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What Are You Reading

Tiki Tom

Call Me a Cab
Messages
2,759
Location
Oahu, North Polynesia
I just finished Volume II (page 600) of “War and Peace”, the Pevear/volokhonsky translation. Only another 600 pages to go. What can I say? So far it is living up to the hype. I’m clueing in that these Russian novels are a different animal than Western Novels. Not so much plot driven as intensely character driven, with numerous sidebars. which is not to say that it does not have a plot, it has several… but they are little creeks that sometimes gush, sometimes disappear beneath the sand. So far I’ve gone through a couple of Napoleonic battles, marriage, child birth, adultery, a duel, a wolf hunt, a love triangle that was later turned into a musical, Masonic philosophy and rituals, and insights into the rules of aristocratic society. The story follows three intertwined aristocratic families as their sons and daughters wheel and deal and try to find happiness. There are several characters that I have come to care about. Tolstoy has keen insights into human nature and society. Again I’m finding it to be accessible and a rip roaring good yarn. I was on the edge of my seat as to if that cad, Anatole, was going to elope with the unsuspecting Natasha. Very dramatic. I will report back again after the next 600 pages!
 
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FOXTROT LAMONT

A-List Customer
Messages
310
Location
St John's Wood, London UK
“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain.
SOMEHOW I managed to avoid reading this book until now. That’s really a shame. What a book!
Huckleberry Finn basically has three parts:
1. The first 35 or 40 pages paints the picture of Huck’s miserable background and upbringing and tells the tale of his abusive father. In addition to this sad story, it takes as many pages to acclimatize yourself to the language and speech patterns used. It was a bit of a slog.
2. But then Huck escapes from his father and from civilization. The next 200 pages are pure heaven. Floating down the Mississippi River on a raft, Huck teams up with a run away slave Named Jim. They hide by day and float by night. The mighty river becomes a metaphor for god and life and time. Huck, the irresponsible, unloved, and rebellious boy, slowly and step by step, comes to love Jim. The feeling goes both ways. For the first time in his life, Huck takes on an adult responsibility. In an amazing slight of hand, Twain uses irony and satire to turn law and morality upside down. After all, Huck is breaking the law by helping a runaway slave. The pair have a string of adventures on the river. By now, you are invested in the fate of Huck and Jim. The writing is a delight. Throughout, Twain uses the language and southern dialect of a 13 year old boy. You can’t help but smile or laugh at the colorful phrases. This also keeps Twain from getting too philosophical or preachy. Heavy truths are handled almost without the reader realizing it. As I said, this vast middle part of the book is a magnificent joy of adventure, freedom, and half hidden truths and feelings. I wanted to cheer.
3. In the last 50 pages or so, Tom Sawyer appears again, and the whole thing degenerates into a silly farce. It’s not even funny… primarily because, by this point, you really care about Jim and Huck. Finally, in the end, the plot comes back together and all the strands of the story are pulled together and resolved in a satisfactory (if not entirely satisfying) manner.

All in all, the book is indeed an American classic. Someone said that Huckleberry Finn is the bedrock book Of American literature. I don’t doubt it. In fact, had I but known, I probably would have recommended this book to my European friends who wanted to understand a little about America before coming here. The book covers a lot of ground regarding class and race and history and the frontier and guns and on and on. After reading Huckleberry Finn, I have renewed respect for Mark Twain. An American treasure.

Warning: “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” uses the “N Word” quite freely. Despite the context and the decade when Huckleberry Finn was written, some might —understandably— find this disturbing. approach Accordingly.

Twain was a product of his times, wrote in colloquial dialect native to the nascent American frontier,
a world class spellbinder, wit and writer of the first rank. A peripatetic soul who crossed the Atlantic with
thirty ship voyages; unsurprisingly fought in the Civil War. Twain is held in high regard by Cambridge
faculty here in England, and, more importantly by its students. Myself once a member of the latter crowd.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is rightly considered one of the world's great books. Those critics
of this great novel fail to elicit constructive purpose and merely serve foolish immaturity by racist claim.
All who haven't read Twain's masterpiece please do so. Light the lamp and allow a tongued fire to illumine
childhood with its innocuous wisdom, and allow enflamed juvenile wonder pour inside your heart.
 
Messages
16,063
Location
New York City
51WP8YQ64+L._AC_SY780_.jpg

No Highway by Nevil Shute first published in 1948


There are many older and very good novels that don't rise to the level of "classic," but that are still outstanding reads like No Highway by Nevil Shute. Books like these run the risk of "disappearing" over time, especially as reading declines in popularity.

Shute's novel does have the advantage, though, of having been made into a motion picture in 1951, titled No Highway in the Sky (see comments on the movie here: #30,389 ), with stars James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich. That is how this reader found his way to the novel itself and its prolific and successful-in-his-day author.

Shute knows how to tell an engaging story. In No Highway, he combines an airline crash investigation narrative with an off-beat romance to make a heck of a fun page-turner. Today, the book also serves as time travel to the just-post-WWII aviation industry in Britain and, more broadly, England's middle class.

At the center of the story is Theodore Honey, a short, brilliant, unassuming and quirky looking middle-aged war widower and the parent of an also brilliant but quirky twelve-year-old girl. He is an airline industry engineer who believes his controversial hypothesis explains why one of the airplanes from the government's new marquee transcontinental fleet just crashed.

Honey, who had been quietly and happily toiling away in obscurity in the government's aeronautical research division, is thus thrust into the center of a major crash investigation in which his unpopular theory - the new plane has a critical design flaw in its tail - flies in the face of the "official" explanation of the crash - pilot error.

This sets Honey up against several powerful people and organizations inside and outside of the government including the airplane's imperious designer. On Honey's side is his boss who narrates the story and defends Honey's theory, but it is still a David-versus-Goliath tale.

Equally engaging is the personal side of Honey's life. We see that this brilliant and loving father has raised a twelve-year-old daughter who is as poorly adjusted socially as he is, but she is also brilliant and inquisitive like him.

With that setup, Shute then weaves in an incredible amount of plot that takes poor Honey across the Atlantic (to investigate the crash, in person), while bringing him into contact with a pretty stewardess and, oddly but believable, a major female film star.

Along the way, and facing intense opposition, he'll have a fateful decision to make about the plane he's flying in, which could destroy his career and reputation. He'll also have to open his closed personal world up a bit, yes, for his daughter's sake, but also for his.

His daughter, the wonderfully named Elspeth, is his informal research assistant at home. Yet she's so starved for the traditional childhood things that her father simply doesn't know about, that she sleeps with a new sponge they bought as a surrogate for the stuffed animals and dolls she's never had.

She impresses you at the same time that she breaks your heart. If ever a father and daughter were crying out for a wife and mother, it's these two off-beat souls who might change the world, but who will also forget to turn on the lights when it gets dark.

Shute pulls off the nearly impossible trick of making a short, unassuming man with poor interpersonal skills a hero. You want his theory of the crash to be proven correct and you want him to get the pretty and kind stewardess. You also want his daughter to get a caring stepmom to save what is left of her childhood.

In No Highway, Shute creates complex characters who have wonderfully enjoyable and rich human interactions leading to life-altering personal growth stories. All of this takes place inside a darn good crash-investigation drama that has you on the "edge of your seat" until the end.

No Highway is not "literature," but it is very good storytelling that engages you from the first page to the last while, for us today, providing a chance to see post-WWII England from a contemporaneous point of view.

There is no bigger compliment one can pay to an author than wanting to read more of his or her work, which is just how you'll feel when you finish reading No Highway. The hope is, as time goes by, especially if reading's popularity continues to wane, that talented, but now-dead authors like Shute will still find a modern audience.
 

FOXTROT LAMONT

A-List Customer
Messages
310
Location
St John's Wood, London UK
I listened to home front comments and table talk mostly about you Yanks who left impressions good and bad. I knew several older males rumoured to have American GI fathers later killed or left Britain without care.
A television series aired eons past that tried for some of the sexual surround everything but I never much cared the aspect. From what I did hear wartime illegit hurt the girls more. Abandoned by fathers whom survived but rejected their offspring.
 

Julian Shellhammer

Practically Family
Messages
771
View attachment 479956
No Highway by Nevil Shute first published in 1948


There are many older and very good novels that don't rise to the level of "classic," but that are still outstanding reads like No Highway by Nevil Shute. Books like these run the risk of "disappearing" over time, especially as reading declines in popularity.

Shute's novel does have the advantage, though, of having been made into a motion picture in 1951, titled No Highway in the Sky (see comments on the movie here: #30,389 ), with stars James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich. That is how this reader found his way to the novel itself and its prolific and successful-in-his-day author.

Shute knows how to tell an engaging story. In No Highway, he combines an airline crash investigation narrative with an off-beat romance to make a heck of a fun page-turner. Today, the book also serves as time travel to the just-post-WWII aviation industry in Britain and, more broadly, England's middle class.

At the center of the story is Theodore Honey, a short, brilliant, unassuming and quirky looking middle-aged war widower and the parent of an also brilliant but quirky twelve-year-old girl. He is an airline industry engineer who believes his controversial hypothesis explains why one of the airplanes from the government's new marquee transcontinental fleet just crashed.

Honey, who had been quietly and happily toiling away in obscurity in the government's aeronautical research division, is thus thrust into the center of a major crash investigation in which his unpopular theory - the new plane has a critical design flaw in its tail - flies in the face of the "official" explanation of the crash - pilot error.

This sets Honey up against several powerful people and organizations inside and outside of the government including the airplane's imperious designer. On Honey's side is his boss who narrates the story and defends Honey's theory, but it is still a David-versus-Goliath tale.

Equally engaging is the personal side of Honey's life. We see that this brilliant and loving father has raised a twelve-year-old daughter who is as poorly adjusted socially as he is, but she is also brilliant and inquisitive like him.

With that setup, Shute then weaves in an incredible amount of plot that takes poor Honey across the Atlantic (to investigate the crash, in person), while bringing him into contact with a pretty stewardess and, oddly but believable, a major female film star.

Along the way, and facing intense opposition, he'll have a fateful decision to make about the plane he's flying in, which could destroy his career and reputation. He'll also have to open his closed personal world up a bit, yes, for his daughter's sake, but also for his.

His daughter, the wonderfully named Elspeth, is his informal research assistant at home. Yet she's so starved for the traditional childhood things that her father simply doesn't know about, that she sleeps with a new sponge they bought as a surrogate for the stuffed animals and dolls she's never had.

She impresses you at the same time that she breaks your heart. If ever a father and daughter were crying out for a wife and mother, it's these two off-beat souls who might change the world, but who will also forget to turn on the lights when it gets dark.

Shute pulls off the nearly impossible trick of making a short, unassuming man with poor interpersonal skills a hero. You want his theory of the crash to be proven correct and you want him to get the pretty and kind stewardess. You also want his daughter to get a caring stepmom to save what is left of her childhood.

In No Highway, Shute creates complex characters who have wonderfully enjoyable and rich human interactions leading to life-altering personal growth stories. All of this takes place inside a darn good crash-investigation drama that has you on the "edge of your seat" until the end.

No Highway is not "literature," but it is very good storytelling that engages you from the first page to the last while, for us today, providing a chance to see post-WWII England from a contemporaneous point of view.

There is no bigger compliment one can pay to an author than wanting to read more of his or her work, which is just how you'll feel when you finish reading No Highway. The hope is, as time goes by, especially if reading's popularity continues to wane, that talented, but now-dead authors like Shute will still find a modern audience.
I read Shute's A Town Like Alice due to a television adaptation and, like you, found well-defined and believable characters and an interesting plot, all unfolding in accessible settings.
 

AmateisGal

I'll Lock Up
Messages
6,071
Location
Nebraska
Started this one a few days ago. Set in 1950s NYC and about a Jewish woman who survived the Holocaust, came to America, and married an American. Gillham's writing is absolutely beautiful. His first novel, City of Women, set in WW2 Berlin, is also incredible.

5174Gd4kgWL._AC_SY780_.jpg
 

PatinaPen

New in Town
Messages
7

HOLLYWOOD PARK​

By Mikel Jollett

A memoir about being born into a cult, Synanon.

I'm usually a crime novel guy, heists and noir especially. I'm even trying to write one.
I heard a song while driving that really struck a nerve with me. Didn't know the artist or song title but later, googling some lyrics, I found SOMETIME AROUND MIDNIGHT by Airborne Toxic Event. Then discovered the songwriter also wrote a book.
I had vaguely heard of Synanon. Thought I would stop at the Kindle sample download. Instead I was hooked into staying up way too late reading. The writing is excellent; highly recommend!
 

FOXTROT LAMONT

A-List Customer
Messages
310
Location
St John's Wood, London UK
Started this one a few days ago. Set in 1950s NYC and about a Jewish woman who survived the Holocaust, came to America, and married an American. Gillham's writing is absolutely beautiful. His first novel, City of Women, set in WW2 Berlin, is also incredible.

View attachment 482175

I've eagerly digested the American circas and Terrence over at the ERA thread. And I had no idea of the American home scene to say but serious ink spread page to least, headline toward bottom grist. Real hard tack for story writ large and small.
 
Messages
16,063
Location
New York City
27178.jpg

The Harder They Fall by Budd Schulberg, published in 1947


Budd Schuberg's 1947 novel, The Harder They Fall, is a scathing expose of the corruption in the world of professional boxing in 1947. Today, its story has lost none of its power, but it has also become a valuable time capsule of a not-pretty part of American sports in the 1940s.

Lead character Eddie Lewis is a former newspaper reporter and playwright wannabe who turned in his press pass to become a high-paid PR agent for gangster Nick Lansky who needs Lewis to promote his "stable" of professional boxers to the media.

When Lansky buys a huge Argentinian heavyweight, Toro, with a scant record in his home country, Lansky has Lewis promote him as the "Giant from the Argentine" who is going to challenge the top heavyweight fighters in America.

For those who think viral and extreme marketing was only invented recently, they'll see that Lansky and his team view Toro as a product to be aggressively sold to the public through several media.

That Toro can't really fight doesn't matter as Lansky's team builds him up with a bunch of fixed fights and smart publicity with the goal being a big payday for a marquee fight in New York City.

The cynicism and corruption of the plan is matched by the cynicism and corruption of Lanky's team of an alcoholic trainer, a utterly venal, and proud of it, fight promoter and an assortment of hangeroners who do the odd scummy jobs that need to be done.

Lewis, the PR guy and a man with some, only some, conscience left, serves as the narrator and unreliable moral gyroscope of the story. But this tale of Damon Runyon characters has little honest morality in it, as almost everyone is either a sucker or schemer.

Gangster Lansky, a kid from the streets who now dresses in custom-made suits, is the incarnation of a smart and polished mid-century mob boss who plays in both the legal and illegal worlds using lawyers and thugs with equal effectiveness.

He, as do most in the novel, works solely on the philosophy of "if it's good for me, it's fair" believing that any other way is for "suckers."

Lansky's boxing-smart manager hates that the sport he loves has been corrupted, but since he knows no other life, he drinks his frustrations away while taking Lansky's money and whistling past the dishonesty.

Lansky's promoter - the guy who arranges fixed fights, etc. - conversely, suffers not one pang of conscience as he shares Lansky's philosophy on life and has no intention of being a sucker.

Their world is so dark and warped that they don't even really see it for what it is anymore. If everyone is like you, then all the corruption, scamming and dishonesty looks normal.

So Toro and his original manager get used and fleeced; older fighters get pushed around as pawns to build Toro up, and if someone dies in the ring in service to that goal, "he knew the risks he was taking.”

The money the fighters make by filling the seats, of course, all flows to their "handlers" like Nick and the "smart boys" like Lewis. The fighter's cut is laughably small.

Schulberg knows this world and his characters well. The pace is fast and the dialogue believable and entertaining in this page-turner.

You, hopefully, have never met people like this in your life - and today this type of schemer has, for the most part, been replaced by a more educated and polished version - but the old version comes alive in Schulberg's hands.

The Harder They Fall, with its memorable casts of Runyonesque characters is a searing indictment of mid-twentieth century professional boxing told engagingly and entertainingly by Schulberg. Today, it can still be enjoyed as a good story, but it is equally valuable as a window into a seedy corner of 1940s American sports and culture.
 

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