Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 year-end wrap-up

Wow! What a great year! I liken my year to that of the San Antonio Spurs regular season in the National Basketball Association this year. They started the season publicly recognizing that their star power forward was slowing down and that they were going to take the season with a more relaxed approach. And yet about a third of the way through the season, they have the best record in the league. Similarly, after my second-half letdown last year, I decided [url=]to take it easy with myself this year[/url] (as it says above "reading for pleasure in 2010") and make no reading commitments. And yet somehow I managed to catch fire and record my best reading year since I started counting.

One of the lessons I learned and applied is to avoid the spring time meltdown. In my poor-performing years, I often stopped reading in March and April, probably caught up in the excitement of springtime. So now I make an extra effort in those months to stay diligent, which in turn increases momentum for the summer months. This year, I had a two-week honeymoon to the Galapagos in February, with lots of time on a boat and in airports, which gave me a huge boost.

Another factor is that I cut way down on participating in the gaming world. I still play once every two weeks with my regular group here, but I just lost interest in staying up to date on the hobby and marketplace, arguing with people about history and theory of tabletop roleplaying games. That took up a lot of time much of which I spend reading now.

Once I saw that I had a good pace going, I started to get obsessed with the idea of making up for years where I didn't make the goal by trying to get to an average of 50. This obsession got me tracking and calculating, which in turn, increased my motivation. Finally, in the late summer, our "free" cable got cut off, which definitely got the pages turning.

As far as content, it was quite a varied year, though with an emphasis on crime fiction as usual. Aside from my continued re-reading of the Parker series (each of the three books of which I read this year were as fulfilling and probably more rewarding this time around—I can't wait to get my hands on "Memory" which everyone is talking about), I had four standout reads this year:

The Porkchoppers by Ross Thomas

The Red Right Hand by Joel Townsley Rogers

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

The Engagement by Simenon

The Porkchoppers makes me particularly happy because not only was it a great book, but it's opened up an entire ouevre by a skilled author who talks my language. It is so nice to know that there is still more to discover out there!

The Red Right Hand is just totally fucked out. I'm usually not a fan of books where the author is messing with the reader, but this one is just so well done and so creepy that I couldn't shake it from my mind. Also, that it was written in 1945, and yet there is nothing today that exceeds it in terms of pure dark craziness I find strangely comforting (or the opposite, depending on your view of humanity).

Barchester Towers met my hopes (and exceeded them in that it was much easier for me to read than I had thought) and has opened the door for me to read much more Trollope going forward.

The Engagement sealed the deal for me with Simenon's romans durs: if I find one used, I will pick it up. This is a masterpiece of noir, guilt, crime fiction but also of depicting a sense of place.

Another enjoyable element of 2010 was hooking up with some of the other book bloggers out there that are outside of my initial group of 50 booker friends (who are still plugging away, with a nice resurgence at the end of the year, despite the imposition of family values and multiple responsibilities getting in the way of reading). Louis XIV of Existential Ennui, Trent at The Violent World of Parker and The Book Glutton have created a little corner of nerdy obscurity and intelligent discourse that has brought me a lot of enjoyment this year. Thanks for that!

A special note to the book blog of my lovely wife, who has also had a record-breaking year and whose choice of books keeps me aware of segments of the market I like to know about and whose much more diligent and disciplined approach to her posts keeps me from being totally lazy with my own writing.

It's always hard to say what 2011 will bring. I am going to take it easy on myself, but I definitely want to hit 50 this year. The on-deck shelf has swelled over xmas break and there is a nice list of intriguing books and authors awaiting me. Reading is good! Happy New Year everyone! I wish you all a rocking and well-read 2011!

73. Beast in View by Margaret Millar

Still swinging! Got one last book in before the year ends.

As a general rule, I have very little interest in bookstores that only sell new books. I like them and lament there fate in the internet and big box age, but there is nothing to be discovered there for me, generally speaking. However, Dark Carnival in Berkeley, California, is an exception to this rule. It's a science fiction and fantasy bookstore that is overstocked to the point of books lining the floors under shelves. They do have a used section but it is limited to two shelves way in the back. However, they have such a wide stock of new books that there are many things to be discovered there. I don't know if it's because they keep stuff that is long out of print, or do orders with small publishing houses or perhaps distributors that still have old stock, but you can find new copies of books that are long out of print. For example, they have at least 5 different books by Margaret Millar, all new but quite old. The copy of Beast in View that I bought is a Caroll & Graf paperback released in 2000. I normally do not buy new books but Margaret Millar, despite her past popularity, has proven extremely hard to find in the used book stores that I have frequented, so I picked this one up as well as The Fiend (with the creepiest cover of a dude in a raincoat watching a girl on a swing).

Beast in View begins with an old maid, who isn't that old, living by herself in a hotel suite. She receives a very disturbing prank call from a female stranger who claims to know her and seems to know too much about her. This call disturbs the woman deeply and she calls the man who handled her late father's estate, the only person she really has any connection with at this point. The financial advisor is near retiring and at loose ends with the death of his own wife and so takes up the woman's case, though it is not really his line of work. The set-up is fairly straightforward but the execution that follows is not. Millar takes us into the lives of many different characters, connected only tangentially (at least at first) to the old maid and the prank caller. Many chapters starts out from the perspective of a new character, which almost becomes disorienting, except that a much larger and richer story of a completely dysfunctional family, twisted from their own emotional failings and the restrictive social pressures of late '50s white upper middle class America, comes slowly and intriguingly to the surface.

And what a dark story it is. The characters are so desperate, lost and damaged and Millar's portrayal so penetrating that it is almost painful to read at times, except that her language is so deliciously nasty and the intrigue so gripping that you keep turning the pages. This book reminded me a lot of Patricia Highsmith, that same kind of realistic and unflinching regard at other people's broken minds. I think that perhaps Millar has some sympathy for her characters, where Highsmith had none, but I think such a statement requires reading more of Millar's works, which I definitely will do. Beast in View is a great little novel with a tight, rewarding ending that caps off a dark, ugly journey into the despairing, twisted minds of the lost souls of Southern California's bourgeoisie. Strongly recommended.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

72. The Fools in Town Are on our Side by Ross Thomas

Well I'm afraid I faltered on the home stretch. I really had the opportunity to hit 75 by the end of the year, having two days before xmas vacation where work should have been quiet and then a day of flying, but those two days turned out to be really busy wrapping up year-end stuff and the flight was a total clusterfuck (how is a toilet not working a "safety issue" Air 'fuck you customers' Canada?!) and I just couldn't concentrate. Then when I got to the family seat for xmas there was just too much fun family stuff. A bit disappointing to not meet Book Glutton's generous and fun challenge.

I do wish a merry xmas and happy holidays to you all!

And now on to my second Ross Thomas book. The Fools in Town Are on our Side is ultimately, the story of a recently fired spy who is hired to shake up a corrupt town in order that it can be cleaned up. But that storyline is actually one of three and only really gets going in the last quarter of the book. The other two threads are a picaresque origin tale of the protagonist and the story of how he lost his job. Each of the three storylines are engaging and enjoyable, but as a whole the book lacked a consistent rhythm. By the time I got to the corrupt town storyline, I felt the energy had flagged some.

The longer storyline of his origins is a lot of fun, remined me of Isabelle Allende. Though American, he moves to Shanghai as a young boy, where he is orphaned by errant Chinese bombers in the early stages of WWII. He luckily ends up in a brothel run by a French madam and learns many languages and street-smart skills as her assistant. After several adventures in a Japanese jail and on a prison transfer ship (where he and the guy who becomes his adopted father fleece the other prisoners with their gambling skills) he ends up stateside and in the military. There he is recruited by this top-secret spy agency. Other shit happens, including a brutal, life-changing incident that was the most shocking, intense moment of the book.

As a spy in China, he gets double-crossed and arrested in Macao. In order to save face and to get him out of prison, the government makes him the scapegoat. He gets a nice retirement package, but has nothing he can legimately put on his CV. So he quickly accepts a mysterious job offer from a quirky trio of an ex-sheriff, a beautiful ex-prostitute and a brilliant, flighty mastermind. They make up, in effect, a consulting firm who clean up dirty towns. In this case, it is a small Florida city of a few hundred thousand and the plan is to make the town so corrupt and out of control that the whole thing will have to be shut down. The people paying for this work are not so pure, but have been pushed out of power and want and older, quieter form of corruption than the existing one.

Ross Thomas definitely has a cynical eye and it is fantastic to see it turned on a small southern city. There is a passage that opens a chapter where he describes the physical and socio-economic geography of the town that is a masterpiece of worldbuilding. When the "consultants" start to put their plan into action, the reading is delicious. You get to meet a dripping-with-grease cast of corrupt politicians, cops, merchants, journalists, gamblers and actual criminals. It gets even better when the chaos of the town causes the big-time out-of-town gangsters to roll in, either to defend their fiefdom or to try and snatch it for themselves.

This is all great stuff, but it comes late and never addresses the major points of conflict in the other two storylines: the horrible incident that drove the hero to become a spy and his betrayal that got him fired. A very enjoyable read, but not the near-masterpiece that The Porkchoppers is. This knowledge justifies my hesitation in going hog-wild on the many other Ross Thomas books on sale at Welch's. I need to know him better as an author before I can necessarily buy all of his books.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

71. A Fine Ending by Louis Rastelli

[Today's book review is a Special cross-posting today with my other blog, Briques du Neige, about life in Montreal, so go check it out if you want to hear me rant and rave about today's hipsters.]

I have a nice windfall of Ross Thomas books awaiting me on my on-deck shelf, but I didn't quite have the desire yet. I think I had read a few too many books of that genre and needed to take a little break. Happily, my wife had put out A Fine Ending on the outgoing pile which reminded me that since she had read and reviewed it and since I had accidently met the author himself, I also wanted to read it.

A Fine Ending is semi-fictional and semi-autobiographical. Rastelli was in the anglo-hipster Montreal scene of the 90s, back when it was a little more real and a little less self-conscious (and a lot poorer). His book is basically a chronicle of his life during that period: the places he lived, the people he knew and the things he did. There is a lot of musical shows and practices, finding of cool old stuff, moving and in and out of apartments, partying and caring (or failing to) of cats. This last subject is probably the only one where the book has any emotional resonance. The rest of it is strangely matter-of-fact and surface level. Louis seems to be strangely disconnected from it all in some ways. It's not just the writing style but his constant "friend-zone" relationship with women. He clearly is really connected and close with those people and a sensitive, aware guy. But somehow, you never really get to hear his own thoughts. He is so Canadian and passive that he seems to even have subsumed his entire personality for fear of being too aggressive. I wonder if part of it is that he knows a lot of the people still and can't really be totally open.

Today, Louis is a bit of an elder statesmen on the scene, maintaining cultural traditions and events for the new generation of wealthy, self-conscious hipsters. I can't say that A Fine Ending is a well-written book. There is some good stuff in it, some touching moments, but it's more like a tightly-edited and revised diary. It makes for some parts where you wonder why his is telling us exactly what he put in his backpack before going to watch fireworks on the mountain. However, it's not unpleasant to read at all and it has a good heart. If you live in Montreal and are curious about those storied days that influence the way we think about Montreal, you may well enjoy the book. Finally, it really is a pretty solid historical document, capturing a phenomenon that happens in cities all over North America and possibly the rest of the world, that fantastic period when a city truly becomes culturally alive on its own, without the influence of the governments or big corporations or self-aware hipsters for whom style trumps actual politics.

I'd also known that the book is beautifully designed. The full-bleed colour cover and the black & while illustrations inside perfectly capture the feel of the world Rastelli is describing.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

70. The Japanese Corpse by Janwillem van de Wetering

Continuing on with the adventures of Dutch detectives de Gier and Grijstra and their commisaris. This time, they get involved in the culture and criminal world of Japan. The story starts with a half-Japanese, half-American hostess of a Japanese restaurant who is convinced that her disappeared Japanese boyfriend has been murderd by the Yakusa (sic-this is how it is spelled in the book). This leads our heroes into interactions with the small Japanese community in Amsterdam and then to Japan itself for a major operation involving the Dutch diplomatic corps, the CIA and the Japanese secret service to bust up an antique and drug-smuggling Yakusa ring.

I had mixed feelings about this book as well, although overall I quite enjoyed it and I think it tipped me over into keeping and eventually reading the other two books in the series I was given. This isn't a series I will go out of my way to read in its entirety, but it will always be on my list in case I stumble across one I haven't read for cheap and I am in want of good reading material.

On the positive side, the main characters really continued to grow on me. They are so civilized and thoughtful, but still kind of badass and tough. Their personal lives are well drawn. We fantasize about the freedom and sexual success of the younger, good-looking de Gier and we sympathize with the older one, trapped by a nagging wife and obnoxious children. Their commisarius is the perfect boss, guiding but flexible, with a vast hidden experience. There are some great action moments in this book as well, though the style in which they are delivered is as straightforward and deliberate as the rest of the book. Sometimes I almost think it was written in Dutch and translated rather artlessly, but I think that is van de Wetering's style. It's generally quite good, but for the action scenes, a little more energy might be fitting. Sometimes you don't even realize action has started!

Though this leads me to another cool thing. As a writer, de Wetering likes to surprise the reader from time to time. It's quite well done. At one point, Grijstra is reminiscing on an interrogation he just came from and you are led to believe that he learned nothing new until all of a sudden he drops it on you that the subject broke down and revealed some game-changing info. This happens again with a major event happening to one of the protagonists. It just comes out of the blue and is most distressing and ends up informing his behaviour for the rest of the book (and probably books to come). These "surprises" are very well staged and force you to pay attention in a good way.

The plot also is much more complex and engaging. Going to Japan is cool and for a book written in the 70s (back when Japan was mysterious and exotic instead of bug-nuts wacky as we know now today), the culture is treated with depth and respect. The flaw for me in the book is that the ending drew on a bit long. The protagonists and their relation to Japan had been spelled out and resolved, but there was still a lot of plot to get through, that felt to me lacking in energy somehow. All in all, though, a very enjoyable read and taking me one book closer to the Book Glutton challenge!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

69. Muscle for the Wing by Daniel Woodrell

Well this was a pleasant little discovery, found once again at Chainon, my local thrift store. I was up trolling through their english paperback shelves like a cokehead pawing through a shag carpet and stumbled upon this book. It looked intriguing, though I had never heard of the author. Turned out to be a pretty good piece of "bayou noir" fiction (phrase stolen from this review over at The Edge).

The story takes place in St. Bruno somewhere in Cajun country, I guess around the time it was written (1995), though this part of the world is so backward and timeless it could have been anytime after WWII practically. The protagonist is a cop who came up in Frogtown, the rough section where most of the action takes place. But the story is about a small gang of ex-cons who have come into town to hit up the local corrupt power structure. Part of their motivation is that the place has been so under the control of the local crime boss, that everyone's vigilance is down. But they are also following the directives of Ronnie, a local who took a fall for that crime boss, whose swamp-sexy young wife is still in Frogtown. Ronnie and the ex-cons are all part of some minor white supremacist prison gang called The Wing.

The action is tough and efficient, but it's the characters and dialogue that really make this book a pleasure. Though poor and uneducated for the most part, these are people with a history and a rich culture and it shines through in the way they speak with each other and interact. The style reminded of a mix between Charles Willeford and Harry Crews. Though now that I went and did a bit of internet research, it appears that his books all take place in the Ozarks. I didn't know there were Cajuns in the Ozarks (or for that matter where the Ozarks even are beyond Deliverance). In any case, there is a lot of old french influence, both in the names of people, the language used and their criminal culture. There is a neat little aside that talks about a french soldier who was the knee-breaker for the governor in the 18th century who made his own little criminal colony downriver and whose antecedents are still more or less doing the same thing today.

I see also that Woodrell is far from forgotten, as the film of his book Winter's Bone appears to be the new hotness on the "indie" cinema scene. Good for him, because if Muscle for the Wing is representative of the rest of his books, Woodrell is a good writer who doesn't pull his punches. Good stuff.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

S.W. Welch, he's good. He's real good.

S.W. Welch Books is the quality local used bookstore in my Mile End neighbourhood (and I believe the only english language used bookstore east of St. Laurent in Montreal). I've come to appreciate it more and more, once I accepted that the days of cheap discoveries in used bookstores are basically over. On Friday, I quite enjoyed reading this nice blog article on the store and the man behind it. It reminded me that I hadn't been up there in a while and I wondered if he might have some Ross Thomas (since that was a name I had never looked for up there before).

My wife has started the domestic practice of stacking up our completed, non-keeper books on a little table under the window and when it gets to a certain height, taking them to Welch's to sell (and giving the rest away at Chainon). Well the pile was pretty high and she'd been wanting to go for a while, so I got us motivated on a grey, snow-covered saturday up to hipster St. Viateur street and Welch's.

Welch's pricing is pretty savvy. You won't find a book on the sci-fi or crime shelf for less than $4. But they do have a $1 rack that is usually outside the front door. And guess what I saw sitting on the top shelf of that rack:

Like what is this book even about, a dude with thick hair and some dogs who has a nice house on a beach and has sex with a 70s babe while his chinese manservant looks on? It's so bland! In many ways, the '70s were really, really lame.

Wow! Was I ever excited! Not only is it a Ross Thomas, but it's the one Ross Thomas I have specifically been looking for. It's the first in one of his series and is considered one of his classics. Louis XIV loved it (and take a look at the awesome cover of his copy) and he is not alone. Yes, the cover is absolutely heinous, just the worse kind of 70s generic bestseller design (though I actually kind of like the illustration on its own, if it wasn't so bland), which is probably why it was in the dollar shelf.

Because, as I should have guessed, the very recent Ross Thomas re-discovery movement did not slip by S.W. Welch's radar. He has a pretty sweet collection of Ross Thomas paperbacks on the Crime shelf. Of those, I only picked up this (for $4, but we had credit):

My apologies for the quality of this image, as this is actually kind of a cool design. I'll scan it when I actually read it and have a better image here.

Possibly one of the best crime novel titles ever. According to the woman who was working behind the counter, he had just put them out about a month and a half ago, saying "This guy is good and there will be a few people who will be looking for him." S.W. Welch know the game! We're I a Book Glutton, I might have just snagged them all right there, but a man's got to know his limitations.

Nevertheless, with all this excitement (and because we'd just got a $40 credit with our old books), , I went a little crazy and picked up two other neat finds. This great cover of a Patricia Highsmith I don't remember ever hearing about:

and this sweet Holloway House blaxploitation title which takes place in Canada title for $6 (I told you I was a bit over-stimulated):

Most Canadians are capable of riding a skidoo no-handed, standing up, shooting and holding a babe, but we also do it with a brew in one hand as well.

All in all, a very satisfying day at the bookstore. Now to read!

Edit: Here are the Ross Thomas's that were on the shelf. Many of them look to be from the same publisher and period, so I wonder if they didn't come from a single collection:

Saturday, December 11, 2010

68. The Grid by Philip Kerr

Another nice little one dollar find at Chainon, the thrift store near my house. I never would have bought this book had I not gone to Amsterdam and seen two of the three of Philip Kerr's Berlin trilogy and had them strongly recommended to me by the knowledgeable bookseller. Sadly, it was books two and three and I didn't want to have them without the first. Now I really think I should have picked them up. They were the Fontana ones with really cool covers and now I'm not sure they are going to be easy to find at all. In any case, it put Philip Kerr's name on my list and pointed my eye to this otherwise bland bestseller cover.

Happily, the story is about a super-modern building in downtown L.A., whose central computer system malfunctions and starts killing everybody inside. It's basically Demon Seed II: The Office Tower. A great premise and made doubly entertaining because Kerr creates a super-hateful antagonist in the form of the egomaniacal architect (and his undeservingly promoted to designer vapid wife). They are everything that is wrong with fashion, success, business, the media, your boss and Ayn Rand all wrapped up in one package that you can't wait for the computer to just house.

Overall, this is a solid, entertaining and forward-moving book. It's no great work of art. In the beginning, the long cast of characters makes you feel like you are watching one of those classic '70s disaster movies and the depiction of the computer's motivations and perspectives is a bit simplistic and off. It's language is too inconsistent and rings false, bringing you out of the fiction (geek aside: Kerr has no real understanding of how computers work at their base, but that's not really a problem for the book). On the flip side, near the end, he takes the concept of the awakened system and pushes it to a pretty cool extreme, that I quite appreciated.

This would make a great movie, basically building as serial killer. So all in all, a fun read and shows that Kerr is competent. I look forward to reading his less lofty Berlin trilogy, which is about a detective in Nazi germany.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

67. The Corpse on the Dike by Janwillem van de Wetering

A good friend of mine gave me this book along with three other van de Wetering mysteries. It was appreciated because I've been curious about this other and went to Amsterdam for the first time earlier this year (where these stories take place). However, he didn't realize the burden he was placing on me by adding 4 new books by the same author onto my on-deck shelf that I have been very aggressive about whittling down this year. I figured out their chronological order (of which the Corpse on the Dike was the earliest) and hoped either they would be super awesome or totally mediocre. In the former case, I would have three more books of this super awesome series waiting for me. In the latter case, I could just give the other three away.

Unfortunately, it was only pretty good. The main characters, two undercover police detectives—Gripjstra the hulking family man and De Gier, the athletic and weirdly single guy—and their commisariss, a shrewd police veteran suffering from severe rheumatism in the legs are compelling and entertaining. They have that civilized, respectful and educated belief that society should try to be generally benevolent that separates Europe from North America, but it doesn't weaken their fundamental cop nature. It makes for a nice balance. They also have some pretty funny riffing off of each other. It's just an odd, effective crew working for the man and they seem to be aware of it.

The locations and the other characters are pretty cool as well. I really loved Amsterdam and I enjoyed seeing it from an insider's perspective (although I believe van de Wetering was writing these books from outside of Amsterdam and they are originally written in english, for whatever that information is worth). It was a bit more rundown when this book takes place in the mid-70s. Among the many neat locations, a high-class brothel in a mansion, run by an accommodating pimp was particularly vivid.

However, the mystery itself was not all that interesting. It was more of a straight police procedural that was wrapped up a bit too easily and perfunctorily, without any real twists or complications. I sort of appreciated it the straightforwardness of it, but it just didn't really excite me. I'm definitely into the main characters, so I'll definitely read the second and then decide on what to do with the next two.

Monday, December 06, 2010

66. Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

Thought I was taking the foot off the gas did you? No chance! I just thought that given my surplus this year, I should try and take on something a bit more hefty. I've been meaning to read Trollope for years now as he is one of my father's favourite authors. Interestingly, I've been held back by the same reason I avoid a lot of fantasy epics: I didn't know where to start and didn't want to jump into the middle of a series. For you see, Anthony Trollope is kind of a nerd author. Most of his books are part of a multi-volume series all taking place in an imagined world (though cleaving very close to the realities of mid-nineteenth century England). Barchester Towers, for instance, while being the best-known and most popular of his books, is actually the second in the six novels of the Barsetshire series. They follow the paths of several players in the political and social dramas surrounding the clergy of Barsetshire County. There is even a map.

At this time, England is evolving from a society where the Church of England is basically the government to one that is becoming more and more secular. It is still extremely early in this process and the church still acts as the local government and community center in rural areas. The changes take the form of reforms and conflicts between the more modernistic, evangelical Low Church and the more traditional, formalized High Church. I knew very little of any of this history before reading this book and I still only understand it superficially. Ultimately, understanding the politics and history is not crucial to enjoying the story. John Kenneth Galbraith (of all people) even argues in a preface that the substance of the politics are not even important to Trollope. I would say that they are not of prime importance, but he quietly puts forth an argument for traditional stability and a relaxed, practical approach to religious observance (in contrast to the more fervant fidelity of the Low Church supporters, who I suspect are related to the pilgrims who came to America). You can see in Trollope that stoic, slightly bemused attitude that propelled her to colonial superiority over their swarthier or flightier european adversaries (and even to this day separates Britain from the rest of the english-speaking world, despite Tony Blair's attempts to drag it down to the angry trenches of North American self-importance and righteousness).

The story itself is about the newly appointed Bishop (who is the religious leader of the entire county), Dr. Proudlie. Because of his relatively evangelical and Low Church views his appointment is seen as a dangerous, destabilizing blow by the existing clergymen of Barsetshire, led by the Archdeacon, Dr. Grantly. The bishop comes with his controlling, meddling wife and his controlling, meddling chaplain, Mr. Slope, who are initially united in their evangelical fervour for reform, but soon become at odds. Politics, drama and romance ensue. The first half focuses on the political conflicts and the second half moves more into the romance, which resembles some pretty classic British Victorian romance novels, where you really want the good lovers to get together. I enjoyed the political maneuvering more, but was caught up in the story sufficiently that I was very eager to follow the romantic threads to the end.

What makes the book great is the engrossing and thorough way that Trollope describes all the characters and their role in this world. He has a benevolent but wry perspective and even renders himself as author visible from time to time which would seem to take you out of the fiction, but actually succeeds for the most part in making you more connected to it. You gain confidence in his voice as he explains where he may be at fault or lacking as an author before it can actually happen in the text. There is a great part early in the book, when you as the reader are quite concerned that a good widow is going to make a poor choice of husband between two unappealing suitors. Trollope jumps in and assures you that she will choose neither of them and then goes on to say that there is no need for him to hide that information from you for the facile purpose of keeping you in suspense until the end. That is a lesson many writers today would do well to heed!

Now that I've read Barchester Towers, I look forward to hearing why my father likes them so much. For myself, I can definitely see me continuing to move forward in the Barsetshire series, to envelope myself again in that pleasant, sensible, pastoral world where despite the swirl of conflict around them, people speak to each other in polite, measured ways.