Category: Books

Since we are “self isolating,” we thought this would be a good time to post something fun. So here are thumbnails of the covers of books that Grouch has read over the past 25 years. Where possible, the covers shown are the actual covers when the books were purchased, whether in 1995, 2005, or yesterday — probably about 95 percent of the titles. The list is alphabetical. 

Click on any image for a view of the full cover. 

 

 

 

 

 

Whew … that’s a lot of scrolling. If you’d like to read short reviews of about one-third of the above books, click here for an index with links.

 

© 2010-2020 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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by Mary Stewart

 

Why, you might reasonably ask, would I read a 58-year-old book by romance novelist Mary Stewart? OK, let me try to explain.

I was motivated by a mixture of:  a) nostalgia, b) a hankering to read what they call a “cozy” mystery and, last but not least, c) fond memories of … Hayley Mills. She starred in Disney’s film version of the book.

So sue me. Go ahead, sue me.  Moon-Spinners fulfilled my wish list.

By today’s standards, the story is certainly “cozy.” There is no sex; just romance. There is violence, but nothing graphic. There is no swearing. On the whole, it’s very tame stuff, which I suppose is good or bad, depending on your taste.

The plot concerns a young English girl living in Greece who, while on holiday at a small fishing village, stumbles on a gang of thieves, a murder, and a kidnapping. Throughout all of this drama, my mental image of the heroine was Hayley Mills. I enjoyed that, because Mills was my childhood crush.

So sue me.

 

Footnote:  As for the actual title of this book – to hyphenate or not to hyphenate – I give up. Take a look at this:

 

 

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by William Strauss and Neil Howe

 

“Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night new decade.” – (apologies to Bette Davis in All About Eve)

 

According to this book, something big is about to happen. Think World War II big. Or Civil War big. In fact, it’s probably already happening, but in a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees, we just aren’t aware of it yet – but historians will be.

Strauss and Howe make a convincing case that America is well into its “Fourth Turning” – the final, crisis stage of four recurring cycles of history.

The authors go back about 500 years and present evidence that society nearly always (the Civil War being the lone exception) goes through:  1) a “high” (think post-World War II);  2) an “awakening” (the chaotic 1960s);  3) an “unraveling” (when this book was published, in 1997); and finally and potentially catastrophically, 4) a “crisis” (ummm … right now). And then the cycles repeat.

Turning links these historical patterns to another recurrence: four human generations. These are, in order, the “prophets” (Baby Boomers, in what seems to me a misnomer); the “nomads” (Generation X); the “heroes” (Millennials); and the “artists” (Gen Z). How these archetypes interact with the four historical stages determines the fate of mankind.

Strauss and Howe’s case is strong about America’s past. Where they falter is in the book’s subtitle: the “prophecy” part. Although they do provide caveats to their (often alarming) predictions for this century, many of their projections seem off-base.

Not even these guys could predict Donald Trump.

 

© 2010-2020 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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by Amy Tan

 

As I read The Joy Luck Club, I was reminded of what’s great about books, especially fiction. Here I am, a middle-aged white man living in 2019 America, suddenly immersed in the lives of Chinese women and their Chinese-American daughters, spanning most of the 20th century. It was a bit like snooping in a stranger’s medicine cabinet: Much of what you see there is fascinating; some of it is unfathomable.

Tan is very good at world-building. Open her book to any page and you are immediately absorbed by whatever she’s writing about. Vivid images and memorable metaphors abound. That’s the good news.

Yet if I’m honest … there are eight main characters in the story – four mothers and four daughters – and I often found them indistinguishable. The mothers all suffer hardships and learn valuable life lessons, which they attempt to pass on to their girls. The daughters are all more optimistic but also more foolish. At times I felt I was reading the same story four times over, just with different character names.

But Joy Luck seems relevant to me, some 30 years after its publication, in part because there is so much talk about China today, and it illustrates the gap between the Chinese way of seeing the world, and the American way. The Chinese – at least traditionally – seem to be all about fate and omens and what the West might consider superstition. They see America as a place of much opportunity, but too little wisdom and too much worship at the altar of money.

 

© 2010-2020 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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by David Foster Wallace

 

Wallace is the author of One of Those Novels I Mean to Read Someday — right after I finish re-reading Moby Dick and War and Peace. That book is called Infinite Jest, and I admit that its mammoth length is the main reason I haven’t yet tackled it.

In the meantime, I checked out Consider the Lobster, a collection of Wallace essays published in 2005. Wallace, who committed suicide in 2008, was a writer of infinite curiosity. He was highly intelligent but had a quality so often missing from the highly intelligent: humility.

Lobster contains Wallace’s observations on everything from a pornography convention in Las Vegas to the impact of September 11, 2001 on Middle Americans to, as the title implies, the boiling of lobsters.

All of it is interesting; all of it is engaging. My only complaint is Wallace’s love of the footnote (and footnotes within footnotes). At times it becomes distracting and tiresome.

 

© 2010-2020 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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by Bill Bryson

 

Bryson is a genial fellow, and very few writers do gentle humor better than he does, but this short biography (barely 200 pages) is really just an intro to The Bard.

What’s notable isn’t what we learn about Shakespeare, but how little we learn about Shakespeare. There simply isn’t much in the historical record, and what there is, is often incomplete or vague. Not Bryson’s fault, of course. He obviously loves Shakespeare and that feeling is contagious.

Even so, this is less a book about the great writer and more a picture of what life was like in England 400 years ago.  My advice: If you’re really into Shakespeare, find a more substantial book. And if you’re really into Bryson, he has better (and longer) works out there.

 

© 2010-2020 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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by G.K. Chesterton

 

Chesterton was obviously influenced by Arthur Conan Doyle when he penned these eight short stories, with Horne Fisher a variation on Sherlock Holmes and journalist Harold March in the role of Dr. Watson. In each story, some sort of crime is committed, usually a murder, and everyone is flummoxed save the wise and world-weary Fisher. Alas, unlike the cocaine-ingesting, violin-playing Holmes, Fisher is a bit too enigmatic to make a strong impression. (Chesterton also created priest-detective “Father Brown,” a character who has better stood the test of time.)

Chesterton’s stories are also heavily invested in the politics of the day (the 1920s). But this intermingling of mystery and social issues dilutes the overall effect. The suspense is interrupted by political digressions, and the politics aren’t explored enough to resonate.

 

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by Bryan Gruley

 

A 15-year-old autistic boy goes missing and his parents receive cryptic texts and e-mails, including an apparent ransom demand.

Bleak Harbor was just … average; not terrible, but certainly nothing special. There is a lot of texting and hacking and computer sleuthing, which I suppose modernizes the plot, but this is a story we’ve read many times before. There is, of course, a “big twist” near the end. Alas, the unexpected turn isn’t particularly credible.

 

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by Charles Krauthammer

 

I used to watch Charles Krauthammer spar with Bill O’Reilly on Fox News and be reminded of Dr. Strangelove, the wheelchair-bound, hawkish lunatic from Stanley Kubrick’s movie. I thought of Krauthammer as a conservative villain. Problem is, that’s about as much as I thought of the psychiatrist turned political pundit; I certainly didn’t listen to what he had to say. That was my mistake.

I still don’t agree with everything he has to say in Things That Matter, a collection of his essays from the 1980s until 2014. But I respect his opinions, whether about domestic policy, international issues or, well, his love of chess. Krauthammer’s essays are sprinkled with wit and, yes, wisdom. The man did his homework.

As might be expected from a conservative columnist, there is much criticism of Obama in the book. My guess is that, were this book more current (Krauthammer died in June), he would also deploy his rapier wit against our current president.

I wish he was still around to appear on cable news. If nothing else, his calm demeanor would be a welcome respite from all of the shrieking hysterics.

 

© 2010-2020 grouchyeditor.com (text only)

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by Jefferson Farjeon

 

A gathering of upper-crust Brits and their servants fall under suspicion when foul play interrupts a weekend retreat. This 1936 whodunit is pretty much what you’d expect, if what you expect is an English country-house murder mystery with Agatha Christie DNA in its bones. Farjeon is no Dame Agatha, but a few of his characters – in particular an acerbic journalist named Bultin – are amusing.

 

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