Month: June 2013

Monthly Review – June 2013

Posted June 30, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Monthly Reading / 0 Comments

As we close out the first half of 2013, I thought I might give a quick update on what’s been happening with the Literary Exploration Reading Challenge. I’m really impressed with the book club’s efforts so far, with over thousand books being read by 144 participants with a 31% completion rate so far. This means we have a lot to catch up on; personally I’ve managed to complete 32 of my 36 books and almost tempted to go for another round. It’s been a lot of fun and I’m pleased to see how many people have enjoyed reading out of there comfort zone.

This month’s book club book The Dud Avocado had some really interesting reactions, not everyone liked it but it is one of the first books we read that many of us were reading for the first time. I don’t want to say too much about the book but it was fun being out of my comfort zone with the rest of the club members. It was an experience we don’t get often and I would like to experience more. Next month we return to an easier book when we read Kurt Vonnegut’s modern classic Cat’s Cradle.

I had a very quiet reading month and I’m not sure why, between everything else going on I just didn’t have the time. This has freed me out a little to try and write non review posts and I hope to have more of them in the not to distant future. I really enjoy the non review posts a lot more, I think they are more interesting and that I’ve been too review focused.

Monthly Reading

The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

Posted June 29, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book of the Month, Contemporary / 0 Comments

The Dud Avocado by Elaine DundyTitle: The Dud Avocado (Goodreads)
Author: Elaine Dundy
Published: NYRB, 1958
Pages: 272
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Sally Jay Gorce is a young American tourist trying to conquer Paris in the late 1950’s. Often compared to Edith Wharton and Henry James who both wrote about American girls abroad, the Dud Avocado is a romantic and comedic adventure unlike anything I’ve read before. A novel that gained cult status quickly, this is a quirky story of a woman hell-bent on really living.

This is really a hard novel to review, simply because I don’t want to give people too many expectations or spoil the plot in any way. The Dud Avocado is the type of novel you go into not really knowing what to expect and just let it take you on a journey. Never knowing which direction Elaine Dundy is planning to take and never really understanding Sally Jay Gorce’s choices. She is a woman that wants to live life to the fullest and experience everything that is out there for her; is it a good idea? Most definitely not, but she picks herself up and continues.  She is going to make her romantic mark on Paris and there is not a damn thing you can do about it.

I find myself reminded a little of A Sport and a Pastime in parts but mainly when I think of France, the lust and passion. After that it is more similar to a beat novel with a female protagonist travelling around Paris looking for love and passion. She is smart, sexy, hilarious and frivolous; Sally Jay is sure to charm every man in the City.

At times I enjoyed the journey I was on and then there were times I just felt lost and unsure of what will happen next. The book seems to dip in and out of this feeling of excitement, full of adventures and misadventures, then it just peters out and remains a little flat. The whole novel felt just like Sally Jay’s life, no plans, no direction, just taking it one day after another; we may have an adventure but sometimes we don’t. This was a really interesting tactic, I felt like her life was an enigma and every attempt to try understanding her failed. Real people are never meant to be simple and Elaine Dundy created a truly complex character in Sally Jay Gorce.

Think Breakfast at Tiffany’s if it was written by a beat author. The Dud Avocado is going to take you on a journey without a road map; you won’t know if you’ll ever get to the final destination but you’ll get somewhere. Like I said before, I don’t want to spoil the journey, I think something really interesting has been done here and it is worth looking into.

I’m a little surprised this was set in the late 1950’s, this sort of sexual freedom normally goes hand and hand with the 1970’s. But then again this is France and they have a stereotypical reputation for being progressive. I don’t know enough about social behaviours of the time, especially in Paris but I can’t help but think this novel pretty accurate. The Dud Avocado did have a very authentic feel to it. It’s an unusual novel but it was well worth the experience.

What Books Have Been Trending – April-June 2013

Posted June 28, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Book Trends / 0 Comments

As we head into the middle of the year we are now going to start seeing all the summer (winter here) blockbusters being released. It feels like there is a new book being talked about every week nowadays but once again I thought I would have my fun and look at some of the books I’ve noticed trending for the past three months. Like always this is not accurate, this is judgement plus culling most books so we can cover more genres.


Why is crunchy food so appealing? Why is it so hard to find words for flavours and smells? Why doesn’t the stomach digest itself? How much can you eat before your stomach bursts? Can constipation kill you? Did it kill Elvis? In Gulp we meet scientists who tackle the questions no one else thinks of–or has the courage to ask.


A guy walks into a bar car and…From here the story could take many turns. When this guy is David Sedaris, the possibilities are endless, but the result is always the same: he will both delight you with twists of humour and intelligence and leave you deeply moved. Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls is David Sedaris humourous collection of essays that cover a range of topics.

Ursula Todd is born in a snowstorm in England in 1910 but dies before she can take her first breath. During that same snowstorm she was born again and lives to tell the tale; again and again. Life after Life tells the story of Ursula’s lives, as with each new life she makes small changes that send her on a completely different path.


Summer, Massachusetts. An old Silver Wraith with a frightening history. A story about one serial killer and his lingering, unfinished business. Anyone could be next. NOS4R2 is an old-fashioned horror novel in the best sense. Claustrophobic, gripping and terrifying, this is a story that will have you on the edge of the seat while you read, and leaving the lights on while you sleep.

Nora Eldridge, a 37-year-old elementary school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is on the verge of disappearing. Having abandoned her desire to be an artist, she has become the “woman upstairs,” a reliable friend and tidy neighbour always on the fringe of others’ achievements. The Woman Upstairs is a masterly told story of America today, of being a woman and of the exhilarations of love.


A new novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations. In And the Mountains Echoed, we follow its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page.

One last Sookie Stackhouse adventure; Life has taken her from a waitress in Merlotte’s Bar, Bon Temps, to part owner; from social outcast to the heart of her community; from a vampire’s girlfriend to the wife of one of the most powerful vampires in the state. She has survived earthquakes, revolutions and attempts on her life. Dead Ever After is the final chapter in this much loved series.

In the heart of Italy, Harvard professor of symbology Robert Langdon is drawn into a harrowing world centred on one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces . . . Dante’s Inferno. From the bestselling thriller author that brought us The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demon’s comes the forth book in the Robert Langdon series, Inferno.

The 1st Wave took out half a million people.
The 2nd Wave put that number to shame.
The 3rd Wave lasted a little longer, twelve weeks… four billion dead.
In the 4th Wave, you can’t trust that people are still people.
And The 5th Wave? No one knows. But it’s coming.

Rose Baker seals men’s fates. With a few strokes of the keys that sit before her, she can send a person away for life in prison. She is The Other Typist, an office girl in a New York City Police Department precinct. Confessions are her job. It is 1923, and while she may hear every detail about shootings, knifings, and murders, as soon as she leaves the interrogation room she is once again the weaker sex, best suited for filing and making coffee.


From the moment I first met Gideon Cross, I recognized something in him that I needed. Something I couldn’t resist. I saw the dangerous and damaged soul inside–so much like my own. I was drawn to it. I needed him as surely as I needed my heart to beat. Entwined with You is the third book in Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series; Entwined by our secrets, we tried to defy the odds.

College student Devin Jones took the summer job at Joyland hoping to forget the girl who broke his heart. But he wound up facing something far more terrible: the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and dark truths about life—and what comes after—that would change his world forever.


In a futuristic world nearly destroyed by religious extremists, Justin March lives in exile after failing in his job as an investigator of religious groups and supernatural claims. Gameboard of the Gods, the first installment of Richelle Mead’s Age of X series, will have all the elements that have made her YA Vampire Academy and Bloodlines series such mega successes: sexy, irresistible characters. romantic and mythological intrigue, and relentless action and suspense.

A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.


The National Book Award-winning author of Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann comes an astonishing new novel, TransAtlantic. Through a series of narratives that span 150 years and two continents comes this magnificent and somewhat ambitious novel. From the first TransAtlantic flight from Newfoundland to the west of Ireland to the American senator crossing the ocean in search for lasting peace in Ireland, this is part fiction part historical literary achievement.

There are some very obvious choices here but that seems to be the books that I have seen being talked about the most. I do cut out a lot of books if I feel like there are too many in the same genre, I want to leave room for books in other genres that people might be interested in. I’ve read a few of these books and have a lot on my TBR already. I would love to hear what you think I’ve missed and what you expect to trend in the next three months.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Posted June 26, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Speculative Fiction, Thriller / 0 Comments

Snow Crash by Neal StephensonTitle: Snow Crash (Goodreads)
Author: Neal Stephenson
Published: Bantam Press, 1992
Pages: 440
Genres: Speculative Fiction, Thriller
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In a time in the not so distance future where the federal government of the United States has yielded most of its power to private organizations and entrepreneurs, franchising individual sovereignty reigns supreme. Merchant armies complete national defence, highway companies compete for drivers and the mafia own the pizza delivery game. Hiro Protagonist, “Last of the freelance hackers and greatest swordfighter in the world”, finds himself without his pizza delivery job when a young skateboard “Kourier” named Y.T. tries to hitch a ride on his vehicle. Leading them on a grand scale adventure trying to uncover just what exactly Snow Crash is.

Like all of Neal Stephenson books, you can expect this one to cover subjects like  history, linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, religion, computer science, politics, cryptography, and philosophy, all while keeping to his cyberpunk thriller style. He says this book was named after the early mac software failure mode:

“When the computer crashed and wrote gibberish into the bitmap, the result was something that looked vaguely like static on a broken television set—a ‘snow crash’”

His goal, was to take the reader on a “full tour of Sumerian culture, a fully instantiated anarcho-capitalist society, and a virtual meta-society patronized by financial, social, and intellectual elites.” Snow Crash is a pseudo-narcotic or is it something far worse; Hiro and Y.T (short for Yours Truly) slowly discover that it is in fact a computer virus capable of infecting the brains of careless hackers in the Metaverse (the successor to the internet) and a mind altering virus in reality.

One of the things I liked most about Snow Crash was the fact that Neal Stephenson showed us how to write a kick ass teenage girl protagonist. Young Adult novels like to use a strong teenaged girl as a main character but few of them really know how to make her great; most are just Katniss clones. While Y.T’s narrative wasn’t as focused as that of Hiro, it was more of a pleasure to read, she seemed to accomplish the most in the entire book and she did it her own way without compromising her character. Sure, she did manage to get into some trouble and make some bad choices but she’s human, I expect them to struggle and fall and recover from their mistakes.

While this was a fun and exciting novel there are some things that I just didn’t like; firstly each ethical group portrayed the stereotypical extreme.  The mafia, the rednecks from New South Africa, the Pentecostals, Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong and so on, all felt very much like the cliché versions of these cultures and Stephenson played on the stereotypes a little too heavily. I know they were only minor plot arcs but it still felt like it was overdone. The most interesting people in the book are the ones living outside their cultural and ethnic groups; Hiro, Y.T and Raven.

Then there is my biggest problem with the book, which is a similar problem I had with Reamde and that is I feel like Neal Stephenson turns some chapters into a Wikipedia articles just to give us all the interesting information he has on a subject he is exploring. In this book it is every time the librarian talks, there is heaps and heaps of interesting, and sometimes irrelevant, information and the way Stephenson tried to stops it become and wall of text is the awkward attempt to make it sound like a conversation. Hiro keeps interrupting the librarian’s information with very simplified reiteration, agreements and metaphors, I found it incredible annoying.

Overall this was a fast paced cyber thriller with some weird and unusual tangents and twists. Stephenson has some interesting ideas about the future of the world but for some reason I never feel a strong connection to his books. I think I prefer William Gibson’s style and take on the future cyber world but can’t fault Stephenson for what he does. Not that I’ve read many books from this author and there are plenty more I want to read, maybe I just feel like he over simplifies and draws his novels out a little too much.

My Top Five Bookish Podcasts

Posted June 25, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Top 5 / 0 Comments

top-5There are millions of podcasts out there so I recently decided to listen to more of the literature based ones. Problem is there seems to be heaps of interesting podcasts out there but I found I’m more interested in the ones that banter about books rather listening to people talking about a particular book. The podcast is an interesting medium to talk about books and really helps show people’s passion about different bookish topics. I thought I would suggest some of the book podcasts that I love and my advantages/disadvantages of each series. Hope this gives some good ideas for which book podcasts to check out and maybe get some suggestions for others worth checking out.

The Bookriot Podcast (iTunes, website)

29-05-2014 12-10-52 PMWhile I have some issues with this site, I have to respect what they’ve done in book blogging and just how many pies they have their fingers in. This is a pretty good format based around what has been happening that week in book news but the huge downsides include too American focused, limited show notes and sponsorship.

You Wrote the Book! (iTunes, website)

YWTB!I’m always happy to see Simon Savidge throw his hat into another project. I first discovered Simon via The Readers and then his blog. This is a fortnightly podcast where Simon interviews an author about life as a writer and a reader. Advantage is that it’s nice to know there are more male book bloggers out there and he has a real eclectic taste in books; my only problem with this podcast is that it takes time away from The Readers.

Bookrageous (iTunes, website)

bookrageousBookrageous is a podcast where their hosts, Josh, Jenn and Rebecca just talk about what books they have been reading and banter about those books before moving onto an interesting bookish news piece or a monthly book club pick. Major disadvantage of this show is it airs irregularly and their website doesn’t offer much information other than basic show notes.

Books on the Nightstand (iTunes, website)


Books on the Nightstand state that they strive to bring great book recommendations as well as a behind the scenes look into the world of books. Michael Kindness and Ann Kingman both work in the book publishing industry (Random House) but consider this a personal project to talk all things book. I love the general podcast here but sometimes they do author talks from their many Booktopia events which I mostly skip due to sound quality. I understand they are extremely busy and it would be hard to do a weekly show but I think they are well worth checking out even if you go for weeks waiting for a non-Booktopia show.

The Readers (iTunes, website)

thereadersThe Readers is my favourite out of all the book podcasts I regularly listen to, Simon Savidge (also hosts You Wrote the Book!) and Gavin Pugh are both book bloggers. While they both have very different tastes in book (Gavin more interested in speculative fiction and Simon, literary fiction) every fortnight they come together and just banter about books. I think The Readers Is the only podcast where I have listened to every episode; always entertaining, both are passionate about books and pick interesting topics to talk about. Disadvantage for me is the fact that it went from a weekly to fortnightly show but I’m all for them doing other projects (as long as it doesn’t effect this one). Highly recommend The Readers to book bloggers just for the entertainment and even for some interesting book blogging ideas.

There are so many podcasts out there but I thought I would leave you with five that I regularly listen to. Other interesting podcasts worth checking out include Literary Disco (which talks a book an episode including once a Hardy Boys book) and The Writer and the Critic (covers two books an episode and focuses mainly on speculative fiction). Also a special shout out to fellow Aussie book bloggers Angelya and Philippa who are starting up a YA/Spec Fiction podcast called Tea in the Treetops.

Now it’s your turn, do you listen to podcasts, if so how about bookish ones? I want to know what works and doesn’t work in a podcast. It’s an interesting medium and most of these podcasts that I’ve mentioned do it really well. This has been a little project I’ve been working on, trying out different book related podcasts and I think I’ve come up with a good selection. My next project is to find some interesting book vloggers so please recommend me some if you know of any.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Posted June 24, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction / 0 Comments

The Round House by Louise ErdrichTitle: The Round House (Goodreads)
Author: Louise Erdrich
Published: Harper Collins, 2012
Pages: 321
Genres: Historical Fiction
My Copy: Hardcover

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In Spring of 1988, a woman on a reservation in North Dakota was brutally attacked and raped. The details of Geraldine Coutts’ traumatising event slowly unfold as she reluctantly recounts the account to the police or her husband. Not only will her life be changed forever, but that of her husband Bazil and their thirteen year old son Joe. In just one day, Joe’s life is irreversibly transformed as he finds himself thrust unprepared into adulthood in Louise Erdrich’s National book award winning The Round House.

From the perspective of Joe we follow this tragic story from that one Sunday in the spring through all the challenges that face the family afterwards. Not only is justice difficult to find for the victims of rape but imagine just how hard it would be when there are laws preventing the North Dakota police arresting anyone on an Indian reservation. This is a look at the problematic laws between America and native tribes as well as rape victims. Can there be justice in these cases? The tribal judge and Joe’s father, Bazil has faced many problems with finding justice but this time it is so much more personal and really highlights the fact that these laws in America need to be changed which are being worked on but unfortunately due to these tangled laws, 1 in 3 Native women were reportedly raped in their lifetime according to a 2009 report (this figure could be higher as Native women often do not report rape) and 86 percent of the sexual assaults are perpetrated by non-Native men.

Not only is this book trying to show us just how bad the laws are at protecting Native women, but  this book, from Joe’s perspective,  goes into some other details , such as, a teenage boy growing up in a both a tribal environment and the modern world. The two cultures clash from time to time, not just when it comes to the laws and justice, but through a teenager’s eyes the modern and traditional worlds are so incompatible. Joe was an interesting character whose childhood was cut so short and being ill equipped to deal with adulthood really just added another dimension of struggle to this book.

It felt like this was a coming of age story for Joe, he was thrust into adulthood far too quickly but he was still struggling to grow. The whole sexual awakening and puberty and everything else he would have had to go through at the same time as trying to help his mother heal; I don’t know how someone would be able to manage in that circumstance. Louise Erdrich did try to explore the sexual awakening and rebellious phase of Joe’s life but due to the tragic event of his mother’s life, it become really difficult to balance the two and that was one of the major issues I had with the book. I felt like Erdrich was trying to do too much and maybe didn’t execute the plot well enough to manage her ideal outcome for this novel.

Then I found some of the minor characters to interchangeable and others far more interesting than the primary ones. The rest of the family apart from Geraldine, Bazil and Joe, all felt too similar that they should have been written out of the book completely. But then you have Grandma Ignatia with her raunchy stories, the old man who tell fables in his sleep and the ex-stripper and her past. All three characters, plus a couple more seemed far more fascinating than the main characters; I would have rathered a novel about them instead.

For me the novel started off difficult, the violent nature of rape has that effect. I found it difficult to get started and that never really went away; I wanted the book to end or change perspective or do something to keep me reading but it never did. I had to read this book for book club, so I did finish it. If it wasn’t for book club, I might have abandoned or put this book aside for a long time. Sure, there are interesting points this novel brings up but I don’t think it was deserving of such a prestigious award like the National Book Award. Then again the social spotlight on these tangled laws needed to be brought to the attention of all Americans and I guess this book did a good job at that.

I’m not sure if I want to read more of Louise Erdrich’s novels but I’ve heard good things about them, but I had heard good things about this book too. Rape and the social injustice of Native women are serious problems that need to be addressed so I will give Louise Erdrich credit for The Round House, it did its job. Thank goodness the novel I finished next was Snow Crash; review soon. I would like to know if anyone has read or plans to read The Round House and if they have some thoughts on the book and these issues.

Gentlemen & Players by Joanne Harris

Posted June 16, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Thriller / 0 Comments

Gentlemen & Players by Joanne HarrisTitle: Gentlemen & Players (Goodreads)
Author: Joanne Harris
Published: Black Swan, 2005
Pages: 507
Genres: Thriller
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Audere, agere, auferre.
To dare, to strive, to conquer

For generations, privileged young men attended private schools like St. Oswald’s Grammar School for Boys, groomed for greatness and success. But this year the winds have turned, not only are suits, paperwork, and information technology threating to overwhelm the school and break the traditions of this elite school but someone is trying to corrupt and destroy St. Oswalds once and for all; this is a game for Gentlemen and Players.

Nothing like a gentlemen’s game of revenue and murder, Joanne Harris’ novel is astonishing and surprising. I normally associate Joanne Harris with the likes of Chocolat, but when I heard she had written this dark psychological thriller, I had to read it right away. This is a game of idealism verses cynicism, equality verses privilege and principle verses corruption; this is a game of chess. I love how Harris wrote this whole sociopathic revenge novel using the themes of Chess. You have the black pawn moving silently trying to take down the white king.

Roy Straitley is one of the narrators of this story, an unmarried classics master that tells us about life at St. Oswald’s, focusing on the day to day events, with the students and his work colleagues. Most importantly are The New Head (the king and only referred to as the new head even though he has been doing the job for 15 years), Pat Bishop (second master), Jeff Light (games Master), Chris Keane (new English Teacher) and Dianne Dare (also a new teacher in the French department). Straitley doesn’t know it yet but he is considered to be the white knight of this novel and the second narrative; the black pawn keeps their identity hidden till the very end (although if you are a keen chess player you might work it out in this review) and tells the story of early life at St Oswalds and their plans to destroy this school.

I love how Joanne Harris wrote this book with the chess metaphor, but she used a couple of tricks to throw off who might be the sociopath. Not that I really have a problem with it, I had my suspicions of who it might have been and her cheap tricks really threw me off at times. There is some interesting name choices used in the book; like Bishop, and Light sounds a little like Knight, and these were just ways to help build this metaphor.

While the reader will largely focus on working out just who is the person seeking revenge on St. Oswalds, this book also deals with entitlement and elitism. We know from near the start that the black pawn was poor and their father was the janitor so we know that the pawn holds so much hostility towards the rich and elite. So we know that we are dealing with the problem of not fitting in and being excluded. There are also elements of adolescent sexuality, gossip and tradition verse progress that are very clear throughout this book.

This is a wickedly dark thriller that had me gripped from the very start, it had a real serial killer vibe to it when the black pawn took moves to strategically destroy this school and then you have this very proper and traditional account of life in an elite school. Naturally this narrative changes as the white knight slowly starts to understand there is imminent danger at his beloved school.

While really entertaining and tricky, Joanne Harris also reminds us just how much lives depend on trust. This unsettling strategy to slowly plant seeds of doubt and suspicion could be futile. I found Gentlemen and Players to be a smart and witty psychological thriller; I never expected something so bleak to come from someone that wrote something as sweet as Chocolat. I’m reminded a little of The Talented Mr. Ripley when I read through this novel, sometimes I was surprised that Harris was able to outclass and fool me.

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell

Posted June 15, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Crime / 15 Comments

Winter’s Bone by Daniel WoodrellTitle: Winter's Bone (Goodreads)
Author: Daniel Woodrell
Published: Back Bay Books, 2006
Pages: 193
Genres: Crime
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Ree Dolly’s father has just skipped bail for Crystal meth charges. They will lose their house if he doesn’t show for his next court date. With two little brothers depending on her, Ree knows she must find and bring back her father dead or alive. But life in the Ozarks is harsh and she learns quickly that asking questions could be fatal.

I really wanted to read something dark and gritty like The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock and I was recommended Winter’s Bone. Daniel Woodrell describes this style as country noir and that was enough to sell me on the book, I knew nothing about the novel except there was an adaptation recently starring Jennifer Lawrence but I’ve still not seen it. The novel takes place just outside a fictional town in Missouri Ozarks where the Dolly’s have been known to be involved in the manufacturing of methamphetamine. This bleak landscape full of terrifying people makes for a dark southern novel that should satisfy most noir fans.

The plot is pretty straight forward but the continual helplessness of 16 year old Ree Dolly’s situation is what makes this book deliciously bleak. As many noir fans know, the dark and unforgiving landscape mixed with the bleakness of the plot can only strengthen a novel like this. For such a simple story line, I was presently surprised just how well Daniel Woodrell executed this novel; blurring the lines of morality and motivating the protagonist to protect her two unruly brothers and her catatonic mother from the bail bondsman and the sins of her father.

The rest of the world seems to have a negative opinion of Ree and her family, some often hostile and violent. While I understand why people hate the Dolly’s because of the meth they are selling to their community, I found it interesting to experience this from Ree’s perspective. I use to live across the road from a meth lab and while I didn’t know about it, the reactions of the people when they hear this story is really interesting, my experience was the increase in police patrols seemed to be a positive. So while we don’t know just how innocent Ree is and how involved she was in her father’s entrepreneurial ventures, I was more interested in the stigma that came with her name.

I’m not sure if we can call Ree the hero of this novel, most of the time she is just walking around and getting assaulted  but she isn’t a villain or anti-hero either. So I have to wonder what role does she play in this novel. She was strong, stubborn and takes a lot of physical punishment without complaining, so this is more of a survival story.

I’m sure this book might be considered as controversial in the Ozarks; I don’t think Daniel Woodrell is suggesting these people are all like the people in his book but I have to wonder if maybe he was a little too harsh. I accept this harshness as part of the country noir style and not a true representation of the people of Missouri so I hope they do as well.

I was really surprised how well this simple little story worked with all the dark and noirish themes. Granted it wasn’t as dark or as enjoyable as The Devil All the Time but it was still worth reading. If people have recommendations of novels that are like The Devil All the Time I would love to hear them (or I could just reread that novel). I was impressed with Daniel Woodrell and will venture to read some more of his novels. Country Noir is a great style and I am fast becoming a fan of the style.

The Significance of Naked Lunch

Posted June 14, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 2 Comments

Before I review William S. Burroughs seminal Naked Lunch I thought I would write about the historical significance of this extremely controversial novel. I know Adam from Roof Beam Reader did an interesting post (sadly it no longer exists) on Burroughs but I just want to talk about why this one book is so important to literature. Naked Lunch was originally published by European publishers Olympia Press as The Naked Lunch in 1959 and it wasn’t until 1962 that the book ever published in America. The US obscenity laws prevented this book from publication in Burroughs’ homeland until then.

The book was then banned because of obscenity in Boston, which was eventually repealed. The trial of Naked Lunch was the last significant obscenity trial in American literature. The ban was repealed in 1966 as a result of the trial which found that while there are mentions of child murder and acts of paedophilia in this book, it  not considered obscenity but has some social value. Among the people instrumental in fighting the obscenity charges include Allen Ginsberg and Norman Mailer.

This was huge win for both free speech and the arts. While book banning and censorship is still a hot topic (especially in America); Naked Lunch was the last major obscenity trial involving literature. As another interesting fact, the title of this book was suggested by Jack Kerouac but apparently Allen Ginsberg misread the title on the manuscript which was originally Naked Lust. While not hugely significant to the history of this Beat novel, it helps with the overall understanding of where the name came from. Check out my post on the book Naked Lunch here.

Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

Posted June 14, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Classic / 5 Comments

Naked Lunch by William S. BurroughsTitle: Naked Lunch (Goodreads)
Author: William S. Burroughs
Published: Grove Press, 1959
Pages: 289
Genres: Classic
My Copy: Personal Copy

Buy: AmazonBook Depository (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

In a complex and disturbing string of events, William Lee finds himself fleeing from the police. While on the run, this drug addict finds himself journeying across the United States and into Mexico. His travels lead him into the underground world of both drug and homosexual culture. The coun
ter story revolves around the use of mind control by the government and psychiatrists to manipulate and direct the public.

Considered one of the most important novels of the twentieth century, William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch is a bizarre cut up narrative protesting the death penalty. You got that the book was trying to do that from the synopsis right? Naked Lunch is a non-linear narrative that does make it really difficult to summarise the plot. Burroughs is famously known for his cut-up narrative; which is a literary technique that can be traced back to the Dadaists in the 1920s. For more information about Burroughs and cut-up check out my post called William S. Burroughs & Surrealist Writing Methods.

The book looks into two key groups; the drug and homosexual subcultures. The two unite early in the novel by the narrator but are never mutually exclusive. At the start of the book William Lee believes he will be punished more harshly for his involvement in homosexual activities than using and selling illegal drugs, which is really sad to think that people are being still victimised over their sexuality and drugs have just become socially acceptable.

Then the subplot largely focuses on the way in which psychotherapy combines with the government to institute mind control. Dr Benway experiments on ways to manipulate the minds of his patients in order to further his research. With no ethical consideration, he often changes his patient’s sexual identity and then tries to cure them. He also creates a mental controlling device for the towns as a way to use the population for his sadistic experiments and put them through psychological torture. Many of these experimental towns are based on the utopian idea and Burroughs like to explore the problems with the idea in a rather sinister way.

So how is this novel a protest to the death penalty? Well that would be in the same way Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal ideals with economics. William S. Burroughs uses Juvenalian satire to highlight the barbaric, disgusting and anachronism of capital punishment. While the sex in Naked Lunch can be considered as mutual satisfaction sometimes, it is also used as a metaphor (especially in the more violent sexual acts) for defeating an enemy, self serving idol worshipping and capital punishment. The results of these metaphors are often confusing, shocking, taboo and sickening. Sex is a powerful tool with this novel and while it does look at sex and relationships in a positive way (rarely), the majority is used to symbolise the dark and cynical themes within the book.

William Lee is obviously William S. Burroughs alter ego and the book can be read as a semi-autobiographical novel through a serious drug addiction but like Infinite Jest there is so much more going on. This book did remind me a lot of Infinite Jest; not just with how it dealt with drug addiction but the way it used very dark themes to look at other social issues. William S. Burroughs had a similar experience to the narrator, taking trips around the world in order to avoid being arrested. Even the addition and sexual experimentation is similar to the authors own experiences, as part of his attempts to separate himself from mainstream culture. William S. Burroughs is a fascinating man and I’m interested to learn/blog more about him.

I’m not sure what the difference between the original and restored text but I did read the restored edition. While this was a really weird and somewhat difficult book to get though there is so many interesting themes to explore that I feel very satisfied by completing this novel. It is disturbing and some of it will make you feel sick to your stomach and I can understand why people hate this book. This is a really intense novel that will drain you emotionally and mentally. The book is full of violent and graphic sex, so it will never be for everyone but I can see why it is an important novel, not just because of the obscenity trial but also for all the themes.

I’ve not read many Beat novels in my life, I think On the Road was the only other one but I do like the gritty and surreal approach both books take. I’m not sure if this is a major theme for all beat novels but if so, I will have to read more. I doubt I’ll ever return to Naked Lunch simply because of how disturbing some of the scenes are but I know I can be completely satisfied with having read this one and judging by this review, I can also take comfort in the fact I was able to pick it apart and understand some of the themes.