The idea of this blog is to facilitate the love of reading by collecting news about new books, or sometimes good old books. It is also dedicated to stamping out the scourge of e-books, Kindles, Kobo's, i-Pads, and all other such abominations.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Guest blog: The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt

I have been trying to get Thora to read this book because she's going to Venice this fall and even though I agree with all reviewers it's not as good as Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, it does give you a whole new understanding of the living city of Venice that still hangs on amidst all those crumbling castles with their falling stone angels. There is obviously an ancient and extremely peculiar community still persisting, and it makes very good reading whether you have the great good sense to be planning a leisurely stay there this fall or not. There are several fascinating subplots involving the burning of the big opera house (it turned out to be arson, did you know that? I didn't), Ezra Pound's love nest, Peggy Guggeheim's legacy, nobilty who believe in aliens, etc. The usual Berendt mix. Recommended.


Sunday, June 11, 2006

Guest Blog: Shalimar the Clown

For a book that was shortlisted for the Booker by a writer who is considered a shoo-in for the Nobel, I had thought I was noticing a dearth of excited talk about Rushdie's latest but decided it was my duty to check it out if I want to be up on what's happening. This is the second Rushdie book I've read and I'm afraid I can't remember the title of the other one, but I do believe it was set in Bombay, which is plausible because that is where he's from. This one is set in a couple of ancient, competing villages in the northern, Pakistan-bordering province of Kashmir where the terrorists who performed the recent series of Mumbai bombings hail from. Of course the book was written well before that happened, but the same folks that did that bombing are behind the action in this novel.

I have about the same feeling this time out as that other time. The guy is impressive. He paints a broad canvas. He has a tall forehead. The thing is like a mini War and Peace. These third-worlders have so much more to write about, with such deep culutral roots with village traditions going back thousands of years,and all of that civilized seniority dissolving into absolute barbarity and destruction due to Muslim-Hindu warring. It ought to be an epic theme and it is. They make our books about interminable bored affairs seem so trivial. But does it pass the exercise test? I get most of my books on unabridged audio and listen to them as I walk around Francis Peninsula. Some books aid fitness because they make me want to go out every day and stay out longer. Other books reinforce my natural tendency to shirk exertion because I can't face another hour of them. I'm afraid good ol' Shalimar fell into the latter category. I was so glad when it was over and I could get onto Everyman by Roth. Why? I was impressed this time as last at how impressive Rushdie can be without being appealing. As a novelist he is a better social philosopher than an artist. He tends to marshal a vast army of characters but not make them very three-dimensional. They tend to be defined by their social roles more than their personalities. The central character in this book, Shalimar, remained an enigma to me, and not an inigma I was all that keen to resolve. He was there obviously to give some insight into the making of a terrorist, but he wasn't very convincing in that role because he remained a man driven by his own personal demons who joined the jihad for cynical reasons of his own, rather than giving himself over to the holy cause. In fact Rushdie's view of all the combatants is that they are all a bunch of self-serving fools and madmen, which doesn't provide all the insight into the cultural forces that drive them one might wish. Indeed, Rushdie's final epigrph is "A plague on both your houses." I guess it's ok for him to say this where it certainly wouldn't be for a white writer, but you have to question how helpful such an attitude is. A final comment on Rushdie as a great writer. I'm not so damn sure he is one. He has great energy, and great power of imagination. He is admired for the richness of his language but I find flamboyant expression comes a bit too easily to him, and often serves in place of more precise perception. And the plot. I really felt there was a disconnect between this book's rather sensational and melodramatic plot and the social revelation that was it's main subject. Okay, maybe his point is that these obscure ethnic battles touch even the glitziest American enclaves, but the way he made it happen was just too contrived. So, what do you have when you have a writer who churns out novels that tackle the clash of civilizations but fails the exercise test? A great writer who isn't?