Microviews Vol. 21: Genre-ary Bonanza

on Thursday, January 31, 2013
And Hoban makes it eleven. Not a bad haul to start off the year. Keeping true to my resolution, here are a bunch more Microviews of what I've been reading.

A Handbook For Visitors From Outer Space by Kathryn Kramer
While the apocalyptic end war rages in the background (or so most people believe), one apple pie American family open the closet to let the skeletons out for a dance. It's an interesting, if slightly laboured, allegory for the Cold War with one clear message: The family that shags together, frags together.
3.5 out of 5 UFOs

The Redeemer by Jo Nesbo
Once again Nesbo rescues Nordic crime fiction from the Larsson abomination with this ripper of a tale that combines The Salvation Army, an assassin from the former Yugoslavia and the best porno-named detective in the business. I gulped down its 560-odd pages in one sitting and burped something better smelling than The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.
3.5 out of 5 Better Tattoos

Foundation by Isaac Asimov
Strip away the techno-hooplah from Asimov's canonical sci-fi space opera and you've got a damn fine novel of political intrigue, espionage, conquest and nation building. This would have made a way more sound basis for a religion than Hubbard's schlocky brain sludge.
4 out of 5 Jedi Councils

The Strangers In The House by Georges Simenon
Hector Loursat, a washed-up lawyer in self-imposed drunken exile, is unceremoniously ripped from his pitiful stupor when a notorious gangster is murdered in his house and his daughter is implicated in the crime. Simenon's great treatise on the reintegration of a recluse, couched around an intriguing murder mystery, is bleak but compelling. Perry Maison, if you will.
3.5 out of 5 Smoking Hermit Beards

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
To paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson when asked about a certain movie involving reptiles and aircraft: "It's MotherF*&^n Brave New MotehrF*&^n World!" Need I say more?
4 Out Of 5 Human Hatcheries

Ridley Walker by Russell Hoban
Rapier head drowned the nirrem pentrubble slang proas and yer infra dam grate spear ants in the vane of Jayjee Ballud, Ants Knee Burchis and Will Yam Golding. Wanna the most fully real eyesed poster pokliptik worlds ever putter pay per with anon forget bull near ate her. Just one too full.
4 outer 5 Sharp Penned Conches

Aharon Appelfeld and the No-Bull Nobel

on Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Forget the Nobel and its puffy politicised pandering. When it comes to international prizes that truly reward bodies of work it is the relative newcomer that truly interests me. Now only onto its fifth cycle, the Man Booker International Prize seems a more varied and considered effort. The inaugural winner was Ismail Kadare, a thus far staggering oversight by the Swedish Academy. He was followed two years later by another literary lion, Chinua Achebe. Then came Alice Munro and, most recently, Philip Roth. For those of us who cry foul every November, the international Booker seems to consistently be getting it right.

This year's shortlist is typically exciting. The ten contenders include such heavy hitters as Vladamir Sorokin, Marilynne Robinson, Peter Stamm and Yan Lianke. But it is the oldest and perhaps quietest name on the list that I really hope bags it. Aharon Appelfeld is, in my humble opinion, the greatest ever survivor-novelist. Don't get me wrong. I'm not dissing Elie Wiesel or Primo Levi or any of the other amazing writers who have turned their experience into literature. But Appelfeld is something different. He is quiet, yet fierce. His depth of humanity knows no bounds. Most importantly, he possesses an eerie ability to convey the Nazi horror without ever needing to situate any of his books in a concentration camp.

Such is my love for the guy that when I am in Jerusalem I make a beeline for Tmol Shilshom, the quiet coffee shop (with amazing shakshuka) in which he is known to hang and, if apocryphal tales are to be believed, write. I have yet to see him, but I have definitely encountered other Appelfeld sycophants clearly waiting around hoping to catch a glimpse of this great man.

If you have never read him before, step away from your screen right now and hunt down a copy of Baddenheim 1939. It is probably the most revelatory Holocaust novel of all time and doesn't directly involve the Holocaust at all. Once you devour that and are desperate for more, check out The Iron Tracks, Tzili, The Retreat and his most recent novel to be translated Until the Dawn's Light. Then give up your day job for a while and read the rest of his books. He is that good. Hopefully the judges of the Man Booker International Prize agree with me.

The Foot of The Goodreads Mountain...

on Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Apparently I have a Goodreads author profile. It only has one of the three books in which I've appeared and I have no idea how to fix that, but hey... I can add it to my odd assortment of cyberhomes (wiki, imdb, B4BW) that the kids use these days to validate their existence. No existential crises for me, then. Hopefully Goodreads will still be around in a few years so that I can fill the page with a few more titles (including, I would hope, some of my own).

Resolution In Retrospect

on Monday, January 21, 2013
Long-time readers of B4BW might have wondered about the absence of resolutions for 2013. I mean, I've always been the sort of guy who likes to set himself lofty goals and then revel in his failure to achieve most of them. So why not this year? I guess the answer is simple. I couldn't really think of any that were sufficiently different. Or fun. Or achievable.

I did have one half-decent idea: give every month a stupid pun name and read accordingly. Genre-ary!?! How good was that? I'm still strutting around my room with pride (it's worth noting that I could also have done Yan-uary, and only read books by the winner of last year's Nobel Prize, and the strutting would have been equally cocky). Unfortunately, that's where it ended. February... Hmmmm... Let's see. Feb-You-ary (where I only read books recommended by you guys)? Feb-brew-ary (where I read books by drunken Yiddish writers)? Even if I did one of those, what the heck rhymes with March?

Well, I'm glad to report that, almost a month too late, I've come up with what I hope will be an excellent challenge. I am going to review every single book I read in 2013. Yep. Whether it just be by way of a single line or whether I go the full hog, I'm doing them all. Just try to stop me!

(Meanwhile, inside my brain: March... Nope. Still nothing.)

Honey, I Shrunk The Microviews!

on Sunday, January 13, 2013
Halfway through Genre-ary and I'm having a whale of a time. Six books. A grant application. Even the odd bit of sun (shielded, of course, by my head-to-toe black get up). All this free brain time got me thinking about the old Mircorviews and how they seem, in the past three years, to have grown far too big for my liking. Time to rejig 'em. From now on, Microviews will be as originally conceived. Pithy chunks of glee or bile, with the added bonus of some sort of book-appropriate rating. And what better way to get it all going than with my first five books of 2013.

Seeking Whom He May Devour by Fred Vargas
Country bumpkins mistake serial killer for werewolf. No clues to piece together, so just sit back and watch it unfold. More goofin' than sleuthin', really.
3 out of 5 Fang Marks.

The Guard by Peter Terrin
Waiting For Godot with guns, as reimagined by Ridley Scott and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Paranoia and tedium do the tango in post-apocalyptic parking garage.
3 out of 5 Flux Capacitors.

The Thief by Fuminori Nakamura
Note to budding thieves. There's cash to be had in the short term, but you don't want in on the repayment plan. Uber-slick Japanese crime thriller let down only by a rather lame-o ending.
4 out of 5 Picked Pockets.

The Collini Case by Ferdinand Von Schirarch
Following two patchy truish-crime story collections, Von Schirarch finally goes for the long form and mostly succeeds. A murder mystery where the why-dunnit is all that counts and Germany's post-war criminal justice system is hanged, drawn and quartered.
4 out of 5 Panzer Tanks

In A Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes
A creepy peek into the mind of a misogynist serial killer with all the classic noir belles and whistles. Its no The Killer Inside Me but it slays most of the other dick swingers from the 50s.
3.5 out of 5 Shell Casings.

2013: Hoorah For The New Horizon

on Thursday, January 3, 2013
Much indulgent fun is being had here in the land of the Bookworm during Genre-ary (as, it appears, are an overabundance of "hurrahs") but it's what's in store for the following months that really has me excited. I challenge you not to choke on your own drool when contemplating the potential excellence of these ten forthcoming releases:

Harvest - Jim Crace (February)
House of Earth - Woodie Guthrie (February)

Middle C - William H. Gass (March)
The Childhood of Jesus - J. M. Coetzee (March)
The Infatuations - Javier Marias (March)
The Enchanted Wanderer - Nikolai Leskov (March)

Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche (April)
Odds Against Tomorrow - Nathaniel Rich(April)

Seiobo There Below - Laszlo Krasznahorkai (May)
The Unknown University: Poems - Roberto Bolano (May)

Hooray for GENRE-ary!!!

on Tuesday, January 1, 2013
January is a strange time in book world. Publishers and authors go into a thirty one day hibernation cycle, leaving the crazy vampire bookworms among us with very little new blood on which to feast. Thankfully it also means we don't spend a month frantically buying up as many books from the given year as we can in an attempt to plough through the ones we're ashamed not to have read when we compile our best of lists (I'm looking at you, December).

In previous years I have used January to catch up on those books that I just couldn't get to by New Year's Eve. However, with apologies once again to Telegraph Avenue, I have decided to declare the first month of 2013 Genre-ary, during which I will only read genre fiction. I have accumulated a nice little pile of crime, fantasy and sic-fi books on my desk that, if it weren't for this month, I probably would never read. First up: Seeking Whom He May Devour by Fred Vargas.

And so begins Genre-ary, a month to sit back, relax and just enjoy myself while pretending that I am not absolutely salivating in anticipation of the newies from JM Coetzee (coming in March), Javier Marias (also March) and Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche (coming in April).