January 31, 2008

Sleep Toward Heaven ***

*** Sleep Toward Heaven, Amanda Eyre Ward, 2003

I don't normally read Oprah books. I don't normally read books by people who are still alive. In fact, for me to read a book that was actually published in this century is unusual. So, why did I read Sleep Toward Heaven? The answer is simple and probably pathetic, but I can live with that. It's a Texas book - set in Texas, written in Texas by an Austinite, won the Writers League of Texas Violet Crown Award.

For all of you bottom-line types, here's the lowdown bird's eye on this caper: This is a good book. Very well written. Definitely worth reading. Get a copy.

What's more, this is a first novel. I'd be very pleased to produce a novel like this one at any point. I'd be insufferably vain if I had done it the first time out.

As a writer, I was interested to see how she put the book together. It's about three women:

  • Karen, a death row inmate
  • Celia, the wife of a man Karen killed
  • Fanny, a doctor and the niece and adopted daughter of the doctor who works in the prison where Karen is incarcerated
The narrative rotates between the perspectives of these three women, which is not unusual, but in addition, the voice and person changes for each character's chapters:
  • Karen: third person, present tense
  • Celia: first person, past tense
  • Fanny: third person, past tense

As a novelist, I found it fascinating to consider how these choices influence the tone and voice. Present tense is not used very often in novels. By using it for the death row inmate's chapters, Ward achieved a sense of immediacy that reinforced the idea that Karen had little time left. But the choice of third person leaves a sense of detachment, an odd contrast to the immediacy of the present tense, but an effective one, since it implies the detachment Karen must employ to survive in her environment.

The first person perspective of Celia's chapters gives a sense of intimacy. It drew me into the world of the woman who is trying to figure out how to survive after her husband was gunned down while going for beer after mowing the lawn.

And the third person, perspective of Fanny's chapters gives some distance from a doctor who can't seem to make her personal relationships work after losing a patient she had become emotionally invested in.

It just worked, all the way around, which goes to show how important the choice of tense and person is when crafting a story.

There were many other things Ward did particularly well, including avoiding sentimentality (which must be very difficult in a novel with so many tragic stories), avoiding preachiness (which is probably equally as difficult when dealing with a subject like the death penalty), and avoiding stereotypes. These may seem like negatives, but the result is very positive. They are large, gaping potholes that confront every serious writer and avoiding them is not a simple task.

There was one thing that puzzled me. To my knowledge, Ward used real place names for everything except Gatesville, which she calls Gatestown in the book, even though it is located outside of Waco, exactly where Gatesville is. Don't know why, but I bet it's an interesting story.

So, kudos to Ward for an excellent job and kudos to you if you grab a copy and read it. You won't regret it.

January 25, 2008

1995 Wunderfool Reading List

Rating Guide

**** Stop reading this review and get this book *** Definitely worth your time ** Not bad, but not a must-read, either * Better than reading the shampoo label, maybe no stars Reading this may damage your brain

MOTS = More Of The Same (Not necessarily bad. See previous reviews of same author.)

  1. ** Streiker's Morning Sun, Robin Hardy. MOTS
  2. * The Sword Of Shanara, Terry Brooks. Very forgetable, mediocre writing. Waste of time and paper.
  3. *** The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco. Great first book, easier reading than the second. Recommended reading, but not for the faint of heart. Listen to Gregorian Chants while reading. Best with a nice wine or brandy and a pipe or two.
  4. ** All's Fair: In Love, Politics, and Running for President, Mary Matalin and James Carville. Disappointing. I was fascinated by this marriage of a rabid Democrat and a rabid Republican, but there was very little in here about their relationship. It was primarily a journal of the ups and downs of the 1992 Presidential race.
  5. **** Tempest-Tost, A Mixture of Frailties, A Leaven of Malice, Robertson Davies. An excellent trilogy (The Salterton Trilogy) from one of my favorites. My previous experiences with Davies (two novels) have both been rather serious works, so it was a surprise and a joy to discover the two lighter novels that form the first two parts of this trilogy, with some remarkably excellent writing. The third novel seemed a complete change of gears as far as tone, but was still quite well written and eventually very entertaining. Strongly recommended reading.
  6. *** Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, James Garner. Amusing. Worth the read.
  7. *** Lord Of The Flies, William Golding. I read this over 20 years ago, but somebody checked out the movie and we watched it and so I had to read it again. What an excellent book, if somewhat depressing. Highly recommended reading.
  8. *** To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee. Excellent, recommended reading. I think I have read this one before a long time ago. I decided to read it again because Sarah was reading it for school. I think they should have saved it for a few years. She would understand a lot more in about 3 years. Milly rented the video with Gregory Peck. I didn't see it because the Hs. came over and Traci didn't want to watch it because it was sad. However, Sarah said it wasn't near as good as the book, so I didn't waste my time with it.
  9. *** The Ides of March, Thornton Wilder. Very good book, recommended reading, but not for the average bear. Lots of reflection on the nature of life, religion, human nature, etc. Just happened to have a lot of relevance to where I was at the time. I think first person is easier to achieve a natural tone, but I remember reading somewhere that first person is harder to write effectively than third. I don't remember why, now.
  10. *** The Thanatos Syndrome, Walker Percy. Interesting book, well-written, recommended reading, with some reservations. This almost seems like two books, or one book written in two gears. The first 200 pages are mainly reflection on the human condition, human nature, society, etc. The last 200 pages are a fast-paced action-thriller type of stuff, with the ATF bugging phones and following people and busting a child pornography ring. (With rather explicit descriptions of the photographs I could have done without!) Also, there are many places where we get in on the thinking of the protagonist, (since it is first person) but then, when the action hits, we often have to guess what he is thinking from the dialogue. Rather strange mix of styles.
  11. *** Roughing It, Mark Twain. Some excellent parts, but also some slow parts. Got to remember to pull some quotes out. It is rather spotty, but there are some really good sections. If there were a best-sections version about half the size, it would be a must read kind of thing. As it is, I would still recommend it, but I find that most people are not willing to read really gripping, high quality stuff, so there's no chance that they will read something that takes a little digging to find the gems.
  12. ** Beating the Street, Peter Lynch. Decided it would be a good summer project to learn about investing in the stock market. This is the first book I've read on it and it was not boring, unlike my expectation. Great writing and lots of good advice, it seems. Not enough to completely educate me, however.
  13. ** Stock Picking, Richard Maturi. Another good book on the stock market, but a little drier than Lynch.
  14. *** A Burnt-Out Case, Graham Greene. Another great Greene book. Recommended reading.
  15. ** Ten Stupid Things Women Do To Mess Up Their Lives, Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Book left for me by C. to pass on to K. I read it. Not bad.
  16. *** A Palm for Mrs. Polifax, Dorothy Gillam. MOTS. Getting better.
  17. **** The Tragedy of American Compassion, Marvin Olasky. A must read. Highly recommended reading. All UUs should be forced to take an extensive written and oral exam on this information.
  18. **** A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole. See reviews from 1993. I was cleaning out the book case and ran across this one and decided to re-read it. Very funny. Highly recommended reading, but not for prudes.
  19. *** Winter in Eden, Harry Harrison. MOTS.
  20. *** Return to Eden, Harry Harrison. MOTS.
  21. Prophet Motive, Cleo Jones. Trashy mystery set in Utah and based on Mormon culture. Complete waste of time.
  22. ** Who Killed What's-Her-Name? , Elizabeth Daniels Squire. Mediocre writer, decent plot, kept me wondering in spite of the occasional groaner, like "Mother put rocks in the front yard. They made the lawn look rugged. Rugged. Like we would have to be." But, if you can survive such things, it's an entertaining read.
  23. *** The Medical Detectives, Volume 2, Berton Roueche'. Case histories of difficult diagnoses or challenges in isolating the source of epidemics. Worth the read.
  24. *** Rumpole for the Defense, John Mortimer. Carole M. picked up The Second Rumple Omnibus for me at a used bookstore in California, so I'm reading the whole thing, even though I have read part of it before. This one I had not read, and it was quite good, as is usual for Rumpole. Recommended reading.
  25. *** Rumpole and the Golden Thread, John Mortimer. MOTS, which is good. Recommended reading.
  26. *** Rumpole's Last Case, John Mortimer. I remember some of the stories, but not others. At any rate, first-class Rumpole material. Recommended reading.
  27. ** Bad Habits, Dave Barry. Written in early to mid 80's, fairly humorous.
  28. *** The Man In The Corner, Baroness Orczy. Nice little armchair mysteries from the author of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Very little character development but nice puzzles.
  29. ** Memnock: The Devil, Ann Rice. Helene made me read it. Not too bad, but I doubt if I'll read any more of her stuff.
  30. *** McNally's Luck, Lawrence Sanders. Helene made me read this one, too. This guy is a great writer, although the protagonist is as randy as a billy goat Catch these quotes (which are paraphrases, since I've already returned the book), "Like most men, my life is a contest between brains and glands. You would do best to bet the Old Grey Matter to place." "He knitted his eyebrows, which, given their hirsuteness, could have resulted in a sweater." "He was a self-proclaimed poet and his first book, The Joy of Flatulence, was so obscure and cryptic that the critics labeled him a genius."
  31. *** A Morbid Taste for Bones, Ellis Peters. I've been looking for some books in the Caedfel series for some time, and Mark H. up and loans me a couple. Not bad.
  32. *** One Corpse Too Many, Ellis Peters. Another Caedfel. Pretty good. Check out the last sentence in the book. "From the highest to the lowest extreme of man's scope, wherever justice and retribution can reach, so can grace." Recommended reading.
  33. *** McNally's Risk, Lawrence Sanders. "Her conversation was a diarrhea of words and a constipation of ideas."
  34. *** McNally's Caper, Lawrence Sanders. MOTS.
  35. * Bittersweet Grace: Twentieth-Century Religious Satire, Walter Wagoner. A big disappointment. Most of the selections weren't satire at all, but commentary or observation. However, there were a few good selections, most of which I had read before, such as an excerpt from Elmer Gantry and one from Life With Father.
  36. *** The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Agatha Christi. Mark H. loaned it to me, so I felt compelled to read it. I've been saving Christi for my twilight years, but I guess it won't hurt to read one occasionally. Very good.
  37. *** The Marlowe Chronicles, Lawrence Sanders. I've succumbed to the obligation to read whatever people loan to me. The problem is, it's all so good. Of course Helene keeps pumping Sanders in my direction, and he's such a great writer that I find it hard to resist reading them, even though they have way more sex and profanity than I prefer in an author. This one was very well done, written in the mid 70's.
  38. *** Taliesin, Stephen Lawhead.
  39. *** Merlin, Stephen Lawhead.
  40. *** Arthur, Stephen Lawhead. Since Daniel was reading these, I decided to finally finish the series. Not bad. Probably the best stuff Lawhead has done. I hear there's a fourth one out.
  41. ** The Fourth Deadly Sin, Lawrence Sanders. Not bad.
  42. ** Lost In The Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book, Walker Percy. Amusing in an erudite way. Thought-provoking in spots. Quite slow reading over all.
  43. *** Pendragon, Stephen Lawhead. MOTS
  44. *** Murther and Walking Spirits, Robertson Davies. No time to do this justice now.
  45. *** Death Is A Lonely Business, Ray Bradbury.
  46. *** The American Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, Hugh Greene. Graham Greene's brother!
  47. *** Lancelot, Walker Percy. Well-written, but too explicit in a few spots. Not near as egregious as The Thanatos Syndrome, but there nonetheless. I wonder that Bennett ranks Percy #1, but maybe I'll figure it out one day. Recommended reading.
  48. *** Maigret and the Gangsters, Simenon. Good stuff.
  49. **** Trent's Last Case, E. C. Bentley. Highly recommended reading for mystery fans and pretty much anybody else, too. Dedicated to G.K. Chesterton (a contemporary, and evidently boyhood companion, of Bentley), forward by Dorothy Sayers, blurb by Agitha Christi calling it the best detective novel ever written. The last chapter is a gem purely on writing alone, not to mention the complete whiplash of plot that occurs.
  50. * Many Waters, Madeline L'Engle. Waste of time and paper. Poorly written.
  51. *** The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene. MOTS, quite good.
  52. *** The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax, Dorothy Gillam. MOTS, entertaining.
  53. ** Winnie-The-Pooh on Problem-Solving, Allen. OK, but I found the Pooh stuff distracting me from learning problem-solving. I either want to read Pooh for the beauty of the writing, or learn problem-solving, but I don't think I can do both at the same time.
  54. *** McNally's Trial, Lawrence Sanders. MOTS.
  55. *** The $30,000 Bequest, Mark Twain. Some excellent stories, here. The title cut reminded me of Carissa R. Then there was "A Cure For The Blues" which reminded me of reviewing Mark S. early stories. Must pass this on to him. Recommended reading.
  56. *** Rumpole on Trial, John Mortimer. MOTS. Quite good, recommended reading.
  57. *** Mrs. Polifax on Safari, Dorothy Gilman. MOTS
  58. *** Mrs. Polifax on the China Station, Dorothy Gilman. MOTS

January 18, 2008

1994 Wunderfool Reading List

Rating Guide

**** Stop reading this review and get this book *** Definitely worth your time ** Not bad, but not a must-read, either * Better than reading the shampoo label, maybe no stars Reading this may damage your brain

MOTS = More Of The Same (Not necessarily bad. See previous reviews of same author.)

  1. ** From Beowulf to Virginia Woolf: An Astounding and Wholly Unauthorized History of English Literature, Robert Manson Myers. This was a fairly amusing little book with a jacket blurb by Bob Darden. It really gets rolling in the last 3 chapters or so, with jewels like "King George III died of a cerebral hemorrhoid" and "'I am; therefore I think.' which is getting Descartes before the horse."
  2. **The Stainless Steel Rat for President, Harry Harrison. MOTS.
  3. *** Boy's Life, Robert McKammon. An excellent story of a 12-year-old boy in the style of Bradbury's Dandelion Wine and Something Wicked This Way Comes, but definitely of the 90's. More like a mix of Bradbury and Stephen King. The guy is a good story teller, but goes a bit off the deep end occasionally. Not quite the stylist Bradbury was, but gives King a good run for his money. Not as gory as King, thankfully. Probably the most disgusting and revolting scene in the book, the one I wish he had left out, was the story of a girl eating a booger in church. Yeeeech!
  4. *** The Canary Trainer, Nicholas Meyer. From the guy who brought you The Seven-Percent Solution (excellent) and The West End Horror (not so great) comes another post-canon Holmes work worth reading. The beginning is a bit slow, and the footnotes a bit excessive, but overall a good book.
  5. ** The Stainless Steel Rat Saves The World, Harry Harrison. I know, I know, but it's the last one I have. MOTS.
  6. *** Monsignor Quixote, Graham Greene. Excellent story of an apparently aimless modern-day quest by a supposed ancestor of the fabled knight. A humble and perhaps ineffectual priest is unexpectedly promoted to monsignor and is booted from his parish by the antagonistic and jealous bishop. He gains a travelling companion of the recently deposed mayor, who is a communist, and they spend the book trying to convert each other. Involves the struggle with faith and doubt, Quixote believing that a faith that is not tortured by doubt is no faith at all, or at least not worth having. His nightmare was of Jesus being rescued from the cross by 10,000 angels and the whole world knowing for a certainty of his divinity.
  7. ** Inside Out, Dr. Larry Crabb. Carole gave me this book over a year ago. I tried to start it once, but couldn't get into it. I tried again and once I got past the first 3 or 4 chapters it picked up. It basically maps out renewing the inner man, dying to self, and a that kind of stuff, in a fairly practical way. However, it could have been done in less than half the space. And I would have read it a whole lot sooner if it had.
  8. *** Talking God, Tony Hillerman. MOTS, but this one happens mostly in Washington D.C. and is pretty violent.
  9. * A is for Alibi, Sue Grafton. I decided to check this series out to see if it was worth getting into. After all, there would be at least 25 other books to read, right? Then we could move over to the Greek alphabet and other cultures. But I didn't care for it much. The main character has too much moral confusion and does stupid things, like getting emotionally and sexually involved with a main suspect. I guess I should be thankful it was heterosexual.
  10. *** The Mosquito Coast, Paul Theroux. Excellent writer, good material. More graphic but somehow less depressing than the movie. Excellent example of what Scott B. could become if he just put his mind to it. If I had been writing this story, I would have had the father gasp, "See, I was right," just before he died. However, in the book this would be impossible since vultures attack him and pull out his tongue. (A graphic scene which doesn't occur in the movie. I think the movie streamlined the story and made it more forceful without sacrificing too much.)
  11. ** See, I Told You So, Rush Limbaugh. MOTS. If you listen or watch, there's no reason to buy the book, except to make a point.
  12. ** The Gentle Art of Smoking, Alfred Dunhill. Nice but dated reference book on the history of the tobacco industry and the manufacture of cigars, cigarettes, and pipes.
  13. **** Body and Soul, Frank Conroy. An excellent novel based on music. The transcendent beauty of music is eloquently described. This book is a legend if for no other reason than I got it on the book club's recommendation and I liked it. It should have come with a CD. Recommended reading.
  14. *** The Book Of Guys, Garrison Keillor. A great book, very entertaining in spots, a little slow in others. Not recommended for prudes. I found it interesting that he redid "How the Savings and Loans Were Saved" in here under the heading "George Bush". It remains to be seen if he will whip on the Clintons like he has on the Republicans.
  15. *** Pi in the Sky: Counting, Thinking, and Being. Interesting book, but not as startling as Hoffstadter's. It has some good quotes before some of the sections.
  16. *** The Comedians, Graham Greene. One of his better novels, although the ending just seemed to peter out without going anywhere. Interesting that he is preoccupied with 1) Catholicism, 2) Communism, and 3) Latin America.
  17. *** The Seven-Percent Solution, Nicholas Meyer. Excellent post-canon Holmes story involving Freud.
  18. *** Disclosure, Michael Crichton. Real page-turner from the man who brought you The Andromeda Strain, and Jurassic Park. Novel of high-tech intrigue, sexual harassment, and virtual reality. Very raw sex scene, however.
  19. **** The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins. Excellent detective novel written by a contemporary of Dickens about the time of the American Civil War. Some very excellent quotes, most by Betteridge, the steward at the manor, and an excellent character, Miss Clack, a prudish, interfering spinster. "We were not a happy couple, and not a miserable couple. We were six of one and half a dozen of the other. How it was I don't understand, but we always seemed to be getting, with the best of motives, in one another's way. When I wanted to go upstairs, there was my wife coming down; or when my wife wanted to go down, there was I coming up. That is married life, according to my experience of it." "There's good sense, Mr. Franklin, in our conduct to our mothers, when they first start us on the journey of life. We are all of us more or less unwilling to be brought into the world. And we are all of us right." "Here I am, with my book and my pencil -- the latter not pointed so well as I could wish; but when Christians take leave of their senses, who is to expect that pencils will keep their points?" Highly recommended reading.
  20. * The Difference Engine, Golding and somebody else. Interesting novel speculating on the world if Babbage had been able to mass-produce his Analytical Engine and usher in the information age a century sooner. I hated the authors' cinematic style, frequently describing scenes as if giving camera cues and instructions. I disliked the extensive and graphic digression into scenes with prostitutes. I despised the ending which degenerated into cryptic reports of apparently unrelated items. However, if I interpreted everything correctly, the authors postulate the premature derivation of Godel's Theorm which somehow wreaks havoc and chaos on society and introduces unreliability in the computing machines of France. You got me. Not recommended, but I wish somebody would read it so I could find out if I understood any of it at all.
  21. *** 24 Short Stories by Dorothy Parker. I expected more clever stuff, but it was predomiately depressing stuff. Still an interesting read.
  22. *** It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It, Robert Fulghum. Pretty good, several nice pieces. Recommended reading.
  23. *** Focault's Pendulum, Umberto Eco. This one really slowed my schedule down. It had its moments, but had way too much arcana. I guess that's the Italian aspect. An American author wouldn't have buried the plot and action in so much research. I guess I'll have to read his first novel, Name of the Rose see if the movie cleaned up all the slow parts or if he just went crazy on his second novel.
  24. * Blind Date, L. Stine. Found this is Sarah's stuff and had to read it to find out what she was reading. Pretty good writer for juvenile literature, but this is about 4 years ahead of her, in my estimation.
  25. *** Something Fresh, P.G. Wodehouse. Blandings novel. MOTS.
  26. *** Summer Lightning, P.G. Wodehouse. Blandings novel. MOTS.
  27. * Outcry in the Barrio, Freddie Garcia. Typical junkie converted story, poorly written, but for some reason I found it remarkably moving.
  28. *** America, B. C., Barry Fell. Excellent 1976 book about established civilizations of ancient Celts in New England, Lybian language influence in the Zuni language, Semitic (Arabic, Phonecian) influence in the Pima language, and other thangs. Why haven't we heard of this stuff before?
  29. ** Padre, Robin Hardy. MOTS.
  30. *** Listening Woman, Tony Hillerman. MOTS. Leaphorn novel with no mention of wife, dead or alive.
  31. ** Parallel Time: Growing up in Black and White, Brent Staples. Highly disappointing auto-biography. From the blurb in the book club I got the impression this book offered insight into Staple's struggle to escape from the destructive elements of the ghetto culture without losing his identity as a black man. Instead it was just a chronicle of what happened to him, without any generalization or application to the specific identity/culture problem. It leaves you to draw your own conclusions. The problem with that is that I already have drawn my own conclusions. I was looking to Staples to either validate or enlighten them. He did neither.
  32. **** The Silent Gondoliers, S. Morganstern. Excellent book by a remarkable author (The Princess Bride). Highly recommended.
  33. ** Billy Bathgate, E.L. Doctorow. Good writer, material didn't particularly interest me. Too much sex for my taste.
  34. ** The Man Who Turned Into Himself, David Ambrose. Good story, interesting ideas.
  35. *** Colored People, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. This was the book I was looking for when I bought Parallel Time, although I didn't know it. Great book, recommended reading.
  36. ** A Nun in the Closet, Dorothy Gillam. Occasionally clever story by the author of the Polifax series. About on par with Polifax, but it seems she just can't resist inserting Eastern mysticism (see review of The Clairvoyant Countess in a previous year) and, in this case, social conscience. Forgettable.
  37. ** What the Bible Really Says, Barthel somebody. Mildly interesting. The most interesting thing is how the name Jehovah came about. It seems that the name of God, YWYH, is too sacred to be pronounced, so the Jews used Adonai instead. So, everywhere YWYH appeared in the text, they wrote A O A I above it (the vowels from Adonai.) Later translators who didn't realize this merged YWYH and AOAI to get YAWOYAHI, Yahweh, or Jehovah. Sort of blows the doors off the Jehovah Witness presupposition that they are the only true church because they are called by the name of God, eh?
  38. ** The Moviegoer, Walker Percy. I had to read this after I read that Walker Percy was Bill Bennet's favorite novelist. I will admit he is good, but I'm not enthralled, yet. I'll reserve judgement until I've read a few more.
  39. ** Red Sky at Morning, Richard Bradford. I bought this book because the name of the author. It is actually a decent book. I laughed out loud several times.
  40. *** Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury. Daniel is reading this for his English class, so I picked it up and re-read it. It is a bit tedious in the beginning, but still a great classic, particularly the words of the professor.
  41. *** Classic Christianity, Bob George. Good exposition of the doctrine of grace.
  42. *** The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy. Great book written in the first half of this century that reads like Dickens.
  43. * Freudian Fraud, E. T. Torrey. A book Dangerous Dan gave me for my birthday. I only read it when eating by myself, so it only took me 6 months to read it. Mildly interesting.
  44. *** West of Eden, Harry Harrison. From the author of the Stainless Steel Rat series, a very intriguing series about what might have happened if the alleged comet hadn't hit the earth 65 million years ago and mammals and reptiles evolve simultaneously into sentient species.
  45. **** Anguished English, Richard Lederer. Hilarious. Recommended reading
  46. * Charade, John Mortimer. Remarkably dull early effort from the maker of the great Rumpole.
  47. *** The Ghostway, Tony Hillerman. MOTS.
  48. ** Why I Am Not A Christian, Bertrand Russell. A collection of essays. Intriguing in parts, ho-hum in others, not compelling.
  49. *** Who Stole Feminism, Christina Hoff Sommers. Very entertaining and informative. Recommended reading.
  50. *** Orient Express, Graham Greene. Pretty decent book, sort of funky ending. Typical Greene.
  51. ** Portofino, Frank Schaeffer. Novel by the Jr. Schaeffer. Not a great writer, but a decent one. Some entertaining spots, picks up as it goes along.
  52. *** Grendel, John Gardner. Very good book, but not for the average reader. Would probably bore most folks. I saw a play based on this book about 15 years ago. It was strange, but good.
  53. ** Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper, collection. Not bad.
  54. ** The Union Club Mysteries, Isaac Asimov. Clever but forgettable.
  55. **** The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins. Excellent. Highly recommended reading.
  56. ** The Crossing, Cormac McCarthy. Got it through the BOMC, it was all the rage, but I'm not sure why. It didn't do much for me.

January 11, 2008

1993 Wunderfool Reading List

Rating Guide

**** Stop reading this review and get this book *** Definitely worth your time ** Not bad, but not a must-read, either * Better than reading the shampoo label, maybe no stars Reading this may damage your brain

MOTS = More Of The Same (Not necessarily bad. See previous reviews of same author.)

  1. *** The Unexpected Mrs. Polifax, Dorothy Gilman. The first Polifax story. Wasn't too bad, either. More character development than I would expect in the typical spy novel, but then again, other than Buckley I don't read spy novels.
  2. ** Fletch, Confess, Fletch, and Fletch's Fortune, Gregory MacDonald. I finally got around to reading this collection. Very entertaining, all fluff. Recommended reading for escapists.
  3. ** Modern Baptists, James Wilcox. Precursor to Miss Undine's Living Room. Fairly decent. I laughed a few times. Most people probably wouldn't find it that captivating, but I enjoyed it.
  4. *** Uncle Fred in the Springtime, P.G. Wodehouse. I discovered the library has lots of Wodehouse that I've never seen. This one is amusing but not up to Wooster standards.
  5. *** Tucker's Last Stand, William F. Buckley, Jr. The latest (as far as I know) Blackford Oakes novel. Pretty good, although it's more about Tucker than Oakes. And the question: Is this the last one?
  6. *** The Brinkmaship of Galahad Threepwood, P. G. Wodehouse. Quite hilarious. I laughed out loud several times, once for almost 5 minutes. Recommend reading.
  7. *** The Honorary Consul, Graham Greene. A 1973 novel set in Argentina. It was quite good. One of the better, I think, but not necessarily recommended reading for the casual reader.
  8. **** The De-valuing of America, William Bennet. Excellent book, especially the first two chapters on education. He quoted Flannery O'Connor, G. K. Chesterton, Robertson Davies, and C. S. Lewis, among others. Recommended reading.
  9. ** The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge, Harry Harrison. An amusing piece of fluff. I read it because I need to have something for Daniel to move into once he bleeds L'Amour dry.
  10. *** Parnnasus on Wheels, Christopher Morley. The prequel to The Haunted Bookshop. I would have read it first if I could have found it. I found the set in Golden's in excellent condition, so I traded in my old copy and bought the set. These books are very good. I would put it on the recommended reading list, but not the must read list. The first one does a good job of advocating books without being too preachy. The second doesn't escape that fate, but it compensates with a fairly modern plot. Both were written in the second decade of the 20th century but are none the worse for wear.
  11. **** Apostle from Space, Gordon Harris. My entry in the Worst Book Ever Published competition. I read this atrocity many years ago, but I loaned it to The Mouse for his amusement and he moved to San Francisco without returning it. I asked several times but he hasn't come through. When I was in Golden's frantically looking for something to fill up my book credit I found two copies of this blighter for 25 cents each and bought them both. The only thing I can say for it is the spelling is good.
  12. *** The Man Who Was Thursday, G. K. Chesterton. Excellent satire and allegory. The Chesterton penchant for paradox takes the ending by storm. Recommend reading.
  13. ** A Stainless Steel Rat is Born, Harry Harrison. More fluff, but it seems that the material is not unsuitable for Daniel to read, which was the reason why I was reviewing it. I don't know if I'll read the other three I got or not. I wish I could find the first one in the series.
  14. * Know Why You Believe, Little. This book is quite inadequate to deal with any informed objections to Christianity. It's okay for those who don't need a rigorous defense of the reasonable foundations for Christianity. Its greatest strengths are the passages that refer to the evidence of changed lives.
  15. ** The Stainless Steel Rat, Harry Harrison. I finally got this one on inter-library loan from Austin. It was much like the others.
  16. *** Beyond Dignity and Freedom, B. F. Skinner. A rather startling book from 1971 laying out the basic foundation of Skinner's views on behavior. Skinner takes a materialist view of the world and pushes it to the limit, claiming that there is no reason to appeal to such intangibles as free will, feelings, or the mind to explain human behavior. Instead, he claims all behavior can be explained by what he calls contingencies of reinforcement. Behavior that is rewarded, or reinforced, is strengthened. Behavior that results in aversive situations is weakened or experiences extinction. This basic principle, according to Skinner, can explain all of human behavior. So, you don't run away because you feel afraid. The fear is a byproduct, irrelevant at best, illusion at worst. It is previous reinforcement of escaping aversive results that causes the behavior, not the feeling. And so on. Skinner has a point when he says that the study of human behavior has to abandon the concept of 'autonomous man' if it wants to achieve the level of science that the physical sciences have achieved. Physical science had to ignore the possible intervention of an indeterminate factor (God) in order to discover the principles that govern the interaction of atomic particles. An assumption had to be made that completely observable principles could account for the behavior of matter. As long as intent and will was ascribed to matter, science couldn't progress to explain our world. Skinner claims that human mind, will, and emotion are equally indeterminate factors that must be discarded or ignored as causal factors in the study of human behavior. Not only must they be discarded, they can be without losing anything essential in explaining behavior.
  17. **** Sandro of Chegum, Fazil Iskander. This is the book that precedes The Gospel According to Chegum. Both books were translated and printed in the US in the 70's but had not, at that time, been printed in the Soviet Union. There is no mystery why this guy was one of the most popular writers in Russia at that time, or, as the book describes him a non-Russian writing in Russian. He may still be highly popular, for all I know. He tempers the characteristic Russian introspection and reflection with gentle humor and satire. It's not going to be made into a film with Stallone or Bruce Willis any time soon, but it makes for some great reading. In this book there are two particularly good stories. "Belshazzar's Feast" is a riveting tale of Stalin's terrifying personality and the dangerous and humiliating tight-rope that those aspiring to power had to walk. It's almost like Greene's The Bomb Party only Stalin vacillated between tenderness and sadism, whereas Dr. Fischer had no redeeming qualities at all. The other great story is "The Tale of Khabug's Mule" which is a bitter-sweet study in the effect of communism and collectivism on the land-owning peasant. It's interesting to see that the analysis from the inside echoes a lot of my impressions from the outside. I highly recommend both of Iskander's books, but it is doubtful that any but dedicated readers are going to be willing to pick up a 'Russian' author, particularly if the TV is still working.
  18. *** Dr. Fischer of Geneva or The Bomb Party, Graham Greene. Excellent short novel written in 1980. It is rather dark with a very occasional streak of humor in the first half which fades out completely by the middle of the book. Recommended reading.
  19. **** The Complete Father Brown, G. K. Chesterton. A 990 page collection of all 51 Father Brown Stories, including The Innocence of Father Brown, The Wisdom of Father Brown, The Incredulity of Father Brown, The Secret of Father Brown, and The Scandal of Father Brown. Father Brown is great stuff, as good as or better than Holmes in my taste, because of the spiritual overtones and the use of paradox. As one introduction said, Chesterton's doxy wasn't ortho or hetero, it was para. In addition to generally satisfying mysteries (which is a given in something so successful) there is the practical impracticality of Brown who speaks in riddles and parables and paradoxes. (A habit that would be infuriating in actual practice but is quite entertaining in literature.) He works by intuition and always considers the lowest common denominator of the human soul, unlike Holmes who approaches detection as a science of logic and reasoning. As often as not, Brown will offer the murderer or thief confession and a chance of restitution rather than hand him over to the police. And he punctures the haughty scientific arrogance of the pseudo-intellectual as well as the spiritual humbug. And he is replete with quotable lines. "Something terrible has befallen us. Perhaps the worst thing that can happen to a man." "What do you mean?" "We have found the truth, and it makes no sense." Highly recommended reading for anyone.
  20. *** Psmith, Journalist, P. G. Wodehouse. Not quite prime-time Wodehouse, but still very good. Didn't laugh out loud until page 57. Set in New York City. Characters actually had serious thoughts and morality to them, which is uncharacteristic. Perhaps this is early stuff. I'll have to check out a chronology of his stuff so I know about where in the scheme of his career a book fits while I'm reading it.
  21. *** Dance Hall of the Dead, Tony Hillerman. More typical Hillerman. I didn't realize this stuff was written in the early 70's. At least, this one was. I hadn't planned on reading the Hillerman books I had bought anytime soon, but I was cleaning house Saturday and everybody left to run errands. I stepped out on the porch. The temperature was in the high 60's and it was raining and I thought, "What a great day to settle down with a murder mystery." So I left everything scattered all over the floor where I was trying to organize the junk in the living room and I dug out my pipe, filled it with Bourbon Vanilla, poured a shot of brandy to cut the edge off the pipe, and grabbed a mystery. There was an old chair on the porch and it didn't smell too bad, so I sat in it. I think it was something from Randy's apartment that Milly was hoping someone would steal off the porch. It was great, except the rain was a little out of character for a novel taking place in New Mexico on an Indian Reservation. I should have gotten a Dorthy Sayers or an Agatha Christie, but I didn't see one.
  22. *** The Complete Short Stories of Flannery O'Connor. I've been reading this thing off and on since the trip to Oregon. There's some very interesting and some very entertaining work in here, but the first half of the book eludes me. I would describe her style as Faulkner after he got out of de-tox. However, there are several stories that are a real scream, including "The Enduring Chill", "The Partridge Festival", and "Everything That Rises Must Converge" (although the last one is a bit of a shocker at the end, like most of O'Connor's stories). "Parker's Back" is good. One of my favorites, after the sarcastic portrayal of worthless sons who live off their mothers, is "The Artificial Nigger", which is an excellent study in betrayal and alienation. I'll definitely have to reread some of these stories in a year or so, along with hunting down her two novels.
  23. **** Dave Barry Turns 40, Dave Barry. This is possibly the funniest thing I've read in 5 or 10 years. I laughed so hard in some places I thought I was going to have to call the paramedics to get me started breathing again. When Robin H. read my stuff she called it a cross between Garrison Keillor and Dave Barry. At that time I hadn't read any Dave Barry. Now I wonder if she hasn't seriously overestimated my talent! No way I'm as funny as this guy.
  24. *** Dorothy L. Sayers: A Careless Rage for Life, David Coomes. A good biography. I got this one from Ken L. in exchange for computer work. I've got another biography of Sayers, but I don't remember who wrote it. Of course, I find the Wimsey and Lewis/St. Anne parts the most interesting. And her feeling that she was limited to reaching God through the intellect. Worth a read for Sayers fans.
  25. ** The Fingerprint of God, Hugh Ross. An interesting book. Predominantly a history of cosmology concluding with all the overwhelming evidence for the big bang theory and therefore a finite beginning to the universe and therefore a beginning point which points to the need for a Creator. Not conclusive by any means, but the quotes from scientists who find the big bang theory 'philosophically repulsive' are revealing, particularly in the light of the assumption that scientists rely on the data and not their own biases. The lengths that some scientists went, speculating in the absence of or in contradiction to physical evidence was surprising. However, Ross' main point, in addition to the finite beginning of the universe, was that 16 billion years was too short a time for evolution to be mathematically possible. I think Dawkins addresses this point in The Blind Watchmaker with a convincing explanation (though not a proof, by any means) that it could have happened in the given time. It's been a few years since I read Dawkins and it's in storage right now, so I can't verify it conveniently. However, there is one approach used in this book that has the appearance of weight but really means very little. It's the point of all the parameters that, if changed only slightly in either direction, would render life impossible. Too many, according to Ross, to be a coincidence. The point is that changing these parameters would make life as we know it impossible, but there is no reason to think that life as we know it is the only possible life. I imagine there is no way to know what other forms life could take (silicon-based instead of carbon-based, for example), and the chances for that taking place. I must admit that his list is impressive, but I doubt that it goes very far toward proving anything.
  26. ** The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You, Harry Harrison. More of the same, but this time he's got teenage kids. Fortunately they didn't figure in much of the story, because the beginning where they come in heavy is dripping with light, cute banter. We manage to lose the wife and kids early enough to keep the book interesting. Harrison has to be one of the masters at putting his protagonist in the worst possible situation and then making it worse. This time he is reduced to complete nudity and no weapons or tools at all (except for the carbon-steel ridges built into his teeth with which he cuts through the steel cable connecting him to the torture device). Great escapism with sappy sophist pacifist philosophy thrown in for no extra charge.
  27. *** Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Robert Fulgham. Starts off a bit sentimental for my tastes, but gets better after the first third or so. Quick and easy read, recommended especially for liberals.
  28. *** Bend Sinister, Vladimir Nabakov. An early novel, the first I've read by Nabakov that I wouldn't be ashamed to have in the house. However, since it's a 2nd-hand paperback with the front cover torn off, I doubt if I'll keep it. It's not as well written as Lolita, or even King, Queen, Knave, but it has its moments. The scene where Krug goes to the Toad's office is hysterical. The ending is predictably morose, graphic, and fatalistic, and is rendered bizarre because of the drastic juxtaposition of Krug's despair over his son's brutal death and the absurd, almost comic, offers of compensation from the government.
  29. *** Discovering the Heart of a Man, Ken Nair. His first book, Discovering the Mind of a Woman, was better, but this one improves as it goes. The last half is the best. Still the same revolutionary ideas.
  30. *** Mrs. Polifax and the Whirling Dervish, Dorothy Gilman. MOTS
  31. ** Careers for Bookworms and Other Literary Types, Marjorie Eberts and Margaret Gisler. Mildly interesting survey. Almost all the careers are mid to low paying.
  32. **** Discovering the Mind of a Woman, Ken Nair. Decided to re-read this classic. Still as revolutionary and challenging as it was 10 years ago.
  33. **** The First Rumple Omnibus, John Mortimer. Contains three books, Rumpole of the Bailey, The Trials of Rumpole, and The Return of Rumpole, the first and last of which I had already read, but I read them all anyway. Mortimer's plots are quite transparent, you usually know exactly what's going to happen and whodunit (or who didn't dunit, specifically, Rumpole's client) but the writing is great. Sort of a post-modern Wodehouse. Recommended reading for anyone with a sense of humor.
  34. *** Dorothy and Agatha, Gaylord Larsen. An excellent mystery featuring the best female mystery writers of England, Sayers and Christie. From what I've read of Sayers (two biographies) the characterization of her was excellent. The mystery was well crafted, too. Recommended reading for mystery buffs.
  35. ** Three Scientists and Their Gods, Robert Wright. Interesting book, fairly well written, although the author interjects himself into the picture, sort of 'new journalism' style. When I get Hofstadter's book out of storage I'll have to check and see if Fredkin is mentioned.
  36. ** The Paradise War, Silver Hand, Stephen Lawhead. Not as good as his previous trilogy, of which I have only read 2/3 at present. I find myself wondering why he called his main character Lewis, making him an Oxford student of Celtic studies, and why he named a bad guy who only appears a few times Weston, who was the villain in parts one and two of Lewis' Space Trilogy. It seems a bit transparent, which is not the only weak point of this series. Today I go pick up part three and we shall see.
  37. ** The Endless Knot, Stephen Lawhead. Occasional flashes of good writing, as was the case in part 2 as well. But, it's predominately mediocre.
  38. *** Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton. Excellent book! The only Crichton book I've read besides Andromeda Strain in the early 70's. This guy is a great writer. However, it is a bit gory in spots. Highly recommended.
  39. **** A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole. Outrageous character study with a whiff of a plot toward the end. Toole has a knack for description and dialogue. For example, he described the greatly overweight protagonist lying in a hospital bed. His mother jerked back the sheet and saw that he was embedded in the mattress "like a meteor." Recommended reading except for prudes.
  40. *** He Is There and He Is Not Silent, Francis Schaeffer. Got it at a garage sale and re-read it before passing on to Mark S.
  41. ** Streiker's Bride, Robin Hardy. I can't believe I'm reduced to reading romance novels, but here it is. If you like romance novels, I guess this one is o.k. I really wouldn't know. From my personal taste, it seems like a bunch of noise over nothing. I kept wishing the protagonist would quit vacillating and do something decisive. Then, in the last 20 pages or so it suddenly kicks into high gear and we have an attempted murder and machine guns spraying a posh society party. If there had been more of this sprinkled earlier in the book it would have held my attention more.
  42. ** Eat More, Weigh Less, Dr. Dean Ornish. Basically a good case for a vegetarian diet. It was designed as a diet for heart disease.
  43. *** Heavy Weather, P.G. Wodehouse. MOTS. A Galahad Threepwood novel. Fairly good.
  44. *** Travels With My Aunt, Graham Greene. Fairly good, but not my favorite Greene.
  45. ** Paradise Postponed, John Mortimer. More serious than the Rumpole stuff. It's well written, but I don't think I'll keep it around the house. Too much bed hopping.
  46. *** Laughing Gas, P.G. Wodehouse. Fairly good story about a 27-year old Earl who exchanges bodies with a 10-year old while they are both getting a tooth out. Amusing. MOTS.
  47. ** Flavors, Mason Williams. More weird stuff from the man who brought you Classical Gas and The Mason Williams Reading Matter. Mildly amusing.
  48. The Clairvoyant Countess, Dorothy Gilman. From the people who brought you Mrs. Polifax, this is a forgettable volume of vignettes which seems more like an apologetic work for psychic phenomenon disguised as a mystery novel than anything else. The Polifax stories are mildly amusing and marginally well-written. This book isn't even that good. Fortunately it's a quick read. Back in the used-book-store stack for this one.
  49. ** Lucifer Unemployed, Aleksander Wat. A collection of short stories from a Polish poet/intellectual. The premise held promise but the writing is difficult to follow. The problem with translations is you don't know if it is the fault of the author or the translator. The title cut is about Europe in the 1920s, which is so godless that even the devil finds himself out of work. Nobody needs tempting or leading astray, because they're all already without God. The only really good thing was a quote from "The Eternally Wandering Jew", as follows: "Just as the principles of physics are conventions, almost articles of faith having no proof of existence other than the fact that the laws and effects resulting from them are roughly in keeping with the experiences of the senses, so, too, the dogmas of religion, its postulates, do not require any other proof of existence, except that the laws and consequences resulting from them will be roughly in keeping with the ethical and religious experience of the human soul. In this way, for example, the existence of God, which is impossible to prove, is the equivalent of the impossible-to-prove hypothesis that all of creation is subject to the same basic laws of physics, a hypothesis without which science would be impossible. There is no reason to believe that there is a contradiction between religion and physics (I include all sciences based on empirical experience under this name), using different methods and maintaining the distinctness of their areas. They share in abstracto the object of the experience, which in reality is often indivisible. Human society is exactly such an indivisible object, falling under both systems." I might pass this one to Mark S.
  50. ** The Neon Bible, John Kennedy Toole. Written for a literary contest when the author was 16, this book is quite well written for a 16-year-old but less than captivating for me. The question is should I keep it or donate it to the library or sell it to a book store?
  51. **** Great Expectations, Charles Dickens. Somewhere in all that mess I managed to finish this one. I had forgotten how great a writer Dickens was. There was humor so fresh I wouldn't have believed it was written 100 years ago if it weren't in the book. I must go back over it and pull out some gems of quotes.
  52. **** David Copperfield, Charles Dickens. Never did go back and pull any quotes from GE. But I did finish this one, even though it took me a month. It was 877 pages and not real fast reading, but it was good. The chapter on the first time he got drunk was excellent.
  53. *** Short List, John Lerher. Of McNeil-Lerher fame. Good book in a series about the One-Eyed Mack, Lt. Gov. of Oklahoma. If I see any more in the series I'll pick them up.
  54. *** Thank You, Jeeves, P. G. Wodehouse. MOTS.
  55. ** Fletch's Moxie, Gregory MacDonald. MOTS.
  56. *** Cocktail Time, P. G. Wodehouse. MOTS. Uncle Fred story.
  57. ** Fletch and the Widow Bradley, Gregory MacDonald. MOTS.
  58. *** Mad Man In Waco, Brad Baily and Bob Darden. Well-written book on Koresh and the Mt. Carmel disaster. I probably wouldn't have read it if it hadn't been written by someone I knew.
  59. *** The Quiet American, Graham Greene. Typical Greene, which is melancholy, introspective, depressing, and expertly written. Recommended reading.
  60. ** The Years With Ross, James Thurber. I expected this to be a collection of fictional stories about some character named Ross, but it turns out to be biographical sketches about H. W. Ross, founder and editor of The New Yorker. The guy was quite a character and Thurber was just them man to write about him.
  61. ** Master Class, Morris West. Not bad, but too much sex for my taste. I read one other book by West called Harlequin which was written pretty well, too.
  62. *** The Lord God Made Them All, James Herriot. I didn't recall him being this good of a writer, but when a book starts off with, "When the gate fell on top of me, I knew I was really back home," then you know you've picked a winner.
  63. ** The Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, Douglas Adams. Amusing.
  64. *** Twenty-one Stories, Graham Greene. Some good selections in here, and some that didn't do much for me. He's better in the long straight-aways.
  65. *** The Minister's Restoration, The Poet's Homecoming, George MacDonald. More of the same from MacDonald, a master story-teller. A bit more preaching than I remember by him, but these are later books. Maybe his earlier stuff wasn't to this degree. I'll have to go back and check.
  66. ** The Iron Hand of Mars, Lindsay Davis. Clever but not quality story about a first-century private investigator. Too much sex for my taste.
  67. *** Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes. I read the story when I was in high school. I didn't realize that it had been so popular as a short story that it was re-written into a novel. It's a great book. I was going to pass it on to the kids to read, but the novel has a lot of sex in it that the story didn't have.
  68. Pleading Guilty, Scott Turow. From the author of Presumed Innocent comes a catchy, brooding suspense novel about lawyers filled with trash. Got it free through the book-of-the-month club. Won't be reading anymore of this guy's stuff. I don't need to fill my mind with such garbage.
  69. ** Brighton Rock, Graham Greene. Early Greene novel which got him noticed. I'm not sure why.
  70. *** My World and Welcome To It, James Thurber. This is a collection of sketches published in The New Yorker and a few other mags. Some of this stuff is collected in The Thurber Carnival, which I have already read. There are several very funny pieces.
  71. *** A Maigret Trio, Georges Simenon. Introspective detective fiction from the perspective of an aging Chief Inspector for Paris the Judicial Police. Well-written character study, not much plot intrigue. I liked it. Traci H. found the PBS series good but the written stories boring.
  72. ** Fletch and The Man Who, Gregory MacDonald. MOTS holiday reading. Not as much sex in this one as the last few I read.
  73. ** The Black Marble, Joseph Wambaugh. Read one book by him and didn't like it much. Only read this one because Helene C. insisted. It was passable, but didn't change my mind.
  74. * A Bed By The Window — A Novel of Mystery and Redemption, M. Scott Peck. Thought this would be interesting, but it had the weaknesses I would expect from a psychologist who thought he could write a novel. It reads like a long counselling session loosely strung together with an aimless investigation. Characters are remarkably weak.
  75. *** Benchley Lost and Found, Robert Benchley. Thirty-nine pieces from The Liberty Magazine in the 30's that were never reprinted until the 70's. There are four or five quite amusing pieces among them.
  76. *** The Rebel Angels, Robertson Davies. Pretty good. It hit me when I was reading the jacket that this guy wrote a book called World of Wonders, which is part of the Deptford Trilogy, and Bruce Cockburn has an album by the same title. Since they're both Canadians, I don't think this is a coincidence. Then, as I was reading the book, I thought of Graham Greene and thought them in the same class. Then, I saw that he was compared to Graham Greene on the jacket of World of Wonders, so go figure. This one gets a little weird, especially toward the end, but the first half, at least, is quite good.
  77. **** The Portable Curmudgeon, John Winokur. Given to me by Hazlerig, an excellent reference for the proper perspective on practically every topic. (With a few notable exceptions.)
  78. *** Murder for Christmas. A large collection of mystery stories related somehow to Christmas. There are some good ones in here. Luckily I noticed this thing in my to-be-read book case a few days before Christmas, or I might have had to wait another year to read it.
  79. *** The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Charles Dickens. This is the story Dickens was working on when he died. He got about halfway through the story, which was being serialized in a magazine, and then he kicked off so it was never finished. I picked up a book from the book club which is a post-canon Holmes story in which Holmes is called in on the Drood case, so I thought I should read the original before I picked up the ad hoc ending. However, I couldn't find a copy of the novel itself, so I got a book from the library called The D. Case which is a panel of great detectives of literature analyzing and solving the Drood disappearance. Included in the book is the original work, so I went through and read only the Dickens parts.
  80. * The D. Case, Carlo Fruttero and Franco Lucentini. A rather lame attempt to have a panel of great fictional detectives convene to solve the unfinished mystery of Edwin Drood.

January 4, 2008

1992 Wunderfool Reading List

Rating Guide

**** Stop reading this review and get this book *** Definitely worth your time ** Not bad, but not a must-read, either * Better than reading the shampoo label, maybe no stars Reading this may damage your brain

MOTS = More Of The Same (Not necessarily bad. See previous reviews of same author.)

  1. ** How To Talk So Your Teenager Will Listen, Swets. Not bad.
  2. How to write and sell humor and 3 books on writing for children, one of which was good.
  3. *** Make Way for Lucia, which includes Queen Lucia, Lucia in London, Miss Mapp, The Male Impersonator, Mapp and Lucia, The Worshipful Lucia, and Trouble for Lucia, E. F. Benson. The Lucia series is an extended and potentially exhausting read. I don't recommend trying to do it in one pass. This is a book that should be kept to fall back on between other books. On the whole it is entertaining to a surprising and unexpected degree. I found myself thinking, "How can this collection of completely superficial social manuevering be so captivating?" If I had to describe a plot I would be embarrassed to admit I was reading such fluff. It would sound no better than a soap opera, only more inoccuous and trivial. However, Benson is such a writer, close to the caliber of Wodehouse (but never quite attaining that lofty height) that the shallowness of the characters is in itself intriguing. The only character I remember in the entire work that wasn't two-dimensional and predictable was Olga, the opera star, who only appears in two or three of the novels. But this in itself isn't neccessarily an indictment. Wodehouse's characters and plots are as predictable and automatic as a vending machine but his writing style transcends and transforms the whole into a work of art. It would be an interesting question to consider whether Wodehouse could have written as effectively if he had developed characters of greater depth and plots of less superficial intricacy. Say something on the order of Graham Greene but with the Wodehouse style. Would it even work? And why am I doing all of this analysis of Wodehouse in a review of Benson novels?
  4. *** The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. A collection of modern Sherlock Holmes stores, including selections by Stephen King and John Gardner. This collection has several entertaining stories in it, some of which approach the style and caliber of the Canon. Recommended reading for Holmes buffs.
  5. **** Poor Russell's Almanac, Russell Baker. This is a classic I read in the 70's that I found at Mary Ann's Books in Garland, TX. Excellent satire. Recommended reading.
  6. ** The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh. A satire on modern society set in a funeral home. O.K. but not great.
  7. **** The Gospel According to Chegum, Fazil Iskander. A collection of 10 short stories by a popular contemporary Russian author. (Actually, he is Abkhazian, but he writes in Russian.) His most famous work published in Russia is The Goatibex Constellation. The Chegum stories evidently weren't published in Russia as of the printing of this edition. Definitely worth reading for serious readers. Good sections with occasional gusts of genius. It gives a good feeling of life in post-Stalin Russia without being morbid. Would like to find the first in the set, Sandro of Chegum.
  8. *** A Thief of Time, Tony Hillerman. Pretty good detective novel set in modern Navajo culture. Hillerman weaves Navajo culture and religious traditions into the fabric of a murder mystery. Very readable. Recommended reading.
  9. Journey Toward Wholeness, Don Crossland. Better left unsaid.
  10. *** Man's Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankel. Evidently a classic work in psychology. Very intriguing. Without being specific it validates Christian belief as a major factor in developing a stable world view that enables people to endure trauma with psyche intact.
  11. *** Happy To Be Here, Garrison Keillor. Good, as usual, but a bit slow in spots.
  12. **** The Book of the Dun Cow, Walter Wangerin, Jr. An excellent allegory mistakenly catagorized by many as a children's book. It is a bit slow in spots, but overall a mentally stimulating read. Recommended reading for serious readers.
  13. *** Marco Polo, If You Can, William F. Buckley, Jr. Another Blackford Oakes novel, the fourth in the series, and not particularly remarkable. Nothing yet compares with Stained Glass or The Henri Todd Story.
  14. **** Our Man In Havana, Graham Greene. An amusing and reflective novel about a British vacuum cleaner salesman who is recruited by MI6, England's version of the CIA. The amusing aspects of a salesman sending in bogus reports for the pay and the resulting complications are offset by the melancholy introspections of the protagonist. Highly recommend reading.
  15. ** The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thorton Wilder. A rather droll tale which I read because someone compared my style to Wilder's. Can't say I see it in this novel.
  16. ** The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers. I finally read it after years of hearing people mention it. It's a fairly good book, but not the kind of stuff that really interests me.
  17. * The Lady in the Lake, Raymond Chandler. Forgetable detective novel. As a matter of fact, I've already forgotten most of it.
  18. *** A Whiff of Death and Murder that the ABA, Issac Asimov. The first was very good with great depth of character for the protagonist. The second was amusing but mostly fluff.
  19. **** The Tenth Man, Graham Greene. An excellent, short book, very cinematic. Recommended reading.
  20. ** The Surchataine's Guardian, The Stone of Help, High Lord of Lystra, Robin Hardy. I read this series because I met the author. They're not bad, but not the type of reading I would have chosen for entertainment, being primarily romances. They get better as they go. [Note: Robin Hardy was responsible for the FredBooks getting published 10 years later. I owe her more than I can say. Buy her books.]
  21. ** Talent is Not Enough, Mollie Hunter. A book on writing for children. It has its interesting points and is motivating.
  22. ** The Cockroaches of Stay More, John Harrington. An amusing and grows on you as you read it. At first you think, "I'll give it 20 more pages." Eventually you get sucked in and it flows on to the end.
  23. *** Mrs. Ames, E.F. Benson. The precursor to the Lucia series, I liked this one even better because Ames finally became a real person at the end, something which rarely, if ever, happened in the Lucia/Mapp stories. Olga was about the only real person in the series.
  24. *** Miss Undine's Living Room, James Wilcox. An excellent writer. Great characters, set in modern Louisiana, rather flimsy on plot, however.
  25. *** The Blessing Way, The Dark Wind, Skin Walkers, Tony Hillerman. More great Navajo detective stories set on the reservation. This guy is very entertaining. Recommended reading.
  26. * Vanna Karenina, Frank Gannon. A collection of, for the most part, forgettable sketches with a few gems interspersed.
  27. ** The Best of Bill Vaughn. A pretty good collection by an old columnist.
  28. ** The New Hilton Bedside Book. An amusing collection of stories printed in 1955.
  29. ** Mama, Mormonism, and Me, Thelma Geer. Pretty good.
  30. ** The Coming Economic Earthquake, Larry Burkett. An interesting analysis of the situation which shows how we are paralleling earlier depression cycles. Reinforces my decision to get out of the house payment and get out of debt.
  31. **** The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene. Great book! The story of a whiskey priest on the run from Communist authorities and his struggle with his own sin and inadequacies. The scene where he attempts to buy wine on the black market in order to serve communion is riveting and moving. Highly recommended reading.
  32. *** This Gun For Hire, The Confidential Agent and The Ministry of Fear, Graham Greene. All quite good. Based on the work I've read so far, he seems to favor a protagonist who is flawed and wrestles with his conscience and his own inadequacies while trying to do what he must, which is in some cases merely attempting to survive.
  33. * The Latimer Mercy, Robert Richardson. Not bad for a first novel, but he's not someone I'll go looking for on the shelves. As far as mysteries go, there seemed to be a lot of sitting around helplessly wondering what to do and crying about the deceased. What little conflict there was between characters was smoothed over rather quickly, usually within the scene.
  34. *** Joseph Smith, The First Mormon, Donna Hill. This was an interesting biography, all the more so since it was written by a woman whose ancestors were in the original 5,000 settlers in Utah and whose "sympathies lie with the Saints." There was plenty in this book to reveal Smith as a complete fraud as far as I'm concerned. The fact that it was written by a Mormon (I'm guessing she is still active) and not someone hostile to the LDS makes it even more powerful.
  35. ** The Way Things Ought To Be, Rush Limbaugh. Just like the show. Nothing new here, but good.
  36. ** The Captain and the Enemy, Graham Greene. Disappointing. The first GG novel I've read that I didn't like. It seemed to have no direction, sort of like my stuff.
  37. *** Aunts Aren't Gentlemen, P.G. Wodehouse. I don't know how I've missed this one before. I thought I had all the Jeeves/Wooster stories. Typical Wodehouse.
  38. *** Thirteen Detective Mysteries, G. K. Chesterton. Pretty good, includes one Father Brown story. Chesteron has a real penchant for paradox and irony.
  39. *** Genome, a popular science work about mapping the human DNA sequence. It's pretty good.
  40. *** Mrs. Polifax and the Golden Triangle, Dorothy Gilman. Fairly good spy story about an old lady who volunteered to be a CIA agent. It sort of treads the line between straight spy stuff and serious fiction.
  41. **** The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes, Adrian Conan Doyle and John Dickenson Carr. An excellent post-canon collection of Holmes stories in a style remarkably faithful to the original stories. Money well spent. Highly recommended reading for Holmes fans.
  42. ** The Edges of Science, Richard Morris. Moderately O.K. popular science discussion of particle physics and the fringes of theory and speculation on the origin and structure of the universe.
  43. ** Getting to Know the General, Graham Greene. Interesting for its historical content and insight into the Latin American culture/mind. Otherwise boring.
  44. *** The Hidden Value of a Man, Gary Smalley and John Trent. More practical doctrine on the role of a man in family and society. Kenny Nair in significantly diluted doses but still probably too strong for the general public.
  45. *** Parliament of Whores, P.J. O'Rourke. Excellent humor and satire by a political conservative but moral liberal. Recommended reading.
  46. *** Jack: The Life and Times of C.S. Lewis, George Sayer. Pretty good stuff but probably only interesting to serious Lewis fans.
  47. ** Sleep Til Noon, Max Schulman. Loaned to me by Nelson D. as an example of someone who writes more like me than I do. There is a definite similarity of style, although Max is a bit more manic. Mildly amusing, occasional clever turn of phrase.
  48. *** The Boxcar at the Center of the Universe, Richard Kennedy. Well written, intriguing children's tale about a 16-year-old hobo who encounters an aged Arab in a boxcar who relates his journey to find the Center of the Universe. First page should be re-written, however.
  49. *** We Are Still Married, Garrison Keillor. Pretty good stuff, as usual for GK. However, he gets a bit wearisome in his liberal whining about callous, brutal conservatives. I must be on guard against sounding like a victim in my own retrospective stuff.
  50. ** The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Vincent Starrett. Semi-interesting, well-written, around the 30's. Only for Holmes junkies.
  51. *** The Complete Yes Minister, Johnaton Lynn and Antony Jay. A fairly amusing account, the diary of a Cabinet Minister in England who often doesn't have a clue. Good reading but only for serious readers. The real payoffs in humor come a good way down the line.
  52. **** The Incredulity of Father Brown, G. K. Chesterton. I thought I had all the Father Brown stories in that hardback, but of the eight stories in this little paperback, I only remember reading one. There were some very excellent stories in this book. Chesterton in his usual form: brilliant. Highly recommended reading.
  53. *** The Haunted Bookshop, Christopher Morely. Written after WW I, the sequel to Parnasus on Wheels, which I couldn't find. This was a fairly decent book, although the paean of praise to literature got a bit wearisome after a while. The guy is a good writer, though. Probably not most reader's cup of tea.
  54. An Odor of Sanctity, Frank Yerby. Very disappointing. Jacket said the story of a man's search for God. Mostly a story of a man's humping every female he comes in contact with. Doesn't hold a candle to The Foxes of Harrow.
  55. ***Side Effects, Woody Allen. I picked this up in a flea market and after I got home I realized I've read it before. But it was nice to read it again.
  56. *** The Human Factor, Graham Greene. Very good vintage Greene, but the ending was a bit weak. Recommended reading.
  57. *** Coyote Waits, Tony Hillerman. Predictable Hillerman, but I like his stuff, so I enjoyed this one, too. Good holiday reading.

January 2, 2008

The Stack

Being read:

  • Upstairs bathroom: The Mystery of Children, Mike Mason
  • Downstairs bathroom: Love Mercy, Lisa Samson
  • Nightstand: [under consideration]
  • Elliptical: American on Purpose: The Improbably Adventures of an Unlikely Patriot, Craig Ferguson
  • At large: A Darkness More Than Night, Michael Connelly

January 1, 2008

The Wunderfool Reading List

This blog used to be about funky things I found on the Internet. That content has moved to StupidInternetTricks.com, although the first hundred or so posts (Jun 2006 - Aug 2007) are still archived here.

Beginning Jan 1, 2008, this blog will host the Wunderfool Reading List, a list of things I'm reading and my comments on them. Use it as a list of books to read. Or a list of books to avoid, depending on how closely your tastes match mine.

In addition to the Wunderfool Reading List and StupidInternetTricks.com, I also do restaurant reviews at the Eating Fred, Texas blog. And write the occasional novel. And the day job. But, other than that, I don't do much.