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Doesn’t that just self-correct if you’re online? Let’s try.

 

Bulldog. Drummond.

Bulldog. Drummond.

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Just finished reading Deborah Blum's The Poison Squad, about the extraordinary efforts of Harvey Washington Wiley and his team at the Department of Agriculture to get poisons, preservatives, and adulterations out of the US food supply.  The 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, which in effect was only a starting point, is a result of all his labors.

 

Whatever you think about what's in our food now, we can be more or less assured that what the label says is what's in it, even if that label is a list of chemicals as long as your arm.  Basically, from the beginning of the 19th century until a few decades into the 20th century, unless you were wealthy or grew your own food and raised your own livestock, probably everything you ate had been tampered with or adulterated or an outright fake.  How about some formaldehyde in milk?  Maybe you'd care for some rope in that ground pepper?

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Very belatedly, the Beckett trilogy. The virtuoso stylistic changes between Molloy’s, Moran’s, and Malone’s testimony. I’ve read Pinget more than Beckett in the last few years, but I think Pinget would acknowledge his friend’s influence.

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Between Fantoine and Agapa, early work by Pinget where he is avowedly playing games with narrative and language. A short collection of very short pieces, surreal and often very funny.

 

Foursome, Carolyn Burke’s new book about Stieglitz, O’Keefe, Strand, Salsbury, and the invention of the American avant-garde. Highly readable.

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“Home to Roost” a Nero Wolfe novella.

 

This is my ongoing project to read three Wolfe novellas each year, on my birthday, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. That should make them last about as long as I care.

 

Of course I could just read all the novels again.

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I seem to read one 'contemporary' novel a year. Last year it was Normal People. This year, to take advantage of an Amazon discount, I bought Early Work, though it will be a week before it's in my [un-Prime] hands. Anyone tried it?

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Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Prisoner of Heaven on my overnight to Barcelona. A sequel to the big selling The Shadow of the Wind which I read on last year’s Barca trip.

 

His characters walk Barcelona block by block, which I find appealing, but I can’t recommend it. It’s the even lighter version of Umberto Eco Lite. Not great writing, and I doubt if it’s the translator’s fault. He knows his history, but the way he tells it leaves it flat.

 

The Seven Churches by Milos Urban, set in Prague, although overwrought, does the Eco thing better.

 

But I have Mercè Rodoreda next in the pile.

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Oh Mercè Rodoreda.

 

Stunned a few years ago by the novel known as Time of the Doves or In Diamond Square, I just read Broken Mirror, written twelve years later. It’s a huge expansion on what she had already done with the earlier great novel. A 70 year story, not just of the city and a family, but also the people that surround them, a panorama of classes.

 

It’s a Buddenbrooks where the servants and the unacknowledged children aren’t marginalized. Unlike Mann, there is poetic prose. There are women and children. This is unreservedly recommended, and the ghost is believed.

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Gerard Reve, The Evenings, another very strong recommendation. Written (and set) in the Netherlands in 1947, a best seller in Europe, but only translated into English in 2016.

 

A 23 year old lives with his parents, has a trivial clerical job, and absolutely no way to fill his evenings or weekends. His friends are in the same boat. It’s a great novel of boredom, but very, very funny. Some reviews see it as an existentialist masterpiece, delineating the impotence of young people to create meaningful lives in the drab years after the war.

 

Well it’s a bit of that, but it’s a comedy. If written in English it would seem a precursor of Kingsley Amis, John Wain, Alan Sillitoe.

 

In fact, the banter between the main character and his friends reminded me so much of Billy Liar that I had to tell myself Keith Waterhouse probably didn’t read the original in Dutch.

 

One takeaway is, this was life before television.

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Random grab from the shelf for the flight back from Denver, Arrowsmith. I’ve had a nice edition sitting there for years. Readable, although it could stand some editing, but why edit a best selling author?

 

From today’s perspective, Lewis is almost a bunch of things. Almost America’s Zola, almost a major novelist, almost a very entertaining writer, almost deserving the Nobel prize.

 

But he’s not bad.

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So I was wrong about Early Work being my only new novel this year... I did buy The Goldfinch soon after it was published, but I've only got round to reading it now. I'm enjoying the book so far, perhaps less for its literary merits [which have been debated], then for its ability to satisfy certainly deeply embedded memories/stereotypes I have in respect to late capitalist New York.

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