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.

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.

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.