Like any gentleman of means, I’m fond of gallivanting around the world. Though I may not travel as much as I’d like, what with the estate, the cats and the pending transactions needing looking after, my attache case is always packed with books and monocles so that I may use the wonders of literature to mitigate the horrors of public transportation. On two of my most notable excursions, novels by Hari Kunzru helped eat several hours that would have otherwise been occupied by fretting over what sorts of messes the cats were making in the estate. Given space constraints, my obligation to save the details of my travels for my visitors’ parlor, and two lawsuits, I’ll sum it up by saying that I have a soft spot for Kunzru’s writing. He earned the soft spot, though. It wasn’t just because he succeeded in distracting from the snores of the man taking up most of my seat: Kunzru is a brilliant writer.
“The Impressionist,” which I read when I was little more than a pup easily startled by every ticket taker and fuel-efficient vehicle I saw, is his debut novel, and one that garnered a lot of praise on publication. It’s about a brown boy born with white skin. My memory is fuzzy on specifics, but it was great. Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Hari Kunzru”
As a professional book recommender, I’m constantly recommending books. Unfortunately, not everyone enjoys the same sorts of books I do, so I must resort to asking what sorts of books a person likes before I can offer my precise recommendation. Over and over again, I hear, “I want a work of fiction about a fictional movie that’s inspired by the making of the film ‘Cannibal Holocaust.’ Also, it needs to have a subplot about a socialist revolution that intersects with the main plot in perfect but horrifying fashion,” they’ll inevitably say. Prior to reading “We Eat Our Own” by Kea Wilson, I could only offer tearful apologies and some of the candy I keep in my pockets: I knew of no such book. Now, however, I can enthusiastically recommend “We Eat Our Own” by Kea Wilson, and keep my candy.
Wilson’s novel follows several different characters. We start with “Richard,” whose name is in quotes because he’s only referred to by the part he’s playing until near the end of the novel. “Richard” is an unknown American actor who is brought into the production because having an American actor lowers distribution costs, and the previous American actor abandoned the project because there was no script. Also, crucially, he is the same shoe size as the departed actor. As it’s set in the ’70s, he has no reliable and civilized way of informing his girlfriend of his immediate departure, so he writes a note that she won’t see for weeks, and makes his way to South America. Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Kea Wilson”
The reader’s urge for a scary book rises as Halloween looms, whether due to a desire to embrace spooky customs, or due to the wish for an absorbing thrill to distract and perhaps inoculate oneself from the menace of roving gangs of masked children demanding candy. Your local library yearns to slake this thirst. The following books are, of course, just a few of the thousands of scary fictional titles you can find at the Daniel Boone Regional Library. If none of these strike your fancy (maybe you’d rather read a nonfiction account of the end of the world or something about clowns), we can find one that does. Either way, one thing is certain: no one at the library will try to take your candy unless you’re being really messy.
Of course, you could always read one of the thousands of novels by Stephen King, but perhaps you just want to read something a lot like Stephen King. Try “The Passage” by Justin Cronin. The first book in a trilogy, “The Passage” shows society’s collapse at the hands and fangs of vampires and then jumps forward to an era when floodlights and walls are mandatory if you wish to survive. In a refreshing twist, there is very little romance ascribed to the vampires. Continue reading “Literary Links: Spooky Reads”
“Homesick For Another World” is a brilliant collection of short stories by Ottessa Moshfegh and a common affliction. It is certainly an affliction suffered by the characters that populate her stories. Some might describe her characters as losers and find themselves unable to understand how anyone but a loser or an aficionado or losers would enjoy these stories about drug users, sexual deviants, bulimics, body modifiers, bad actors, crooked Catholic school teachers, and one young girl who longs to murder the specific person whose death she believes will open up a portal to “a better place,” the place she’s always known she belongs. Well rest assured, having achieved the status of runner-up in dozens of eating contests, this gentleman is no loser, and this gentleman found these stories, despite the relative scantness of their plot, fascinating and absorbing. Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Ottessa Moshfegh”
If you like to use books to escape from reality, whether it’s because your cats have been acting up or due to the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation, the strange tales of Kij Johnson are your ticket to a more pleasant reality, one where, for example, a fox might fall in love with a prince and so decide to transform into a human female so that she might increase the odds of the woo she pitches being perceived and appreciated. Or, maybe, inspired by your cat’s complete disregard for authority and subpar mousing, you’re craving a story in which a truly independent kitten traverses the bulk of Japan devouring mice. Maybe your travelling magic monkey show just isn’t bringing in the bucks like it used to, and you’d like to read about a modestly successful travelling magic monkey show. Perhaps you’d like to learn of a fancy bridge being built in a strange land. Or maybe the graphic details of the intimate encounters shared by two shipwrecked space travelers (one human, one exceedingly not) is more your cup of tea. Whichever strange brew you require to slake your thirst for escape from your foolhardy cats or pending nuclear explosions, Kij Johnson’s “At the Mouth of the River of Bees” has concocted it for you. I recommend you take a taste right here.
Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Kij Johnson”
Because it is a page-turner, Maile Meloy’s “Do Not Become Alarmed” is the sort of novel often recommended to beach goers. This makes sense, because people on beaches need novels that distract them from the ever-present threat of sharks, the maddening bites of sand fleas and the absurd slow-motion jogging of lifeguards. What else, but an utterly absorbing novel, could make time spent on a beautiful beach endurable?
Unfortunately for beach goers who choose “Do Not Become Alarmed” as their distraction from their sandy reprieve from reality, the novel is set during a traumatic vacation. Fortunately for those readers, it is the sort of gripping read that will make them forget all about the hungry horrors lurking beyond the water’s edge. Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Maile Meloy”
Renowned as an author of “weird” literature, Jeff Vandermeer’s new novel, “Borne,” again showcases his spectacular imagination by placing his thrilling tale in an unthinkable setting: a world ravaged by climate change, war, a refugee crisis, poison rain and the mistakes and cruelties of corporations. He grounds the scenario by including a bevy of things we all fear and do our best to stay clear of on a daily basis: food scarcity, roving gangs of mutant children whose bodies are augmented by scavenged technologies and, of course, a giant flying venomous bear named Mord and the smaller proxy bears that do his bidding.
People that survive do so by eating bugs, lizards and whatever biotech they can scavenge. This biotech originates from an organization referred to as the “Company,” and it allows for such nifty items as “alcohol minnows” (tiny fish that provide both sustenance and tipsiness) and “memory beetles” (beetles that provide both sustenance and memories). The world Vandermeer created is vivid and interesting enough to sustain a much longer novel, but his focus is on the relationship between his narrator, Rachel (a scavenger living with her partner in a fortified cliffside) and Borne (a colorful chunk of biotech that initially seems inanimate). Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Jeff Vandermeer (again)”
Imagine, if you will, you are a gentleman of means. Sure, your silks are a bit tattered, your fainting coach is worn and your butler may indeed be a figment of your imagination, but your snack cabinet is robust, and your butler’s compliments are as flowery and flattering as they are unceasing. Still, you seek greater means. “Why should I not have a zeppelin and an army of carrier pigeons?” you ask yourself.
So you explore the typical avenues for the gathering of wealth. There’s the lottery. You could shoot dice in an alley. Perhaps show up at a billionaire’s home claiming to be a long-lost cousin. But you are not good at the lottery, lack the athleticism for dice play, and find that billionaires hate their cousins. You turn to the last refuge of aspiring wealth-hoarders: the fiction section of your local library. You stalk the shelves, looking for the secrets to getting filthy rich, and do so with a willingness to acquire that wealth anywhere in the world. You look at the titles of several books, frustrated that their authors are clearly uninterested in helping you achieve your goal of subverting the United States Postal Service via a fleet of birds transmitting stamp-less messages. Then, after a few minutes of browsing — time you are beginning to think would have been better spent researching which relatives billionaires care about — eureeka! “Eureeka!” you shriek, to the dismay of everyone else in the library, after reading the first five words of the title you clutch. “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia.” The last two words give you pause. You’d prefer to get rich in the United States. Your joy is muted. Your subsequent hurrahs are only heard by those near you. Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Mohsin Hamid”
Now that we’re shaking off the shackles of winter and stepping into the significantly more comfortable zipties of spring, it’s a good idea to read a novel that will prepare us for the sun-scorched seatbelt buckles of summer. “The Summer That Melted Everything” by Tiffany McDaniel is exactly that novel. Partly because the word summer is in the title, but also because it is, as one might suspect, set during the titular summer, and McDaniel wields her immense powers of description with the dexterity and precision of an ice cream truck driver piloting his vehicle around swarms of children that desperately want ice cream on a hot summer day but lack the money one must exchange for it, and therefore, after the ice cream truck evades their attempts to topple it, must retreat to their homes, where, if they’re lucky, there is a freezer burned bag of peas that they can lick. (This novel is hot, and it makes you feel like you’re in the heat.)
“The Summer That Melted Everything” will remind readers that have read “To Kill A Mockingbird” of “To Kill A Mockingbird” (in a good way). McDaniel’s novel is narrated by Fielding Bliss, son of Autopsy Bliss, whose name is the perfect representation of the similarities and differences between Lee’s novel and McDaniel’s. Like Lee’s Atticus Finch, Autopsy Bliss is a noble lawyer and caring family man. Unlike Atticus, Autopsy places a letter in the local newspaper inviting the devil to visit their town. Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Tiffany McDaniel”
“The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen won the Pulitzer Prize and the Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author in 2016. He’s clearly trending up from an already lofty perch: in 2017 he’s published an acclaimed collection of short stories (“The Refugees”) and is now officially recommended by a gentleman.
“The Sympathizer” takes the form of a confession by a communist agent embedded in the National Police of South Vietnam. Fortunately for readers, this communist agent has a talent for characterization, narrative building and sentence spinning. Rarely does a paragraph go by, let alone a page, without a sentence that is worthy of applause. While frequent breaks to stand and clap in the direction of the book definitely slow down the reading process, it does afford one the chance to savor the writing, and as the Pulitzer committee recognized (as they sometimes do), this is writing worthy of savoring. It’s also a narrative worthy of that 10-more-minutes style bargaining that inevitably leads to sleep deprivation and calluses caused by excessive clapping. Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Viet Thanh Nguyen”