What I’m reading

I read Richard Stark years ago, and last month returned to him. He writes blunt, effective prose. His stories are often violent, with a simple amorality to them. It reflects the protagonist, Parker, capable of casual brutality as a means to an end; a man with a strong sense of how things should be and with the single-minded intent to make them so. I came across him first in the movie form, Lee Marvin playing him in Point Blank – a terrific movie, and a great actor. The book I read is Flashfire. They call this sort of book hard boiled, which is pretty apt. As an aspiring writer it’s interesting to read books like this. It’s so pared back that you can see the muscles bulge and the sinews strain. There’s no skin on this, just what is needed to get the story to point A to point B. It’s very instructional if you choose to read it that way. I enjoyed it, and will read another soon.

As an aside, I gather they’ve just released a movie version of this very book. The movie is starring one of my least favourite actors, Jason Statham, who might appear right for the role on a superficial level, but who is all wrong. I doubt I’ll bother with the movie. I caught a promo for it describing Parker as a crim with a sense of honour. That’s missed the point, and doubtless the movie has too. Parker is amoral. If you get in his way he’ll sort you out. If he has toi kill you he will – doesn’t matter who you are. There’s no wasted effort in Parker, no emotion. It’s not honour or even ethics, it’s just what is due and what isn’t. He’s not someone to get on bad terms with.

Quite different is A Day and a Night and a Day, by Glen Duncan. It’s about a black American who is captured by the CIA as a terrorist and tortured for information. It ranges from the past, to the events that led him down this track, and to the present day when he is free. It’s a complex, ambitious story, though there is no more than 220 pages to it. I enjoyed it. He’s a very talented writer. It’s an interesting read on so many different levels, and carried off with panache. One of the better writer’s going around I reckon.

Which brings us to one of the most lauded writers of the last 30 years, Richard Ford. He has a novel out, Canada. It was good, but not great. I have a thing with Ford, and it’s probably just me, but I think his stories are generally better than his novels. He’s a great prose stylist, good to read. There’s that in this book. I found it tad long-winded all the same. Took a long while to get going, then sort of petered out. He’s one of those rare writers in which the story unfolds as much in the style as it does in the plot. Often the plot is as minimalist as his prose. Small movements keenly and precisely revealed with an economy and truth that makes you look up from the page and think, yeah. It’s a style best suited to the short forms – I prefer his short novels, or novellas, to his big one’s. Canada is a big novel, and I think the story (as opposed to the prose) could have used some editing. That could be just me, I’ll cop that. Like most of his stuff this got some great reviews.

I started reading a book called Haywire published 15 years. It started off well and then went silly. I ditched it.

I’ve just finished reading an old Peter Straub novel I picked up second-hand – The Throat. This is a long read – nearly 900 pages. It kept me at it, but in truth Straub is not a writer that has ever really got me. His books are easy enough to read, but I’ve never experienced any sense of horror or dread. I’d prefer he didn’t write in the first person, and as a stylist he’s a long way behind the likes of Ford. I’d call it a pleasant but forgettable diversion.

I read Niall Ferguson’s book on the American empire also – Colossus. Very interesting in parts, particularly in paralleling the American rise with that of other empires, particularly the British. I love the facts and figures, and the stories beneath. This was written in about 2005, before so much happened, and a lot of it is dated as a result. There’s quite a bit which is prescient also – about the danger of economic factors particularly to American prosperity, about the inevitability of a crash at some point. Overall, a fascinating read.

While away I read a couple of books on Kindle. I read first the latest John Le Carre, A Delicate Truth. This was good. He’s almost always an interesting writer, and he he writes well. This is one of his better books from recent times.

Read a couple of other books on it: Stephen King’s The Running Man, The Martian, by Danny Weir, and The Remaining, by D.J. Molles. These were picked as being easy to read in between catching trains and flying on planes.

The Running Man pretty well encapsulates most of my thoughts about Stephen King. He has a great imagination and comes up with one great story after another. But. He’s an effective writer without being a good writer. And sometimes I think his stories can go off the rails. That’s the case with this one. I picked this because I remember made of it, which is a minor B-grade classic. The movie takes the premise of the book and changes the environment. For probably two-thirds of the book I wished the movie had more closely followed the book. Then for the last third I was glad it didn’t. I don’t know if he gets over-excited or over-ambitious, but like others I’ve read this became stupidly unrealistic. Maybe he didn’t know how to finish it.

The other two books were interesting in their way, and fun to read.

That’s it, except I want to comment on a book I read a few months ago but failed to mention. The Zone is a grown-up, literary zombie story written by Colson Whitehead. It’s not a blood and guts gore story like most zombie stories. It’s not sensationalist. It tells what seems a far-fetched story in reasonable and intelligent terms, as if it’s a part of our actual history. It concentrates on the characters and the society changed by such dramatic events as a zombie plague. It’s really a very intelligent book I greatly enjoyed. Once more, beautifully written.

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