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Reviews by Rob Reader


Henry James is a confused and often tortured soul with a variety of conflicting, inconsistent and often surprisingly bland ideas which he mixes in a mishmash which he hopes will delude his reader into believing it a contrapuntal masterpiece. If he can say something well in ten words he will use forty instead.

He was unable to remain in any college or university being dismissed or resigning regularly. His peculiar and perhaps homosexual relationship with the sculptor Hendrik Anderson and with the novelist Howie Sturgis was looked upon with surprise and revulsion in the more restrictive society of his time and there is no evidence that he ever had a romantic or sexual relationship with a woman. James did however have a fondness for several members of his family and as a youth is remembered to have said he would do nothing to shame them.

The major draw and perhaps only redeeming element in this novel is the battle within the protagonist's mind as to the nature of the ghost. Is it a genuine ghost or is it a demon wholly within his mind which tests, vexes and threatens the protagonist. This might be sufficient cause to read the book were it not for the seemingly endless verbiage which clings to almost every page like moss in a swamp.

I must here admit that I read this book about 25 years ago and found it much more painful than the broken shoulder I was experiencing at the time. I will therefore not subject myself to this literary abuse again.

I give it two stars. I give any reader who completes the book 4 stars for effort.

Reviewed on 2014.07.05

The Fabulous Clipjoint

by Fredric Brown

As a child my grandfather told me stories of Fredric Brown. They were both from Cincinnati and knew each other in childhood. I do not remember a great deal of his childhood reminiscences but can recall that he said Brown was an assiduous reader but not a very good student. He was not interested in his lessons but rather in the sci-fi, travel and mystery paperbacks and magazines he purchased from the local drug store and voraciously consumed. He lost contact with Brown when they were both teenagers but later on began reading Brown's work when a friend brought several books by Brown into the family Jewelry store.

I first read this book almost forty years ago and liked it then as much as I like it now. One of the reviewers wrote that it reminded him/her of a previous time, for me this is doubly so as it brings back the hard boiled fast paced page turners I often read as a youth and thoughts of my grandparents now long departed. Perhaps not a great book but clearly an enjoyable read. I gave it four stars for the story and for the melancholy and family reminiscing which it engendered.

Reviewed on 2014.02.28

Secret Armies

by John L. Spivak

Spivak was an outrageous Marxist-Leninist who preached communism and socialist revolution in the US and globally. He despised democracy which he considered contrary to the best interest of communism. It is therefore not amazing that he failed to see that Stalin was an equally monstrous creature as Hitler.

As to this book it has been said that much of his evidence was invented however it is difficult to know what is true and what is fiction from this author. Surely Hitler was capable of all that he is charged with, so was Stalin and both used the same tactics in Europe and America. I read this book about 25 years ago and found it both absurd and frightening. The use of scare tactics by the author combined with what may be some partially truthful information may have been a powerful propaganda tool which he used to turn public opinion against Hitler. In this sense he could have inadvertently done the nation a service.

Moderately well written if of questionable veracity and little objectivity. Rated two stars but a good example of scare propaganda.

Reviewed on 2014.02.25

How to Fail in Literature

by Andrew Lang

Andrew Lang was a Scottish writer who apparently specialized in folklore and stories about ghosts and spirits. He wrote a large number of books none of which I have previously read nor will read in future. This lecture was given to prospective writers and was supposedly intended for their benefit. I must admit even though the lecture is only about 30 pages long it seems far longer.

The following are several examples of the advice to young writers that Mr. Lang offers.

The most ambitious may accept, without distrust, the following advice as to How to fail in Literature. The advice is offered by a mere critic, and it is an axiom of the Arts that the critics "are the fellows who have failed," or have not succeeded. The persons who really can paint, or play, or compose seldom tell us how it is done, still less do they review the performances of their contemporaries. That invidious task they leave to the unsuccessful novelists.

He who would fail in literature cannot begin too early to neglect his education, and to adopt every opportunity of not observing life and character.

In short, he who would fail must avoid simplicity like a sunken reef, and must earnestly seek either the commonplace or the bizarre, the slipshod or the affected, the newfangled or the obsolete, the flippant or the sepulchral.

As a rule, his method is this, he reads very little, but all that he reads is BAD. The feeblest articles in the weakliest magazines, the very mildest and most conventional novels appear to be the only studies of the majority.

I do not think it is necessary to warn young lady novelists, who possess beauty, wealth, and titles, against asking Reviewers to dine, and treating them as kindly, almost, as the Fairy Paribanou treated Prince Ahmed.

It is my opinion that many of the sins Mr. Lang recommends against he himself commits in this lecture. I liked the use of words and rare gems of sapience but in all other ways it is a failure. However I allow that I may be one of the odious writers Mr. Lang detests. One star only and that is a gift.

Reviewed on 2014.02.09

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