Monday, July 29, 2013

DUNCTON WOOD by William Horwood

Finished Th 7/25/13

My post at Good Reads-

I read a very large chunk of this novel(significantly over two hundred pages), but just lost interest, and skimmed through to the end. Life's too short, and there are far too many more interesting books out there, and I wish that I had bailed sooner. Years ago I read WIND IN THE WILLOWS and WATERSHIP DOWN, so I can see why someone might actually 'love' this book, but as Bob Dylan once said, "No,No,No, It Ain't Me Babe".

It's basically a love story between two moles, Rebecca and Bracken who live in 'Moledom' which is an anthropomorphically intelligent society where the moles have their own social organization, history, and written form of communication. Mandrake is Rebecca's father and he is a powerful tyrant who has forcibly taken control of the society, and wishes to wipe out the spiritual influence of  'The Stone'. The mole's religion is loosely based on the standing stones or stone circles of Great Britain, and the story is set in the area of West Sussex, England.

Wikipedia Link

Amazon Link

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Finished Sa 7/20/13

My post on Good Reads-

A short and simple novel about two American political operatives who are approached by a British firm to swing an election for a chief who is seeking the premiership of the, soon-to-be-independent African colony, Albertia. Clinton Shartelle is the cynical and experienced political operative extraordinaire, and Pete Upshaw is a slick public relations expert who could convince Eskimos that they needed to buy more snow. Although Ross Thomas's novel was written in 1967, it's clear that the 'behind the scenes political shenanigans' (as Clint remarks, "We're not in the truth business") have remained the same since the first elections were held, and the book certainly bears out the old adage that "you don't really want to know how this sausage is made". However, although the action is light and lively, I wish there was more depth to the story and the characters. I read the book in a couple of sittings, and it seemed like a first idea for a great book. It's an enjoyable read and not bad, by any means, I just hungered for a much more detailed development.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


Finished We 7/17/13

A thoroughly entertaining and informative expose about everything you wanted to know about any foul or filthy substance such as mud, grime, dust, or excrement in Britain down through the ages. However, I definitely would not recommend eating while reading any part of this book because the descriptions of what conditions were like in the United Kingdom several centuries ago are so realistic you can almost 'smell' the graphic narration. There was no concern for sanitation whatsoever, and any care for air and water quality did not exist, and the book shows how the politics and culture of the age allowed this to occur.

The section about England's first cholera epidemic of 1831-1832 is especially horrifying, and the coverup by the authorities to keep the port city of Bradford open is beyond the pale. The descriptions of people crammed together in filthy hovels with absolutely no control over bodily functions was straight out of Dante, and the fact that Big Business wanted coal shipments to continue regardless of the loss of life sounds amazingly "Twenty-First Century".

And, I don't think I will ever be able to see a painting of an elegant 17th or 18th century aristocrat in an elaborate wig and refined clothing without remembering passages in the book that inform us that the wigs were most likely infested with lice and the sophisticated garments were never washed. The book is not an 'easy read', and has the feel of a college text, yet the meticulous descriptions of sanitary conditions of ages past are truly revelatory.  And, it's really amazing that anyone could have lived through this.

Link to Amazon-

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Finished Mo 7/15/13

July 2013 selection for The Contemporary Book Club

   A complex and compelling tale that manages to cross numerous literary genres (fairy tale, mystery, love story) while retaining the feel of classic gothic fiction. This novel demands much more from the reader than the average novel, but it's really worth the effort.
   The main thrust of the plot is relatively simple, yet subplots are intentionally overwhelming because characters life events tend to mirror each other. The novel is structured like an intricate piece of chamber music that invents new themes as slight variations of a single motif, however this literary technique only adds to the hypnotic effect of the novel, and is marvelously effective.
   Daniel Sempere is the ten year old son of a widowed antiquarian bookseller who discovers a novel by mysterious author, Julian Carax, and he spends the rest of his life untangling the facts of this elusive writer's legacy. Things get complicated as dozens and dozens of colorful characters are introduced and the novel veers into many different directions simultaneously. Each subplot is worthy of its own novel, and Zafon devops each and every character to the fullest. There really isn't a 'minor character' in the whole book.
Link to Wikipedia-

Saturday, July 13, 2013

ROUGH MIX by Jimmy Bowen (with Jim Jerome)

Finished Su 7/7/13

 My post on Good Reads-

 From a teenaged rock 'n' roll star in the 50's to a legendary Nashville producer in the 90's, Jimmy Bowen tells it all, and doesn't waste much time making himself appear 'well liked'. However, he never comes across as arrogant,  but only as a perceptive man who has an instinctive and comprehensive knowledge of the Music Business.

   ROUGH MIX documents the career of a musician and record producer who has played a part in nearly all facets of the music industry, and he offers his unique musical perspective in entertaining detail.  It's not a 'tell all' book about personalities, but delivers only one man's unvarnished point of view. I find the music of Las Vegas almost unlistenable, and Country-Pop is not even close to my favorite genre, but I did enjoy ROUGH MIX. In the end, it's more about the man than the music, and well worth a look.

   Bowen and some high school friends had a minor hit in the late fifties and toured with Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, and many other early icons of rock. And, when a crooked record label ended this part of his musical career, he was able to get involved in the management side of the industry. Soon, he found himself guiding the musical professions of many entertainment superstars in glitzy Las Vegas. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. were all helped by Bowen to update their sound employing his extraordinary knowledge of America's pop market. Following many smash hits for these artists, he ran a series of record labels with varying degrees of success, until he found himself in Nashville, down but not out.

   This is the part of the book that I enjoyed the most. When Jimmy Bowen arrived in Nashville in the early 70's, the country western scene was decades behind the pop market in quality of sound. Rock audiences enjoyed the benefit of top flight session musicians and state of the art recording studios, yet 'Old Guard' Nashville producers felt that because their management techniques worked in 1950, they would continue to be successful nearly twenty-five years later. Obviously they could not have been more wrong, and Bowen shows how he proved this seemingly obvious fact, and went on to become the 'Messiah of Music Row'.

 Bowen wins and loses many fortunes, countless homes, and a handful of wives, and finally seems to have found peace with his Texan soul mate, Ginger, on the Hawaiian island of Maui. And, the game of golf plays is an important factor in Bowen's 'guide to happiness'.

Monday, July 8, 2013


Finished Su 7/7/13

My post at Good Reads-

   This book was recommended to me by a few members of my Contemporary Book club who never read 'nonfiction', but they loved this particular book. The author of THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS, Rebecca Skloot teaches 'creative nonfiction', and I'm not exactly sure how this differs from strict 'nonfiction', but this book is most certainly as entertaining as anything filed under 'fiction'.

   The book is about a poor black woman, Henrietta Lacks, who was treated for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1951, and some of her cells were harvested by Dr. George Gey, and later these cells became the first cell line to grow in vitro. Henrietta Lacks cells (HeLa) became an astounding benefit to medical research, however neither Henrietta or any members of her family were informed about the donated cells, and this becomes the dramatic hook of the book. Does a patient or the patient's family have any rights whatsoever from harvested cells or tissue? In 1951 there were no laws concerning this issue, and even today, the legal ramifications seem pretty vague.

   Rebecca Skloot becomes a vital part of the story as she tells about her journey to help Henrietta's daughter, Deborah, and other members of the extended family to learn about the HeLa cells and find out about Henrietta's life and what really happened to their very important ancestor. The Lacks family are quite a handful, and provide for a rich and unique collection of characters. All are economically deprived and live in extremely deprived areas of Baltimore, Md and rural Virginia, have numerous health issues both physical and mental, and many have serious issues with the law, yet Skloot treats them all with deep understanding. She becomes almost a part of the Lacks family, and this might be the reason that Oprah Winfrey has made plans to make the book a film for HBO.

   Because of the intense scientific nature of this book most people would probably rather do a little online research about HeLa, and then leave it at that. But, I would recommend that you read this book because it a rich and rewarding experience and is as compelling as most 'crime fiction', and this book is absolutely perfectly suited for people who 'never' read nonfiction.

Friday, July 5, 2013


Finished Th 7/4/13
My post on Good Reads-
   I was expecting so much more of this book since Kim Philby was the most notoriously successful spy of the entire Cold War era, and quite possibly the most important secret agent who ever lived. And, it's not that  Philby can't write, because he really can,  yet his choice of material and his impartial approach seems to render his extraordinary life almost dry and dull. Kim Philby was a secret lifelong Soviet Communist who became the head of the British secret service, MI6, and betrayed or seriously compromised nearly all covert activity by every agent operating for the Americans and British, yet managed to remain in place and undetected for almost three decades.  However, Philby's book never rises above, 'just the facts', and completely lacks emotional depth. This book should have been a thrill a minute, but comes across almost as flat and passionless as a Wikipedia entry.

   John le Carre based his Smiley character on Kim Philby, and I think that the fictionalized account provides more realism than Philby's own autobiography. And this is most unfortunate since Kim Philby was a writer of exceptional quality, and I'm mystified that he chose to tell the story of his most exceptional life with such a dearth of excitement.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

GOLDFINGER by Ian Fleming

Finished We 7/3/13
My post on Good Reads-

  What a difference does fifty years make! I found GOLDFINGER to be nothing more than a novel of great cultural curiosity with a rather mundane storyline that faultlessly embodied the social and political correctness of an era that is most thankfully behind us.

    If you have been awake at any time during the last few decades it's nearly impossible to consider James Bond as anything more than a very dated potboiler fantasy/action adventure hero. And, more to the point his entire character deftly provides a benchmark as to how far we have come in terms of social consciousness in the last half century. Author Ian Fleming seems impervious to the slightest compassion or understanding of anyone other than rich, white males of American or British extraction, and his overheated and frenzied conclusions come ludicrously close to bombastic White Supremacist rants. Also, his depiction of women, gays, and lesbians is completely beyond the pale, and his ridiculous assertion that women's suffrage and sexual equality caused "feminine qualities to die out or be transferred to males" is nothing short of astounding.  And, to further embarrass himself, Fleming offers this observation;  "Pansies of both sexes were everywhere, not completely homosexual, but confused not knowing who they were. He (Bond) was sorry for them, but he had no time for them".    And next the various races of planet earth come under Fleming's scrutiny. The novel's Korean arch villain, Oddjob, is a blatantly flat racial stereotype that rivals anything posited by anything found in Mein Kampf or the American Ku Klux Klan of the 1920's.  Fleming's cracked observations should never have been confused with knowledge, although racist and homophobic views were much more accepted in the fifties and sixties, and loony cultural observations aside, his prime objective seems to be to present the unmitigated rush of a story. And, even here he is deficient as I think most readers would agree that John le Carre and Len Deighton provided fictional accounts that were much more accurate depictions of Cold War reality, and offered much more dramatic intensity.

However,  the character of James Bond will forever be emblematic of a kind of 'last gasp' of Old World cultural viewpoints. The fact that John F. Kennedy publically acknowledged Ian Fleming as his favorite writer probably gave this mundane English author much more credibility than he actually deserved, but I guess JFK was kind of a quaint caricature of 'the way we were' as well.


Dated potboiler fantasy

Do not mistake information for knowledge, and who above all wrote for the sheer rush of the story. John Le Carre and Len Deighton are probably more accurate depiction of Cold War reality.

Auric Goldfinger

OPERATION GRAND SLAM-Now mind, the idea of robbing Fort Knox is brilliant, and Fleming could have made it work. But here, in my opinion, it did not.

Stereotypical depiction of Women and Oddjob is here as one of the more fascinating flat, racial stereotypes. Homosexulaity!!!!

JFK, while President of the U.S., declared Ian Fleming his favorite author

Shirley Bassey