Saturday, September 04, 2010

August, 2010: Sweating and Reading and Reading and Sweating

Ten books this month. Not bad, considering that my brain was slowly and systematically being melted in the hellish heat of my apartment (which, in retrospect fit in rather well with my Joyce Carol Oates and Jim Thompson outings). My best reading moments were on the subway and in the Dunkin' Donuts in Itaewon. Both locales were so nicely icy.

1. My Sister, My Love - Joyce Carol Oates. When I read an Oates novel, it feels as if my face is pressed too close to everything and Oates's prose just hammers and hammers away at you. But I keep coming back for more and have, since I was barely out of my teens. Oates's take on the JonBenet Ramsey case focuses on the shadowy figure of the slightly older brother, Skyler. Oates gives her version of the case a resolution -- the same way I always thought perhaps it played out in real life.

2. Royal Flash - George MacDonald Fraser. This was even more fun than the first book! A take-off of The Prisoner of Zenda.

3. Pop. 1280 - Jim Thompson. This novel is a later reworking of The Killer Inside Me, with the same theme of the affable small-town sheriff with a dark side. As always, I'm surprised by the flashes of real hilarity that show up in Thompson's nightmarish landscapes. In 1981, this book was made into a well-regarded French film called Coup de Torchon with the setting changed from West Texas to a colony in French West Africa.

4. Savage Night - Jim Thompson. Written in 1953, this is one of Thompson's stranger offerings. A hit man comes to a small college town in the east. He's a vicious killer on the lam who looks many years younger than his actual age and has a number of infirmities. In spite of the drawbacks to his health and appearance, in typical pulpy Thompson fashion, the babes in the book can't wait to get him into bed. On the other hand, Thompson's narrators are unreliable. This book had many disturbing images, but seemed to suffer from slow pacing then finally disintegrates into an incoherent mess that's meant to pass for surrealism.

5. The Getaway - Jim Thompson. This 1959 novel basically follows the plot of the 1972 movie starring Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw as Doc and Carol McCoy, bank robbers and murderers on the run. The writing is a little sloppy, but the pacing is good and Thompson's superb storytelling carries the reader along swiftly. Life on the lam is a little grittier for the McCoys -- they hide in a hollowed-out manure pile for days in one episode -- and reading about their ultimate fate (no warm and folksy Slim Pickens character here!) helps a reader to understand why Stephen King counted Jim Thompson as one of his influences. Of the three Thompson books I read this month, this was my favorite. I still want to read 3 more Thompson novels: A Hell of a Woman (1954), After Dark, My Sweet (1955) and The Grifters (1963).

6. Gone To An Aunt's: Remembering Canada's Homes for Unwed Mothers - Anne Petrie. I wrote about this book and 3 others in my Canadian Challenge post.

7. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz - Mordecai Richler. I raved about this in my Canadian post.

8. You Gotta Have Wa - Robert Whiting. This book about Japanese baseball is really more of a look at cultures colliding. I could really feel for the American baseball players who came to Japan to play and the immense culture shock that awaited them both on the field and off. Just change Japan to Korea and baseball to English teaching and you've pretty well got a glimpse into the life of an expat in Asia. I wish there was an updated version of this book; the baseball salaries that were so enticing sound so paltry now. Also, I'd like to see how many gaijin are playing in Japan these days.

9. The Diviners - Margaret Laurence. THE Canadian novel!

10. Piling Blood - Al Purdy. I'm not much for poetry, but I'm glad to discover Al Purdy.
I'm pretty happy with my numbers for August. Returning to work and my busy schedule this semester threatens my quest for 100+, but I've signed up for the Readathon on October 9.


Stephanie said...

10 books is a great number! My Sister, My Love is a great book. I too found the ending to be a very possibly reality.

SFP said...

August was one of those rare months when I reached 10, too.

I've wondered about that particular Oates. Did it make you feel all squicky inside? That was my fear. . . .

Teacher/Learner said...

Hi Bybee~ I hope you enjoy The Diviners. Don't be put off by the nearly 500 pages...It's a fabulous book! I just reviewed it (what are the odds?!?).

Bybee said...

I still don't see any other way that it could have ended.

Not squicky...mostly I was infuriated with the parents.

I read The Diviners this month and reviewed it in my Canadian post. Wonderful book! I love Margaret Laurence!

Unruly Reader said...

I have faith that you'll reach 100 books. (sneak in some short books if you have to!)

Chrisbookarama said...

You did really well this month. I did more sweating than reading. ;)

Susan said...

Yaaay! You love The Diviners!! One of my favourite Canadian books. Of course it's about a writer, which I'm a sucker for, but I think Morag is a realistic heroine, and I wish this book were more widely known and praised over here than it is. Everyone likes Stone Angel more, which I can't get through. Like your Jim Thompson kick, too!

nat @book, line, and sinker said...

the only JCO i've read was 'black water' back in college. it was similar to the book you read in that it was based on actual events--teddy kennedy and chappaquiddick. maybe i'll give the one you read a go because i enjoyed 'black water'.

Alyce said...

Congrats on reading ten books in August - that's great!