Category Archives: Book Review

Happy Birthday Virginia Woolf

Adeline Virginia Woolf

January 25, 1882

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga

Hell's Angels : The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gang [First Edition]: ...

Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga by Hunter S. Thompson is the author’s account of several months with the world’s most recognized motorcycle club.  Thompson was an American journalist and author, and the founder of the gonzo journalism movement.

The Hells Angels* are caught in their infancy in Hunter’s book.  What made the Hells Angels different than the other motorcycle clubs of the times and region is also examined.  There were plenty of organizations at the time.  Perhaps first was the media’s love of fear-mongering.  Scary things keep people up at night, communists, bikers, serial killers, and that sort of thing.  Events like the fictional portrayal of Hollister in 1947, Brando and Marvin in The Wild One, and the 1965 Lynch Report helped created a menace to society. The Hells Angels were singled out by the Lynch Report as a threat.  This took a local club and pushed it to national attention. Suddenly the Hells Angels were “the motorcycle club” everyone wanted to know about, avoid, have law enforcement stamp out, join, or simply watch from a safe distance.

Thompson tells the story from his personal experience with the club and finding his way to friendship as a reporter was no easy task.  The Hells Angels realized everyone was getting rich off of them, except for them.  Reporters, they said, twisted stories to sell more papers.  The bigger the story, the better.  Bigger misleading stories led to more police interest in the club. Thompson tells of the many times members were accused of crimes rape, assault, and murder, but convicted of very few crimes.  One has to remember too that at this time, the Hells Angels had no treasury or army of lawyers.  They struggled to make bail for disorderly conduct charges.  So it was not expert legal teams clearing their names. Many victims recanted their stories; was it because the events did not happen as described or fear?  Thompson leans toward the “that was not the way it happened.”  The parties got wild, and sometimes people do things they later regretted and look for a way out.

Granted, the Hells Angels were not innocent and definitely not part of the “You meet the nicest people on a Honda” crowd.  They were different, did not want to fit in, and made their own decisions.  They hated war protesters but also had a strong dislike for law enforcement and embraced drug use.  They were outside of every group.  Thompson, throughout his life, proved not to be the world’s most reliable narrator, but he seems to have taken notes when writing this book to include documenting what drugs he used.  All in all, an exciting tale younger years of the world’s most recognized motorcycle club.

*Unlike the book title, the club does not use an apostrophe in its name.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — Things We Lost in the Fire

30375706. sy475

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enríquez and translated by Megan McDowell is a collection of Argentinian short stories.  Enríquez is an Argentine journalist, novelist, and short-story writer. Mariana Enriquez holds a degree in Journalism and Social Communication from the National University of La Plata. She works as a journalist and is the deputy editor of the arts and culture section of the newspaper Página/12.  McDowell is an American literary translator. She principally translates Spanish-language works into English. Originally from Kentucky, McDowell studied English at DePaul University in Chicago. Upon graduation, she worked at the Dalkey Archive Press.

The quality of the work and the translation is excellent.  I was so pulled in by the writing and the literary quality of the work that when telling a friend about it, I did not mention the violence and darkness in most of the stories.  I read it, but its delivery was such that it was not gratuitous like many American styled books or movies.  Enríquez grew up in a time of military government,  people who “disappeared,” restrictions, human rights violations, and a war with Great Britain. Her childhood would have been like the younger writers living at the fall of the Soviet Union, but more severe.  This is seen in her writing and could be part of the reason violence and darkness seem so natural in her storytelling.

There is a balance of the middle class and the poor in her writing and some feeling in the middle class that they should, individually, do something about the poor. It’s not so much the junkies but their children.  There is a need to help the innocent even when society or their parents do not care.  In one story, a group of children goes to an abandoned house, and one child does not leave.  There is a sense of the “disappeared.” It is like she never existed, and what the other children described is not the reality that is seen.  It is a haunting story in its own right, but tying in history makes it even more disturbing.  People disappear in other stories, and there is little questioning it.  Other stories lean into the supernatural, perhaps representing a force like the government that one is unable to fight. Not even church members are left unscathed in the book, which is hinting at the rumors of the current pope’s relationship with the former military government.

Things We Lost in the Fire is a very well written selection of short stories for readers outside of Argentina.  For those with some knowledge of the history of the country, it goes far deeper. Enríquez’s look at the darker side of life in Argentina is exceptionally well written, and McDowell captures the essence of the writing and deeper meanings without making them too obvious or obscuring their real meaning.  It is an outstanding translation.  Things We Lost in the Fire may be a bit dark or violent for some readers, but it is with a purpose.  The book is being described as Argentinian Gothic, and as it does fit the billing, I believe that it is more of a convenient covering that glosses over more profound events of a past not long gone.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — Unspeakable Things

44303987

Unspeakable Things by Jess Lourey is a crime/mystery story influenced by actual events.  Lourey writes about secrets. She is the bestselling Agatha, Anthony, and Lefty-nominated author of the critically-acclaimed Mira James mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing “a splendid mix of humor and suspense.”

There are several likable things in this novel, like the 1980s setting and pop culture references.  Secondly, Cassandra, the narrator and central character in the story, is very likable.  Not quite thirteen, there is still quite a bit of innocence in her interpretation of events, even though she is an adult when telling the story.  It gave me the same feeling as the narration in the movie “Silver Bullet.”  The inserts of  “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” throughout the book also brought back memories.  There is a good deal of nostalgia in the story.

Other parts of the book are too obvious or unexplained.  The parent’s parties are pretty obvious, even though it is not explained until later in the book.   Other things like the number of stairs the father climbs add an extra layer of creepiness to the story.  Although the implication it’s not difficult.  Other repeated events like the clipping of nails is a weird aspect of the story and not explained at all.

There is a level of creepiness that runs throughout the book.  It doesn’t build or subside as the story progresses but remains constant.  The mother is a teacher that seems like an old hippie with healthy food, home remedies, and openness on some issues.  The father is a creep and a drunk but is often left in charge of both daughters. The sheriff and some of the other townsfolk are just as bad.

Creepiness aside, this felt much more like a young adult novel than the promoted Adult Fiction tag.  Parts were too simplistic for an adult reader, and other elements that might be accepted by younger readers are questionable to adults.  The prologue would have the reader believe the narrator is an adult. Still, the telling of the story is undoubtedly that of a young teenager without any adult clarifications or added hindsight information.  The writing well done as it draws the reader into the story, and Cassandra is very likable.  The story has some twists, and although it is not predictable, there are plenty of unanswered questions that could have added to the account or created a bit of complexity.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — The Art of Solitude

50130878. sx318 sy475

The Art of Solitude by Stephen Batchelor is an examination of the concept of solitude. Batchelor is a British author and teacher, writing books and articles on Buddhist topics and leading meditation retreats throughout the world. He is a noted proponent of agnostic or secular Buddhism.

Solitude can mean many things. It can be physical isolation or even mental or spiritual isolation. On the physical side of isolation, we can be alone in the woods like the author describes in one of his adventures. However, how alone are we? Sounds of traffic. Vapor trails of overhead jets. Wildlife. Batchelor also goes to the extreme, and he recalls the story of Robert Kull (and a kitten) who spent a year on an uninhabited island at the tip of Patagonia. His isolation did not feel complete as he wrote in his journal; he knew others would read it, and that made a connection to others, breaking his true feeling of solitude. 

Batchelor takes the reader to Mexico, Korea, and Austria to experience spiritual solitude. Two of these experiences involved drugs — peyote and ayahuasca. In Korea, it involved cold and rain. Batchelor also references to Aldous Huxley and two others that he is fond of: French essayist Michel de Montaigne (1553-1593) and Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer (1632- 1675) probably best known for Girl with a Pearl Earring. 

Solitude is a mix of Buddhism, drug experiences, stories, and a little art history. The collage effect of the chapters adds to the experience of the book. It creates a bit of a whirlwind tour in discussing art to serious Buddhism to seemingly 1960s counterculture drug experiences. The book can be opened to any chapter read. Each chapter is self-contained rather than building upon the previous chapter.  

Included in Solitude is the author’s translations of the Four Eights (The four eight-verse poems from the Aṭṭhakavagga of the Sutta Nipāta), which he refers to throughout the book. Tying in the arts into his experience is also appreciated and appealing as well as his personal experiences. The use of drugs in this context is a little confusing. I have no personal qualms about mind-expanding drugs, but it did not seem to fit well with the other material. In Buddhist thinking, that the use of intoxicants is counterproductive to developing an enlightened mind. Batchelor does admit to this, and he does not encourage others to use intoxicants. He does, however, defend his experiments with the explanation that during meditation, we release dopamine, norepinephrine, or serotonin into our system. Does it matter if chemicals from plants enter our body too? His question is a bit more elegant than mine but expands on the idea that it is chemicals that allow us to enter more profound meditation. I am not convinced of that thinking, and I think there is a line between spiritual tranquility and recreational peacefulness. All in all, Solitude is a fascinating read that although it shifts topics, it has something for everyone but not everything for someone. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Poetry Review — Armageddon

dystopian poetry

Armageddon by Ami J. Sanghvi is the poet’s third collection of published poetry.  Sanghvi is a bit more than just a poet; she is a mixed martial arts fighter, a model, and a brand ambassador.  On her web page, she says that she embraces the extremes: Indian and American, creator and destroyer. This seemed to be an intriguing mix.

Sanghvi opens this work with an introduction which explains the theme of the collection as well as some personal information on the poetry’s development.  Early on:

Every day, I step out into the world and find
myself greeted by manipulation, greed, ignorance,
and other terribly sinister things. The result is that I
have almost entirely lost my faith in mankind, and
this great thing we like to call “humanity” [for some
reason unbeknownst to me].

This is the build-up to the poetry of the real world.  Poems titled “Consumerism”, “United States of Affliction”, “Trophy Wife”, and “Burial” set the tone for the reader.  The message is clear but the words seem somewhat forced.  Her sonnet “Satan Devours Bones” is true to form, but the rhymes are simple and predictable.  There is an abundance of talent in the writing but Sanghvi seems to be trapped by form or limiting herself with end rhymes that tend to be featureless.  However, there is talent, as “Earth, Mankind, Heaven: Trifecta Synthesis” shows:

The brush sweeps through the dark, vivid dusk,
A striking sky of sea, wood, and rust;
Among clouds, where there is more wander than lust,
Men crave to touch glory before turning to dust.

Her appreciation and admiration of Milton show through in many poems, but it is where she breaks away from emulating Milton that her work begins to shine.  The poem “Creed” is probably the best example of this collection.  The poet cracks out of her mold and expresses herself in a unique and meaningful way.  There is a great deal of potential in the poet’s work and I expect very good things will come in future collections.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — Supernova Era

43263225
Supernova Era is a work of speculative fiction by Liu Cixin. Cixin is a nine-time winner of the Galaxy Award (China’s most prestigious literary science fiction award), winner of the 2015 Hugo Award (for The Three-Body Problem) and the 2017 Locus Award (for Death’s End) as well as a nominee for the Nebula Award.
Supernova Era is an interesting work of fiction and was written shortly after the Tiananmen Square uprising. The most difficult premise of the novel is taken care of near the beginning of the story and is put into play by a mysterious supernova. This quick pulse is needed because it requires the reader to suspend quite a bit of disbelief. However, it takes place rather smoothly and seemingly with enough “science” to explain it and before the reader can protest a “Wait, what?” the story has already moved on. This leaves the main body of the work which seems to have been influenced by Lord of the Flies and 1984. The latter may also be an influence of the Chinese society in which the author was raised. Big Quantum is a computer that monitors pretty close to anything with a computer chip, inventory, or a digitally stored record. In post 9-11 America, this may be one of the least difficult areas to grasp in the story.
With young teens left to run the world even when trained and assisted by technology, things fall apart quickly. A Thirteen-year-old is hardly ready to Prime Minister or even run a power station. Some aspects of the book and behavior are, as expected, strongly influenced by Chinese culture others are much more in tune with the video game mentality which leads to new problem-solving methods. Real-life problems emerge and must be handled in new ways. Earth has become a planet of orphans. Guidance must come from peers and without adults to moderate behavior things like alcoholism and the strong urge to shirk one’s duties and drop out are strong forces. The unasked question the book seems the answer is it doesn’t matter what kind of world we leave our children, they are going to reshape it in their own way.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review