Back from my holiday and slowly dipping my toe in the internet. I made a great vacation discovery this year that if I swam for 30-minutes (which is a hell of a lot longer that I imagined), I could eat what I wanted, stick to my diet, and remain completely immobile otherwise.
I had Alice time me and found that the lake's island was about 15-minutes away, so every day I would swim out, gasp for breath while watching moose and loons, then swim back, flop in the hammock and knock out a book.
Here are my 2-minute book reports:
Hoodtown by Christa Faust. I was instantly hooked by the concept of "Lucha Libre Noir" (masked Mexican wrestlers) but expected a gimmicky read. I was delighted to find the book solid and well-thought out, presenting a surreal but believable ethnic community descended from the first generation of luchadores (of which "El Santo" is a literal Saint). The masks are treated like burkas with the wearers faces never fully exposed. A series of dressing, sleeping, and washing hoods are described as well as civil institutions (hospitals, police stations, barber shops, etc.) that either cater to the masks or discriminate against them. We follow "X"--a 40ish female wrestler whose career was ended early by a traumatic event--through this world as she investigates the grisly murders of masked working girls. Highly recommended.
The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley. Another title that every bookdealer must read per the Bibliophile Compact. I found it twee and painfully dated. Especially annoying was that while the book is set in Park Slope, Brooklyn (my old neighborhood) there's almost no actual Brooklyn detail and all the streets are named after British authors. Well at least I'm one book closer to compliance.
The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke. A beautifully bound hardcover for which I came up with the contrivance of storing it in a ziplock bag with a silica packet (to stop it getting all wobbly in the humidity). Three of the stories ("Mr. Simonelli..."; "Tom Brightwind..."; "Antickes and Frets") were strong and memorable, the rest were Faery overload.
Born to Explore by Richard Wiese. Great survival and camping ideas. I'm dying to cook "bacon and eggs in a paper bag" and I think I might make people Altoid tin survival kits for Christmas.
Cry of the Owl by Patricia Highsmith. Novel of loneliness and voyeurism in which a peeping tom ends up being the most well-adjusted character. Like all Highsmith, this is not a comfortable read but she turns the screws perfectly and I would place it just behind Found in the Street of her non-Ripley novels (that I've read anyway).
Adventures in Unhistory by Avram Davidson. "Conjectures on the Factual Foundations of Several Ancient Legends". Erudite, convincing and hilarious essays on the evolution and truthful core of mythological (and semi-mythological) figures like the Phoenix, Prester John, Mermaids and Aleister Crowley. Davidson is one of my favorite short fiction writers so I savored this one over the whole vacation. You'll probably find yourself reading huge passages of this to anyone near you. I would have, but people were avoiding the hammock by this point and I wasn't getting up.
The Lizard in the Cup by Peter Dickinson. Another Pibble mystery with a beautifully imagined, eccentric setting and (mostly) well-painted characters. This one takes place on a Greek Isle which is home to an order of monks founded around a man-bird saint. The other characters are equally peculiar. Pibble (as usual) feels like a blank slate, the mystery plot is unsatisfying and Dickinson recycles a character type (the drop dead sexy, multi-racial, political revolutionary) that I've seen in at least one other of his books (not sure if it was earlier or later). A decent read but not a great intro to the author.
Confessions of a Yakuza by Junichi Saga. The oral memoir of one of the last traditional Japanese gangsters and the book from which Bob Dylan lifted several lines for "Love and Theft". A huge swath of Japanese history told in a fascinating underworld voice. The gangster sees his profession as rather noble (or at least ruled by an honorable code) but you can tell this is an old man's softened/selective memories because (among other things likely) he never mentions the tattoos that cover his body and would have taken weeks to apply.
The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh. A mystery novel that you'd think was written for me. An auctioneer is given the chance of a lifetime to sell a stunning estate and discovers a secret room filled with rare erotic books and evidence that the deceased owner may have violated one too many taboos. Great detail of the Edinburgh porn and drug underworld and worth a read if you're in the trade (ummm...the book and antique trade). One thing that annoyed the crap out of me though is that when the main character discovers an ominous photo after an hour of looking through the deceased's papers, he runs all over Scotland trying to verify it rather than just looking through the rest of the papers, which certainly would have been the character's (and my) first instinct.
Alright those took much longer than 2-minutes. I'm off.
I feel like I should be swimming now but I'm once again surrounded by asphalt. Sigh.