Opinions of Saturn

A potpourri of classics, pagan books, cookbooks, noir, queer lit, and whatever's ended up on my bookshelf.


This is the BookLikes edition of my reviewing blog. Currently I'm the reigning emperor of gay and a practicing polytheist. Expect pedantry, pretentiousness, and overthinking.


The Postman Always Rings Twice

The Postman Always Rings Twice - James M. Cain

It’s difficult to not make a review of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE into a comparison the author’s most acclaimed noir novels, DOUBLE INDEMNITY. Both involve a couple who attempt to commit the perfect murder, both focus on how the main characters’ flaws manifest post-murder, and both have insurance fraud playing a major part of the proceedings. However, they both handle the subject matter in different fashions.


This “long short story,” which Penguin Random House claims was banned in Boston upon release, is story of a drifter who falls in love with a married woman who, naturally, has no interest in staying married for long. The story follows both the legal and psychological aftermath to committing murder, as depicted through the peaks and crashes of their illicit affair. The sex is explicit, the action is violent, and corruption reigns over all—Cain leaves nothing to the imagination, and the book can still shock readers to this day. The hard-boiled narrative has a raw quality to it that few authors ever manage to pull off, and makes the grit feel more like realistic than stylistic in turn.


Despite the interesting premise, the book doesn’t quite deliver in execution. While it’s hard to ignore Cain’s unique voice, it’s also very, very apparent that this was a first novel. It skims past some of the best plot twists and character development, while lingering too long on boring diversions and shallow introspection. History hasn’t been kind to THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE either, since the story feels generic in the sea of noir fiction that developed in the eighty-two years following the book’s original publication.


While I’m not one to be put off by the poor representation of ladies in early 20th century man-oriented literature, the main character’s attitude towards women becomes irritating after a while. The only two ladies in the entire book seem to exist to fall for his uncharismatic attitude within five minutes or be straight up ogled by the narration. It’s especially frustrating in the terms of Cora, the femme fatale of the story. Cain would rather describe the exact size and perkiness of her breasts instead of her personality, despite having all the tools to make a dynamic character out of her. At least she had a satisfying arc in between the descriptions of her figure.


In the end, it’s surprisingly mediocre for such a landmark piece of roman noir. Readers would be better off with DOUBLE INDEMNITY, as it’s better written and tackles the subject matter with greater finesse.

Reading progress update: I've read 48 out of 96 pages.

Existentialism and Human Emotions - Jean-Paul Sartre

No particular quote to pull, but I just want to point out that a good chunk of Sartre's responses to critics begin with "actually."


It's a pity Sartre didn't live to see the rise of social media, he'd be the reigning king of "well, actually" comments everywhere. 

Because I really needed to buy another book as I sit next to a stack of 15+ unread books next to my chair...

The Postman Always Rings Twice - James M. Cain

[Book: The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain]


I've read two other Cain novels, Double Indemnity and Mildred Pierce. While I liked both of them, both of the film versions were far superior than the books they were based on. Since the 1946 filmed version of Postman is a highly regarded classic film noir, I'm kind of curious if Hollywood's score is going to be three-for-three.


Normally I would have this posted under a "0% finished" update, but BL is being super slow today. I haven't been able to add it to my shelves at all!


Reading progress update: I've read 31 out of 96 pages.

Existentialism and Human Emotions - Jean-Paul Sartre

I cannot be sure that, after my death, fellow-fighters will carry on my work to bring it to its maximum perfect. Tomorrow, after my death, some men may decide to set up Fascism, and the others may be cowardly and muddled enough to let them do it. Fascism will be the human reality, so much the worse for us.


Actually, things will be as man decided they are to be. Does that mean I should abandon myself to quietism? No.


Well... damn.

I completely forgot about this passage.


As we appear to live in Sartre's post-death fascist future, I hope someone will find comfort in his thoughts on the matter. 

Reading progress update: I've read 12 out of 96 pages.

Existentialism and Human Emotions - Jean-Paul Sartre

Most people who use the word would be rather embarrassed if they had to explain it, since, now that the word is all the rage, even the work of a musician or painter is being called existentialist. ... [By] this time the word has been so stretched and has taken on so broad a meaning, that it no longer means anything at all. ... [The] kind of people who are eager for scandal and flurry turn to this philosophy which in other respects does not at all serve their purposes in this sphere.


If Sartre wrote this book today, he probably be be accused of being a snobby gatekeeper. Or a mansplainer.


Reading progress update: I've read 10 out of 96 pages.

Existentialism and Human Emotions - Jean-Paul Sartre

Someone recently told me of a lady who, when she let slip a vulgar word in a moment of irritation, excused herself by saying, "I guess I'm becoming an existentialist."


Seems like the correct use of existentialism to me, tbh. 


361 by Donald E. Westlake

361 (Hard Case Crime ) - Donald E Westlake

After Raymond Kelley, a recently discharged Air Force soldier, witnesses the murder of his father and is horrifically maimed in the aftermath, he decides it’s time for paycheck. With only one word and a vague description of the murderer’s car to go on, Raymond and his brother quickly find themselves waist-deep in a web of danger, deceit, and mobsters. Little do the brothers know that they’re being hunted, too…


361 is, without a shadow of a doubt, the quintessential hard boiled crime novel. Westlake’s writing exemplifies the stylized grit and action-packed drama of the genre, almost to a fault. Between the endless comma splicing and endless descriptions of everything Raymond finds remotely interesting, it’s clear that the meat of the book lies in its style more so than its story. Yet even so, Westlake’s narrative never loses its quick pace nor does it ever delve into pointless sleaze like many other pulpy crime stories of the time. The greatest strength of his writing, however, is the characters. Westlake is a master at throwing flawed individuals into an impossible situation without sacrificing their likability. Everyone feels realistic at the end of the day, which is a rare find in an otherwise pulpy outing.


While the short standalone novel sometimes flirts with interesting themes, such as regret and old age, it never does deeper than the occasional subtext. Westlake’s ideas on what the post-Prohibition mob scene was like is also quaint in hindsight, as history has since shown us that the real-world Mafia didn’t simply fall apart after the legalization of booze. The problem's not on Westlake, though—it’s not his fault the book was published a year before Joseph Valachi’s tell-all testimony as the first mob informant for the FBI. Considering how badly most stories from the 60s age, inaccurate gangster representation is far from the worst sin such a book can commit.


On a side note, the Kindle port is lazy. The first 3% of the kindle edition contains an excerpt from the beginning of the book, so the reader might end up reading it twice if they don’t realize what they’re looking at.

Reading progress update: I've read 11 out of 240 pages.

Sibyls: Prophecy and Power in the Ancient World - Jorge Guillermo

Not far to the northwest of Naples, high above an inhospitable stretch of coastline facing the depths of the Tyrrhenian Sea, there is a bare patch of ground whose powdery surface is marked by the gaping entrance to what appears to be an ordinary cavern. Many casual visitors arriving at this spot today would never suspect that two thousand years ago, and for quite a long time before then, this unprepossessing opening in the rocky soil had been renowned all over the Mediterranean... 


I have physically been to this location an desire to nitpick. 


1) The location described here appears to be the GROTTO of the Sibyl, not the Cave of the Sibyl. The Cave of Sibyl is very clearly manmade, albeit anciently so. 


2) Which is important, because the Grotto is just an ancient escape tunnel from the city. 


3) In order to "miss" the actual Cave of the Sibyl, you'd have to miss the sole walkway in the area leading directly to it and the giant plaque explaining exactly what it is.


4) And the reason it has a powdery surface? THEY USED DYNAMITE to uncover it in the first place. Also it's a part of a manmade pathway.


5) And while we're on the subject, archaeologists don't consider the "real" cave of Sibyl the true cave either (it's probably just a Greek defense tunnel from the time the town was a Greek colony.)


6) Neither location is "high above the coastline." In fact, both are far below the city ruins itself. The coastline is farther away from the location now then it was during the Roman Republic/Empire because of the volcanic nature of the land shifting, and likely would have been right next to the town harbor in ancient times.

Reading progress update: I've read 512 out of 512 pages.

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure - William Goldman

Review will be posted after this month's bookclub meeting.


In short: while I warmed up to the story by the end of the book, the movie's better. Very rare to say, and I'm kind of glad-- it just gives me another reason to like one of my favorite childhood films.


The 30th anniversary edition includes little snippets of unreleased sequel, Buttercup's Baby, and they are both suspenseful and hilarious. Hopefully Goldman will publish it someday.

Reading progress update: I've read 264 out of 512 pages.

The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure - William Goldman

I have new appreciation for Cary Elwes' sheer charisma in the film. Westley is such an unenjoyable Mary Sue character here. If I weren't reading this for my IRL book club, I would have DNF'd it a hundred pages ago.


Prince Humperdinck has somehow managed to become my favorite character in the meanwhile. 

Reading progress update: I've read 69 out of 483 pages.

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House - John Meacham, Jon Meacham

That the race for the White House in a large republic should have been affected by the sexual history of the wife of the secretary of war seems bizarre; yet politics is often driven not only by large ideas about policy and destiny but by affections and animosities. From Helen of Troy to Henry VII, what Alexander Pope called "trivial Things" in The Rape of the Lock have led to wars, revolutions, and reformations, and so it was to be in the administration of the seventh of the United States. 


As someone who hates making generalizations based off of gender:


It's so easy to tell when a historian is a man.


EDIT: To make my reasoning a bit more clear:


1) Mostly thinks of fictional examples of sex scandals involving women in power.

2) Finds the idea of sex scandals in of themselves "bizarre," despite this sort of thing affecting every woman ever in power ever.

3) Presents sex scandals (and, in the rest of the book, important women in general) in a "how did this affect the men" narrative.

Reading progress update: I've read 55 out of 483 pages.

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House - John Meacham, Jon Meacham

On a non-funny note, only one paragraph and two sentences out of the last seventy-seven pages of the book have discussed Jackson's involvement in the Trail of Tears. One of those sentences is pointing out that the President technically wasn't in office when the policies came into effect. Most of the book, in contrast, is about the intricacies of the Petticoat Affair--and AMERICAN LION won the Pulitzer prize.


That, my dears, is revisionism. 

Reading progress update: I've read 45 out of 483 pages.

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House - John Meacham, Jon Meacham

[Jackson] became convinced that Clay had sold his votes to Adams in exchange for the Cabinet appointment, and Jackson's fury at this alleged "corrupt bargain" never abated. "If at this early stage of the experiment of our Republic, men are found base and corrupt enough to barter the rights of the people for proffered office, what may we not expect from the spread of this corruption hereafter," Jackson told Lewis. Washington, [Jackson's wife] said, "was a terrible place."


That the election unfolded to the letter of the Constitution did not matter to Jackson. 


If Jackson lived in the modern age, I bet he'd be royally pissed at a certain collection of missing e-mails, too.

Reading progress update: I've read 43 out of 483 pages.

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House - John Meacham, Jon Meacham

The men who gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 had not been interested in establishing the rule of the majority. Quite the opposite: The Federalist and the debates on the floor of the Constitutional Convention largely concerned how the new nation might most effectively check the popular will. Hence the Electoral College, the election of senators by legislators and limited suffrage. The prevailing term for America's governing philosophy was republicanism--an elegant Enlightenment-era system of balances and counterweights that tended to but decisive power in the hands of elites elected, at least in theory, by a country of landowning yeoman. The people, broadly defined, were not to be trusted with too much power


Bolding mine.


In other words, the reason Hillary lost the election despite winning the popular vote, is because some 18th century gentry didn't want some poor plebs voting against their interests. 



Reading progress update: I've read XIX out of 483 pages.

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House - John Meacham, Jon Meacham

The America of Andrew Jackson was a country that professed a love of democracy but was willing to live with inequality, that aimed for social justice but was prone to racism and intolerance, that believed itself one nation but was narrowly divided  and fought close elections, and that occasionally acted arrogantly towards other countries while craving respect from them at the same time.


Now I'm just playing a drinking game: if you can swap Jackson for Trump in any given paragraph, take a shot.


In all seriousness, I've always found AMERICAN LION oddly inspiring. Sentences like these are why.

Reading progress update: I've read XVI out of 483 pages.

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House - John Meacham, Jon Meacham

In a private letter in the winter of 1833, Richard Wellesley, the Marquis Wellesley and elder brother of the Duke of Wellington, hoped for "the dissolution of the American confederacy, which I think would be a great benefit to the civilized world."


I feel ya, Marquis. 

Currently reading

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski
Sibyls: Prophecy and Power in the Ancient World by Jorge Guillermo
Progress: 11/240pages
American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House by John Meacham, Jon Meacham
Progress: 69/483pages
The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure by William Goldman
Progress: 512/512pages
Manga Mania Shoujo: How to Draw the Charming and Romantic Characters of Japanese Comics by Christopher Hart
Progress: 9/144pages
Tamsin by Peter S. Beagle
Progress: 275/275pages
Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
Progress: 313/313pages
The Red and the Black by Stendhal