October 2009

"Mr. Wells evolving a cosmic thought" by William H. Cotton, 1935 (Library iof Congress)

Charles Dickens was still alive in September 1866 when H.G. Wells was born in Bromley, County of Kent, England. Wells died in 1946, a year after WWII ended. The technological, scientific and social changes which occurred during his life were huge. He spent his life pondering — and attempting to influence — the future.

While some of Wells’ ideas are shocking and repugnant, the pessimism he expressed in his last book, Mind at the End of its Tether, is well founded.

H.G. Wells, 1905 (Library of Congress)

“In the face of our universal inadequacy . . . man must go steeply up or down and the odds seem to be all in favor of his going down and out. If he goes up, then so great is the adaptation demanded of him that he must cease to be a man. Ordinary man is at the end of his tether.”

The current level of technological change has brought a degree of complexity to everyday life that cannot be sustained. People are indeed reaching the end of their tether.

Things to Come (1936) is a movie adaptation, which Wells wrote, of his 1933 novel The Shape of Things To Come, a dystopic view of life from 1936 to 2036 which questions the price of “progress.”

A bibliography “inclusive of books, major pamphlets and collected letters only” can be found here.


Author Rating: B+

Echo Park (read 10/28/09) recommended

LAPD Detective Harry Bosch didn’t like retirement and is back on the force, working in the open unsolved case unit and haunted by the unsolved murder of a young woman 13 years earlier. When the DA’s Office calls to say they have a confession to the murder, Harry is skeptical.

It’s a well-paced detective novel, with a likable but hard-boiled protagonist. I look forward to reading other novels by Michael Connelly.

Chasing The Dime (read 11/3/09) recommended

What a delightful read! This is a stand-alone mystery (not Harry Bosch) set in the bio-computing research field. Henry Pierce has a project coming close to fruition that will revolutionize the computer and pharmaceutical industries. His girlfriend having broken up with him, he moves into an apartment and discovers his new phone number is posted as a contact number in the internet ad of a prostitute. Instead of just having the number changed, he tries to contact the woman, learns that she’s been missing for several weeks and sets out to discover what happened to her.

I don’t want to say any more, because I don’t want to give anything away, but things get worse for poor Henry before they get better. It’s a terrific edge-of-your-seat story about family, friendship, trust and betrayal. I liked this even better than Echo Park.

Author Rating: D

Dead Watch (read 10/16/09) meh

It amazes me what gets published, and what sells. This is one of those. Advertised as a political thriller, it’s barely one step up from Romance Novel Land. The story is simplistic, ridiculous, and like the characters, predictable and not at all engaging.

I forced my way through to the end only because I didn’t want to get out of bed. I wouldn’t read another one of Sandford’s books if you paid me.

Author Rating: A

Of Human Bondage (Read 10/8/09) Recommended

Maugham, Somerset, portrait photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1923 May 18 (Library of Congress)

Maugham, Somerset, portrait photograph by Arnold Genthe, 1923 May 18 (Library of Congress)

Maybe it’s just where I am in my life right now, but I liked this book a great deal.

Maugham based the protagonist Phillip Carey on his own life and that of people he knew. It’s about the search for meaning.

Maugham could have used a better editor as there were some odd quirks, but 94 years after its initial publication the story it tells rings true.

In reading this book, I was struck by similarities with Robertson Davies and Thomas Mann.

Author Rating: A

Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe (Library of Congress)

Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins Poe (Library of Congress)

It’s odd how the work of some writers is made more interesting by knowing something of their personal life and others less so. To me, Poe is one of the former.

An American writer, poet, editor and literary critic, part of the American Romantic Movement, Poe is considered the inventor of the detective-fiction genre. Poe led a very interesting, although short, life.

His father David Poe, a lawyer turned actor, and his mother Elizabeth Arnold Poe, a second-generation actress, both died in 1811, leaving Edgar, then age two, his older brother Henry and younger sister Rosalie orphans in the care of John and Frances Allan of Richmond, Virginia.

Photo of painting of Edgar Allan Poe by Mrs. Norman Burwell, c. 1903.  (Library of Congress)

Photo of painting of Edgar Allan Poe by Mrs. Norman Burwell, c. 1903. (Library of Congress)

Rufus Wilmot Griswold made sure that for at least a couple decades after his death, Poe was regarded as a madman. Matthew Pearl has put together a review of Poe’s obituaries.

A bibliography of Poe’s work can be found here.

The Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia has a wealth of material on the man, his life and his work.

Author Rating: A+

Things Fall Apart (read 1971) Recommend

A novel about an African tribe’s fatal brush with British colonialism in the 1800s that told the story of colonialism for the first time from an African perspective.

Achebe has a new book out, a collection of essays, The Education of a British-Protected Child.