The Reading List, No. 11: Books I’ve Recently Finished

Here’s another blog about books that have recently made their way through my reading list. Since it has been a few months since I published one of these blogs, the selection might be a little longer than usual. More books – same low price!

These aren’t really reviews. Just short snapshots of what the books are about, and maybe a nugget or two about my reaction to them. If you’re a big reader, maybe you will find them useful.

Also: It’s a way to pimp my own books. So fair warning……

Don Quixote, Cervantes: I did it! I finished this Brontosaurus of a 17th century literary classic – all 982 pages of it! It took six months and cost several thousand lives, but I did it! I did it!

Seriously, I can’t believe I finished this book. I kept pressing forward, against all odds, long after I stopped wanting to (as I blogged about recently). Don Quixote continued my dive into classic literature over the past several years, and this one often tops lists of greatest novels ever.

Do I agree?

No, not really.

But I will say this – it is often a damn good read, much better to my tastes than all the other big fat classic lit novels I’ve read over the past few years (I’m talking to you Moby Dick, Great Expectations, and Crime and Punishment….).

Don Quixote follows the adventures of the title character, a clueless and potentially batshit would-be knight errant, and his long-suffering sidekick, Sancho Panza. It is often hilarious, sometimes poignant, doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, and has some Very Important Things to say about class divisions, history, and relationships. I particularly love the Sancho character. He’s memorable in more ways than I can explain here, but mostly because he’s just a poor peasant caught up in something he didn’t figure on, but remained wise, noble, patient, and hilarious to the end.

Is the book too long? Yes, it is. F**k yes, it is! Cervantes could have shaved it in half without losing a thing. The literati will hate me for saying that, but screw ‘em.

Still: It can be very entertaining – and as I was reading it, I wondered how much of that had to do with the translation.

The edition I read was from 2000, translated by John Rutherford, a Brit. There are more than a few instances where modern phrases are dropped into the text. It makes you wonder how much of the narrative was updated to accommodate modern sensibilities. Since I have no desire to read Don Quixote again in its original Spanish – and am not even sure I could, given my rudimentary Spanish – I’ll never know. All in all, though, if you are going to read a 980-word literary classic, this is the one.

Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith: Here we have a marvelously creepy crime noir novel/psychological thriller published in 1950, right smack during the golden age of crime noir novels. I had seen the 1951 movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock, which was very good in its own way, but only loosely based on the actual book.

The novel centers on a chance meeting on a train between architect Guy Haines, who wants to divorce his unfaithful wife; and Charles Anthony Bruno, a psycho playboy who wants to kill his wealthy Dad so he can inherit the money and never have to work for a living. Saying much more will give away too much plot, which twists and turns and reels you further and further into the madness of Charles and the tangled web Guy has caught himself in. Very taut and suspenseful. Definitely recommend.

Torso, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Andreyko: A graphic novel about a string of real-life murders that took place in Cleveland, Ohio, in the 1930s. The killer dismembered the bodies of the victims and got rid of their remains in a down-and-out neighborhood called Kingsbury Run, known for its bars, brothels, gambling dens, and vagrant community. Leading the investigation was Elliott Ness, the legendary lawman and erstwhile “Untouchable” who took down Chicago gangster Al Capone before becoming Cleveland’s Public Safety Director.

Cleveland, like many cities of the era, was rife with corruption that included most of the cops and politicians. Ness was unable to make much headway on finding the killer, who to this day has never really been identified. The book features some of the most unique artwork you’ll find in any comic, combining shadowy, black-and-white drawings with old photos of Cleveland. The story itself is well written and paced.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote: A 1958 collection of short stories that became something of a cultural sensation, thanks to the author’s genius for self-promotion as well as the 1961 movie of the same name starring Audrey Hepburn. The title story is the star here, and I found it enjoyable enough, if almost instantly forgettable.

Holly Golightly (the protagonist) is a social butterfly in Manhattan and lady-about-town with a knack for being in all the right places at all the right times. She also has a checkered past we learn about in fits and starts. She’s a very compelling character, and the writing is first rate.

The other three stories in the collection are nothing special and, honestly, I can barely remember a thing about them. Capote seems perfect for his era of celebrity worship, cocktail lounges and rich Caucasians living the high life. I’m not sure any of this translates well to 2022.

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy: There are about 330 pages in this 1997 Booker Prize winner about life in late 20th century India, and I was completely at sea during about 200 of them. The novel features some fabulous writing, more than a few memorable lines, and many insights into the brutal way people treat each other. But man, is the story hard to follow. It jumps from time period to time period, setting to setting, character to character, POV to POV, often with little warning, so you’re not really sure whose head you happen to be stuck in, or when, or what the passages even mean.

The plot itself roughly follows the childhood experiences of fraternal twins in Kerala, India during the 1960s, when the caste system was still firmly in place and India was still coming to grips with independence following centuries of English colonialization. But there is no logical narrative until about two-thirds of the way in, when the author tries her hand at conventional plot writing. This is when the novel really kicked in for me, and I finally gained a better understanding of what I had been reading during the first two-thirds. This is a brilliant novel in many ways, worthy of all the praise it has gotten from the literati. But it can be painfully difficult to trudge through.

The New York Trilogy, Paul Auster: I had such high hopes for this mid-1980s collection of three novellas, all interconnected and based in the Biggest of Apples. It combined two things I usually love in books: an NYC setting, and crime fiction. Critics loved it.

Alas, it disappointed this reader. The first novella, “City of Glass,” mostly delves into themes of identity and madness and takes its sweet-ass time getting anywhere (and it uses the old trick of introducing the author as a character. So, there’s that). The second novella, “Ghosts,” is notable mostly because all the characters have colors as last names (Blue, Brown, White, etc.). The third novella (“The Locked Room”) is the best because it at least has a compelling plot. I am probably in the minority in not really liking it that much. Oh well….. 

Voodoo Hideaway, Vance Cariaga. If you order this fine debut novel with elements of crime noir and sci-fi, you will make me happy. Which will make you happy! For reviews, hit this link.

Here’s how to order it:


Barnes & Noble

Book Depository



Money, Love and Blood, Vance Cariaga: If you order this collection of short stories, you will be happy – because you made me happy! Order it here.


    1. Thanks again, Bruce, I always appreciate your feedback. Don Quixote, hoo boy. That was like scaling the Mt. Everest of books (though I hear War and Peace is the real test — and one I doubt I will take on). After finishing Don Quixote all I wanted to do was read comics, detective novels and sports books. I checked off the first two. Now I need to go dig up a good sports book to read ….

      Liked by 1 person

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