Whatever our denominations or religious beliefs, many of us are familiar with the old adage of this season: “Peace on earth, good will toward men (with “men” meaning “all people).” Spoken by an angel to shepherds near Bethlehem, these sentiments sound comfy as a pair of slippers and a cup of hot chocolate. Very inclusive. Very P.C.
Avenue of Mysteries is John Irving’s fourteenth novel and it marks another amazing tale from an author who has been writing for half a century. For those of us who read The World According to Garp (1978) and A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989) — two works that remain best sellers — the reader may rest assured that we are once more in a familiar John Irving landscape: a world replete with abandoned children, transvestites, a guilt-ridden protagonist, faithful dogs, shocking crimes and bizarre, disturbing rituals, not to mention a generous amount of explicit sex. This time out, Irving adds a new theme — occultism and the supernatural.
“How near at hand it was
If they had eyes to see it.”
In the last month, my reading of books has outstripped my reviews. Consequently, stacks of books surround the desk at which I write — a huge, old-fashioned roll-top that long ago lost its roll-top and wears many scars and age spots, much like me.
Back in the ‘60s, I went on a science fiction bender that lasted a decade.
Many readers — and I am one of them — are fascinated by books lists. There are scores of these lists, ranging from “The Greatest Novels of the Twentieth Century” to “The Ten Greatest Books for Children.” Part of the fun in reading these bills of fare comes from the questions they raise. Why, we may ask ourselves, does the list include James Joyce but not Evelyn Waugh? Why three novels by Faulkner but one by Hemingway? Why is Virginia Woolf featured but not Emily Bronte?
In a surfing genre memoir complete with a SurferMagazine, globe-trotting storyline, all set to a 1960s rock & roll soundtrack, and with genuine literary flair, William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days is a one-of-a-kind, stand-alone achievement in terms of surf lore. Mirroring the tradition of the expression “a writer’s writer,” Finnegan is “a surfer’s surfer.” So, all you surf bums, big wave riders and belly-board wannabees, this is the book for you.
English writer Graham Greene used to divide his literary works into entertainments, which we might call thrillers, and novels, which he regarded as his more serious books.
Being a historical fiction addict, I have always loved books about London, a city that has been around for over a thousand years, changing, morphing with the centuries. I remember reading a biography of Shakespeare that noted that travelers could smell London 20 miles away, a stench that consisted of burning refuse and open sewers.
In The Little Paris Bookshop (Crown Publishers, 2015, 400 pages), novelist Nina George, who lives in both Germany and France, has given readers a rare gem of a read.