Publisher: Back Bay Books

Me and the Devil by Nick Tosches

Posted December 12, 2015 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

Me and the Devil by Nick ToschesTitle: Me and the Devil (Goodreads)
Author: Nick Tosches
Narrator: Rick Zieff
Published: Back Bay Books, 2012
Pages: 400
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Audiobook

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Aging writer Nick is witnessing the decline of civilisation. One night he meets a provocative young woman in a bar that surprisingly offers to go home with him. This one night unleashed an unholy desire within him. Unable to control his primitive desires, Nick finds his thirst getting strong. His desire for blood quickly becomes the driving force in his life. However, has he just found the key to mortality or has he just unknowingly made a deal with the devil?

Reading Me and the Devil, I notice right away that Nick Tosches is playing with the vampire genre; the idea of old men drinking the blood of young women to gain extended morality. Turning it into a sexual perversion, blood play works really well as a device to explore the vampire mythology. The story basically follows a young nineteen year old in an unhealthy relationship with an older man. It is basically Twilight, exposing many of the problems with the relationship of Edward and Belle.

Although Nick Tosches does a much better job with the relationship, exploring a darker and more brutal nature of an unhealthy relationship. His writing is beautiful and is often compared to William S. Burroughs and Charles Bukowski. I love that gritty nature of the novel and surprising beauty in the language. When it comes to talking about food, Tosches is very detailed and I found myself getting hungry at the food imagery.

Besides the vampire angle, Me and the Devil is a story of a grumpy old man that is angry with the changing world. Interestingly enough that the main character is named Nick Tosches, making this anger autobiographical. If you look at Nick’s website, the ‘about the author’ section simply says “Nick Tosches lives in what used to be New York.” This is a representation of how the character viewed New York, always talking about the old days. When you had little deli’s and mum and pop stores. The quality of the food was so much better back in the old days.

I feel like there is a lot to say about this novel but it would require spoiling the plot and I really think this is a book that deserves to be experience blind. Since Nick is a writer in the novel there are heaps of literary references to obscure and cult classics, which I appreciated. I loved Nick Tosches writing style and need to read more of his books. He is mostly known for his dark and gritty music biographies Hellfire: The Jerry Lee Lewis Story and Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams (Dean Martin) and I am interested in reading those books. Tosches also explores a lot of religious themes so I am excited to experience more of his novels.  This is the type of author that you will either love or hate, luckily for me, I have found a new favourite.

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

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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 Monsters by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

Posted May 18, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Non-Fiction / 2 Comments

The Monsters by Dorothy and Thomas HooblerTitle: The Monsters (Goodreads)
Author: Dorothy Hoobler, Thomas Hoobler
Published: Back Bay Books, 2006
Pages: 400
Genres: Non-Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

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It was a dark and stormy night on the shores of Lake Geneva, 1816. You’ve heard the story beforbe; Lord Byron challenges his friends to see who can come up with the best ghost story. Among the people include Percy Bysshe Shelley, his lover Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, Mary’s stepsister Claire Claremont and Byron’s physician, John William Polidori. Two novels were born that very night; Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s (née Godwin) Frankenstein and John William Polidori’s The Vampyre. The evening begat a curse, too. Within a few years of Frankenstein’s publication, nearly all of those involved met untimely deaths.

First of all I want to point out that authors of this book Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler don’t actually believe this was a curse. Well at least I hope they don’t, this is a little gimmick to help sell the book and I think they just wanted to explore the interesting fact that they did all die young. This book is purely a biography on Mary Shelley that focuses on the night in 1816 and the novel Frankenstein. I was hoping for something about struggling to write something as great as Frankenstein or how the novel has been destroyed by pop culture.

The book starts out with the life of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, the famous philosopher and feminist parents of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. The two had very different personalities and they seemed like a very odd couple but I think they really complemented each other. Sure, they had their problems but nothing like their daughter.

This brings us to the bulk of the book, Mary Shelley and the young romantics. These were the original rock stars and their lives, no soap opera will ever come close to the drama and complexity as the real lives of the romantics. I picked up this book to learn about these poets after reading A Treacherous Likeness and I wanted to know more about them. This was a very accessible biography, which focuses primarily on Mary Shelley but it gives you a great insight into her life. I don’t pretend to fully understand the Romantics, they are way to complex but I feel I have a better knowledge into their lives.

My interest in the Romantics has gotten stronger thanks to The Monsters by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler. I have a few other books I plan to finish off in on the topic and I doubt I’ll stop there. I love the quotes and the referencing in this biography; I’ve often found that I wonder about the source of information in biographies that don’t reference so it was so handy to have that reference.

While this book does primary focus on Mary, it was nice to learn a little more of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, Claire Claremont and John William Polidori. I didn’t previously know the story of the original publication of The Vampyre; I found it fascinating and heart breaking for John William Polidori. It is always great to find new stories about these amazing talented people.

One thing I liked about this biography, especially after reading A Treacherous Likeness, is the fact that it didn’t try to sway the reader’s opinions; it stuck to facts and left it to the readers to make up their own mind. This was a refreshing change from the opinionated A Treacherous Likeness and I really enjoyed the experience of learning more about these poets. I’m sure there are better biographies on Mary Shelley out there but The Monsters is worth checking out as well.

What it Was by George Pelecanos

Posted April 17, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Pulp / 0 Comments

What it Was by George PelecanosTitle: What it Was (Goodreads)
Author: George Pelecanos
Series: Derek Strange and Terry Quinn #5
Published: Back Bay Books, 2012
Pages: 243
Genres: Pulp
My Copy: Personal Copy

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Derek Strange left the police department to set up shop as a private investigator while his old partner Frank “Hound Dog” Vaughn remained. When a young woman comes to Strange to help find a costume ring, it leads him right to Vaughn’s active homicide case. Now both of them are working together trying to find a ruthless killer known as Red Fury.

George Pelecanos is best known as a writer for The Wire; I will admit I’ve not watched the show in its entirety but I thought I will try one of his books. I picked up this book because it was accessible but soon found out it was book five in a series about Derek Strange & Frank Vaughn. Luckily enough this read like a standalone and still felt like I learnt enough about the two to enjoy this book.

This book reminds me of those 1970’s pulp movies, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel with that same feel. You have the typical cool, badass African American who goes around kicking ass and then you have his former partner who is as hard-boiled as they come but since he is a cop he does things by the book. This is almost like a buddy cop situation but because they are not working together it doesn’t turn into anything formulaic.

Pelecanos packs a lot of detail into this novel; the cars, the clothes and the action packed plot but most of all the music. I cannot help but wonder if George Pelecanos was obsessed with music at the time of writing this book, because it really came through. Not only does he mention songs, albums and artists but who was playing what instrument and a little review of the song according to the character. Never have I read such an obsession with music since American Psycho.

I’m not sure if Strange had an afro but I can’t imagine him any other way with his bellbottom pants; it really was an image driven novel. I think with all the work George Pelecanos did with TV helped him world build and paint a picture. There were some clunky parts of the book but nothing really that would detract from the enjoyment of Pelecanos hard-boiled style.

I want to read more books in this series, as well as try out some of his other standalone novels. While this was book five, it was enough to convince me to explore more of this author’s catalogue, but I can’t help but wonder if reading this series out of order was one of my major problems with the book. I hear many people talking about The Night Gardener, so maybe that will be my next step into George Pelecanos style.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Posted April 12, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

Infinite Jest by David Foster WallaceTitle: Infinite Jest (Goodreads)
Author: David Foster Wallace
Published: Back Bay Books, 1996
Pages: 1079
Genres: Literary Fiction
My Copy: Personal Copy

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

In the not so distant future, the residents of a Boston halfway house for recovering addicts and the students of the Enfield Tennis Academy both search for the master copy of a bizarre movie that is so entertaining the viewers die in a state of catatonic bliss. That movie is called Infinite Jest and it is said that anyone who watches it will lose all desire to do anything but watch it. This semi-parodic novel questions what entertainment is and why it dominates our lives.

I’m not going to lie, this book is both lengthy and difficult to read but in the end it is worth the effort. You will need three bookmarks for this book, one for where you are up to, another for the endnotes and the third for the timeline that sits around page 80. You do need to read the endnotes, this book relies heavily on them; they include definitions, side thoughts, in depth details and even a filmology. You will also need to know the timeline because David Foster Wallace likes to jump around a bit, so it helps to keep up. This is where it gets tricky; in the book’s future each year has a corporate sponsorship, so you have Year of the Whopper, Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad, Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar and so on. It helps to know in what order the years are in so you can piece it all together. While all this might help you keep track of what’s going on there is still the fact that this book is piled with subplot after subplot and you will have to keep track of more characters than A Game of Thrones novel. You will need to keep notes and it might even be a good idea to get a study guide because this book will take you on a very interesting ride.

As I said before, this book is not easy; I took my time with it and slowly chipped away at this book for two months but I still think I’ve missed a lot. While there are some tangents that happen in the endnotes, this book jumps around so much that sometimes you get lost and have to go back. There shouldn’t be any shame in doing this as Wallace’s writing voice is a postmodern mixture of high- and low-brow linguistic traits which is very difficult to become familiar with. He also uses juxtaposes, colloquialisms and polysyllabic and highly esoteric words so you will need to spend some time researching.

Now that I’ve talked about the difficulties of reading the book, I should probably talk about my thoughts on it. Infinite Jest starts off rather dense, you really need to push through the first few hundred pages before things start to make any real sense. So why is this book considered a masterpiece, magnum opus or anything else it has been referred to? It’s not to read; rather it is a book that will challenge us, to rattle us out of complacency. For me I think David Foster Wallace has the ability to take something like substance addiction, recovery programs, depression, abuse, death, relationships, popular entertainment and even tennis and look at it in a very careful way. The way Wallace explores each topic may make you feel uncomfortable and it is confronting but you do gain a deeper understanding.  Yet the book doesn’t remain dry and depressing; Wallace has a very unique way of using humour to basically satirise the issues without making fun of them.

This book is a parody and comment on American culture, yet this is also a semi-autobiographical novel of the issues facing the author. Creating this funny but bitter sweet novel that I found difficult not to associate with the life of David Foster Wallace; his depression that lead to his suicide.  There is a lot going on in this novel and to go through all the major themes within this novel would probably turn this review into something too long to read so if you want to talk about themes I’ll leave that for the comments. So just a brief overview; the main character Hal Incandenza is an intelligent tennis prodigy dealing with the intense pressure put on him to succeed in a junior Tennis Academy, dealing with a drug addiction and the ongoing strain (both physical and emotional) to reach his full potential. While that is an understated summary, all the subplots makes it hard to cover, this is just the basis of the book.

Addiction and depression would be the two major themes in the most brutally confronting depiction of the struggles I’ve ever read. No other book has given me the insight like this one. I feel like the depiction of depression is often wrong in books and movies; depression is a complex thing, it’s not a state, it’s an overall feeling that can’t be shaked. One of the characters in the book; Kate tried to commit suicide because “[she] just didn’t want to feel this way anymore” and “[she’d] rather feel nothing than this”. This tragically honest view on depression really opened my eyes on the state of mind and the struggles that people dealing with depression go through, and for this only, Infinite Jest was worth reading.

The futuristic America created in Infinite Jest feels very much like western society now, just with the increased corporate involvement but that is the way the world is heading. I am reminded of dystopian classics with his satire of society and the social/cultural commentary. It really covers a lot of interesting topics and, while it is difficult, well worth reading.

This is one of those books I plan to re-read once I have a degree in Literature behind me; while I got a lot out of this novel, I am hit with the feeling that I’ve only scratched the surface. This is rather impressive novel overall, never have I seen a novel with over 60% of Goodreads users rating the book five stars and for good reason, the book covers a lot of topics and does it really well. Blending serious topics with an awkward sense of humour is balanced perfectly, and I highly recommend reading Infinite Jest; even if it is only to increase your pretentious levels.