Saturday, June 03, 2017

The Horse and His Boy

The Horse and His Boy, C. S. Lewis

Good one: emotion, adventure, suspense. And that twist.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis

Not as good as the first one. Less architectural, although walking through coats until they become a forrest is cool.

Ending is kind of disappointing. The victory of the heroes is assured by the sudden machination of "deeper magic." I wish this deeper magic had been mentioned in the beginning.

That's the thing about stories: they work when the element of resolution is something that has made its appearance early, then has been forgotten. When the resolution just comes out of nowhere, like when suddenly the hero can fly or stop time or something, it doesn't feel like a story.

Still like reading it, though.

Saturday, February 11, 2017


Seveneves, Neal Stephenson

Such an epic idea and series of ideas, with such realized potential that the structural flaws mostly around its ending only make me admire its epicness.

Let's do away with the flaws: the price, first of all. Twelve euros is steep for an e-book, but hell. And the narrative is too fast at the end. A hundred important things happen but all with very little tension, as if the plan was complete but the publisher rushed the book out the door.

To create tension, you miss twice then bullseye the third time. Let me be clear: the last sixth of Seveneves, after flawless execution of the first five sixths, is a string of bullseyes. All that's missing is the "misses," those teasing narrative events that tell you you're getting close to the big reveal but which make you think everything's gone to hell. It feels like Stephenson had the entire plan written out, but for the very last part the publisher rushed the book out the door. Nevertheless, since the GOOD parts got written, it's still a good read.

We're left with: A catastrophe novel of immense, epic ideas, relentlessly coming one after the other; A funny novel, with funny characters and an unthinkable optimism in the face of the most unthinkably biggest disasters that could ever occur; and bunch of good little stories within a good big story. Don't spend twelve euros, but read it.

Update: for some reason Google Plus is re-publishing this post every time I make a small change, while Google Blogger is reverting my text to old versions and deleting key paragraphs. Hopefully, this will be the last correction.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


Cryptonomicon, Neal Stephenson

It has come to my attention that there is such a thing—and I will retroactively apply this to several persons I have come across—as an English geek.

Unlike my experience at university where I encountered math geeks and computer geeks and also engineers (geekness included by definition), nobody in the entire Arts faculty lacked social skills or failed to wear make up, or got really... I don't know... excited about books.

But I wasn't paying attention. It is through authors like Pynchon that I realize that there were undergraduates sitting in those English lectures ... geeking out. Checking dictionnaires. Writing dictionaries. Intertextualizing. Geeking out on how stories work. How... I don't know... the alazon turns out to be the hero in Pride and Prejudice (I'm just making that up). How language changes. How Spenser sounds medieval and funny because he was making fun of funny-sounding medieval writers. Learning to speak Middle-English.

I'm stupid. Now that I think of it, I met them. I guess the English-geekness was just so overshadowed by the profundity of math-geekness that it was difficult for those poor English geeks to sprout. There were obviously linguistics geeks. And secular exegetical geeks. But there were really literary-structure geeks. It's through reading Pynchon that I realized there must be a whole world of people out there looking for this kind of writing that just thrashes around all these theories and models of English literature. And that's why I like reading Pynchon.

But... the awesome thing that I've just realized with Stephenson is that you can be an English geek and a math geek at the same time.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Magician's Nephew

The Magician's Nephew, C. S. Lewis

I'm finally reading Narnia.

I wish it was longer.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


Wonder, R. J. Palacio

The feeling of not wanting to read this book is like the feeling of not wanting to talk to August, its hero.

Overcome that.

The Black Count

The Black Count, Tom Reiss

Well, who woulda thunk it.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Dispossessed

The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin

Le Guin is best when she's boring.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

An Innocent Client

An Innocent Client, Scott Pratt

Overuse of the words "belligerent" and "pantsuit." But well-told and readable.


Purity, Jonathan Franzen

Purity belongs to that class of story based entirely on its protagonist learning who his or her parents are. It tells us many awful stories in skilled mind-twisting order, with a high-impact revelation of parenthood. It is rich and fat, and bold.

There is something else though. There is more than dash of insanity in several characters, and their motivations are hard to follow. But the text is so tight that I'm convinced that difficulty is just me not putting in enough effort. It's so tight that I'm willing to forgive it anything.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

La rivière à l'envers

La rivière à l'envers (two volumes), Jean-Claude Mourlevat

Cute and imaginative. Poetic and perfect. I wish it was longer.

Lady Chatterley's Lover

Lady Chatterley's Lover, D. H. Lawrence

Oh yeah, porn! Phalluses and... women's parts. Fucking. Coming off together. And philosophy and class struggle.

If MarxPorn is your fantasy, then this book is for you.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Pattern Recognition

Pattern Recognition, William Gibson

Glad I read it, would again. I just feel it could have had a more meaningful resolution. It wasn't very tense.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Peripheral

The Peripheral, William Gibson

Good Gibson. And Gibson's good.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Tripwire, Lee Child

Good work, Lee, but I need to find some just slightly better books.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

Dolorous, but a more scientifically comic command of English I have not seen.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Wolves Eat Dogs

Wolves Eat Dogs, Martin Cruz Smith

Grimy, black, wet and hot. But not the hot you think: excellent book.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Small World

Small World, David Lodge

Fun. Just a tiny whiff of a hint didactic. Otherwise fun.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Comment parler des livres que l'on n'a pas lus ?

Comment parler des livres que l'on n'a pas lus ?, Pierre Bayard


The Satanic Verses

The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie

I wish I could say I liked its comedy, its impertinence and its sexy girls, but it's hard to "like" a book that rent international diplomatic relations; and besides, it's just a little biological bit too gross.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Die Trying

Die Trying, Lee Child

Okay, we are clearly dealing with exciting, well-told stories, but in every one the bad guy gets shot in the head without knowing who killed him.

These are good revenge stories, but they are missing the watch-the-big-guy-fall pieces that make books like A Man in Full or Le Comte de Monte Cristo so satisfying.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Killing Floor

The Killing Floor, Lee Child

The heart pumping action and Reacher's not possible cleverness make up for the quick, weak ending.

The Survivor

The Survivor, Frank Herbert

I survived.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A Wanted Man

A Wanted Man, Lee child

Odd narrative engineering: the story ends in the middle of the book, then a new one starts. It's pretty good, but feels like cut-and-paste.

And who's the actual wanted man?

The Hard Way

The Hard Way, Lee Child

Good story, well told. Abrupt ending.

Sunday, May 03, 2015


Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut

Is it illiterate of me to say that this was very funny?

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin

Is the theme the left hand of the story or the story the right hand of the theme? Feels like it vacuums out your stomach, freezes it, and feeds it to your brain.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Agatha Christie

The sheer yet gentlemanly audacity of the ending should tie tighter to a murder motive. And then it would be genius.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015


V., Thomas Pynchon

I think I'm gonna have to make a map.

Thursday, October 09, 2014


Pilgrim, Timothy Findley

Feels like I have mountains of reading to do before I can get half of it.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Last Ringbearer

The Last Ringbearer, Kirill Eskov tr. Yisroel Markov

Very good storytelling. I wish I could have read it in the original Russian.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

La Formule de Dieu

La Formula de Dieu, José Rodrigues dos Santos tr. Carlos Batista


Saturday, February 01, 2014

The Brothers Karamazov

The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, tr. Constance Garnett

Dostoyevsky is best when he's boring.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers

I really like it, although I can see how it is an odd read.

Even a sometimes unrewarding read. But the guy's neurotic, manic-depressive personality and imagination... It's magnetic. It's just awesome of him to unleash such a quantity of himself, and such an entertaining quantity. Besides, it's a masterpiece. How does he manage to write such an amusing and lighthearted book on such a horrible subject? And then, there's the whole curiosity of a twenty-something suddenly becoming a parent of a 7-year-old. What would you have done? That's fascinating.

He has also invented something. There's this massive introduction/preface/acknowledgements section  which he untraditionally uses to analyze and apologize for his book. In this section, all his insecurities come out and then he analyzes them and then tells you he's aware that he's analyzing his awareness of his inability to come to terms with his use of his insecurities to get your attention... it's a vision with so many layers that, like the title, you just never have a point of reference to tell you if this guy deserves pity or is truly a total genius. It's pity, but that's the genius, so he doesn't deserve pity and therefore it's not genius, but he knows that, so we must pity him, and therefore... by induction, it's ... what? which one? what is it?

Despite the logic puzzles, it's quite an easy read. If you're not interested in the young-unexpected-parenting theme, then it will feel dull, but if you are then along with his unique style and whacked out imagination you'll be buoyed right through.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Le livre du rire et de l'oubli

Le livre du rire et de l'oubli, Milan Kundera tr. François Karel

Deep. Light. Wet. Smells a bit like farts.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Hippopotamus

The Hippopatamus, Stephen Fry

Consciously but involuntarily, when I read, I always observe if the author has a tic. If he does, I have trouble reading any further work; if he doesn't, I keep going.

I'll give you an example of one who failed. In Rutherford's London, he uses an interrogative as a particularly romantic qualitative, just way, way too often: "How lovely the bridge's arches," "What fragrance wafted from the fields," "How brazenly bulged his muscles under the tanned skin." It sounds Ok at first, but after 800 pages, I no longer see the text; I see the tic.

It can be anything. A word, or a particularly over-dramatic way of ending each chapter. I hope I always start with the benefit of the doubt, but once I notice it, I can't ... well, the author gets in my face. I can't suspend disbelief. And if you can't do that, why read?

In Fry, I haven't seen it yet, but I am beginning to see a hint of it. It's really hard to pin down, but the tic I am beginning to see is a sort of childishness. I'm not going to try to analyze it.

I'm not going to try to analyze it because I don't want to ruin it for myself. His books are immensely fun, simple ideas developed in astonishingly complex directions, and I would hate the discovery of an irritating habit to destroy everything.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Executive Orders

Executive Orders, Tom Clancy

I thought, one day, Tom would write a book thicker than it is wide.

But he died. Tom did.

He died.

Monday, June 10, 2013

L'amour au temps de choléra

L'amour au temps de choléra, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, tr. Annie Morvan

I was not prepared to suffer another slab of magic realism, much as I liked the first two. And I was impressed at how Marquez didn't need it.

This is good storytelling, and it's a story that needs skill. That he pulls it off without magic realism--and that he manages more than once to even tip over the brink of magic realism before pulling back--proved to me, in the funny sense that these things need to be proven in academic reading, but do not so in casual reading, that this guy is very, very good.
If there were ten other Marquez books waiting for me, and if this one had been the third in a
row that dosed out the same gimmick, I would not have given the rest a thought. Now, I expect how ever many of them are left to be too few.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Tom Sawyer

Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain

Tom Sawyer or Harry Potter? This book's OK. I like the wry narrator, but I feel that his wit is wasted on the subject of children. Why children? He observes a good deal about adults, but does it bring something to do it through children's eyes? To ponder...

I can see from the confident language and colourful dialogue why this is a classic, but it has some structural weaknesses--chapters that just seem useless and independent of the story, events that lead nowhere--that don't make it very exciting. It's not great; it's curious.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, Umberto Eco, tr. Geoffrey Brock

Painful, though not boring because you're always waiting for that final resolution, and you don't realize that Umberto is taking you farther and farther away from it. So not boring, because you always believe he'll reveal the key to it all for you, even as the right-hand ream gets thinner and thinner, and as the larger and larger illustrations leave less and less room for the crucial text. And no- he does not reveal it. He reveals nothing but has just tricked you with his smirky face into plowing through catalogs and catalogs of gratuitous comic book narratives and war-time Italian pop lyrics, encouraging you with good but despairingly sparse stories, encouraging you to come to the end of nothing. Nothing at all, not even what we didn't think was worth caring about. Yet- though nothing- something. Something that returns to the beginning and ties something down; I'm just not sure what it is.

It's not painful; it's... Gently frustrating.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Adventure of English

The Adventure of English, Melvyn Bragg

A good amateur's survey of the history of English, better at the start than its rather mechanical surveys of Australian or West Indies vocabularies towards the end. You learn things: for a little background, Old English for example was an inflected language, like Latin, but commerce between two inhabiting tribes on the island of Britain, separated by a political barrier, brought about prepositions like "on" and "for" to replace inflections which two separate races could not hear clearly. Plenty of fun stories and facts, if over-romanticized. But hey, the romantization is a good form for telling the story of a character that has lived 1500 years.

One more thing: especially to one living in francophonia, The Adventure of English reminds me of which words are "really" English, and the game of finding the "English" equivalents of Latin- or French-derived words like "derive," "barrier" or of course "surrender."

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Worm Ouroboros

The Worm Ouroboros, E. R. Eddison

Very good fantasy. Treats its romantic, imagined universe with surprising confidence, unapologetic for its amusing inconsistencies: a setting on a world named "Mercury" lacking the most elementary foundation in the physics of the planet Mercury; a hero race named "Demons" that start the book sporting horns, a feature which receives no mention during later physionomic detailing; and a host of other geologic and temporal inventions that have no ambition for basis in any reality.

I've heard it called "high fantasy:" perhaps the "high" refers to the state in which one's mind must be to accept the textual constructions, but I don't feel it is fantasy at all: just a sort of outpouring of images from fun nights on Hallowe'en, romance novels and war films that finds itself in the same binding.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Crime and Punishment

Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky

1st of all: Very good book. Immersive, at times tense, then thoughtful. Concentrated.

A concentrated work, concentrated ideas, squashed together tightly, in a tight box. A prison. This Dostoevsky hates the city; it stinks so much. People live unimaginably abominably. Watching them squirm in the hot, dusty ruts is irritating and attractive. The civilized reduced to animals by the heated dirt and bricks.

Gratuitous philosophy. This one thought that; that one thought this, thought and theorized and analyzed his theories and then analyzed his own analyzing, all this in cynical disgust, all going nowhere. One would think the world can only be ended if such text is possible in it.

The entrance is easy; feels like we are the hero. How he gets where he is is minutely studied, observed, hypothesized and understood, such that we can be him, do his deeds even the most sinful. And thus we can follow him even when he goes mad: this is admirable, this concentration from the author, that he can take us so far from our own lives in a vehicle that we feel we can ride.

Very good.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Frankestein, Mary Shelley

Not bad story, but style irritatingly romantic: I mean to the point that I wonder if it was a joke.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Just My Type

Just My Type, Simon Garfield

Feels like it's full of unfinished anecdotes, but even half anecdotes are readable when they're about such a fringe topic.

Verdict: readable.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Descent of Alette

The Descent of Alette, Alice Notley

I don't usually like poems, but this reads like a story. I like it.

There is also a neat style worth mentioning. Notley uses quotation marks to separate poetic feet, meaning that every few words you get an enclosure in quotation marks, and there are no words free of these marks. So you get a barrage of quotation marks. And indeed, each break between quote-wrapped feet does make you pause, creating a rhythm that the author says is "intended."

Good for her. I'd add that there's an effect of quotation marks that she doesn't mention... that of creating a sense of irony. It's what attracted me first to the book, and what kept me reading.

Les Trois Mousquetaires

Les Trois Mousquetaires, Alexandre Dumas

Nice, though not as good as Monte Cristo.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Singing Sword

The Singing Sword, Jack Whyte

Sequel to The Skystone. Less historically interesting, and more plain fantasy sword-swiping and maiden/matron-groping.

The Skystone

The Skystone, Jack Whyte

Great idea, and well-delivered on the whole, if some details in execution are a little irritating.

Best thing about this book is how it makes you go, "Hey, so what else can I learn about how the Romans got booted out of England?"


Moby-Dick, Herman Melville

Mind-numbing catalogs of whale types and sailing activities, descriptions of whale anatomy in overly-romantic terms. There is only a single meeting of the hero and the monster, and that is at the end; makes you miss the old "two unsuccessful encounters before final triumph" story. The actual story is stark.

Yet: this starkness is a testament to overwhelming narrative willpower, and that is impressive. Plus there are so many crazy little bits that I can't help liking it. Watch:

Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Ravage, René Barjavel

I initially thought this was like the French brave New World, but what an appetite for destruction. The author is a masochist. Given how cheerily it begins, the amount of disaster is continuously jolting.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Coders at Work

Coders at Work, Peter Siebel

Great idea. Real easy read. Makes me realize that I should become and remain unalterably confused about the work I do every day.

Le Comte de Monte Cristo

Le Comte de Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas

Plotted in two dimensions, hero's power over time, many good books start high, say seven, drop quickly to one and remain there until near the end, when they rise to ten. That return feels amazing.

Monte Cristo is simpler: starting at ordinary five, we glimpse six then drop to one and stay there only a short time before heaving up massively to ten and remaining there for the last three quarters of the story. That long stay at ten feels mind-blowing.

What I like is how it's tempered. Unlike Frye's The Stars' Tennis Balls, a nominal God drives and justifies revenge, and the milieu validates it. Consequently, the punishment is not dementia. More simply, it's fun to watch the star Monte Cristo build up all the little pieces that will eventually act in concert to cause his enemies' overthrow, in many cases the enemy forced to hammer in the final nail himself.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Stars' Tennis Balls

The Stars' Tennis Balls, Stephen Fry

Dementedly good, but demented.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Le Retrait

Le Retrait, Frédéric Moitel

When it starts, it feels anchored in something, as if the words were a continuation of what you were living, even though you've never heard those words before. There's that precision to it all the way through, which is guiding although it takes you through alien thoughts, alien houses and alien sex.

That precision gives the book a stunning beauty, in its form and in its narrative. It is depressing, yes, often maddening, but it is something you can look at for a long time.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, Stieg Larsson, tr. Reg Keeland

Very good.

The Girl Who Played with Fire

The Girl Who Played with Fire, Stieg Larsson, tr. Reg Keeland

Very good.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson, tr. Reg Keeland

Very good.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mason & Dixon

Mason & Dixon, Thomas Pynchon

This book is hard. But it is better than any of the books below.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Blank Slate

The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker

This took me a really long time to read (see below), because it often gets into this subtlety thing that I just didn't feel like unraveling.

What I did unravel is that some of us have been taught to feel guilty for Western society's achievements, and that perhaps even more of us has gotten used to thinking that reason is the only human faculty worth mentioning. It is therefore stimulating to think that what defines a human being is not just reason, but other faculties and idiosyncrasies that exploration of which may lead to more targeted invention, or more striking art.

Let's not forget that Pinker's a pretty funny guy, and writes very approachably. But he takes on problems of large magnitude: what happens when individual instinct goes up against a carefully constructed community convention? The Language Instinct was more fun than this, and in Blank Slate, it's surprising how much subtle argument goes into a conclusion that Pinker himself admits is self-evident. The book is an academic navigation, a very careful one, and appreciable for the quality of its thought and writing, not for its pull.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek, Ian Rankin

Very nice: captivating but a tad repulsive, so discourages all-nighters.

You know how detective novels are all about some macho guy into whose lap multitudes of chicks and the solution to the mystery helplessly swoon? In this one, the main character is not assigned to the case, is mean to subordinates, bad at lovemaking and although he figures out the case is unable to make the arrest. The broken cliches are nice.

Unnatural Causes

Unnatural Causes, P.D. James

Good read. End is a bit artificial.

You know how detective novels are all about some macho guy into whose lap multitudes of chicks and the solution to the mystery helplessly swoon? In this one, the main character is not assigned to the case, and all but the ugly girls flee him, but he still solves the mystery without effort. The partly-broken cliches are nice.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Runaway Jury

The Runaway Jury, John Grisham

A Grisham. My first. Exciting, solid, fast.

Le Royaume de la paix

Le Royaume de la paix, Frédéric Moitel

This was hard to read, since it was rather intensely intellectual, deeply probing of human participation in urban society, exhaustive, cataloguing and of course archetypal. It gives little for the reader to hang on to. Intentionally.

But there are good bits. I like the repetition. I like how he says things like il a le temps ou non d’observer les boutiques qui se succèdent et s’illuminent or il y a la personnalité qui développe ou non des affinités or my favourite: Les fantasmes et les souhaits de rencontres furtives pendant les vacances au soleil ou non apparaissent et occupent durablement les cerveaux ébranlés des hommes et des femmes célibataires ou non, homosexuels ou hétérosexuels, à plusieurs dans une chambre où ils transpirent en jouissant ou pas.

This is really, really hard to read. And I don't feel I did it any justice given the little effort I put in. But it's very, very tight, it's lyrical, it's possessed, it's right.

Harry Potter et les reliques de la mort

Harry Potter et les reliques de la mort, Jean-Francois Ménard

Two things distinguished this one from the other potter books: no school year structured the narrative, which suffered, and the story actually ended. I found the part just before the end, the penultimate part, very tense. But the ending was a fight, and Rowling simply can't do fights, and it was, as always, a letdown.

Nice to have things wrapped up for these slightly-more-than-usually-touching characters, but the narrative is not memorable.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008


Next, Michael Crichton

Interesting to read this while reading Pinker's Blank Slate: many of the arguments are similar. An attempt to find a center between the absolutely against and absolutely liberal on genetic manipulation.

The stories are what I suppose is classic Crichton: hard to put down.

L'insoutenable légèreté de l'être

L'insoutenable légèreté de l'être, Milan Kundera

Easy to read. Gripping story, light but firm. Beautiful form and thought.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Inside the Tornado, Geoffrey Moore

Inside the Tornado, Geoffrey Moore

I liked the part where he says that this book is not really inventing any new marketing principles, but it is presenting them in a way that high-tech entrepreneurs--typically engineers--can understand them. That's how it feels. It feels like vague, hand-wavy marketing practices are being converted into equations.

I also like when he tells stories about real companies. One could compose an entertaining book just by compiling analyses, in hindsight, of all the failures and succcesses over the last decade of the high-tech industry. I wish Moore had done more of this; but his objective is pedagogy, not entertainment.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Crossing the Chasm

Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers, Geoffrey A. Moore

This is the first time I've read a business book, and it went well.

Geoffrey is satisfactory with anecdotes, decent with humour. Most parts of this book are a good read in the way the front page of the economy section is a good read. If there is any discomfort in the style, it is the huge number of typos and linguistic errors in my copy. While I don't find typos and errors significantly distracting, their density in this book at least somewhat checks its humour. I suppose it's like the phenomenon of someone stumbling over a joke.

As for its theses, it's certainly opened my eyes to business in general. Techie that I am, I am grateful to have spent just the short time it takes to read this book, for the number of puzzling marketing and behavioural questions on which it sheds light.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Liasons dangereuses

Liasons dangereuses, Choderlos de Laclos

The other book I know that is written in correspondence, La Nouvelle Heloïse, sometimes gets awkward. There's this one scene in LNH where the hero is writing, in a letter, that someone is opening the door to his hiding place in his lover's bedroom, and so he has to end the letter, and escape. One feels that if the author wanted to narrate such moments of suspense, then he should not have chosen letters as his medium.

LD, on the contrary, is always believable. That is, the action is such that the authors of the letters always have an obvious motivation to write letters. Through this, and other aspects, the book solidly reassured me of its structure.

Other than that, the story is engaging, often exciting, and it is a good read upon which to pass several multi-hour sessions.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Trois jours chez ma mère

Trois jours chez ma mère - François Weyergans

Structurally fascinating, contentually mind-numbing.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Ocalone w Tłumaczeniu

Ocalone w Tłumaczeniu, Stanisław Barańczak

The title, in my translation, is Completed in Translation.

I have lots to say about this, but only time to write some bullet points.

  • Robert Frost poem: striking translation.

  • If I had to pick an example to post here, it would be the e. e. cummings.

  • Not only are the translations good, but it makes poetry interesting.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

A Son of the Circus

A Son of the Circus, John Irving

I was disappointed that this was not a murder mystery. It starts out like one, but then, way before the end, Irving reveals the whole secret. From then on you're just watching the inevitable tying up of all the various narratives.

Too bad. I had once started this book, but I had stopped before the part where you realise it's not a murder mystery. Thus I actually read that beginning part twice. I had really been hoping tha Irving would put his considerable powers towards the very crafty plot needed to obscure and then reveal an assassin. He did not; it's just another Irving.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Harry Potter et le Prince de sang-mêlé

Harry Potter et le Prince de sang-mêlé, J.K. Rowling, tr. Jean-François Ménard.

Yet another book that is strangely addictive despite not being that good. In trying to resolve this puzzle, I've got a lot to say about it.

There were many technical things that this book made me consider. Rowling is definitely avoiding many existing formulas for this kind of narrative, and she's doing it admirably. For example, Harry is not a great sorcerer, nor really great at anything supernatural except flying on a broom. He's just courageous, really. In a book set in a supernatural world, we could forgive Rowling for making the hero supernaturally powerful. But he's average and just tries hard. So, Rowling is taking a harder road. Throughout this, her complex structure stays intact.

This structure is another thing. I'm satisfied that every piece that Rowling introduced throughout the series has fallen into place. Harry's ability to speak to snakes was introduced very early, but it has found a consistent explanation; some other details about Sirius that I've now forgotten were also tightly integrated; and generally Rowling resolves all details that she raises, no matter how long ago in the series. This is impressive considering the number of years she's been writing the series. And reading a book that does this well is rewarding, in the way laughing at a sitcom is rewarding.

What disappoints me about this sixth book is how few details are left to resolve. I'm worried that the last book will be nothing but a long, tedious battle between hero and villain, and Rowling sucks hard at battles. I don't know what's wrong with her, but it's like whenever she narrates action, she tries to describe every little detail separately. She never takes advantage of the spontaneity or the poetry of action. She's strong when she sticks to her mathematical unknotting of the structure she's set up, and that's what I'm afraid will be lacking in the seventh novel.

What's left to resolve? Why do I want to read the last book? It's not to learn if Harry wins; he will win, by definition. I suppose I'd like to find out anything else about Voldemort, like where his evil really comes from. And I'd like to know what side Rogue (Snape, in English) is really on, and by extension what Dumbledore's plan has been all this time.

This is the only way the last book can be interesting: if it's all a long, slow revelation of Dumbledore's somehow eternal and all-encompassing plan. If it resorts to cheap lightning bolts shot from magic wands, I'm going to feel like all these previous weeks invested in reading this series have been wasted.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Cider House Rules

The Cider House Rules, John Irving

What surprised me was how easy John is on us. Several times, just as the jaws of narrative are about to clamp down hard on our favourite characters, he rescues us from tragedy. I continually felt that I was on the verge of disaster, when he would circumvent it by such devices as the villain announcing that she was no longer interested in revenge, or by a key confession arriving early, while we expect it to remain as a point of tension until the end of the story.

But, I'm just thinking: it reminds me of Dickens' style, the works of whom feature so prominently in this book. John must have intentionally planned these plot rescues, these "happy twists" that simply end a sub-narrative before it has a chance to get ahead of him. Remarkably, these moments, which should upset the rhythm, never deprive the story of an ounce of its powerful engagement.

I'm not saying that I felt "happy twists" in Dickens, though; rather, Dickens' abrupt halts to sub-narratives feel like unfulfilled forays. John does it WAY better. I wonder if all this, mentioning Dickens so much, then doing better, then mentioning Dickens again, is intentional?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

L'oeuvre au noir

L'oeuvre au noir, Marguerite Yourcenar

A bitch to get into, and a pain throughout, unread it would have left me in shame.

Its redeeming quality is Yourcenar's apparent superpower. I cannot imagine how or why a being would take on such projects. It's because I admire this book that I enjoy it. It has an insistently bleak aesthetic, and its structure, as far as I can tell, is at best elusive. How can anyone consistently write this? Yet she writes perfectly.

Those are my thoughts on the form. My thoughts on the theme are as follows: one of the things that I find alternatively annoying and reassuring about Yourcenar is that she takes on some of the worst human fears, and poetically renders them natural and befitting our cycles of existence. Any horror you can think of, on a scale from personal to worldwide, Yourcenar can balance against other human traits until she convinces you that it is nothing but a barely existing neutrality. Her resigned way of writing about carnal pleasure in the same vein as about genocide is simple comforting.

My thoughts on the content? I don't think much of it. I don't get the feeling that the story is the most important part of this narrative.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Harold Pinter: Complete works vol. 1

Complete works, vol.1, Harold Pinter

Each violent, familiar story is a metamorphosis. Subtle, but grating when read in sequence. Makes me curious about Ovid.

This volume includes The Birthday Party, The Room, The Dumb Waiter, A Slight Ache, A Night Out, and stories "The Black and White, and "The Examination".

I am certain that The Dumb Waiter, which I have read before, is the basis for most of Tarantino's films, especially Reservoir Dogs.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Our Man in Havana

Our Man in Havana, Graham Greene

Pretty good. Tells a crazy story in a low-key style. I'd read more Greene.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson

Very easy to read, very rewarding, very enlightening.

I really can't fit Bryson's argument into any popular topics that abound today. He seems to go beyond many of them, though never arrogantly; just out of pure curiosity. And because of this curiosity, he manages to ask a much more pertinent question of humanity than any media, government or international organisation is currently screaming about.

I'm also impressed at the amount of work Bryson did to write this, all the more impressive in that he doesn't come across as hard-working.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Age of Reason

Age of Reason, Thomas Payne

For a work titled "Age of Reason", I was somewhat disappointed at how much spleen it showed. Payne's tone made me expect one of those rock-solid philosophical treatises that edifies an impenetrable structure out of pure logic. I'm not sure if I can remember the books I am talking about, but they turn up every once in a while in philosophy, or math, or in a newspaper column, and we all recognise them by their comforting foundation and incontrovertible attention to detail. While Payne starts out this way, he does not follow up, and it's too bad, because his topic merits the care.

I will give one example of a disappointing premise. Near the end of the work, Payne declares that "[The religion of Deism] must have been the first, and will probably be the last, that man believes." By Deism, Payne means the belief in a single god, whose only manifestation to human beings is the world in which we live: no scripture, no apparitions, no communion, or so on. It certainly sounds reasonable to state that this type of religion "must have been the first" that man believed, but the point is very debatable. Personally, I doubt it, and I doubt it because of the excellent and precise survey of religions published by James Fraser in The Golden Bough, which establishes that all humans throughout evolution have tended to supernatural beliefs before settling on the natural. Besides which, Fraser found that humans more naturally believed in a multiplicity of anthropomorphic gods than in a single superhuman entity. Isn't it easier to think that "people like us" are causing thunderstorms than in thinking that simple physical principles guide the particles that produce all phenomena we experience?

Whatever the truth, I find Payne's failure to treat certain such obvious questions as a weakness considering the argument he put forth.

Nevertheless, there is a good deal of the edifying in here. For example, and for this I am truly grateful, this is the first time I have ever seen anyone clearly question and examine what the Bible really is. Never before have I heard anyone trace the claims about the Bible to their logical sources. Payne defines the boundary we have if we want to consider the Bible logically. Besides which, he is the first I've ever read to show that "revelation", that is, the communication of god to man, is entirely unremarkable, because as soon as it is written down, or spoken out loud, it becomes hearsay.

Needless to say, the argument bodes poorly for the Bible. I am very curious how the churches have responded to these observations.

So in the end, I like this text for the very basic, fundamental questions it poses, questions so fundamental that I'm ashamed not to have thought of them. I also like the fun literary exercise that it goes through of undermining the Bible's authority by using only the Bible text. On that note, I think my recommendation is pretty obvious: don't read, unless you're into secular Bible theory.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Interpretation of Dreams

Interpretation of Dreams, Freud, tr. James Strachey

This is good. I read it very slowly over a year, and I started to pay more attention to my dreams because of it.

As a scientific work, it's pretty rigorous. Although there are numerous parts where I felt that Freud was not addressing some obvious objections, most of his theory is a hundred times more solid than people seem to give him credit for. I get the feeling that people generally expect Freud's dream theory to explain up front the content of any possible dream. But it's not that: instead, he meticulously examines what the limits of our knowledge of dream, given of course that we can never record them nor ever really be sure what anyone actually dreamt. He establishes the limits of what we can know, and then without trespassing these limits he argues his hypothesis.

While it remains a theory, and one that demonstrates a few faults, it's still the only theory I've ever heard about dreams that reaches this level of completeness. So, until I find a better theory, this one has a lot of potential.

Is this a good read? The first chapter is super boring. Then, it gets much, much better. I would almost recommend skipping section one, or just skimming through it, or maybe reading it last if you feel interested.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Endurance

The Endurance, Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition, Caroline Alexander

Although it is somewhat immoral to read a book the title of which is subtly intended to inspire my wife to stay extra unpaid hours at work, I enjoyed this.

It traces the voyage of the British explorer Ernest Shackleton, in his failure to complete his most famous expedition, and the miraculous endurance that he and his crew had to suffer as a result of that failure. The conditions of navigation and trekking in the antarctic are spectacular, and while the word "chilling" is appropriate literally, here it is its figurative sense that is the more haunting.

The book has two main parts: in the first, the narrative of life on the ice is slow, and the categoric descriptions of all the men involved often ponderous, but it is rescued by the mountains of stunning photographs of Frank Hurley, taken with the professional aim of paying for the expedition; in the second part, with camera equipment no longer available, the story itself, which describes why the camera equipment is no longer available, is incredible. Which, in sum, means that this is a good book.

The Endurance was a year-end gift to all employees in my wife's company, and I am seriously convinced that its point was to alleviate the guilt of the management for keeping everyone late hours at work.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Quo Vadis

Quo Vadis, Henryk Sienkiewicz, tr. Jeremiah Curtin

First of all, I didn't want to start this book at all. It looked boring.

My first impression reminded me of War and Peace. It begins with a discussion that all of a sudden, with one sentence, launches an epic story. But as the first few chapters unfolded, I saw that the epicness was not quite as big as Tolstoy's.

And then, the appearance of pious Christian characters professing their faith bade even more boringness.

But later on, I realised there was a great deal of audacity in setting a historical novel in the midst of a history that is covered by the Bible. Unlike a "life of Jesus" book, or movie, Quo Vadis is an imagination of what the characters surrounding Jesus were doing, and especially what they did after he died. So it must stick to facts that are covered by the Bible, but it must fill in the parts that are not covered. I think that's an admirable risk for a writer. I suppose an historical novelist always takes this risk--the fact that he or she must meet "checkpoints" that are verifiable in textbooks--but with all the cultural weight that the Bible carries, basing a history on it is just that little bit harder.

Finally, I appreciated that, although Christianity is unoriginally presented as triumphant in the end, the book allows very blunt debate between Christians and atheists. The principal atheist who converts to Christianity for example, backslides several times, even forgetting himself and killing a bunch of random people just to save a favourite. Doubts about the priopriety and potential of Christianity are carried through until the very end.

And finally, the story turns out very rich, the details original, and the read attractive.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


Neuromancer, William Gibson

Third time.

While I read it, I was hyped as hell. Now I'm depressed like a betaphenethylamine comedown. And I think it's because of Molly. I think she was in love with Case, but couldn't admit it. I've got quotes to prove it.

So it's funny: the first two times I read it, I was spatially disoriented; I didn't know what was going on. Honestly--some passages I read this time recalled images in my memory from the previous reading, and the old images were completely wrong. I had this one picture of Case watching the ninja from the top of a narrow tunnel, maybe over a TV screen, when really they were both standing beside a pool. I think it's fascinating how Gibson whips you around in space; how if you're not careful you can have no idea where the characters are standing.

But I don't want to analyse; I want to transmit. It's a hyped book, ruthless, sensitive, like Molly. And I like Molly, and she's gone, and that's tragic.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Oryx and Crake

Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood

After being forced through Handmaid's Tale in highschool, I vowed: "No more Atwood."

But this was good. The greatest improvement over Handmaid is the lack of preaching. It's funny (as in humour), a fast read, conscious of the present, imaginative of the future.

The best though, was its ambiguity. Ie., what happened? Who loved whom? What happens after it ends? Who did what, exactly? Structurally, I have the impression that this book leaves multiple possibilities open at numerous points of the narrative. I feel like I could pick a spot in the middle and read a whole different book depending on how I interpreted the text.

In literature courses, we actively search for these points, and put great effort into uncovering ambiguity and non-intuitive possibilities, but the unique feature of Oryx and Crake is that these possibilities are unavoidable.

And yet... we never feel let down that the author is hiding something. No, rather, she seems to intentionally "paint herself into corners" where she is obviously no longer able to explain what is going on, and therefore we must do so.

So where Handmaid was patronising, this rough vision is pleasantly Socratic.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


Pélagie-la-Charette, Antonine Maillet

This is my second reading, this time in French to see what the big deal was. They do use a lot of funny expressions and grammar like "J'allons au noroît" ("Nous allons au nord-ouest.").

It made me want to cry again, so epic it gets at some points. Twice, I think, there's things that are very touching, because you realise they're true and they're enormous.

It also made me think how my education confounded the Acadians with the Quebecois; how all I was told came from maybe a single page of a textbook.

Oh, and it also struck me structurally: especially when the author's own ancestor appears in one of the characters' tales. I can't stop thinking of the people as characters, but on a parallel plane they were real people. I still can't get my head around it: usually books either talk about historical figures, or about fictional characters, and the situation is clear. Here, no; they're both.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

A Fine Balance

A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry

I suppose I would sound smarter if I hadn't read Pico Ayer's afterword before writing down my thoughts, but what he says is spot on: this book is timeless.

I was sitting there trying to figure out what the story was, and I realised that the story is simply that of a bad government, or even more generally: destiny. The people whom the bad forces harm as they go along don't really suffer any discernible narrative progress. Other than learning how to live with calamity.

That, of course, makes it sound much more depressing than it really is; its fine balance comes from how much happiness the book is able to bring you amidst a sorrow that seems insurmountable.

It's just brilliant. The writing feels as natural as if the author was just making light, regular breaths, and they were floating down and lying on the page as sentences. And yet, this effortless, instinctive activity results in a remarkably structured and profound text. But then, hey, breathing is profound.

One flaw, I felt, was the Anna-Karenina-ending. That single instant wasn't as richly motivated for me as the rest of the events in the novel. It serves to highlight, though, that all the events, all the decisions and reactions of the characters, are explored through a crystalline myriad--tragic, comic, everything--of facets. It really does make you feel like you are living these people's lives.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Harry Potter et l'ordre du phénix

Harry Potter et l'ordre du phénix, J.K. Rowling, tr. Jean-François Ménard.

This is the first Harry Potter book that did not give me the "Tetris-effect". Although the story is still fairly captivating, something is missing, something which made me unable to get rid of any of the first four books from my mind. I do not know what this missing element is; my going hypothesis is that as the kids have aged, I no longer feel any protective parental instinct towards them?

Based on that theory, the attraction of the previous books was that they engaged my protective parental instincts. I wonder if anyone else has felt this.

Again, a decent read, though fairly disappointing action scenes, where one feels that the resolutions of certain tensions are cheap. I think I can now wait patiently until the series is finished before I continue to the next one.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Watermark 2004

Watermark, MA Creative Writing Bath Spa University College 2004, Pridy, R., ed.

This is a collection of short stories and excerpts from the Bath Spa MA in creative writing, which my buddy Dan did.

There is some really good stuff in here. Some of it is just brilliant. Some of it is crap. My attention was drawn to one of the critics' comments printed on the cover: "there is no house style, no School of Newton Park", referring to the fact that everyone writes in their individual style. This is an interesting thing to look for in a collection from a creative writing programme: I generally agree with the guy. There is a story that's insanely funny; another one ominously troubling, and a few other interesting pieces in between.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry

Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry, Isabel Rivers

Although this is a textbook and, as such, not necessarily the most attractive casual reading, once into it I found that it gave me the most incredible ideas. For creative writing, I mean. I'm talking about ideas that are hardly possible to bring about. They all had to do with writing on four- or five-fold exegeticable structures, or exploring the relationship between classical and modern religion.

This is an interesting book because of its surveying quality of thought in both classical and medieval times. As such, it opens up vast complexes of ideas.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Harry Potter et La Coupe de Feu

Harry Potter et La Coupe de Feu, J.K. Rowling, tr. Jean-François Ménard

As addictive as ever. The "darker" edge of this one made me more uneasy when I finished it. But my main reaction is how goddam invasive these books are. It's not even impossible to put down; it's impossible not to keep thinking about it even after you have put it down. I don't know what it is... it's not like it's even the best story I've ever heard; it's pretty mediocre that way. What could it be that gets Harry so inside my head, dammit! (Note the lack of question mark.)

Saturday, April 30, 2005

An Instance of the Fingerpost

An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears

Historically-set murder mystery. Mystical ending. A rare structure: four manuscripts tell the same story, in sequence, from four different angles. Only the last writer has access to all the other manuscripts. And thus the exciting and unexpected truth is hidden from us until the very end.

The trouble is that it takes a great deal of pain to read through the first three manuscripts. It's as if the author's heart wasn't really in them, but he knew he had to write them to fulfill form. A gruelling read; somewhat rewarding at the end. Some of the historical details (English renaissance) are interesting.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Harry Potter et le prisonnier d'Azkaban

Harry Potter et le prisonnier d'Azkaban, J. K. Rowling, tr. Jean-François Ménard Very good escapist fiction. Again, I saw a couple of lapses in the resolution of the story at the end, but the book was impossible to put down. The continuity in the series is becoming impressive, because Rowling is maintaining a rather mundane form (one book=one year at school, Harry saves world), but each time she adds more elements, and these elements do not conflict, but rather reveal more information about the previous books. Which indicates that Rowling must have a fairly large plan in her head to keep all this straight.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Harry Potter et la chambre de secrets

Harry Potter et la chambre de secrets, J. K. Rowling, tr. Jean-François Ménard - Again, once I started, I could not stop reading it, and images of Harry kept floating into my consciousness at inconvenient times of the day. I find the story is again fairly classic, and slightly more solid than the first book, although there are one or two elements that feel a little contrived. Nevertheless, excellent reading.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Harry Potter à l'école des sorciers

Harry Potter à l'école des sorciers, J. K. Rowling, tr. Jean-François Ménard Original title: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone First: why in French? Because it was a gift, and I wouldn't have bought it otherwise. I had been meaning to, but putting it off because I thought it might be boring. I was wrong. Harry has vividly enraptured my mind. I think of him constantly, like when I was addicted to Tetris. Compared to my expectations--that it would be a light read full of childish references--this is a great surprise. Harry has a simple structure, following the classic romantic form, straying rarely from my expectations, but masking its elements sufficiently to create surprise and suspense. For me, classic form is a quality in a book. It's not perfect. When a novel chooses to closely follow a conventional structure, it should take such confidence from that structure that it can make hyper-caricatural experiments and stray wildly before returning at the last minute to familiar resolution. Harry is not as confident as its structure allows it to be, but it does better than a lot of things out there. Da Vinci Code, for example. A word on the French translation: it puts one at an intellectual disadvantage in Potter-society, because it translates the names of certain people and places that take the form of English puns. This is unfortunate, I think, and in some cases avoidable, but French culture has a tendency to appropriate material in this way, and it's part of the grand scheme of French things, so we must accept it.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Dilbert Principle

The Dilbert Principle, Scott Adams - Reading this just made me realise what a good writer Dave Barry actually is. Okay: Scott Adams is a successful cartoonist, and here, he decided to write a book with cartoons interspersed. The cartoons are good, but the text of the book is so-so. The writing style reminds me of Dave Barry; in fact I believe that Scott was trying to write like Dave Barry. He uses the same absurd logic and off-topic footnotes, and makes fun of himself as well as people in general, but I think he just fails to hit that effortless Dave Barry stride. Also, I'd like to note that at the time I was reading this, I noticed a book on my co-worker's desk called "The Peter Principle". I picked it up and read the back; it turns out that Scott Adams based his title on the title of this other, well-known(?), business tome.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Green Grass, Running Water

Green Grass, Running Water, Thomas King I feel so relieved to have finally read a good, postmodern book in a lit course. Ok: it's a textbook for lit students, considering how packed it is with "this means somethings", but it's also funny. I don't usually laugh out loud, especially not at books, but I laughed out loud.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Obasan, Joy Kogawa I feel terrible. It's not only that the story of Japanese Canadians during WWII is so sad, but this book is told through the eyes of a little girl who doesn't understand what's happening to her and her family. So the worst is not what the government does to the families, but the ominous experiences the girl has in her little girl life. I guess the author did a great job getting the inability to comprehend across. I also found it reassuring that a Canadian author could talk about Canada this way. This is the first time I hear of Canada being bad. In all though, I can't like the book. It's just too gently gut-wrenching.

Thursday, February 10, 2005


Pélagie: The Return to Acadie, Antonine Maillet, tr. Philip Stratford - Although I didn't enjoy the story that much, it made me cry at the end. Why? I think it was because it's a true story, and despite the irreverance of the narrator, and the characters, the families in this book survive some unimaginable tragedies. I was disappointed to have to read it in translation. I don't know if this is the reason for the choppiness of the narrative, but I found that most of the scenes didn't resonate with the larger text. So I don't give it high marks, but I wouldn't mind a go at the original French.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Double-Hook

The Double-Hook, Sheila Watson - Warped, extremely bleak, (Subarctic-?)Western-Canadian fiction. I found this very difficult and slow, but that's all intentional in this book. The author writes very "sparse prose" in which each word unfortunately packs in a great deal more information than most books do in a chapter. And that's tiring. I can't say I don't like it, though. Something is itching at me to go back and figure out just what the hell it was all about. The ending is good.

Barometer Rising

Barometer Rising, Hugh Maclennan - Very good, Eastern-Canadian fiction! This is a book with a very engaging narrative, set to the backdrop of an event whose importance to Canadian history you probably don't realise. Very good: both nagging and fulfilling. However, uh, this is another Grapes-of-Wrath-case, where a lecture I heard after reading brought the book down somewhat from the greatness I had imagined for it. If I think about it, some of those characters were indeed two-dimensional. But for both its narrative and historical value, I am rating this one high.

Tay John

Tay John, Howard O'Hagan - Somewhat good, Western-Canadian fiction. This Tay John is hard to forget. And some very interesting narrative techniques used in this story. I especially like the native-oral-tradition-inspired first section. That said, if I hadn't read it for a course, I might not have enjoyed it. Oh, but Hell - I enjoyed it.


Grain, Robert Stead - Somewhat bleak, prairie-Canadian fiction. Look: it seems to me like a book with good qualities, but just not my cup of tea.

A Man in Full

A Man in Full, Tom Wolfe - Extremely good. My parents say it's written too much like he was hunting for a movie deal. I think that's one of its qualities! The fun thing about both this and "Bonfire of the Vanities" is how high he raises his prominent, arrogant figures before letting them drop, drop, drop all the way to the concrete sidewalk. Watching them fall is a good ride.

Dave Barry Does Japan

Dave Barry Does Japan, by Margaret Atwood - I like Dave Barry, and I recommend this one. One interesting thing is that the Hiroshima chapter is the only time I've ever seen Dave get serious. The change in tone is even physically marked by a grey page where he ends his sentimental section and starts up the humour again. What I think is very commendable is that he is able to bring off the switch credibly. I don't quite agree with his argument, but still, kudos on being able to write seriously.

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina, Tolstoy, tr. ? - Read this in English. It's very good. A good, solid narrative. I am branding it a comedy, and I think it's a testament to Tolstoy's patience that he can start and end a book with people getting their head chopped off by a train and still make it a comedy in the classical sense.

The DaVinci Code

The DaVinci Code, Dan Brown - That gnostic stuff is interesting, although my friends who had read about gnosticism were not impressed. What's not interesting is the puzzles (predictable), plot (not credible), and descriptions of Paris (inaccurate). In the end, a decent, light read. But I'd prefer a Wolfe or an Irving.

Les Cinq personnes que j'ai rencontré là-haut

Les Cinq personnes que j'ai rencontré là-haut, Mitch Albom, tr. Edith Soonckindt - I read this by accident. It's alright.

La Disparition

La Disparition, Georges Perec - This is one of those books that people advise you not to read. You see: it's based on a gimmick. And the gimmick is why I read it. Mostly, it's enough just to know what the gimmick is to get 80% of the enjoyment of the novel. Alright. After reading it, I'd say 40% comes from the gimmick, and 60% from the innards. The end's a kick, but you have to suffer a lot to get there.

A Widow for One Year

A Widow for One Year, John Irving - I think this is the first Irving I've read cover to cover. Liked it. A bit jealous of the ease with which he drops rhymes on the mic.

Memoires d'Hadrien

Memoires d'Hadrien, Marguerite Yourcenar - This is solid as a rock, and brilliant as a diamond. It is crystal clear, and flowing-hot like the Nile. Now I need to justify all that. I'm not sure how to put it into words. I'm very impressed by this project, which I learned was life-long. It's not light reading. But it's damn rewarding.

Living to Tell the Tale

Living to Tell the Tale, Garcìa Marquez, tr. E. Grossman - Ok story. It's funny that even in an autobiography Marquez still uses his magic realism. Not as unified as Hundred Years though.

Confessions of an English Opium Eater

Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Thomas De Quincey - I have rarely read anything this hard. It's funny, if I know something's hard in advance, I can gather my forces and plow my way through it, but the title of this made it seems a lot more promising than it managed. That's unfair: I just thought it would be about something different than it turned out to be. But come on - who wouldn't?

The Communist Manifesto

The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels - I was curious.

The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw, Henry James (third time) - This one's really topping my list. The reason I like it so much, though, is because Dr. Paul Beam of UWaterloo taught it to me twice in two separate courses, and revealed something I would never have caught on my own. There's something to be said for somebody telling you what a book is about. If you don't believe a book can straight-facedly tell you something that is an outright lie the whole time it is telling, then read this.

The Life of Pi

The Life of Pi, Yann Martel - This thing deserves that prize that it got. From the reaction I had upon finishing it, I thought it would stalk me much longer than it has. Yes, I probably reacted more violently to this than most other things I've read. I was depressed, even indignant. That's one thing. The second thing is that it's another one of those impossible-to-put-downers. Those two facts combined make it worth classic status in my book. It manages to do something I've never seen another text do.

The Aspern Papers

The Aspern Papers, Henry James - For a long time, I've had this book, which accompanies "The Turn of the Screw" in the edition that I have, the latter which I have read I think three times and really, really like. The Aspern Papers is about as good as Turn of the Screw. Similar kind of naïve narrator to whom things are happening that he reveals without being aware. This is not a heavy book, but you need to be just slightly willing to "analyse" it to enjoy it.

La Metamorphose

La Metamorphose, Kafka - Once, hungover, I read half of this in English at a friend's house. This time I read it in French. Since I can't read German, I think it's reasonable to try to linguistically outflank it. There's not much that I need to say about La Metamorphose. It's as good as the rumours say. As soon as you pick it up you won't be able to put it down.


Solaris, Stanislaw Lem - This is the second book I got in order to practice reading in Polish. Fucking incredible! I don't remember ever reading science fiction that is this grounded in humanity. I want to read it again and again... Why? Because of the extent and number of completely fictional discoveries, theories and hypotheses made about "The Ocean", and the unparalleled humility with which Lem, after offering up so much of his imagination, in a gesture completely uncharacteristic of the usually-boastful genre, says "I don't know what this means." Think of the imagination of Borges, but matured from an experiment into a story with a classic structure.

The Lady and the Monk

The Lady and the Monk, Pico Iyer - This is pretty good, light reading of Pico's experience in Japan. Pretty much everything about somebody's experience in Japan is good, light reading.

Kongres Futurologiczny

Kongres Futurologiczny, Stanislaw Lem - This is the first of two books I got in order to practice reading in Polish. I found it disappointing. The story was lame, and the linguistic hypotheses are the sort of Orwelian-paranoia that I don't buy since reading Pinker. The only positive of the book were some imaginative visions of the future.

The Master and Margerita

The Master and Margerita, Mikhail Bulgakhov - An intense fantasy. A good one. One where even Satan turns out sympathetic. A plot entangled in a history we've forgotten to remember. We are fearless after reading the end of this. And although the book is deep, I think the story doesn't put demands on you, and the reading is easy.

The Language Instinct

The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker - Read this alongside my course in linguistics, and found it much more entertaining and much more rigorous than the stuff I was reading in my textbook. It is as engaging as a good novel, and the theories have really opened my eyes to a lot of stuff that happens in language.

Cent Ans de Solitude

Cent Ans de Solitude, Gabriel Garcìa Marquez - The "magical realism" is surprising yet somehow familiar. Incredibly, the story shifts from one tale to another without ever leaving you without landmarks. This just feels like the work of a master.

Monday, February 07, 2005

The Idiot

The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoyevsky - I read this knowing that some critics maintain that Conrad could not have created Stevie in the Secret Agent without it. Dostoyevsky's idiot is so much more profound that Conrad's: Stevie is just a prop, really. The Idiot: wow, I don't know what to say. I can't say I liked the story a lot, but I'm struck, still branded with the characters and the scenes that play out between them. Supernatural.

Tom Jones

Tom Jones, Henry Fielding - I read this because Frye often calls it "the perfect novel". I read it expecting "the perfect novel", and indeed it is a perfectly-structured novel. You could probably take the plot and replace the characters to get almost any story out there.It is also often funny; the language is so hyperbolic. Colourful, too. Only problem is it's long as fuck.

Discovery of Heaven

Discovery of Heaven, Harry Mulisch, tr. Paul Vincent - Definitely not what I expected. I expected them to discover Heaven! Actually, somebody does discover something in the end, but I'm not sure what this character is and what he discovers. There's a lot of very tantalising ideas in this book, and the characters are multi-faceted. The story is good, and although I found all the angel parts awkward and weak, I really like how the rest of the book continually moves between fantasy and realism, with much more weight on realism.

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston (second time) - The story is decent, although often lags. The end is pretty good; by that time you're really into the characters and suffer with them. But a lot of the significance is lost on me.

Long Day's Journey into Night

Long Day's Journey into Night, Eugene O'Neill (second time) - Convoluted and straightforward. Story is near-impossible (though somewhat rewarding) to unravel, but characters just sound like they're shouting the same thing over and over again. Takes an effort to appreciate, and not sure it's worth it.

The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck - Loved it while reading it: extremely well-told; both colourful and profound, moving, meaningful, beyond its boundaries. I was disappointed to hear a lecture on it describing it as rather propagandist and shallow. I would read it again, although I will probably do it with a subtly bitter taste in my mouth.

The Age of Innocence

The Age of Innocence, Edit Wharton - an American novel mocking pompous folk. Unfortunately, I found the novel itself somewhat pompous, or too ladylike.

In Our Time

In Our Time, Ernest Hemingway - bleak, disconnected. This is apparently intentional, and, yes, there are some powerful scenes if one looks at the very closely, like when he's fishing at the end. But difficult to enjoy as a whole.

Les Rois Maudits 6: Le Lis et Le Lion

Les Rois Maudits 6: Le Lis et Le Lion, Maurice Druon - It's at this point that the story must fall prey to history; by the time the real events play out, we have lost a lot of motivation to follow the narrative. There is one more book after this in the series, but I could not get into it.

Les Rois Maudits 5: La Louve de France

Les Rois Maudits: La Louve de France, Maurice Druon - It's at this point in the series that it becomes difficult to swallow how often we are asked to switch sympathies between the main characters. There are few solid pillars left from the beginning of the story on which we can keep solid footing. But it's saved by the electric adulterous romance.

Les Rois Maudits 4: La Loi des Mâles

Les Rois Maudits 4: La Loi des Mâles, Maurice Druon - exciting, tantalising, fast-paced; good reading

La Symphonie Pastorale

La Symphonie Pastorale, André Gide - I loved Les Faux Monnayeurs. Here, Gide again explicitly uses a textbook "technique" to tell a story that the narrator is not even aware is unfolding. Makes you shudder in how simply you get something so deep; narrator is naïve like Remains of the Day.

Les Rois Maudits 3: Poisons de la Couronne

Les Rois Maudits 3: Poisons de la Couronne, Maurice Druon - engaging, fast-paced story; one learns a little history to boot

Love and Longing in Bombay

Love and Longing in Bombay, Vikram Chandra - non-closured and haunting

Les Rois Maudits 2: La Reine Etranglée

Les Rois Maudits 2: La Reine Etranglée, Maurice Druon

Les Confessions I - IV

Les Confessions I - IV, J-J. Rousseau

Poetry: T.S. Eliot

From T.S. Eliot - Selected Poetry

Stories by Katherine Mansfield

At the Bay The Garden Party The Daughters of the Late Colonel

Women in Love

Women in Love, D.H. Lawrence (second time)


Ulysses, James Joyce (second time)

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the Flies, William Golding

Journal d'un Ti-Mé

Journal d'un Ti-Mé, Claude Meunier

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Danger Immediat

Danger Immediat, Tom Clancy

Nice Work

Nice Work, David Lodge

A ripping good tale. Great story, adulterous sex, titillating comedy, and with some fun philosophical questions to boot.

Jude the Obscure

Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy (repeat)

Howards End

Howards End, E.M. Forster

The Secret Agent

The Secret Agent, Joseph Conrad

La Nouvelle Helöise

La Nouvelle Helöise, J.J. Rousseau


Dubliners, James Joyce

Anatomy of Criticism

Anatomy of Criticism, Northrop Frye


René, Chateaubriand

Manon Lescaut

Manon Lescaut, Abbé Prevost

Rêveries d'un Promeneur Solitaire

Rêveries d'un Promeneur Solitaire, J.J. Rousseau


Othello, Shakespeare

Women in Love

Women in Love, DH Lawrence

The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw, Henry James (repeat)

The City of Yes

The City of Yes, Peter Oliva

The Geisha's Tale

The Geisha's Tale, Arthur Golden

War and Peace

War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

Alan Ginsberg: Poetry

A bunch of poetry by Alan Ginsberg

Watership Down

Watership Down, Richard Adams

Rabbits. But good book.