the martian
Andy Weir’s The Martian reminded me of Swiss Family Robinson. Yes, it’s a survival story. An astronaut is left behind when a NASA mission departs the Red Planet. Oops! But this astronaut is clever and resourceful. He manages to grow food and provide a supply of air. All of this is told in great technical detail. Of course, things go wrong. NASA attempts a rescue mission, but that runs into difficulties, too. If you’re a fan of race-against-the-clock stories, The Martian will be right up your alley. Andy Weir’s The Martian was first an ebook and then Crown published it as a traditional book. Either way, the story is gripping. GRADE: B


Tortured fans of Mad Men will have wait until 2015 to see the final episodes of this absorbing series. But, for now, AMC is showing 7 Mad Men episodes starting tonight. Then, next year, we’ll get to see the final 7 episodes. I’ve been a fan of Mad Men from the start. Not too many series are willing to take the risks with their characters that Mad Men seems to inflict on them every episode. And, surprises! I DVR much of what I watch on TV (to zip through the endless commercials) but I’ll be watching Mad Men in Real Time tonight. And check out the Season 7 trailer below.


Diane and I both enjoyed Once, the movie version. The story of an Irish musician who falls in love with a quirky Czech pianist is off-beat and original. This play version had the most unusual beginning of any play I’ve ever seen. The stage was set up like a Dublin bar. Audience members were invited up to the stage for a drink. Then part of the cast (all musicians) appeared on stage started playing songs with audience members surrounding them. After a few songs, the audience moved back to their seats and the stars of the play emerged to sing their opening song. No, I did not go up on the stage because we had third row seats. This play version of Once includes songs not in the movie. I’m including the track listing from the Once: The Broadway Musical soundtrack and the movie soundtrack so you can see the difference. For those of you who were fans of How I Met Your Mother, the Czech pianist on the soundtrack is played by Cristin Milioti who played “the Mother” in the final season. This touring company delivered a high energy performance. The stars, Stuart Ward and Dani de Waal, showed off their musicality and strong voices. If Once comes to your neighborhood, I highly recommend it. GRADE: A-
Once: The Broadway Musical

1. The North Strand
2. Leave
3. Falling Slowly
4. The Moon
5. Ej Pada Pada Rosicka
6. If You Want Me
7. Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy
8. Say It To Me Now
9. Abandoned In Bandon
10. Gold
11. Sleeping
12. When Your Mind’s Made Up
13. The Hill
14. It Cannot Be About That
15. Gold (A Cappella)
16. Falling Slowly (Reprise)
Onec: The Movie Soundtrack

1. Falling Slowly
2. If You Want Me
3. Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy
4. When Your Mind’s Made Up
5. Lies listen
6. Gold
7. The Hill
8. Fallen From The Sky
9. Leave
10. Trying To Pull Myself Away
11. All The Way Down
12. Once Glen listen
13. Say It To Me Now


A. Bertram Chandler’s Upon a Sea of Stars is the 5th Volume of his John Grimes saga. Grimes is a space captain whose adventures on the rim of space take him into some bizarre situations. This omnibus volume includes Into the Alternate Universe, Contraband from Otherspace, The Rim Gods, and The Commander at Sea. This is Old School science fiction with fast-paced action with some humor thrown in. I loved these adventures when I first read them decades ago. I’m happy Baen Books has reprinted them in such an attractive and affordable package for a new audience. You don’t have to read the previous four omnibus collections to enjoy these stories. But, you’ll want to.


As a bonus this week, I’m including a set of fun vintage book covers celebrating librarians. Just click here for some chuckles!


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.