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[sticky post] The Sticky: An Introduction

This journal has been a couple of different things over the past few years. Right now, it's a place where I keep track of the books I've been reading, for my own reference and also for fun. Sometimes I talk about TV. Every once in a while, I do a fic exchange.

What you won't find here: politics, scholarship, personal experiences not directly related to books or TV, thorough reviews or criticism, serious business of any kind.

What you will find: the affective fallacy run rampant, gratuitous capslock, and lots of dumb jokes.

The general reading roundup is on Wednesday, Murder Monday is for mysteries and detective fiction, and occasional updates on Marcel Proust's novel In Search of Lost Time happen on Lost Time Thursdays. The 99 Novels tag keeps track of books from this 1984 list of "the best in English since 1939" by Anthony Burgess.

There's now a mirror site on Dreamwidth.

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A Murder is a Wish Your Heart Makes Monday

Crossposted from Dreamwidth

What I've Finished Reading

Unfinished Portrait is the second murder-free novel published by Christie under the pen name Mary Westmacott, and it's much better than Giant's Bread. Maybe it's just that the weaknesses don't show as much, since Unfinished Portrait is the story of a hapless young twentieth-century housewife/aspiring writer rather than that of a hapless young musical genius with amnesia. The melodrama hits closer to home. In fact, all signs point to this being a Portrait of the Artist as a Young Self-Saboteur. The emotional, imaginative Celia throws over a handful of admirers to marry a golf-minded nonentity who gives her a daughter she can't understand; the nonentity leaves her for another woman and gets huffy when she expects him to handle the divorce business himself (at the time, divorce required proof of infidelity, and he was too chivalrous to "put Marjorie through it"). Celia is just about to throw herself off a cliff when she meets The Narrator of this Book, a former portrait painter who can no longer paint (because of The War) but who is so touched by her story that he wrote this book, an unfinished portrait in words. If anyone I didn't already know was Agatha Christie had tried to pull the bit of Significant Imagery she does with the painter's hands, I think I would have cringed hard enough to sprain something, but Christie is cringe-proof and always will be.

What I'm Reading Now

Women Sleuths is a Mount TBR selection that I took home before the used bookstore shut down and haven't opened since. It's a Reader's Digest anthology of four? five? novellas, beginning with The Toys of Death by notable Golden Age of Murder weirdos Margaret and G. D. H. Cole, a Fabian couple who co-wrote 35 mystery novels. The copyright page of Women Sleuths claims that The Toys of Death was published in 1939; Wikipedia says 1948. I'm interested to read a socialist murder mystery from the Golden Age milieu. So far, there are no very noticeable differences. A house party has been planned, and the Marpleish mother of a well-known detective has just embarrassed the pompous host by accidentally correcting the geography in his fanciful story about Catalonia. Now she's in the garden, making unflattering observations about the guests. What could be better?

What I Plan to Read Next

Next in Christie is Death in the Air, which involves both Hercule Poirot and the exciting new world of (getting murdered on) airplanes!

The Wednesday is Too Much With Us

Crossposted from Dreamwidth, a day late (maybe not a dollar short).

What I've Finished Reading

I bought The Disaster Artist on impulse and finished it in about a day. It's a largely sympathetic account of Tommy Wiseau and the making of The Room, according to the book's subtitle "the greatest bad movie ever made." I'm not sure what I think of it. I liked it enough to be completely uninterested in stopping until I was done. One of the blurbs on the back calls it "the most honest book about friendship I've read in a long time," and I was surprised to find that I thought so, too.

Also finished: Proust's Way! I enjoyed it so much that I'm going to keep it for a while, which means it can't count toward my Mount TBR goal. That's ok! It's hard to say how much Shattuck's "field guide" would help someone reading Proust for the first time - I appreciated the diagrams of major characters & locations, relationships, and the intersections of time and space, but I wonder if they might create the impression that Lost Time is more intimidating, or harder to follow, than it actually is. But I'm one of those people who can't learn anything from a chart, and can barely learn anything without one.

One more thing about Generation of VipersCollapse )

Since I've been giving A Single Man short shrift, despite really liking it, here's an interesting article on the differences between the book and a recent movie adaptation by Tom Ford. I'm torn between sympathy with Ford's overidentification with George and regret that he chose to express this identification by turning everyone into a fashion plate.

What I'm Reading Now

When Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer. A science-fiction novel from 1932! Co-authored by the guy who will later bring you Generation of Vipers! Here a couple of rogue planets are about to collide with Earth, destroying everything on it! This being a Philip Wylie book, several characters are on hand to muse about how we all totally deserved this divine judgment for having bad taste in movies and pig-headedly trying to have revolutions and all the rest of it.

We first learn about this impending catastrophe when a black box containing glass photographic plates is brought by courier from Cape Town to New York. A man sits in a paneled room full of game trophies and says, "Strange to think there will be no more lions." Soon we learn that a cabal of scientists is busy inventing space travel so they can save a carefully chosen selection of the world's population. But it's TOP SECRET and they don't have room for everybody, so don't tell the plebs! Oh, and our POV guy, Tony, can't marry his girlfriend - or even touch her! - because there might have to be a mandatory breeding program later. This seems like nonsense to me. Even if we grant that there has to be a mandatory breeding program (which I don't; it just sets a bad precedent for your future space humans), isn't that all the more reason why Tony and Eve should have their fun while they can get it? We'll see what happens, I guess.

Tony has a "Jap servant" named Kyto who seems to be a game attempt to include a funny-talking foreigner without being too racist about it. Kyto is deferential because it's his job, but not cringing or stupid, and his language is florid and odd but not "broken" in the way you might expect on seeing a character introduced as a "Jap servant" in 1932. He's not quite a distinct character, but neither is anyone else at this point.

What I Plan to Read Next

Yesterday I went to the library to get Room at the Top and some Agatha Christies, but discovered I'd left my card at home. Maybe today I'll try again.

What A Man's Got to Murder Monday

Crossposted to Dreamwidth

What I've Finished Reading

I finished Murder in Three Acts in about two days - it just walked in and took over all my reading time without any effort. Mr. Satterthwaite, the quietly observant "womanish" bachelor from The Mysterious Mr. Quinn, returns for a crossover with Hercule Poirot. There's been one mysterious death at a cocktail party when Mr. Satterthwaite and his friends (an actor with alarmingly mutable mannerisms and a winning young woman with the unwinning nickname of Egg) begin their investigation, and no sooner have they begun poking around than another chap from the same party fetches up dead, apparently by the same method.

I thought I'd figured out the real killer at about the halfway point - and I turned out to be right - but I didn't know why until the very end. The solution was, in fact, right there all along, a beautiful piece of fair-play misdirection.

But Murder in Three Acts has something else, something rare and precious: Hercule Poirot backstory!

"See you, as a boy I was poor. There were many of us. We had to get on in the world. I entered the police force. I worked hard. Slowly I rose in that force. I began to make a name for myself.

This doesn't completely confirm my headcanon that Poirot grew up in a chaotic household with lots of brothers and sisters (all with heroic names) but it's close enough for me.

What I'm Reading Now

I love The Brass Rainbow, even if it's confusing in the way these hard-boileds are almost always confusing to me - I don't know why I find it so hard to keep track of who's blackmailing which coffee-mogul's son in re: what mob-adjacent gambling debts, but I do. I couldn't pass a pop quiz on The Brass Rainbow, but maybe that's not the point. Life is like that sometimes. It's even more like that than usual if you're One-Armed Detective Dan Fortune, who is always saying things like

Life begins in darkness and ends in darkness and in between is a nightmare.

A man in a bar in Algiers told me that. It was in my mind when I woke up to the gray cold of another day.

All you can do, that man said, is stay out of it. He may be right, but life is short. If you stay out you'll never know if you could have done something to make it less of a nightmare. Like doing something about men who push other men under trains.

Do any of these guys ever succeed in making life less of a nightmare? Or is that also not quite the point? No one goes to the underworld expecting to reform it. Your best-case scenario is getting what you came for and getting out, and how often do you see a best-case scenario? You don't.

What I Plan to Read Next

Unfinished Portrait by Mary Westmacott! (not a murder story). Maybe this Women Sleuths anthology.

Murder for Miles Monday

What I've Finished Reading

Murder at the ABA is a very minor treat, if you don't mind Isaac Asimov's Twentieth Century Horndog persona, and an irritating waste of time if you do. I'm somewhere in the middle, I think. It should be noted, if you're planning to read this book, that the 20thC.HD is essential to the narrative and cannot be overlooked for the sake of a good time. Honestly, even if you're horndog-neutral I think your patience might be tested. Every single female character will be assessed for fuckability by Darius Just, the smug and genial narrator; those who come up short on the Darius Just Scale of Would I Tap That are given the consolation prize of an off-the-cuff psychoanalysis explaining how their low score has shaped their personality and outlook.

Did I like it, though? Maybe "like" is too strong a word. I enjoyed reading it. The mystery is neither great nor insultingly weak, though dedicated mystery fans will probably think the red herrings look a little pale. Darius Just gets his friend Isaac Asimov to help him solve a mystery in exchange for a ready-made plot (i.e., the plot of this book). Just seems to be a stand-in for Asimov's friend Harlan Ellison (all my evidence for this is internal, but it looks likely) and the book is really an excuse for the two of them to mock-bicker self-deprecatingly, make a long paper-chain of inside jokes, and chortle about their inverse preferences in re: the female form. The inordinate amount of time spent on the murder victim's embarrassing sexual proclivity is probably also an inside joke. There are lots and lots of shallow digs at "libbers" (if these so-called women want equality so much, why don't they check their own coats? SHEESH), because it's 1976, and every seventy-five pages or so Asimov will remind you that Several Attractive Black Women Also Exist in This Book, Albeit Without Any Lines. Because it's 1976! Murder at the ABA is peak "of its time."

What I'm Reading Now

The Brass Rainbow by Michael Collins:

You can't really feel better by hitting a man weaker than you. At least, I never could. Maybe that's why I never made my mark in the world.

That's one of the first things Dan Fortune says, which pretty much guarantees that I'm going to like Dan Fortune, unless and until he starts shooting people left and right. Dan's a private detective who lost one of his arms in a vaguely defined juvenile delinquency incident during his misspent youth. He's well versed in the oblique figurative language and confusion that make up most of the private-detection skill set. Right now, he's trying to keep the cops off his hotheaded friend's back, and not having much luck. I originally bought this book for its cheesy pulp cover (three women undressing in the same room, while an affronted-looking man bursts in through a tiny door in the background) but it stands a good chance of being better than I expected.

What I Plan to Read Next

Three Act Murder, which isn't called Three Act Tragedy at all. Either orderofbooks.com has some inaccuracies, or it got a new name in America.

What's Up Fellow Teens Wednesday

What I've Finished Reading

A Generation of Vipers:

It has been fairly fancy of me, I know, to write so long and noisy a book just to say that if we want a better world, we will have to be better people.

I can't tell if A Generation of Vipers is too sloppy to be dangerous or if I've just developed the illusion that it is as a defense mechanism against having my conventional worldview shaken to the core. I'm leaning toward the former, but you never know. It's essentially a screed against American hypocrisy, self-mythologizing, and carefully cultivated obliviousness that was on point in 1943 and would probably still be on point today, at least in sufficiently abstracted list form. The infamous chapter on "mom" is really (partly) just a standard second-wave feminist critique of the culturally enforced idleness and infantalization of middle-class American women, only gussied up in a lot of gleefully misogynist imagery because Wylie can't seem to help himself.

It's an interesting book, but every paragraph and every chapter is such a clogged drain of clauses that it's difficult to parse. I'm not sure yet if I want to try to parse it a little more, or if I should just let it go. Certainly there are better-written screeds against American hypocrisy to be found. Here, have a sample paragraph (or rather, sentence-paragraph):

Since society is founded upon lies, and since all men are, in countless ways, exponents of the most groveling forms of intellectual and moral crookedness, the psychoanalytical method is slow, mentally painful to the deluded patient, at least at first, and likely, instead of rendering him whole, to spring upon his startled fellows in the overweaning and enlightened possession of some corner or giblet of eternal truth which, isolated in a still unclear mind and hatched autonomous in a still prejudiced company of persons, makes his behavior seem so bizarre that his friends avoid him, and he is liable to become disappointed not only with psychiatry but with himself all over again and develop a new set of stigmata.

From this distance, its pungency can feel a little forced, even when it hasn't aged as badly as, e.g., Wylie's many drive-by references to the deleterious influence of "nances" and "sissies." But I'm a classic American prig with a low pungency threshold, so who knows for sure? It probably read a little better in 1943, when the vernacular portion of the vernacular-prophetic hybrid was closer to fresh. I haven't decided whether I should keep this around on the off chance that I need a reference book for gritty suburban realism and/or "opinions it was possible to have in 1940s America."

On the one hand, it's pretty small! On the other, it was a little more of a slog, on a sentence level, than I like my books to be, and as a former Explosive Best-Seller it shouldn't be too hard to come by again.

I do like the Wyliean epithet "prickamouse," though I probably wouldn't use it myself.

What I'm Reading Now

Another Mount TBR selection, Between You, Me, and the Gatepost by Pat Boone (1959). If Philip Wylie's prose style is cluttered, Pat Boone's is downright excruciating. His Heart-to-Heart Message for Teen-Agers is just the sort of thing Wylie would set on fire for the sake of men's souls, and can you blame him? "Verily I say unto thee, . . . woweeWOOwow!" Boone exclaims, after listing the questions that inspired the book.

You think my work's not cut out for me? And these weren't adults asking the questions; no sir . . . these were bonafide, picked-at-random TWEEN-AGERS!

Now here's what we'll do. First, we'll talk about YOU; Second, about you and your friends (including parents!): and Third, about the ways you, Egbert Z. Twixt, can meet the challenge of changing the world!

Gag me, as the ancients said, with a spoon. But despite the heavy awfulness of the youth-group-leaderese, I find myself kind of liking Pat Boone here. He hasn't taken any really awful positions yet and he seems to genuinely like and sympathize with the young people he's blasting with the full force of his superpowered cringe ray. At the very least, he's fond of his memory of himself as a teenager.

(If I were a Real Teen in 1959, I'm sure I'd feel differently, and would probably be handing Wylie the gas can and matches).

This book is lavishly illustrated, but instead of having anything to do with the putative subject of teenagers sorting out their lives, the photos are all generic promotional images of Boone - posing with his cute daughters and slightly freakish small dog, posing in the studio, posing at European landmarks on a world tour.

I could complain about the prose style of Hidden Figures, but it's a masterpiece compared to Pat Boone, so I'll let it go until next week.

What I Plan to Read Next

Am I going to post about A Single Man? Maybe! Am I going to get back on track with the 99 Novels? Probably! Will I spend a lot of time getting distracted by other things first? Almost definitely!

(Mount TBR is a yearly challenge to read and relinquish books I've owned for a while but haven't read yet; current count is 49 toward my goal of 60).

More Fun Than a Barrel of Murders Monday

What I've Finished Reading

The stories in The Listerdale Mystery are nearly all in the "silly fun" category of Christie shorts - lots of perky young women testing their men for manliness, and downtrodden young men getting a new lease on life through some staged or accidental adventure. When you line them all up together, Christie's faux-adventure rom-com romps get a little samey, but they're all right in isolation - though nothing has yet come up to the gold/cheese standard of The Man in the Brown Suit, with its high-quality hand-wringing and island-pacing action. There's one genuinely chilling murder story in "Philomel Cottage" and a black-comic one, with a predictably wicked twist, in "Accident" - the latter featuring an intrepid investigator who strides manfully forth to bite off more than he can chew.

What I'm Reading Now

Murder at the ABA is a tale of murder! At a meeting of the American Booksellers' Association! What could be better? It's important to note, as the book itself does at the outset, that it is both written by Isaac Asimov and includes a character called Isaac Asimov who is a "prolific writer and self-esteemed wit." Is this a good idea, the best idea, a bad idea, or the WORST idea? Or is it, as sometimes happens, a four-car pileup incorporating all of the above? All I can tell you is that it introduces a straw feminist character on the first page, and on the second, burdens the s.f. with the minor (but hilarious!) humiliation of a nip-slip.

(NB: not actually all that hilarious).

What I Plan to Read Next

Three Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie and Unfinished Portrait by Mary Westmacott (aka Agatha Christie).

Wake Up America Wednesday

What I've Finished Reading

I'm still way behind on my 99 Novels, which is no one's fault but my own. I really enjoyed both Portnoy's Complaint and A Single Man (two different books about the body, I guess you could say) but I'm still not sure what to say about either of them. So I'll give it another week and either come up with something or let it go.

What I'm Reading Now

I ran out of books to read on the plane back home, so I bought Hidden Figures at the airport bookstore and promptly fell asleep - through no fault of Margot Lee Shetterly or the women of West Computing; I was just tired. I think it's pretty good so far, and Shetterly does a good job of making the 1940s engineering problems readable for the non-engineer, though I might still be having a little trouble with them because my brains are mush.

I've started reading Generation of Vipers by Philip Wylie - next in a long line of books I bought a long time ago and haven't gotten around to yet. Generation of Vipers was a background figure in feminist cultural criticism back in the 90s (when I was reading a lot of stuff from the 70s and 80s) because Wylie reportedly blames mothers for everything.

The perception that Generation of Vipers is all about blaming mothers is inaccurate so far; there's been some name-checking of "moms" and culturally expected attitudes toward motherhood, plus a dash here and there of contempt for "mustached females at Columbia" whose infant experiments came to unimaginative conclusions - but Vipers has a lot of fish to fry. It's a Wake Up Call for America, some of it perceptive, some petulant (with or without justification for the petulance). I don't want to be dismissive of Wake Up, America! writing; there's never been any shortage of fruit on that tree, low-hanging or otherwise. Wylie's antidotes to complacency are 1) a scientific approach to the individual soul, leading to 2) a healthy respect for Jungian archetypes, so it's bound to be a mixed bag for today's reader.

It's interesting to note that in 1941, when this book was first written, organized religion was sufficiently on the wane in the US for Wylie to write it off as a cultural influence; in this new edition from 1955, he admits that he couldn't have predicted the resurgence of religion in the next ten years via the anti-Communist movement. He doesn't footnote his remarks on the barbarity of mixed-use zoning, though; maybe in 1955 he still thought the burbs were an improvement.

What I Plan to Read Next

No idea! Probably something in the Mount TBR category. I'm still half-asleep. Blame the weather if you're feeling charitable.

Return of the Son of Murder Monday

I'm back home and almost through the busy season, so hopefully this will be the last useless placeholder for a while.

I didn't actually finish reading anything this week, either! I did have the opportunity to attend an old-school Sherlockian meetup, which was a lot of fun. Highlights of the event included: a summary of "Silver Blaze" composed entirely of clickbait headlines and a guy getting summarily shouted down for trying to make an analogy with his other fandom, Hannibal.

I took home five copies of The Serpentine Muse "a quarterly publication of The Adventuresses of Sherlock Holmes." This is a zine of about twenty pages with club and fandom news, light verse, speculations on the fates of minor characters, commentary and criticism both earnest and facetious (the latter tending to culminate in a pun of some kind) and toasts to various character categories and characters, Irene Adler and the milk-drinking snake being clear favorites.

One of the most interesting articles was a brief summary of the case of Mary Ann Cotton, a real woman who poisoned between 15 and 20 people with arsenic over a period of twenty years. The author suggests that this is "the most winning woman [Holmes] ever knew" who "was hanged for poisoning three little children for their insurance-money," though it appears Cotton was only convicted of one murder and probably committed more than three.

The Listerdale Mystery (a short story collection) was waiting for me when I arrived home last night; I've only read the title story so far, notable for a greater density of snobbery than usual for Christie (the protagonist is a victim of "genteel poverty" who dreads having to share a roof with "fellow-lodgers who always seem to be half-castes") and half the second story, "Philomel Cottage," which is nicely creepy in a mundane way.

Thursday Wednesday Dereliction

I thought I would have time to post, but I haven't been able to make time. I'll be back next week if I can get it together, in a couple more weeks if I can't.

What I'm reading: almost nothing! A phrase book and random chapters from The Once and Future King. I haven't forgotten about Shirley but it's been difficult to focus.

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