One of my favorite reads from 2016 was Carys Davies’ short story collection, The Redemption of Galen Pike; a collection I have recommended to nearly everyone I know (why haven’t you read it yet?). Upon discovering Ms. Davies had a novella, West, hitting bookstores, I was excited and a little nervous – what if it didn’t live up to the brilliance of The Redemption of Galen Pike?
Carys Davies knows exactly how to tailor her work. In The Redemption… no story was too long or too short; each perfectly fit the tale. This strength of Davies’ is also evidenced in West. When the focus of any artistic endeavor is how to best relate the story, and not how to best show off, or be as experimental as possible, it raises the quality of everything involved – the skill, creativity, nuance, you name it. Carys Davies knows how to tell a story.
West is a perfect novella. Inspiring, and bittersweet – a story for dreamers and adventurers, a Don Quixote in a Coen Brother’s landscape. (Or, as my cousin describes it, Gatsby meets Cormac McCarthy). Carys Davies wins over, heart, mind, and soul, with her innate ability to seamlessly weave a tale.
Special thank you to R for introducing me to Carys Davies’ work.
Tom Hanks is quite possibly my favorite human being.
You may now proceed.
Tom Hanks’ Uncommon Type contains 17 short stories, told over 416 pages. It is too much. To compare: Carys Davies’ The Redemption of Galen Pike is 17 short stories told over 144 pages. Hanks would have benefited from an editor who had him save a few stories for the next book, or, whittle down the ones in the collection. None of Hanks’ ideas, characters, or style are of poor quality or painful to read, it is simply too much in one container. While none of the stories in Uncommon Type are lacking interest, there is an inconsistency in the quality, making the weaker stories stand out.
As for the positives…there are a lot. Reading Tom Hanks reminded me of my experiences reading Steve Martin (who, interestingly enough, was the person whose encouragement helped get Tom’s writing career started), you smile through the entirety of the work. Perhaps this is in part because you are reading the work of someone you know, due to our connection with their public personas. Like their public personas, Hanks and Martin create a sense of comfort and ease in their writing. There is a homespun quality to the storytelling -that comfortable cozy feeling.
Hanks delves deep into character studies through much of his stories, understandable considering his main profession. He explores humans of various points in time, stations in life, ages, relationships, etc; digging down to the heart of all of them. if he so choses to continue down this path, Hanks certainly has a future as a writer.
Uncommon Type is the kind of collection to return to over time, whenever you need a dose of warmth.
One note: there are a couple of recurring characters; so reading the collection in order is highly recommended.
Welcome to Mars
A Month on Greene Street
The Past Is Important to Us
Stay with Us
These Are the Meditations of My Heart
Rating: 4 Used Typewriters
Agatha Christie is the queen of British mystery for good reason; her writing is specific. She never over indulges in back story, or “clues” unless they serve a purpose and her pacing is impeccable. All of Christie’s works are enjoyable, but, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a cut above, it is devourable (okay, that’s not a word, but it should be).
Alas, the problem with reviewing mysteries, is they are mysteries. Anything one could praise about Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (and there is A LOT to praise), would ruin the experience and give things away.
So, what do I do guys? I’m not sure what to tell you other than I loved The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, I LOVED it. Loved. It. So. Just. Read it. Read it, devour it, love it, pass it along. Trust me on this one.
Rating: 5 Suspects
My 2nd venture into the world of graphic literature for 2017 was, regrettably, not as successful as my first (which you can conveniently read about here). Never having read Neil Gaiman’s work, I was determined and enthusiastically ready to explore what he had to offer. Although it is arguable that Mr. Gaiman deserves a lot of the credit he is given by my generation, I wish I had started with something other than The Sandman.
The entirety of The Sandman series in contained within 10 books, I only tackled the first volume, Preludes and Nocturnes. For transparency, I have never been a prodigious comic book reader (The Sandman is a comic book series not a graphic novel). While I am in fact a fan of many characters created via the comic book world, I never gained much pleasure from actually reading comic books – something about the form, and the way my brain interprets things has never made for a fluid experience. Since I know this about myself, I have not deducted marks because of my pre-existing issue.
My issue (ha, non-intentional pun) with The Sandman is the set-up.
The first 20 pages or so spark a constant inner-monologue of, “Wait, what, am I supposed to understand this? Did I miss something? Am I dumb? Let me go back a few pages…nope, I don’t seem to have missed anything…” –then The Sandman picks up and keeps up an engaging pace with a very compelling main character. But, one can’t simply ignore the beginning, the section that should be the hook, is an unnecessary mess. One could easily, and understandably, give up 5 pages in and then miss out on what becomes a very solid comic book. So. Points taken off, and Neil is put in the time out chair for the time being.
I may dip into Gaiman’s work in the future. In the meantime, I recommend The Sandman to comic book fans with stamina. But, I am disappointed with my introduction to his work.
Rating: 3.5 Unending Dreams