Just bringing this discussion over to ning...

What books are you reading right now that don't have a narrative driven by images as well as words?

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Sydney Horler The Hidden Hand

This is a 1937 British courtroom/crime thriller. A woman is tried for the murder of her novelist employer, who had been sexually harassing her. She is defended by an unsuccessful lawyer who loves her. His brother, a top crime reporter with a drinking problem, assists him. The title refers to the real killer, who - spoiler warning - proves to be the judge. (You can spot this coming early.)

Robert Sheckley Journey Beyond Tomorrow

This is an absurdist satire of 1960s America, presented as the stories about Joenes told by Pacific storytellers of the far future, and the passages about him in the book of his friend Lum. Joenes is a man of American parentage who has grown up on a Pacific island. The stories describe his experiences in America. Ultimately - spoiler warning - America's automatic missile defences start a nuclear war (the setting is supposed to be c.2000), and Joenes and Lum become founders of the post-war world.

I think Sheckley may have been reading Borges, as the book reminded me of his combination of a plain storytelling approach, literary playfulness, and absurdism. There are some funny lines:

Because of all this, I said, I could not legally be accepted into the armed services because of the provisions on page 123 paragraph C of the Enlistment Act.

  The CO looked me straight in the eye and smiled in that way only a Regular Army man or a cop can smile.

My copy is from the Gollancz Classic SF series. Its list of books in the series includes

Algis Budrys Rogue Moon

Arthur C. Clarke The City and the Stars

Arthur C. Clarke A Fall of Moondust

Samuel R. Delany Babel-17

Samuel R. Delany Nova

Harlan Ellison, ed. Dangerous Visions

Robert A. Heinlein The Door into Summer

Daniel Keyes Flowers for Algernon

Frederik Pohl Man Plus

Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth Gladiator-at-Law

Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth Wolfbane

Christopher Priest Inverted World

Bob Shaw A Wreath of Stars

Robert Silverberg A Time of Changes

John Sladek The Reproductive System

Theodore Sturgeon More Than Human

Kurt Vonnegut The Sirens of Titan

Shirley Jackson The Haunting of Hill House

An academic who studies hauntings arranges for a small group of people to stay with him in a haunted house. One of the party is a woman in her thirties named Eleanor who is emotionally stunted as she has spent her adult life looking after her sick mother. On the second night the manifestations begin...

This is a famous haunted house novel, filmed as The Haunting (1963, remake 1999). My copy is a paperback packaged to match the 1999 film. The film's advert slogan "some houses are born bad" is from the book.

The book is written in the third person, but it follows Eleanor's perspective and inner life. The characters have individual personalities. The house is depicted in detail. The manifestations start half-way through, and take several forms. They're clearly supernatural, but what's causing them is never clearly seen.

Stephen King's Danse Macabre describes the book and gives away the ending. I think this greatly diminished the book's impact for me.

Spoiler warning. My interpretation of the end is the "come home" stuff is the force targeting Eleanor through her weakness, not an indication it truly wants her. The conclusion, repeated from the start, indicates nothing has changed.

Faustin Charles Tales from the West Indies

Short collection of West Indian folk tales, intended for children. The dialogue imitates local speech.

A friend of mine loaned me the 1963 movie for Halloween several years ago. After that, I bought the book at a used bookstore. I found both the movie and the book to be enjoyable.

Yesterday, I received in the mail a book I saw Sheldon Cooper reading on Young Sheldon, Physics and Philosopy.

The novel was published the same year William Castle's House on Haunted Hill appeared, 1959. Apparently the film came out in February and the novel in October (according to the ISFDB). I wondered if the similarity of the names might be something other than a coincidence, but I suppose the book was likely finished many months before its publication, and too early for Castle's film to have influenced its title. The ISFDB says it had already had several printings by its publication date due to advance orders.

Isabel Ostrander At One-Thirty

A blind detective named Damon Gaunt is retained to investigate the murder of a New York millionaire.

Mike Grost suggests the book is the same novel as Eyes that Saw Not, serialised in The Cavalier in 1914. That's probably right, as the cover he refers to matches a scene from the novel. So this was presumably Gaunt's only appearance.

I found the novel unsatisfactory in a similar way to Carolyn Wells's. It has a puzzle plot with contradictory clues the detective has to sort out, but the complications are red herrings rather than part of an ingenious scheme. And when the detective figures out who did commit the murder what he does about doesn't make for a satisfactory end. (Spoiler warning. He loves her and she did it to protect her sister, so he lets her go.)

I don't know Ostrander's use of a blind detective makes the book more interesting. It has a series of moments where he shows off Sherlock Holmes-style by making some personal observation about his interviewee and then explains how he knew. One is supposed to be amazed that he can tell these things even though he's blind, but I didn't find these bits impressive. Otherwise he finds clues and puts them together like other detectives. He doesn't get action hero bits like Clinton H. Stagg's Thornley Colton.

I think the book predates Ostrander's McCarty and Riordan books. I reviewed "The Twenty-Six Clues" here.

Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall The Hurricane

When their ship anchors off a low-lying Polynesian island a doctor tells an incoming French official the story of a hurricane that hit the community that was once there.

I thought this an excellent book. The depiction of the Polynesians feels authentic, and the European characters are well-drawn. The opening part of the novel follows a man from the community named Terangi who is unjustly imprisoned in Tahiti and whose repeated escapes turn his short sentence into a long one. In his last escape he accidentally kills a man, but he manages to return home just before the hurricane hits. An extended description of the hurricane and how the islanders attempt to cope with it provides the novel's climax. Since their group of islands is low-lying they offer no protection against it, and its effect is apocalyptic.

Nordhoff and Hall are known for their trilogy about the mutiny on the Bounty and its aftermath. The 1935 film Mutiny on the Bounty was based on the first book in the series. I've read and can recommend the third, Pitcairn's Island. They were Americans who began collaborating in France after WWI and who settled in Tahiti. Nordhoff later returned to America. A film version of The Hurricane directed by John Ford appeared in 1937.



The Baron said:

Next up is a change of pace: The Old Curiosity Shop, by Charles Dickens.

Still reading this. It's taking a while, but I've always heard about the death of Little Nell, so I wanted to finally read it.  I remember being quite affected by the death of Beth March in Little Women when I was a kid, so I wanted to see how this compares.

José Hernández Martín Fierro trans. Kate Kavenagh

This is one of the most famous works of Argentinian literature. It's really two poems, The Gaucho Martín Fierro (1872) and The Return of Martín Fierro (1879). They describe life in the cattle country and the hardships of the poor. They are substantially made up of songs sung by the author's characters in which they tell stories of their hardships. This translation is online here.

The Gaucho Martin Fierro starts with Fierro's description of gaucho life and how his life was wrecked because he was drafted to serve in a frontier fort. The men's pay never reached them and they were forced to sell their own goods to pay for food. He deserted to return to his family, but found they had lost their farm and moved away. This was the part I found most striking.

Since then Fierro has lived as an outlaw. He describes fights he's had. On one occasion he provoked a black man into a fight and killed him. On another the police attempted to capture him at night, but one of them switched sides and helped him chase the surviving others off.

This man, Cruz, then tells his own story. At the poem's end Fierro breaks his guitar, and he and Cruz go to live among the Indians.

In The Return of Martín Fierro Fierro sings at a party years later. First he tells what happened next. The Indians were hostile and treated them badly. Cruz died in a plague. He escaped with a woman captive after he killed an Indian who was whipping her. He was able to reenter society, and was reunited with his sons at a race.

Fierro's sons then tell their stories. Then a man named Picardia tells his story, and reveals he's Cruz's son.

Next a black man challenges Fierro to a singing contest. Fierro wins by taking advantage of the other man's illiteracy. The man then reveals he's one of the brothers of the black man Fierro once killed. The others at the party prevent a fight by getting between them, and Fierro, his sons and Picardia leave. Fierro tells his sons and Picardia what he's learned about how life should be lived.

William MacHarg and Edwin Balmer The Blind Man’s Eyes

A Seattle businessman is murdered in his car for mysterious reasons. Some days later a blind super-businessman named Basil Santoine is nearly murdered in his berth travelling incognito on the Seattle/Chicago train. The head conductor holds a young man travelling as Philip D. Eaton for the attempted murder because he won't explain himself. But there are contrary indications, so instead of having him arrested Santoine has him taken to his home as a guest/prisoner...  

According to Mike Grost the novel first appeared as a serial in 1915. Santoine is the character who unravels things by his reasoning powers, Eaton its action hero. Eaton doesn't trust Santoine, and we only learn who he really is and what his agenda is when all is revealed at the end. Santoine's daughter is the novel's heroine and falls in love with him. The action includes a gunfight in Santoine's study, a car chase, and a sequence where Eaton is hunted by the authorities through the wildness near Santoine's estate.

This weekend I read Who Moved My Cheese?

(My cheese was recently moved and I've got to come to terms with it.)

Georges Arnaud The Wages of Fear trans. Norman Dale

An oil well catches fire in Guatemala, and the only way to put it out is with nitroglycerine. The job of driving the trucks with the loads to the site will be fantastically dangerous as the road is poor and judders or the heat of the day could set the nitro off. The drivers are recruited from the local down and outs, to whom the money offered is a chance at a fortune.

This is a brilliantly-conceived thriller. The book is a straightforward, quick read. Just about everything in it is in the 1953 movie. In fact, the movie adds episodes, so it's like an expanded version.

Pedro de Alarcón The Three-Cornered Hat trans. H. F. Turner

A Corregidor schemes to seduce a miller's wife. The miller mistakenly thinks has succeeded, and schemes to seduce the Corregidor's.

This is a Spanish comedic novella based on a folktale. Published in 1874, the book presents a picture of life in Spain just before Napoleon's invasion. The story is told is a light, good-humoured way.

My copy is from a series of translations of short European classics published by John Calder. The other books in the series listed on the back cover are

Adelbert von Chamisso Peter Schlemihl

Anton Chekhov Wife for Sale

Gerhart Hauptmann The Heretic of Soana

E. T. A. Hoffmann The King's Bride

Annette von Droste-Hülshoff The Jew's Beech

Jeremias Gotthelf The Black Spider

Lucian The True History and Lucius

Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué Undine (The author's name is given as "Motte-Fouquet".)

Prosper Mérimée A Slight Misunderstanding

Eduard Mörike Mozart's Journey to Prague

Theodor Storm Viola Tricolor and Other Stories

Leo Tostoy The Devil and Family Happiness

Jeff of Earth-J said:

This weekend I read Who Moved My Cheese?

(My cheese was recently moved and I've got to come to terms with it.)

Not to be confused with Who Cut the Cheese?

Luke Blanchard said:

Georges Arnaud The Wages of Fear trans. Norman Dale

An oil well catches fire in Guatemala, and the only way to put it out is with nitroglycerine. The job of driving the trucks with the loads to the site will be fantastically dangerous as the road is poor and judders or the heat of the day

could set the nitro off. The drivers are recruited from the local down and outs, to whom the money offered is a chance at a fortune.

This is a brilliantly-conceived thriller. The book is a straightforward, quick read. Just about everything in it is in the 1953 movie. In fact, the movie adds episodes, so it's like an expanded version.

I understand that the book was published in 1950. It was adapted into a French-Italian movie of the same name in 1953. I haven't read the book, but I saw the 1977 movie Sorcerer, directed by William Friedkin and starring Roy Scheider. IIRC, the title was the name of one of the trucks. I imagine this title was used to recall Friedkin's Exocist and Scheider's Jaws, to sucker in moviegoers. Luring in the wrong viewers probably was a big part of the movie's earning less than it cost to make. It wasn't a bad movie, and probably would have done better with a more descriptive title.

I haven't seen Sorcerer. Apparently it departs from the book much more. The rope bridge sequence was invented for Sorcerer. In the book and the 1953 film the climactic challenge is crossing a growing oil lake.

The 1953 film was directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot (who then did Les Diaboliques), and starred Yves Montand.

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