I love that fact that four out of the five books I’ve written about below have crazy pulp fiction covers (or in one case a movie poster).
The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
Despite having five books already in my bag on a recent trip to Phoenix and Austin, I couldn’t resist going into the book store at the Phoenix airport and having a bit of a browse. Given my full book bag, I was a little surprised I bought something. But after reading the modern (1990s) Peter Cameron novel The Weekend, I was in the mood for something more contemporary than the other books in my carry on. Given all the praise I have heard about the novel The Price of Salt and the film adaptation Carol, it seemed like the right moment to pick up the book. I wasn’t a big fan of Highsmith’s prose in The Talented Mr Ripley so I wasn’t sure how I would get along with this one. TPOS makes me think I may need to read more Highsmith. I read about half the book flying from Phoenix to Austin and finished it off on the plane from Austin back to Washington. I’m not sure it is worth saying much about the plot given how much has been written about it in recent months. I enjoyed the book very much but also found it pretty sad and depressing that the women in the book (and perhaps Highsmith herself?) had such crappy choices available to them.
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
I guess this is called hard-boiled detective fiction. I’m sure everyone in the world knows who Sam Spade is, but until now I only kind of knew who he was. A book that reads like a 1940s film script, The Maltese Falcon kind of tickled my fancy for vintage detective/spy fiction, but Hammett is no Eric Ambler. Too many dames in mock distress and too many broads throwing themselves at Spade. Not to mention all the booze and cigarettes. Still, I must say I kind of enjoyed it with tongue planted firmly in cheek. I think I am going to try and stream the movie version this weekend while the book is still fresh in my mind. I hope the film shows as much of San Francisco as the book talks about, but I kind of doubt it.
The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow
I have been trying to read this one forever. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve failed in the past. After seeing it included recently in a list of misogynistic books that women should still read I thought maybe I should again make the effort. I used an audio version of it to finally get me over my hump and draw me into the story. Even switching back and forth between the book and the audiobook didn’t entirely innoculate me from boredom. Having said that, once I finally got into it, I was quite engrossed. There were times when I got swept up in it and felt the things you are supposed to feel for a character. Essentially this is a sweeping coming of age/life saga showing the patterns of U.S. cultural/political/economic evolution over the course of the first half of the 20th century. At times I wondered if there was anything that made it so special to earn its place on the Modern Library top 100 list. I think maybe yes. But also thinking about the misogynistic book list it was on made me wonder about how a female would have written a parallel version of that same cultural sweep.
For all its manly bluster, there are many good things about this book. The short passage about Augie and his mother leaving his developmentally disabled adolescent brother at an institution was gut-wrenchingly sad.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
A dystopian future where books are illegal. A classic that I have been meaning to read forever. I completely enjoyed reading it, but I kept thinking how much better it could have been if it had been written by a different author. So many interesting ideas and concepts that would have been more interesting with someone more skilled writing the book. In fact, I think the only reason it appears on so many lists of important books is for the premise of the book alone. If this one is such a classic, Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and her MaddAddam trilogy should be lauded as classics times infinity. But, a quick read that allows one feel superior for having read something on so many damn lists.
The Forgers by Bradford Morrow
A bit of a detective novel about book forgers, book collectors, and book sellers. A bit of a beach read or snowy day kind of read.