The Queen’s Gambit

The-Queens-GambitThis is a thriller about tournament chess. The tournaments aren’t just background for a more exciting plot, the chess games are the action. Piece-by-piece. Don’t play chess? (I don’t) Doesn’t matter, I was on the edge of my seat. (Wikipedia)

As with the only other novel I’ve ready by Walter Tevis (Mockingbird), I felt a sense of impending doom on every page of this story. I was exhausted by the end. I didn’t read closely enough to learn if Tevis was a chess player. Hard to image writing this story if he wasn’t.

If there was a false note, for me it was the main character’s struggle with alcohol and pills. According to Wikipedia, the author had the same struggle. This element just seemed “tacked on” to me.

[I was reminded of the drinking binges (and hang-overs) of Matthew Scudder, the alcoholic detective created by Lawrence Block. It was hard to read those without a cold cloth on the back of your neck.]

Random Walk

randomwalkAuthor Lawrence Block on Random Walk: “Every now and then someone comes up to me at a speech or signing and says one of two things. ‘I’ve liked all your books,’ I’ll be told, ‘but there was one I couldn’t make heads or tails out of.’ Or just the opposite: ‘I’ve read most of your books, but there was one that really knocked me for a loop, and I’ve read it seventeen times now, and it’s completely changed my life.’ “It’s always the same book. Random Walk.”

I wrote the book in the spring of 1987, and never was a book more eager to be written. Paradoxically, never was a book less eager to be read–the advance sale was light, the reviews were venomous, and most readers never even knew the book existed. Now it’s getting a new lease on life, and I’m delighted. I don’t know that it’s time has come–it’s just as possible it’s time has come and gone. But I do know Random Walk has enormous impact on some of the people who read it, and I hope that now they’ll have a chance to find it.”

A few of my favorite passages:

“You could take a walk, a voice in his head said.”

“We’ll know more when we have to know more. You know what it’s like? It’s like driving at night. You can only see as far as the headlights reach, but you can go all the way across the country that way.”

“The universe was endorsing her action by cooperating at every turn.”

“Don’t work things out, don’t try to think your way through it. Just listen, and you’ll always know where to go.”

“He seemed to have given up deciding things, he realized. It looked as though the only way for him to find out what he was going to do was to wait and see what he did.”

“What part is the river? The water? But it’s only in the river for a while. It flows in from some other stream and flows out into the Gulf of Mexico. There’s always new water coming in and old water flowing out. So what’s the river? The land on either side is the bank of the river, the mud underneath is the bottom of the river, but what’s the river? I think the river’s a certain time and space, and sooner or later every drop of water in the world gets to take its turn being a part of it. And then they go somewhere else. This drop goes to the Gulf, and this drop evaporates, and somebody drinks this drop—. A little of the world’s energy is gathered up into a river and the water makes sure it’s never empty.”

“Nobody gets anything from this walk that he didn’t come here to get. The thing is, the only way you’ll know what you came for is when you see what you get.”

“Once you start on the path, I don’t think you can really stop. You can slow down, you can get sidetracked, you can drag your feet, but I don’t think you can turn your back on it completely.”

“People have so goddam much to walk away from. Every time I find myself wondering what we’re talking toward, I tell myself that’s beside the point.”

“There’s no order of difficulty in miracles. They’re all impossible.”

“We’re all becoming the people we really were all along.”

“It was impossible, it had happened, impossible things did not happen, and therefore… therefore what?”

“You know that line, ‘It’s a lousy job but somebody has to do’? If it’s really a lousy job, then nobody has to do it.”

“A leap of faith (is) never from Point A to Point B. A leap of faith is from Point A.”

“If he couldn’t stretch his mind, he could at least protect himself by closing his eyes.”

“He felt as though he had let go of the steering wheel of life.”

“You did what you would have done, in a minute or in all eternity.”

“The only way to find out what you deserve is to wait and see what you get.”

Hard cover virtual reality

While we wait for the virtual reality promised by Ray Kurzweil (and others), I’ll make do with with immersing myself in good books. I have two that should get me to Seattle and back:

Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse by Victor Gischler

Mortimer Tate was an insurance salesman on the verge of a nasty divorce when he holed up in a mountain cave in Tennessee and rode out the end of the world. Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse begins nine years later, when he emerges into a bizarre landscape filled with hollow reminders of an America that no longer exists.

Hit and Run by Lawrence Block

Keller’s a hit man. For years now he’s had places to go and people to kill. But enough is enough. He’s got money in the bank and just one last job standing between him and retirement. In Des Moines, Keller stalks his designated target and waits for the client to give him the go-ahead. And one fine morning he’s picking out stamps for his collection at a shop in Urbandale when somebody guns down the charismatic governor of Ohio.

I’m not familiar with Gischler but he’s got a knack for titles. I’m a long-time fan of Lawrence Block. If you’ve never been on one of Keller’s hit jobs, you’re in for a treat.

Reading List: 2005

Okay, I’m a little obsessive-compulsive about lists and writing things down. But it bothers me when I can’t remember what movies I’ve seen or books I’ve read. So this is where I write them down. I have a few more to track down, but here’s the 2005 reading list as nearly as I can reconstruct it.

The Fool’s Run – John Sandford (September)
What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer – John Markoff (September)
The Hot Kid – Elmore Leonard (August)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – J. K. Rowling (August)
The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova (July)
The System of the World – Neal Stephenson (June)
The Twelfth Card – Jeffery Deaver (May)
All the Flowers Are Dying – Lawrence Block (February)
The Broker – John Grisham (February)
State of Fear – Michael Crichton (February)

Reading List: 2004

Stab in the Dark, Lawrence Block (December)
Distraction, Bruce Sterling (October)
Florence of Arabia: A Novel, Christopher Buckley (October)
The Rule of Four, Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason (September)
Rain Fall, Barry Eisler (September)
We the Media, Dan Gillmor (August)
R is for Ricochet, Sue Grafton (August)
Skinny Dip, Carl Hiaasen (August)
The Stone Monkey, Jeffery Deaver (July)
Live Bait, P. J. Tracy (July)
Hidden Prey, John Sandford (June)

Note: This post has been predated so that it would appear in 2004. 8/16/05

Turn the page

I’m a long-time fan of the novels of Lawrence Block and have read most of them. From time to time I come across one that had been out of print. Spotted two Matthew Scudder novels yesterday (A Stab In The Dark, and Time To Murder And Create) and snapped them up. Matt Scudder is a New York private investigator (no license) with a serious drinking problem. He’ll go on a bender and then suffer nasty hang-overs. In later novels, Matt joins AA and, finally, gets his act together.

Time To Murder And Create was written in 1976 and Matt is still boozing. When I first read these stories, it was almost painful and certainly depressing to “watch.” Having read all of the later Scudder novels, I know that everything works out for Matt. He gets sober. Meets the perfect woman (for him). And finds some peace.

It’s nice to think that someone is re-reading our stories and knows what happens to us down the road. Our Cosmic Author simply has no way to tell us everything is going to be all right. Or that it isn’t. Or, maybe we aren’t listening. I choose to believe my author prefers happy endings.

Short subject or feature length?

One of my first posts was a quote from Lawrence Block’s Everybody Dies:

“When you die, it is said you see your whole life. But you don’t see it minute by minute, like a speeded-up film. It’s like everything you ever did in all your days was a brushstroke, and now you see the whole painting all at once.”

Poet Billy Collins has a different view:

I wonder how it all got started, this business
about seeing your life flash before your eyes
while you drown, as if panic, or the act of submergence,
could startle time into such compression, crushing
decades in the vice of your desperate, final seconds.
From The Art of Drowning