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BIBLIOGRIND

Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

Books Read Lately

These latest three books make it 15 for the year, thus far, which is nowhere near the reading I did last year (49!) … but I have a lot more duties pulling at my time. Nevertheless, I continue to read in the “Year of the Big Book”….

The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell

I’ve said much about this novel already on this blog, but as a final (final) word, this book was written in French, won the country’s most prestigious award, and, after I finished it, there was no doubt of its deserving such a prize. The character of Dr Max Aue is one that is enduring in literature, and shall stay with me for a long time, as his ability to see through the atrocities of the Nazi war machine even as he participated it as soldier, National Socialist, and German, make for one intense psychological journey. Meanwhile, we find ourselves at the center of the war’s most famous battles, and infamous death camps; we meet the Nazi high command, and watch (with astonishment and some glee) Hitler get bitten on the nose.

The Secret Life of Words by Henry Hitchings

The popularity of English is far beyond the phenomenon of a small island’s tongue (hardly comprised of its native words, anymore) gaining world dominance in a mere 600 years or so. But the fun of reading where lots and oodles and bushel-baskets full of words come from, and why they’re in the language, is why this book is worth your time. More stories describe the etymology of these words than the mere explanations themselves.

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan

Okay, this is not a Big Book, but it’s the perfect size for traveling, which I had done last week, and, with this story of an intense group of relationships, the time runs well as you read about friends who make some strange pact, after the death of a mutual paramour. Meanwhile, the everyday world closes in on them both. For a micro-cosmic look at unusual characters who do quite usual things in their own strange ways, to excedingly odd results, you needn’t look further than McEwan.

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What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

Reading “The Kindly Ones” by Jonathan Littell

This winner of France’s highest literary award, the Goncourt, “The Kindly Ones” has Dr Max Aue revisiting his life, particularly his years in the SS intelligence division during Nazi rampage across Poland, Ukraine, and Russia. Aue is an intellectual, and what he sees his fellow soldiers do in the name of “service to the Reich” sickens him and other officers. But life in the army — any army — is rife with moral contradictions.

And so the book chronicles what Max Aue does and what he thinks about what he (and other soldiers) does. His ability to weigh intelligently the differences between civilian life (and intellectual study) and soldierly duty is fascinating … and troubling. I’m on page 136, and already the atrocities are piling up as high as the body count of civilian victims shot in cold blood in unmarked trenches outside their villages.

“Ever since the beginning of human history, war has always been regarded as the ultimate evil. But we had invented something compared to which war had come to seem clean and pure, something from which many were already trying to escape by taking refuge in the elementary certainties of war and the front.”

I’m waiting for the real story to kick in — I’ve read enough factual history about WWII’s atrocities; I’ve seen the Nazi film footage, too; so fiction needs to offer more — the story of Max Aue and his conscience and where all his learning is buried during these years (so far, he’s making wonderful allusions that make a read cringe).

But at 900+ pages, I can’t see myself going page by page with one massacre after another described in beautiful, chilling detail. There’s got to be something more.

To be continued ….

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What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.