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December 31, 2016

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MarkVH

Reading Black Wings Has My Angel myself right now, as it so happens. Have had a bizarrely tough time getting into it despite the fact that this sort of thing is usually my catnip. But also haven't had much time to devote to it so I'm putting any issues on me, not the book.

Andrew

Damn this sure makes me feel disappointed in my own reading for 2016. As I'd like to up my game for 2017, I'll ask you (Glenn) how many hours you spend reading every day, and if you have any tips on how to avoid or resist distraction while reading?

And just to give my unsolicited comments on a few of the items on your list..

Charles Portis is my favourite writer and his 5 novels would likely take up the first five spots on my list of the "Top 10 Greatest Books of All Time Excluding All the Books I Haven't Read." Austin Popper from "Atlantis" might be my favourite literary character, and I haven't felt as much pleasure reading a novel as I did finishing "The Dog of the South." "Gringos" is a little weightier than the rest, and you can understand how he stopped writing after finishing it. I'm forever grateful to the Coen Brothers for introducing me to Portis, among many other things.

Had the same response to "The Deep Blue Good-By." Actually, that book kind of deals with the same cultural tension as "The Dog of the South," but with brutal moralism in lieu of Portis' irony and ambiguity. The prospect of a Travis McGee film series does not excite me in the least.

Bought a lovely edition of "The Sot-Weed Factor" after reading your Gawker article on difficult books. Looking forward to reading it, but I feel I should read "Tom Jones" first.

Some of my favourite personal reading of 2016:

"The Monk" by Matthew Lewis and "The Life and Opinions of the Tomcat Murr" by E.T.A. Hoffmann. As a narcissistic millennial I'm consistently surprised by the formal sophistication of boring old novels. Want to get my hands on the Bunuel-scripted "Monk" adaptation: do you (Glenn) know if it's any good? (If you've read this far.)

"Saviours and Survivors" by Mahmood Mamdani. Currently reading this account of how the Darfur conflict was over-simplified and racialized by the Save Darfur movement in the U.S., to the benefit of the U.S. narrative of "The War on Terror" but not particularly to the benefit of any Darfurians. Really glum book, but passionately argued by Mamdani.

Andrew

Oh and I forgot, Happy New Year and thanks for the blog!

Beamish13

Marilynne Robinson is probably the best living American author. Housekeeping and Bill Forsyth's film adaptation are both masterpieces. Not crazy about Barth or Giles Goat-Boy, which has good ideas, but has some seriously grotesque racism in it

MJP

Also read Stoner this year and agree with your assessment. I'll take your advice and check out Butcher's Crossing. Happy New Year.

Ben

You may have been less than impressed with the Lew Archer novels (I re-read Black Money last year when it was reported that the Coens may be adapting it; I found myself unsure why that novel out of his opus, as it may have less of the generational observation which I think of as Macdonald's hallmark), but your second review of him has mimicked his prose style quite successfully.

PaulJBis

Happy 2017!

Regarding Simenon, I'll recommend you another of his non-Maigret novels, "The snow was dirty", since it's a quite clear-cut redemption story.

Can't wait until January is over and all the buzzworthy films of 2016 ("Toni Erdmann", "Silence", "Manchester-by-the-sea") get released here in my country, and I can start delving into the reviews in depth.


Petey

@PaulJBis

Yeah. I read Simenon's Dirty Snow this past year, (on Glenn's recommendation), and thought it was was absolutely fucking fantastic.

I'm hoping to find similar non-Maigret Simenon novels. Glenn recommended one, but it's out of print, and I avoid used, old books when possible cuz of allergies.

Similarly, I'm curious about Patrick Modiano, who writes about a similar milieu to Dirty Snow, but from a very different POV. I've read some good stuff about him, but yet to dive in.

Petey

Glenn,

You should really read Portis' Gringos. Not only is in obviously great, but we live in a new world. If you wait, your final though when Trump fires off the nukes will be, "Damn, I should've read Gringos".

And yeah, 52 Pickup is terrific. It was the first Leonard I read as a teen. And when I went though every one of the '74-'92 Leonards as an adult, it was close to the top of my faves. I've had the film stuck unwatched on my DVR for 2 years now, cuz I'm scared I'll hate it due to loving the book so much.

PaulJBis

Peter: ooooh, Modiano is great, really great. He's been one of my favorite writers for many years, and I'm so glad that more people are finally getting to know him. I'll recommend "Honeymoon", "Une jeunesse" and specially "Dora Bruder".

As for Simenon, "The man who watched the trains go by" is another of my favorites.

That Fuzzy Bastard

Oh I am sorry you didn't love Bely's Petersburg! I hope you at least read the wonderful Robert Maguire translation and annotation, not the other, less fun ones.
The scenes between the drunken bomber and the slightly less drunken Okhrana agent are what I always think of when people wonder if the FSB is running the Russian hacks. The answer seems to be "yeahhhhhhh... kind of."

Brian Dauth

In the 7th grade, my gym teacher gave me his copies of John D. MacDonald's novels--all the teachers knew I was a geek who loved mysteries and looked out for me. He said that they were his beach reading. Now that I look back on it, it was a daring move considering the content of the books--"Dress Her in Indigo" was delightful fun to my 12/13-year-old self.

I recall enjoying Travis McGee's notion of taking his retirement in sections as he was able to afford them, and not paying much attention to the sexual (or other) politics (except that McGee had huge contempt for the city fathers of Fort Lauderdale--as a queer teen I enjoying McGee's defiance of stricture). I started buying his books on my own with "The Scarlet Ruse" (MacDonald's last paperback original--the cover got my father's attention, though only now do I realize why). The novel I remember best and liked most was "The Dreadful Lemon Sky" which I recall having a strong plot. MacDonald lost me with "The Green Ripper." I have been tempted to go back and re-read these novels, but never gotten around to doing so.

Ross MacDonald (who originally published as John Ross MacDonald much to John D.'s annoyance) is another story. I have read each novel at least twice and some more times than that. I find "The Chill" to be the best of all the novels, and maybe the best crime/mystery novel novel written by an American in the 20th century. MacDonald captures the period between the close of WWII and the onset of the 1970's with brilliance. The early novels are variations/responses to Chandler's works (MacDonald is working his and Archer's voices out), and it is fun to watch the evolution, especially with regard to queer characters and Archer's response/reaction to them. As Archer says in a late book: he always looks for mercy, but keeps winding up with justice.

As for Willa Cather: indulge yourself in the Library of America's volume "Later Novels" and read it straight through (used copies are constantly turning up at the Strand). As amazing/perfect as "The Professor's House" is, "Death Comes for the Archbishop" tops it--my favorite love story. Cather and Ross MacDonald along with Faulkner are my favorite American novelists.

Bill Kennedy

Last summer I decided to try some of John D. MacDonald's non-McGee novels, as I'd never connected with the two-fisted he-man, and I'd picked up a number of them over the years when I found suitably lurid covers. Hit gold with the first two, but after that all the heroes turned out to be two-fisted he-men. Then I hit one where the hero laid out his mid-'60s political philosophy, and I was done.
I like Ross MacDonald very much, but have you read his wife, Margaret Millar? She's the best! I've spent the last five years, scouring used-book stores, to find all of her work. Nearly got them all, just in time for a publisher to bring them back into print! I'd highly recommend the two volumes of Collected Millar so far, or scouring the used-book stores.

I'm placing several reserves at my library right now for books from your list! Thanks!

Asher Gelzer-Govatos

Awesome to see a Spark shoutout, as someone deeply invested in her work on both a personal and professional level. The Driver's Seat marks a bit of a dividing line in my mind, as the next few novels that follow are very strange and disturbing, much more oblique in some ways than what has come before (though the book just before this, The Public Image, has a bit of the same nasty streak). At the same time you're absolutely right that there's still a core Sparkian ethos that connects the book back to her earlier era, as well as forward to works like Loitering with Intent.

Also had my first Cather encounter this year, though mine was with Death Comes for the Archbishop, which as Brian notes above is another killer book. I too intend to read more.

Andrew

There's a strange scene in "Holy Motors" that's quoted almost verbatim from Margaret Millar's "Beast in View."

Brian Dauth

I discovered Muriel Spark ("The Takeover" and "Territorial Rights" were the start) in my teens along with Mary Renault and Iris Murdoch--I seem to have been drawn at the time to queer/quasi-queer women novelists (though I knew nothing of their sexuality back then). I will state though that I am amazed at how many authors I gravitated to in my teens later turned to be queer in one way or another. Nothing is (or can be) proved, of course, but I still marvel at the coincidence.

Spark was definitely disturbing as Asher notes, but also enjoyable--I had the sense of someone who enjoyed producing prose as precise as possible without any extraneous verbiage. At a moment when psychological explanations were the last things I needed or wanted, Spark was most helpful.

As for Margaret Millar: she is wonderful and for many years I was on a hunt similar to Bill's for her books (her relative invisibility compared to her husband's did not help the marriage).

bord

My Antonia is a book I return to again and again. So rich.

Great to have you blogging into 2017.

George

I'm afraid the sexism of the Travis McGee books was very much a product of their time. The character was intended (like James Bond) as a wish-fulfillment fantasy figure for men. It's been quite a while since I read the books; my memory is that they vary widely in quality.

My favorite John D. McDonald books are the non-series books he wrote in the '50s and early '60s, including "The Damned," "The Neon Jungle," "Cancel All Our Vows," "Border Town Girl," "The Executioners" (basis for CAPE FEAR) and "One Monday We Killed them All." No shortage of pulp squalor on those books.

As for Ross MacDonald, I read all his books in college and loved them. Most of them I read more than once. But it's been many years since I read them or owned any copies.

George

I just read Michael Tisserand's essential biography of cartoonist George Herriman, "Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White." This book -- and the panels from the "Krazy Kat" -- actually seem more cinematic than a lot of the movies I've seen lately!

I didn't know that Herriman's studio was on the Hal Roach lot in Culver city. A lot of the names seen in Roach movie credits -- title writer H.M. Walker, sound engineer Elmer Raguse -- were Herriman's best friends.

And the book has quite a bit about race. Herriman was apparently a black or mixed-race person who spent his life "passing" for white. Which didn't stop him from drawing blatantly racist cartoons early in his career.

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