Friday, December 21, 2018

Dylan Thomas, detectives, and a depressing dentist: my 2018 reading list

One of my favorite posts from last year (and let's face it, I probably read this blog as much as anyone else, just shuffling back through to keep track of what I wrote about X months ago) was my year-end racap of what I read in 2017. I was actually surprised when I wrote that up how few books I'd made it through. This year's list will nearly double it, though we did have a few shorties in 2018, so apples/oranges, etc.

This list is in roughly chronological order of when I read each book, but neither you nor I know how precise that is. I can remember the last one I read and the one before that, and maybe the one before that, and then things go fuzzy.

A Man with One of Those Faces, by Caimh McDonnell. This is an Irish detective/adventure/humor that I stumbled across last year and added to my Christmas list. Got it and read it soon after the holidays. Loved it. Then found Caimh McDonnell had several other books, which will appear later in this list, all featuring the same characters. 

Adventures in the Skin Trade; Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog; Under Milk Wood, by Dylan Thomas. Three short books, all received for Christmas in 2017. Along with the Welsh music and football, came an interest in the culture generally, and Dylan Thomas has to be a jumping off point for that. The first two books were mostly short stories, some of which were humorous, some quite religious, others just generally freaky, bordering on some kind of mythological horror (or horrifying mythology). I can't say I loved them all. I did enjoy Under Milk Wood, though I had the sense I only ever picked up on about 35-40 percent of the actual meaning of things. It's one I'll have to revisit sometime, though the proper way to absorb it would be to hear the original radio play.

High Fidelity, by Nick Hornby. (Re-read) Another Christmas gift. I had checked this out of the library years ago. I think I liked it better this time around. It might have been the first Hornby I read originally, but now I've read all his novels, most twice, and maybe seeing Rob through a Hornby-character lens and not as John Cusack (though I never saw the movie) helped me relate better.

The Lady in the Lake, by Raymond Chandler. Having read The Big Sleep in 2017, I was hot for more Chandler and Santa came through (can you guess what I like to get for Christmas?). I read this on our trip to Washington, D.C., over spring break, so when I think back on the story it's set for me within our room at the Embassy Row Hotel. Philip Marlowe is looking for a pair of missing wives. "Marlowe's not sure he cares about either one, but he's not paid to care." Fast talk, fast action, great stuff. I hope Santa brings more Chandler this year.

Trouble Is My Business, by Raymond Chandler. A collection of four short stories featuring Philip Marlowe. Some of these come from early in Chandler's career before Marlowe was as fully developed as in his novels. I like the novels better.

Fan, by Danny Rhodes. A novel based on the tragedy at Hillsborough in 1989 when 96 people were trampled to death at an FA Cup match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. Rhodes was there. He places his protagonist there as well, and the horrific events he witnesses will impact every aspect of his life. I stumbled onto this in Second Story Books on our D.C. trip. Great book. I wrote about it in detail here.

Angels in the Moonlight, by Caimh McDonnell. This is the prequel to the Dublin Trilogy, which properly begins with A Man with One of Those Faces. Solid, but maybe just a cut below the three in the trilogy itself.

Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith. The third book in J.K. Rowling's gritty Cormoran Strike detective series. Good if not gruesome in places. There were points where Strike's relationship with his assistant Robin Ellacott grew a little weary. At least to me. Your mileage may vary. Good characters overall, but maybe there's only so far you can go with that tension before you just want them to either do it or go their separate ways.

The Day That Never Comes, by Caimh McDonnell. Book two of the Dublin Trilogy. More humor, more action, more sadsack misadventure from Paul Mulchrone, the main character in the first book.

Last Orders, by Caimh McDonnell. Is this the end for Detective Bunny McGarry? Certainly appears that way. McDonnell keeps you guessing, though you know which way you're hoping it turns out. Unless you really hate Bunny McGarry for some reason. I don't. He grew on me a bit since the first book.

Riffs & Meaning: Manic Street Preachers & Know Your Enemy, by Stephen Lee Naish. For Christmas it was books, for my birthday it was CDs. Or rather gift cards which were spent on CDs. I filled out my Manic Street Preachers collection with Lifeblood, Rewind the Film, Journal for Plague Lovers, and Know Your Enemy. Shortly thereafter, I saw a post on Twitter about a new book that examines Know Your Enemy and its place in the Manics' discography. It's a very short, small book, particularly for the price ($19.95), but I learned a few things about the album. Know Your Enemy came out after the period of time covered in Simon Price's incredible Everything, so it advanced the story a little for me, though this book is nowhere near the level of Everything.

Mohawk, by Richard Russo. More Upstate, N.Y., dead-end lives from the master of them. I'd rate this one below Everybody's Fool, which was my favorite Russo, but it's at least on par with Empire Falls, his Pulitzer winner.

Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed, by James Bailey. (Re-read) Yeah, that James Bailey. I hadn't read this since I released it in 2015 and it was time to give it another look. For the most part I'm still happy with it all.

Straight Man, by Richard Russo. Something a little different from Russo here. This time we're in Pennsylvania, in a small-college English department where not everyone gets along. The main character, William Henry Devereaux Jr., has reached midlife and may be in crisis due to any number of factors, including unresolved issues with his father. Funny, fun, occasionally deep. Don't let the Aflac duck lookalike on the cover put you off.

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, by Joshua Ferris. I found this book at a library used-book sale for a buck. I think. I can't remember for sure exactly how I came across it, but I know it was very cheap or possibly free. And I took it because I had read Then We Came to the End by Ferris a few years ago and thought it was okay. I started this one in the spring, only made it about 70 pages in, and put it aside. After it got passed up by several other books, it earned the almost unprecedented dishonor of being moved back down to the basement library, where it sat for several months before receiving another chance. The second time around started with more enthusiasm and at one point I even wondered why I had dropped it before. And then it became a slog. And then I had to essentially force myself to finish it just to be done with it. In the end, I hated this book. I hated the main character, and I hated most of the other characters. I hated everything he did, and that wasn't really all that much to start with, because he mostly seemed to mope around his apartment or the dentist's office he ran. He was a tiresome fucking bastard. How this book was ever short-listed for the Man Booker Prize is beyond me. Takes all the luster away from the Man Booker Prize in my eyes, and I no longer feel half so bad they've never honored any of mine if this is the kind of shit that appeals to them.

Nine Bucks a Pound, by James Bailey. (Re-read) This fall I moved all of my books to wide distribution instead of having them exclusively available on Amazon. As part of that process I had to reformat them all for non-Kindle ebook compatibility. As I was going through Nine Bucks a Pound I kept catching myself stopping to read parts that I had forgotten about. I hadn't re-read it in several years and it was almost as if some parts were new to me in going back through it now. In hindsight, I think this is my best book. Worst selling, but that's another story.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. (Re-read) I'm pretty sure at some point in the distant past I have read this before. Maybe it has all just swirled in my brain over time because the story is so ubiquitous. But I think I did read it once. That said, I had forgotten all the details, so much so that it was like reading it for the first time. There's much more humor here than I remembered, and Scrooge is much quicker to display regret than I recalled. A book to be read more frequently, especially given how short it is.

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