Five more tiny reviews, continuing to address the book backlog. These are the next books I read in the early 2013.
Call For the Dead, by John Le Carré. A nice twist ends this spy story, one I'd expect in an Agatha Christie novel. This is Le Carré's first novel, and his focus is already on the moral imponderables of espionage. Le Carré writes without overt judgement, but from a moral standpoint. This makes his novels both more substantial and less fun than those of mystery writers who worship power and mastery.
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, by John Le Careé. The adventures of a lonely and embittered ex-spy. This book is darker, dealing in double and triple crosses and deep cover, along with alcohol, despair, and death. The writing is better here; it's no longer a novel of the sixties, but one that still stands. All the same, I burned out on Le Carreé with the bleakness of this book.
A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. A story about larger-than-life personalities turned loose upon New Orleans sounds like a bore, but this was just as funny as everyone says. (I met a Minkoff this summer, no relation.)
The Normal Bar, by Northrup, Schwartz, and Witte. Somewhere between a sociological study of couples and a self-help book for them. The self-help section is over-simplified, perhaps to reach the widest possible audience, and the results of the "most extensive survey of romantic relationships ever!", which are supposed to drive the self-help advice, are just barely touched on. It left me cold; perhaps I would have been better off reading the study.
Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands, by Michael Chabon. Essays on Sherlock Holmes, Philip Pullman, comic books, Jews, and writing; along the borderlands because none of it is "serious fiction". I especially liked his article about His Dark Materials; one of the best fantasy novels of all time, but marred by the self-important propaganda of the third volume.