30 March 2014

The Choirboys, by Joseph Wambaugh

This book is sort of a sick farce. It has made me laugh aloud, and I will read the whole thing (I'm not quite done as I write this), but "redeeming social value?" No. I suppose there are some cops who fit Wambaugh's description, but I doubt that there are many, and I doubt that there are any who quite fill these caricaturizations.

Of course, the book is dated. Its copyright is 1975. Sexism, racism, and homophobia (especially the first and third) were not quite as objectionable then as now (and really, racism was--if not worse or more common--somehow different back then, perhaps more in the open? One could write a book on that subject, and I'm certainly not qualified.), and what was considered to be illegal and/or antisocial was actually a little bit different.

So, having not completed the book, I'll reserve some--not much--judgement for now.

The "Choirboys" are a group of LA cops who meet after work in MacArthur Park for drinking and debauchery. This is known as "choir practice." The book is made up of stories of their various adventures on and off duty.

Tooth and Nail, by Ian Rankin

An audio book.

This is the first Inspector Rebus mystery I've read. Rankin does a very good job here, creating some interesting characters and a great traditional mystery in which "whodunit" is the classic surprise.

This is not the first Rebus book in the series, which is prodigious, but it was the earliest in the series that I could get as an audio book from the library. I think I'll start reading the paper version of Rankin's "Knots and Crosses," which is the first in the series.

I wish there was a more reasonable service for renting audio books. So far what I've found has been a mandatory annual subscription at the rate of $15/month from Audible.com and other similar companies. I suppose perhaps that's not that bad, but I'd rather pay by the book than be committed to a month-by-month membership.

In this book, Rebus is called to London to aid Inspector George Flight in the investigation of a serial murderer who kills young women in a gory ritual. Plot complications include an attractive young female psychologist and Rebus's ex-wife and daughter (they live in London, and the daughter has become involved romantically with a young man of dubious reputation).

The solving of the mystery and denouement are well done.

06 March 2014

The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger

An audio book, and all.

I've read this book before, at least twice, but it's surprising (to me) how much of it I've forgotten. After seeing a documentary about Salinger on TV recently, in which the amazing success of this novel was reported, (Wikipedia says that 65 million copies have been sold) I acquired this recording and listened to the novel over the past few weeks.

Much has been said and written about Catcher, and I doubt that I can add much to the discussion, from the standpoint of literary criticism. What I will say is how strongly I am convinced that Salinger, whether wittingly or not, was describing a young person suffering from something that would today be diagnosed as some variety of mental illness. I am not saying that today's interpretation of Holden's behavior would be beneficial, but that the difference in how such behavior is perceived today is noteworthy.

Imagine a person under the age of 18 wandering freely in New York City, drinking in bars, staying in a hotel where he is offered the services of a prostitute, entering his own home in the middle of the night to visit his little sister, then leaving to seek refuge with a former teacher who seems very likely to be a pedophile.

In 2014, this would be a very different story, I think.

The Praises and Criticisms of J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye

Catcher in the Rye author J. D. Salinger Dies (CBC)

July 16, 1951 review of Catcher in the New York Times


Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen

Patty Berglund (nee Emerson)
Walter Berglund Patty's husband
Richard Katz Walter's friend, and at times Patty's lover, but that's complicated.

Joey Berglund
Janice Berglund ... son and daughter of Patty and Walter

From p.200 , on which Richard (a successful musician and songwriter currently broke due to his own behavior) is being "interviewed" by the son of a wealthy customer for whom he is building a rooftop deck in Manhattan:

Q. What do you think of the MP3 revolution?

A. Ah, revolution, wow. It's great to hear the word "revolution" again. It's great that a song now costs exactly the same as a pack of gum and lasts exactly the same amount of time before it loses its flavor and you have to spend another buck. That era which finally ended whenever, yesterday--you know, that era when we pretended rock was the scourge of conformity and consumerism, instead of its anointed handmaid--that era was really irritating to me. I think it's good for the honesty of rock and roll and good for the country in general that we can finally see Bob Dylan and Iggy Pop for what they really were: as manufacturers of wintergreen Chiclets.

Q. So you're saying that rock has lost its subversive edge?

A. I'm saying it never had any subversive edge. It was always wintergreen Chiclets, we just enjoyed pretending otherwise.

Q. What about when Dylan went electric?

A. If you're going to talk about ancient history, let's go back to the French Revolution. Remember when, I forget his name, but that rocker who wrote the "Marseillaise," Jean Jacques Whoever--remember when his song started getting all that airplay in 1792, and suddenly the peasantry rose up and overthrew the aristocracy? There was a song that changed the world. Attitude was what the peasants were missing. They already had everything else--humiliating servitude, grinding poverty, unpayable debts, horrific working conditions. But without a song, man, it added up to nothing. The sansculotte style was what really changed the world. 

I read this book slowly, from about the middle of January to yesterday (5 March 2014). It is, I think, a fairly decent characterization of our time. The characters are a little bit unbelievable, perhaps a little too cardboard-cutout for their own good, but nonetheless they all represent a bit of what makes up America in the early 21st century. The plot is well done, made up of the points of view of the main characters in a way that kept me interested -- because each of these people are quite intense, and they can begin to wear you out.

Should there be anyone here to read it, this book might be a good reference for future inhabitants of Earth.