ThunderPeel2001

Books, books, books...

2096 posts in this topic

I haven't read either of those books, and I suspect it is quite dissimilar in many respects, but John le Carré's A Perfect Spy – despite its name and the rest of le Carré's bibliography – is not really an espionage novel, but a re-examination of the life of a British intelligence officer. Much of the focus is in the relationship between the main character and his charismatic and destructive con-man father, and how this relationship affected his later life. Even if the novel doesn't fit the bill perfectly, I can still heartily recommend it. It is the best le Carré book I have read, and he has written some excellent books. And I'm not the only one thinking that:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/best-le-carre-novel

 

Incidentally, le Carré just released his memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel. I'm really excited to read it to see how strong the parallels are between it and A Perfect Spy. As I understood it, many of the events of A Perfect Spy are supposed to mirror le Carre's early life to some extent, which makes the novel even more fascinating, and brutal.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I really didn't get the point of Remains of the Day (unlike Sense of an Ending which I liked better) -- maybe because I read the Barnes book first and thus had my fill of wistful English guys going "what if".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm a little more than half way through Joanna Walsh's Vertigo and while I don't think it is the sort of book you could describe as something you enjoy, it is very smartly written. It consists of these short vignettes where the author just really draws out as much anxiety as possible out of a particular scene (a woman processing her divorce, a couple at a restaurant feeling impatient about the lack of service, feeling out of place in another country, etc.) At its best it is a powerful reflection on some of the moments of quiet desperation generated by adult life. I also appreciate that it is a tiny book that fits in a jacket pocket, ideal for reading while on public transit.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Incidentally, le Carré just released his memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel. I'm really excited to read it to see how strong the parallels are between it and A Perfect Spy. As I understood it, many of the events of A Perfect Spy are supposed to mirror le Carre's early life to some extent, which makes the novel even more fascinating, and brutal.

 

Turns out the parallels between le Carré's and A Perfect Spy protagonist's childhoods are really strong.

 

I can heartily recommend The Pigeon Tunnel, by the way. It's not so much a memoir than an amazing collection of vignettes throughout the author's life, including encounters with Yasser Arafat, Rupert Murdoch, and a man who calls a French cafe and asks for a made up name whenever he feels particularly lonely, just to listen to the ensuing commotion.

 

I never realized the lengths to which le Carré is ready to go in order to research his novels. Truly fascinating.

 

Also, Stanley Kubrick wanted to adapt A Perfect Spy. Fuuuck.. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've been re-reading all the Gerald Durrell books. They're part of what kindled my love for biology and nature, and they're just as good as they were when I first read them as a kid. Unfortunately they've aged rather badly from a political point of view, but I can forgive that given the massive force for good his Wildlife Trust ended up being.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Following a bit of post-apocalyptic bent( my vice!) I just finished a book called "Kingdom Come: Abaddon"...only seems to be on Amazon from what I can see. Definitely a different take on the theme, especially location wise( not the good old US for once!)...and relatively contemporary. Not the longest to be fair ( though obvs heading into a series), and starts slightly slowly, but it picks up and rolls through well. Kept me reading anyway.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Currently trying to read the dense Rebooting the Regions: Why low or zero growth needn't mean the end of prosperity - Edited by Paul Spoonley.

It's a collection reasonably long articles all detailing the structural problems of the regional economy of New Zealand (as well as other countries) as demographics shift to completely favour the national economic centres while the smaller, rural populations face the problems of ageing populations (30% of many towns will be over 65 in the next few decades), and some of the solutions to those problems.

I'm really enjoying it and you can find a short summary interview (about 20 minutes) here

 

Core topics include how to manage depopulation, how to innovate living spaces as businesses close and transit networks age, how to address youth underachievement, how to re-empower local Maori Iwi in shaping their communities, and how some towns have already emerged with success stories in future proofing the coming changes.

 

It's a good book but I'm feeling a bit too distracted to really let my mind settle down for the seriousness of the discussion. It's written by and for people who are already studying population management and policy planning so don't go in expecting a light read; I only found it because I was browsing an airport bookstore in the political heart of NZ.

 

Anyway in the fiction world I found out that Lian Hearn has come out with The Emperor of the Eight Islands (The Tale of Shikanoko) a new prequel series for her fantasy Japan series: Tales of the Otori. I loved this series when I was just a young sprout and this new series goes further back in time to a more mystical era of her fantasy Japan. In a lot of ways this book's setting feels like a much, much more feudal Princess Mononke, just in terms of how the super and the natural tend to coexist.

I've only read the first book but it's the story of a lord's son who is raised by his uncle after his father loses a game of Go to a group of Tengu. Events happen and Shikanoko becomes wrapped up in sorcery as an eccentric practitioner takes him up and gives him an enchanting mask that connects him to the power of the forest and the spirit world before Shikanoko is plunged into the politics of an emerging civil war and a dying emperor.

A lot of it does feel like a standard empowerment focused YA novel but it does take interesting turns here and there with how Shikanoko truly learns his power by experiencing brokenness. The story is a sight darker than most YA you'd expect to read so maybe the readers are expected to age with the books. In any case I found it to be an enchanting story that'll soon have me going back to Takeo and his adventures Across the Nightingale Floor just as soon as I'm finished with yet another(!) Warhammer Horus Heresy Novel. Trudging my way through Nick Kyme's Vulkan Lives! at the moment, it's decent for WH:HH but I'm not really in the mood atm.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Rachel Kushner's The Strange Case of Rachel K is quick, and very much worth reading. At first I thought it was three short stories, but actually they are all tied together. It's a short read, and worth going in blind.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My expectations for George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo were pretty high, but somehow it managed to exceed them. What a beautiful thing! It has a really interesting structure that actually serves the story well, and the story itself simply oozes empathy. Just what I want from a Saunders book.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I just read Levels of Life, Julian Barnes' memoir about his wife's death and grief. It's a three part book, and the first two parts make up about half the book and are pieces of historical fiction (maybe? Real people, but plays out dramatically more like fiction than non-fiction) about the history of ballooning and a romance between a great French actress and an English explorer. The conceit that these stories play out as metaphors of the grieving process is more interesting in theory than practice. Finely written on their own, but they do very little to illuminate the second half of the book where Barnes speaks more bluntly about the grieving process, outside providing a handful of images to refer back to.

 

But the Barnes' whose ruminations on memory and time made The Sense of an Ending such a joy to read is in full force in the second half, and it's the first time I've read anything about grief that takes an explicitly non-religious non-afterlife approach. I too believe that there is no grand meaning to death, and it was refreshing and reassuring to read about that pain from someone who feels the same. I know when my parents die everyone is going to frame everything around being "in a better place" and it's gonna really suck.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

On a Julian Barnes kick, so I just finished his latest novel The Noise of Time, a historical fiction about the life of Russian Composer Dmitri Shostakovich, as explored through three time periods in his life where he was challenged by powers that be and how they wore hm down. Typically great writing and definitely in the contemplative style of The Sense of an Ending, with a little thematic overlap as well. Certainly bracing to read about the life of artists under fascism now.

 

I don't know anything about the history of life under Stalin or even Shostakovich (despite the fact that he's one of the most famous composers of the 20th century, I never heard of him before) so I can't speak to it's accuracy (though there's an epilogue where Barnes lays out all his sources) but I'd highly recommend it if you like The Sense of an Ending.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Other than The Sense of an Ending, the only other book I've ready by Barnes is England, England. These two novels also share a fair amount of thematic content, but England, England explores how we revise our history on a more macro scale than Sense of an Ending does. 

I'm curious if people who have more read more of Barnes find this thematic through line in most of his work, or if I'm just looking at a small sample size of his work here.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I finished The Fire Dwellers by Margarent Laurence and I would heartily recommend it to anyone. It's very stream of conciousness, which would normally not be my cup of tea, but this time it was really interesting. There's different ways the author indicates what is happening, what the character is thinking, conversations and memories which seem related to whatever is currently happening. It really seemed to capture the sense of having/being a part of a family really well and was just a beautiful book all round.

 

I'm currently reading The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I like it a lot, but I think I'm a bit tired of the "perfect super hero flawless genius" stuff that seems to be going on. I'm not sure if there's something happens that will change my mind about the protagonist, but so far I'm not that impressed considering how much hype there is surrounding the book.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

In what ways is it worse? I was still considering buying the sequel but if it's crap then I won't bother.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
12 hours ago, Dosed said:

In what ways is it worse? I was still considering buying the sequel but if it's crap then I won't bother.

There's a bunch of discussion here https://www.idlethumbs.net/forums/topic/10281-the-kingkiller-chronicle-name-of-the-wind-the-wise-mans-fear/

 

In general the meandering Gary Stu nature of Kvother is amped up to the nth degree in the sequel, along with nothing happening to actually progress the arc of his story. He learns stuff, gets out of trouble, nothing of import happens. It's all set-up, no pay-off.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
8 hours ago, osmosisch said:

There's a bunch of discussion here https://www.idlethumbs.net/forums/topic/10281-the-kingkiller-chronicle-name-of-the-wind-the-wise-mans-fear/

 

In general the meandering Gary Stu nature of Kvother is amped up to the nth degree in the sequel, along with nothing happening to actually progress the arc of his story. He learns stuff, gets out of trouble, nothing of import happens. It's all set-up, no pay-off.

 

Him learning stuff instead of having already learned everything with his parents traveling theater group seems like a positive though.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
13 hours ago, simonster said:

 

Him learning stuff instead of having already learned everything with his parents traveling theater group seems like a positive though.

Well of course he learns everything super fast and amazingly because of how awesome he is etc so it's actually more grating to me. At least with the upbringing you can sort of get the idea he spent some actual time on practise.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
17 hours ago, Jutranjo said:

I mean, he didn't, right? He's lying all the time to the guy writing the story.

 

I've heard this a lot, but I think it's really a way for Rothfuss to have his Mary Sue cake and eat it, too. When I really and truly lost patience with the series was Felurian.

 

Qvothe gets trapped in fairyland with the ancient embodiment of carnal lust, has sex with her, and lives. This isn't made up at all: he describes Ferulian, fairyland, and the Cthaeh perfectly; he has the magical

shaed (barf) that Ferulian made especially for him, he suddenly acquires bedroom abilities that multiple women are able to confirm, and he has his own pet fairy Bast there to corroborate everything. Whatever else Qvothe fibbed about, like not bleeding when being whipped or calling down the lightning on those bandits, he still snuck into fairyland, slept with someone who has killed everyone she's ever slept with, made her fall for him by playing her music, and escaped to tell the tale. And that's not the only time that Rothfuss can't help making Qvothe demonstrably a badass in addition to reportedly a badass: there's also the time that he defends himself in the royal court against charges of treason, speaking in a language he learned overnight, in front of hundreds of witnesses, just off the top of my head.

 

I'd really like to read a fantasy novel about a fraud who's the hapless beneficiary of rumor and ignorance, but The Kingkiller Chronicles isn't it, if only because Rothfuss doesn't have the discipline to make his character not secretly awesome.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just finished Nixonland. Its a fantastic political history and has a lot of parallels to modern party politics. Goldwater being sidelined by his party only during his presidential run is a good example of what the GOP could have done to Trump if they wanted to.


Was surprised how Nixonland does a much better job covering segregated cities in the north than my history classes in middle school did. Ditto for what the DNC did to McGovern. His 1972 acceptance speech is fantastic https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orx63ix1y-o


The book also made me appreciate how much more dangerous Trump would be if he were half as smart or devious as Nixon was.
 

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2393575.Nixonland

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now