HOW many times?


The best book in this set, unquestionably, is The Postman Always Rings Twice which gets better every time I remember it. More Cain in my future, for sure. A couple of first novels of varying quality and, as per 2023's apparent rules, lots of comics.

And that's not even mentioning American's favorite kindergartner!


008) Maddy Kettle Book: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch by Eric Orchard, finished January 24

This is a very cool-looking, charming little descendant of Wonderland. It came out eight years ago and has no sequel—and I hope that's intentional and not due to poor sales, but the ending is soooo far from feeling like an ending that I fear that may not be the case. I don't mind endings in media res, but this one was startling.

I am curious, though. I went to his Wikipedia page and it said he was currently working on this (again, eight-years-old) book. I fixed that, but his personal website is gone (or moved, rather; I fixed that too) and the page promoting this on the publisher's site is also gone.

It's weird. I randomly found this at my usual library and last week I saw it on display at another local library. What happened?

Apparently he's fine (he posted on Facebook an hour ago), but one can't help but to wonder if timely or ancestral reasons might have affected the trajectory of his career. Regardless, this is the only work of his listed under his author page on Amazon and that seems a shame.

two extremely noncontiguous days

009) Fantastic Frights: A Beginner's Guide to Scary Stories, finished January 24

A siamese cat is our guide through these progressively more frightening tales. It's comics. It's for kids. It's debatable whether the later ones are scarier than those in the middle, but it's a fun little book. Just right for just the right kid.

probably over a month

010) Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary, finished February 2

It's funny, reading this 1968 book with its 2020 illustrations that sometimes . . . do not quite match.

But what I really liked about this one was the last two chapters, as new kindergartner Ramona's life reaches new heights only to crash to the lowest of lows and then stay low. Redemption arrives of course but this is a true trough she falls into and so her eventual redemption has real value, real meaning.

about ten weeks with the kindergartner since we spent more time reading books she can read

011) Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, finished February 3

A student of mine that I taught all four years of high-school English to gave me copies of her two very favorite books on her last day with me, earlier this month. It was the perfect gift, really. The right sendoff.

Anyway, Eleanor Oliphant was a big hit half a decade ago and is one of the bestselling audiobooks of all time, so perhaps you already know about Eleanor and her separation from all of humanity and why and how she came to make friends and to let other people into her life.

The book is pitched as humorous and I did laugh, but it is also deeply sad. I totally get why it might be someone's comfort book, a book they read over and over. She's a character who undergoes enormous growth and whom we easily come to love. It's centered in a true place (Edinburgh) such that it feels like visiting. It was wonderful highs and lows.

I was caught entirely offguard by a late surprise that I wager surprises very few people. I'm not sure if I like the choice, that will take more mulling, but I understand the choice. I'm not opposed to it. I also appreciated the restraint Honeyman employs. Lots of opportunities to go big and flashy but she held off.

In short, thank you, I liked it.

couple weeks

012) The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain, finished February 4

So I knew it was a noir. I think I knew there was a femme fatale and perhaps the involvement of another man in her husband's murder? I figured one of those men might be the eponymous postman and, therefore, that we were probably in suburbia. I think I must've also figured the story's more or less over once we get a murder.

Wrong on most counts, as it ends up. I mean—I still don't know who the postman is. I'll do some searching after writing this, but what the heck does the title mean?

All that said, what a book! I loved it. I didn't realize Cain also wrote the source material for Double Indemnity (great movie; haven't seen Postman). The voice is impeccable and the most noir I've read. The setting, nowhere California in the Thirties, is alive and dangerous. The plotting was sharp and surprising. The characters are deeply attractive and deeply horrifying. Really, this novel is everything I could have wanted. And just over a hundred pages. More novels should be published at this length.

two days

013) Is that all there is? by Joost Swarte, finished February 6

Underground comix, Nederlands style.

Joost is an incredible draftsman and his stories are, on average, better entertainment than those of his America peers. The translation work was pretty great too, though I had no idea people like Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly and Kim Thompson could translate Dutch. 

Should I learn Dutch?

I liked the anecdotes from Chris Ware's intro, and I couldn't tell how much of the untoward material (esp. racist tropes) were intended to be shocking versus just Europeans stealing from Americans without realizing the baggage that comes along with it.

Anyway, historical research complete!

a few weeks

  014) Edge Case by YZ Chin, finished February 7

This is the last of 2021's B&N books and the first disappointment.

This is a first novel and I want to applaud the publisher for developing new talent. According to the acknowledgments, this book had "numerous early reincarnations" which sounds like working with an editor, but the flaws in Edge Case are so numerous and obvious that, if this is true, I am depressed about the state of editing in these united states.

Here's the thing. The book is loaded with great ideas. And Chin writes like she needs to make sure they're all in these pages, just in case this is it. The problem is that they don't all fit. And it results in her characters occasionally contradicting themselves in weird ways, in character traits or traditions appear for a moment then disappear because really it was just cool and it sorta fit so in it went.

What I think happened is that Chin wrote the book with a bunch of short notes and ideas that gradually coalesced around the plot. All those darlings were given homes, even when they worked against the book as a whole. Which made Edge Case a frustrating read. And disappointing. Because the characters were people I hadn't met before—a Malaysian couple working in the New York tech scene, hoping to score green cards. And that's just the set-up. There were so many ways this book should have worked! But then it does dumb things, like a late "surprise" that the entire novel is just a series of messages sent on a dating app. Why? What does that add? I can guess what it was supposed to add, but it did not. It did not.

I really wanted to like this book, but it's only adequate at best. Not a disaster, but surprising for a big publisher. Might make a cynic thing Harper Collins was just trying to prove how diverse their bullpen is. And the fact that the cover designer and all the blurbs are written by folks with the family names of Kim, Kitamura, Chang, Nguten, and Lin only gives such cynics more ammunition.

Not that those were wrong marketing decisions. Quite probably that's how books sell. Me, I learned blurb skepticism long ago, and I don't think I read these before buying the book. Instead, I read the front flap and the opening paragraphs and a few paragraphs from the middle of the book. I was intrigued by the promised tale and the voice it was told in.

I hope Chin gets another shot.

But the fact that it's still not in paperback doesn't fill me with confidence.

Editors of America, rise and do your jobs!*

*Publishers, pay for editing!

maybe a month?


final posts in this series from
  2007 = 2008 = 2009 = 2010 = 2011 = 2012 = 2013
2014 = 2015 = 2016 = 2017 = 2018 = 2019 = 2020 = 2021 = 2022

Earlier in 2023

001) The Dark Room by Gerry Duggan & Scott Buoncristiano, finished January four
002) The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander, finished January 6
003) Rose by Jeff Smith and Charles Vess, finished January 10
004) Acting Class by Nick Drnaso, finished January 10
005) Red Scare by Liam Francis Walsh, finished January 11

006) The Short Reign of Pippin IV by John Steinbeck, finished January 18
007) Filmish by Edward Ross, finished date

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