Wednesday, January 19, 2022

2. Chinatown Beat by Henry Chang

I had this one on my list for a while and found it at Moe's in Berkeley.  Chinatown Beat is part of the new woke pulp and while for me certain elements and tones didn't work, it was still a really good read.  The milieu of NYC Chinatown is excellent, complex and rife with characters.  There is a lot going on and it just skirts the edge of plot complexity that satisfied me while only briefly confusing. 

The strongest part of the book is the setting.  Chinatown was my favourite neighbourhood when I lived in NYC.  I hung out there a lot, but mostly as an outsider, a consumer with some minor insider knowledge.  This book let me see behind the closed doors, into the rich criminal culture I always fantasized about. The plot is a classic noir, centered on the trapped mistress, but there are so many other tentacles wrapped around this core story that it seems much richer.  The protagonist is the detective, Jack Yu, and he is a bit of a bummer.  At times, it felt like the noirishness was laid on a bit thick.  Likewise it gets a bit preachy about anti-Chinese racism.  There was enough "show" of the long, quiet discrimination against Asians, that I didn't think we needed so much "tell" to give the reader the message. There is a subplot of a child rapist that felt out of place and excessively nasty.  I'm not sure what was the point of it, as it never intersected with the main plot.

So I had quite a few misgivings, but they were minor and in the whole, it was a good read.  I will grab the other Jack Yu novels if they cross my path.

Friday, January 14, 2022

1. Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

I've been meaning to read Burroughs for a long time now, though was hoping to stumble on the first John Carter of Mars.  Instead, I found a cheap copy of this at the great (and thank god still alive) Moe's on Telegraph in Berkeley.  It won't be a big surprise to tell you that this book is racist.  But damn, it's not just racist from 1913.  It's got levels and at times can be kind of difficult to read.  I like to think I'm pretty woke, but also able to recognize historical context and actually read the content.  There is some shit in here though that made me feel uncomfortable, particularily the portrayal of Jane's maid Esmerelda, who I guess was supposed to be a humourous character.  It's the worst stereotype with her eyes rolling around, fainting at every shock and talking in colourful, goofily erroneous language.  Oddly, there is a contrasting moment where the suitor to Jane compliments her and agrees on her calling the jungle lonesome.  Despite that and even though there are super racist portrayals of the African tribespeople (cannibals with sharpened teeth) and even more insane ideology of genetic aristocracy (Tarzan's lineage makes him a gentleman by nature despite his upbringing), it is the portrayal of Esmerelda that I found the most cringey and painful. 

I do understand and even appreciate the core tenet that makes Tarzan so appealing.  It is the fantasy of the shedding of the protective veneer of civilization.  All the scenes of him swinging through the jungle and fighting beasts are pretty exciting (though fuck can we stop killing lions, already!).  I do feel like he doesn't milk it (and none of the movie do either) enough.  When he does return to civilization, he demonstrates his badassedness only twice and they aren't very satisfying.  In the first, the victim is a drunken black guy (racistly described of course), whose wrist Tarzan breaks and then sends packing.  It is described after the event so there is no real thrill.  In the second, he shows a bunch of white hunters how to hunt for real and that is cool, except for the gratuitous lion slaughter.

I am tempted to keep reading them, especially with the truly surprising failure of the romantic ending where he doesn't get Jane.   I also am intrigued by the world building.  I may at least keep an eye out for the second one, but review I read say they get pretty formulaic.  I think this is do for a modern "woke" anti-colonalist re-interpretation.

Thursday, January 06, 2022

2021 Year-end Wrap up

I don't have a whole lot to say about my reading in 2021.  I am suffering from a bit of reading malaise right now and I feel it is biasing my look back at last year.  Also, as I went through the books I read, it feels like each one reminds me of different stages of dealing with covid, as it is so dominating everything these days.  I am proud that I read 74 books but it feels like somehow there was a lot of struggle.  I am not honestly sure how I read that many books as much of the time it felt like I was barely reading or pushing myself to get reading.  I guess the mantra of just getting started and keeping a book open will eventually get the books read.

I read 21 books by women (I thought it was a lot more lol).  This stat was bolstered by great female sci-fi and fantasy authors such as N.K. Jimesen and Robin Hobb (as well as some good old classic mystery authors like Ngaio Marsh, Agatha Christie, Charlotte Armstrong).  I also discovered Georgette Heyer this year (thanks Romance twitter) which is a gift that will keep giving.  Still just over a quarter of my reading being by women needs improvement, despite my excuse that my genre of mid-century paperbacks is male-dominated.

Only 10 books by African-American authors (and 5 of those were by N.K. Jimesen so doing double duty on my diversity goals).  Definitely needs improvement, though two strong highlights there with The Spook Who Came in from the Cold and Razorblade Tears.

In terms of paperback collecting the huge find was Where the Money Was by Willie Sutton.  The Q Document, though of no real value, was one of my favourite looking paperbacks that will get a warm welcome on my shelf.

Highlights for me for actual reading were the first two Trickster books by Eden Robinson (the only books I read by an indigenous author).  These are outstanding, a wonderful mix of shit-kicking, B.C. urban grittiness with rich and intense fantasy mythology.  Just excellent.  I also really enjoyed Razorblade Tears.  Both are examples of good old genres being injected with new life and creativity by non-white male authors who are also just damned good writers.  Their existence is heartening to me, to know that the basic tenets of the genres I love are not dependent on old cultures of white male dominance.  Also, they are just hell of fun to read.

I also finally got to some classic authors such as Rex Stout, Earle Stanley Gardner and Daphne duMaurier.  The first two were enjoyable but didn't really stay with me but duMaurier demands that I seek out her other works.

No real lowlights except that god-awful Walker Percy mess.  A workmanlike year.  My on-deck shelf overfloweth, so I must read on!

I hope all of you are well and enjoying your reading.  Here's to a better 2022.  Maybe the shitbirds in power will realize that we need long-term investment in the education, health care and the planet instead of production of consumer goods.