A Strangeness in My Mind ~ by Orhan Pamuk

Omg- I finished it!
  
This book but Orhan Pamuk, of whom I am a fan, is long and slow and if you’re new to Pamuk then I suggest you read one of his earlier books before this one.  My Name is Red is excellent but The Black Book or Snow would be okay, too.  There is little plot in A Strangeness in My Mind, it’s mostly a character study of the protagonist and possibly Istanbul itself. But it really all comes together in the end.  Most of Pamuk’s more recent books have a tone of what is called “hüzün” in Turkish, a kind of melancholy.  It’s most prevalent in Pamuk’s non-fiction book Istanbul: Memories and the City, but it’s also heavy in the novel, The Museum of Innocence as well as A Strangeness in My Mind. 

*******
A Strangeness in My Mind
By Orhan Pamuk
Translated by Ekin Oklap 
2014 / 624 pages 
Read by John Lee 21h 56m
Rating: 9 / 21st century lit 
*******

A young man named Melvut arrives in Istanbul from a smaller Turkish city in 1969 at the age of 12 and lives there until 2012 when he’s 55.  During this time he marries and has daughters and continues to live in the city, witnessing the changes. The city generally grows and grows but also goes downhill into a big, vibrant and corrupt, modern city while Melvut muddles along, selling his homemade boza, a grain based alcoholic drink, and doing other things while raising his daughters.
 
The story is told from variety of 1st person views as well as a 3rd person point of view.  The first person points of view include those of Melvut and a few relatives so the reader gets Melvut’s input about his occupation and marriage as well as those of his wife, father and a couple cousins – also, there may be some differences which work into the themes or shows that the characters are somewhat unreliable. 

There are themes of change and differences in people, and of acceptance and aging and forgetting and faith and so on as Melvut’s life goes on.  Kismet (fate) and memory are always a part of it.

One long plot/idea which threads its way through the book at times involves a letter Melvut wrote to Rayiha, his first wife at the beginning of their courtship. Was it really intended for her, or was it intended for Samiha, her more beautiful sister and his second wife?  Was there some confusion at the time of writing?  It all winds up at the end – in its own strange way. There are many things contributing to the strangeness in Melvut’s mind.  The ending is really lovely.  

It took me a long time to get this read – I bought it in April of 2020 and it’s now January 2021.  (Cutting myself some slack,  this isn’t the kind of book that’s going to grab your attention during times of troubles – and 2020 was a time of troubles.)
 The narrator in the Audible version, John Lee, does an excellent job but I both read and listened – sometimes I needed to see how a name was spelled.  Other times I wanted to go over a nicely written passage again and maybe highlight it.  Also, there are a few nice little graphics strewn around as well as an index of characters, a chronology and a reading guide. 

If this is your thing go for it.  And enjoy Pamuk’s other books, too.

https://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/opinion/william-armstrong/a-strangeness-in-my-mind-by-orhan-pamuk-89191 

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Winter’s Bone ~ by Daniel Woodrell

I don’t know why but I didn’t really get involved in this book until close to the end – when the bail bondsman shows up at Ree’s house.  Then it kind of took off for me, became real somehow.  The story, which is fairly good in concept, is that of a teenage girl who is left to fend for herself and her two young brothers along with her mentally disabled mother.  This happens when  her father, who ran a meth lab,  goes missing while being out on bail.  Now the family will lose their home if he doesn’t show up for court.  It all takes place in the back country of the Ozarks which was probably settled by the Scots-Irish of Kentucky bringing their ways and family feuds with them. (I just sense this from the language and the family ways.) 

******
Winter’s Bone 
by Daniel Woodrell 
2006
Read by Emma Galvin 4h 53m
Rating – 6/B – literary crime 
*******

There are lots and lots of rave reviews on Amazon – mine’s not that.  Maybe it was bad timing for me.  It’s called Faulknerian and Homeric –  omg.  I think I missed something or it was bad timing for me – whatever.  I’m not interested in trying again.  (It might have been partially due to the narrator.)

Anyway, Ree has to find Dad to get him to court so she can keep the house which was used as bail. This is the story of her search.  But in the Ozark hills folks don’t talk much,  and they certainly don’t snitch and they certainly especially don’t snitch on family!  So she gets little or no help from her extended family.  It appears his whereabouts are unknown by anyone – or at least they all say they’re don’t know until … There’s a lot more involved here but that’s the gist. 

The book has been compared to Faulkner and I do see the huge effort gone into a kind of Southern, Biblical, Faulknerian gothic with highly descriptive passages.  Faulknerian Southern Gothic might be appropriate for the geographical area and its people,  but the narrative doesn’t quite get there because the author tries so hard.  And that interferes with the flow of the plot which should be front and center in a genre crime novel. Literary crime is very hard to do well.  

Also, the subject matter is often too gritty for Faulkner.  Faulkner’s characters don’t deal with meth labs and he doesn’t often deal in the serious mistreatment of women.  Besides, Faulkner’s women don’t say things like, “It seemed like one day she sprung a leak and all her gumption drained out.”  (Is that trying to be Kentucky funny?) 

Between the ignorant, arrogant, snotty, mean, language of most of the characters and the nasally sound of the narrator for those same characters I was turned off.  I had no sympathy in any way at all for most of them – I could barely tolerate them and it certainly didn’t fit at all with the lyrically descriptive passages which were juxtaposed in the same pages. 

I understand the movie was excellent – I suppose that’s possible, although it’s hard to imagine a Faulknerian narrative in a movie.  Imo, the book suffered from an overreach on the part of the author. 
 

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Ye Olde TBR Files –

I now have several books on my systems (Kindle, Audible on Mac and iPad) which have been sitting there for awhile (more than 3 months) and I’d like to get them gone. I’d like to get rid of 1 book a month. Mostly they’re long books but I have started them all. These are the books and the order I’d read them going from most to least anticipated. They’re about 1/2 and 1/2, fiction and nonfiction and they are all Audible except for 3 for which I also have Kindle versions. Meanwhile I’ll keep up with my regular reading but one of my 12 or so books will be an old one from the TBR file.

The Transformation of Virginia by Rhys Isaac (K & PB) – currently reading slowly
A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk (K & A)
Russka by Edward Rutherford (K & A)
The Dying Grass by William Vollmann (K & A)
The Frontiersmen by Allan W. Eckert (A)
Histories by Herodotus (A)
Crashes and Crises by Connel Fullenkamp (A)
The Great Train Robbery by Michael Crichton (A)
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque(A)

I’ve had a TBR pile since Amazon did free shipping for 5 books (before Kindles) – I’d buy extras. Then, after I got started on Kindle and Audible, I didn’t have a TBR file for a long time because I bought as I read. Then came the sales and I was good for awhile but the last year or so it’s caught up with me and now – voila – me too. (Note – I still have about 85 books in my old hard cover and paperback TBR pile – they just sit over there and collect dust. I don’t count them as a TBR pile because I know I won’t read them – they’re DNGT (Did Not Get To).

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The Last Monument ~ Michael C. Grumley

This was on sale and it was okay for a book about hunting old Germans and their missing Nazi treasures plus going a bit further. But the reason I bought it was that mountain range on the cover and the blurbs highlighting Colorado.

*******
The Last Monument 
by Michael C. Grumley
2020
Read by Scott Brick 9h 6m
Rating: B- / crime – thriller 
*******

Whatever – two old geezers die in a Colorado plane wreck and the protagonist, Joe Rickards, finds the wreckage. It turns out that the deceased were both involved in chasing Nazis.  Angela Reed is the niece of one of the old men who was a good friend of the other.  Angela wants to know what happened and why.  So with the assistance of Joe Rickards, a suddenly unemployed FBI agent, she sets out to travel to Peru where the trail gets mixed up with old tales of gold and ancient, treasure-filled cities along with some mystical possibilities.  It seems that someone does not want them putting too much together.

The plot sometimes gets a bit contrived and complex to the point I got lost a couple times, but it straightened out for me pretty quick.  There’s plenty of conspiracy stuff and action-packed thriller scenes. And then there’s Scott Brick narrating which just ratchets up the tension – unnecessarily at times (imo).  

Overall, the book held my interest for several reasons.  First, there’s the historical background which I’m almost always interested in (and I did Google some names, places and events).  Second the three main characters are well drawn and likable. Finally, the tension and thriller parts were masterfully handled.  Grumley has a fan club for a reason.   

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Shuggie Bain ~ by Douglas Stuart

Shuggie Bain was the Booker Prize winner for 2020. I bought the Audible fairly early because I knew the Booker Prize Reading Group would be reading it.  Still, I really kind of didn’t want to read it. For some reason I had it in my head that it was similar to Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, a Short Lister from 2015. That was a really rough book for me.

*******
Shuggie Bain
by Douglas Stuart
2020 /
read by Angus King 17h 30m
rating: 8.5 / contemp fiction – Scotland
*******

Shuggie Bain is a little like Hanya Yanagihara’s A Short Life in a couple ways,  but it’s not got the ugly roughness – the horrible stuff.  Instead in the middle of poverty and alcoholism it has a lot of love and acceptance.  

After we meet Shuggie in a frame story in which although still a teenager, he has left home  and is living on his own.  Within the story itself he starts off at 5 years old and dealing with an alcoholic mother and an older brother while his sister has left home.  His parents are not getting on too well because Dad works nights and has adulterous affairs.  

We follow this dysfunctional family for about ten years during which time Shuggie slowly realizes he is different from other boys and is teased for it.  Also his mother struggles with men and her alcoholism in different ways but in the long run she gets worse,   

The alcoholism is presented very realistically as is the plight of Shuggie struggling with friends and school life vs home life. The story is tragic, not gritty. But it does get a bit explicit in some places.

I was disappointed in this book up until about half way when it started to slowly gather some steam.  After that I’d got accustomed to the pace and the way the story unfolded with tenderness and occasional lyricism.  This might be my best for the month although … 

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Murder in Old Bombay ~ Ne March – 7.5

This is a long book and it seems longer,  but like so many novels of India it is immersive with loads of background and history.  It’s also a debut novel but won the 1st Crime Novel Award given by Minotaur books and Mystery Writers of America last year.  

Murder in Old Bombay
by Ne March 
Read by Vikas Adam 16h 2m
Rating 7.5  / historical fiction/mystery 

Jim Agnihotri is a badly wounded captain in the Anglo-Indian forces who leaves the hospital where he’s been reading the new Sherlock Holmes novels.  The year is 1892.  He also reads the newspapers and becomes interested in a the double suicide of two young women in Bombay.  He writes to the husband of one of the women and then goes to personally investigate their “suicides.” The reports in the newspapers have been laden with inconsistencies.  And therein lies the origins and crux of the tale.

 Jim gets involved with the powerful Parsee families of the deceased girls and his investigations take him to other cities and adventures which involve befriending several children along the way.  So the investigation gets delayed and turns dangerous and the book turns into a thriller at times. Meanwhile he falls in love with Diana, a close relative of one of the deceased women.

There are some problems – he’s half native Indian and half English, and his native Indianness is not the right kind for Diana’s family. But first he has to solve the mystery of the girls’ deaths have a few adventues and then he can become really invovled with Dian.  The book turns into an adventure romance.  I’m not fond of romance –

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Another “resolution”

Gone are the days when I made serious reading resolutions. A lot of readers say they want to read 100 books this year or they want to start a reading log. Those were my goals for many years until I retired and I had a lot of time with life being pretty stable. Then after a few years the count jumped to 180. That’s enough. More than 15 a month and I get confused. Actually, more than 12 a month is a bit too much for me, although it does depend on what I’m reading. This past year the total was 125 (about 10 a month and think I can stick with that pretty easily. although anywhere 10-15 is fine.

About the blog – back in the 1980s and ’90s I did so want to keep track but every time I tried I would either forget or lose the darned notebook. Then in 1998 or so I found websites. I devised a “library” page and kept my little notes there. Not called blog yet. That was Geocities and it was HTML I blew it and the whole site crashed. A few year later I went onto iWeb and that worked nicely even if it was WYSIWYG but Apple got out of the web business. So I moved again to WordPress in 2011 and I’ve been here since.

Now? I’d like to keep reading about 10 – 12 books a month and continue to keep track of them via my blog.

But in addition I’d like to do a clean up of my TBR “pile.” Pile is in quotes there because I have almost no physical books. I have one going at the moment but that’s only as a supplement to the Kindle (becuase the Kindle doesn’t have the beautiful photos.) I don’t read from that book. I have about 8 “To Be Read” Audio books and I’d like to get about 6 of them read without acquiring more – although if I acquire a couple new ones that’s fine. I don’t want the old ones hanging out and making a permanent home in that folder. I mostly read as I buy.

I want to finish The Transformation of Virginia by Rhys Isaac. I wanted that book for years and finally got it in both the Kindle version and the paperback. I got the paperback first because I knew the graphics weren’t included in the Kindle version. BUT, the trouble with the paperback is that the font is too small to read comfortably and it’s a physically large book. So I read along in my Kindle and when it shows a graphic should be there I check my paperback.

 I also really want to read The Children of Ash and Elm by Neil Price but I’ll not make it into a resolution because I haven’t bought it yet, but I think it really needs reading,  

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Blacktop Wasteland ~ by S.A. Cosby

The reviews and critics have been right. This is a good read!!!   Yes,  it needed the set-up of the first several pages in order to establish the character of the protagonist, but after it gets going it really gets going, intense and gritty and a slice of life on the side of the tracks we don’t want to find ourselves.  In places it is so gritty that it reminded me of Don Winslow’s Cartel Trilogy although it’s certainly not like any of those books. Cosby has used  the usual elements of genre crime fiction adding his own touch with some very nice literary qualities.   And it’s haunting in its emotional sensibilities. 

*******
Blacktop Wasteland
By S.A. Cosby
2020 / 305 pages
Read by Adam Lazarre-White 11h 8m Rating:  9 / A+++  / literary crime
******* 

 Beauregard Montage is still a relatively young Black man, in his late twenties probably, and the owner of a small auto-repair shop.  He’s married and has three children, two with his wife and they live with him, but the oldest is with her mother, a white woman. They live in the fictional Appalachia Valley of Virginia and the book travels throughout southern Virginia and North Carolina.  

Beau (or Bug) as he is known, spent 5 years in prison for armed robbery,  but that was several years ago.  He would have stayed out of trouble if life hadn’t become rather overwhelming in the ways that the lives of poor people do. He has tried so hard, but now his mother needs money to re-pay her long term care facility, his daughter needs money for college,  his son needs money for … and the list goes on. None of this is his fault at all – it’s life for a good black man with a prison record or maybe any good man in that situation.

He’s as successful as an uneducated black man coming out of prison with a wife and kids and a mom in a nursing home can be.  He can fix cars and he can drive cars very fast.

This is a crime novel, but it’s not your usual cop-shop procedural or who-done-it. This is the story from point of view of the bad guys and it’s how some of the worst of them tangle.     

 Beau is unusual in only one way and that’s that he’s smarter with an eidetic, or photographic, memory.  He’s also a good husband and father – and he’s not a drug addict or an alcoholic or woman chaser.  But he’s a seriously bad-ass car racer and he has a troubled past.  But these days he’s the owner/operator of an auto-repair shop which does an honest business – until …

This book has a somewhat more literary appeal than most genre crime novels ever achieve. Blacktop Wasteland is sometimes a tender and nuanced examination of the troubles which plague young black men in the US today – or I should say poor young men with prison records today – it’s not about race. Mostly it’s the thriller story of underground criminal activities including gritty shoot-outs and chases.  

After it gets going the tension is high and Cosby ratchets it higher and higher.  Short sentences with present tense verbs, scene cuts, life and death chase scenes and interesting metaphors all work to provide and enhance the tension.  
 
As I said above there is a certain amount of literariness to the book – This is in the language which is totally appropriate for the story.  Another literary point is that if this were a typical genre crime novel it would be understood that the good guys win. But crime novels are rarely told from the point of view of the criminals and in this book their ultimate ending (who lives/dies?) is open as far as the reader knows until the end of the book.  

The style is a kind of contemporary Southern noir and the dark themes of some Biblical passages underscore that: “The sins of the father are visited upon the sons.” (Exodus 18)  And from Faulkner ,”The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” (Faulkner). Meanwhile, the themes of contemporary literature highlight identity, the love of family and the traps of caste and capitalism. “A man can’t be two types of beast.”  

There are poor Blacks and Whites strewn throughout the narrative so any simple theme of race is not really here.  The main story concerns a basically good Black man and his family caught up in the trap of capitalism.

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True Intent ~ by Michael Stagg

So I started off the New Year in 2021 with a book released in 2020 by a relatively new-to-me author.  This feels right. True Intent is by the same author as Lethal Defense,  Michael Stagg.  They’re books #1 and 2 in the Nate Shepherd series. These are legal thrillers – my favorite sub-genre. Sad to say these are the only ones of the series available so far on Audible.   

*******
True Intent
by Michael Sears
2020 /
read by George Newbern 9h 34m
rating: A / legal mystery

*******

Nate Shepherd is an attorney working out of a medium sized Ohio town not too far from the Michigan border.  He gets involved in the case of a single professional woman who is charged with murdering a very rich widowed man – a billionaire due to big forest operations.  He has children who might want him dead but his date for the evening of his death might have had problems with his forestry interests.

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2020 – recap and here’s to 2021!

Whew – glad that whole year is over and I have my fingers crossed and I’m knocking on wood and I’m doing whatever prayers I think will help for a better year coming up.  

As a result of the 2020 troubles (all of them) and my health (etc) and moving 1500 miles I didn’t read as much this year as in prior years basically because my focus was just not available.  So my total books read was only 125 books – And last year was only 133 due to my health issues which started in about July of 2019.  (I’ve read 180+ in years past – 2015, 2016, etc.) 

Anyway, the 125 included 37 nonfiction, -58 crime novels, and the rest were general fiction with a couple classics included.  (My health is still not what it was and probably never will be but I’m better. I should get walking and eating better again – I’ve been off cigarettes for about 13+ months.

I feel my focus coming back lately. I just finished my second book for 2021 and neither was short (reviews up soon). They’re both crime novels because those hook me in better. But I’m getting ready for a good meaty book of some sort – plenty on my wish list!

These are the tops –

Mysteries and Crime. (8 books): 
Lethal Defense ~ by Michael Stagg (legal)
The Law of Innocence ~ by Michael Connelly (legal)
Troubled Blood ~ by Robert Galbraith  (PI)
A Private Cathedral ~ by James Lee Burke (procedural)
The Scholar ~ by Dervla McTiernan (procedural) 
The Last Trial ~ by Scott Turow (legal) 
A Naked Singularity ~ by Sergio de la Pava. (literary)
Goodlove and Strech series by Al Macy (4 books – light/legal)

General Fiction: (6 books)
The Glass House ~ by Emily St John Mandell
Jack ~ by Marilynne Robinson
Summer ~ by Ali Smith
The Redhead by the Side of the Road ~ by Anne Tyler 
LaRose ~ by Louise Erdrich
Girl, Woman Other ~ by Bernardine Evaristo
Becoming Duchess Goldblatt ~ by Anonymous (most of this is memoir)

Non-Fiction (6 books): 
Uncanny Valley ~ by Anna Wiener (Memoir)
The Great Influenza ~ by John M. Barry  (History)
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat ~ by Samin Nasrat  (A book about cooking)
Frederick Douglass ~ by David W. Blight (Biography)
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee ~ by David Treuer (History)

For 2021 – a better year I’m sure – I have determined to finish:
The Transformation of Virginia by Rhys Isaac
and
The Children of Ash and Elm by Neil Price

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The Chimes ~ by Charles Dickens

I had this audio book since last year when I didn’t get around to reading it so I thought this New Year’s Eve would be excellent.  And then on New Year’s Day I’ll read something which has just been released.  

*******
The Chimes: A Goblin Story of Some Bells that Rang an Old Year Out and a New Year In
*By Charles Dickens 1844
Read by Richard Armitage 3h 40m Rating:  B – even if it is a classic.
*******  

This is the first of four Christmas novellas Dickens wrote in the years just after A Christmas Carol was published to such wide acclaim.

Trotty is an old man who sits by the steps of a church building in which there are chimes which count off the hours and the quarter hours. So the narrative is broken into four chapters or quarters.  Trotty’s business is to deliver messages for various individuals, but he remains poor. It’s New Year’s Eve and Trotty is depressed because crime and unsavory activities seem to be increasing in the city.  His daughter comes to him and announces that she and her long-term fiancé will marry the next day. 

Over the course of the rest of the evening Trotty visits the church and goes upstairs where goblins scold him for his lack of faith in humanity.  Then he’s shown what the future might hold and it’s different from A Christmas Carol.

It’s okay –  I enjoy A Christmas Carol ever so much more.   

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Street Music ~ by Timothy Hallinan

I read the 8 prior novels in this series and absolutely loved them.  When the story ended in the book 8 and I was completely satisfied when I heard/read that there would be no more.  Well a couple years went by and I saw #9 on the Audible shelves.  Um?  Okay let’s see.  I listened to the sample and read the blurbs and put it in my wish list.  After a few months I took it out of my wish list as it felt anti-climactic.  Then a few months later I saw it touted by a fellow member of a reading group.  Huh?  Okay – let’s look again. 

*******
Street Music
by Timothy Hallinan
2020 / Audio
read by Victor Bovine 10h 38m
rating – A++ / crime

*******

I read the 8 prior novels in this series and absolutely loved them. When the story ended in the book 8 and I was completely satisfied when I heard/read that there would be no more. Well a couple years went by and I saw #9 on the Audible shelves. Um? Okay let’s see. I listened to the sample and read the blurbs and put it in my wish list. After a few months I took it out of my wish list as it felt anti-climactic. Then a few months later I saw it touted by a fellow member of a reading group. Huh? Okay – let’s look again.

Well, dear reader,  I read the same blurbs plus more listener reviews and then I sampled, bought and downloaded. I started listening to Victor Bovine narrating and it’s as of old – almost. 

Rose and Poke now have a new baby boy.  Maiow, their 15-year old adopted daughter,  is insecure about her identity. The neighborhood is as usual and the old bar where the expats hang is the same.  Except one night Bob Campeau, a regular customer, goes missing.  Meanwhile, an old woman from more than a decade in the past turns up.  

And with this story the tales of Poke Rafferty are finishes up. – I’m sad.  

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