Just thinking about what I said in that last post, about how I don’t do reviews because I’m pretty sure I’d set my standards impossibly high, just so I could shoot down every book in my path. That may be a little too broad a statement, though — I don’t mean to suggest that all reviews that burn a book are similarly motivated. Granted, some reviewers just have bad attitudes (Tobias Wolff, of course, in “Bullet to the Brain,” shoots one of them in the head, while John Updike, in “Bech Noir,” chooses to just push them in front of trains, serial fashion), but, too, it is the critics’ job to take those literary bullets meant for us, yeah? Kakutani and them, they’re the bodyguards, I mean. Maybe overzealous sometimes, sure, but always articulate anyway. And, I mean, if you’re Anne Rice, you can always just log in, fight the reviews.
Well, I mean, yeah, because he’s got titles like THE LUST LIZARD OF MELANCHOLY COVE and PRACTICAL DEMONKEEPING. These are what originally got me peeling his books up from the shelves back whenever ago. Years already, I guess. Too, though, I’ve yet to read a CMoore book that hasn’t made me smile, and then impressed me too, somehow. Like this, from A DIRTY JOB, which I just finished ten minutes ago:
Just finished Charles McCarry’s OLD BOYS, which, like the rest of the Paul Christopher series, just absolutely blew me away. The guy’s not just a good storyteller, he hammers his prose, too. Usually you get one or the other.
A sample line:
She had the wary unwavering eyes of a woman who knew how attractive she was but wanted no sign from me that I might have noticed this too.
I’m not sure or even suspicious that it gets any better than that. After reading it, too–and this was just because I didn’t want the experience to be over, so was trying to wring the book for every last word–I finally got around to the back cover. Elmore Leonard, Peter Benchley, Norman Mailer, etc. First, though, right at the top, one of the best blurbs I’ve ever seen:
never at a loss for stuff to read. if I could just shoehorn one more syllable in there, it’d scan pretty cool, I think. what little I know or can take a stab at talking lines. anyway, yesterday afternoon’s library haul (this doesn’t count the ninety-plus I already have checked out, on my shelf, which I call The Annex). was going to type them all in for that Books You’ve Bought But Haven’t Read Yet (or something) thread over at the Velvet, but good grief: that’d be a task. yet, of course, I wanted to show off my good taste. and also my lack of education. how I’ve dodged that SQUADRON SUPREME this long, who knows. and, really, that DEAD WEST, I read it last night–Indians, Old West, zombies: everything good–and am already many pages into both my minimum required hours of sleep and CJ Box’s IN PLAIN SIGHT (there’s a relationship there, yes). anyway, didn’t put my big/pretty/new (used) OLD BOYS up there because it doesn’t have either an LC or dewey decimal number on it. and, really, what I keep finding myself reading lately at odd moments is Rodney Jones’ SALVATION BLUES. Has lines in it like this:
Finished copies exist, are real, are in the mail now. If I had the skills, I’d rework some of those gas-shortage pics from the late seventies, of all the cars lined up, only I’d put a big DEMON THEORY in place of the pump. or maybe pirate one of those Body Axe commercials, re-edit it to showcase DT >>>which, yeah, as you can see, Logan over at the Velvet just rigged up. very cool. rigged this one up too.
Maybe it’s this way for everybody, I don’t know. Sometimes I’ll stumble across something in a book, anyway, and it’ll just burrow right to the core of me and never leaves. I say sometimes, but, I suppose, I’m only about to list three. And, it’s not that they’re said all that perfect or anything, it’s more like they’re just obviously true. Trick was, I’d just never thought about them:
David Goodwillie’s Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time
Gavin Pate’s The Way To Get Here
was paging through a few-months-old notebook and stumbled on this, which I’d copied down from Antonia Quirke’s bfi book on JAWS. brilliant, brilliant stuff:
There are two types of monsters. The first is our incarnation of fear. King Kong, Dracula, Godzilla. The other, of which the first sharkless hour of Jaws is a supreme example, is the inflection of the whole landscape with fear. Virus horrors, the Maryland woods of the Blair Witch, Hanging Rock. In the first type the monster is an irruption of the unnatural into the world. But the second type inverts this. The unnatural presence is us. Incarnated monsters usually punish a specific fault. Inflected landscapes make being human the fault. We’re the guilty ones and fear any punishment is justified. (p.44)
So, yeah, I’m on a desert island, can only have ten books. A strange, impractical set-up—that the dungeon master here can assume I’d grab a round number of books instead of a two-way radio or a knife—but so be it. I’m there. I can only have ten books. Which is a lot like punishment, but, too, is a lot better than just nine books. Here goes:
1.Don Quixote. Not because it’s a classic and not because it’s on the required reading lists and not because it was the first real novel, any of that. I’d have it with me just because it’s good. Because I still think often of the way Dulcinea’s world must have reordered itself just a little, when she ceased being a princess. Because Don Quixote is able to preserve that romantic idealism most of us lose in the process of growing up. For him the world’s a magical place. I envy him that.
Or, really, just all of R.M. Berry’s stuff. It starts with Plane Geometry and Other Affairs of the Heart, ramps up to Leonardo’s Horse, then hits with The Dictionary of Modern Anguish. Each brilliant. His short story “Metempsychosis” has been, along with VALIS and COL49 [The Crying of Lot 49], probably the most influential, for me. In the sense of this is a thing I’m always trying to pull off, each time I sit down to write.