Since my last list, I have finished a further four novels. I’m currently chipping away at a fifth book and it is the best read of the year so far. I’ve read about two thirds of Open: an autobiography and it’s an absolute page turner. I don’t tackle much nonfiction but this is worth every minute. Agassi’s memoir awakens the tennis fan in me. So, here’s a rundown of the last five, in order of consequence.
- Open: an autobiography. Andre Agassi’s life story is relatively old (originally released ten years past). However, every page is packed with the champion’s wisdom. From hitting thousands of balls as a kid in Vegas to trying to please his overbearing father, there is oodles of life lessons. Some have even go so far as saying that you don’t need to know the game of tennis to appreciate the book’s beauty. Agassi doesn’t merely teach us about lessons learned from failure, but lessons about life per se.
He offers us an insider’s look into life on the tour, his rivalries, challenges, insecurities, relationships and he does this with a razor-sharp memory. We are there in every meaningful match, court-side in every failed relationship. Not only will you cringe, but you will both laugh out loud and feel for Andre. You will grasp his greatest triumphs as well as his worst disappointments. Whether tennis bad boy or elder sage, it is one of the better books you can read. In my opinion, it’s the best tennis book out there. Rating: 5/5
- Angel’s flight. Though published 20 years before, Connelly’s book is every bit as riveting as his other work. We are drawn into a double murder, we feel the racial tension from the streets. A lawyer, the consummate anti-LAPD has been shot dead and the whole Homicide department is under scrutiny. Cracks begin to develop; the lawyer’s double life is exposed. Erstwhile heroes become unraveled, the perp’s identity remains shrouded in mystery and the killer continues to wreak havoc. Someone is deadest on causing mayhem while hiding in the shadows. Meanwhile, the rioting, protesting and gloomy days remain. More work for Harry!
His Vegas marriage remains on the rocks, and we could feel his desperation. He calls his house number at every opportunity and listens to the messages. When he’s home, he constantly checks the premises for any sign of his wife. He even asks security to keep tabs on her at the casino, knowing she can’t resist the charms of the pot. His turbulent home life and hectic workload mixes like a bad cocktail. All this adds up to one helluva jaunt. Connelly not only explores pervading issues, he dissects them and democratizes them for us. Rating: 4.8/5
- City of bones. My first completed novel of the year, a long time coming. Detective Harry Bosch is back, this time investigating a case that becomes personal. The discovery of a boy’s bones in the hills of LA makes him think back to his days as an orphan in the City of Angels. He also meets a new flame, and love blossoms. However, a blown assignment leaves Harry in so much trouble. This is another oldie, and we’re talking fax machine old. Yet good fiction never ages, and this is a nice example. It’s classic Bosch: twisting mysteries, long police days, a killer who dodges being unmasked. In between there’s delectable dialogue, powerful relationships and killer storylines. Connelly’s an artist at work. Rating: 4.6/5
- Imperial Bedrooms (Ellis). The long-overdue sequel to his debut effort, this is a sad look at the state of both LA and its film industry. Eight years before #metoo, the book takes us to the seedy world beyond the silver screen. Clay, the main character from Zero, returns and so does his penchant for violence, drugs, and using people. Twenty years on, he rediscovers the band of yuppies from his former life, attends killer parties, and yet remains hollow inside. He is now a successful screenwriter but uses this to reinforce his narcissism.
The upgrade in technology from landlines to smartphones takes a backseat to the nihilistic culture and irreverent style that’s obviously there for shock value. We are brought to Mulholland Drive to glitzy hotels, luxury cars, and film studios. With all the drama surrounding Clay and company, the stage was set for a monumental finish. This was my third Ellis novel and I could see the parallels between his works. American Psycho was clearly his opus; everything goes downhill from there. This book had its moments though, and I can understand how a critic noted how it’s his ‘most compulsively written book in decades’. And it is short: at 178 pages, I was done after a few days. Rating: 3.9/5
- Less Than Zero (Ellis). Pop quiz: What’s worse than Bret’s latest novel? His first, brother. This was the book that announced Bret’s arrival to the literary scene. Almost as succinct as its successor, we are introduced to his full-on style, his detestable characters who are both rich and wild. We go to parties in the hill, sample the latest doodads, and become witnesses to a list of mind-blowing crimes which arrogant, insufferable and clueless yuppies committed. It’s the life in the fast lane: sex, drugs, and money.
We feel Blair’s heartbreak, we hate on Clay. We despise Trent, Rip, Alana, even Julian. Who would imagine that such mundane billboard signs would mean so much? For a short novel, there’s a lot of rumination and Ellis’s run-on sentences quickly becomes the norm. The novel, with all the searching, stopping, partying, meeting and talking, is really about nothing. Imagine Seinfeld, but a book. This reminded me of a Camus work that I tried reading a few weeks ago. I credit Ellis’s writing style for making me finish this read; Camus, while intriguing, was simply too dense for me. The movie had its supporters though, becoming the first Ellis novel adapted into film. However, much like American Psycho later on, the film version was barely recognizable vis-à-vis the original. Rating: 3.6/5
So, that’s my January/February reading list. You can channel your energies into many things, but you won’t go wrong with reading the right book.