I recently finished a good run of the first four George Smiley books by John LeCarré. Since then, I've bounced off of every single one of the 10 or so books I've tried to get into.
Finally, last night, I started the third volume of Frank Dikötter's China trilogy, the first two books of which I thought were very, very good. And it grabbed me pretty much immediately, and it's a chunky boi, so I'll be reading this for a few days (and will do a full, standalone review of it, just like I did for the first two).
I worried for a second that my tastes have officially done the Old Man Ossification process that a lot of dudes go through, but no... I read a ton of new books by new-to-me authors last year, including some genres I either never have dipped into or haven't for decades, and enjoyed a lot of it.
So, let's speed run through the books I've set aside in a brutal, Stalinist purge of Things That Could Not Hold My Interest:
The Tyrant Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson
Frankly real bummed about this one, because I loved the first book, muddled through the second increasingly confused by everything, and was hoping Book 3 would set it back on path.
It did not.
Even with an almost-embarassing amount of "As You Know, Bob..." in the first few chapters of this concluding volume of the Baru Cormorant Trilogy, I still wasn't entirely clear on what the fuck was going on or who I should even be rooting for at this point.
Which is a shame, because the first book really setup a nice world with an interesting, unique world build going on, a character whose motivations were clear from the get-go and whose actions made sense (though, in retrospect, even those went off the rails in a not-wholly-believable fashion near the end of that book).
I got a solid third of the way through this one before I realized that, yes, even having invested like over 1000 pages of reading into this series, and even being only a few hundred from being done with it, the plot had gone to absolute mush and I just didn't care how it ended. So onto the "Not Gonna Finish" pile it went. Sorry, Seth. Sorry, Baru.
The Jakarta Method: Washington's Anticommunist Crusade & The Mass Murder Program That Shaped Our World, by Vincent Bevins
I feel REAL bad about this one; this book is rightfully praised as shining a light on a corner of history that very few Americans know about, and Bevins self-funded the travels and research to get it written, and it's an Important and Necessary Book...
...but jesus christ, could he have used a stronger editor to pull it all together. Is this supposed to be an academic history, first-person reporting, a folk history told from victim interviews, what? It bounces all over the goddamned place in the telling, and it's absolutely distracting.
I also bounced hard off of the constant paragraphs of explanatory background for the most fundamental things. Trust your audience: if someone is reading a book about American interference in/leadership of the anti-Communist purges in 1960's Indonesia, you can assume they don't need multiple paragraphs explaining that America is capitalist and the Soviet Union was Communist and they were allies in World War II... or the weird paragraph about an early OSS guy that goes into way too much detail on his childhood in Missouri, which, did you know, was "one of the states in the US South governed by Jim Crow laws, which discriminated against African-Americans".
YES, I DID FUCKING KNOW THAT. MOVE ON.
This topic is too narrow to be considered a pop history of the airport book stripe, so the amount of space wasted on these asides in the early part of the book just turn the reader off. Nobody who isn't already aware of these basic facts is going to be picking this book up in the first place. And given that some of the few complaints I've read online about this book speak to how he could've spent even MORE time covering the actual events and fallout directly related to the topic, the space wasted on these unnecessary little lessons in extremely basic US and world history are just the mark of an inexperienced author who did not have strong guidance in putting this book together.
I may try to get back to it, but I already know the gist of what happened in the events covered here and the US complicity in it, and while it's good that a single volume in English, written EXCEEDINGLY accessibly, exists, I'm just not the audience for this one.
An Officer and a Spy, by Robert Harris
I need to write off historical fiction as a genre entirely, I think; it's just not for me.
This is Harris' very well-reviewed and selling fictionalization of the Dreyfuss Affair, the explosive railroading of a Jewish French Army Officer that basically turbo-fucked French politics for a decade.
Harris can write just fine; I genuinely enjoyed his breakout alternative history, Fatherland, and he's since then written a number of popular historical novels that SEEM like they should be right up my alley.
But, in the end, I like my history to be actual histories, and my novels to be novels. As I found myself constantly checking other sources to determine if a given person or thing in Harris' telling was actually factual, I realized I'd be better off (and happier) if I just found a good history of the Dreyfuss Affair and, in the end, that's what I've decided to do instead of finishing this book.
The others I've set aside for now I at least am lying to myself about intending to finish this year, so I'm not going to quite write them off here just yet. Hopefully my next post will be about a book I a) finished and b) enjoyed.