Under the Volcano

By Malcolm Lowry
Published 1953
GoodReads rating: 3.8
GL rating: 3 out of 10
(Comments originally posted on FB June 29, 2018)

I can see why the novel is frequently called one of the best of the 20th Century, the writing is frequently good and less frequently stellar. However, I just couldn’t get through it. It’s a 390 page novel about a man getting drunk and dying over the course of a day. The shards of plot, to the extent that there is a plot, come in paragraph-length bursts every 10 to 15 pages, and in the intervening 15 pages you get mostly the two male characters riffing internally on various topics, or you get descriptions of landscapes. Lowry’s sentences are too frequently run-ons, and they are not pleasing beautiful run-ons, they are convoluted run-ons. At the end of the day, it got to be very tedious reading. If anything it underscores what a superb book Austerlitz is, which has a similar pastoral and contemplative approach to its narrative, but is much more compelling.

Because it’s such a renowned book I’m going to continue to peck at it now and then. If the second half blows my mind I’ll revise and resubmit.

The Piano Teacher

By Elfriede Jelinek
Published 1983
GoodReads rating: 3.54  out of 5
GL rating: 0 out of 10 stars
(Comments originally published on FB June 19, 2018)

I really hated this book, and put it down after 85 pages. It is easily the worst of the 20 novels I’ve read since I got back into the novel racket.

There were a few nice sentences, but not nearly enough to put up with the soul-shattering claustrophobia, solipsism, repetitiveness, lack of plot (literally no plot 85 pages in), and absence of character development.

Not a single likable or relatable character.

I could not rule out the possibility that the book would pick up in its final half or quarter, but I’m just not willing to suffer through it to find out. Jelanek is a Nobel laureate; presumably her other novels are better. I have no intention of investigating.

8-10-18: I read that some members of the Nobel prize committee resigned after Jelinek won the award.

Lord of the Flies

By William Golding

Published 1954

GoodReads rating: 3.66  out of 5

GL rating: 6 out of 10 stars

(Comments originally published on FB June 9, 2018)

Not a novel I would have picked up myself, but because I’m going to hear some interesting people talk about it, I just finished Lord of the Flies. I think I read it in junior high school (?) or part of it. Had no idea that William Golding was a Nobel Laureate. It was also his first novel. Anyway, it’s probably a book that many people read in high school and then never look back on, but it’s a great novel. The use of symbolism is remarkable.

The novel I read prior to it, Blindness ... the structural (or maybe thematic) similarities were surprising, although maybe unintentional.

8-10-18 update: This was kind of a crazy book, I've not read any other novel that was so good while simultaneously being so flawed. The characters are very two-dimensional, is the main problem. At the same time, Golding is clearly a genius. 

Manhattan Transfer

By John Dos Passos

Published 1925

GoodReads rating: 3.5  out of 5

GL rating: 0 out of 10 stars

(Comments originally posted on FB May 14, 2018)

I gave it 100 pages, but I've decided to put down "Manhattan Transfer" by Dos Passos. There were the glimmers of a novel in there somewhere, but, I wasn't feeling it. In addition to reading like a pile of unrealized short-story fragments, the dialog was terrible.

The Great Gatsby

By F. Scott Fitzgerald

Published 1925

GoodReads rating: 3.9  out of 5

GL rating: 10 out of 10 stars

(Comments originally posted on FB May 5, 2018)

I finished re-reading Gatsby a few days ago. I remembered liking it the first time around, but not being blown away. I think I preferred The Sun Also Rises when I first read those books.

Gatsby this time blew my mind, and it is better than TSAR (although I still love them both; and was struck by some of the similarities). If you haven’t read it since high school or college, do yourself a favor and grab it.

The only downside is that I now feel compelled to watch the Baz Luhrmann adaptation, and it’s going to be a challenge.

8-10-18 update: Did not watch the Baz movie, thank God. Gatsby is one of the best novels of the 20th century, if you haven't read it, or haven't re-read it lately, dive in!


By William S. Burroughs

Published 1953

GoodReads rating: 3.85  out of 5

GL rating: 4 out of 10 stars

(Comments originally posted on FB April 13, 2018)

Finished “Junky” yesterday. It’s a pretty solid book. Interesting look at life as a junky in the 1950s, much of it set in NYC. Kerouac I think borrowed heavily from it for On The Road, which is not as good as a novel as Junky.

8-10-18 update: the novel works best as journalism. Little to no story or character arc. 

Manhattan Beach

By Jennifer Egan

Published 2017

GoodReads rating: 3.66  out of 5

GL rating: 4 out of 10 stars

(Comments originally posted on FB April 7, 2018)


Superb set-up with a somehow flat final 150 pages. The narrative may have lost some of its punch through some plot sequencing choices.

Much of the writing was inspired, but it’s a case of many brilliant sentences that were not harnessed to deliver a good but not a knock-out story.

Dexter the gangster’s trajectory kind of didn’t work.

The father-daughter reunion at the end felt half-baked.

Anyway the book’s merits more than compensate for its shortcomings. It’s a very rich picture of life in NYC during the war. That alone was worth the price of the ticket.

8-10-18 update: worth a read if you're interested in NYC history, or in the impact the war had on the way women fit into society. Otherwise, I'd take a pass. 

On the Road

By Jack Kerouac

Published 1955

GoodReads rating: 3.64  out of 5

GL rating: 2 out of 10 stars

(Comments originally posted on FB March 26, 2018)

Finished re-reading On The Road today. I’m glad I read it, despite its serious shortcomings. I think the context around it’s creation and publication, the back story, may be more interesting than the novel itself. Also would be curious to read some criticism. I am probably not fully attuned to it’s achievement and impact, reading it 60 years after its publication.

8-10-18 update: This was a dull, repetitive, shallow story tucked into what could have been a very promising novel. I'd still like to know a bit more about it though. 


By Kurt Vonnegut

Published 1969

GoodReads rating: 4.06  out of 5

GL rating: 3 out of 10 stars

Looks like I read this in March of 2018 but did not post any comments on GarbageBook.

Parts of the novel were great; particularly the passages about the character's time as a POW. However, off-handedly revealing significant plot developments before they officially occur in the book tended to flatten the story and deflated the dramatic impact. The blending of the Tralfamadore story with the POW story wasn't executed particularly well, and it all wound up feeling kind of facile. 

A non-review random data point

(Originally published March 3, 2018)

I currently own 75 novels and have read 42 of them.

Why am I telling you this?

It’s a great question. Maybe I’m telling myself this, publicly.

Today I’m starting to get them grouped together on the shelves, then I will alphabetize them, then I will catalogue them on google drive, so that I do not buy duplicate copies of books I already own.

Thank you.


By W.G. Sebald

Published 2001

GoodReads rating: 4.04  out of 5

GL rating: 8 out of 10 stars

(Comments originally posted on FB January 17, 2018)

"Austerlitz" at 50 Pages
-- It reminds me a bit of "The Heart of Darkness"; a narrator riffing on a mysterious character; the tone also, not just the narrative perspective
-- I'm trying to wrap my brain around the use of photographs in the novel; this may be the first novel I've read that has pictures. Off-hand, unless some deeper meaning or rationale for including them emerges, I'm inclined to call them gimmicky and distracting. They don't add much
-- The exposition, I felt, started to bog down a bit for a few pages, but it was a very brief lull, and the last few pages have been masterful. The descriptions of landscapes sort of come out of nowhere and are amazing. What's more disturbing is that it's not totally clear why they are so amazing. Can't wait to see where he takes the story.

8-10-18 update: Did not write a review after I finished this, but it's an incredible novel. I'm now wondering if it shouldn't get bumped up a spot or two in the rankings. The narration feels pretty removed from the story, it felt a bit like you were seeing the events unfold through a very long straw. I think this is one that I would love to go back and re-read at some point, I recommend it highly. 


By Anna Kavan

Published 1967

GoodReads rating: 3.79  out of 5

GL rating: 3 out of 10 stars

I did not review this one on Garbage Book either after I read it. 

Ice is a quasi-sci-fi dystopian novel that came out in 1967. 

As I was reading it it felt almost like a novelization of a graphic novel or a cartoon. The story was kind of melodramatic and absurd; the characters were not believable or interesting. However, I found that for unknown reasons, the novel continued to sort of percolate in my cognition zone, and I seem to be aging into a weird kind of grudging respect for it.

Anna Kavan, the author, is a fascinating figure and her life may have been more interesting than her fiction. 

The Crying of Lot 49

By Thomas Pynchon

Published 1966

GoodReads rating: 3.7  out of 5

GL rating: 8 out of 10 stars

(Comments originally posted on FB November 4, 2017)

I finished The Crying of Lot 49 last night. This is what the Times had to say about it in 1965. It sounds like V is the better of Pynchon’s first two novels. Although it’s a mostly favorable review of TCL 49, the 3-word phrase in it that most effectively and accurately indicts it is “pockets of eccentricity.”


8-10-18 update: I'm a bit confused about this book and it's position in the rankings. I did like it more than the post from November suggests. Need to revisit, it may get bumped down. 


By J.G. Ballard

Published 1973

GoodReads rating: 3.58  out of 5

GL rating: 10 out of 10 stars

(Comments originally posted on FB October 18, 2017)

Finished “Crash” by JGB last night. Jesus. Disturbing fantastic shit.

8-10-18 update: This is the second-best novel I've read. Part of me thinks that I rank it behind Gatsby partially for sentimental reasons. I've not read another novel like Crash, and it is such an outstanding story. Read it immediately. 

The Sellout

By Paul Beatty

Published 2015

GoodReads rating: 3.77  out of 5

GL rating: 3 out of 10 stars

(Comments  originally posted on FB October 7, 2017)

I snapped up this book after I saw two very smart people (don’t remember who) rave about it, separately. It also won the Man Booker, and a co-worker who reads fiction constantly told me that she thinks Man Booker nominees are better overall than their National Book Award counterparts, after I told her I quit reading fiction after reading several award winning novels that were dogs.

I enjoyed the book (and finished it!) but was disappointed. The characterization is ... non-existent. The characters aside from the protagonist are not much more than stick figures. The plot is also lack-luster. The writing itself rarely rises above OK. There were periodic run-on sentences that were clunky and didn’t work.

Where the book succeeds is in painting a rich portrait of life as a black man in South Central LA. Beatty has a keen eye for social observation and detail. It’s billed as a comedic novel and I did get some LOLs out of it. Lastly while the plot was not even close to fully realized, The Sellout is an original story. The protagonist is a bookish farmer in South Central who also is into surfing; the story revolves around his efforts to re-segregate his neighborhood.

So, that’s that. I enjoyed it, glad I read it, but not sure I’d recommend it.

White Noise

By Don DeLillo

Published 1986

GoodReads rating: 3.86  out of 5

GL rating: 4 out of 10 stars

(Comments originally posted on FB September 5, 2017)

Just finished re-reading "White Noise" for the first time in 20 years. The ending was a bit disappointing, but it was a fun read. I wanted the cloud to figure more prominently into the plot.

8-10-17 UPDATE: After further contemplation I decided that it wasn't just the ending of the novel that was problematic, it was the last 1/3 of the book. The first 2/3's however were very good

The Sun Also Rises

By Ernest Hemmingway

Published 1926

GoodReads rating: 3.82  out of 5

GL rating: 7 out of 10 stars

(Originally posted on FB April 8, 2017)

I've been saying for as long as I can remember that The Sun Also Rises is tied for first place on my list of favorite novels (with Moby Dick). Partially because I wanted to enjoy it again, and to a lesser extent to verify that it doesn't suck, since I hadn't read it since I was in my early 20s, I have picked it up again. I'm 30 pages in, and, aside from some flat dialog between Jake and Ashley, it is as good as I remembered it being. I feel like that fucker opened up some kind of hole in the fabric of space-time with that book. Even more of a shock that he wrote it in his mid 20s.

(Originally posted April 19, 2017)

I know, you're *dying* to hear my thoughts on The Sun Also Rises. I think the last time I'd read it I was in my early 20s, loved it, considered it tied for first with Moby Dick for best novel in the English language. I was wondering if it would hold up 20 years later.

I'm about half way into it, and I don't think I'd rank it first or even second or twentieth in the English language. I remember the Spain part of it being the best, and I'm not there yet so maybe it will knock me on my can over the next few days. But, after a very strong start, the second quarter of the book drags a little. There's a lot of dialog that feels inconsequential. There are scenes that feel like asides.

I'm still really digging it, and I'll probably read it periodically for the rest of my life, but it's not the flawless gem that I half-remembered.

(Originally posted April 25, 2017)
Finished The Sun Also Rises last night. It still does pack quite a wallop. The whole time I was reading it I was curious about how it came to be, and what it came to mean in America, so I'm going to have to snap up Everyone Behaves Badly by Lesley M. M. Blume today after work, and read the shit out of that book. This New Yorker piece was a nice snack; I did not know that Fitzgerald had a hand in the revisions, it sounds like his advice made it a better book.