a week or two when I cycle down the Pacific Coast Highway to the Mexican border. I’m looking forward to asking locals what they think of Tallent’s novel. I have a strong feeling I’ll be drummed out of town… or worse!


    • This reply was modified 5 months, 1 week ago by  franzpeter.
    14 Sep 2017 at 11:47 am #9807

    Richard L.

    Back on Eclipse Monday, I was driving through Tennessee. Traffic was murder, so many people wanting to go to the getting place for the best view. To us, headed for the beach, it was much ado about nothing; but of course I could not help but think of OUTER DARK and McCarthy’s parable of the eclipse and the Freudian take on the father’s fear of being eclipsed by the son.

    Now, having gone back to read Frederick Crews’ new biography of Freud more thoroughly, I can’t unread it. Freudian interpretations are a literary habit, but these days Freud’s errors and excesses nag at me; I cannot shake either voice. I live with it the way a man becomes resigned to live with his opinionated mother-in-law.

    Off the recommendations in this thread, I have downloaded both Philip Roth’s Sabbath’s Theater and Gabriel Tallent’s MY ABSOLUTE DARLING. I’ll read them soon and report back. I don’t like the cover of Sabbath’s Theater. It reminds me too much of the devil as a cartoon character, devised to scare only children and the naive.

    I try to keep my reading seasonal, but my mind has a mind of its own.

    I happened upon Alison R. Lockwood’s THE ARSONIST’S LAST WORDS, was drawn into it, and finished it amazed that such a good book could be a free download, or the next thing to it. It is a take on modern journalism and, to paraphrase Rod Serling, the frightened, thoughtless search for a scapegoat. Powerful stuff.

    My reading of Anca Lovita’s THE AGING GAP BETWEEN SPECIES led me to Josh Mitteldorf’s CRACKING THE AGING CODE. Some eye-opening science.

    I found Amanda Gefter’s TRESPASSING ON EINSTEIN’S LAWN pretty interesting, but she’s not as widely read as I am or she would have written some things differently. Still, I’m mighty glad to have read it.

    I’ve been reading a lot of Thomas H. Cook’s academic/coming-of-age tales, but I was drawn into his rather different THE LAST TALK WITH LOLA FAYE. This takes place mostly in one long conversation, but it is a game changer for both parties involved. I can’t think of another novel like it. A mystery, a comfort novel, something surprising that doesn’t end remotely like you think it might.

    I recommend CONSPIRACY FILMS: A TOUR OF DARK PLACES IN THE AMERICAN CONSCIOUS by Barna William Donovan. I was reading this in the most recent edition the other night, then logged on and clicked on a link which took me to the COAST TO COAST website. I remember recently reading the dogstar mystery novel, Radiomen, which used a character very much like Art Bell, hosting an all-night conspiracy show.

    Tonight’s guest, it said, was going to be Michael Nesmith, author of the new book: INFINITE TUESDAY: AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL RIFT. I’m not going to stay up to listen to the session, but after looking the book over, I downloaded it. It is very good so far. Nesmith was one of the Monkeys, the one always wearing the winter hat. Who’d have believed that he could later write with such intelligence? Recommended.

    16 Sep 2017 at 11:40 am #9808

    Richard L.

    We’ve discussed Lovecraft’s work here, and its widespread legacy. Here’s a nice blog about it entitled “Cosmic Horror.” Link:


    There was a time when some here expressed the idea that McCarthy’s BLOOD MERIDIAN fit into this mix, but I don’t think so, except that McCarthy also does the Gnostic thing, being that he thinks the world is a hostile place and that what humans, light, and loveliness falls here is alien and fugitive. That is a part of Cormac McCarthy’s appeal and his relation to the gothic south, but I wouldn’t say it was Lovecraftian.

    I don’t think that any of the books named at the link are best works by the respective authors, but, what the heck, you might like them.

    19 Sep 2017 at 3:16 pm #9811

    I appreciate all the great recommendations here. I’ve checked out many of them, and this is my primary source of discovering new reading material. One book, I would recommend is :

    Technological Slavery – The writings of Theodore Kacynski by Theodore Kacynski :

    It might be somewhat of a moral challenge to buy this book, but I think you clearly have to separate the message with the messenger. Given that, I actually found some of Kaczynski’s arguments compelling. Kacynski ultimately sees the inevitable marginalization of humanity as we will become more and more dependent on the technological system. Ultimately, this trend has been going on since the Industrial Revolution but continues to accelerate. Kacynski believes that the effects are a loss of freedom, over socialization, and a dependence on machines which is ultimately out of bounds with what natural selection has set forth.

    In reading McCarthy you sometimes get a sense of freedom that our ancestors might have felt. For example, Native Americans had a freedom of movement that we don’t have today. Kacynski gives an example of how a technological society prioritizes the freedom of a vehicle over that of a pedestrian so that a pedestrian has to wait at crosswalks. Even little things like building a home without a permit or having an outside fire in the suburbs are not possible like they were 100+ years ago.

    McCarthy explores the role of technology in many of his works. Often the outcome is a form of alienation where technology has contributed to the alienation of an individual. I think of Grady and his horses and the idea of a cowboy with the juxtaposition of cars and cities or Rawlins coming back to work not as a rancher but in the oil fields.

    At minimum, reading Kacynski enlightens some of McCarthy’s themes, but it’s also made me a lot more cautious and pessimistic about the role of technology and its effects on humans.

    20 Sep 2017 at 7:54 am #9813

    Richard L.


    Well, I did not like this as well as you did, Peter.

    It opens well, with the roses/poison ivy metaphor around the house, and the first section has some glimpses of beautiful writing. If the author could have sustained his beautiful writing over the course of the novel, this might still have been a good book–but as it is, I found it far too long and melodramatic.

    Shocking? Well, it might have been shocking if I had not already followed along with Oprah reading Dorothy Allison’s BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA, which this book strongly resembles. I pulled for the girl to get away from her monster of a father just as I pulled for the author to get away from the cliched plot and back to the beautiful writing. Potential unfulfilled.

    There was a time when Oprah would have abuse cases on almost every day, very often connected with incest. In addition to actual cases, it was discovered that there were repeat actors appearing who played different parts, unbeknownst to Oprah, she later claimed. Frederick Crews attacks recovered memory syndrome in his recent biography of Freud, but the sheer number of verified case of abuse in this land still boggles the mind.

    Literature and popular culture go hand-in-hand and this led to a multitude of novels written with the teaser of a buried dark secret that affects the present. And that buried secret usually turns out to be–guess what?–incest or other sexual abuse. Sexual abuse motifs in novels became the equivalent of “The Butler Did It” in oldtime mystery novels.

    And that’s why the overall arching plot of MY ABSOLUTE DARLING seems cliche to me. Perhaps it will revive the genre; perhaps it will become the BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA of the upcoming generation.

    Also reading now, recently read, or about to read:

    NABOKOV’s FAVORITE WORD IS MAUVE: WHAT THE NUMBERS REVEAL ABOUT CLASSIC BESTSELLERS by Ben Blatt. Some interesting analysis of style here. I liked the theory about J. D. Salinger and Thomas Pynchon being one and the same, but the analysis shows the difference. McCarthy’s favorite words, which we already knew. Interesting book.

    THE BESTSELLER CODE: ANATOMY OF THE BLOCKBUSTER NOVEL by Jodie Archer. We knew that McCarthy wrote manly prose, but in a study here, THE ROAD finished fourth “in terms of paradigmatic male style to Paul Harding’s TINKERS, Charles Frazier’s COLD MOUNTAIN, and Anthony Doerr’s ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE. We’re left wondering where SUTTREE or BLOOD MERIDIAN might have ranked on that score.

    HIT LIT: CRACKING THE CODE OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY’S BIGGEST BESTSELLERS by James W. Hall. Not as good as the above two books, but still rather interesting.

    HOLY LITERARY LICENSE: THE ALMIGHTY CHOOSES FALLIBLE MORTALS TO WRITE, EDIT, AND TRANSLATE GODSTORY by Robert Flynn. I’ve praised Flynn’s books before, especially his western, ECHOES OF GLORY, which won the Spur Award. This is about the putting together of the Bible and Flynn is what you might call “a searching Christian.” A tandem read with UNDER TIBERIUS by Nick Tosches.

    • This reply was modified 4 months, 3 weeks ago by  Richard L..
    20 Sep 2017 at 11:02 am #9814

    Richard L.

    [edit] continued…

    PAPERBACKS FROM HELL: THE TWISTED HISTORY OF ’70s And ’80s HORROR FICTION by Grady Hendrix. This is good, as far as it goes, and includes most of the paperback covers. I was disappointed to find a lot of my favorites ignored, such as Barry Malzberg–whose novels might have been sci-fi but seemed also to fit the horror genre.

    One of the books discussed is Jere Cunningham’s THE ABYSS (1984), set in Tennessee cave country, thus reminding me of Cormac McCarthy’s hurricane region and its holes in the ground (also expounded upon in Erskine Caldwell’s GOD’S LITTLE ACRE and a couple of William Gay’s best novels). Here’s the author’s synopsis of The Abyss:

    The tow of Bethel has shrunk to a dying cluster of cheap bars and trailer parks since all the old mines closed. But now investors are bringing in deep-drilling equipment to reopen an old shaft. Suddenly there are jobs, people are moving back, and the dream of manufacturing’s return is alive again.

    A few ominous signs appear, but if you’re loyal to Bethel, if you’re the kind of person who belongs there, if you believe in America, then you’e not about to question a good thing. It turns out the shaft was shut down because the miners had accidentally drilled into hell, unleashing forces of darkness that were defeated thanks only to a freak cave-in.

    The mysterious investors want to drill down again, this time on purpose. Like a Springsteen song mashed up with Dante’s Inferno, the mine reopens and the townsfolk receive a Bible’s worth of plagues: their taps run with blood, workers are zombified, and fast growing thorns crack the foundations of homes.

    By the time it’s raining hellfire, Cunningham has drilled home the idea that small towns are death traps and we’re lucky to get out while we can. The only way manufacturing can return is through a deal with the devil. Yet even as Satan rises up over the mountains, one character turns to another and shrugs. “Hoss,” he says, “I never claimed to know what was normal in this world.”

    Then he cracks open a beer and walks away.

    • This reply was modified 5 months ago by  Richard L..
    25 Sep 2017 at 11:35 am #9818

    Richard L.

    Re: Theodore Kacynski/the Unabomber

    Thanks for that. The survivalist father in MY ABSOLUTE DARLING would have been much more interesting if he were as brilliant and as brilliantly off as Theodore Kacynsky, who had several good points. It’s interesting that his writing style is what did him in.

    Halloween season is coming up, and two of the seasonal books I always recommend are by Donald Harstad, Eleven Days and Code 61. These are police procedurals written in the first person which seem to go into the dark supernatural but stop short of it. Not great literature, but they are very spooky and very intelligent and entertaining with some nice humor.

    Despite good sales, he had to go to France to keep any books in print. He has been unable to sell his standalone novel which is about a Ted Kacynski character. Listen to this Youtube interview with him, when the interviewer finally gets him on the phone.


    Kind of interesting, I think. It says a lot about the state of book culture in our country. I want to read the rest of his books.

    Murder is way up across the country, but it is only poor people shooting each other. Nothing will change unless they start shooting the 1% that control everything, and that will never happen. It seems to me a futile exercise anyway. Get rid of one asshole, fifty others rise up and compete to take his place. Murder is not only wrong, it is pointless.

    27 Sep 2017 at 12:14 pm #9827

    Richard L.

    Reading now, recently read, soon to read:

    Max Tegmark’s newest, LIFE 3.0: BEING HUMAN IN THE AGE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE. Frankly, after OUR MATHEMATICAL UNIVERSE, I had been hoping his follow-up book would be more mathematics. We haven’t yet come close to producing Robby the Robot from the 1950s movie FORBIDDEN PLANET let alone the robots from Star Wars. I usually find such talk of robots boring, but this book opens well and has kept me interested.

    SEA OF RUST by C. Robert Cargill (2017). A tandem read with Tegmark, this book takes place when there are no humans left alive anywhere, only a junkyard of robots in the midwest, the old rust belt. So far it is quite humorous. It reminds me of the 2009 animated film, 9, directed by Shane Acker.

    CTHULHU BLUES by Douglas Wynne. Despite the Lovecraft title, this turns out to be a very good work of speculative fiction. Just as there is invisible light that we cannot see, so too there are invisible frequencies that we cannot hear and that, if we were to invent the right transmitter, we might bridge the seams between dimensions.

    ZAPPED: FROM INFRARED TO X-RAYS, THE CURIOUS HISTORY OF INVISIBLE LIGHT by Bob Berman. This is cutting-edge science told well. A nice tandem read with the above book. If you don’t quite get the quantum physics/photon thing, you should read this account of it. Whoever wrote the Bible probably had no idea of science, but when the Lord or Whoever said “Let there be light,” that was indeed the beginning of everything.

    IN THE VALLEY OF THE SUN by Andy Davidson. Everyone compares this to NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and HELL AND HIGH WATER. I’ve read the opening and it is very good–the writing, I mean–although the reviews say it is also a vampire book. I guess vampires don’t like photons. We’ll see.

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