My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview René Weis about his biography of Marie Duplessis, the French courtesan who served as the inspiration for Verdi's La traviata. Enjoy!
I woke up in the middle of the night, and to get to sleep I decided to start another Lew Archer novel. Fortunately I was able to get back to sleep after doing so, but when I woke up again I spent every moment I could spare to finish it. It's a great read, in part because it captures Ross Macdonald's writing at an interesting moment, where he has his character-centric approach well developed, but still before he's adopted the introduction to the cases that became so formulaic later on. Perhaps this is why I enjoyed the book as much as I did.
My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Richard Hingley about his archaeologically-based history of Roman London. Enjoy!
Last year my good friend with whom I read sci-fi novels moved to Portland. We still read novels together, but we don't read as many of them as we used to and discussing them over the phone isn't the same as doing so in person. But he will be in town later this month, and he proposed that we read this "#1 INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER", as it was recommended to him by someone he knows.
So I started reading it this morning and so far I'm finding it to be . . . not good. It reads too much like a novelization of a miniseries rather than a true novel, with the focus on describing actions rather than developing a plot or nuanced characters. This wouldn't be so bad, but so far it's proving to be so damn predictable. The silver lining is that it's eminently skimmable, so I won't lose too much time reading it -- but I have got to find us better books to read than this!
Amidst the heartbreaking coverage of the fire at Notre Dame cathedral, I almost missed the announcement of the 2019 Pulitzer Prizes. As usual, most of the attention has been toward the journalism awards (and perhaps a bit more so this year, given that our presidunce has set himself against anyone who exposes the truth about him), but of course there were the also the book prizes, the nonfiction winners I always look forward to seeing.
And among this year's winners was Jeffrey Stewart for his biography of Alain Locke.
I cannot tell you the feeling of pride that I felt when I saw that he had won. This wasn't because I had anything to do with its genesis, production, or publication, of course, but because I interviewed him last year for a NBN podcast. Seeing his book receive the recognition it so richly deserves leaves me feeling like someone who purchased an artwork before the artist became famous, or discovering a local restaurant before it received its Michelin star. And while I claim zero credit for all of the acclaim that he has received for his book, I do like to think that I helped bring some attention to a book that truly deserved it.
Now I have to decide whether I am going to buy a copy of David Blight's Frederick Douglass biography, given that just about every library I know has a copy of it.
My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Margaret Leslie Davis about her history of one of the most sought-after books in the world and the people who have owned it over the past two centuries. Enjoy!
As I explained in a recent post, I've been thinking lately about reading Paul Britten Austin's trilogy about Napoleon's invasion of Russia. Remembering that one of the volumes was available for sale as one of my local bookstores, I trekked there today to begin the acquisition process.
Sure enough, the copy of volume 3 was still sitting on the shelf. I snapped it up and proceeded to the register. As I did so, though, I opened it up and began reading a page at random.
And then I remembered why I had passed on reading this series in the past. Because Austin's book is really just a series of paragraph-length quotes from various memoirs of the campaign's survivors, all stitched together with a few sentences moving events along. It's the kind of historical writing that I find frustratingly dull -- all narrative from others, with little in the way of analysis. So I marched back and returned the book to its shelf, because there are plenty of better books out there for me to read.
So a couple of days ago I has a sudden urge to read some Doctor Strange comics. I can't recall why exactly this came over me, as he was never one of my favorite Marvel characters. One reason for this was the magical/fantasy elements, which was never my thing, while another was the solemnity and pomposity of his characterization back then. But after having read through some other stuff I decided to give some of the more recent issues a try.
After doing some research I started with Brian K. Vaughan's The Oath and I enjoyed it enormously. Then I started reading Jason Aaron's run from a few years ago and I liked his stories just as much. It's really interesting to see how much the character has changed; while no less arrogant in his decisions he's much more flawed and tortured than before. And with a recurring theme running through the issues of magic having a cost (one that is pretty much the entire lesson of The Magicians), the constraints Strange faces become a major factor in the storytelling. I intend to follow the future releases closely while working my way through the back issues, at least until I get back to the point where he was far less appealing of a character.
As a regular visitor of used bookstores, there are certain titles that I often run across. Some of them are books that have enjoyed numerous reprintings for one reason or another, while others had a large initial print run and have a persistent presence because of it. And there are those which while not bestsellers have an enduring appeal that leads to copies being recycled due to their continuing demand. Paul Britten Austin's trilogy on Napoleon's invasion of Russia probably fits in that third category, as while it was never a New York Times bestseller it draws interested readers because of its subject matter. It's one of those titles that I think of as a "dad book," as it seems marketed towards an audience of middle-aged white dudes.
Over the years when I have seen copies on the shelf I passed on them with a degree of unjustified disdain. Lately, however, the idea of purchasing a set has started to appeal to me. Part of it is likely my long attraction to multivolume works of history, with the depth of understanding they provide (not to mention how awesome they look on my bookshelves). But I also think that it's a reflection of my own evolving tastes as a reader. Perhaps now that I'm now a middle-aged white dude the books look more interesting to me than they did when I was younger.
I suspect there's another factor at play, though. As I get older I'm starting to contemplate more what books I will want to own once I retire. Though that day is still many years in the future, it's something I use as a factor in deciding what to dispose of when I cull my bookshelves. But lately I also think more about what I might want to re-read once reading for pleasure becomes the primary factor in my reading decisions. This has long driven my choice of the fiction I own, and I have a choice selection of classics and sci-fi in my collection because of it. But now I think of it as well in terms of the nonfiction I may want to revisit because they're well-written narratives recounting epic adventures and fascinating people. So perhaps I'm just starting to act my age as a reader.
Or maybe I'm just fabricating an excuse to buy more books. I still haven't decided yet.
My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Craig Benjamin about his history of the emergence of the trading routes across Afro-Eurasia in the late ancient world. Enjoy!
My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network! In it, I interview Patrick Sharma about his book on the transformative tenure of Robert McNamara as president of the World Bank. Enjoy!
This is proving to be the best book I have read so far this year. Preston has a reputation for bias (something I plan on digging into once I finish this book), but I find it difficult to argue with his conclusions, perhaps because they fit so well with my own take on Franco. The biggest revelation, though, was just how pro-Axis he was, and how the supposed lengths he went to in order to maintain Spain's neutrality was a postwar pose. That discovery has changed more about how I view this period than I might have expected.
If I had to pick my least favorite day of the year, it would be April Fools' Day. For one thing, I already have an overdeveloped sense of mistrust, so the last thing I need is a day which amps that up to 11.
Another reason is that all of the attention paid to April Fools' Day overshadows the fact that it's also the start of National Poetry Month. A couple of years ago I committed to use the month to read more poetry, though I made the commitment at the tail end of it. Last year was even more disappointing, as I remembered about it only at the end. I blame April Fools' Day for having distracted me from it.
This National Poetry Month is starting out more promisingly. Not only did I remember it this time around (no thanks to April Fools' Day), but I even got things off to a fitting start by pulling off of my shelves my old copy of W. B. Yeats's poems. Though I haven't really read them since grad school, seeing them again brings back more than a few memories. I look forward to dipping into it again in the days to come.