Readings of 2021

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The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson (Recommended by a friend. Enjoyed it quite a bit, as Churchill worship goes; I think Larson's writing here is a substantial improvement on The Devil in the White City, which I found clunky in parts.)

The Nolan Variations, Tom Shone (A good way to look at Nolan, I think. I'm in it, too.)

A Fairly Honorable Defeat, Iris Murdoch (There's a lot of Murdoch to be read and last year I read a bunch. This is a pretty nifty vinegary allegory of sorts.)

Mike Nichols: A Life, Mark Harris (Aside from its inherent value, which is more than substantial, it gives writers like myself something to aim for.) 

The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright (I knew a lot of this already but this is a better than decent aggregation so to speak.)

True Believer, Abraham Reisman (See above; also Abe's enthusiasm for the Golden Age of Marvel relative to his disappointment in Lee makes for engaging reading.) 

Exile’s Return, Malcolm Cowley (Oh those wandering modernists. Great.) 

The Recognitions, William Gaddis (Finally did it! And dug it!)

Last Call, Elon Green (A true crime account with a real purpose.)

Beeswing, Richard Thompson (Fascinating, spectacular)

The Quiet Americans, Scott Thompson (The origins of the CIA in four ironical portraits; recommended to Charles McCarry fans for sure.) 

Dark Passage, David Goodis (Goodis, as you like him.) 

V., Thomas Pynchon (A second reading; the first was when I was about 13. Definitely got a touch of the magic I felt then. "Keep cool but care" is a stressed-out character's observation, not the book's, or Pynchon's, life motto. Jesus.) 

Moscow to the End of the Line, Venedikt Erofeev (Drunken Soviet monologue, exhausting for such a short book.) 

The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy (I could never get into Hardy's prose when I was a collegiate reader, but loved his poetry. [Still do.] This hit me hard, so I'll be getting to his other novels.)

Letting Go, Philip Roth (A sweeping, curious, genuinely tortured book.)

Castle in the Air, Donald E. Westlake (Mid Westlake, which is still pretty damn good.)

Rhythm is our Business: Jimmy Lunceford and the Harlem Express, Eddy Determeyer (An informative but dry account of the amazing bandleader.)

The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock, Edward White (A wholly admirable and readable attempt to come to grips with Hitchcock's character defects while insisting on the pertinence and ultimate humanity of his art)

My Life As A Man, Roth (Whatever you think of the guy, you have to admit he got put through the wringer. I mean, maybe you don't, but I do.)

Enter the Aardvark, Jessica Anthony (A very entertaining and purposefully eccentric political fable.) 

The Conjure Man Dies, Rudolph Fisher (It's terrible that Fisher died in 1934, only two years after publishing his first detective novel. Had he lived to keep at it, I think he'd have written mysteries that improved on this fascinating but not entirely satisfactory Harlem mystery.)  

Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry (Believe the hype.) 

Ending Up, Kingsley Amis (Old people quarreling and falling about. Figured I'd read it now, before it got too on the nose.) 

The Black Prince, Murdoch (Good loony philosophical fun.) 

Excavate! The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall, edited by Bob Stanley and Tessa Norton (A dizzying compendium of Smith unpacking, packed with promo artwork and scribblings)

Later, Stephen King (The Hard Case Stephen King has kinda become a genre unto itself. I dig it.)

Nuns and Soldiers, Murdoch (Possibly the most solidly constructed of the Murdochs I read this year.) 

No Beethoven, Peter Erskine (Wow, this dude is the father of one of the co-creators of Pen15! Anyway. Protean drummer tells cool anecdotes.) 

Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky (My first go-round with this. Hot stuff.) 

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino (Good loony not particularly philosophical fun. And a revealing peek into the psychopathology of its author to be sure.)

The Wall, Mary Roberts Rinehart (A bit creaky but enjoyable. A mystery, in case you don't recognize the name of the author.) 

Inside Out, Walter Bernstein (Believe the hype.)

Frankly We Did Win This Election, Michael Bender (Aiiiieeeee)

Letters, John Barth (I'd wanted to read this for forever but hadn't completed all the prior Barth works which provide this opus with its dramatis personae...until I did. This was fun, and instructive, mainly in demonstrating that the author can kind of do anything he damn well pleases after all. It is not entirely an exercise in dickering trivial postmodernism, either. )

The Hook, Westlake (A masterpiece, chilly as hell. ) 

The Plague Court Murders, John Dickson Carr (As expected)

Always Crashing in the Same Car, Matthew Specktor (This one slammed me with the force of discovery. Two discoveries, really: that of a kindred spirit, L.A. division [although Specktor's a way better writer than myself I think] and of a truly new form derived from two well-worn ones, the cultural history and the memoir. Cowley's book falls into that dual category too, but Specktor does something with it that's...well just read it.)

The Sovereignty of Good, Murdoch (A couple of philosophical essays. Heartening, sort of.)

Get Real, Westlake (More, Mid Westlake, fun times)  

I’d Rather Be The Devil, Stephen Calt (Or, How Getting To Know Skip James Messed My Mind Up. Eye-opening, disheartening, and while Calt certainly turns over a genuine rock, so to speak, he's also priggish and snobbish in a really jolting way.) 

Dune, Frank Herbert (Research.) 

Seven Types of Atheism, John Gray (A cogent and actually entertaining survey of disbelief.) 

Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment, James R. Gaines (Gaines' decision to tell their lives in parallel, while great for marketing I guess, resulted in some brow-furrowing for this reader. Otherwise aces.)

Flaubert and Madame Bovary, Francis Steegmuller (A little dry and a probably more than a little unfair to Louise Colet but still something.) 

The Sea, The Sea, Murdoch ( I wished so passionately to defenestrate its narrator that the whole thing temporarily stalled my Murdoch journey.)

Crossroads, Jonathan Franzen (A true pleasure to read and not nearly so Updike-like as its synopses might lead you to believe.) 

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh (Finally, and fine.)

Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip Hop Nation, Jeff Chang (Again, a lot of stuff I've already learned, put together with passion and purpose.) 

The American Gun Mystery, Ellery Queen (A little too far-fetched.) 

State of Terror, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny (Aiiieeeee.)

Fog of Doubt, Christianna Brand (Surprisingly racy London mystery.)

Your Turn Mr Moto, John P. Marquand (Gak.)

In The Woods, Tana French (Highly satisfactory.)

Spirits of the Dead, Tim Lucas (Great stuff.) 

Bugsy Siegel: The Dark Side of the American Dream, Michael Shnayerson (A good primer on the man who hated being called Bugsy.) 

Sound Man, Glyn Johns (Breezy, fun, slightly wonky [and I like that] chronicle of a mixing man. Nothing about his '60s clothes sense though.) 

Absalom, Absalom!, William Faulkner (Whew. Exhausting, agonizing, all that good stuff. Also kind of an object lesson in how a little Faulkner can go a long way.)

The Case of the Borrowed Brunette, Erle Stanley Gardner (A little more transparently pro forma than a lot of the Masons I've read but okay.) 

The Thursday Murder Club, Richard Osman (Great fun.) 

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, Elizabeth Taylor (Aging and [spoiler alert] dying in somnambulant Olde London, just the way you wanna ring out the year.) 

January 01, 2024

November 07, 2022

January 01, 2021

December 30, 2020

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April 30, 2015

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