Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Voracious Attack on the Novels of John Le Carre

Oh, the magic of library drifting. I was stumbling through the aisles of a library about 2 weeks ago when I stumbled upon John Le Carre. Le Carre is best known for a string of British espionage novels as well as some of his books being turned into films and TV series such as The Constant Gardener starring Ralph Fiennes, The Tailor of Panama starring Pierce Brosnan (which was the film debut of Daniel Radcliffe AKA Harry Potter) and the TV series Smiley's People starring Sir Alec Guinness (best known as Obi Wan).

While I have a stockpile of books that have been building on my shelf, there is an immediacy to read something when you get it from the library, maybe it's that plastic cover or the due date (when you ignore that you can renew infinitely). I picked up "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold," remembering it from the recent Esquire list 75 Books Every Man Should Read. I love lists but I'm not usually inclined to follow them in full. Still, I consider myself a man so I picked it up.

2 Days later I was finished. It's a quick (a little over 200 pages), intelligent read that maintained interest with Le Carre's British style that is more refined and underhandedly witty than most American fiction. I'm not a mystery novel reader usually. I usually my thrillers in film form. Yet, the plot of "The Spy Who Came in From The Cold" was wholly engaging and absorbing without being over the top and hinged by intrigue every single chapter.

Then I plowed through an even shorter Le Carre book, "A Murder of Quality" in about a day. There is something so tempting about a short book that makes you think you can read it in just a few short sittings or one evening unlike all those 500 tomes that fill the new release sections in Barnes & Noble. While "Murder" wasn't as engaging as "The Spy," it was a proper introduction to Le Carre's famous detective-ish character Smiley.

Now I'm going through "The Looking Glass War." Both "Looking Glass" & "The Spy" reside in the period of the cold war, a period that never really interested me much till I saw Das Leben der Anderen AKA The Lives of Others a few years ago. A fantastic film that blends the story of the Cold War around the Berlin Wall with the style of Coppola's classic The Conversation.

Le Carre (a psuedonym for David John Moore Cornwell) had an insider perspective on these issues, working for the British Foreign Service for a period in Germany. They also deal with relevant issues of bumbling and confusion inside of intelligence organizations.

Since the Summer is just around the corner and people are always looking for a good read, make a mental note to try some LeCarre.


Since I mentioned the Esquire list, I might as well go through it and see what I've read. What I've read is in bold.

1. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, by Raymond Carver
2. Collected Stories of John Cheever
3. Deliverance, by James Dickey
4. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
5. Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy

6. The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
7. The Known World, by Edward P. Jones
8. The Good War, by Studs Terkel
9. American Pastoral, by Philip Roth
10. A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories, by Flannery O’Connor
11. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
12. A Sport and a Pastime, by James Salter
13. The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
14. Time’s Arrow, by Martin Amis
15. A Sense of Where You Are, by John McPhee
16. Hell’s Angels, by Hunter S. Thompson
17. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison
18. Dubliners, by James Joyce
19. Rabbit, Run, by John Updike

20. The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain
21. Dog Soldiers, by Robert Stone
22. Winter’s Bone, by Daniel Woodrell
23. Legends of the Fall, by Jim Harrison
24. Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry
25. The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer
26. The Professional, by W.C. Heinz
27. For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
28. Dispatches, by Michael Herr
29. Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller
30. Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates
31. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
32. The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara
33. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
34. All the King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren
35. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
36. Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron
37. A Fan’s Notes, by Frederick Exley
38. Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis
39. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami
40. Master and Commander, by Patrick O’Brian
41. Plainsong, by Kent Haruf
42. A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
43. Affliction, by Russell Banks - saw the movie
44. This Boy’s Life, by Tobias Wolff
45. Winter’s Tale, by Mark Helprin
46. The Adventures of Augie March, by Saul Bellow
47. Women, by Charles Bukowski
48. Going Native, by Stephen Wright
49. Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
50. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, by John LeCarre
51. The Crack-Up, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
52. CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, by George Saunders
53. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
54. The Shining, by Stephen King
55. Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson
56. Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
57. Midnight’s Children, by Salman Rushdie
58. Labyrinths, by Jorge Luis Borges
59. The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe
60. The Sportswriter, by Richard Ford
61. American Tabloid, by James Ellroy
62. The Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Alex Haley
63. What It Takes, by Richard Ben Cramer
64. The Continental Op, by Dashiell Hammett
65. The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene
66. So Long, See You Tomorrow, by William Maxwell
67. Native Son, by Richard Wright
68. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, by James Agee and Walker Evans
69. Angle of Repose, by Wallace Stegner
70. The Great Bridge, by David McCullough
71. The Dharma Bums, by Jack Kerouac
72. Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry
73. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
74. Underworld, by Don DeLillo
75. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

That's 16, not too impressive but not terrible for 26 year old ex English major. I guess I'll have to read "Moby Dick" one of these days. Any good suggestions for summer reading?

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