I, Claudius

  • Roman depravity, decay and decadence in all its literary glory.

    Roman depravity, decay and decadence in all its literary glory.

    Author:  Robert Graves

  • Published:  1934
  • Publisher:  Arthur Barker
  • Pages:  432
  • First Line:  “I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, known to my friends and relatives and associates as ‘Claudius the Idiot,’ or ‘That Claudius’, or ‘Claudius the Stammerer’, or ‘Clau-Clau-Claudius’ or at best as ‘Poor Uncle Claudius’, am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach that fateful point of change where, some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found myself caught in what I may call the ‘golden predicament’ from which I have never since become disentangled.”
  • Last Lines:  “What a miraculous fate for a historian!  And as you will have seen, I took full advantage of my opportunities.  Even the mature historian’s privilege of setting forth conversations of which he knows only the gist is one that I have availed myself of hardly at all.”
  • ML Edition:  #20; tan cover
  • Acclaim:  ML Top 100 English Language Novels of the 20th Century #14; TIME 100 Best Novels Since 1923 List; James Tait Black Memorial Prize
  • Film Version:  1937 (aborted); 1976  (TV – ****)
  • First Read:  Late 1998

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highfidelityHigh Fidelity

  • Author:  Nick Hornby
  • Published:  1995
  • Publisher:  Victor Gollancz LTD
  • Pages:  323
  • First Line:  “My desert-island, all-time, top five most memorable split-ups, in chronological order.”
  • Last Lines:  “When Laura hears the opening bars she spins round and grins and makes several thumbs-up signs, and I start to compile in my head a compilation tape for her, something that’s full of stuff she’s heard of, and full of stuff she’d play.  Tonight, for the first time ever, I can sort of see how it’s done.”
  • Film:  2000 (****)
  • First Read:  Spring 2000

The Novel:  In the book, Barry is the one who is first obsessed with lists, who introduces them to the other two in the store.  But it’s Rob who’s narrating, Rob who can’t stop making lists, who, in fact, begins the novel with a list.  I read this book because the trailer was out and it looked great and Veronica and I were going to go see it (she owned the book).  And suddenly, for the first time since Catcher in the Rye, I felt like I was reading about myself. (more…)

bernadetteWhere’d You Go, Bernadette

  • Author:  Maria Semple
  • Published:  2012
  • Publisher:  Little, Brown and Company
  • Pages:  326
  • First Lines:  “The first annoying thing is when I ask Dad what he thinks happened to Mom, he always says, ‘What’s important is for you to understand it’s not your fault.’”
  • Last Lines:  “Say yes.  And know I’m always, Mom.”
  • Film:  none
  • First Read:  Spring 2014

Old fashioned letter writing might be disappearing but the epistolary novel is still surviving.  In fact, the two novels over the last few years that I have enjoyed more than almost any other have both been epistolary novels.  (One of them, Dear Committee Members, is even still keeping letters alive, though not the kind of letters you necessarily want to read.)  Where’d You Go, Bernadette isn’t a complete epistolary novel – our valiant teenager, Bee, provides us with linking narratives that help explain some of the things.  But that’s necessary in this case, because she helps us sort through some of the e-mails, memos, faxes and vital documents that make up one of the funniest books of the last decade. (more…)

JLA_200Justice League of America #200

  • Writer:  Gerry Conway
  • Artists:  listed below
  • Published:  March, 1982
  • Publisher:  DC Comics
  • Pages:  72
  • First Line:  “They came from space, seven glowing meteors containing seven alien claimants for another world’s throne.”
  • Last Line:  “Snapping?  Cripes, now he’s got me doing it!”
  • First Read:  Early 1984?

My comic collecting began a bit haphazardly.  There were a number of random comics that my brothers had from when we lived in New York that had somehow ended up in my room.  My brothers both collected comics, and I would read what they had so I didn’t yet feel the need to buy any myself (and all my money in the early 80’s was going towards either Star Wars figures or baseball cards).  The first comic I remember buying was All-Star Squadron #31 at a drugstore on the day after Christmas in 1983.  But my older brother Kelly was collecting both Avengers and Justice League of America, the two major team books of the comics world and I started to gravitate towards them.  I liked the idea of books that combined so many characters.  Unlike Fantastic Four (which my brother John would collect) and X-Men (which all three of us would eventually collect), books in which the teams consisted of characters who didn’t have their own comics (yes, it’s true, there was a time when Wolverine appeared only in X-Men), Avengers and JLA were like getting several comics for the price of one because they each had so many characters who each had their own books.  While Kelly would collect a lot of books moving forward, I immediately began looking back into the past.  I became interested in what came before.  I wanted the whole story.  I had never heard of something called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder back then. (more…)

Dubliners

  • The short story collection to top them all.

    The short story collection to top them all.

    Author:  James Joyce

  • Published:  1914
  • Publisher:  Grant Richards Ltd
  • Pages:  182
  • First Line:  “There was no hope for him this time: it was the third stroke.”
  • Last Line:  “His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”
  • ML Edition:  #124  (seven different dust jackets); gold dust jacket
  • Film:  1987  (**** – dir. John Huston)
  • First Read:  early 1993

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Garcia Marquez isn't the only South American who can write a fantastic magical realism novel.

Garcia Marquez isn’t the only South American who can write a fantastic magical realism novel.

The House of the Spirits (La casa de los espíritus)

  • Author:  Isabel Allende  (b. 1942)
  • Published:  1982  /  1985  (English tran.)
  • Publisher:  Plaza & Janés, S.A.
  • Pages:  433
  • First Line:  “Barrabás came to us by the sea, the child Clara wrote in her delicate calligraphy.”
  • Last Line:  “It begins like this: Barrabás came to us by the sea.”
  • Awards:  Panorama Literario
  • Film:  1994  (**)
  • First Read:  Fall 2000

The Novel:  When I first started at Powells, I was living in Beaverton and commuting into Portland on the Max.  That gave me a lot of time to read, and I was employed by the largest bookstore in the world.  So I made a list.  It was a mixture of a variety of books – some were books I had seen the film of, some were finishing off authors whose other books I had already read and some were award winners I felt the need to read.  I don’t remember all of the books on the list, but some of them come back to me vividly, as I remember reading them while on the Max, or walking through the streets of Northwest to the Max.  This is one of those books. (more…)

The 1st Edition of All the President's Men. I actually have a movie cover copy.

The 1st Edition of All the President’s Men. I actually have a movie cover copy.

All the President’s Men

  • Authors:  Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
  • Published:  1974
  • Publisher:  Simon & Schuster
  • Pages:  382
  • First Lines:  “June 17, 1972.  Nine o’clock Saturday morning.  Early for the telephone.”
  • Last Line:  “The President said, ‘I want you to know that I have no intention whatever of ever walking away from the job that the American people elected me to do for the people of the United States.”
  • Awards:  Top 100 Works of Journalism #3
  • Film:  1976  (**** – #1 – 1976)
  • First Read:  Spring 1989

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