The Bibliophile’s Journal IX: The Crystal Comes Back

Yep, going back to subtitles for this monthly – hey, remember when Bibliophile’s Journal was going to be a monthly series? Well, we just skipped a month or ten. No big deal.

Anyway, I’ve read a few things in the past month or so, so let’s bring the journal back.

First up, Alex Cross, Run by James Patterson, and Rules of Prey by John Sandford. Alex Cross was loaned to me by my boss, Rules by a co-worker. I’m fifty pages into the second and it’s tolerable; I finished the first and it sucks. Our hero, Alex Cross, perfectly fits the cliché of the “good cop,” so if you’ve seen most any B-grade crime movie or TV show, you’ve met this character. The villains are one-dimensional and more evil than Satan; Patterson tries to add some shock value by making their crimes perverse and adding some sexual tension between the two men, but it comes across as what an eighth-grader would write if asked to produce a “shocking” crime novel.

Actually, I’ve noticed a bit of a pattern, because Sandford also does this, as do CSICriminal Minds, and other TV shows. To be fair, Sandford’s a better writer than Patterson and Rules of Prey came out much earlier (1989, IIRC, rather than 2013; for that matter, Criminal Minds is better than all three other things I’ve mentioned),  but is this how all crime stories work? Just go for shock value? Patterson sells a ton of novels, so this must work, but why? How long ago did Silence of the Lambs come out? Even if we’re just talking about the film adaptation, violent crime with weird fetishes hasn’t been shocking for years now.

Anyway, the same co-worker who gave me Rules of Prey also gave me The Giver, by Lois Lowry. I remember this novel being fairly popular when I was in middle school, but I never read it. It’s not bad; the plot point about the Giver’s daughter was unnecessary, but otherwise I have no complaints. Thematically, it’s like Brave New World for a younger audience. The ambiguous ending works regardless of what happened, though an interview with Lowry at the end of the book implies that the more optimistic view is correct. Either way, Jonas lived a fuller life than the rest of the town’s residents.

I’m about halfway through A Troublesome Inheritance, by Nicholas Wade. It’s a controversial book so I feel like I ought to have more to say about it, but the main takeaway for me has been that I’m not qualified to comment on scientific issues. Hey, I only have so many skill points to distribute, and I’ve put most of them in literature.

Finally, a work of serious literature, Confessions of a Mask by Mishima Yukio. My reading has always been very broad, but shallow; there really aren’t any authors I know well, so I decided I’d start correcting that by reading all of the Mishima novels I own.

As for Confessions, it’s partly autobiographical (though how much is fictional and how much is real, I don’t know), and is about… “sexual awakening?” I’m not sure what else to call it. The narrator fetishises the male body, which isn’t a shock if you’ve read much Mishima but must’ve been a hell of a literary debut in 1949. Parts of the book feel like somebody’s masturbation diary, especially in the first half of the story, before he takes an interest in a friend’s sister. Have you ever read a novel where a boy masturbates on the beach to his armpit hair? If not, here’s the book for you.

Like some other Mishima novels, I assume that all of this does have a point, even if I’m not 100% sure what that point is. One oddity I notice is that the fetishisation of masculinity seems to be more aesthetic than sexual; at least, I don’t recall the narrator expressing a desire for sex with any of the men who catch his eye, but this could also just be my reading of Mishima’s later philosophy from Sun & Steel back into a much earlier work.

In any case, of Mishima’s works that I’ve read, I like it a little more than The Sound of Waves, but much less than everything else (the Sea of Fertility tetralogy, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, and the non-fiction Sun & Steel). That’s largely because Mishima has more to say – or at least, I understand what he’s saying better – in those other works. Also, Runaway Horses and Sun & Steel deal more directly with a “heroic” vision of masculinity, which appeals to me more than the more abstract aesthetics of Golden Pavilion and Confessions, though admittedly Sun & Steel has a good deal of that, as well.

Next up on this project is The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea.

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