Feb. 9th, 2017

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The Friends of Eddie Coyle, by George V. Higgins. Low-level and mid-level criminals play hot potato with the threat of jail-time, seeking to either rat each other out or stay true to an ideal they only fleetingly believe in, while all the while the cops pursue their own workaday duties and people get screwed over by accident as much as by destiny. Deservedly a classic, and I'm sure I've pretended to have read this before despite having only read it just now. It has a terrific combination of wit and grime, like Elmore Leonard writing for The Wire. It's very downbeat, which means that for all my admiration I don't actually like it--I love my tragedies but can largely take a pass on existentialism--and I wouldn't want a steady diet of it, but it really is very brilliant.

Black Water Rising, by Attica Locke. The sort of book I want to buy for other people and force upon them somehow. It's set in the eighties in Houston and focused on Jay Porter, a weary and struggling lawyer--in college, he was one of the major young voices for civil rights, but an arrest and a betrayal left him cautious and mostly void of idealism. When the book opens, his best hope of providing a cushion for the coming birth of his child is a whiplash case, but soon enough, he's the uncomfortable witness to the cover-up for a murder, and everything spirals out from there. It has a terrific sense of place and of its era, gorgeous prose, and complex characterization.

Avid Reader, by Robert Gottlieb. There were so few ways this could go wrong! Normally, I read books about reading books to tatters: as soon as I've finished them the first time around, they immediately become comfort reading, to be dipped in and out of, to be picked off the shelf when I'm in the mood for nothing else. Gottlieb served as the editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster, Knopf, and The New Yorker; he edited John le Carré and Toni Morrison. Unfortunately, he cannot stick to his working life, and way too much of this memoir is composed of snide put-downs about the subjects of his various vendettas, self-aggrandizing name-dropping of his famous chums, and irritating humblebrags. He would make a fascinating subject of a biography so long as he wasn't the one writing it.


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February 2017

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