Reading for January, 2005

Here’s what I’ve been reading this past month:
The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett. #56 on the Modern Library list. Actually I may have read this in December. Speculation why book is on list: Sam Spade is an archetype private eye. This type of book is more important for its influences on cinema than for any literary qualities, a story that doesn’t claim any deep significance.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. #76 on the Modern Library list. Spark is one of the rare living, and still productive, authors on the list. Speculation why book is on list: The editors agreed she was important author, so for formality they chose one of her early and “important” books. Personally I think this book uses a narrative style that has since been surpassed by writers like Marquez. Without the backdrop of WWII England, the story is merely a slight bildungsroman
Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell. #91 on the Modern Library list. A brutal depiction of the rural American South, which has a moralistic and almost cliche conclusion. The kind of book misguided professors give to college freshmen to expose them to works outside the canon. Speculation why book is on list: Attempting to appeal to misguided professors.
Ironweed by William Kennedy. #92 on the Modern Library list. Strangely this is the final book in the Kennedy’s Albany Cycle. The Modern Library editors include several multi-volume works on the list, but here they chose only one book. Of course it is also near the bottom of the list, a place where it is clear the editors were doing one another favors to get their own personal favorites on.
Delicate Prey by Paul Bowles. A collection of short stories. Many of Bowles characters are psychotic, and are reminiscent of George W. Bush and his cabinet.
Frek and the Elixir by Rudy Rucker. At 480 pages, this is Rucker’s longest novel (should I say “most ambitious undertaking” instead?). The story takes place in the year 3003, and there is some sense that it is in the same timeline as the Software books, but not explicitly. It’s a bit wordy and repetitive, which pays off for some of the themes of the story, such as the ever-present urge to reproduce and the abruptness of individual lives, but the primary plotline doesn’t justify the length. Regardless, Rucker is one of my favorite authors, and everyone should go out and buy as many of his books as they can find.
Books in progress:
I’m slowly working my way through Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan. Also stalled partway through Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. I’m just not interested in the characters or the story.
On the shelf I’ve got books by Robert Graves, Willaim Styron, Pearl S. Buck, and some more Paul Bowles.

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