My summer of reading crap: Part 1—Memoirs

It’s been more than three months since I’ve posted, but I’ve been reading. And I’ve begun to lose faith in my ability to choose readable books.

This summer I read some serious crap. With a few exceptions, everything I have read since I posted on June 10 about “Peyton Place,” (and was pleasantly surprise that it wasn’t crap) has been on the crap spectrum.

I read novels that were highly praised and were crap-like, but not complete turds; novels that sounded good in theory but were crap-ish; good stories ruined by crappy writing; crappy stories told crappily and one of the worst books I’ve ever been encouraged to read. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here, in short form, are reviews of four memoirs I read that all could have been much better.

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Hey, this was supposed to be trash!

peyton placeIt has not taken me more than a month to read “Peyton Place.” In fact, I’ve read several books within the past month, but I just haven’t been moved to write about them. I find a rare free hour so I want to get this monkey off my back, break the dam, so to speak, and get some writing done about a book I enjoyed.

To fulfill the Classics Challenge 2016 category of a trashy novel, I read “Peyton Place.” (Some people private messaged me: “What constitutes trash?” I answered with something I should have put in my original post: “It’s trash if you are vaguely embarrassed to tell someone what you’re reading.”)

Interestingly, my wife and I both separately chose “Peyton Place” to read for this category. I was looking for something with little redeeming value, bad writing, salacious plot, horrid dialogue and phony characters. I gleefully sharpened my poisoned pen. Instead, I got a fairly well-written book that, despite a meandering plot, was not bad. It was almost a disappointment.

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Time to read some trash, Classics Challengers

peyton place.jpgClassics Challengers, it’s time for a little light reading. You deserve it.

The end-of-schoolyear bullshit is a heavy burden. Concerts and their practices, graduations, award ceremonies and making sure everyone has “good clothes” that fit, all have me driving, literally, in circles. Split-second timing is imperative: If soccer practice runs a little long it means someone else is sitting and pouting waiting for a ride home.

Add to that the tease of spring. Mother nature’s been so parsimonious with it that every warm-ish day sends the kids into a whirl of ignoring homework and all the other stuff that needs to be done because they want to be outside. And there’s something else, I can’t seem to — oh, yeah. work.

All those together mean my mind isn’t able to focus on things for very long, and that’s why it’s the perfect time to read trash.

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No wonder people love Sherlock Holmes

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the most portrayed character on screen. After reading the thoroughly delightful “Hound of the Baskervilles” for this year’s Classics Challenge, it’s easy to see why.

Those English moors are a great setting. Do I see Heathcliff somewhere there?

Because so many readers and moviegoers seem intrigued by him, Holmes has become a great canvas for quirky writers and actors to color. Currently there are two television series based on him. The British one starring Benedict Cumberbatch is too much style and not enough substance for me, and I’ve never seen the other one, “Elementary,” which has a female Dr. Watson, but which I hear good things about. Not bad for a character first introduced nearly 130 years ago.

“Hound” features, according to Sherlock himself, “the most fiendish villain” he’d ever faced, and he is pretty tricky. I didn’t even try to figure out who was doing what to whom; instead, I simply wanted to go along for the ride. This novel came out in serial form in 1901-02 after Conan Doyle had apparently killed off his detective at the Reichenbach Falls in the short story “The Final Solution.” This novel, the third featuring Holmes, is set before his death, and proved so popular Conan Doyle brought his detective back to life.

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‘My Father, the Pornographer:’ Great title, better memoir

my-father-the-pornographer-9781501112461_lg.jpgI’d never heard of Chris Offutt before I saw the title of his newest book, but I had been familiar with some of his work.

A writer with credits on two TV shows I watched for a while, (“True Blood” and “Weeds”) I had likely been intrigued by the characters Offutt created and laughed at his dark, twisted humor.

Both are present in spades in “My Father, The Pornographer,” his new memoir of his childhood growing up in the hills of Kentucky, the son of a man who made his living writing pornography.

It’s the kind of honest memoir, like “The Glass Castle,” “Angela’s Ashes” and, well, um, hmmmm… are there others? that makes you wonder how some people make it through.

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1950s Paris comes alive in haunting tale by Nobel winner

I admitted I was not up for the challenge of the 600-page Bleak House. Even though I enjoyed it and still think about the characters, I realize that it was like tackling a marathon after having only run short sprints. One has to build up.

Exhausted from my marathon, I’m back now to sprints.

If you’re a regular reader of Shelf Improvement, you’ll know that book covers draw me in as often as a title or author. So when I saw the title, “In the Café of Lost Youth” and the author, Nobel Prize-winner Patrick Modiano (to whom I had just been introduced) and size (118 pages) I was almost there.  The cover was the clincher.

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Classics Challenge gets mysterious

When I was moving from children’s books to more adult fare, I cut my teeth on Agatha Christie.

baskervilles.jpegI was 11 years old in 1976 when she died. The Detroit Free Press, which we had delivered at home, devoted the back page of the last section (the one with the comics) to a photo spread and story about the woman who essentially created a genre of fiction.

I asked my mother whether she would let me check one of Christie’s books out of the library and she said she’d have to think about it, not being familiar with Christie’s work. She got back to me a few days later, saying she had read or heard a minister say he let his children read the books because they were, at the core, very moral.

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