A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway

May 8, 2012

Me at Shakespeare and Company, Paris

A Moveable Feast is Hemingway’s memoir of his early days in Paris and his friendships with literary figures such as Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  It presents a romantic image of a starving artist, unable to afford wood for heating, gambling on horse racing to escape the bread line, but working everyday with great dedication to perfect his craft.

Hemingway’s portrayal of his first wife, Hadley, is full of affection and regret.  “[W]e were very poor and very happy”.  This contrasts with how he depicts his more famous relationships.  His Stein is a semi-tyrannical gossip lacking discipline towards her work.  Scott Fitzegerald was a neurotic alcoholic.  Zelda Fitzgerald was a manipulative and promiscuous harpy.  Only Ezra Pound completely escapes his vitriol.  The book is both a cautionary tale on the trappings of riches and success, and a surprisingly bitchy tell-all. Read the rest of this entry »


Confessions of a Yakuza – Junichi Saga

January 29, 2012

Confessions of a Yakuza: A Life in Japan's…

Describe it

A well-written biography of an old-school Yakuza, providing an unvarnished account of the underworld and the underclass in early 20th century Japan.

What I loved

A lot of history focuses on leaders or the elite, whose names are committed to the ages by circumstance, ability or privilege.   Confessions of a Yakuza provides a window into the lives of the other half: the poor, the outcasts and the criminals, who inhabit a world where the importance of guts and luck are less veiled, and where it is harder to hold illusions about human nature.

It is the biography of Ichiji Eiji, as told to a country doctor, Junichi Saga.  Eiji is not an overly complicated character: he is tough, amoral and self-serving.  He upholds a sense of yakuza honour, but mostly out of self-interest.  At the age he recounts his tale, he is unconflicted about his past and given to only occasional reflection.  He also has a weakness for woman, which, throughout his storied career, causes him to lop off a few fingers in penance, as per the yakuza code. Read the rest of this entry »


Green Hills of Africa – Ernest Hemingway

January 12, 2011

Green Hills of Africa by Ernest Hemingway

Green Hills of Africa has aged as gracefully as its diabetic, alcoholic, suicidal author did.  Firstly, it’s all about big game hunting: Hemingway and his wife and his mates tramp around Africa blowing away lions, rhinos, cheetahs and anything else that moves, presumably so the animal’s dismembered body parts can make a nice conversation piece in their living rooms.

Secondly, it’s all about manly men doing manly men things, with the only significant female character being Hemingway’s wife, Pauline Marie Pfeiffer, referred to as P.O.M. (don’t ask me to explain the acronym).  And while she is tenacious – tenacious enough, in fact, to make old Papa liken her to a “terrier”, which she understandably objects to – she is usually relegated to the role of cheer squad in Hemingway’s war against African Bambi’s mother.

And thirdly, Hemingway’s use of native trackers and porters to carry his trophies and eskies of beer has more than a whiff of colonialism and is the kind of unequal economic relationship that makes people very, very uncomfortable nowadays.

But to hell with all of that.  Green Hills of Africa proves that a good author can make any subject interesting, even one that you previously had an aversion to.  It’s also a memoir, meaning that it’s full of insights into man himself that Hemingway tragics like me can slaver over. Read the rest of this entry »


The Romantic: Italian Nights and Days – Kate Holden

December 13, 2010

As a guy, The Romantic wasn’t the easiest novel to read in public.  First, there’s the girly title.  Then, there’s the cover – a nude woman  lying with one breast slightly exposed – that made me worry people would think I was reading the book equivalent of Zoo.

I could get around this by reading with the novel flat against a coffee-shop table, or on my lap when I was reading on the bus, but this presented a new problem – the curious passenger.  See, people who don’t bring a book or iPod on the bus get understandably bored and look around at what their neighbours are doing.  And since The Romantic has generous lashing of sex throughout, and people only pick up the a few words when glancing at a page, anyone who sat next to me over the past week probably knows me as “the guy who reads porno on the bus”.

Oh, well.  It was worth it, not just because I’ll probably have a two-seater to myself from now on, but because The Romantic was damn good.  It’s beautifully written, brutally honest, and, yes, very sexy. Read the rest of this entry »


On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Stephen King

May 9, 2010

Review by Gabriel

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

When I was a kid, probably around 9 or 10, I was obsessed with the telemovie of Stephen King’s It.  I recorded it straight from TV, with my thumb poised over the pause button so I could cut out all the ads.  I watched the tape so many times that the whole movie looked like it took place in a snowstorm, especially the scene where Bill Denborough slingshots a silver marble into Pennywise the Clown’s head.  At school, I made an It club, and suddenly thought stutters and Ventolin puffers were cool.  I don’t know what it says about me that I was obsessed with a movie about an evil shape-shifting clown that killed children, but that’s how it was.

To become the school/world authority on all things It, I also bought the 1000 plus page monster of a novel.  I gave it my best shot, but there were just too many descriptions and boring stuff about adults for me to make it much further than twenty pages.

It wasn’t until a good ten years later that I finally got around to reading the novel.  It was a little different from my beloved childhood telemovie.  The basic plot was the same, but there were also astral tongue biting duels, kids having group sex and a cosmic turtle.  I remember finding it readable and enjoyable, but not being overly impressed.  Around the same time, I read The Stand, another King epic.  Now, I generally like the idea of apocalyptic novels, but The Stand turned me off with its overt religiousness and its bland, cliché interpretation of evil.

All of which is a long-winded, self indulgent way of saying I have a long history with King, but I’m not a big fan of his fiction.  I am, however, a huge fan of this book, On Writing. Read the rest of this entry »


What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami

January 24, 2010

Review by Gabriel

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Before Murakami became a full-time writer, he was running a jazz bar in Tokyo.  While working long hours, he managed to have two novels published, and achieved some critical success and recognition.  Not the type to do things by halves, he decided to sell his business to devote himself to writing full time.

At this time, he also took up running to keep fit, a habit he maintains to this day.  But he doesn’t just run – he runs marathons.  He runs for around three hours a day, between one hundred and fifty and two hundred miles a month.  He competes in at least one marathon a year, and also trains for triathlons.  As I said, he’s not the type to do things by halves.   Read the rest of this entry »