By Samuel Beckett, 1938
There's a huge amount of Beckett's flavor that comes from him writing initially in French despite English being the language with which he got rolling in the first place, and it would be interesting to know if his decision to change his working method grew out of wanting to break away from the Joycean influence, an influence that stemmed both because he worshipped Joyce for awhile, and becuase he had a depressing, horrible affair with Joyce's daughter. That's not a subject I'm qualified to deal with, having only read Dubliners and Portrait of the Artist and some gossipy shit that was in a brochure they gave away at Beckett's old apartment, but it's there. What I can say is that Murphy has what seems to be an overuse of location specific notations, and any social criticism gets muted by the book's absentmindedness, the way it trips between mysterious, unknowable characters (like Murphy himself) and more abstract caricatures (most of the women are ciphers), making for a book whose best bits are whenever a characrer is granted a purpose with which to act. Murphy at a mental hospital, a landlady discovering a mess...these are the moments when Beckett seems almost unwillingly swept up in literature, when the words just pour across the page. It's a really good book, I just wish I liked it more than I do.
The Map and the Territory
By Michel Houellebecq, 2010
Although it doesn't posess the most exciting lead character of all time, the opportunity to watch Michel Houellebecq ruminate on the business of creation is an interesting one, even if the only maxim the book eventually rests on is "be really good". Featuring himself as an important supporting cast member, The Map and the Territory is Houellebecq treading some familiar ground (relationships are tough when your favorite person is yourself, dads are difficult) while also dipping a toe in crime fiction. It's a pleasant, fast read that gets really strange when you hit the plot twist, and then reverts back to form when the author realizes he doesn't have an ending. The pleasures of Houelllebecq are rarely his plots, it's in the nature of his sentences, the way he encapsulates the brutality of self-destruction, lust, sociopathy--that's what makes him such a nasty pleasure to read, and the brevity with which he delivers his amoral musings prevents the experience from becoming as self-centered as most descriptions might initially sound.
My feelings regarding Pauline Kael and this book in particular have been covered on this site's film podcast, but if you don't have the time, the Cliff's Notes are these: I find the experience of reading Pauline Kael to be an absolute pleasure. Sanford Schwartz seems to prefer Kael when she's at her most ponderous and positive. Getting that side of the woman is in no way a disappointment, even if it does mean I'll need to grab a separate book when I want to watch her tear into the terrified flesh of Sound of Music. If anything, seeing Kael at her more charitable makes me as a reader more negative, considering how much further down things have gone since her departure from the scene--not the quality of film, I don't think that's lessened at all, one thing all of Kael's criticism suffers from is that time period's lack of accessibility to anything that isn't American--but the quality of the audience and that audience's criticism. Nobody working at the top is as good at all the nuts and bolts of writing as she was, and very, very few people working online have her weirdly exciting taste level.
A bunch of stories, almost all of which could be mixed into either the LA Quartet or the Underworld Trilogy without too much tinkering. Each chunk is satisyfing, and one--two cops going full Die Hard against an entire town of scumbags--wouldn't have been harmed to have gone double the length. Brevity doesn't hurt Ellroy--take a look at the way he writes an action passage in any of his books for evidence of that--but it does lend these stories a bit of ambivalence that doesn't show up in his longer works.
The Baby Sleep Solution
by Suzy Giordano & Lisa Abidin, 2006
I finished this book, and it's the only book in this part of the bookstore I can say that about and not be lying. I liked it. It's very firm and direct, and extraordinairly specific to the point of obsession, which is also something I have a tendency to gravitate towards. It's about what it says it's going to be about in the title and it takes less than thirty minutes to read. I have no idea if it's claims are factual or if its program works; based off what I have heard from many, many people, most of them strangers, it is a book, and therefore "doesn't know what the fuck it is talking about."
-Tucker Stone, 2013