song of the serpent
“Hugh Matthews” is actually the masterful writer of Jack Vance pastiches, Matthew Hughes. In this entertaining confection, Krunzle the Quick (aka, Krunzle the Incorrigible, Krunzle the Corruptible, etc.), is caught while trying to steal some jewels from a wealthy merchant. Instead of turning Krunzle over to the authorities, the merchant has his sorcerer drap a magic snake around Krunzle’s neck. The merchant’s daughter has run off with a handsome guardsman and the merchant wants her back. He dispatches Krunzle to find his daughter and return her to him. If Krunzle should stray from this mission, the magic snake will choke Krunzle until he regains his focus. Plenty of adventures result from Krunzle’s hunt for the missing girl. Orcs and trolls enter the story as well as some engaging secrets. If you’re looking for a fun novel with a Jack Vance flavor, try Song of the Serpent. GRADE: B+


the fun stuff
Many people consider James Wood as the best book critic around today. I’m one of them. But what makes James Wood so good is his versatility. The essay that opens this book, “The Fun Stuff: Homage to Keith Moon,” told me a lot about drummer for The Who that I didn’t know. And I immediately wanted to drop everything and listen to Keith Moon play. After reading Wood’s essay on Edmund Wilson, I wanted to drop everything and read my Library of America volumes of Wilson’s work. You get the idea. Good critics motivate you to read (or listen) to the subjects of their reviews. After reading Wood’s essay on George Orwell, it would be hard to resist reading some Orwell. James Woods’ essays range from current novels to literary classics. His knowledge is impressive. The most compelling essay in this book is “Wounder and Wounded,” an essay on Nobel Prize winner V. S. Naipaul. Naipaul admits to beating his lover, Margaret Gooding, saying, “I was very violent with her for two days with my hand… Her face was bad. She couldn’t really appear in public.” Wood lets the readers draw their own conclusions about the Nobel Laureate. GRADE: A
The Fun Stuff: Homage to Keith Moon 3
W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz 18
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go 30
Thinking: Norman Rush 39
Cormac McCarthy’s The Road 52
Edmund Wilson 66
Aleksandar Hemon 91
Beyond a Boundary: Netherland as Postcolonial Novel 102
Wounder and Wounded 117
Robert Alter and the King James Bible 130
Tolstoy’s War and Peace 145
Marilynne Robinson 162
Lydia Davis 171
Containment: Trauma and Manipulation in Ian McEwan 182
Richard Yates 194
George Orwell’s Very English Revolution 206
“Unfathomable!” (Mikhail Lermontov) 229
Thomas Hardy 243
Geoff Dyer 258
Paul Auster’s Shallowness 267
“Reality Examined to the Point of Madness”: László Krasznahorkai 279
Ismail Kadare 292
Eglish Muddle: Alan Hollinghurst 309
Life’s White Machine: Ben Lerner 322
Packing My Father-in-Law’s Library 329
Acknowledgments 341


avengers confidential
With the record-breaking April opening of Captain America: The Winter Soldier–$96.2 million–and with Spiderman 2 about to open in a few weeks, MARVEL is on fire. Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher is an entertaining new animated feature. SHIELD sends the Black Widow and the Punisher to investigate a global terrorist organization, LEVIATHAN. As always, there are some surprises that spring up during this mission. If you’re a fan of the MARVEL universe, you’ll enjoy the action and suspense in Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher. GRADE: B+


Bob Mankoff is the current Cartoon Editor of The New Yorker. He’s also a gifted cartoonist as his classic “How About Never” plainly shows. What I liked about Mankoff’s book were the discussions of what makes a cartoon funny. Mankoff knows every cartoon (literally!) The New Yorker has ever published. He talks about how humor has changed over the decades and provides insightful examples. If you’re interested in how humor works, how American humor has evolved, and predictions about the future of cartoons, How About Never explores all of these topics with grace and wit. It doesn’t get better than this. GRADE: A


Welcome back! Thanks to Patrick, the blog lives again! Things are still not quite back to Normal, but I’ll be tweaking the blog to restore it to it’s former fun state. Please be patient.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier reunites Captain America with Nick Fury and the Black Widow of SHIELD. Samuel L. Jackson is his usual gruff self. Scarlet Johansson is bodacious as usual. Anthony Mackie plays an effective role as The Falcon (the first Marvel African-American superhero) in some eye-popping flying scenes. There are several surprises in this movie so I don’t want to spoil them with too much information. If you love action, Captain America: The Winter Soldier has plenty. Excellent cast, intelligent script, and I can’t wait for the sequel. GRADE: A


I’m a big fan of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories. After Lancer published the Conan stories in paperback with those great Frazetta covers, there was a huge demand for more Conan stories. Many writers turned their talents to producing Conan stories: L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, Andy Offutt, and plenty of others. One of my favorite writers of Conan pastiches is Karl Edward Wagner. Wagner’s Conan is clever as well as powerful. In Conan: The Road of Kings Conan is about to be hanged. He escapes that fate, but finds himself involved in a civil war. When a sorcerer shows up to tip the balance of power to the rebels, Conan argues against using dark sorcery to win the kingdom. Conan’s advice is ignored and an even more malignant force than the dictator is unleashed. If you’re a fan of sword & sorcery novels, you’l find a lot to like in Conan: The Road to Kings.

FORGOTTEN MUSIC #40: Live 1975-1998: Tonight’s The Night By Rod Stewart [4-CD Box Set]

rod stewart live
If you’re a Rod Stewart fan, this new Rhino collection will be a must-buy because of these 58 previously unreleased live recordings. The bulk of Rod Stewart’s hits are here along with various surprises. These live performances span over twenty years of tours. I prefer the old Rod Stewart songs: “Maggie May” and “Reason to Believe.” What is your favorite Rod Stewart song?

Disc 1:
1. Three Time Loser (Live – Leicester, England, 12/4/76) 4:05
2. You Wear It Well (Live – Leicester, England, 12/4/76 4:41
3. Big Bayou (Live – Leicester, England, 12/4/76) 3:58
4. Tonight’s The Night (Gonna Be Alright) (Live – Leicester, England, 12/4/76) 4:05
5. The Wild Side Of Live (Live – Leicester, England, 12/4/76) 4:57
6. Sweet Little Rock ‘N Roller (Live – Leicester, England, 12/4/76) 8:46
7. I Don’t Want To Talk About It (Live – Newcastle, England, 12/17/76) 5:07
8. The Killing Of George (Part I And II) [Live - Leicester, England, 12/5/76] 6:17
9. Maggie May (Live – Newcastle, England, 12/17/76) 8:38
10. Angel (Live – Leicester, England, 12/5/76) 7:15
11. Get Back (Live – Leicester, England, 12/5/76) 4:43
12. (I Know) I’m Losing You [Live - Leicester, England, 12/5/76] 5:21
13. This Old Heart Of Mine (Live – Leicester, England, 12/5/76) 6:08

Disc 2:
1. Sailing (Live – Leicester, England, 12/5/76) 4:54
2. Stay With Me (Live – Leicester, England, 12/5/76) 8:03
3. Born Loose (Live – Forum, Los Angeles, CA, 6/21/79) 5:29
4. (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Wanna Be Right [Live - Forum, Los Angeles, CA, 6/21/79] 5:11
5. I Just Want To Make Love To You (Live – Forum, Los Angeles, CA, 6/21/79) 4:33
6. Blondes (Have More Fun) [Live - Forum, Los Angeles, CA, 6/21/79] 5:35
7. Medley: (I Know) I’m Losing You / It’s All Over Now / Standin’ In The Shadows Of Love / Layla [Live - Forum, Los Angeles, CA, 6/21/79] 10:08
8. Medley: Twistin’ The Night Away / Every Picture Tells A Story (Live – Forum, Los Angeles, CA, 6/21/79) 4:50
9. She Won’t Dance With Me (Live – Wembley, London, England, 12/6/80) 4:30
10. Passion (Live – Wembley, London, England, 12/6/80) 6:22
11. Gi’ Me Wings (Live – Wembley, London, England, 12/6/80) 5:47
12. Hot Legs (With Tina Turner) [Live - Forum, Los Angeles, CA, 12/19/81] 5:13

Disc 3:
1. Tonight I’m Yours (Don’t Hurt Me) [Live - San Diego, CA, 11/5/84] 4:14
2. You’re In My Heart (The Final Acclaim) [Live - San Diego, CA, 11/5/84] 4:30
3. (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay (Live – San Diego, CA, 11/5/84) 2:53
4. Hungry Heart (Live – San Diego, CA, 11/5/84) 2:30
5. Bad For You (Live – San Diego, CA, 11/5/84) 6:50
6. Some Guys Have All The Luck (Live – San Diego, CA, 11/5/84) 6:03
7. Rocke Me Baby (Live – San Diego, CA, 11/5/84) 4:19
8. Infatuation (Live – Meadowlands, East Rutherford, NJ, 8/11/89) 5:21
9. I Ain’t Superstitious (Live – Meadowlands, East Rutherford, NJ, 8/11/89) 3:10
10. Every Picture Tells A Story (Live – Meadowlands, East Rutherford, NJ, 8/11/89) 4:23
11. Lost In You (Live – Meadowlands, East Rutherford, NJ, 8/11/89) 8:28
12. Forever Young (Live – Meadowlands, East Rutherford, NJ, 8/11/89) 7:11
13. Da Ya ThinkI’m Sexy (Live – Meadowlands, East Rutherford, NJ, 8/11/89) 4:12
14. Crazy About Her (Live – Meadowlands, East Rutherford, NJ, 8/11/89) 2:45
15. Try A Little Tenderness (Live – Meadowlands, East Rutherford, NJ, 8/11/89) 5:38
16. You’re In My Heart (The Final Acclaim) (Reprise) (Live – Meadowlands, East Rutherford, NJ, 8/11/89) 1:02

Disc 4:
1. Downtown Train (Live – Wembley, London, England, 5/5/91) 4:43
2. This Old Heart Of Mine (Live – Wembley, London, England, 5/5/91) 4:21
3. Stay With Me (Live – Wembley, London, England, 5/5/91) 4:12
4. Sweet Soul Music (Live – Wembley, London, England, 5/5/91) 3:12
5. Mandolin (Live – Wembley, London, England, 5/5/91) 4:54
6. Highgate Shuffle (Live – Wembley, London, England, 5/5/91) 3:43
7. Baby Jane (Live – Wembley, London, England, 5/5/91) 5:11
8. Baby Please Don’t Go (Live – Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, CA, 10/21/93) 3:14
9. Cut Across Shorty (Live – Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, CA, 10/20/93) 3:34
10. (Find A) Reason To Believe (Live – Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, CA, 10/20/93) 3:37
11. Handbags & Gladrags (Live – Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, CA, 10/20/93) 4:08
12. Having A Party (Live – Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, CA, 10/20/93) 4:44
13. People Get Ready (Live – Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, CA, 10/21/93) 8:15
14. Have I Told You Lately (Live – Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, CA, 10/20/93) 4:37
15. Medley: Twistin’ The Night Away / Chain Gang (Live – Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, CA, 10/20/93) 6:27
16. Cigarettes And Alcohol (Live – London, England, 5/19/98) 4:03
17. Rocks (Live – London, England, 5/19/98) 4:45


Would you like to drop your blood pressure 5 points easily? Just drink a 4 to 6 ounce glass of V8 juice each day. The blend of vegetables will cause your systolic number (the top number, which is also the higher of the two BP numbers and measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats, i.e. when the heart muscle contracts)to go down. Your diastolic number (the bottom number, which is also the lower of the two numbers, measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats, i.e., when the heart muscle is resting between beats and refilling with blood) could also go down a few points. V8 comes in several flavors and sizes. I prefer the V8 Spicy Hot Juice (Low Sodium). If you buy the regular V8 with more sodium, the effect will be less.


bad girls
This 2 DVD collection features four film noir classics from the Columbia vault: The Killer That Stalked New York, Two of a Kind, Bad for Each Other, and The Glass Wall. The “Bad Girls” are Evelyn Keyes, Lizabeth Scott, and Gloria Grahame. Each of these films was restored and re-mastered. Special features include the original theatrical trailer for each of the movies and Terry Moore discussing Two of a Kind. This box set provides 313 minutes of noir at a reasonable price. If you’re a fan of noir, you’ll want this set. GRADE: B+


the unwinding
George Packer’s The Unwinding won the 2013 National Book Award for non-fiction. He deserves it. Packer uses a format similar to the one John Dos Passos used in his U.S.A. trilogy by alternating stories to trace the decline of the U.S. economy and culture from 1978 to 2012. Tammy Thomas, auto parts worker, finds her middle-class job destroyed as General Motors and Delphi head into bankruptcy. Jeff Connaughton, a Washington lawyer, sees the political process become more dysfunctional. Dean Price, an entrepreneur in a tobacco state, finds his businesses ruined by the real estate and banking crisis. Peter Thiel, a billionaire, sees the U.S. sinking fast. I usually finish reading a book in a day or two. The Unwinding took me a week to read. I had to take “breaks” to stem the depression this book causes. Our country is in deep decline and The Unwinding shows how it happened. GRADE: A