I’ve never heard of John Crowley but it seems I should have.

 

Genre Trouble

What stands between John Crowley and a serious literary reputation?

James Hynes

For the most part, the American novelist John Crowley flies under both the commercial and critical radars, as invisible to most readers as he is to most critics. You don’t have to look very hard to see why this should be. Despite their high literary gloss and intellectual sophistication, his first three novels were originally published as genre fiction: The Deep (1975) is a gothic fantasy reminiscent of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy; Beasts (1976) is a science fiction romance about the genetic recombination of humans and animals, sort of a cross between The Island of Dr. Moreau and The Wind in the Willows; and Engine Summer (1979), Crowley’s most impenetrable work, is an after-the-apocalypse narrative. In an attempt to give it mainstream credibility, some admiring critics have called his next book, Little, Big (1981), a magic realist novel. But Little, Big, his best known work and arguably his masterpiece, is unequivocally a fantasy novel, albeit a highly idiosyncratic one. Much of the book reads like a straight literary narrative–it is as compelling a portrait of a long marriage as any I know–but it is based on the Sufi fable The Parliament of the Birds and uses the themes and archetypes of Northern European folklore. In other words, it is a long, gorgeously written, picaresque family saga, in the last fifty pages of which all the major characters, with one heartbreaking exception, turn into fairies.

 

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I’d heard of the movie Atonement but knew nothing about McEwan.  If my life lasts long enough, I may get to one of these recommended five.

I’ve never read any Grisham. Just never appealed. He is a fan of one of my least favorite authors -James Lee Burke – which doesn’t increase my desire.

Samuel Clemens and his friend John T. Lewis in 1903 (Library of Congress)

While showing a picture of Lewis and himself, Twain remarked:

“The colored man. . . is John T. Lewis, a friend of mine. These many years – thirty-four in fact. He was my father-in-law’s coachman forty years ago; was many years a farmer of Quarry Farm, and is still my neighbor. I have not known an honester man nor a more respect-worthy one. Twenty-seven years ago, by the prompt and intelligent exercise of his courage, presence of mind and extraordinary strength, he saved the lives of three relatives of mine, whom a runaway horse was hurrying to destruction. Naturally I hold him in high and grateful regard.”

John T. Lewis was born a “back freeman” in 1835, Carroll County, Maryland, where he lived the first twenty-five years of his life. At the age of 18 he joined the Church of the Brethren, becoming a lifelong member. In 1860 he moved north to Adams County, Pennsylvania, then settled in Elmira, New York. There he married Mary Stover, who was born in slavery.

Author Rating: D

The Handmaid’s Tale (listened to audiobook read by Claire Danes, March 2017; not recommended)

This will be an unpopular opinion but this book is terrible. It’s boring. Twenty-five chapters in and I want to slap the main character, Offred. Just eat the fucking toast already.

I do not understand why this novel is recommended so glowingly by so many. Has anyone actually read it since they were 14, in 1985?  I don’t believe in the dull, gray world, and I have been given no reason to care about any of the characters, least of all the main character, Offred, who is as appealing as gray washwater.

It’s hard to find really good speculative fiction. This doesn’t even rise to the level of passable.   Claire Danes might be a good reader. It’s hard to say given how unremittingly dreary and uninspired this particular book is.

Author Rating: A

Sir Anthony Hope Hawkins, or Anthony Hope as he was known to his readers, was born February 9, 1863, a young contemporary of Thomas Hardy. While Hardy is remembered and celebrated today, Hope is largely forgotten as a writer. I only discovered him by chance while looking through Andy Minter‘s Librivox catalog. I am delighted to have discovered Hope. His writing is quick and engaging.

His tenth novel, published in 1893, The Prisoner of Zenda put Hope firmly on his contemporaneous public’s map and then further popularized when it was made into a movie in 1913, again in 1922 and 1937. Even though he’s forgotten as a writer, his storytelling has influenced movies and TV shows well into the late 20th century. Hope published 32 novels by 1925 and died July 8, 1933.

The Prisoner of Zenda: being the history of three months in the life of an English gentleman (Listened 09/2016) Recommended

Rupert of Hentzau: being the sequel to a story by the same writer entitled the Prisoner of Zenda (Listened 11/2016) Recommended

I listened to both of these as audio recordings, read by the wonderful Andy Minter who brings the stories alive with his deft chracterizations.

The two novels are set in the imaginary central European country of Ruritania, where adventure and true love and heartbreak await.

Author Rating: A+

The Ferryman Institute (Read 11/15/2016) Highly recommended

I absolutely love this book. It is perfect. (Well, there was one typo toward the end but hey).

It’s the story of Charlie Dawson who has labored for 250 years helping people cross over after their death, never failing at his task but heartbroken by the effort. It is well paced, hilarious at times, and utterly convincing in the universe revealed. I won’t give away any more than that because you want to discover it for yourself.

I am delighted to have had the opportunity to read this lovely book and look forward patiently to whatever Colin Gigl comes up with next.