Author: CaptainFez

Curmudgeon.

Book review: Universal Harvester

Universal Harvester.Universal Harvester by John Darnielle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You know, there’s a lot to be said for the pre-Internet era. You know, the time before streaming services, when people had to rent videotapes, and what was known was limited by hard-copy research, or – more often than not – relied on hearsay and rumour, at least as far as local history was concerned.

John Darnielle’s second novel is a little bit of a love story to the period, while also managing to be a ghost story, a thriller, a tribute to the boredom and joy of a life lived small, as well as a meditation on movement by spirit. It’s a consideration of how history is made, and how those same records can be viewed differently in the light of a little information.
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Book review: How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

I hadn’t really expected to be reading a book about disconnecting myself in the middle of a global pandemic, but here we are.

I’d had a copy of Jenny Odell’s polemic against the attention economy – broadly speaking, the society which inculcates in us the idea that our time, metered, is worth money and is wasted unless it is being used “productively” – for a while, but it took a moment of enforced quietude to make me read it.

I’m glad I did. (more…)

Book review: How Proust Can Change Your Life

How Proust Can Change Your Life.How Proust Can Change Your Life by Alain de Botton.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars.

I’ve decided to read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time this year, because it’s been sitting on my shelf for too long, and I figured if I was ever going to take a stab at it, it should be now.

Whatever the merits of Proust’s work, even a fervent admirer would be hard pressed to deny one of its awkward features: length.

The problem is that such a work requires a bit of a running start. I mean, there’s multiple volumes, and indeed, not much goes on between the covers, albeit in beautifully rendered sentences. The whole collection of tomes could probably be considered unnecessary for modern life, but still it persists: something people aspire to read because, like a genteel Everest, it’s there. (more…)

Book review: Modernists & Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters

Modernists & Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters.Modernists & Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters by Martin Gayford.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

So hey, here’s an idea for a book: a history of artists from a certain place, and a certain time. Let’s call them London Painters and bung them together, even though there’s little to link them stylistically, or even philosophically.

Sounds like a hiding to nowhere, right?
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Book review: Tokyo Ueno Station

Tokyo Ueno Station.Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri (tr. Morgan Giles).
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

When I first went to Tokyo, I made a habit of walking through a large park in Shinjuku. It was just down from the Tokyo Park Hyatt (as featured in Lost in Translation) and the park was exceptionally groomed – in the same way much of Tokyo was.

Unlike a lot of the other places I’d seen, though, it featured a lot of homeless people. It was ordered and quiet and a little hidden away: visible, but visibly ignored by most others walking through the space on their commute.
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Book review: A Maggot

A Maggot.A Maggot by John Fowles.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

I’m a bit of a fan of Fowles because of the creepy perfection of his first novel, The Collector, and the madness of The Magus, a book spent a couple of years pushing on people at any opportunity.

I wasn’t quite so taken with A Maggot the first time I read it, a dozen or so years ago. But as I’ve aged, I think I’ve come to appreciate it a lot more, as this reread was supremely enjoyable. I guess the fact that the author has taken a kitchen-sink approach to the work – it’s variously a mystery, historical record, SF exploration, class critique and theological query – ensures that there really is something for everyone here. (more…)

Book review: The Odyssey

The OdysseyThe Odyssey by Homer and Emily Wilson.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

Giving Homer’s Odyssey five stars would seem a foregone conclusion, right? I mean, it’s the second-oldest extant work of Western literature (homeboy Homer also created the first) and it’s pretty much the definition of an epic tale. It gave James Joyce the basis for Ulysses (though there’s much less wanking in this version) and is something about which more people know a little, even if they don’t know its exact provenance. Angry cyclops? Sirens? A decades-long return, hamstrung by gods being utter dickheads? C’mon.

Crew: “Fuck you, Odysseus, we want to hear SirenFM too.”

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Book review: Beauty and Chaos

Beauty and Chaos: Slices and Morsels of Tokyo Life.Beauty and Chaos: Slices and Morsels of Tokyo Life by Michael Pronko.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

I’m a bit of a fan of Japan. I’ve learned some [terrible] Japanese, and have travelled there several times, for holidays and for music competitions. I like the contradictions of the place, and am always looking for an excuse to journey back. This, Michael Pronko’s first collection of essays on Tokyo, offers a pretty good trip.

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Book review: Twisted Clay

Twisted Clay.Twisted Clay by Frank Walford.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars.

So here’s a book that was written by a future pillar of the Katoomba community who, aside from writing, spent time as a buffalo hunter, crocodile shooter, mule packer and prospector. He was a boxer and dab hand with a knife, and shared the same bucolic Blue Mountains literary salon as Eleanor Dark.

Naturally, it’s a book about a murderous teenage lesbian who receives communiques from her dead father – letting her know his brains are falling out from where she hit him with an axe in retribution for wanting to try and cure her with hormone therapy, so can she please come and dig him up – who ends up in Sydney committing further murders. Written in 1933, no less. And promptly banned for thirty years.
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Book review: Psycho

Psycho.Psycho by Robert Bloch.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars.

When I was a teenager, going through something of a Hitchcock stage, I found a copy of this book and I remember loving it. But that was thirty years ago, so I figured I’d better revisit Bloch’s best-known work and see if it still stands up.

Unsurprisingly, it does. I think it’s probably more affecting at this point than it was when I was younger: the book is a lot sharper than I remembered.
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