Sunday, October 20, 2013

New Science May Help Oasis?

As someone who reads a lot, I always pay attention to what the news has to say about the latest developments in the study of reading.  Three recent stories caught my attention and I think it is pretty clear how one of these stories is all the evidence you would ever need to see to support the other two.

The magazine Science just published a study which claims that reading literary fiction improves one's theory of mind. From the editor's summary in Science:

Theory of Mind is the human capacity to comprehend that other people hold beliefs and desires and that these may differ from one's own beliefs and desires. The currently predominant view is that literary fiction—often described as narratives that focus on in-depth portrayals of subjects' inner feelings and thoughts—can be linked to theory of mind processes, especially those that are involved in the understanding or simulation of the affective characteristics of the subjects. Kidd and Castano (p. 377, published online 3 October) provide experimental evidence that reading passages of literary fiction, in comparison to nonfiction or popular fiction, does indeed enhance the reader's performance on theory of mind tasks.

I think that makes a lot of sense and I am glad that there is some evidence to support it.

And the journal PLOS ONE published something very similar:

How Does Fiction Reading Influence Empathy? An Experimental Investigation on the Role of Emotional Transportation

From the PLOS ONE abstract:

The current study investigated whether fiction experiences change empathy of the reader. Based on transportation theory, it was predicted that when people read fiction, and they are emotionally transported into the story, they become more empathic. Two experiments showed that empathy was influenced over a period of one week for people who read a fictional story, but only when they were emotionally transported into the story. No transportation led to lower empathy in both studies, while study 1 showed that high transportation led to higher empathy among fiction readers. These effects were not found for people in the control condition where people read non-fiction. The study showed that fiction influences empathy of the reader, but only under the condition of low or high emotional transportation into the story.

So, two serious studies which contend that perhaps reading fiction makes you a better person - or perhaps better able to relate and understand other people - which, I would argue, helps you to be a better person.  Most readers probably love to read whether or not it is good for them so explaining the benefits of reading is for the most part preaching to the choir.


I was reading the Guardian the other day and I saw this headline:

(Ask yourself: who are the angriest pop musicians around?  I bet he's in the top three of every list.) He goes on at length about how he hates reading stuff that isn't true and it occurred to me, that if there ever is a person who could benefit from spending more time reading fiction, its him.  (Note:  He has created a lot of great music and some of the anger and rage he feels has been put to some good use musically.  But still, I think at this point in his career, he could do with some reading therapy.  Especially since what he claims about reading fiction is now proving to be scientifically unsound.)

Saturday, October 19, 2013

New Books!

After not buying many books this summer (spent the time reading books I already own), somehow a giant stack of (mostly) new books has appeared.

I was punished by the universe for not ordering the winner of the Booker Prize when it came out in the UK (not that I knew this was going to be the winner, but I knew I wanted to read it well before it won) and as a result my new American copy of Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries, ordered the day after it was published in the US, is a second edition.  That is not fair.  (But I am very happy for her that her book is already in a second printing here.)  But as these things have a way of evening out, I found for $4.00 an autographed first American edition of the 1987 winner of the Booker Prize, Penelope Lively's Moon Tiger.

New hardcover first editions from the UK:  Expo 58 by Jonathan Coe, The Deaths by Mark Lawson, and Lion Heart by Justin Cartwright.  I did not order Denise Mina's new book when it came out this summer and have been duly punished and got a 3rd or 4th printing of The Red Road. Ugh.

New hardcover first editions from the USA: The Facades by Eric Lundgren, &Sons by David Gilbert, and Night Film by Marisha Pessl.

And some other bargain priced first edition American hardcovers: When the Women Come Out to Dance and Tishomingo Blues, both by Elmore Leonard.  And Heart of the Hunter by the very interesting South African crime writer Deon Meyer.

And the weirdest new addition - a large print, ex-library edition of a collection of Michael Gilbert short stories, The Mathematics of Murder.  In terms of bad editions of books, condensed editions are the worst, next is large print, then I guess book club editions, then maybe ex-library editions, then maybe anything not a first edition.  Many of the copies available of this Gilbert book were very expensive and because of the government shutdown and threat of default, I made a panicked decision and opted for this inexpensive large print edition of The Mathematics of Murder.  This book is from the Sefton Public Libraries - Birkdale Library Southport.  Which is in or around Liverpool.  Checked out at least 21 times from June 2005 through July 2010.  I hate looking at it but when I am reading it, after a while I sort of forget how large the print it.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Elmore and I

Everyone knows by now that Elmore Leonard died last month.  It was heartening to see how much people liked him and his work.  I have been a fan of his for some 20 years now - but have harbored a terrible secret about my relationship with Elmore Leonard:  I have never read an Elmore Leonard novel.

I own about 13 of his books.  I started buying them sometime after the book Get Shorty came out. Recently I found in my collection a new and unread first edition hard cover copy of Rum Punch with a lottery ticket in it from September 1992.  (The ticket was not a winner.)  I know I listened to the abridged versions of Get Shorty and Out of Sight read by the great Joe Mantegna.  But that doesn't count as having read them, I don't think.  I saw film version of Stick when it first came out (before I knew who Elmore Leonard was) and I saw Get Shorty on videotape.  Leonard has been interviewed many times on NPR (most often on Fresh Air - really good interviews about all of his work and also many interviews about adaptations of his work) and I have read dozens of profiles of him and reviews of his books over the years. More recently I've been reading blog posts about him.   For not having ever properly read his work, I always felt that I knew a lot about Elmore Leonard.  In fact, I can't think of many people whose careers I have followed that I know as much about.

When I heard the news that he was hospitalized after suffering a stroke, I realized I was going to end up as one of those people who only starts to read Leonard because he has just died.  And sure enough I started Unknown Man #89 the night he did.

So far I have read Unknown Man #89, The Switch, and City Primeval.  I am currently reading Gold Coast. (Cat Chaser came in the mail today.) And I have been very impressed by what I have read.  I mean, I always assumed I would really like him.  I think I was partly put off by how colorful some of his characters are.  Like they are interesting to hear about but that I might not want to spend 300 pages in their company.  One of the blurbs used in Cat Chaser, from the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, but originally, it seems, from a review of Tishomingo Blues in the Baltimore Sun, says "Dashiell Hammett may have invented the genre, and Carl Hiaasen might be funnier at it on his best day, but the debate over who's the all-time king of the whack job crime novelists just ended. Living or dead, Elmore Leonard tops 'em all."  And therein lies the problem - I do not have a high tolerance for whack job crime novelists.  But so far, this has not been much of a problem.

Each book I have read reminds me a different crime writer.  Unknown Man #89, which movingly and unexpectedly becomes about alcoholism and addiction, made me think Leonard was going to be like Lawrence Block.  But then The Switch was more like a the sort of farce Michael Frayn would write if he were to try his hand at a crime novel.  City Primeval, by far the best Leonard book I have consumed in any form, calls to mind a prolix Richard Stark.  And now Gold Coast reads like a Carl Hiaasen novel - though given when it was written means Carl Hiaasen writes Gold Coast era-like Elmore Leonard novels (with mobsters and dolphins and the enforced chastity of mafioso widows).

If all goes well, I have copies to read of Split Images, Cat Chaser, Stick, LaBrava, Glitz, Bandits, Freaky Deaky, Maximum Bob, Rum Punch, and Pronto.  I regret having waited so long to read his books but the stack I have to read is quite the silver lining.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Bogmail, Reading, and the Internet

I do not remember how I discovered the Irish novelist Patrick McGinley.  My best guess is that I saw a Penguin paperback copy of his first novel, Bogmail (1978), in the mystery section of a used bookstore in the early 1990s.

I think I read it in 1994 or 1995 and it is slightly horrifying to think that is almost 20 years ago.  I loved it and then set out to find and read the rest of his books.  In Bogmail, a pub owner has to kill his barman and after he disposes of the body in a bog, starts to get get blackmailed by a mysterious person. And then things get complicated.

Earlier this year, McGinley published a new novel, Cold Spring, and Bogmail was republished to coincide with the rebroadcast on Irish television of Murder for Eden, the 1991 adaptation of Bogmail.

Curious to revisit Bogmail after all these years I got out the copy of Bogmail I read (a second edition hard cover) and was stunned by how much I wrote in it.  (I never write in books.  I often take notes but in general I hate defacing them by making notes in them.)  Apparently, my knowledge of Irish vocabulary and culture was almost non-existent and I wrote down the definitions of dozens of words.  I can remember asking random Irish people the meanings of certain words. (Which probably was a lunatic thing to do but how else was I going to figure this stuff out?)  I guess I used dictionaries to understand some of the words.  This would have been done when the internet was still in its infancy and certainly well before mobile high speed internet access (via which I always consult Google when reading now.)  In fact, I recently read 15 novels in a row by the Sicilian crime writer Andrea Camilleri and I Googled dozens of things in each book I read.   I know the internet is destroying traditional book publishing and retailing but after seeing what my reading was like pre-internet (with Bogmail) and what it is like now (with Andrea Camilleri), it is astonishing how much the internet is enhancing the reading process.  I suppose the ability to instantly access a world of information is taken for granted by most but seeing the notes I wrote in Bogmail made me realize how different things used to be not so long ago.

A different example of how the internet is enhancing my reading life just popped up in the series of books I started after I finished reading Andrea Camilleri.  For some reason, I fell behind in reading the Scottish crime writer Denise Mina.  She is a fantastic writer - so good that for the second year in a row, she has won the Theakstons Old Peculiar crime novel of the year award. Up until a few years ago I had read all of her books, usually just as they were published.  All of my copies are UK editions as I never wanted to wait for each book to be published here.  But in 2009 she started a new series with Still Midnight and it didn't grab me right away.  So I put it aside and now four years later, I've gone back to it and the books which followed: The End of the Wasp Season, Gods and Beasts, and The Red Road.  These books feature a female Glaswegian police officer named Alex Morrow.  In The End of the Wasp Season, DS Morrow mentions that some lazy police officers are reading The Digger, which is a weekly paper in Glasgow that covers crime, criminals, and corruption.  And it just so happens that via the internet I saw, back in 2007, a documentary about The Digger that BBC Scotland aired.  The reference to The Digger in the book is interesting but by no means crucial to understanding anything but nonetheless I was thrilled that I recognized it.  (And also thrilled that the hours I piss away on the internet occasionally pay off.)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Dreaming of George Smiley

From reading his books and from reading/listening to interviews with him, it is very clear Andrea Camilleri loves crime fiction.  In his third Inspector Montalbano novel, The Snack Thief, a nocturnal encounter with John le Carre and George Smiley helps Montalbano to crack a case:

Apparently, in his sleep, one part of his brain had kept working on the Lapecora case.  Around four o'clock in the morning, in fact, a memory came back to him, and he got up and started searching frantically among his books.  Suddenly he remembered that he'd lent the book he was looking for to Augello, after his deputy had seen the film made from it on television.  He'd now had it for six months and still hadn't given it back.  Montalbano got upset.
     "Hello, Mimi?  Montalbano here."
     "Ohmygod!  What's going on here? What happened?"
     "Do you still have that novel by Le Carre entitled Call for the Dead?  I'm sure I lent it to you."
     "What the fuck?!  It's four in the morning."
     "So what?  I want it back."
     "Salvo, I'm telling you this as a loving brother: why don't you have yourself committed?"
     "I want it back immediately."
     "But I was asleep!  Calm down.  I'll bring it back to the office in the morning.  Otherwise I would have to put on my underwear, start looking, get dressed-"
     "I don't give a shit.  You're going to look for it, find it, get in your car, even in your underwear, and bring it to me."
     He dragged himself about the house for half an hour, doing pointless things like trying to understand the phone bill or reading the label on a bottle of mineral water.  Then he heard a car screech to a halt, a dull thud against the door, and the car leaving.  He opened the door:  the book was on the ground, the light's of Augello's car already far away.  He had a mind to make an anonymous phone call to the carabinieri.
     Hello, this is a concerned citizen.  There's some madman driving around in his underwear...
     He let it drop.  He started leafing through the novel.
     The story went exactly as he'd remembered it.  Page 8:

     "Smiley, Marston speaking.  You interviewed Samuel Arthur Fennan at the Foreign Office on Monday, am I right?"
     "Yes . . . yes I did."
     "What was the case?"
     "Anonymous letter alleging Party membership at Oxford . . ."

     And there, on page 139, was the beginning of the conclusion that Smiley would arrive at in his report:

     "It was, however, possible that he had lost his heart for his work, and that his luncheon invitation to me was a first step to confession.  With this in mind he might also have written the anonymous letter which could have been designed to put him in touch with the Department."

     Following Smiley's logic, it was therefore possible that Lapecora himself had written the anonymous letters exposing him.  But if he was their author, why hadn't he sent them to the police or the carabinieri under some other pretext?

. . .

     Thanks to Smiley, it all made sense.  He went back to sleep.

This reminds me that I still have a lot of John le Carre to tackle, including Call for the Dead.  But for now, back to Camilleri.

Nine Years Late, I Discover Andrea Camilleri

I finally started reading Andrea Camilleri after years of buying his books and I am kicking myself for having waited so long to read him.  A friend who I always listen to when it comes to fiction told me back in 2005 that she had just discovered a newly translated Sicilian crime writer and that I should keep my eye on him.  I half listened to her advice and bought Camilleri's first book (I should say his first crime novel - which he wrote at the age of 70 - after years of writing historical fiction, directing in the theater, and producing television) The Shape of Water.

I can't believe how good these books are.  In the past few weeks, I've devoured The Shape of Water, The Terra Cotta Dog, The Snack Thief, and Voice of the Violin.  I started the fifth Inspector Montalbano novel, Excursion to Tindari, last night.

I love reading police procedurals and technically, Camilleri's books follow Inspector Montalbano and the officers under him as they solve crimes in a coastal town in Sicily.  But the focus isn't so much the ins and outs of police work but a survey of modern day Italy.  The writing is often heavy on dialogue (sometimes very earthy), the pace is often brisk, and not everything is spelled out for the reader.  Reading a Montalbano story always makes me hungry - he's constantly eating good food.  So why are these books so good?  Camilleri is old and wise, bitter and funny.  Italy and Sicily provide rich source material.  And Camilleri is very clearly a fan of crime fiction and it feels as his life's work magically lead him to lay golden eggs.

I love the covers and even love the way to spines look. (None of the above pictures are mine.)

My goal is to make sure I have finished reading all of the published books this summer and be ready for the next installment in the series when it is published in September.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Voice of the Violin

"It was well known he drove like a dog on drugs."

- From Voice of the Violin by Andrea Camilleri

Friday, March 08, 2013

bookglutton goes on a diet

I have gone on a diet.  Two diets, actually.  Since August of 2012, I have lost several thousand pounds of books.  (Technically, I still have them - they are in storage.  Also, I now have storage in two states.) And now I am on a real one, the kind where you don't eat.

Last Saturday's New York Times ran a story about the latest diet to sweep the UK, the Fast Diet.  I am a sucker for concepts that feel scientifically based.  And I love the BBC.  And I love books.  So when I read that about how Michael Mosely did an episode of Horizon on intermittent fasting and turned it into a book, I thought this was the diet for me.  I watched the episode of Horizon and saw how he nicely eliminated most of the really difficult parts of fasting and was still able to get results.  And then I got the book and was further moved to believe that I could lose weight simply by restricting myself to 600 calories two days a week while eating normally the rest of the week.  (I particularly enjoyed that  he filmed the program in the US and actually ate the kind of crap that I grew up on.  The researcher in Chicago who convinces him that he can just fast two days a week drives him to a suburban hot dog and hamburger stand and they eat their food in the car.  Me in a nutshell.)

I have always been very interested in reading about food, diet, nutrition, agriculture - all of that stuff.  But I never act on any of what I read. This is a first. It is too soon to tell how this fasting regiment is working.  It is not that hard to do. It is a bit boring, though.  Of the two, I think keeping the books off will prove to be more difficult in the long run.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Bugging the Shower?

I've come across two discussions about bugging devices in two books I've read and I am having a hard time believing what is being said can still be true. Apparently it is common knowledge that you can't bug a shower.  In Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl, Nick and Amy Dunne have a conversation in the shower because she is certain he has bugged their house in order to catch her admitting to certain things.  She forces him to have conversations about these certain subjects in the shower with the water on so any electronic recording devices will not be able to pick up what is said.

In Henry Bromell's Little America, Mack Hooper is a CIA operative in 1958 working in the American Embassy in Kurash, a fictional Middle Eastern country.  Through his contacts, he learns that the American Ambassador to Kurash has been covertly photographed having sex with underage boys and Mack has to decide how to handle possible fallout from the situation.  When Mack needs to discuss this predicament with his wife, where do they go to talk?  Of course, to the bathroom with the shower running.

I can believe that bugging technology circa 1958 could be foiled by the sound of running water.  But it less believable that in 2012 when Gone Girl takes place that a shower is an effective way to evade electronic eavesdropping.  Hasn't the technology improved?  Isn't there some algorithm out there that can filter out the water noise and isolated human voices?

(The closest thing to a solution to this dilemma was nearly accomplished by Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone 2.

And why anyone would ever think the shower is a safe place to be for anything is beyond me.  I think we all know why.

Monday, March 04, 2013


I picked up five weeks of comics tonight: Mara, The Unwritten, Hellboy in Hell, Mud Man, Rachel Rising, B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth, a Lord Baltimore one-shot, Fatale, another Unwritten, Saga, The Massive, B.P.R.D. 1948, and The Walking Dead.  A very nice haul.

And I bought the March issue of Outdoor Life because I realized I had no idea how to survive a Grizzly Bear attack.  (Don't laugh.  It could happen.  I was reading about the same subject in the February issue of Backpacker.)  (Having just read about it in one magazine, you would think I wouldn't need to read about it again but I can never remember what they tell  you to do in these situations.  I should probably carry my folder of clippings with me at all times.)  And the March/April issue of Sports Afield because - well, for no good reason, really.  It just has a lot of stories about hunting in Africa.  Which has absolutely no relevance to my life (except in terms of interior decorating) but is fascinating nonetheless.

And I bought a paperback copy of Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd because I was just in a mood to buy a book and I do not own it.  I started reading a library copy last year but couldn't get into it.  But when I saw it today, I just had to have it.

Earlier in the day I got the new London Review of Books.  And my copy of the New Scientist was in the mailbox when I got home.

Before I left for the day we got four boxes of wall-hangings and decorations we ordered.  So even though I have all this cool stuff to read I won't be able to read anything tonight as I will be trying to hang decorations (and thinking about hunting).

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Happy Highsmith and a Very Unhappy Flynn

Highsmithic books are enjoyable because rooting for people caught up in difficult circumstances and doing very bad things can be fun.  But if you read too many books in this vein, and start to think about it, it can become too grim.  Like the choppping up of bodies which I just read about, at length, in Natuso Kirino's Out. Now I'm reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. The New York Times Book Review summarizes Gone Girl as "A woman disappears on the day of her fifth anniversary; is her husband a killer?" Is it Highsmithic?  Maybe.  Many reviews have mentioned Highsmith.  To me it seems more Grand Guignol than Highsmithic.  And invariably (it now seems) we get to a section where two volunteers on a search campaign looking for Amy Dunne (the titular gone girl) casually discuss the most likely way the husband got rid of the body - dumping it in the Mississppi River.  But one argues that you'd have to chop it up first, but then one wonders if the body parts wouldn't get stuck and wash up or how far would they flow before washing up.  And I thought to myself, maybe this is all a bit too much.  We can't always be talk about disposing of bodies like this.  After the detailed and technical discussions of how to dismember a body in Natsuo Kirino's Out, I think I need to read lighter fare.  On the whole, Gone Girl is an amazingly thrilling and venomous book with, perhaps, the world's two most unreliable narrators.  I thought it was a tremendously en
tertaining read and I can see why it was the fourth best-selling book (in print and e-book formats) in the US in 2012.  (Any guesses what the number 1,2,&3 best-selling books were?  For bonus points, what was number 9 and how did it relate to numbers 1,2&3?)

Which brings me to Alys, Always by Harriet Lane.  I read it because I heard good things about it.  This is hard to say without potentially spoiling the book but Francis Thorpe is scheming to insert herself into the Kyte family.  Specifically into the arms and bed of Laurence Kyte, a prominent English literary novelist whose life she enters when she comes to the aide of Kyte's wife, Alys, after a terrible automobile accident.  Part of the suspense is that we don't know what Frances Thorpe will do to do it or to what end this is all for anyway - but Thorpe (stop reading - spoiler) uses her dark deeds for a relatively benign purpose, a sort of nice, mild suprise ending.  Alys, Always ends more like Jane Eyre/Charlotte Bronte than Patricia Highsmith.  Think, Reader, I Married Him instead of Reader, I Dismembered Him (which is where I was worried the story would go).  And you know, it was refreshing and different.  She just wanted a certain life and seized upon an unusual way of achieving it.  And they all lived happily ever after.  And the only death was the car accident which starts the book.  And I went and double-checked, Francis does not cause the accident that starts the books (a would be wicked twist that I had been on the lookout for all along).

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Kate Atkinson and Going to the Dogs Again

The last time I started a Kate Atkinson novel, I got a dog.  I just started reading her new novel, Life After Life, and once again, I'm thinking about dogs.  (And food. There is a lot about food in this book.  Strange food, I think: Egyptian pudding, beef collops, scrag-end, ham and pickles, beef tea, picalilli, sweat meats, meat pies, herring roe on toast, bloater paste sandwiches, lemon curd sandwiches, seed cake, pork pie, steak pie, Rose Madder, Jewish dietary restrictions, Hitler and pastries, and a lot of other stuff.  I guess I don't know much about what the English ate in 1910 but I have a hunch the food in this book is not normal.  Or that that way of eating has died out.  Or that it is supposed to tell us something.)

Early on, the Todd family get a dog to live with them at their house, Fox Corner, in the English countryside.  A French mastiff.  So I put down the book (Kindle in this case), and started Googling French mastiffs because I didn't know what they looked like.  Turns out, they are beautiful.
If I didn't live in downtown Washington, this would be the dog for me.  Instead, I will keep this guy:

In a bit of a coincidence, my dog and I watched the second night of the 2013 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show tonight.  We missed the toy dog category (the one with Shih Tzus) but got to see the working dog group and the terrier group.  The French mastiff in the competition - or the Dogue de Bordeaux - was a handsome fella but he did not win his category.  The Portuguese Water Dog did.  I also learned that the Great Pyrenees, another member of the working dog group, was declared the "Royal Dog of France" by Louis XIV in 1675.
I know just the person who could use one of these.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Homeland and Little America

Just as I have innumerable books waiting to be read, I also have several television series that I need to watch.  This past week, I finally started watching Homeland.  I know Homeland is a huge hit now and everyone has seen it so that I should watch it now and write about it is, I realize, well after all the horses have left the barn.  But I knew about the show before it premiered two seasons ago and thought it was going to be something worth watching.  Of course, I never got around to watching it.

What I can't believe was ten years ago, I read a great piece in the LA Weekly by John Powers on the novels of JG Farrell.  (Really - you should go read it.) (Side Note:  I have a bookshelf dedicated to writers with the initials J"X" - I have JG Farrell, JG Ballard, JM Coetzee, JR Ackerley JF Powers, and JF Federspiel.  It amuses me to no end.)  The thrust of the review is that Americans are not very good at writing about empire - which is unfortunate because there is so much material to be expolited.  One notable exception, according to Powers, was a new novel called Little America by Henry Bromell.  At the time I was more concerned with JG Farrell and didn't buy a copy of Little America for a few years and then let it sit unread for a several more years.  But I did start to read about Bromell and found out that he was also a TV writer/producer.  He was one of the producers of Homicide: Life on the Street (or the cop show in Baltimore that David Simon did before The Wire, greatest work of television ever) and a bunch of other shows.  So even though I had not read Little America, I was pretty impressed by Bromell.  And then I heard that he was producing a new series for Showtime called Homeland, and I thought, gee, that should be pretty good, I should watch it.  And with the way things work around here, two years later I am now watching Homeland.

Yes, Homeland is amazing.  So good that I decided to start reading Little America.  It, too, is amazing.  "A remarkably well written and highly original novel.  A thriller at the classiest level." - Los Angeles Times.  I agree.  Little America is the story of CIA involvement in a fictitious Middle Eastern country in the 1950s told through the attempt of the son of a CIA officer to understand what happened to the country (which has vanished) and his family (who were stationed there).  The jacket copy references Graham Greene and John Le Carre.  I would throw in the storytelling chops of William Boyd.  I can't believe this book isn't better known. I hope the success of Homeland spurs some interest in this novel.

I have no idea if it is possible to effective brainwash a person.  I know it is a popular subject in books and movies but I'm skeptical that it could really happen.  Part of Homeland concerns whether or not a captured and tortured US Marine could be turned into a terrorist who would then carry out a mission once back in the US.  So I was thinking about this when I pulled a copy of The Holland Suggestions by John Dunning off the shelf (where it has been patiently waiting for years for the right time to reveal itself to me) to determine whether or not it should go into storage.  John Dunning was a reporter and writer who became a used bookseller and then later wrote some mystery novels about a cop turned used bookseller turned private eye.  Okay, I know that sounds terrible.  Most vocational inspired mystery novels are terrible and completely implausible.  But his first book, Booked to Die, was fantastic.  It was a good crime novel and it was about the book world.  (Um, I can't remember the plot - it came out in 1992 - but I really loved it.  Because I love mystery novels and because I love book collecting.  It worked.)  And the book was a fairly big hit.  At some point I bought an ugly book club edition of one of Dunning's early novels because I wanted more Dunning.  That book was The Holland Suggestions, published in 1975.  Which, of course, I never read. Until now, that is.  Because I realized that the book is some sort of thriller about hypnosis and the power of post-hypnotic suggestion.  When Jim Ryan (Jack Ryan was apparently taken) was in college, he fell in with a rogue professor who experimented on his students.  Something happened and it shattered his life and cost him his wife, leaving him to raise their daughter on his own.  Now, some 15 years later, something is triggering strange actions in Jim Ryan and he is forced to dredge up the past again.  Not helping matters is that his daughter now looks exactly like his wife (and may be secretly communicating with her).  I can't say for sure if this book will be good - it has potential and reads like somewhat of a wordy P.M. Hubbard.  And I probably shouldn't let it distract me from Homeland and Little America, but for some reason I fell compelled to keep reading now.

UPDATE:  Henry Bromell just died.

Saturday, January 19, 2013


Auctorial descriptives like Dickensian, Kafkaesque, and Orwellian are easily understood literary adjectives - most people know what these words mean even if they have never read Dickens, Kafka, and Orwell.  There are many other good ones - Joycean, Pinteresque, Proustian, and Ballardian.  But two things I've stumbled upon recently have had me thinking about Patricia Highsmith and what the auctorial descriptive for her would be (and what it would mean).

I just finished reading Out by Natuso Kirino and it is very Highsmithian - or Highsmithic.  Out is the story of four Japanese women who work the night shift in a boxed lunch factory.  One abused woman strangles her husband and the other three help to get rid of the body.  By chopping him up and packing him into 53 plastic bags.  And disposing of the parts in and around Tokyo.  Even though Yayoi has a compelling reason to kill her husband, she is a murderer.  And her three friends aid and abet the crime by butchering him in a bathroom.  So we are essentially following or rooting for flawed, guilty, or bad characters - which seems to be a common theme in Patricia Highsmith's books.  Tom Ripley, Guy and Bruno in Strangers on Train, to name a few.

In Out, much is made about how hard it is to dispose of a human body.  Or to do it well, so you don't get caught.  It reminded me of Tom Ripley's troubles getting rid of bodies in Ripley Under Ground.  Ripley kills a visiting American art collector in the wine cellar of his home in France (while he has a houseguest) and almost farcically has to drag the body up the stairs and across his property to bury it.  Then he has to go back and dig it up and dump it in a river.  And later on, Ripley has to dispose of another body in the Austrian countryside.  He tries to burn it.  But he botches the cremation.  The women in Out do a better job but have similarly difficult time.  And I rooted for both to succeed.  While I have not settled on a good definition of Highsmithic (which I prefer to Highsmithian - I like the -mythic sound), I'd say Out is Higmsithic.  There is much more to the story - the butchering and disposal of the abusive husband is just the start of things.  At times, the suspense and horror in Out were nearly unbearable.  An awesome book, I can't believe it took me almost eight years to read it.

There is a TV show on the ABC Family channel called Pretty Little Liars that I also think is somewhat Highsmithic.  (The show is blantantly Hitchcockian - the references to Psycho have all the subtlety of a hand grenade.)  The series follows what happens to four teen girls after their friend Alison is murdered and after a prank blinds another girl. A shadowy figure known as A torments the girls via text messages and dirty tricks.  The girls try to solve the murder of their friend and unmask A.  If I were a teen girl I would probably think this is the greatest thing on TV.  My wife is a big fan of the show and that is how I came to watch it.  We were watching some old episodes to prepare for the start of the show's winter season when I noticed at the start of an episode that Nate is holding and reading a copy of Patricia Highsmith's The Blunderer.  Nate  has already stalked and killed Maya (who is Emily's love interest) and is now targeting Emily (one of the titular Pretty Little Liars).  He does so by going after Paige, Emily's new love interest.  I haven't read The Blunderer so I don't know what plot elements the show is using from the book but I bet they are there.

And I guess this is a sign that I should read The Blunderer sometime soon.  Perhaps after I finish Grotesque, Natsuo Kirino's follow up to Out.  And now that I have this idea about the Highsmithic in my head, I wonder what else is out there?