Book Thread 2024

Hey cool, I have read a ton of Dave Robicheaux books, always turns in a fun little detective story.

James Lee Burke is a great novelist who happens to write genre fiction. His prose is gorgeous.

This one’s Civil War based down South (before Robicheaux’s time :)). Interesting in that it follows multiple characters. I’m no history buff but there’s a fair amount to learn about what the Civil War was like from the Southern perspective in a somewhat sympathetic but also castigating way.

I pretty much immediately quit reading Bernard Cornwell’s Civil War series when he did that. I just couldn’t get passed it, and I say that as someone who has read probably over a dozen Cornwall books.

You do James Lee Burke an injustice if you have never read his works. He spent most of his life in the South and his lineage includes those who fought for the South. He’s also considered by many to be one of if not the greatest living American novelists. As Scott alluded to ….

And this book also comes down pretty hard on how the South was treated by the North.

I’m not sure where the praise ends and the sarcasm, or the unintended sarcasm begins. I need to like a character, or at least not feel contempt for his actions or thoughts.

We’re probably crossing wires. I’m not being sarcastic of either Burke, Cornwell (who I’ve not read), or this book. I was just trying to get across that the novel sees both sides of the Civil War from a different perspective which is more accurate in my view ….

Also, he follows multiple characters throughout the novel and you will probably find yourself liking, disliking each character and sometimes liking and disliking the actions of the same character!

I have nothing but praise for Burke’s writings. His writing is extremely nuanced when it comes to characterization, description of locale and setting in the south, dialogue, plotlines, etc. He doesn’t have sarcasm or praise himself in the writing of this book and doesn’t “pick a side”.

Many folks find Burke difficult to read due to the lovely prose Scott referred to and the way he injects complicated morals into his characters. He makes you stop and think and reading him takes longer than your average novel. At the same time there is always a lot of action, and non-gratuitous violence in the plot lines to carry you along. You’d most likely need to refer to a dictionary to see what a given word means (I do :)).

The book won the Edgar. If I’m not mistaken, Burke is one of the few, if not, the only author(s) to have won the Edgar twice, let alone thrice.

I’m not a very good book reviewer, having never done so in the past. Just trying to convey as much as I can about Burke’s writing. Reading the book, or any of his 20 or more novels, will do a far better job than I can do in conveying an understanding of his style. You just might end up reading those 20 novels, which is one of the pleasures I’ve had throughout my life, of finding an author who I love, and having a treasure trove to read!

I’ve not read either Burke or Cornwell’s American stuff, but my drive-by shitpost is that the last thing this country needs is more “Civil War from the southern perspective” stuff. We still haven’t recovered from Gone with the Wind.

I haven’t read any Burke so I don’t mean to judge his writing at all. He sounds like a very good writer and I will be looking for his other works . I mentioned Cromwell only because I have always loved his work and was very disappointed to start his Civil War series to find him humanizing his southern characters. Maybe later on he has them develop but I never got that far. I would agree that there is nothing inherently wrong with telling the story from the southern perspective as long as they aren’t somehow made victims.

I also didn’t mean to interpret you wrong. I blame the way the internet works for that. :)

It’s hard to describe Burke’s take on south versus north. On the one hand, he’s 80+ years old and spent a good deal of his life in Louisiana (now he’s out in Montana). He’s also what I would call liberal minded in many of his views (say on what man has done to the planet, what man has done to man (for example, see Civil War)). He was a college professor down south too …

Since much of this book (and his others which are more like detective novels featuring Dave Robicheaux) is based on characterization, I wouldn’t say he is sympathetic to southerners, he describes them like they are with warts and all. Similarly, he wasn’t sympathetic to the north in the Civil War, in fact the novel comes down pretty hard on the atrocities committed by Northern forces during the Civil War too, as well as on the other hand, definitely being in favor of the abolition of slavery, but also getting across the idea that in many cases, that left slaves no way forward out of the life they had known. I’d say he is less judgmental than I am, and he is about 1000% better informed than I am about the history, etc. of what took place.

No worries, it was hard for me to explain what is a very complicated subject matter to begin with, that is dealt with deftly by Burke and others that are better informed than me. I would be interested in seeing how you fare with some of Jim’s writings … this book is only out in hardback now, but all his other books can be had (used I imagine) inexpensively on Amazon. A good place to start and get a feel for him would be his first Dave Robicheaux novel:

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Burke is also famous for having his “comeback novel” rejected an unbelievable amount of times before his career took off again.

  • "For James Lee Burke, the road to becoming one of the country’s most popular and prolific crime novelists has not been an easy one. Burke’s first two novels — "Half of Paradise (1965) and “To the Bright and Shining Sun” (1970) — received promising reviews, but his third, “Lay Down My Sword and Shield” (1971), was a bomb, and Burke was not published again in hardcover for 13 years. Before his comeback effort, “The Lost Get-Back Boogie,” was published, it was rejected 111 times over nine years, Burke said, thus holding the rejection record in the New York publishing world. “Publishing is a fickle affair. You either get gushers or dusters — so it compares with the oil business.”

I have read all but the new one, but nothing else by him…

This week’s read was Prophet Song, the late 2023 Booker-winning dystopian novel by Paul Lynch.

It’s a worthy and interesting work for sure, but many will find the prose frustrating and dense to work through. The author barely punctuates, using commas to build long run-on paragraphs that link multiple ideas and emotions together in ways that invoke feelings and states of mind more than coherent chronological thought. Paragraph and chapter breaks are sparse, and Lynch freely abuses parts of speech by turning them into one another at a whim. A traffic light will never simply turn or change when it could “green” instead. Lynch also often uses a word in its secondary or even tertiary meaning rather than the primary one that most of us might casually assume (we remain, as ever, divided by our common language). So the prose is needlessly difficult to read (and indeed often requires attentive re-reading), but the reward is that it absolutely does do the job of depicting the narrator’s steadily decaying state-of-mind as the world & her family collapse around her.

Characterization is weak apart from the inner-state of the narrator. We see a handful of family members through her eyes, but it’s hard to have much empathy for them when we can’t see what’s happening from their points of view. We barely know anything about the main character herself, but that’s besides the point, and asking for more would be a bit like begging Cormac McCarthy for more biographical detail on the Man who’s traveling The Road.

Narrative pacing is also purposefully slow & turgid for the first half, but increasingly builds in the second half. I’ll admit that I nearly quit the book in the early going because nothing seems to happen & the narrator appears to be sleepwalking towards fascism. The author does it on purpose to lull you into feeling the same initial blindness & increasing terror that the narrator does as the story develops, but you’ve really got to trust Lynch to be willing to wade through the slow text to reach that eventual realization and climax.

I’ve purposely avoided saying much of anything about the setting or the novel’s main ideas because those are best experienced via the text and the narrative tricks that the author uses to make his points. The details of the dystopia don’t matter, because the author isn’t interested in debates on human history, political theory, corruption, or language in the way that Orwell might be. The opaque, pointless, unintelligible, and uncontrollable cruelty of the situation are nearly the entire point, and it barely matters which thugs are in charge at any given time or location.

The novel is, more than anything, a meditation on human nature, parenthood, and hope. It’s worth reading in the end, but not without some frustration in reaching that conclusion. Maybe that’s part of the point?

I picked up Christopher Buehlman’s Between Two Fires after reading review above from @Matt_W, and it was very good. Not easy reading, for sure, but very well-crafted writing exploring an intriguing fantastical historical setting. If you’re ok with some pretty graphic descriptions of the privations of the era of the Black Death and suffering at the hands of demonic powers, it’s well worth the read.

Interesting bit of synchronicity there, I was cleaning out some stuff from my mom’s old place and I turned up my old copies of ‘Starship Troopers’ and ‘The Moon is a Harsh Mistress’. It’s been long enough that I don’t remember much of the details, may be time for me to re-read these two classics.

I guess that’s an AI post. Interesting what it generates.

I reserved this, and while I was there I picked up The Lesser Dead by Buehlman. Wow, very good. Very much in the same vein, pun intended, as Charley Huston’s Joe Pitt books, but grittier and more of a character study. So I went ahead and read Those Across the River, his debut, and it was also good! It’s like this guy can write or something.

I also finished Exordia, I’m a bit torn on it. The epic scale was impressive and I’ve never seen a book go so deep-nerd in so many different areas. If I didn’t have a lifetime of reading military fiction, hard sci-fi, and just plain old science/math pop theory I would have been even more lost than I was. However, the writing itself was only workmanlike, and I’m not sure I’m on board with his frequent use of glib phrasing, pop culture, and just overall familiarity when speaking outside of a character. It was jarring, my interstitial phrasing should be clean and composed, thankyouverymuch.

I’m in the middle of Exordia right now, and it is a weird choice. I generally dislike that style, but I have to admit it produced one of the funniest lines I’ve read in a while about a character encountering a bomb:

Anna pokes it, because she’s a fuckup.

Agreed, it’s frequently on point humor-wise, but he should have used some sort of narrator character or had a sidekick to deliver the zingers. A good example would be John Dies at the End where you get tons of this stuff, but everything is being spoken as David Wong’s internal monologue so it doesn’t jar.

I actually liked the colloquial narrative style. I read a lot of LitRPG stuff though and it’s got kind of the same glib feel, so maybe I’m more used to it. Dickinson can write in more typical formal prose style–see Baru Cormorant–so this is a deliberate stylistic choice and I’m pretty down with it. The stilted English prose of book-length narrative is a convention I’m glad to see undermined and/or played around with. It doesn’t resemble speech or any other kind of communication or like you’d tell a story to your fiends. This is a novel of nerd excess, where the nerdgasms have nerdgasms and the bombs have bombs, so the style fits. I loved the description near the beginning of humans as inbred long distance runners who like to watch each other fuck.

Where I’m coming from is that was a good bit but as I recall it was being presented from Ssrin’s viewpoint, which is dandy. I just didn’t care for the bits where it got that frisky/colloquial as a part of the general prose. Without a Humble Narrator I find it jarring to suddenly jump into conversational asides without context.