Sunday, January 28, 2018

Finished: Martel's 'The High Mountains of Portugal'

Yann Martel’s The High Mountains of Portugal might be the most fascinating book I’ve ever read.

It’s kept me up at night thinking. It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up. I’ve been babbling to co-workers about it and boring my family with excerpts out of the blue. It’s a combination of Mark Twain’s humorous travelogues, C.S. Lewis spirituality and Edgar Allan Poe’s macabre madness.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s weird. Judging by reviews, some people hate it. Others love it.

Now I’m a guy who reads 90 percent murder/crime mysteries. Nothing too deep, just Jack Reacher cracking skulls and Gabriel Allon shooting terrorists. going along for the ride kind of stuff. I’m not an Oprah-list hoity-toity reader. But this book is more of the latter. It has analogies about analogies within dreams surrounded by grieving minds driven to despair. But it’s fun, the twists are incredible, the shocks are, well, shocking. But it comes together. It’s a thinker. And if I can do it, so can you.

What I don’t get is why Yann Martel isn’t celebrated more outside the fine literature world for the genius mind he has. CNN should be doing two-hour specials on this guy. I’d watch The View for the first time if they had him on. But instead we get phony scientists like Bill Nye being celebrated as some kind of genius, and king of flop movies, George Clooney, testifying in Congress like he’s an expert on Sudan; while intelligent, imaginative thinkers like Martel are relegated to C-SPAN 7 and the Journal on Canadian Writers with Weird Hair and relative anonymity beyond the book world.

This is an interesting well-rounded review of Martel and his works. He’s not without his critics but no writer worth his salt is.

I’ve been lacking a knock-out book for quite some time and frankly really needed one. Martel delivered again. Read it. I gave it a 9 of 10 on the Haugenometer.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Finished: Block's 'In the Midst of Death'

Kicked the year of with one of Lawrence Block's 60 novels: "In the Midst of Death." It's the third of his famous Matthew Scudder series.

Bad cop Jerry Broadfield didn't make any friends on the force when he volunteered to squeal to an ambitious d.a. about police corruption. Now he'saccused of murdering a call girl. Matthew Scudder doesn't think Broadfield's a killer, but the cops aren't about to help the unlicensed p.i. prove it -- and they may do a lot worse than just get in his way.
The main character is a recovering alcoholic and former cop.
It has been suggested that Scudder's struggle with alcoholism is in part autobiographical; while Block has repeatedly refused to discuss the subject, citing AA's own tradition of anonymity, in a column he wrote for Writer's Digest, Block wrote that when he created Scudder, "I let him hang out in the same saloon where I spent a great deal of my own time. I was drinking pretty heavily around that time, and I made him a pretty heavy drinker, too. I drank whiskey, sometimes mixing it with coffee. So did Scudder."

This book was published in 1976. Block is now 79 and still going strong. He's very active on social media and has a very interesting email newsletter. He was also best friends with one of my other favorite authors, the late Donald Westlake. Seems to me the 60s and 70s were a great age for mystery writers where guys like them churned out tons of pulp fiction often times under fake names depending on the specific genre or series. I'm currently reading a Westlake novel written under the name of Richard Stark.

Amazonians gave this a 4 of 5, but I wasn't quite as high, giving it a 6 on the Haugenometer.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Roth 5 from '07

My friend and co-worker, Wes Roth, is an occasional contributor to this blog (one of the top 5 Haugen blogs worldwide). He has unleashed his top five books from 2017.

Wes is a voracious reader but of a different ilk than I. He reads a lot of non-fiction and religious books. Wes’s reading was more heavy on the religious side this past year (and next) due to the fact that he’s taking some theology classes through Biola University and because he enjoys them and grows through them.

Here are his top books from last year, with his full Goodreads reviews at the links:

#1 by a mile was my daily devotional by Charles Colson: How Now Shall We Live?

As of right now, "Second to my Bible, this devotional and my notes and prayers will be my most important book to keep close to me and refer to it regularly in my walk with God" as a counter-cultural Christian.

#2 is "The Benedict Option" by Rod Dreher.

"For example, in the chapter on 'A New Kind of Christian Politics', Dreher argues that Christians should "get started with the antipolitical politics of the Benedict Option. Secede culturally from the mainstream. Turn off the television. Put the smartphones away. Read books. Play games. Make music. Feast with your neighbors. It is not enough to avoid what is bad; you must also embrace what is good." (pg 98). I have taken some of his suggestions to heart and made some great changes in my life this year.

#3 is "Evicted" by Matthew Desmond.  
Having grown up nowhere near the level of grinding poverty that Desmond shares in 'Evicted', this book really opened my eyes to the never-quite-get-out of pit of poverty in America--in this case, Milwaukee. And I never understood how there could be "profit from poverty." Every American should read this book.

#4 is As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Conversation on the Ways of God Formed by the Words of God by Eugene H. Peterson

"As Kingfishers Catch Fire" is a wonderful collection of sermons and teaching by a longtime follower of Jesus and preacher of the Word. I will refer back to this book many times in the years ahead in my study of the Bible. His sermons are incredible to read and reflect on, then to apply to my life. I have gone back to this book, again and again, this year.

#5 is The President Will See You Now: My Stories and Lessons from Ronald Reagan's Final Years by Peggy Grande.  

This is a fantastic addition to the Reagan "canon" about a top aide who worked for President and Mrs. Reagan, post-presidency.  I also got to know her personally and was intrumental in bringing her to South Dakota this year for the Pennington County Lincoln Day Dinner.  This is a wonderful, endearing biography of the 40th President and his wife. I literally cried at the end (only two books have done that).