Collection of short stories looked tantalizing from the distance, since it appeared to be a sort of travelogue winding its way from Japan, Hong Kong, etc. Instead, Mitchell creates distinct short stories with the age old trick of including characters from the previous story into the current story. And so each story is related to the other in some nondescript way. Writing is almost above average, but the cutesy inclusion of other characters ruined it for me. Couldn’t get past the 3rd story.

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The wind-up bird chronicle

Dreamlike tale of a recently unemployed man whose cat runs away, then his wife runs away, then has mysterious events begin happening to him. Naughty phone calls from phantom women who float into and out of his dream, the 16 year old neighbor who tans and watches for cats and does wig surveys, naming the cat after his brother in law who becomes a famous politician at the heart of the story. Mystical powers of comprehension and psychic healing. Blue mark on his face after sitting at the bottom of the abandoned well for several days and passing through the wall. Beating the guitar-case carrying man with a bat. Tales of Manchuria, skinning the spy alive. The bequest of an empty box. Meeting Cinnamon & Nutmeg and having clients come to the hanging house.
Overall pretty amazing read.

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Motherless Brooklyn

I’m seduced by the first sentence, as always. Only this leads me further into seduction, with the first few sentences drunkening me to love this work:
“Context is everthing. Dress me up and see. I’m a carnival barker, an auctioneer, a downtown performance artist, a speaker in tongues, a senator drunk on filibuster. I’ve got Tourette’s. My mouth won’t quit, though mostly I whisper or subvocalize like I’m reading aloud, my Adam’s apple bobbing, jaw muscle beating like a miniature heart under my cheek, the noise suppressed, the words escaping silently, mere ghosts of themselves, husks empty of breath and tone. (If I were a Dick Tracy villain, I’d have to be Mumbles.)”
Now finished and I loved it all the way through. EatmeBailey!
Lionel Essrog has Tourette’s, and likens everything to the disease. Wheels within wheels. Frank Minna the neighborhood hood, loosely connected to the mob, who grabs the 4 white boys from the orphan home and makes them into Minna Men. Frank gets killed while Lionel is providing backup, listening to the bugged conversations, and Lionel goes on a mad search for the killer, the giant. The author tips his hat to Ross MacDonald toward the end, but I’d have to say that Ross never made me laugh like Lethem did. Good writing, good story, what’s not to like?

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American Vertigo

Rambling observations from the Frenchie on the US, following the example of Democracy in America. His thoughts on San Francisco only covering the Power Exchange and the inherent contradiction of “The Castro” being named after Fidel when it’s the gay capital. Alcatraz also detailed, by way of a boat ride where his guides only focus on the non-escapability of the island. Berkeley touched on via mention of’s founders residing there and creating the idea for MoveOn out of the Clinton/Lewinsky-gate. The 2 cities where he admits he could move: Seattle and Savannah. He rails against the museumification of everything– the fake history of Cooperstown, the fake Indian graves in the west. The cop who let him go (public lingering) after hearing about his quest to follow Tocqueville.
Hard to read, but was this a function of the fact that Levy wrote the book twice– once in French and once in English?
Heard about this one from Moira Gunn’s podcast interview with Levy, where they flirted merciliessly and she promised to teach him to drive (he got driven around the country– pshaw!).

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Meet You In Hell

Historical lookback at the partnership of Carnegie Steel and Frick Coke. Paints both men as ruthless businessmen with outside interests (Carnegie’s interest in giving away his massive wealth, Frick’s art interest which survives today in the Frick gallery in NYC). Quite a few chapters focused on the Homestead strike where Frick brought in 200 Pinkerton men to protect the plant, and the striking workers engaged in battle. This strained relations between the men, since Carnegie felt it was too much violence– that they should have just closed the plant and waited. The final blow between the two occurred when Frick came to Carnegie with a false offer to purchase Carnegie Steel, which Frick would profit $5M by for finders fee. Carnegie eventually sold to JP Morgan, and the combined company became US Steel.

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Pattern Recognition

Somewhat gripping tale of Cayce Pollard’s journey to London, Tokyo, Moscow and beyond, unravelling the mystery behind the footage (video footage released in pieces on the Internet, by an unknown director, of unknown actors, in unknown locations). Cayce’s unhealthy reactions to certain logos and symbols (Michellin Man, Prada).
The notion that the soul catches up with the body days later after long plane flights still sticks with me. Soul-less bodies wandering around.

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Bukowski on Writing

“I was a young man, starving and drinking and trying to be a writer. I did most of my reading at the downtown L.A. Public Library, and nothing that I read related to me or to the streets or to the people about me. It seemed as if everybody was playing word-tricks, that those who said almost nothing at all were considered excellent writers. Their writing was an admixture of subtlety, craft and form, and it was read and it was taught and it was ingested and it was passed on. It was a comfortable contrivance, a very slick and careful Word-Culture. One had to go back to the pre-Revolution writers of Russia to find any gamble, any passion. I pulled book after book from the shelves. Why didn’t anybody say something? Why didn’t anybody scream out? I tried other rooms in the library. The section on Religion was just a vast bog to me. I got into Philosophy. I found a couple of bitter Germans who cheered me for a while, then that was over. I tried Mathematics but upper Maths was just like Religion: it ran right off me. What I needed seemed to be absent everywhere. I saw quite a number of other bums in there, most of them asleep on top of their books. I kept on walking around the big room, pulling the books off the shelves, reading a few lines, a few pages, then putting them back. Then one day I pulled a book down and opened it, and there it was. I stood for a moment, reading. Then like a man who had found gold in the city dump, I carried the book to a table. The lines rolled easily across the page, there was a flow. Each line had its own energy and was followed by another like it. The very substance of each line gave the page a form, a feeling of something carved into it. And here, at last, was a man who was not afraid of emotion. The humour and the pain were intermixed with a superb simplicity. The beginning of that book was a wild and enormous miracle to me. I had a library card. I checked the book out, took it to my room, climbed into my bed and read it, and I knew long before I had finished that here was a man who had evolved a distinct way of writing. The book was Ask the Dust and the author was John Fante.”
– Charles Bukowski

To Hate Like This Is To Be Happy Forever

The last chapters of this left me with a worse impression of the book than the rest of it– good sportswriting overall, but why weave in so much maudlin father-son stuff? Also enjoyable recounting of Southern life, Bojangles, BBQ, the cynicism underlying all that southern sweet talk. Blythe (a TarHeel) naturally gives a lot more attention to life on the UNC side, but as promised, it does have occasional unbiased info on Duke. Melvin Scott and his Baltimore crew get a lot of attention (not sure why?!). Lucky for Blythe, he picks the year UNC wins the NCAA championship (2005) to conduct his research on the rivalry.

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Looking for Alaska

For some reason, this is also classified as a “Teen” book– I guess because the main characters are all juniors in a high school boarding school in Alabama. Well-written, broken into 2 halves “Before” and “After”, with each subsection denoted by days before or days after the big event. Pudge, Alaska, the Colonel, Lana, Takumi all part of the prank crew at the school, drinking smoking screwing etc. Pudge’s obsession with memorizing famous Last Words. (Rabelais: “I go to seek a Great Perhaps.” Simon Bolivar (allegedly, according to Gabriel Garcia Marquez): “Damn it. How will i ever get out of this labryinth!”)
Recommended by Ellen

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The Shadow of the Sun

Published in Poland as Heban, this version was translated by Klara Glowczewska. Kapuscinski is a Polish journalist who spent 4 decades reporting on Africa. This is a collection of his thoughts and stories from that time. As I am dripping with sweat and feeling like a foolish gringo in the tropical heat of Belize, the stories ring true; the importance of shade, how people just shut down as they are waiting waiting eternally waiting for something to happen, how weak the Europeans are in the African climate. The concept of one Africa laughable, as there are thousands of tribes and clans within the arbitrary nation boundaries carved out by European powers. Adventures throughout the continent, from Ruwanda to Mauritana to Uganda. Places I’ve never dreamed of. Lying on mats in the choking heat of a clay hut. The beauty of dawn and dusk as the sun fades away. How life stops at noon and everyone lies still. The concept of community and no one being an individual but part of a bigger whole; sharing what you have; giving gifts and the obligation to reciprocate. The prolonged greetings– clapping each other and laughing. One meal per day, if lucky. Greedy government powers and the extreme gap between their riches and the poverty everywhere else.

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Liar’s Poker

Decent work by Lewis, but nowhere near as engaging as Moneyball. Maybe it would have been better if not a beach read; I’ve been devouring books beachside in Belize and this wasn’t quite the pageturner I was looking for. But good nonetheless.
“Alexander insisted at our farewell dinner that I was making a great move. The best decisions he has made in his life, he said, were completely unexpected, the ones that cut against convention. Then he went even farther. He said that every decision he has forced himself to make because it was unexpected has been a good one. It was refreshing to hear a case for unpredictability in this age of careful career planning. It would be nice if it were true.””

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Bukowski demolished my theory that the first sentence indicates preference for the rest of the book; although now that I look back, it’s not a bad first: “I was 50 years old and hadn’t been to bed with a woman for four years.” I turned my back on Bukowski due to limited exposure leading me to believe he was brutal to women; upon closer glance, women are also brutal to him, thus balanced brutality. And it was just damn good, in-your-face, real writing. Women describes the ebb & (mostly) flow of Chinaski’s sex life. Pages and pages of sex, drinking, hangovers, poetry readings where the audience and Henry snarl at each other and where he always gets the girl.
“Then we were out on the porch, wrestling. We tripped on the stairs and fell to the pavement. The bottle smashed and broke on the cement. She got up and ran off. I heard her car start. I lay there and looked at the broken bottle. It was a foot away. Lydia drove off. The moon was still up. In the bottom of what was left of the bottle I could see a swallow of scotch. Stretched out there on the pavement I reached for it and lifted it to my mouth. A long shard of glass almost poked into one of my eyes as I drank what remained. Then I got up and went inside. The thirst in me was terrible. I walked around picking up beer bottles and drinking the bit that remained in each one. Once I got a mouthful of ashes as I often used beer bottles for ashtrays. It was 4:14AM. I sat and watched the clock. It was like working in the post office again. Time was motionless while existence was a throbbing unbearable thing. I waited. I waited. I waited. I waited. Finally it was 6 AM. I walked to the corner to the liquor store. A clerk was opening up. He let me in. I purchased another pint of Cutty Sark. I walked backed home, locked the door and phoned Lydia.” (p41)
” I knew plenty of women. Why always more women? What was I trying to do? New affairs were exciting but they were also hard work. The first kiss, the first fuck had some drama. People were interesting at first. Then later, slowly but surely, all the flaws and madness would manifest themselves. I would become less and less to them; they would mean less and less to me.” (p 74)
“Where did all the women come from? The supply was endless. Each one of them was individual, different. Their pussies were different, their kisses were different, their breasts were different, but no man could drink them all, there were too many of them, crossing their legs, driving men mad. What a feast!” (p174)
“Every woman is different. Basically they seem to be a combination of the best and the worst– both magic and terrible. I’m glad that they exist, however.” (p188)
“Generally, I decided, it was better to wait, if you had any feeling for the individual. If you hated her right off, it was better to fuck her right off; if you didn’t, it was better to wait, then fuck her and hate her later on.” (p189)
“The car was parked in the lot in back of the antique store. The street to my left was backed up with traffic and I watched the people waiting patiently in the cars. There was almost always a man and a woman, staring straight ahead, not talking. It was, finally, for everyone, a matter of waiting. You waited and you waited– for the hospital, the doctor, the plumber, the madhouse, the jail, papa death himself. First the signal was red, then the signal was green. The citizens of the world ate food and watched TV and worried about their jobs or their lack of same, while they waited.” (p213)
“It was a Mexican place in a snide hippie district of Hermosa Beach. Bland, indifferent types. Death on the shore. Just phase out, breathe in, wear sandals and pretend it’s a fine world.” (p 226)
“There was something wrong with me: I did think of sex a great deal. Each woman I looked at I imagined being in bed with. It was an interesting way to pass airport waiting time. Women: I liked the colors of their clothing; the way they walked; the cruelty in some faces; now and then the almost pure beauty in another face, totally and enchantingly female. They had it over us: they planned much better and were better organized. While men were watching professional football or drinking beer or bowling, they, the women, were thinking about us, concentrating, studying, deciding– whether to accept us, discard us, exchange us, kill us or whether simply to leave us. In the end it hardly mattered; no matter what they did, we ended up lonely and insane.” (p241)
Recommended by my lifecoach, Dan TheHand.

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The Kite Runner

I finally got into this one sixty or so pages in, very near my threshold for giving up. Glad I stuck with it b/c I was unable to put it down once into the story. A boy from Afghanistan lives with a shameful secret about his boyhood friend/brother Hassan, and years later goes back to rescue the boy’s son. Kite running = chasing after the fallen kite during kite fighting, where you try to cut your opponents’ strings. Definitely worthwhile.

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The Tender Bar

Completely readable and entertaining; a memoir by JR that speaks lovingly of 2 things: his mother, and the bar in his hometown (named Dickens, then renamed Publicans) where he learned to be a man and lived many of his best memories. Definitely funny material throughout. Fatherless JR, constantly battling the issues around his name (what does JR stand for?), living at Granpa’s with ducttaped furniture and Grandpa saying “Do boo-boo”, scrolling through radiostations on the dial searching for The Voice (his dad), Cousins McGraw and Sheryl, shuttling between Arizona, Manhasset NY, and Yale. The bar characters of Uncle Charlie, Steve, Bob the Cop, Cager, Bobo, Fuckembabe, Joey D. Bill & Budd the recluse hermits in the bookstore in the abandoned mall, tearing covers off books and giving the books to JR. The connection between alcohol and writing yet again underscored. Yalie mugging pre-NY Times interview. The wisdom that cacti grow another arm when they start to tilt in an attempt to balance themselves. Days at the beach with Uncle Charlie, Joey D, Bobo; body-surfing, sundials in the sand.

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