Mid-Binges Report

November 19, 2017

I have finally joined the 21st century — or at least a part of it: I have been binge-watching on Netflix.

I am completely hooked on “Scott & Bailey“, a British cop show that is brutal in its telling of procedurals, but which allows me to understand life as it is today in Manchester as the characters’ personal lives weave in and out of the murders and other serious crimes they have to deal with.  Series five is currently airing on TV. Over the last ten days I have completed the first two seasons, 14 shows, each as good as the previous. I am looking forward to starting series 3 later today.

When I’m not watching “Scott & Bailey“, the chances are I am binge-reading the entire collection of Jo Nesbo Norwegian detective mysteries. I am currently working my way through “The Redbreast,” the third of the Harry Hole series. Harry Hole is an alcoholic and often deranged senior detective based in Oslo. An outsider. A rough diamond. A brilliant detective. A lot of cliches and stereotypes that Nesbo creatively manages to use to create a very interesting background against which the crimes are committed and solved.  I have four more volumes stacked up on the table beside me.

Not a bad way to  spend rainy days.


Book Review: “The Art of Racing In The Rain”

October 20, 2017

The Art of Racing In The Rain” by Garth Stein is definitely not a book I would have chosen for myself. But it was strongly recommended by a great friend, and he even lent me his copy to read.

It is a sometimes tragic love story between a Seattle-based wannabe racecar driver, his dying wife, and their daughter Zoe. What makes it special is that it is narrated by their dog, Enzo. Enzo is a student of philosophy (via National Geographic TV specials), and motor racing, totally frustrated by is inability to communicate with his human family beyond doggy gestures, and certain he will be reincarnated as a man.

The novel takes us lightly but brilliantly through Denny Swifts’s marriage and career, his wife’s illness and death, the endless and bloody custody battles with evil in-laws, until we reach the final moment of redemption for both Denny and Enzo. It is full of wisdom from both a dog’s point of view and from a deep understanding of race car driving, especially  in the rain.

I loved it and thoroughly recommend it.

The Nobel for Ishiguro

October 5, 2017

I am so pleased that the Nobel Committee has awarded this year’s Prize for Literature to Kazuo Ishiguro.  He joins a very short list of laureates (O’Neill, Steinbeck, Marquez) whose oeuvres I have had the pleasure of reading in full.

Ishiguro is most famous for Remains of the Day, I guess, but my personal favourite would be A Pale View of Hills.

Some years ago I wrote about his “very difficult” The Unconsoled which, even after two thorough readings, I still cannot fathom. But I suspect the difficulty, if there is one, is in my own mind rather than in the writing.

Maybe I’ll spend some of the winter catching up on other laureates.

Book Review: Babylon Berlin

September 20, 2017

Back in August, I read a Guardian piece about an upcoming European crime drama called Babylon Berlin based on novels by Volker Kutscher.

I was intrigued because, after all, northern Europe has been the source of a great deal of excellent detective material recently — Wallender, The Killing, Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, etc;  and the period, Germany of the late 1920s, is fascinating and lively — think Cabaret, So I ordered the only one of the novels held by VPL. It was the second in the series, the one called Babylon Berlin.

Now, I can usually push myself through most material but after two weeks effort, I have reached page 180 of the 520 and I have absolutely no feeling for any of the characters and the plots, such as they are, are tedious and failing to grab my attention.  The beginning of the book seems more like vignettes that might look good on the screen (and which seem to have been included only for that purpose) but which fail miserably on the page due to the dullness of the writing.

I was almost happy to receive the email from VPL telling me my time was up because I’ve given up on it, and I cannot recommend it.

R.I.P. John Ashbery

September 3, 2017

It is with great sadness and a real sense of loss that I see reported the death of the wonderful American poet John Ashbery, a true master of language. He was 90 years old.

There is a good selection of his work here.

It is a mystery why he was not awarded the Nobel Prize.


Fran Lebowitz

June 26, 2017

A few weeks ago I caught Fran Lebowitz being interviewed on a late night talk show.  I had heard of her but never read any of her work.  She was quite interesting in the interview and I duly ordered a copy of The Fran Lebowitz Reader from the library. I guess others had seen her interview because I was third in line for the only copy. I finally got it last week and began to read.

The book is a series of short magazine-style pieces, reprints of her books Metropolitan Life and Social Studies, some  of which were first published as magazine articles in Interview, Mademoiselle, and British Vogue.  I enjoyed the first few pieces, and I can see why she was considered a sardonic wit, perhaps a new Dorothy Parker. Unfortunately, I quickly became bored with the style and the viewpoint; after a dozen or so pieces, you knew what was coming in the next chapter, and the writing seemed no longer witty but, rather, repetitious and small minded.

I suspect part of the problem is the fact that these were written in the 1970s and 1980s. Our television schedules these days are full of brash, outspoken commentary by highly intelligent women. Compared to them, Lebowitz in this collection comes across as little more powerful than a pre-sensimilla spliff. And, like a forty-year old roach, her writing hasn’t aged well.

That’s a shame because I was looking forward to it.

R.I.P. Yevgeny Yevtushenko

April 2, 2017

It is with sadness I learn of the death at age 83 of the brilliant Russian poet and novelist Yevgeny Yevtushenko.

He was one of the heroes of my youth, though I admit I haven’t thought about him for several decades now. His poem Babi Yar and his early Autobiografia were inspirational to me as a young poet and confused Marxist.

I will take some time this summer to re-read some of his work.