Hopefully  by now the whole world knows that I just published my novel, Bangkok Shadows.  Available as e book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07C125MS1                                                    and as paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/173214741

It is not in a writer’s nature to sit by idly and see if the promotion plan actually works, not to mention waiting for those reviews, which better be good!

Some writers immediately embark on their next novel, others dabble in short stories, or rewriting work  gathering dust on their hard drives.

I chose to take a few weeks off to spend time reading. After all, isn’t reading what I am encouraging others to do?

So here is a look at what I have been reading this week, and what is on the Kindle for next week:

The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes

My British friend Paul, a fellow member of Keybangers Bangkok and Night Owls Writing Prompt Group, has long encouraged me to read his country’s premier authors, so often overlooked by we Yanks. I decided to listen to him and began with this perfect specimen of what might one called “postmodernism”  but which I prefer to describe simply as great literature.

Julian Barnes had been a respected literary figure in the U.K. for over a quarter century when this novel  won the prestigious Man Booker Award in 2011. 

I don’t want to give away anything, as every word Julian Barnes wrote has importance and meaning. It suffices to say that The Sense of an Ending is about an older man looking back on certain events in his youth which are still shaping his existence whether or not he has realized this. The story moves seamlessly between past and  present.

What I loved most about the novel, aside from Mr. Barnes’ spare yet elegant and evocative prose, is the way in which deep and haunting universal issues are raised. Character, plot, and dialogue make the points clearer and more personal than any philosophic or psychological treatise could accomplish.

The novel is relatively short and has an unexpected suspense that  builds up and will keep you glued to your device or the to the page, however you consume it.

As soon as I finish the other books listed on this posting, I will be reading more by Julian Barnes.


There Your Heart Lies, by Mary Gordon

I’ve been a fan of Mary Gordon since her first novel, Final Payments, was published in 1978. Since then, she has written several novels and short story collections. Her world largely focuses on Catholic Americans and the struggles of individuals with their families and their Church.

This novel, like the Julian Barnes book above, shifts effortlessly between past and present. It tells the story of a young woman from a very wealthy, very conservative, and very devout American Catholic family; after her family’s religious homophobic fervor drives her beloved brother to suicide, she reject them en toto and travels to Spain to help the clerical Republicans fight a losing battle against the Church-backed Fascists of Franco. 

Again, I don’t want to give away anything, but I can say that this novel affords a compelling look at Spain during its bloody civil war. It also provides insight into the world of wealthy right-wing American Catholics during the 1930’s, American communists, idealists and others fighting their  lost cause against Franco, the Church, and the terrors inflicted by air forces of of Hitler and Mussolini. 

As with the Barnes novel, this one will stay with the reader well after  the last page. 

The novel segues beautifully from memoir to history, to suspense in the present moment. I highly recommend this novel, along with anything else Ms. Gordon has written. 

A Man in Full, by Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe, in his New York City study, in 2012. He started wearing white suits in 1962
Photograph by Gasper Tringale.

I’ve been a Tom Wolfe fan ever since I read The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test in the late Sixties. He has profoundly influenced journalism, fiction, and parts in between.

This novel was published in 1998 and was Wolfe’s first since the enormously successful Bonfire of the Vanities in 1987.

A Man in Full was generally well received by the literary world (John Updike and Norman Mailer being cranky exceptions) but was never glorified as was Bonfire.  This is unfortunate, because in many ways, the later novel may be the better.

A Man in Full  tells the story of Charlie Croker, a wealthy property developer in Atlanta who has pulled himself from rural poverty to the heights of Atlanta society. He lives the lifestyle of the protagonists in Bonfire but he is   a very different person in every way; I found him to be more believable and realistic than the intentionally  cartoonish, stereotypes in Bonfire, though quite a few of those show up in this novel. 

Despite his lavish and ostentatious lifestyle, Charlie is facing imminent bankruptcy due to an unwise office project he financed through loans he cannot afford to repay. 

The plot revolves around Charlie’s struggles to maintain his business empire, his lifestyle, and above all, his pride as the self-made “King of Crackers”, in the face of dismissive and insulting bankers seeking to bring him down.  In the midst of his troubles, he is dragged into a scheme by Atlanta’s African-American Mayor, who seeks to use Charlie’s image and standing ,as a rich white man with poor roots, to help save a top-notch African-American college football player alleged to have raped the daughter of the richest white man in Atlanta. Any tendency to sympathize with Charlie is tempered by the working conditions and unfair  treatment to which his blue collar employees are subjected and his paternalistic and likely racist views of African-Americans.

Wolfe thickens the plot by weaving within it descriptions and application of the ancient Greek philosophy of stoicism, introduced through a young man, a former employee of Charlie’s frozen food business, facing his own difficulties.

While Atlanta is different than New York, and the wealthy white men in this book are not as sophisticated and polished as their counterparts in Bonfire, their egos, flaws and sense of entitlement are the same. No one does a better job of picking apart the “Masters of the Universe” than Tom Wolfe.

After all these years, I’m still a huge Tom Wolfe fan. A Man in Full reaffirms that status.

Letters to Emil, by Henry Miller

These days, hardly anyone writes letters. E mail, texting, and social media have pre-empted this great art. Fortunately, great artists of the past were often limited to expression through letters, and thus a treasure trove awaits the eager reader.

In the nineteen twenties and thirties, the famous-to-be American author  Henry Miller remained unknown and unpublished. This hundred sixty page volume contains letters Miller wrote to his good friend, the artist Emil Schnellock, with whom he had attended grade school in Brooklyn. They lost contact after that, but a chance encounter in 1921, when they were thirty, reignited the bond. Miller trusted his friend to review his manuscripts and even to safeguard them, and the correspondence to Emil was written in the various places Miller lived and worked prior to his breakthrough as a celebrity author. Emil was his friend, mentor and rock of support.

Written from Paris and Clichy, the letters describe Miller’s life in France, but more important, his works-in-progress, his writing practices, and his thoughts on fiction writing and life. This book is a window into the life and mind of one of America’s most influential authors as well as a study of a fascinating historical period. Reading Miller’s letters are as much a joy as reading his fiction, and just as provocative.

For an author, the letters are instructive and inspiring. They will be for anyone else as well. 

The Autobiography of Ulysses S. Grant

In 1880, former President Ulysses S. Grant was dying of throat cancer and was nearly destitute. At the advice of his friend Mark Twain, President Grant, on his own, wrote this two-volume memoir, almost exclusively dealing with his role as the most important- and most successful- of the Union generals. The book was an instant success, assuring the financial solvency of Grant’s widow and offspring. It remains popular to this day, studied by military and general historians, professional and amateur. 

President Grant is undergoing a rehabilitation after generations of being written off as a hack, a drunk, an antisemite, and a crook. In truth he was none of these, and acclaimed biographer Ron Chernow (author of award-winning biographies of Alexander Hamilton and George Washington) has just published a biography of Grant which rejects these calumnies. Grant was at most a binge drinker, was anything but a bigot; he hired more women, African-American and Jews than any President before and after until FDR, and was a strict adherent to the Radical Republican agenda of equal rights for all. His hatred of slavery and his contempt for those who defended it are revealed  factually and objectively, without rancor or anger.

Grant was no crook and was not corrupt. His greatest flaw was trusting the wrongpeople; he did not profit one cent from the endemic corruption of the era and in fact wound up in his precarious financial straits because his cronies had defrauded him and stolen his money.

What comes across in this lengthy two volume set are both Grant’s skill as a writer and as a human being. His prose is understated, avoiding the “blood and guts” descriptions often associated with Civil War battlefield writing, and his objectivity in writing about the historical figures of his day is remarkably balanced and clear-eyed. His assessments are fair and generous, his resentments held back, and his thoughts measured and restrained. He presents complete pictures of the War and the political as well as the military battles he had to wage in order to save the Union.

I’m a Civil War buff so of  course I love this kind of writing. You don’t have to be one to enjoy this masterful autobiography. It’s been around for almost one hundred forty years and if you read it, you’ll understand why.

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