The Summer in Books

Here are the books self read this summer (She starts her summer in June and considers it over by 1st of September):

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard:  Self tried manfully, but she just couldn’t bring herself to finish.

Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser:  She has encountered more than a few people who say they have never heard of Theodore Dreiser.  She loved this novel.

The Leopard, by Giuseppe di Lampedusa:  People had heard of the movie; they didn’t know it was based on an actual novel.  Self thought this novel was beautiful.  Note for note, the most ravishing book she’s read so far this year.

The Great Gatsby:  Bad.  A major disappointment, one of the worst ever.

The Quiet American, by Graham Greene:  Felt like it could have been written today, substituting Afghanistan for 1950s Vietnam.  It was all the things Gatsby wasn’t:  tightly written, surprising, harsh, and tremendously sad.

Wolf Hall, by Hillary Mantel:  A miracle.  Made her hate Thomas More, a historical figure she once revered (because of Paul Scofield’s performance in “A Man For All Seasons”).

The book self just started is Love and Summer, by William Trevor.  She was so glad she began reading it while it is still summer.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Self’s Reading Life (February 2013 Edition)

Self finished Graham Greene’s The Human Factor last night.

BTW, the words “the human factor” never occur at all in the book.  But they so aptly sum up the story.

Every word of this novel is absolutely necessary.  Not a bit of flab anywhere.  It is as hard and tight as a drum.

Before this, the best mystery self read was Morag Joss’s Half-Broken Things (which, strangely, Blackwells didn’t carry.  Self was so confused:  she kept telling the salespeople at Blackwells how much she loved Morag Joss, who is Scottish though she teaches in England).  She read Half-Broke Things several years ago, and never read a “genre” book that came close (though Ruth Rendell has been closing).

Gad, did Graham Greene ever nail it, though.  He nailed it!  Self forgot everything while she was reading the closing pages, and when she read the last sentence, it caught her heart in a vice.

Then, self began reading the next book on her shelf, which was The Black Count, by Tom Reiss, about the general who fathered the writer Alexandre Dumas, and who was the model for the Count of Monte Cristo.  Of course, it was so fascinating to read the opening pages and to realize that the author of such swashbuckling tales as The Three Musketeers was a mulatto (His father, a general who fought alongside Bonaparte, was the son of a French marquis and a slave.)  But she kept itching to put the book aside in favor of Anna Karenina (which self has never read —  no, never)

This evening, self took a quick peek at Anna Karenina (the Modern Library version).  She skipped the Intro and the Preface, as she doesn’t want anything to spoil her response to the work itself.  She went to Chapter 1 and read:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Everything was in confusion in the Oblonsky household.  The wife had discovered that the husband was carrying on an affair with their former French governess, and she had announced to her husband that she could not go on living in the same house with him.

Tolstoy is such a card.  Though the events described above are supposedly tragic, there is such wry humor in the way he phrases “she had announced to her husband that she could not go on living in the same house with him.”  As if, duty demanded no less of the wife, though it seems all for show.  For if no one else had noticed, the wife probably wouldn’t have been able to muster such a definitive break.

Reading this, self determines to return to The Black Count, for she wants to put off the pleasure of beginning Anna Karenina, for as long as possible.  Self is a devoted practitioner of the Art of Delayed Gratification.

Other classics self hopes to tackle in 2013:

  • War and Peace (She read this aaaages ago.  When she was expecting)
  • Don Quixote (She made several half-hearted attempts to begin this book while growing up in Manila.  Maybe now that three decades in America have cleared her head, maybe now she can actually finish it)
  • The Portrait of a Lady (She read this after she got to the States.  But would like to refresh her memory)

Self hardly reads novels anymore; last year, she read only 20, and most of them happened to be mysteries (except for Ian McEwan, Nicholson Baker, and F. Scott F).  But this year’s gotten off to a tremendous start, for The Human Factor positively slayed her.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Still Reading Scotland’s Bookshelf

Windy.  Stormy.  Occasional hailstones.

Bus # 49 did not stop but proceeded to the regular stop, down the road.

Four writers, madly running.

Self the last, of course.

Nevertheless, made it.

Since a few days ago, no internet at the Castle.

Back to Bonnyrigg Library.

Plead with editors:  “I am on a residency!  I have no internet!  In fact, I can’t even listen to my voice mail messages!”

Answer, thus far:  resounding silence!

Oh well!

Still reading from Scotland’s Bookshelf.  Book of the day, Charles Cumming’s The Trinity Six, a novel about spies.

Cumming was born in 1971.  He graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1994.  His author bio states:  “In the summe of 1995,  Charles was approached for recruitment by the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).”

The book begins with a quote from Harold McMillan (former British PM):

You know, you should never catch a spy.  Discover him and then control him, but never catch him.  A spy causes far more trouble when he’s caught.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Books of The Economist and Condé Nast Traveler

Oh, places far and near.  Oh, Pakistan, Japan, and Marrakech.  Oh, how reading these book reviews do instil in self a great and restless longing for foreign climes!

Without further ado, here are the books self is interested in reading after perusing:

The Economist of 21 May 2011

Bloodmoney:  A Novel of Espionage, by David Ignatius (Norton)

Bloodmoney is, among other stories, a study of Pakistan and its secret service, the ISI . . .  Mr. Ignatius is a master of the small details that give spy-novels a ring of truth (his description of the corner of London where The Economist has its office is certainly accurate).  The CIA is as much as petty bureaucracy as a killing machine.  The ISI is still enthralled by the rituals of the British Raj.  But Mr. Ignatius is more of a John Le Carré than a Tom Clancy.  Far from offering a tub-thumping celebration of America’s “war on terror” —  or a tut-tutting condemnation of Pakistan’s duplicity —  he serves up a supper of nuance and self-doubt.

The Economist of 12 June 2011

Lovesick Japan:  Sex, Marriage, Romance, Law by Mark West (Cornell University Press)

According to surveys, there seems to be less sex going on in Japan than in any other big country.  A Health Ministry study in 2006 reported that as many as one-third of all married couples under the age of 50 had sex, or even kissed or held hands, less than once a month.  Indeed, kissing itself was long considered unhygienic.  It was encouraged during the American occupation in the belief that such Western ways might promote democracy and erode the patriarchal household system.

Condé Nast Traveler, October 2010

A Year in Marrakesh, by Peter Mayne:  Documents his pioneering year in the medina in the 1950s.

Lulu in Marrakech, by Diane Johnson:  “part spy novel, part romantic romp . . .  offers a contemporary tour of East-meets-West Marrakech”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Top Ten Books Read (August 2010 – April 2011)

Top Ten Books (Read in the Past Year, and in No Particular Order.  Subject to Change):

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

The Art of the Double Cross

As regular readers of this blog well know, self has been reading Ben Macintyre’s World War II espionage saga, Agent Zigzag (There is a fantastic blurb by John Le Carré on the front cover.  But, even without this blurb, self would have known Macintyre would deliver a ripping good yarn.  His poignant The Englishman’s Daughter is still one of her favorite nonfiction books of all time).  Here, on p. 133 of Agent Zigzag is a succinct elaboration of what makes a “double agent” succeed.  Self loves this passage because it contains the word “verisimilitude.”

It was an article of faith among the double cross team that a double agent should, as far as possible, live the life the Germans believed he was living, and do the things he claimed to be doing.  Masterman called this “the principle of verisimilitude, the imperative necessity of making the agent actually experience all that he professes to have done.”  It is far easier, under interrogation, to tell part of the truth than to sustain a latticework of pure lies.  If Chapman was going to pretend to have blown up the De Havilland factory,then he must go and case the joint, precisely as he would if he were genuinely bent on sabotage.

P. S.  The De Havilland Mosquito was an aircraft built entirely of balsa wood that was capable of carrying up to 4,000 lbs. of ordinance from Britain to Berlin.  It was a particular thorn in the side of Commander of the Luftwaffe Herman Goring.  It appears that Goring was reviewing a military parade in Berlin when the occasion was hastily interrupted by the arrival of Mosquitos from the 105th. Thus, the De Havilland factory was a prime target of Germany’s ace spies.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Surprise/s of the Evening: Last Sunday in March 2011

Dinner (chicken and pork adobo) has been served.  Now self is watching the first Bourne movie (Still the best!  Matt Damon looks so young.  Whoever was responsible for casting this movie displayed sheer genius).  Suddenly, in a panning shot of the control room in Langley, Virginia, self sees him:  Boyd Crowder.

He’s just in a corner of the screen.  Self waits, and he re-appears.  Yes, she’s sure of it now.  Especially since, a few moments later, he has to stand up and utter a few lines of dialogue.  That certainly is Walton Goggins, who plays Boyd Crowder in “Justified.”  And, what’s simply amazing, he seems hardly to have aged at all, though this movie was filmed in 2002, and “Justified” is of course right now:  2011.

A while later, self hears once again the immortal lines:

Bourne:   You take care of this car?

Marie:   What do you mean?

Bourne:   Tires felt a little splashy on the way over.

Marie:   It pulls a little to the right.

This movie has one of the best car chase scenes of all time.


Random Thought # 1:  Don’t you just love how posting anything on Facebook, no matter how inane, makes you *sound* so busy, so connected, so alive?

Random Thought # 2:  Self has just read a scene in Joseph Finder’s Power Play.  Our hero has to turn on an Apple computer while, outside the room, a vicious gang of armed men are wandering around, threatening to kill a score of hostages.  The computer starts up with a noise like the start of a “Beethoven symphony.”  Our hero waits, watching tensely while the screen lights up with the Apple logo.  The computer “crunched and crunched.”  At this point, self was faint.  Hurry up and boot, you stupid Apple computer!  Otherwise the hero can’t get on with it!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Latest Book Deals (From PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, 24 November 2010)

Latest deal announcements from Publishers Weekly :


  • Silver Dagger and Hammett winner Dan Fesperman’s The Double Game, “in which Cold War spy novels and other classic works of espionage become the clues to uncover a possible double agent,” to Knopf


  • Spanish novelist Victor de Arbol’s The Samurai’s Grief, “about multiple betrayals, personal and political, pitched as evocative of Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy . . .  and set alternately in the pro-Nazi Spain of 1941 —  when an aristocrat becomes involved in a plot to kill her Fascist husband, only to be betrayed by her lover —  and during the Fascist coup of 1981, when a young lawyer is accused of plotting the prison escape of the man she successfully prosecuted for attempted murder five years earlier . . . ” to Holt for publication in February 2011
  • Author of the recent novel Await Your Reply and the NBA-shortlisted story collection, Among the Missing, Dan Chaon’s Stay Awake, a new collection of short stories, to Ballantine


  • Pulitzer prize winner Eileen McNamara’s untitled biography of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, “telling the story of the often-overlooked Kennedy who founded the Special Olympics and left behind one of the family’s most enduring civil rights legacies,” to Simon and Schuster

There were other fascinating deal announcements, such as Julianna Baggott’s PURE trilogy, a YA/adult crossover “dystopian novel about a society of haves who escaped an apocalypse in a futuristic dome-covered city, and have-nots, who survived the nearly destroyed outside world” but, alas, self’ has to continue cleaning son’s room —  sole fruit of self’s loins is arriving Thanksgiving Day (It’s been waaay too long!)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.


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