Tokyo Station – Martin Cruz Smith (2002). Thought i’d start out 2017 with something pure fun, and Smith is. I absolutely loved his Arkady Renko novels, especially the first three. His other works that i’ve read have been only quite good, including this one. It’s the story of Harry Niles, the son of American missionaries who grew up in Japan, becoming more Japanese than American. He also became a skilled pickpocket and con artist and in his late teens was jerked back to the states by his parents. He returned to Japan in the thirties and improved his skills as a con man, only to find himself privy to enough clues that he was able to intuit in the summer of 1941 that Japan was about to attack Pearl Harbor. And at this point i’ll stop with the spoilers. Quite entertaining.
Laughter in the Dark – Vladimir Nabokov (1938). A good novel although not as good as Pnin and not even close to Pale Fire. Read them instead.
King, Queen, Knave – Vladimir Nabokov (1928). Roughly translated into English by his son and revised by Nabokov in 1968. He writes of it in his preface, “Of all my novels, this bright brute is the gayest.” Although he didn’t mean that in the modern sense, being quite homophobic. This one got off to a slow start for me, but it got better and better. The writing is beautiful, with metaphors sparkling like sapphires across the pages. Ummm, yes, his are much better. A very good novel. Read it before you read Laughter.
The Samurai’s Garden – Gail Tsukiyama (1994). Set in a small Japanese village in 1937-38 as the Japanese army sweeps across China, this novel is narrated by a young Chinese man whose father is a wealthy businessman who spends most of his time in Kobe even though the rest of the family is in Hong Kong. The narrator is in the village to recover from a serious illness in a more salubrious climate than Hong Kong’s, and as he recovers he gradually learns more about his host and develops an understanding of goodness and its often inverse relationship to beauty. Excellent writing and a plot that grows more compelling as it progresses.
Girl With Curious Hair – David Foster Wallace (1989). I just discovered that as much as i love Wallace, this splendid collection of stories had been sitting unread on my bookshelf since i’d bought it when it was first published. Rather like discovering a box of your favorite candies that you’d tucked back and forgotten. I hate Wallace for killing himself and depriving me of more of his writing, and i vacillate between grief and rage that i’ve now read everything he wrote. But wait, there’s a flicker of hope. If i time it just right as my senility progresses, i’ll hit the magic moment at which i’ll have forgot all his work but still retain enough of my faculties that i’ll be able to start over at the beginning and read his entire corpus with renewed pleasure. I figure i’ll start this summer by taking up Infinite Jest again, this time savoring every sentence and employing a pair of bookmarks to save places so that i can flip to the back and read every end note as i hit it in the text. Yes, all two hundred and something pages of ’em in tiny type.
Smoke – Ivan Turgenev (1867). Finally got around to reading another of Turgenev’s novels. Good enough, but read Fathers and Sons instead.
Scoop – Evelyn Waugh (1937). I blush to admit that the only other novel of Waugh’s i’d read was The Loved One, which i of course loved. This one is a very early work and terribly funny, a deliciously absurd account of the brief journalistic career of a young man who liked writing about the local English fauna but ended up through a series of boffo accidents being sent to a fictional country in eastern Africa to cover an insurrection. A marvelous sendup of journalism with one laugh-out-loud line after another.