Monday, August 14, 2017

Breakfast at Tiffany's

Breakfast at Tiffany's Audiobook

Breakfast at Tiffany's is the latest in my novella/short novel kick.  At 192 pages, it runs for under three hours on Audible, and it's read by Michael C. Hall from Dexter and Six Feet Under.  It had been in my wish list for some time when it became the Daily Deal yesterday; I bought it for $1.95.  Narrated by Fred, an unpublished writer living in the same poor tenement as the main character, Holly Golightly, it tells the story of the two of them, their friendship, and most importantly, Golightly's story.

When you're reading a bunch of good literature, it's hard to say how one stands out sometimes.  In the case of Breakfast at Tiffany's, it's many things.  It's the characters.  It's 1943 New York.  It's the prose.  It's Holly, it's Holly, it's Holly.  I haven't been this entranced by a female character in literature since I first saw Bizet's Carmen by the San Diego Opera, after which I immediately went home and wrote a one-act play.  Holly made me want to become a writer again.

All These Worlds

All These Worlds Audiobook

All These Worlds is the third "Bobiverse" novel, a science-fiction story about a self-replicating spacecraft with an "artificial" intelligence created by scanning the brain of an early 21st-century entrepreneur and engineer who dies in an accident outside a sci-fi convention in Las Vegas.  In the third and seemingly final book (billed as the "conclusion" to the series), the Bobs must deal with a genocidal race called the Others along with a host of other problems.  In the first novel, the Bobs simply fly into space, bent on exploring it.  As the series progresses, they gain more and more responsibilities, ending up saving not only the human race but two other sentient species.

I was decidedly nonplussed at seeing the series end.  With so many series going strong at five or even ten books, the almost abrupt ending of the Bobiverse series disappointed me, not just that it ended but the way it ended (spoilers follow).  The Others are destroyed when two of the Bobs accelerate a planet the size of Mars into the star around which the Others are building their Dyson sphere, and the explanation of this is completely left out.  Where do they get the power to move a planet at all, let alone at relativistic speeds?  I get the feeling that author Dennis E. Taylor didn't know himself, so he only spends a single page on this plot device.  I'll still buy every book Dennis E. Taylor writes, but make no mistake.  All These Worlds is a flawed novel.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Secret Scripture

The Secret Scripture.jpg

The Secret Scripture is another fantastic book by the Irish writer, Sebastian Barry.  It's the story of Roseanne McNulty, a 100-year-old Protestant woman who has lived in the Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital for half her life, perhaps more.  She decides to write an autobiography, which is discovered at the turn of the 21st century by her psychiatrist, Dr. Grene.  The narrative voice shifts between the autobiography and Grene's account; Grene must decide if she is to be transfered to another hospital or let free.

A little math shows that the heart of the story is in the 1920s, when the Troubles took place, being of course the Irish Civil War and its aftermath.  Roseanne's family, being Protestant in the mostly Catholic borough of Sligo, face hardships and loss, as you might well expect, but what I can't get over is how author Sebastian Barry manages to write an epic story in just 300 pages, as he does in the other novel of his I've read, Days Without End.  The Secret Scripture was made into a movie in 2016.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Great Jones Street

Great Jones Street Audiobook

Great Jones Street is the 1973 novel by Don Delillo about the reclusive rock star, Bucky Wunderlick.  Wunderlick lives in an unfurnished apartment on Great Jones Street, Manhattan, where he is hassled by his agent, a drug dealer, neighbors, and other strange people.  The two main plot elements are a new drug that inhibits the speech center of the brain and the so-called "Mountain Tapes," a series of 20 songs recorded by Bucky in the mountains.  This all must sound very Pink Floyd to most readers, but we have to remember that The Wall was realized later in the 1970s.  A more likely basis for the Wunderlick character is Bob Dylan, who recorded the Basement Tapes, which were mired in rumor and legend until their release in 1975.

I listened to a new recording of the Great Jones Street audiobook, released on Audible earlier this month.  The recording gives the novel an otherworldly feel, as if the events take place in the future or on another planet.  The book itself, we have to remember, is pure 1970s and touches upon themes delved into more deeply in later works by Delillo such as political violence as art (Mao II) and pop-culture journalism becoming mainstream (Running Dog).  It mixes the surreal and the mundane like White Noise, and damnit, read Don Delillo.  He's fucking good.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

July's People


July's People was written in South Africa in 1981 by Nadine Gordimer  It takes place in the near future, when after a civil war in South Africa, apartheid is ended.  With all the major cities engulfed in war, the liberal Smales family escapes Johannesburg to the village of their servant, July.  What follows is a series of events that sees the Smales family decidedly out of their comfort zone.  While before the riots, they traveled the world in luxury accommodations, they now must bathe in the river, sleep in huts and forage for food.

Nadine Gordimer herself came from a wealthy, liberal family from South Africa, and you can tell that she puts a lot of herself in the novel.  While there isn't one great story, the book is more made up of scenes, much like the "Slice of Life" manga popular in Japan, but taking place in a fictional, war-torn South Africa.  It's a short book, and I'm sure I missed a lot.  Instead of re-reading it, I picked up The Conservationist, the 1974 novel that won Gordimer the Booker Prize.  She was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


Eileen Audiobook

Eileen is the stunning debut novel by Ottessa Moshfegh, an American writer who was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for her efforts.  The novel is the story of Eileen, the boorish daughter of a police officer who lives in a small town outside of Boston in the 1960s and who works as a receptionist at a juvenile prison, where she gets caught up in a bizarre crime.  That crime takes up only the last fourth or fifth of the short novel.  The rest is us just getting to know Eileen, her habits, and her house life.

A new take on the anti-heroine, Eileen depicts the titular character as plain, slovenly, alcoholic, naive, and slightly stupid, but we cannot help but root for her.  The narration is from the present day (the book was written in 2015), so we know she survives, and clues are given about her life after leaving "X-ville," where she commits her unusual crime.  I can't wait to read more from this author.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Butterfly Effect With Jon Ronson

The Butterfly Effect with Jon Ronson Radio/TV Program

The Butterfly Effect With Jon Ronson is a seven-episode podcast given away for free on Audible.  It's about the effects of massive amounts of free pornography around 2008 on PornHub, although there have been other outlets like peer-to-peer files haring programs and downloading options like Megaupload and Rapidshare.  To make a story out of it, the author, Jon Ronson puts the blame on free pornography squarely on the shoulders of PornHub and its "creator," a Belgian man who simply invested in the company, tracing the effects of free porn on the pornography industry, Ashley-Madison, and on the viewers.

I never went on Ashley-Madison, but it did tickle me to find out that only a tiny percentage of its members were women, and only a tiny percentage of that tiny percentage of those women were real women, the rest being bots.  Of course, we all know that Ashley-Madison was hacked, leading to the publication of millions of members in a database searchable by zip code and name, but to add further to the humiliation - in most cases undeserved - of these men in saying that they were paying $25 a month to talk to bots, is just hilarious to me.

There is a lot of darkness to this series, of course.  It follows the stories of a couple of people who attempted or committed suicide.  Among pro athletes, there's always the thought, "if only I'd come along 10 years later and made as much as the athletes are making today."  In the porn industry, all that money was made 15 or 20 years ago, in many instances before the producers, directors, and stars were born.