Book Notes: Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling

I said I was going to plow through all of the books in JK Rowling’s Cormoran Strike series and that’s exactly what I’m doing.

The Cuckoo’s Calling is the first novel in the series. It’s super funny, never boring but the mystery is rickety and unconvincing. JK Rowling didn’t yet to know what she was doing in this genre. The book is still better than 90% of mysteries but it’s nothing like her latest, Troubled Blood. That one was really outstanding.

On to number two in the series.

Book Notes: JK Rowling’s Troubled Blood

Yes, this book is the reason why I haven’t been blogging much in the past few days. It’s a thousand pages long and truly impossible to put down. I even got an Audible copy to avoid having to interrupt my reading while I drive.

I’m happy to report that I have finally found the next murder mystery author I’m going to follow. I haven’t had one for a couple of years and have felt deprived.

JK Rowling is very good at this genre. The ending of this behemoth of a novel is one of the most satisfying conclusions to a murder mystery that I’ve seen in years. No loose threads are left, which isn’t easy in a novel that has this many characters. The ending is shocking and unexpected, yet the readers are given every clue needed to solve the mystery.

Even the endless epigraphs from Spenser’s Fairie Queene that seem precious and excessive turn out to make sense.

Everything is so well-thought out that my order-loving brain feels convulsed with pleasure.

There are no transgender characters in the novel, so I have no idea why people are burning the book in protest against some perceived slight to trans rights. It’s not about that at all.

I have already checked out the rest of the series from our public library. I hope the rest of the books aren’t this good because I can’t spend all my time reading.

Or can I?

Female Stages of Life

Older women always warned me that once you get to this stage of life – the mid-forties – things get really crazy hormonally. But you don’t know it until you experience it.

My compassion for what men go through in their twenties is now enormous. I totally understand why they enlist or go nuts in a variety of less socially acceptable ways.

My friend who is 75 informed me that it’s definitely going to end once I’m 65. That’s something to look forward to, for sure.

It’s really unfair that this happens once one’s fertility completely dies. Twenty years ago, this experience would have come in useful but now it’s got no place in one’s life.

Book Notes: Ben Lerner’s The Topeka School

Lerner is a talented writer. But he’s clearly not a writer of novels. He creates these beautiful, engrossing vignettes that tell the simplest of stories in a way that grabs your attention and holds it fast. It’s a rare gift.

But Lerner isn’t content with his gift. He wants to be a novelist. Since he’s utterly incapable of creating a plot, he tries to find a thread that will hold the vignettes together. The only thread he seems to be able to find is inane, idiotic wokeness.

You can easily spot the moments in the book where the author had no idea what to write next and filled the hole with wokespeak. These are jarring moments when, in the midst of a beautifully written paragraph, he suddenly switches into a clumsy rant about “racialized able-bodied victims of multiple oppressions.”

Endings are the most impossible part for writers like Lerner. He has no idea how to conclude his non-plot and as a result the last 20 pages are an incoherent jumble of wokester talking points that gradually dry up and the novel stops.

But the important thing is that he’s crazy talented. It’s been a while since I last enjoyed anything by a US author like I enjoyed this book. If Lerner just relaxed and stopped trying to “send a message,” he’d be really great. He’s young (for a novelist, anyway). Maybe he’ll get over himself and will let his talent guide him instead of trying to massage his uncommon literary gift into a primitive agenda of self-hating, self-deprecating, endlessly apologizing “white cishet men” who are trying to belong to a political movement that exists to despise them.

Book Notes: August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson

[This is a play I read for my online book club. It’s a Twitter book club for a small group of teachers from all over the world who love Great Books. We come together to talk about what constitutes a canon and read canonical books. If you are a teacher and are interested, email me and I’ll hook you up with a .pdf of the play and the instructions on how to join.]

I never heard about August Wilson before this club. But I’m really glad I now know this great writer. The Piano Lesson premiered at Yale Rep in 1987 with Samuel L. Jackson in the leading male role. In 1990, it opened on Broadway with S. Epatha Merkerson (later of Law & Order fame) in the leading female part. I don’t think Jackson and Merkerson ever came together in this play but I imagined both of them when I was reading and that really enhanced the experience. I now found out there’s a movie with Courtney B. Vance (who I think is an artistic genius) starring as Lymon, so I will definitely be watching it.

The play is brilliant, friends. I was reading it at the hairdresser’s and almost started bawling right in the chair. A brilliant, brilliant play. I now want to drop everything and go to a theater. Good thing theaters are closed, I guess.

Highly recommended.

Clive James on Pedagogy

Isn’t a form of teaching that avoids all prescription really a form of therapy? In a course called Classical Studies taught by teachers who possess scarcely a word of Latin or Greek, suffering is avoided, but isn’t it true that nothing is gained except the absence of suffering? In his best novel, White Noise, Don DeLillo made a running joke out of a professor of German history who could not read German. But the time has already arrived when such a joke does not register as funny. What have we gained, except a classroom in which no one need feel excluded?

Of course, today’s pedagogue will say that nobody feeling excluded is so valuable that nothing else matters in comparison. In the USSR, it was believed that the only reason why a student is getting bad grades is that the teacher is undertrained and needs more training. But today things are worse. If a student isn’t doing great it can only mean that the teacher is racist / sexist / classist / homophobic, etc. This is a lot worse than being undertrained because it’s a moral failing.

So hey, Americans, congratulations! You out-dumbed the USSR. What an achievement.