Real Fiction

Exploring the nexus of reading and writing

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A Pile of Books

Some already read, some yet to read

I have just finished reading, for the second time in as many months, Julian Barnes’s Arthur and George, a novel based on incidents in the life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of “Sherlock Holmes.” This book will be discussed at the next monthly meeting of the book discussion group I attend. The reason for my having read it twice is–after the first read, I immediately forgot almost everything about it because of all the other books I had read in the interim. And, perhaps also, my short-term memory at age 71 ain’t what it useta be.

The husband of one of my fellow book readers and discussers suggested some science fiction books when I admitted to him I used to be an avid reader of such. I haven’t yet read the three now in my possession: The Reality Dysfunction, by Peter F. Hamilton; Blood Music, by Greg Bear; and, Use of Weapons, by Iain M. Banks. My father used to bring home pulp science fiction (“Amazing Stories,” “Galaxy,” etc.) and I read them all. Great covers, too. I stopped reading science fiction after reading and rereading one of the greatest of all: Brian Aldiss’s Galaxies Like Grains of Sand.

A fellow I met at one of the regular Friday lunch meetings of the Stockholm Writers Group, a journalist, suggested the author Lee Child to me, especially his “Jack Reacher” novels. This fellow was impressed with a little sketch I had written for the luncheon (we get an assignment for each weekly meeting), thinking I might have the talent for writing a thriller, something I have thought about. I read Die Trying and Killing Floor. Here is my reaction to them, from an email letter I sent the journalist:

I read ‘Die Trying’ and ‘Killing Floor.’ He’s good, and I do see a pattern common to both:

1. Just wandering through town and getting in trouble inadvertently
2. Good looking gal and he hook up, but he always leaves
3. A very, very bad guy to defeat, a psychopath or an associate who is a psychopath
4. Somebody you trust is a mole or betrayer of some sort (at least one)
5. Don’t get Reacher angry with you or you will die
6. Other people (the bad guys) kill good people very awfully, sometimes involving torture
7. Lots of detail about firearms and ordnance and related subjects

I generally enjoyed the plot and action, although occasionally wanted the action to proceed without so much detail. I thought certain plot elements very clever and well thought out (the mountain of 40 million dollar bills to be bleached).

I couldn’t write so much violence and mayhem, nor have so physical a main character. My guy will be more of a mental warrior, a clever manipulator (there are elements of Reacher that match this). My guy may not appeal to as wide an audience, if any. We’ll see. I give myself 3 years for this first novel. I’ve got other things cooking too.
(End of letter)

Next up is a BIG book, Tree of Smoke, by Denis Johnson. The owner of the book store where I bought it said her mother loved the book . It was a bit difficult for me to stay with during the introduction of all the characters, some of whom never directly connected. But all were drawn to and affected by the Vietnam conflict (“war” was never declared by the U.S. Congress as provided in the U.S. Constitution). The main character is a CIA agent and his characterization was very compelling, reminding me of some of the novels of John le Carré, especially those involving the character George Smiley, although I hasten to add the CIA character was not a master spy as was Smiley. What is brought forth, very well, is the shadow world of espionage, and how it confuses the mind and morals and one’s sense of reality.

So many books; so little time.


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More ‘Favorite’ Books

Feeling guiltily fickle about past ‘favorites’

I read a lot. I keep finding ‘favorites’. Here are books I have read, among several others, in the last few weeks…

paton cry the belovedCry, The Beloved Country, by Alan Paton (1948). We will discuss this book tonight at the discussion group I belong to here in Stockholm. I had often heard of it over the years and resisted reading about it mostly because of being tired of hearing about the troubles in South Africa. I didn’t know what or whom to believe. But, having the assignment, I dutifully addressed this book slowly and thoroughly. It is a poem, a song, an emanation from the Earth. I don’t know how much I can discuss it beyond these few paltry words. It is a work of art beyond man; therefore it is a revelation, a thing perfect unto itself. It cannot be improved upon or explained. It just is.

Elizabeth Costello, by J.M. Coetzee (1999). A new friend, a writer, recommended this and two others by Coetzee who is very popular here in both Swedish and English. For this reason I resisted also, until this recommendation. This book was the last of the three I read. One phrase alone has captured what I have long pondered about value of “reason” as man has discovered and developed. It’s a book I will keep, meaning I will re-read it. Here is the phrase: “… reason is simply a vast tautology.”

A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving. I read one or two of Irving’s earliest books years ago and lost track of him, not fully appreciating him as I do now after reading this book and, just a few months ago, Until I find You. Irving has the ability to bring me into another person’s life almost completely. I feel I know Owen Meany and his best friend, the fictional narrator of the story. They both have soulful things to say to me.

in_defence_of_english_cooking.largeWhile wandering around Uppsala, a university town north of Stockholm, I found this little volume: In Defense of English Cooking, by George Orwell. It contains four essays, the named one being the least important but amusing. The other essays are: “My Country, Right or Left,” Notes on Nationalism,” and “The Prevention of Literature.” The essay on nationalism I considered so important that I emailed it to almost everyone on my mailing list. It was this mailing that put me over the edge to develop this blog so I wouldn’t pester people so much about my enthusiasms. You can read each of these essays, and others by going here.

Now to shave and shower to be presentable for the book discussion …