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Book review

“Ask the Dust” by John Fante – book review

Far before J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces, there was an author writing about young misfits with flair and passion: John Fante.

In the 1930s Fante began a series of novels starring Arturo Bandini, a delusional, obnoxious, socially incompetent and penniless wannabe writer who is, I am afraid to say, someone I relate far too closely to. Fante’s first novel, The Road to Los Angeles, was rejected and unpublished until after his death in 1985. The second, Wait Until Spring, Bandini (1938), gained critical praise but it was his third – Ask the Dust (1939) – that was a work of genius.

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Book review

“A Manual for Cleaning Women” by Lucia Berlin – book review

One sentence review: the most beautifully written, moving and yet sweetly humorous collection of short stories I can remember reading.

Slightly longer review

I’ve recently read two collections of short stories by authors championed by Black Sparrow Press: A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin and The Bell Tolls for No One by Charles Bukowski.

On a superficial level there ought to be similarities: both authors were alcoholic underground writers who wrote about the low life with thinly-veiled versions of themselves as narrators. And yet in terms of style, heart, intelligence and maturity there is a world of difference between them.

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Book review

“Permanent Record” by Mary H.K. Choi – book review

One sentence review: Witty. Moving. Enveloped me whole. I adored this novel.

Slightly longer review:

I didn’t expect to like this.

The plot seemed cliched: a celebrity who falls for a norm. As with most celeb meets norm stories (think Notting Hill), the celeb walks into the norm’s workplace (in this case a New York bodega), the norm doesn’t recognise the celebrity, likes them anyway and sparks fly.

And then I read the first few sentences – and they were so well written that I bought the book on the off-chance I was wrong about the plot. I was, and I fell in love.

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Book review

“What Makes Sammy Run?” by Budd Schulberg – book review

My favourite description of someone writing under the influence doesn’t come from Hemingway, Bukowski or any of the usual suspects – instead, it’s from the fourth page of What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg.

Published in 1941, this satire of success revolves around Sammy Glick, an insatiably ambitious copyboy who rapidly becomes a Hollywood mogul due to sheer shamelessness and chutzpah. Compared to him, Entourage’s Ari Gold is a mild-mannered pussy.

Sammy is an unsympathetic force of nature – but what anchors this novel is the narrator, Al Manheim, a newspaper hack who watches Sammy’s meteoric rise through whiskey-tinted lenses.