Original Book Reviews, Recommendations and Discussions

Why we think that fictional characters are real

The reboot of the TV series Twin Peaks, Twin Peaks: The Return premiered on the 21st of May, to a huge response from fans. What was interesting is how they responded, criticizing the producers if any of the characters deviated from their previous incarnations by so much as a word or gesture. They were commenting as if the people of “Twin Peaks”, “Detective Dale Cooper”, “The Log Lady”, “Laura Palmer”, etc., were real. What interests me, is why we identify with fictional characters and think they are real – or want to believe they are real. There has to be a psychological or neurological basis for this. In the linked pages of this post I discuss one reason at a time, from our ability to fantasize to the way our brains work. Continue reading

Authors in deadpools and recent obits – Umberto Eco, Harper Lee and others

Two days ago, 19 February 2016, both Umberto Eco and Harper Lee died. Both their names were probably in the deadpools of various publications for some years since they were both in their eighties; Eco, aged 84, and Lee, an advanced 89. When I refer to a “deadpool”, I do not mean Tim Miller’s latest film, Deadpool, starring Ryan Reynolds, in which he plays a super-mercenary who kills off people with delight. I mean the advance-written obituaries that newspapers keep on file in expectation of the deaths of famous people. Who is on the lists is often proprietary information. (Heck, who wants to know that you are about to die or worse, have already died, when you haven’t?)  The Obituary Section of the New York Times has its own confidential deadpool from which obits are pulled that are “true gems: fine writing by great writers.”As to the reasons for both Eco and Lee being in deadpools for famous people, comparisons of the quality of their writing would be impossible, and neither would it be feasible to compare their relative celebrities. What they have in common is their legacies. Both will be remembered, Harper Lee for To Kill a Mockingbird, more so than for Go Set a Watchman (though time will tell) and Eco undoubtedly for Il nome della rosa (1980; English translation: The Name of the Rose, 1983). And their obituaries serve to remind us why they became famous in the first place, and why we read their works and remember them. Continue reading

“Hank Palace” is the Last Policeman and the Thinking Woman’s Crumpet


(Quirk Books, Philadelphia 2012, 2013)

To my surprise, I liked both books in “The Last policeman” series rather a lot. I hadn’t read detective novels since I went into a sort of mad Kurt Wallander-marathon a couple of years back and read everything Henning Mankell had written back-to-back. That did it for me, detective novel-wise. So I was a bit loath to take up The Last Policeman. Here’s the thing though: Ben Winters writes plainly but very well, understating rather than overstating; being succinct rather than over-indulgent; trimming his text to leave just enough to keep the reader engaged and intrigued. You can call it elegant. This, combined with his talent for depicting a pre-apocalyptic (or pre-sub-apocalyptic) world with conviction but restraint, makes for an enjoyable, well-crafted mystery.

Winters’ writing style does not interfere with the prime ingredient of the novel – the plot, the mystery, the conundrum. He writes in the first person perspective, as the main character, Hank Palace, which makes the novel easy to get into and quick to finish.

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