Ballistics: Poems

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Ballistics: PoemsBallistics: Poems by Billy Collins
Published: 2010
Length: 113 pages

After reading Poems That Make Grown Men Cry, Billy Collins stuck in my head as someone to further explore. I enjoyed his poem The Lanyard, which was J.J. Abrams’ choice for the collection, but I also really liked Collins’ choice, Bedecked by Victoria Redel. He was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003, and while I don’t actually know what that is, it does sound very impressive.

So while we were in Portland last year, I picked up this small collection of his. There were poems in this that I did really enjoy, but I felt a little underwhelmed by the collection as a whole. There were maybe half a dozen poems I marked down to return to while reading through this, and the rest just really didn’t strike me in any way. He can be hilarious at times, and I love that, but a lot of these felt more like unsuccessful exercises in trying to find the extraordinary in the ordinary.

I’m not going to write him off completely, as I know there are some of his poems that I really do enjoy, and maybe this was just the wrong collection for me. I find it tricky to actually pick out poetry and find the best place to start with each poet. On our way home from Portland, we were taking a taxi in Seattle to the ferry terminal, and I got to talking with the driver. He was a big poetry buff, it turned out, and when I mentioned I’d picked up a Billy Collins book he mentioned he wasn’t a fan. I asked what he recommended, and apart from briefly mentioning Robert Frost, he was mainly enthusiastic about poetry anthologies, even naming Kenneth Rexroth and Oscar Williams as two of his favourite anthologists. Maybe I should take that advice and stick to anthologies for a while.

The few I did like, I really liked. Some of my favourites were: Divorce, Old Man Eating Along in a Chinese Restaurant, Ballistics, and Adage.

Here’s the title poem, which turned out to be one of my favourites. I’m an easy sell on bitterness and snark, though.


When I came across the high—speed photograph
of a bullet that had just pierced a book —
the pages exploding with the velocity —

I forgot all about the marvels of photography
and began to wonder which book
the photographer had selected for the shot.

Many novels sprang to mind
including those of Raymond Chandler
where an extra bullet would hardly be noticed.

Nonfiction offered too many choices —
a history of Scottish lighthouses,
a biography of Joan of Arc and so forth.

Or it could be an anthology of medieval literature,
the bullet having just beheaded Sir Gawain
and scattered the band of assorted pilgrims.

But later, as I was drifting off to sleep,
I realized that the executed book
was a recent collection of poems written

by someone of whom I was not fond
and that the bullet must have passed through
his writing with little resistance

at twenty—eight hundred feet per second,
through the poems about his childhood
and the ones about the dreary state of the world,

and then through the author’s photograph,
through the beard, the round glasses,
and that special poet’s hat he loves to wear.

Foodies Read 2017

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I’m also joining the Foodies Read challenge again this year. The goal is to read any book that is somehow related to food, be that a cookbook, a foodie memoir, or a murder mystery in which the killer slays his victims using only spotted dick.

The challenge levels are as follows:

  • Short-Order Cook: 1 to 3 books
  • Pastry Chef: 4 to 8 books
  • Sous-Chef: 9 to 13 books
  • Chef de Cuisine: 14 to 18
  • Cordon-Bleu Chef: More than 19

I’ll be aiming for the Pastry Chef level again, although I would like to read more than the bare minimum this year. My initial choices, which may change, will be:

  1. Appetites: A Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain
  2. How To Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food by Nigella Lawson
  3. Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl
  4. Encore Provence: New Adventures in the South of France by Peter Mayle
  5. Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
  6. Gourmet Rhapsody by Muriel Barbery
  7. The Dinner: A Novel by Herman Koch
  8. The Vintage Caper by Peter Mayle

Back to the Classics 2017

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I will be taking part in the Back to the Classics 2017 challenge to read classic books that fall into twelve categories. The more you read, the more entries you receive for a draw at the end of the year.

  • Complete six categories, and you get one entry in the drawing
  • Complete nine categories, and you get two entries in the drawing
  • Complete all twelve categories, and you get three entries in the drawing

Here are the categories and my tentative choices:

  1. A 19th Century Classic: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  2. A 20th Century Classic: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
  3. A classic by a woman author: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
  4. A classic in translation: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
  5. A classic published before 1800: The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare
  6. A romance classic: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  7. A Gothic or horror classic: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
  8. A classic with a number in the title: Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K. Jerome
  9. A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title: Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck
  10. A classic set in a place you’d like to visit: A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
  11. An award-winning classic: Dune by Frank Herbert
  12. A Russian Classic: The Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

2016 in Review

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Well, that year turned out a bit differently than we all thought, didn’t it? Oh well, I guess now that we’ve rolled over to a new arbitrary calendar year EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE. Donald Trump will definitely not start a war over Twitter and all of our favourite celebrities will stop dying. I can’t wait!

The Weblog

Nearly six years I’ve been keeping this weblog now, and I’m still enjoying it. I love being able to look back on what I’ve read, and I feel like taking an hour or two to write about a book really helps me get more out of my reading. If you had told fifteen-year-old me that I would voluntarily write fifty book reports a year, I would have told you to get lost in a very 90s way, possibly by using a sarcastic phrase punctuated with a “NOT!” at the end.

I would like to put a bit of work into the design here, which I say every year, but I can really feel it this time. 2017 is the year I write an About page. I’ve also been toying with the idea of maybe doing expanded reviews in the form of podcasts or booktube videos. I can’t promise I’ll ever post one, but my plan is to at least go through the steps of recording something this year and see how it goes. I may need to undergo some sort of vocal cord surgery to make my voice acceptable for the general public first.

The Stats

Overall books read: 51

Graphic novels and trade paperback collections: 9
Audio books: 25
E-Books: 1
Poetry compilations: 2
Short story or essay complications: 2
Plays: 0
Non-fiction: 10
Classics: 10

Country (of author)
America: 31
England: 8
Scotland: 4
Canada: 2
Russia: 2
Brazil: 1
Ireland: 1
South Korea: 1
South Africa: 1

Most novels by same author: 2 (John Scalzi and Eddie Huang)
New authors (to me): 17
Female authors: 9
Re-reads: 2


  • For two years in a row now I haven’t read a single play, so I need to make a point to change that this year.
  • I doubled the amount of women writers I read this year. Still only 18% of my overall reading, but still an improvement.
  • This was something I wanted to change last year and it didn’t happen, but I’d like to get that New Authors number down and start reading more novels from authors I know I love.
  • This next year I’d like to read at least one graphic novel a month. It’s such a cool medium, and I often forget how much I enjoy comics.
  • Over half the books I read this year were audiobooks. That’s partly because I tackled some larger physical novels, but mainly because I’ve gotten quite bad at dedicating time to sit down and read.
  • I’d like to read more from countries outside of America and England this year.

The Challenges

The Classics Club: I finished this last spring! I decided to keep adding books to the list until my five year mark, next March, before wrapping it up.

Back to the Classics Challenge 2016: I read nine out of a possible twelve novels and really enjoyed participating. I even managed to win the draw at the end of the year!

Foodies Read 2016: I read four novels for this, just squeezing in to the four to eight category.

The Top Fives/Threes

These are all lists of media that were new to me this year, not necessarily released this year.


  1. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
  2. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  3. Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb
  4. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
  5. Bream Gives Me Hiccups by Jesse Eisenberg


  1. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
  2. The Lost City of Z by David Grann
  3. Heat by Bill Buford
  4. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
  5. Quiet by Susan Cain


  1. Saga: Volume 6 by Brian K. Vaughan
  2. Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff
  3. We Stand On Guard by Brian K. Vaughan
  4. Sex Criminals: Volume Three by Matt Fraction
  5. The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

Audiobook Narration

  1. Dylan Baker narrating The Grapes of Wrath
  2. Tim Gerard Reynolds narrating Golden Son
  3. Patricia Rodriguez narrating The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
  4. Trevor Noah narrating Born a Crime
  5. Dan Stevens narrating Frankenstein

Video Game

  1. Uncharted 4
  2. Tales from the Borderlands
  3. Firewatch
  4. Tom Clancy’s The Division
  5. Destiny


  1. What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
  2. The Fundamentals of Caring (2016)
  3. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)
  4. * Didn’t watch many movies this year, so this turned into a weird top 3.

Movie – Non-Fiction

  1. Raiders!: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2016)
  2. What Happened, Miss Simone (2015)
  3. The Resurrection of Jake the Snake (2015)

Television series – Fiction

  1. House of Cards, seasons 1 – 4
  2. Stranger Things, season 1
  3. BoJack Horseman, season 3

Television series – Non-Fiction

  1. Chef’s Table: France, season 1
  2. Chef’s Table, season 2
  3. Rick Stein’s Long Weekends, season 1

December in Review

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Books Acquired:
Appetites: A Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain
Six Poets: Hardy to Larkin: An Anthology by Alan Bennett
Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi
My Dad Wrote a Porno by Jamie Morton, Alice Levine, James Cooper, Rocky Flintstone

Books Read:
The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
Sex Criminals, Volume Three: Three the Hard Way by Matt Fraction

Hope everyone had a great holiday to end 2016! Lee-Ann and I took a last minute trip to Maui over Christmas this year. This was my first warm Christmas, and I could definitely get used to it. We came back on New Year’s Eve and both immediately fell quite ill, so I think our bodies are mad at us for leaving.

Only one more of these before I leave.

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Santa's little helper.

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First warm Christmas! We could get used to this.

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The first three books on my acquired list came from a gift certificate I received from work. I love book gift certificates, so I was very happy with that gift. I just found out I won a $30 gift certificate from The Book Depository through the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016, which was a nice surprise, so I’ll get to have another free shopping trip soon!

Appetites is Bourdain’s newest cookbook, and it features recipes he cooks at home for his family. Maybe someday I’ll figure out a decent way to review cookbooks and talk about it on here. Six Poets isn’t something I’ve seen before, but it looks great. Alan Bennett discusses his favourite poets in a conversational tone, and it sounds like a great introduction. I’ve had mixed success getting into poetry, so an Alan Bennett anthology sounded like a great idea. Zoe’s Tale is the next book I need to read in the Old Man’s War series. It’s a retelling of The Last Colony from another character’s perspective, which sounds a bit unexciting, but I have faith that he’ll pull it off in a fun way.

I spent my @munrobooks gift certificate well, I think.

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The last book I recieved in December was a copy of My Dad Wrote a Porno: The fully annotated edition of Rocky Flintstone’s Belinda Blinked. My Dad Wrote a Porno is a podcast where the father of one of the hosts self-published a book of erotic literature, and each episode is spent reading through a chapter of the book and tearing it to pieces. It’s a great mix of filth (which is compounded by the fact that it’s his father) and terrible writing, and the hosts are hilarious. This book is the Belinda Blinked novel with their annotations scribbled throughout.

Early Christmas gift! Must have been naughty this year. @mydadwrotea

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Movies watched:
Harmontown (2014) – Documentary following Dan Harmon on tour with his live podcast just after he was fired from directing Community. An exploration into fandom, fame, and self-destructive behaviour. Really enjoyed this.

Zootopia (2016) – Watched this with my girlfriend and her family. Not knowing anything about it going in, I was happily surprised with it. Humourous, fun action sequences, and good commentary on the dangers of subconscious prejudices.

War Dogs (2016) – Watched this on the plane back from Maui. It was okay. The acting was good, and the story was interesting, but something about it didn’t really click with me.

TV watched:
Rick Stein’s French Odyssey (2005) – I rewatched this with my girlfriend. I really enjoy Rick Stein’s food shows. Relaxing television with recipes that actually inspire me to get up and cook.

Games played:

What have you been reading/watching/playing this month?

Foodies Read 2016 Wrap-Up

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The second challenge I took part in this year was the Foodies Read challenge. My goal was the 4 – 8 book level, and I ended up just barely coasting in having read four books.

  1. French Milk by Lucy Knisley
  2. Heat by Bill Buford
  3. Double Cup Love by Eddie Huang
  4. Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang

I enjoyed all four, but French Milk was probably my least favourite. I wanted it to be more about food and found it to be mainly about moping about in Paris.

Both of Eddie Huang’s memoirs were entertaining and interesting, and I’m excited to to see what he comes out with next. He’s an acquired taste, but if you can deal with his personality he does have a lot to offer.

My favourite of the bunch was Heat, which surprised me. I held off reading it for quite a while thinking that it wasn’t really my thing, but the amount of research he did and the quality of his writing won me over. It reminded me of how much I enjoy food writing when it’s done well.

I’ll be joining again in 2017, and will post the kick-off list soon.

French Milk

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French MilkFrench Milk by Lucy Knisley
Illustrated by: Lucy Knisley
Published: 2007
Publisher: Touchstone
Length: 188 pages

I really enjoyed Relish when I read it last year, so I’ve been meaning to try Knisley’s other graphic novels since then. Her Wikipedia page shows five books released through publishers and a number of self-published works as well. This one is a food-centric travelogue through Paris, which ticked all the right boxes for me.

Lucy Knisley wrote this at the age of twenty three while spending six weeks in Paris with her mother. It’s a great way to keep a journal, a mix of traditional journaling and illustration. I love the idea of being able to quickly sketch out a scenic view or an interesting market item like this. Not to be too predictable, but it does remind me of old adventurers’ journals, where they might sketch out anything they need to remember. It makes me want to pick up a pencil and start practicing.

I thought this would mainly be about food, and while that is a common topic throughout the book, it’s really more about being homesick and somewhat whiny in a foreign country. Her parents are paying for the trip, as far as I can tell, and she spends the entire time moping about, missing her friends and boyfriend back in America. She’s twenty three but acts more like a sixteen-year-old throughout the book, seemingly unaware of how good she has it. I wonder if paying for travel yourself at that age forces you to try to get more out of the experience.

She is being true to the emotion she felt during the trip, rather than looking back with rose-coloured glasses and imagining it as more than it was, which I can appreciate. It’s just day-by-day documentation of her time in Paris – where she went, what she ate, what she bought, and how she felt – without any real narrative, and in order for that to work you really need to be interested in the documenter herself, and I just wasn’t. I think I wanted this same trip, with this same style of journaling, written ten years later in her life. This is the sort of trip that she could probably look back on later in life and write about in an interesting way, but it’s a bit of a bore written about like this. The same way teenage dramas can be really interesting when written by an adult, but are rarely interesting when described by the teenagers involved.

I did enjoy this, but I just wanted more out of it. Every page in which she described food from the market, what they made for dinner, or what they ate in restaurants was perfect for me, but there was too little of that. I didn’t really connect with anything else in the book. I do really like Lucy Knisley’s style of comics, though, and will be continuing on with her other books soon.

Back to the Classics Challenge 2016 Wrap-Up

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The Back to the Classics Challenge 2016 was one of the two challenges I took part in this year. The goal was to read classics from twelve categories. There’s a draw associated with how many you read, but I mainly take part because I love lists.

When I first joined in on this, back in 2012, it really gave me a push to incorporate more classic fiction into my reading. This and The Classics Club actually changed how I read for the better over the years, so I’m a big fan of taking part in these reading prompts.

Here’s my 2016 list:

  1. A 19th Century Classic: Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome
  2. A 20th Century Classic: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  3. A classic by a woman author: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  4. A classic in translation: Laughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov
  5. A classic by a non-white author: Incomplete
  6. An adventure classic: She by H. Rider Haggard
  7. A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  8. A classic detective novel: Incomplete
  9. A classic which includes the name of a place in the title: Incomplete
  10. A classic which has been banned or censored: Animal Farm by George Orwell
  11. Re-read a classic you read in school (high school or college): Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  12. A volume of classic short stories: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

I read nine of the twelve categories (two entries). Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) and The Grapes of Wrath were my favourites. I feel bad about skipping the non-white author category, as I do want to make an effort to diversify my reading, so I’ll have to make a point to rectify that in the new year.

I’ll be signing up for the 2017 challenge as well, but we’re going on holiday soon, so I don’t know how much I’ll get done before I leave. I probably won’t be posting any new challenges or year wrap-ups until January (when everyone will be nice and sick of reading those).

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes, #3)The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
Published: 1892
Series: Sherlock Holmes #3
Length: 307 pages

I’ve never been a fan of short story collections. I find I can enjoy a single short story, but reading twelve of them in a row is just too much. By the end of the collection, I remember half of it and don’t care about the other half. So when I decided to read this book, the first collection of Sherlock stories, I thought I’d try a different tactic. Instead of reading it straight through in one go, I read one or two stories between each novel I read and jotted down a quick note about the story as soon as I finished. This worked so much better!

I know most of you are like ‘no shit, Sherlock’ (something I keep hoping Watson will eventually come out with – no luck as of yet), but this was a revelation for me. It let the story linger a bit on my mind instead of just being lost in the shuffle of plots, and now I’m looking forward to reading through more short fiction this coming year.

Here’s a list of the stories included in this collection:

  1. A Scandal in Bohemia – The first instance of Irene Adler, the woman to Sherlock Holmes. He’s tasked with retrieving a photo she has in her possession, one that could upset a potential marriage between the King of Bohemia and the daughter of the King of Scandinavia, but she ultimately outwits him. Really a fun story, and I was shocked to read that this is the only time Irene Adler appears in any Sherlock story. She’s always popping up in the film and television adaptations, so I thought she’d be a common character in his short stories.
  2. The Adventure of the Red-Headed League – A pawnbroker was recently accepted into the prestigious Red-Headed League for two months before it mysteriously dissolved with no trace. He comes to Sherlock for help, and we find that there were nefarious intentions behind this bizarre club. I found the premise hilarious and enjoyed seeing a lighter, carefree, side of Sherlock in this.
  3. A Case of Identity – This most ridiculous of the cases so far, skip this if you don’t want it spoiled. A woman’s step-father dresses up in a disguise and pretends to court her to keep her from marrying other men. As long as she lives at home, he has access to the interest from the bonds her rich uncle left her, so he put on a funny voice and some silly glasses, had her fall in love with him, and then broke her heart. He begins this story by explaining to Watson that life is stranger than fiction, so this is maybe a particularly wacky story to try to highlight that fact.
  4. The Boscombe Valley Mystery – This was one of the more straight-forward Sherlock stories I’ve read. A man has been killed in the country and Sherlock doesn’t believe the person in custody is the perpetrator. Our first encounter with Inspector Lestrade in this collection, and it was fun to see an irritated Sherlock get snarky with him.
  5. The Five Orange Pips – A man’s grandfather and father were both murdered days after receiving five orange pips in the mail, so he seeks out the help of Sherlock after receiving them himself. This one felt like it warranted a longer version. At one point Sherlock was angry and on a mission of vengeance, and it was evident that those guilty men were going down. That was a fun side of Sherlock to see.
  6. The Man with the Twisted Lip– A man goes missing, and it’s discovered that he’s not who his family thought he was. Full of action and intrigue in the night, and the man’s story was quite interesting.
  7. The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle– A stolen gem is discovered in an unlikely location and Sherlock lays a trap to find the culprit. In this, Sherlock reasons that the guilty man must be intelligent due to the size of his massive head, which was one of the first investigative ideas that he’s used that felt really dated.
  8. The Adventure of the Speckled Band – This is the only Sherlock short story that I remember from university. It’s a great one with high stakes, and we get to see Sherlock show off his macho side a bit, bending steel poker with his bare hands. Brawn and brains, the whole package.
  9. The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb– This was a particularly creepy one. An Engineer, after losing a thumb and having Watson patch him up, tells them the story of how he lost it. A creepy mansion in the night, and the earliest instance I’ve seen of the classic cinematic scene in which a rock ceiling slowly lowers to crush those trapped inside the room.
  10. The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor– This was probably my least favourite of the bunch. An American bride goes missing after her wedding ceremony to an upper class English man, and Sherlock is asked to find her. There was a lot of setup for a lacklustre explanation.
  11. The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet– A jewel goes missing again, and Sherlock is tasked with finding it. He also has doubts that the man in custody is really guilty. This one was fun, lots of family intrigue and good old-fashioned investigation. We get to follow some footprints in this.
  12. The Adventure of the Copper Beeches– A very creepy story about a woman hired as a governess. She’s offered much more money than most other governesses and is asked to cut her hair in a specific manner and wear someone else’s clothing. She’s worried that something is wrong, so she asked Sherlock to help her investigate. She’s a great character herself actually, taking initiative in her own investigations. There’s also an angry Mastiff, not quite as fearsome as the Hound of the Baskervilles, and Watson uses the phrase ‘blew his brains out’, which seemed weirdly out of place to me.

This was a great collection. Moriarty hasn’t arrived yet, but a few other known characters have made minor appearances, and it was a great mix of creepy and exciting stories. I almost think the short stories work better than the full length novels, but I really enjoy both.

Laughter in the Dark

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Laughter in the DarkLaughter in the Dark by Vladimir Nabokov
Published: 1932
Translated By: Vladimir Nabokov (from Russian in 1938)
Length: 292 pages

This was written twenty-three years before Lolita and also deals with a relationship between an older man and a younger woman. These are the only two Nabokov novels I’ve read so far, so I’m hoping he does branch out a bit in his other novels, but this was still a much different story than what happened between Humbert Humbert and Dolores.

Where Humbert is a calculated predator, Albert Albinus, this story’s older man, is a fumbling and naive fool. He’s a well-off art critic living in Berlin who meets Margot, a seventeen-year-old girl, and becomes obsessed with her. He meets with her on a few occasions and eventually – ‘seduces’ is not the right word here – convinces her to have an affair with him. She is in control from the very beginning, manipulating him every step of the way to get what she wants while slowly dismantling his life. We watch as this relationship progresses and becomes shockingly toxic.

All of the characters are completely unlikable in this. Albinus is truly pathetic and Margot is just a vile human being from the very beginning of the story, to the point where it was difficult to imagine what Albinus saw in her, although she does get some sympathy being the target of a man too old for her. I don’t need characters to be likable, but it’s nice to know what others see in them. Yes, she’s (too) young and beautiful, but even the most beautiful people will become unattractive to you over time if they’re shallow and unbearable. It’s really Nabokov’s writing, though noticeably less polished than Lolita, that pulls you through the middle of this novel.

Laughter in the Dark really shines in its last third, where it becomes delightfully demented. I was not expecting the story to go the way that it did, and it was a lot of fun. It almost felt like a pulpy movie, ending in an unrealistic situation that still managed to be horrific and entertaining to read.

This was first translated to English in 1936, but Nabokov is said to have disliked that translation so much that he decided to translate it himself again two years later. I feel like we don’t often get the chance to read a translation done by the original author, so it’s a bit of a rare treat. It looks like the rest of his Russian novels were translated either by him or his son.

A certain man once lost a diamond cuff-link in the wide blue sea, and twenty years later, on the exact day, a Friday apparently, he was eating a large fish – but there was no diamond inside. That’s what I like about coincidence.

I’m looking forward to reading more of his novels and curious to see what other subjects he tackles in those stories.