J: Ok, ok, so Ben and I have been neglecting our book reviews, I admit. The last book we wrote up was Saul and Patsy, way back in July. But we’ve still been reading! Stranger in a Strange Land, A Changed Man, Spies of the Balkans, and A Discovery of Witches entertained us in tandem in the time between then and now. We also had our first book club failure (both of us became busy and couldn’t get into Suite Francaise—but we’ll make it up later!) and read our first short story (“The Adjustment Team,” chosen for Ben’s marathon week). So, in an effort to catch up our meager band of followers, I propose we do four mini-reviews, and knock out those four novels here and now.
B: Agreed, but just so you know, this post then encompasses some of my favorites–especially Spies of the Balkans; I can’t recommend it enough! I would also like to add my apologies for not getting posts up sooner; but rest assured, we’re still trucking through the book club, one book at a time; even if we can’t write about them. I blame new houses, new commutes, and new job situations for the delays!
J: New jobs, at least, in my case. But enough preamble. First up: Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein. This was a reread for me, so I’ll let Ben give his take first. B?
B: I’m not sure I grokked this story. Also, apparently grokked is in the spell check dictionary- that just says how important Stranger is in popular culture! In 1976, the Viking program was launched to send unmanned probes to Mars; during the Viking mission and subsequent missions afterward, we learned that there is no identifiably sentient life on Mars. So from that understanding, it was actually kind of tough to read Heinlein’s 1961 novel about a race of Martians, one of whom returns to Earth. That was the easy bit to get past, though, because once on Earth, said Martian pursues a social and religious agenda that is mind boggling and cult-like with many sexual and pagan ideas interwoven. Fitting these two strange stories together was actually kind of a headache.
J: I’ve only read two Heinlein novels—this, and Time Enough for Love—and it was strange to reread it, especially knowing Ben was reading it to and trying to guess at his reaction. There are some fairly shocking views on women, but at the same time I like his no-nonsense approach to human relationships (even if it’s not entirely realistic). And strangely, I had forgotten the climax, and was surprised a second time over.
B: After our science fiction interlude, we moved back to more contemporary social issues, namely reformed neo-nazis trying to redeem themselves by assisting with Jewish run peace and aid foundations; we read a second Francine Prose novel; A Changed Man.
J: I wanted to read another Prose novel since we were both so fascinated by Blue Angel. I feel like I really need to study Prose’s writing because she does tension so well. I hate conflict in my real life and have a hard time introducing it in my stories. She heaps it on. And her novels are driven by conflict, and made compelling to read because of it. My only complaint: I would have cut the final chapter.
B: I didn’t really identify with any of the characters in this book; and to tell you the truth, most of them really angered me- but you know what they say in the WWF; you’re either loved or hated, you don’t want to be in between! It was interesting to see the collision of three different classes, though- Norman from the poor or working class, Bonnie firmly in the middle class, and the disgustingly rich, and somehow guilty-about-it Meyer Maslow.
J: I agree—she fills her books with only marginally likeable people and somehow, it still works. Then we went to one of Ben’s choices: Spies of the Balkans, by Alan Furst. He’s been waiting to read this one for a while; it was on the list for our last bookclub before I knew I would be getting home early. It was a bit of an awkward read for me—a strange mix of historical novel and thriller.
B: A spy novel during World War II in Greece, Macedonia, Southern France, Paris, Turkey! It was exciting, dark, thrilling, and excellent. I can’t wait to go back and read more Furst! I also don’t want to say much here, because as with any good spy thriller– you want to be surprised, and I can’t give anything away. But it was a good book, and you should go read it- now.
J: I was a little more lukewarm on this one—but it was good nonetheless. I probably won’t be joining Ben on his historical thriller bent, though.
B: Last up on our list of catch-up review books, A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness.
J: Twilight for grown-ups.
B: It always upsets me when evil things don’t do evil. If they don’t do evil, then it suggests that they are not, so why be so caught up in their evilness? Luckily the evil things in this book are pretty darn evil, and though it is a bit romance-y throughout the book, Harkness could be setting up an epic cross-history battle; after all she teaches college-level history and history of science; so she knows her stuff! The bad news- it’s the first, and currently the only, book of a trilogy, so be prepared to have to wait to find out the ending. Also, since the beginning of the novel was set in Oxford, and included many of Jaci and I’s old haunts; it was nice to be a bit nostalgic.
J: Twilight for grown-ups, set in Oxford, then. And there you have it: July through October in books. We’ll review “The Adjustment Team” by Philip K. Dick in a separate post; I think it would be interesting to watch the movie based on it (The Adjustment Bureau, 2011) again after reading the source and look at how the concept was adapted, but that might take some doing, logistically, if it’s even out on DVD yet.
B: On to Oracle of Stamboul for our next book, and hopefully more timely posts, but we don’t guarantee it!