Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Making Lists and Checking Them Twice

Before the year ends, let me post some of the books that have left an impression on me over the last twelve months. I should do it for the decade...but most of the decade is a haze.

PETER PAN by M. Barrie
I was astonished at how smartly written this was. Aimed at children and adults, it presented not only a magical world which the little ones could roam around in, but it offered a Freudian glimpse at the adult psyche and explored the difficulty that some have with relationships due to the tensions of personal development. Of course, it did this with a smile and a nod. And then there was Tinkerbelle. Hot. Very hot.


This is how to bring history to life. Roosevelt has received no small amount of criticism from the right (Glenn Beck) due to his role in the progressive movement, but those critics should read this book and Morris' "Theodore Rex" to educate themselves regarding the man, his actions, and how those decisions were made in context of their times. This is brilliantly written and a vivid portrait. More importantly, it is carefully researched and sources are carefully noted.


I stood up and applauded after reading this account of the Battle of the Bulge. Kershaw follows one platoon through the battle, through their capture and the time they spent in the prisoner of war camps. I rarely cry when reading a book, but I will state here that tears streamed as I neared the end of the book and felt the pain of those who refused to give up hope in the face of death. This is masterpiece of non-fiction. Kershaw knows what details to include and is careful to bring his figures to life without adding his own words. Again, careful research and exhaustive interviews have paid off.

Sometimes we read a book because we want to and sometimes we read a book because we feel we should. I forced myself through this abomination. Ford is one of those tiresome writers who the new literary circles hold up for our admiration. He is undeserving. He goes off on tangents, has no sense of economy, and writes as though his every thought is worthy of our attention. This novel is a tremendous conceit. I've read several other novels in this category this year, among them "The Namesake", "The Kiterunner", and an anthology by R. Carver "Catherdral". I mention these here because they have helped solidify my appreciation of enduring literature by reminding me that the self-absorbed and trendy world of the literary elite is self-perpetuating and often shows little appreciation for the real reader or the real world. It always astonishes me when the working class is written about by those who have lost touch with it or never had any connection to begin with.

GET REAL D. Westlake
This was not a good book, but it's here because it is the last Donald Westlake novel written. Westlake passed away last year. The novel has its moments, but reading it, reminds one of Westlake's better creations such as "Dancing Aztecs", "The Hot Rock," "Fugitive Pigeon" and "The Busy Body". Just pick up one of the Dortmunder and Kelp books. They are well plotted and Westlake knows how to make you laugh. "Dancing Aztecs" was a scream.

Honorable mentions: "The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Daoz" by Diaz, "Murder On the Links" by Christie, "The Mysterious Affair at Styles" by Christie, "Tales of Dark Wisdom" by Jones, " Memorial Day" by Flynn, "Small Favor" by Butcher, "How Fiction Works" by Woods.


Natasha Fondren said...

Oh! I'll have to check Peter Pan out. Have you read The Child Thief by Brom? It's a very dark retelling of Peter Pan that's... wow, it's just... it's amazing. Fantastic.

SQT said...

Butcher made your honorable mention list? Is that good or bad (given how some of the memorable books were bad)

Stewart Sternberg said...

Natasha, I will check out Brom. SQT, Butcher is definitely good. He is a consistent writer. Entertaining. You know what you get when you open a Butcher novel, and that's just fine by me. More Dresden, please.

SQT said...

Huh, I was under the impression you didn't care for Dresden. You should check out Alex Bledsoe (Sword Edged Blonde and Burn Me Deadly) he has the P.I. in the sword/sorcery genre and I think he might even do it better than Butcher. Just my opinion, but I really enjoy his books.

Charles Gramlich said...

I've actually had Peter Pan on my immediate TBR pile for a while. Tihs has moved it up again.