2011 Books Read

Here is my annual roundup of all of the books I read this year. Not quite up to the pace I normally am (although 2009 was an all-time low), but movies and writing have become nearly full-time pursuits for me this year in a way they haven’t been before and I haven’t had as much time to read. But I look at this list and do think: “Boy. That is some eclectic shit, Sheila.” It is also apparent when I dropped everything else (in terms of my books) to follow the Elvis path.

1. The Magic Tower and Other One-Act Plays, by Tennessee Williams. A new collection from New Directions, who have been so wonderful recently bringing out new versions of Williams’ plays with brand-new forewords (like Camino Real and Sweet Bird of Youth, among others), and this collection is a real gem with some never-before-published one-acts from Tennessee Williams’s earliest days as a writer, when he seemed to be trying to be Clifford Odets. Socially conscious and political plays about corrupt armaments tycoons (Tennessee? Really?), but it’s so heartening to see where he started, and how far he came in such a short time. We all start by imitating those whom we love and admire. We need to find our own voices. This is also a superb collection because it contains early one-acts which are, in essence, sketches of Glass Menagerie and others. FASCINATING. Highly recommended.

2. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. This was clearly a re-read. It’s one of my favorite novels. I re-read it in preparation for the movie (my review here, which was so good it made my Top 10 List). I never get sick of this book and I am never over being surprised by it. I come to it again and again and at some point during every reading I think, “My God. This book is so WEIRD.” No other novel like it.

3. National Velvet, by Enid Bagnold. A childhood favorite of mine, I re-read it in anticipation of the IM conversation I had with Slate critic Dana Stevens about the movie. I had forgotten much of it. I was swept away not only by the excitement of the book but the superb writing and awesome character development. It is a classic.

4. The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, by Deborah Blum. What a wonderful book about the development of forensic science and medicine, due to all of these crazy poison cases in the past. Criminals kept ahead of the police by testing out new poisons which could not be traceable, and so forensic science developed. It is also about the police department in New York, and the coroner’s office, and Prohibition (and what a disaster it was), and how a couple of intelligent cops and doctors started to develop a cohesive way to analyze crime scenes. Written in an accessible and fun style. Loved this book.

5. Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan, by Quentin Wilbur. Gripping story, a minute by minute account of the day that Ronald Reagan was shot. The Secret Service detail is interviewed extensively as are hospital technicians, doctors, and the detectives who very quickly put together the story that this was not a political assassination, that this was done to impress … Jodie Foster. Great anecdotes from Paul Schraeder as well as Jodie Foster. Terrifying. Could not put the book down, read it in a day.

6. A Cinema of Loneliness: Penn, Stone, Kubrick, Scorsese, Spielberg, Altman, by Robert Kolker. This was also a re-read for me. A classic, it is a detailed and eloquent examinations of six great directors and how they created and reflected the world in which they lived. Nearly impossible to read without whipping out of all of the films discussed: he is a detailed analyst of shot construction and editing, you’ll want to have, say, Barry Lyndon nearby so you can follow along. A must-read.

7. The Talented Mr. Ripley, by Patricia Highsmith. Had never read it before. Cannot understand why. It is a masterpiece of sociopathic literature told from the inside. One of the scariest books I have ever read.

8. Nineteen Seventy-Four), by David Peace. First of the Red Riding Quartet. Wow. Jesus Mary and Joseph, the comparisons to James Joyce are actually apt. You have to read his writing style to believe it. And it changes from book to book. This quartet is a masterpiece.

9. Nineteen Seventy-Seven, by David Peace. Unbelievable books. (And a great trilogy made of three of them, with three different directors – also must-sees, although the first one is the best.)

10. Nineteen Eighty, by David Peace. As you can see, I was hooked. I couldn’t read these astonishing books fast enough. It is difficult to describe them or to explain their impact. The plot is certainly fascinating, and it has everything I love: social upheaval and poverty, driven journalists, corrupt cops, serial killers, dead prostitutes. But it’s the WRITING.

11. Ripley Under Ground, by Patricia Highsmith. There is something eerie about Highsmith’s writing. It has a flat affectless quality which completely reflects her sociopathic lead. He does not distinguish between the annoyance of having to rake the yard and the annoyance of having to bury the body of someone he has just killed – and so Highsmith’s prose doesn’t distinguish either. Creepy creepy books.

12. Nineteen Eighty-Three, by David Peace. He has a repetitive almost mantra-like style, which is sometimes annoying, but the drive of the writing, his voice, his story, is so strong, so urgent, that you push forward, pushing, pushing, squinting at the lines of text trying to see through to the horrible truth behind it. I am blown away by this quartet.

13. Elegy for April, by Benjamin Black. Another in the Quirke series written under John Banville’s pseudonym. John Banville is very important to me and to my family, and his Benjamin Black books – particularly Christine Falls – are some of the best work he has ever done, and that’s saying something. April was not my favorite. It had a split narrative, which distinguishes it from the other books, and I missed Quirke. But God, I love those characters, I love the writing, I love the evocation of rigid 1950s Dublin. These are great Irish noirs.

14. The Talented Miss Highsmith: The Secret Life and Serious Art of Patricia Highsmith, by Joan Schenkar. I became so obsessed with Patricia Highsmith, whom I knew nothing about, merely from reading the first two Ripley books that I had to drop them altogether and race to this biography. An unconventional narrative, dripping with passion from the author, I loved it. I talked about the book here.

15. Faithful Place, by Tana French. French’s first two books, which take place in the fictional homicide department of the Dublin police department, were so strong, so captivating, so beautifully written that no lie : I will read anything she writes now. They’re that good. Not as wacky about this one. I didn’t buy the family stuff. I felt like French went into cliche, trying to be Anne Enright or something. Her protagonists in the first two books were nearly family-less: they were driven obsessive cops, workaholics and courageous. I felt she slipped into Irish parody here. However, like I said: I’ll read the next one. Of course I will. Anyone who can write back to back books like In the Woods and The Likeness has my attention for all time.

16. The Lazarus Project, by Aleksandar Hemon. The book got such stunning reviews upon its release that I actually bought it in hardback. But I haven’t read it until now. It lived up to its reputation. Wow. Wonderful novel, and very unique. Unlike anything else I have read.

17. Ripley’s Game, by Patricia Highsmith. After the Highsmith frenzy that came before it, I went into this with high hopes and found my attention lagging. It is not a strong book. Ripley takes a back seat to the character he decides to “play with”, and although Ripley remains a terrifying and amoral spectre, I preferred the other books which were straight from his point of view all the way through. Also the title is the give-away. The stakes are low here for Ripley. He starts a game, just to get even with someone, mess up his life. It is definitely psychotic. But without the urgency of the homoerotic love story in the first book, and the fear of getting caught in the second … Ripley starts to feel lazy. Which perhaps is the point. A person like Ripley couldn’t go for long without some self-created drama. That is part of his horror. That is why you never want to meet such a person. But still: I found this one tough-going and did not go on to read the next Ripley novel, although I probably will eventually.

18. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. I read it in preparation for the review I knew I was going to have to write (review here), and I will say this: It’s a huge book and I read it in 48 hours. I actually felt envious of her ability to just move things along, and provide catharsis, and jump from character to character. I was aware I was being manipulated by an attitude of white-guilt so palpable that it pretty much takes the cake of that particular mindset. But still: it takes skill to warm a cold heart like mine, and I’ll give her that. The book is better than the movie, though. The book is long enough to provide at least some ambiguity, and since there are three narrators – two black women and one white – (although it’s a white woman writing the book – ugh!) In the movie, though, the white girl comes across as the Great White Hope and it’s all rather simplistic not to mention offensive. But I’ll give her the props: girl knows how to write a page-turner.

19. Eclipse , by Stephanie Meyer. I had read the first two books in the series in December of 2008, which was a time of vigil for my family. We all holed up in the house in Rhode Island, clinging to one another, and waiting. It was a quiet and loving time, but also a time racked with white-hot knife-stabbing pain and reaching out my arms into the darkness at night. So the first two books of Stephanie Meyer’s saga were all I could read at the time. I couldn’t focus on anything else. And when I picked up those books, the world vanished for the 20 minutes I was able to read at a time. They’re dumb, but they’re effective. And I will always be grateful to Stephanie Meyer for writing the only books that I could read during that awful bleak month of anticipation, waiting for the worst to happen, which of course it did. Those first two books were a great comfort. Then, once the worst happened, I no longer felt like picking up the last two books of the saga, and indeed, 2009 was a terrible year and one of the byproducts of how awful it was was that I lost the ability to read. I managed to finish a couple of books, but the first 5 or 6 months of that year were a complete wash. I finally was able to really start reading again in January of the following year when I went out to Block Island. So all of this is to say is that Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books were the last books I read before going into the blackout period of most of 2009. I always knew I would get back to the series. I had to finish them, if only to honor what those books had meant to me when I could read nothing else, and sat on the couch all day, waiting. I haven’t picked them up since 2008 and all of the characters came back to me, and the writing is so terrible, but also so enjoyable and I read it in 2 or 3 days.

20. Breaking Dawn, by Stephanie Meyer. Had to complete the circle. So stupid, but again I give the props: can’t put them down once I pick them up. Also, I’m pretty much “for” anything that helps teenage girls to safely relieve and admit their sexual tension and frustration. I’m totally all for that. I will not dismiss it and I will not dismiss the teenage girls who love these books. It is an important outlet for young girls. The prose is so awful it makes my head hurt, but they serve an important purpose, and so I say, go, Stephanie Meyer. And teenage girls: I know you don’t care about those who sneer at you, and good for you: Never care. Love what you love. Let it all out in a safe place and don’t let anyone make you ashamed about it. Time enough to grow up and deal with your sexuality in a grown-up way: for now, lose yourself in the fantasy of these books. But I know you don’t need me to tell you that. You’re already doing it. Good for you. As with Elvis Presley, the sneer-ers don’t like it when girls choose to love something that THEY haven’t endorsed. Ignore the sneer-ers. They are irrelevant.

21. Villette, by Charlotte Bronte. Had never read it although I owned it for years. It’s one of those books that have taunted me from the shelves. Big daunting books that I know will take a commitment from me. Ugh: am I ready to surrender? Villette was a book like no other I have read. I have made my feelings clear for Jane Eyre but Villette is nothing like Jane Eyre. It is an homage to loneliness. This book gets loneliness on such a cellular level that I felt seen and recognized by it. The ending shattered me. Here are some thoughts on it.

22. Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, by Peter Guralnick. A magnificent and visceral story of Elvis Presley’s life from the time he was born until he went into the Army (1958). That right there should tell you Peter Guralnick’s opinion about Elvis Presley’s career. He too sees it as a career with a gap in it, represented by the Army, and what the hell happened to Elvis after he got out of the Army? Well, Peter, not all of us agree with your assessment. However: this first volume is exhaustive and sympathetic (it’s about time Elvis was shown some sympathy. Sheesh.), and Elvis actually emerges as a real guy. You can kind of feel him in the life that he lived. Guralnick doesn’t seem to have an explicit TAKE on Presley – at least not in the first volume. I mean, he does, but not like, say, Albert Goldman does, or Alanna Nash does: where their opinions of Elvis inform every single biographical detail they list out. He lost a twin. THAT’S why he’s so effed up. He was uncircumcised. THAT’S why he was so effed up. And on and on and on. It’s too reductive. People’s lives don’t always work out so neatly. Guralnick doesn’t pull that in this first volume. And he is very very good on the music, on Sam Phillips, and on the different takes in all the different sessions, how that all came about. Whatever else, we owe Guralnick a deep bow of thanks for these books.

23. Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, by Peter Guralnick. The subtitle alone tells you Guralnick’s opinion, and his introduction where he says that this book is about the “disappearance” of Elvis Presley over the years following his release from the Army is just another indicator. Uhm, Elvis didn’t disappear between 1960 and 1977. He may have disappeared to YOU, Mr. Guralnick, but to the millions of his loyal fans he was still there. Yes, they may have been baffled by the movie soundtracks and some of those songs … but he didn’t really go anywhere. AND: he didn’t die in 1967 when he was still doing movies. He died in 1977 after almost a full decade of recordbreaking attendance-shows in Vegas, not to mention sold out shows for 10 years straight around the country. I’m not sure where you think he disappeared to, Peter. He’s still good on the music and the different sessions, it’s just that now you can feel Guralnick’s OPINION about Elvis’ taste in music. As Larry Aydlette said to me on Facebook, “Guralnick is not to be trusted when it comes to 1970s Elvis.” Indeed.

24. Elvis, by Dave Marsh. God, I love this book. Dave Marsh starts off by writing, “This is the craziest book I have ever written.” It really is a crazy book. But Elvis was crazy and the phenomenon of Elvis was crazy and I think Dave Marsh comes the closest to really making sense of it. He writes from a position of love, first of all. He writes from a position of respect. He doesn’t seem “baffled” by some of Elvis’ choices (the gospel, the ballads) – the way Guralnick often does. Dave Marsh gets it. Elvis always loved the crooners. Mario Lanza and Dean Martin were his idols, as were the gospel quartets. What other kind of music did you expect him to make once he became famous? If he kept trying to be a badboy rockabilly, wouldn’t he have just cliched himself into irrelevance? Don’t disrespect the gospel or the ballads. Understand where they came from. They were just as (if not more) personal to Elvis than his nastiest dirtiest blues. Dave Marsh gets the scope of it. Tries to deal with it. Wonderful book and BEAUTIFULLY art-directed.

25. Elvis in the Twilight of Memory, by June Juanico. I’ve read a couple of the tell-all books about Elvis over the years. I read Priscilla’s book when it first came out. June Juanico, Elvis’ important girlfriend in the summer of 1956 (he had dated Dixie Locke pretty seriously too, but June Juanico was more of an adult relationship, his first adult love), was featured in an entire chapter in Peter Guralnick’s book (the chapter called “Elvis and June”), and her memoir was published a couple years ago to, actually, rave reviews. A lot of people sniffed at it because there isn’t any dirt on Elvis, but that says more about THEM than about Elvis. She’s a wonderful writer, and Elvis really comes alive in a way you’d never really seen him before in these pages. He’s 21, his fame is exploding (it’s 1956), and as he was dating June Juanico he seemed to start to realize what it would mean. He hadn’t appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show yet, but he’d been on enough national television by that point that he no longer could go anywhere without being mobbed. He spent two months hiding out with June in Biloxi (he moved his entire family to Biloxi), and it’s a romantic and aching book (with an introduction by Peter Guralnick), and a wonderful addition to Elvis literature. He certainly is shown as having flaws, he’s jealous and insecure and torments June about it, and he broke June’s heart in a way – but she always remembered him with fondness and love. He comes off as hilarious, too. You really get a sense of his playfulness and humor. The book made me sad for a good two days. Made me think about my own first love and what it felt like when it was summer and you were free and young and all you were going to do with someone was make out because you weren’t ready to have sex yet, and it was all okay and beautiful. Love isn’t sex. You can fall in love without the sex part. Elvis was a master at that. He was, after all, a 1950s boy. This is also a wonderful book because you get a real first-person account of what Gladys Presley was like. Gladys loved June, she hoped Elvis would marry her (and Elvis did ask June to marry him, only he asked her if she could wait three years. She said yes.) Of course, by the time Love Me Tender came out, he just got to be too big, too famous, the relationship didn’t last. Movingly, the book is dedicated to Elvis fans everywhere as well as to Gladys Presley.

26. Private Elvis, by Diego Cortez. A notorious book with notorious photos, all which only emerged after Presley’s death, it’s peppered with obnoxious postmodern writing that shows the decline in actual THOUGHT that often comes with strict postmodern analysis. Ugh. Spare me. Academia at its absolute incomprehensible snotty worst. HOWEVER. The story behind these notorious photos is as follows: Elvis was stationed in Germany. Although songs kept being released and there were occasional photos released of him in the army, as well as news items, it really was as though Elvis had vanished. Even though he was the most famous man in the world, he still had a level of privacy that today’s stars just would never have in our instantaneous-information culture. The Germany years are referred to as “the missing years” although we pretty much know what he was doing now. On his trips to Munich he frequented a nightclub where there were strippers and prostitutes. Hundreds of photos were taken of him in this nightclub, by people obviously eager to be seen with Elvis, paw him, whatever. He submits to all of this. Like I said, he had no fear that these horrible photos would turn up on TMZ the next day. The photos could have ruined him. Private Elvis is basically one big picture book (with the most obnoxious introduction ever written, as well as some interviews with some of the girls at that club who remember Elvis). These photos are unlike any photo you’ve ever seen of Elvis. The lighting is stark, almost like a mug shot, or like an interrogation room. Women climb all over him (and he paws them right back). He has a cleancut haircut but he looks decadent as hell. All the girls have horrid teeth, ripped tights, and leering smiles. He had one or two favorites and would sleep with them, and even in that environment the prostitutes and strippers remember him as shy, gentlemanly, and the epitome of what they thought of as American. Almost abashed about the amount of sex he was having, and how these girls were nothing like the good girls in America where you had to beg them to let you put your hand under her sweater. Elvis didn’t drink. Ever. But he looks drunk in these photos. Drunk on available vagina. No wonder he kept going back. I flip through the book and get a queasy feeling, knowing how horrible he would have felt if he had ever seen these photos. But I also find them hot, because he’s so lost in the pursuit of sex, and although they are all weirdly posed – it’s like they propped him up against the wall and had a parade of girls attack him one by one – he’s totally lost in each girl. But they are very very interesting since there really is nothing else like it and Elvis was one of the most photographed men in the world.

Only two examples in a book of many many more like it:

But the introduction shows you how postmodern thinking has pretty much ruined writing. I could barely get through it.

27. Elvis at 21: New York to Memphis, by Alfred Wertheimer. Alfred Wertheimer is the photographer who took the candid photo that is now in my banner, of Elvis trying to steal a kiss from his date in the stairwell. Wertheimer’s photographs are the best and most intimate photos of Elvis ever taken, taken at a time when he was just beginning to be famous (spring, early summer of 1956), but not guarded enough yet to push photographers away. Wertheimer follows him into the bathroom even.

Listening to the playback of “Hound Dog” at the RCA Studio in New York. Wertheimer, not a fan of Elvis’ music, not really knowing much about it, asked if he could tag along to the session, having no idea how important the session would be, and that Elvis would be recording what eventually would be a classic song (but no one could know that). So he got to see Elvis at work.

Elvis on his date with the gal in the banner

Elvis and his mama

Incredible photographs. It makes me wish Wertheimer had followed Elvis around for his whole life.

Elvis casually brushing his teeth, shaving, the kind of access that would vanish in a matter of months. Elvis is so young (his body covered with pimples which you can clearly see in the photos where he doesn’t have his shirt on), and the photos of him cavorting with his cousins in the half-filled pool in the backyard at Audobon Drive, in the brand-new house he bought his parents, are touching, heart-achingly so. Elvis hanging out with Gladys, him bare-chested, totally natural with her, her standing there as he’s getting undressed. Elvis totally free with himself, you can see why Wertheimer (who really had no idea who Elvis was) found him to be a riveting subject. Additionally, Wertheimer’s prose that goes along with the book, as he tells the story of his couple of weeks in Elvis’ presence, is marvelous. Revelatory. A huge coffee-table book with unforgettable photographs showing Elvis on the cusp, right before he disappeared into totally-managed armored-up fame.

28. Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, by Peter Guralnick. Yeah. I read it a second time. As I have said before, when I am obsessed, I mean business.

29. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo , by Stieg Larsson. I finished this yesterday. How odd that the word “Elvis” is in the last sentence of the book. I had already seen the movie (my review here) so I actually found it rough going at points, since I knew “who done it”. I found Salander to be even more compelling on the page than on the screen, but I found Blomkvist to be a prick. Sort of a passive prick, and way too complacent about a lot of things. That was probably the point, but I wasn’t nearly as impressed with him as Larsson seems to be. I felt Larsson “identifying” with Blomkvist a bit too heavily (fierce man of integrity, journalist keeping businessmen on their toes, integrity, successful with women). I bet Stieg Larsson thought very highly of himself as a lover (when Cecilia Vangar sleeps with Blomkvist and then says to him afterwards, “You’re not half bad in bed” I rolled my eyes. Oh PLEASE). Not sure if I will go on to read the rest of the trilogy although I probably will. Lisbeth Salander is not a character I will soon forget and I would love to learn more about her.

2010 books read
2009 books read
2008 books read
2007 books read
2006 books read
2005 books read

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17 Responses to 2011 Books Read

  1. Jim Cappio says:

    Sheila, have you ever seen The American Friend? It’s Wim Wenders’s mashup of Ripley’s Game and Ripley Under Ground, with Dennis Hopper as Ripley. In a cowboy hat. I’m not making that up. Highsmith hated it at first but later told Wenders it was the best movie based on the Ripley books. She’s still right. Cowboy hat or no cowboy hat, no other movie comes close to capturing the absence of some basic element of humanity that marks every page of Highsmith’s writing. (You’d think Malkovich would be the perfect actor for Ripley, but the version of Ripley’s Game he did some years ago is terrible.)

    I’m relieved that you read only six more books than I did this year. Let’s both break 30 in 2012!

  2. Jake Cole says:

    I’m so happy I actually read this year. I really fell behind when I went to college and was determined to actually sit down and get through some books this year. I think I read more than I ever have in a single year, though 40 is still not that high considering how many breaks I still took. Reading Ulysses and The Brothers Karamazov in the same year was genuinely life-altering. Dostoevsky gets a bird’s-eye view of humanity, Joyce a worm’s-eye view. We’re largely on the same page about Dragon Tattoo. If you took a shot every time Mikael suddenly got laid you’d have to get your stomach pumped. But still, it’s hard to write a page-turner, especially one that manages to move that quickly despite all the endless diversions and almost fetishized details of Apple products and the like.

    In 2012, I hope to finally read all of Moby Dick and Finnegans Wake. I’ve even got a supplementary book for the latter by John Bishop that looks to be interesting. I also have that last collection of Hitchens essays, and maybe when I’m done with that behemoth I can finally write something about him.

    Those John Banville books sound intriguing, if for no other reason than I have never heard the words “Irish” and “noir” used together and it sounds like such sweet music.

  3. sheila says:

    Jake – oh yeah the Benjamin Black books (Banville’s pen name as a crime writer) are to DIE FOR. Christine Falls, Silver Swan, Elegy for April. I suppose you would have had to read his “Banville books” (which win him Booker prizes and are serious literature – or “serious” literature) to really get how broad his talent is. By taking on a pen name, he has set free a whole other part of his talent. His Banville books are wonderful (I’ve written about them a lot) – but the Dublin noirs are moody masterpieces, all starring an alcoholic vaguely tormented pathologist named Quirke.

    good, good, good crime novels.

  4. sheila says:

    Have you read any Bronte, Jake?

    • Jake Cole says:

      Yeah, I re-read Jane Eyre this year and really warmed to it after being kind of bored in high school (which I in no way take as a barometer of a book’s merit; classes either move through books too quickly or too slowly for me to ever get a feel for a book). The Gothic/romance mash-up is a riot. I really missed a lot of the humor as a 14-year-old.

      Still need to reread Wuthering Heights, though. Will probably do that before I can get my hands on Andrea Arnold’s supposedly experimental adaptation.

      • sheila says:

        I had to go back and re-read almost all of the books I read in high school – because I knew as an adult I hadn’t appreciated them. I fell in love with Scarlet Letter, Tess of the Durbervilles – books I despised as a kid!!

        Wuthering Heights is a crazzzzzzzy book, isn’t it?

  5. sheila says:

    Jim – I know, I look at past years where I read 70, 80 books and have no idea how I did it. But then I wasn’t writing as much then as I am now. And to write a movie review you have to actually, you know, see the movie so it all adds up to a lot of time.

    Also Villette took me 2 months to finish! That book is DENSE man.

    I know we have discussed this Ripley thing before and no, I have not seen it – but you totally have me intrigued!

  6. sheila says:

    Jake – and I didn’t mind that Blomkvist got laid so much – it was that Larsson made a point a couple of times to say how “good” he was in bed. Yuk. Transparent.

  7. Irv O. Neil says:

    Re Highsmith–she is frightening. Can only read her occasionally. The Blunderer and This Sweet Sickness were two of the creepiest books I’ve ever read. I sometimes had the feeling Highsmith enjoyed punishing her male characters with the predicaments they got into…at least these two books gave me that impression.

    Happy 2012 and many more good books to you.

  8. Bybee says:

    I noticed that about Blomkvist and women, too. The part in which Erika walks in on Cecilia and Blomkvist and the two women act so civilized about it and are actually friendly afterwards is pure male fantasy.

    • Jake Cole says:

      That scene makes me think of Eddie Izzard’s old bit about British movies basically just being a series of people opening doors and saying, “Oh I- oh.” “What is it Sebastian?” “Well, I – I thought-…I’d better go.” “Yes, I think you’d better had.” It’s so utterly ridiculous.

  9. Carrie says:

    Totally agreed about Faithful Place. Loved the first two books – The Likeness is wonderfully gothic – but didn’t buy Faithful Place. Tana French is a not a working class Dub and has no reason to pretend to be in order to write great books. Another Dublin crime thriller that went under the radar but was fantastic was Alan Glynn’s Winterland. Of course though I will read French’s next book. Here’s hoping :-)

    Anthony and I loved the Larsson books so much (have not seen the movies) that we went to Stockholm for a weekend (our first trip together in 10 years without kids). We took the Steig Larsson walking tour! It was a blast and really cool to see all the places where the book was set. A great introduction to a beautiful city.

    You MUST get your hands on the Danish TV series, “The Killing”. OMG. Seriously, run, do not walk, and start watching the first season (there are two and a third is going into production). FANTASTIC AMAZING GREAT! The is a US version of it as well – which is supposed to be good but I can’t say either way – the Danish version, jesus, incredible. The characters, the family, the plot…. all soooooo good.

  10. sheila says:

    Carrie – how fun that you and Anthony went to Stockholm! It sounds incredible!

    Very glad to hear your thoughts on Faithful Place – I thought I was being bitchy, but I come from crazy Irish, and I felt she was cliched in her portrayal of it. But yeah: looking forward to her next one. LOVED The Likeness. You’re right – totally Gothic.

  11. Nondisposable Johnny says:

    Count me also among the relieved that you “only” read 29 books this year…If you had read many more and still blogged and reviewed at this pace I would know you had somehow rearranged the time-space continuum and that could only mean….you were from another dimension!

    BTW: I don’t give much advice in this life, but I always recommend going slow on Highsmith–maybe a book or two a year. I think her world’s too weird a place to continually reward long visits by sane people, but you probably will want to at least read This Sweet Sickness and A Dog’s Ransom and Strangers on a Train before you die (careful on that last as it goes in a very different direction than the movie in the final third).

    Happy New Year!

  12. sheila says:

    NJ – that is probably very very good advice about Highsmith. I am totally going to follow it. It is a weird world, and if you stop being affected by it – or you get dulled somehow to the creep-factor, then you’re not really getting Highsmith. I read Strangers on a Train years ago – which was why it was so strange that I had never gone on to read the Ripley books! That’s definitely one I would like to re-visit!

  13. Craig D. says:

    Re: Ripley’s Game

    I’ve never been able to understand why some people consider this book disappointing, aside from the fact that Tom is absent from quite a bit of it. As much as I like the previous two books, their plots don’t fascinate me nearly as much as the “game” that Tom plays with Jonathan.

    Highsmith was trying to expose the artificial nature of morality and show that anyone could be a Tom Ripley once certain circumstances are introduced. Ask ten random people if they would ever murder someone, and all ten will probably say no. Then ask them if they would do it if the target was a Mafia hitman, and that they would be paid $50,000. At the very least, some of them would consider it.

    Whether one thinks this is right or wrong is beside the point; the point is that a lot of people (arguably most people) go about their lives wearing a mask of morality, and Highsmith was out to tear this mask off and smash it to pieces. The plot of Ripley’s Game forces readers to confront the fact that Jonathan could be any of us, and that’s why this book grabs onto me more than any of the other Ripley novels.

    Also, Tom’s relationship with Jonathan adds some depth to his character. Jonathan is the closest thing Tom ever has to a real friend, and Tom feels a rare tug of guilt for getting Jonathan involved in the murder plot and goes back to help him on the train. There were other factors in that decision, such as Tom’s craving for thrills and his hatred of the Mafia, but his genuine desire to help Jonathan is what drives it.

    This about-face is the most interesting part, for me, in the entire Ripley series. No matter what one thinks of the sometimes horrible things that Tom does, he isn’t a total monster. He’s more loyal and supportive of Jonathan, and more genuinely polite and amiable toward him, than probably anyone else he knows.

    And yet another layer that I think a lot of people miss when they read the book: Jonathan is slowly dying, not just physically but also mentally. He’s in quite a funk when Tom comes into his life, feeling totally passionless and depressed about mortality, and it ironically takes becoming a murderer to make him feel more alive than he has in years. Tom introduced the game, but as he points out later in the book, Jonathan could have chosen not to play. He secretly wanted it.

    In short, Ripley’s game is Highsmith’s game. She played this game all the time in her novels. Tom does to Jonathan what Highsmith does to her readers. I think it’s brilliant stuff.

    Anyway, that’s just my own insignificant opinion of the book.

    As for the last two Ripley novels, they’re not bad at all, but the first three are better. I would recommend giving Ripley’s Game another reading to see if your opinion of it improves. If it doesn’t, there’s no reason for you to bother with the last two.

    Also, I’d like to second Jim’s recommendation of the film The American Friend. Of the four Ripley films I’ve seen, it captures the character better than the rest, even if it’s Dennis Hopper in a cowboy hat. There are plenty of nice things to say about Alain Delon (in Purple Noon), Matt Damon (in The Talented Mr. Ripley), and John Malkovich (in Ripley’s Game), but none of them got the character quite right. Delon is a bit too cold and calculating, Damon is too innocent, and Malkovich is Hannibal Lecter.

    Sorry for the long post. Tom Ripley, and Patricia Highsmith in general, is one of my literary obsessions, and I always have too much to say. Hope it was at least somewhat insightful, even if you end up not agreeing with it. ;)

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