Go Set a Watchman

Here’s a rare thing.  I’ve read a book within a month of its publication.   I figured I would eventually read Go Set a Watchman (whose title, which still annoys me comes from Isaiah) and I got tired of seeing all these spoilers so I went and read it.  And now, I’m not sure what to say, because it can’t really be talked about without spoilers, so if you haven’t read it, don’t read on.   Or, don’t read past this paragraph in which I will state that there are some wonderful scenes in which Scout looks back on her childhood, beautifully written glimpses into how life was in the South, and probably still is cuz damn they don’t change.   Pretty sure Alexandra’s grandmother gave coffees not unlike the one she gives in Watchman.  So it has some great parts and the first third is enjoyable and then it is by turns appalling and sort of a mix of dismaying and non-plussing.   I would definitely be curious to see what anyone says about it who hasn’t read Mockingbird, because as this guy points out, it doesn’t really seem to stand on its own.    Spoilers in the article though so just go read the book if you want to avoid them,   It’s the only way.

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/27/sweet-home-alabama

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Okay, spoilers galore now.   Atticus, as you may have heard, has feet of clay.   One feels this dramatically if you’ve admired him since reading TKAM.  The epitome of what the Southern man could and should be: just, patient, loving, fair-minded, and unprejudiced.  Ha!  Turns out, he only loves the law and the difference between him and the rest of the South is that his racism is some sort of high-minded bullshit as opposed to the foaming-at-the-mouth loathing of Mr. O’Hanlon.  He sees the “negroes” as children, to be brought along in paternal fashion, but who can never truly grow up and be the equal of the white folks who are so much more advanced.   Maybe someday.  In a hundred years, or two, they’ll be ready to eat at the same table, go to the same theaters, learn from the same teachers, and even vote or hold office.   Maybe.  It’s horrifying and to give Scout credit, she’s thoroughly appalled.   Her semi-fiance is one of these people which is painful enough, but her father was, as Lee puts it, a god to her and finding out he’s merely a non-violent racist is as horrifying to her as it is to us.   For several chapters.   Then I think Lee didn’t know what to do, or maybe I don’t understand what she did, but there’s a big confrontation, Scout starts to run away from everyone, but is stopped by her uncle who blathers on about not running away and your friends need you when they’re wrong not when they’re right and she can do the most good by coming back to Maycomb and what…?   She’ll just end up being that eccentric, token non-racist Scout Finch who likes to wear trousers and pretend that race doesn’t matter.   She’s not going to make an actual difference that I can see.   Life goes on as it did before.  She gives her father a ride home and goes on another date with her racist fiance, who she intends to eventually let down easy.  Don’t string him along, Jean Louise, you were right in the first place – end it.   You can’t marry him and it looks like there isn’t a non-racist in all of Maycomb you could marry.    Wondering if Jem is left out because she didn’t know whether to make him a racist or not.

Go Set a Watchman is a mostly well-written portrait of racism, the South and using the 10th amendment to justify treating people like shit.  I found it extremely painful to read and if that makes me a bigot (as Jean Louise’s uncle calls her) because I’m unwilling to entertain peoples’ ideas on why racism is actually okay, so be it.

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So, I’m starting to think that the reason Harper Lee didn’t write another book nor have this one published for 55 years was that To Kill a Mockingbird was edited into a thing better than she was capable of — that her own views were not so evolved as the book that came out in her name so when and if more books came from her pen they would, as this one has, revealed thinking that was in no way as progressive as Mockingbird would lead one to think.   Similar to the statement All men are created equal.   It has been vociferously pointed out to me the writer of that statement only meant landholding white males, but I firmly believe we can say true things that are better than we ourselves are capable of believing.   We are creatures of our times, but we sometimes have a glimpse and are able to articulate something better, something forward thinking, something true.   If challenged on it, we’d probably fail because we don’t have the conviction of what we said, but it’s right nonetheless and the only way we move forward is by seizing on these diamonds of insight and holding onto them as showing us the way to go.   Like a small star to guide us.  Mockingbird was fiction – no such person as Atticus existed.   Watchman is cold, sad fact – many such people as Atticus existed and still exist and they are solidly in the wrong.

Mr. & Mrs. North Continued

I guess I like the Norths, or really, Weigand.  He’s really the one investigating, the Norths just kind of assist, or sometimes get in the way.  And aside from the fact that apparently I like them well enough to have read two more, I haven’t much to say about them.    There’s some tendency to stretch things unnecessarily.  Did we need three extended descriptions of Weigand’s driving in Murder Out of Turn? I sure didn’t.   It takes place at some cabins by a lake which the Norths go to for weekends along with a bunch of other New Yorkers.   A Pinch of Poison takes place back in the city the following summer.   Despite the fact these are supposed to be set 9 months apart, they read like one follows the other much faster than that.   Weigand has apparently made no progress in his romance between the two books, but makes progress during them.

I love the old covers:

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They’re not great mysteries, but they’re entertaining, and I think they play fair.    I plan to keep reading them, but not right away.   I feel like something different.   I might read Go Set a Watchman.   I certainly don’t want to read any more spoilers and that seems inevitable, doesn’t it?   I don’t care if it is only 10 pages in.   It’s still a spoiler.   I have some sympathy with the people who don’t want to spoil To Kill a Mockingbird with a lesser pre/sequel, whatever we’re calling it.   The title also bugs me.   I keep trying to finish the sentence.  But it seems like one of those things that’s got to be read and I might as well get it over with and it might even be good.   It could happen.   But I’m not optimistic.

Mr. & Mrs. North

I do keep getting a few visitors despite my appalling lack of posts.   I will try to do better and give you some reason to stop by.   At the end of June, I read the first of the Mr. and Mrs. North mysteries:  The Norths Meet Murder.   I’ve been aware of the Mr. and Mrs. North mysteries, written by Mr. and Mrs. Lockridge, since my late teens or early twenties, but never actually read one.   I was browsing in Commonwealth Books in Boston when I spied 6 of them in good condition and impulsively snapped them up.   Among them was this one in which the Norths hoping to use the vacant upstairs apartment for a party discover a body in it.   In the course of the investigation, they meet Lieutenant Weigand and hit it off with him so well he essentially tells them everything and they help solve the crime.   They are oddly on the sidelines though, the book follows Weigand and only visits the Norths part of the time.   Very odd situation for a detective novel, let alone the eponymous meeters of murder who go on to star in 25 more books.    I’ve started the second one (I like to read things in order because SOME authors stupidly spoil the plots of their stories in other stories.   Looking at you, Carr.), and the situation seems to be the same, except they’re all on vacation so there’s another cop whose case this officially is.

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Love the covers!

Pam and Jerry North are sort of a cozier Nick and Nora.   They drink a lot, host parties, go to parties, play tennis, and solve mysteries in their spare time.  They are not noir, although they do have a lonely single detective drinking in bars and wandering in the night.   It wasn’t a great mystery, but it was enjoyable enough that I bought a few more and have started the second.  I think the Norths may be with me for a while.  And I think I will use them as a Book with a Detective “Team.”  E1 on the Golden Vintage Mystery Bingo board.

Once Upon a Time IX – The Hobbit

Just under the wire, I’ve read my fantasy/folklore/mythology book:  The Hobbit.   I last read this when I was 13 or 14 and when I caught the first movie on TV last week, I realized the only thing I remembered was Gollum and the riddles.   (Also, the birthday party, but that turned out to be in Fellowship, not the Hobbit.)   So that, and the fact it’s only 300 pages long and I believed I could finish it in time, decided me.

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Gollum is sort of like the windmills in Quixote, only one chapter, but in a way overwhelms the rest of the book.  I was surprised by a number of things in the book and I’m just going to talk about them, so if you want a spoiler free review, this ain’t it.  But, really, does anyone need me to tell them to read The Hobbit?  Bilbo is, of course, a complete fish out of water, but I was surprised how largely useless the dwarves were.  Planless, under-mapped, under supplied, they’d’ve been dead several times over were it not for Gandalf and then Bilbo.  They do a bit of fighting, but mostly they get captured by everyone between the Shire and the mountain.  They run low on food before they even meet the trolls with apparently no idea on how they’re going to re-supply.  They lose the weapons they happen to gain from the trolls and when they are actually faced with the dragon to kill – the whole reason they set out in the first place – they have zero ideas how to accomplish it.   Apparently, so did Tolkien, because he makes Smaug leave the mountain to the dwarves and attack Laketown where a handy thrush tells a guy how to do it.  Then, naturally, comes the part no one thought about either.   How can 14 trolls defend a mountain full of gold?   Not without help which Thorin rejects because he’s gone treasure-mad.  I can’t say I approve of Bilbo’s solution, but I can’t really blame him either.  Bilbo’s eagerness to live up to his reputation as a burglar causes half their problems in the book, yet he never learns to stop doing that.   Although it is his final burglary that nearly solves the stalemate, but nearly isn’t enough.   It takes an army of goblins to do that.

Despite my love for Martin Freeman, I don’t think I’ll watch the rest of the movies.  I don’t like his style.  Except Forgotten Silver was good.   A fake documentary of a lost filmmaking genius from the early days of film.   Really well done.   Almost believable.   Quite unlike anything else he’s done.  And okay, I liked Tintin.   I’m not even clear on what I dislike about Jackson’s movies, well, except for the parts that are mawkishly sentimental and twee.   The Hobbit was not as twee as I expected, which I was glad about, but there’s just something that fails for me in the story telling.   Perhaps it’s how fake everything looks.

Also, it’s amazingly male-centric.  Tolkien didn’t see the need to put a single female in the entire book as far as I remember.   It’s kind of weird to me.   Then again, if it was influenced by WWI, I could see that would be very male-centric.   Though there were female nurses in WWI, I’m pretty sure.  The way it ends with an enormous, pointless war over a pile of gold did make me think of World War I.

 hobbit

Overall, I enjoyed rereading The Hobbit.  And I want to thank Carl for hosting.  I meant to participate more fully, but at least I did one thing.   (Or two, if I can count both the book and the movie.)

A Small Death in Lisbon

Much to my surprise I went back to one of the books I began in May and had given up on, Robert Wilson’s A Small Death in Lisbon.  It starts off with the death of a 15 year old Portuguese girl whose body is found on the beach, but with pine needles in her hair in an area with no pine trees.   Ze Coelho is a police detective in homicide who’s single with a daughter a little older than the murdered girl Catarina.   There is a parallel story of Nazi gold and wolfram mining which follows a man named Klaus Felsen from Berlin to Portugal and his career in the SS and later in banking.   I’m not sure what to say about this book as it’s not really my kind of thing at all.  Wilson states in an article that the book is about a cycle of revenge and how each act of revenge begets another and each character must decide whether to take revenge or break the cycle.  They can be active or passive, see or ignore.  That’s a very good two sentence summation of the book.   Not many of them choose to break the cycle.   I guess then you wouldn’t have a book, but it’s a long, long line of betrayals, cruelty, violence and general lack of care for one’s fellow man.   Naturally, one expects that of the Nazis, but really, it’s just about everybody.

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And what they’re avenging is sometimes hard to make out.    Felsen at one point takes revenge on an Englishman and it’s a little vague why.   Because a woman liked the Englishman better?   She slept with Felsen, not the Englishman.   I don’t know and neither does Felsen, really.   He doesn’t know why he does what he does.   Outside of Coelho’s relationship with his daughter, families don’t count for much.   Some individual relationships in families matter, but overall, there’s a lot of indifference and hostility.   This book is chock full of crimes fully described in lurid detail all of which in the end don’t add up to much of anything.   Motives are questionable at best and more than one character appears to just be psychopathic.   The history of Portugal in World War II is interesting, unfortunate that it isn’t really relevant in the end.

Spoiler:  And why the hell did the murderer drag the body from the pine wood Monsanto park down to the beach?   Stupid thing to do.   Now you’ve got DNA in your car, whereas if you’d just left the body in the park, maybe dragged it behind a bush they’d have had a hell of a time tying you to the crime, I think, and it probably wouldn’t have been found as fast.   Best crime novel of 1999?  Note to self:  Don’t read any more crime novels from 1999.

The Hollow Chest

This blog is in danger of becoming the Stupid Mystery blog.  I’ve just finished The Hollow Chest by Phoebe Atwood Taylor.   How did I find this book?   I don’t recall.  But I like to carry a paperback with me and it was a paperback and annoying as it was, I still wanted to find out whodunnit.  But really, you shouldn’t bother.  For one thing, it’s trying to be funny.  It’s best moments were when Mary would pick up on Witherall’s line of thought and back him up without coaching.  Other than that, the main character, Leonidas Witherall, is an idiot.   He apparently fails to recognize one of the villains, even though he’s the librarian at the school Witherall owns.   He sits talking on a curb with Mary until they’re garotted.  After which they’re perfectly capable of speech.  Hastings is one of the few capable and intelligent characters.  Why she used the name Hastings when there’s a much more famous Hastings out there, I’m not sure.  I could take it as satire, that Witherall is what Poirot would be like if he were a moron and Hastings being the genius crime solver, except that she didn’t do that.   After being smart and useful Hastings is nearly written out of the story.  The cops are boneheads.  Except for the one murder, this is essentially trying to be a loopy, Wodehousian mystery full of stray horses, mistaken identities, absurd chases, hiding from the authorities, very nearly pure goofiness which sounds like it ought to be right up my alley, but it’s just so contrived and unamusing.  Contrived, of course, is not necessarily a problem.   Wodehouse’s books are all contrived and usually delightful.  It’s the trying to be funny and failing I find so painful.  And Witherall’s always saying “m’yes” annoyed the heck out of me.

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Sadly, while I’ve read a bit of other books, none has grabbed me and I set each of them aside in search of new and better pastures.   Hopefully this will change and I will be back with recommendations for things to read, not things to avoid.

It was published in 1941 though which makes it eligible for my Golden Age Mystery Bingo card.   I think I’ll go with L6 – features a mode of transportation.   Much of the book is about getting from one place to another by car, bus and taxi, but the big scene includes a horsecar, which I gather was a preliminary to the trolley that included a horse.

Greenmask

I can’t remember where I read about Jefferson Farjeon, nor if anything besides cheap availability caused me to choose Greenmask as my first Farjeon (and possibly my last.)   Published in 1944, it tells the story of a young man named John who’s going hiking in Wales.   He picked a random town to start from and has no notion of where he’s going, but strangely this does not result in him getting hopelessly lost and dying in the middle of Wales.   Before he can do that he runs into Suspicious Characters.    A mysterious short man tells him there’s no hotel around there.   A quarter of a mile later, there’s an inn, complete with hostile innkeeper who tries to talk him out of staying there by saying they’re full.   But in butts this chick he met on the train and says yes, they do have a room and apparently the innkeeper is then powerless to send John on his way.   Why John won’t take no for an answer, I’m not sure, except there’d be no story.   More suspicious characters act suspiciously and John goes over every incident in his mind after it happens.   Sometimes multiple times.  Yes, we know.   We just read it.   Then he meets a new, unsuspicious character and he tells him everything.   It is very fortunate for John that all the crooks act like crooks and the non-crooks don’t.   Because John has a way of telling people he trusts absolutely everything.   He’s a real dope.

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So, there’s no real mystery about whose committing the crime(s).   For quite a while there’s a mystery about what crimes are being committed, but that gets solved about halfway through.   It takes until the end to figure out the reason for these crimes and it feels like a very long hike indeed.   Why did I read it?  It was in my purse and I’d pull it out and read a few pages when I had to wait somewhere.   Eventually I got far enough in I wanted to finish.   Presumably Mystery in White is better.   I might try that one, but I think maybe I’ll wait a bit.

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Phinnea's Book Blog List

Idle thoughts on books and movies. Some new, but mostly old.

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