The Comedians by Graham Greene

I stole this book from the Peace Corps headquarters in Azerbaijan.

But who hasn’t? I recently made another trip overseas to see Kiersten, and one day we stopped by the PC headquarters in Baku. While its provisions are by no means extravagant, the HQ keeps a supply of donated clothing, equipment, and of course, books, for the volunteers take as they please. I’m not a volunteer, but when I see a Graham Greene novel on a shelf, my psychological condition compels me to grab it and attempt to justify to all witnesses my keeping it.

The fedora roof was a little-known hallmark of postmodernist architecture.

“Just take it,” said a nearby volunteer.

“Really?” I said. “But this stuff is for you guys. I’m not supposed to–”

“Please. Just take it.”

I like to think her insistence was based on the idea they have too many books already, and not a loathing for Greene. Either way, it’s mine, and it accompanied me on a sad plane trip back home.

In case you’ve never read Greene, he was one of the premier espionage novel writers of the 20th century. He had the uncanny knack for being in a country just before it would erupt in a civil war or revolution (granted, this was the 50s and 60s, so it was hard not to be in one). Perhaps the most famous example of these is The Quiet American, a prophetic indictment of American involvement in Vietnam.

The Comedians is drawn from his experience in Haiti during “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s reign of terror. The main character, who identifies himself as “Brown,” is an ex-pat who owns a hotel that stands empty (an everpresent, machete-wielding secret police isn’t conducive to a country’s tourism). He has been ruined by the Papa Doc regime but seems resigned to accept its atrocities as a bystander. But two other parties come to Haiti: The Smiths, American progressives who aspire to promote vegetarianism foreign countries, and “Major” Jones. Jones is an shady but affable chap who uses oddly archaic British terms and is doubtful to have ever been a Major at all. When Brown presses Jones for the reason he’s in Haiti, Jones coyly insists it’s for business.

Jones may be a grifter, a spy, or something similar, but whatever it is he’s terrible at it. “The Major” runs afoul of the dictator, and Brown reluctantly comes to his aid. This eventually threatens Brown’s relationship with his mistress–something he’s far more protective of than his decaying hotel and will go to desperate ends to preserve.

The Greene Plot Machine

Another arrogant, unhappy adulterer who is in a position to have his likable friend/rival killed. The Comedians is formula Graham Greene: this is The Quiet American, Haiti Edition. A bad book? No. But a duplicated plot cheapens both novels for me.

Also reappearing is Greene’s attack on US Cold War foreign policy, particularly America’s regrettable tradition of propping up tyrants based on their promise to kill Communists (and they never stopped at just Communists). He can be depended upon to refrain from preachiness, though, in his political message. He lets the heinousness of the Tonton Macoutes secret police speak for itself, and many of the incidents described in The Comedians are ones he’d actually witnessed–including the police interrupting a dissenter’s funeral to hijack the body.

If you’ve read The Quiet American, this is skippable, but the Haitian history is worth knowing. You might honestly choose to read one novel or the other based on the nation of interest. The Comedians an historically significant work, though, and was personally condemned by Papa Doc Duvalier, himself. But screw him. It’s chilling to read this knowing that Haiti’s tragedies would not cease even with the death of the dictator; his similarly vicious son would rule until 1986, and the 2010 earthquake would kill hundreds of thousands. (I found a Post-It in the back of my copy addressed to a Peace Corps volunteer from a fellow PCV recommending this book based on its perceived timeliness)

Reading this, though, I’m reminded that I want a Graham Greene for this era. Who is he/she, and where is this writer right now, blending morally complicated literary fiction with urgent foreign journalism?

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Ripley Under Ground by Patricia Highsmith

Sometimes you read a sequel and find yourself half-incredulous of where you find the protagonist when the curtain rises. Granted, I wasn’t surprised that Tom Ripley, the sociopathic forger/imitator/high-class fraudster who got away with a couple murders in Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, was living the good life in the French countryside and enjoying some steady income from a few rackets. What threw me was his being married, for one, and also his now having co-conspirators.

And the award for murkiest jacket design goes to...

This is the guy who spent months on his own European Grand Tour after murdering his acquaintance and assuming the victim’s identity. Part of the intensity of the first Ripley novel was that 25-year-old Tom was so utterly alone. He was the killer Raskolnikov was trying to be– nearly unflappable in his scheme to hide his crimes and faintly misanthropic to the end.

Now he has a practical Ocean’s Eleven of Idiots.

Tom is orchestrating a great art scandal: the famous painter Derwatt, once thought dead from suicide, is alive and producing pieces that continue to sell for the highest sums. In reality, Derwatt is dead, and Tom has another painter, Bernard Tufts, forging his former mentor’s work. The only other individuals in on the con are the two boobs who run the gallery and the man who oversees the Derwatt art school/supply arm of the operation.

Donning a fake beard, Ripley is called upon to assume the role of Derwatt in public (we’re going off the assumption that growing a beard would make you unrecognizable), because along comes an American collector who is convinced the new Derwatt paintings are fakes. The facade doesn’t hold up, and Ripley is interestingly more pissed that the American sees through his Derwatt performance than the forged paintings. Well, one wine bottle to the head later, Tom’s killed somebody.

Perhaps Tom has changed enough in the last five years that he can tolerate the meddling and dependence of a wife and some partners-in-crime, but even allowing that, Ripley Under Ground becomes a slightly different book from what I wanted. The crime caper of this sequel may not be as fun and inventive as the first novel’s, for reasons aforementioned, but there’s still some fascinating stuff going on.

Digging Himself Deeper

The forger Bernard is the hapless pawn in all this, which doesn’t go unappreciated by Tom: being himself a forger of identities, Tom sympathizes with the painter who must commit his artistry to being something other than himself. At one point Tom argues that the forger must be more skilled than the original artist; great art comes naturally to the artist, but the imitator must sweat and toil harder to produce the convincing fake.

What kind of painter would Bernard be if he didn’t have to be Derwatt? What kind of man would Tom be if he could live an honest life? Could he?

“Tom could have wept for Bernard… Bernard was as miserable as someone, who was not an actor, trying to act on a stage and hating every minute of it.”

Bernard is more like…us, and he cannot handle the identity crisis inherent in spending several years being someone else. Not only is Tom trying to keep the Derwatt operation from being exposed, he’s trying to keep his Talented Mr. Tufts from snapping and confessing everything to the authorities.

The Tom-Bernard interaction is a fascinating one, and it becomes darkly amusing when Tom cooly demands the neurotic artist to help him exhume a body and lie to the cops. But they are two false halves of the same dead artist, each with authentic skill that begs reevaluation of creations we dismiss as “fakes.”

The book’s events are far more morbid but somehow less disturbing: Highsmith is playing Ripley’s callousness for laughs now, having him literally rise from the grave to go take a bath and fix himself a sandwich. This robs the story of the gravity it otherwise deserves. People have toyed with the idea of canonizing Highsmith not only as one of the 20th century’s crime novel greats, but the American literary fiction greats. If she wanted to, she probably could have been. But in this second Ripley book I felt her shying a bit from the dark, personal cellar that made The Talented Mr. Ripley impossible to confine to a genre.

House of Holes by Nicholson Baker

Listen, if you buy this book, take the dust jacket off and throw it away. Because if you glance at the author’s head shot from time to time like I tend to do, that will cause problems with House of Holes. You don’t want to finish a story about a woman pleasuring herself on a penis tree and then be reminded it was written by Burl Ives.

If you stare at the hole long enough, then everything around it starts to move and... oh, never mind.

Nicholson Baker is no stranger to erotic fiction (Vox, The Fermata), and in the publishing world, his is qualified as literary. More on that later. He took a break from that with a nonfiction book on WWII and then tribute to poetry called The Anthologist, which I went sort of apeshit over. With House of Holes he returns to what I guess his calling always was as a writer.

The titular House of Holes is an eccentric compound where visitors are indulged in even their most ridiculous fantasies, especially some they didn’t know they had, ranging from sex with a headless person (for those who fear being judged by their partner) to crotchal transfers, where volunteers have their genitals exchanged with another’s and basically go from there. And then there’s a cinema multiplex known as the Porndecahedron. It’s fun. The whole book carries the tone of that scene in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” when Sir Galahad stumbles into Castle Anthrax.

People usually find this place by being sucked down some random “Being John Malkovich” portal that happens to be a tumble dryer or even a hole punched in a business card.  A complete stranger might ask a character if she may de-pants him and watch him manhandle himself, or something to that effect, and the guy invariably says, “Okay.” Everyone has few, if any, reservations toward the bizarre sexual opportunities presented to them and the effect is hilarious. Would you like to go pussysurfing? Sure, why not? There’s little to fear in the world of House of Holes beyond a clitoris-stealing madwoman known as “The Pearloiner.”

Ironically, No Climax

It’s filthy without ever being nasty. Unless you like nasty. Do you like nasty? Do you? Well… maybe you should read a different book or something. This is like a silly, faintly sentimental version of Letters to Penthouse. So don’t expect any kind of character development or plot trajectory across the stories. It is what it says it is– “a Book of Raunch”– just one smutty tale after another, but still, part of my giddiness waned as this became more apparent. While there are some interesting things going on here, like the old question of whether sex can engender love as opposed to vice versa, it probably has more value as a collection of some pretty stupendous dirty talk. You’re likely to find more substance in a Christopher Moore novel and with almost as many impressive moves on the prose dancefloor. This doesn’t make House of Holes a bad book, but any “literary” designation is wishful thinking on the part of highbrow readers who in reality just like the sexy, funny stuff here.

This was enjoyable, but if I ever get the opportunity to attend a book signing where Baker himself reads from it, I’ll pass.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

This book feels very Austenian at first: how a family makes money is much less topical than how it keeps it via strategic ball-going and strategic marrying. But the point where this novel ceases being Austenian is where it starts becoming good.

"How vulgar: they do not clothe their cherubs."

Let me get something straight. The Strategic Ball-going Society can be the setting of a story I thoroughly enjoy, but I need the protagonists to hate it. I need them to hate it like Winston and Julia hated Oceania. It’s not a question of solidarity with the characters — it simply guarantees something consequential will happen in this stupid, soul crushing place. Rock this boat, somebody. You’re limited to drawing room gossip sessions about the Miltons and the Granbys and the Skillingbrokes while you plan your luncheons: do something more worthy of contemplation than marry each other after pursuing the wrong people for 350 pages.

But The Age of Innocence is not what its opening suggests. Edith Wharton does a head fake toward Austen and then makes a fast cut toward Thomas Hardy, and what you eventually find is a pair of lovers struggling to liberate each other from their societal Purgatory.

New York in the 1870s is a very small place if you’re rich. It marks the twilight years of “Society” (the kind you capitalize) — where high-standing families intermarry and reputations are made or broken depending on who invites you to dinner. The Age of Innocence is about a period in America where the old money tradition is about to marginalized by people who can actually get rich, too, by doing something. The American Dream had antagonists, and these established aristocrats are them, perched on high and digging their talons in harder than ever.

Newland Archer is the grown-up golden boy who is discovering, albeit slowly, that he wants more than the staid tradition of the same dinners, the same operas, the same smoking room conversations with the same intellectually unambitious people. And he’s discovering this too late: he is betrothed to May Welland, pixie-like Stepford wife extraordinaire. May’s cousin, Ellen, has returned disgraced from Europe after fleeing a marriage gone sour. Taking pity on her (and to avoid marrying into a tainted family), Newland helps Ellen recover her reputation and legally counsels her not to divorce her overseas husband.

And expectedly, he becomes drawn to her. She’s a candid free spirit who lives alone among the Bohemians and is a natural coquette. Newland can barely bring himself to acknowledge it when it’s happening, but his attachment to “Madame Olenska” is growing much stronger than is… appropriate.

Pangs of New York

Wharton’s discreet prose kept me leaning into the book: character reactions are subtle but telling, and notorious affairs are hush-hush but there. The most memorable scenes for me were the dark, intense fireside encounters between Ellen and Newland and Newland’s wedding day, where you reach the distinct, terrifying conclusion that he isn’t just marrying May– he’s marrying everybody in the social circle.

Speaking of the social circle, it is indeed populated with vivid characters who are mostly loathsome except the titanic Mrs. Manson Mingott, where Wharton dispenses all her best fat jokes (“…the immense accretion of flesh which had descended on her in middle life [was] like a flood of lava on a doomed city…”)

Granted, when the plot enters the latter half of the book, the record starts to skip.

Ellen: Here we are in a secret place. I’m thinking of going back to my husband.

Archer: No! No! No! No! No!

Ellen: Then, will you leave May?

Archer: No.

[Repeat]

Obviously the conflict is between Newland’s desire for Ellen and his obligation to family and tradition, and there’s enough tension here to keep you guessing if this putz will actually take the plunge… even if nothing happens for a while. But how much does he actually love Ellen as a person as opposed to a promise of lust and freedom? By that same token, since May is merely a smiling android, you get the impression that the person definitely doesn’t hold the appeal for him, either, but rather the promise of a secure lifestyle.

The book’s uncompromising ending is a thing to admire, and sealed it for me that when I closed The Age of Innocence I closed a great (though sometimes irksome) book. And one better catering to my cynicism than I expected, which should get me excited for Wharton’s more famous Ethan Frome. I hear that one ends quite nasty.

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

People want Nick Hornby to be a better author than he really is. As far as I’ve read/heard from fellow readers, he’s an unfailingly likable voice whose novels still tend turn out meh. Granted, these are other people’s opinions and not mine, a fact I’m slightly ashamed of since Hornby’s the kind of guy I should have already delved into ages ago. (In a way I have: in his regular column at The Believer, he was the nicest devil-may-care book critic I’ve ever read.)

Utterly fails to deliver on engrossing promise of its title.

Whether it’s his best known books adapted to film (High Fidelity, About a Boy, and Fever Pitch) or his other screenplay work (An Education), Hornby’s exposure is more cinematic than literary. His primary gig is the Messy Romantic Dramedy, and if I may weigh in after reading Juliet, Naked, I’d say he’s damn good at it.

Annie is finally breaking up with Duncan, the obsessed webmaster of a site dedicated to 80’s folk rocker Tucker Crowe. Tucker Crowe produced a landmark breakup album in 1986 that is still dissected daily by a handful of music snobs, with Duncan being king snob. Annie commits the ultimate betrayal in their relationship by listening to a to-be released demo version of the album (“Juliet Naked”) before Duncan can, and she doubles her transgression by not finding it to be unparalleled genius. Duncan allows her to post her lukewarm review on his site, and soon she is emailed by someone claiming to be Tucker Crowe. The artist, himself, agrees with her that Juliet Naked is lousy (and it later it becomes apparent he only released it for what little money it would pull in.). “The idea,” writes Tucker, “that a person with ears could listen to those two sets of recordings and decide that the shitty, sketchy one is better than the one we sweated blood over is baffling to me.” Thus begins Annie’s correspondence (and schoolgirl crush) with the former cult icon who lives across the pond in America.

Industry Fun Fact: Nick Hornby, Jonathan FranzenJennifer Egan, and other literary novelists apparently colluded last year to write about Washed-Up Musicians as the theme of some sort of workshop contest I was unaware of.

The early stages of this book nagged me. Of course, Hornby must establish that Annie and Duncan are as dynamic as boiled liver, but that doesn’t make reading about them any less dull. The worst part is that their lives, or at least Duncan’s, revolve around a rock album that doesn’t exist, making them less relatable than garden gnomes. It’s difficult to immerse myself in a book that seems to center around a fictitious celebrity, and as in this novel’s case, one that’s supposed to occupy the same dimension as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Leonard Cohen, and I was expecting that no amount of authenticating detail was going to make Tucker Crowe seem like a real person.

Until, of course, I met Tucker Crowe the person. Somehow that sold the illusion. Seeing the musician’s fall from grace and his campaign of redemption through his six-year-old son led me not only to accept that his legendary album “Juliet” was real, but I wanted it to be real.

Juliet, Naked is quite fine as a romantic novel, but it’s also pointed study of the relationship between artists and their work, as well as artists and their “experts.” The tendency of a fan to over-analyze of a piece of work (as Duncan realizes, “Maybe he’d spent too long translating something that had been in English all along”) and its artist to despise said work just rings true through these characters. The ironies are fun– especially watching Duncan react to his ex dating his musical idol– without one iota of meanness. Because Hornby’s a nice guy, you know.

In terms of plotting a relationship, Hornby will trade cleanliness for awkwardness at every turn. I dig this commitment to authenticity, that Annie and Tucker are tentative and wobbly with each other, but it makes the whole plot seem tentative and wobbly. A less “authentic” romance plot has more clear-cut direction– here they grow closer, grow apart, then closer again, etc.– that’s honestly more gripping fiction albeit a less accurate depiction of how relationships actually progress. That being said, Juliet, Naked’s ending, especially, could have benefitted from a little less ambiguity. To wrap things up more tidy-like, you know, with a nice snog.

What?

A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

I kind of liked Christopher Moore after reading Fool, but that’s saying I kind of liked pizza after eating a Totino’s. Fool’s not a good book, but it was my first exposure to a damn good, damn funny comic novelist, so what it gained for me in novelty was immediately lost in retrospect when I found something better. Better being A Dirty Job, which, if you ask someone their favorite Moore novel and they don’t say Lamb, they usually name this one.

Sell-out Fun Fact: I feel sorry for long-time fans of this author considering the new direction he’s taking. Moore appears to be embracing a completely different fan base: the readers who like his lousy vampire series. Seriously: Fucksox?

It glows in the dark! The cover glows in the dark!

Charlie Asher, a San Francisco thrift store owner, thinks he’s Death. Or something close to it; ever since his wife died after giving birth to their baby Sophie, it seems random people around him are biting the dust, starting with a guy getting “creamed” by the number forty-one bus. He later learns via a mysterious gift called The Great Big Book of Death, he is what is known as a Death Merchant. When someone dies, his/her soul inhabits an object, like a CD or piece of jewelry, that was very dear to him/her in life. This object then needs to end up in the hands of its next owner who will then receive the soul. Death Merchants are the middlemen in this cycle, collecting the soul objects and keeping them safe until the buyer comes and unknowingly inherits the soul. Death Merchants can be anybody, including, say, a seven-foot-tall black man in a pastel green suit named Minty Fresh.

Charlie eventually accepts his new role, strolling the streets of San Francisco wearing dapper suits and carrying a sword cane, being exactly the kind of Death Merchant I would like to be. But under the streets lurk demons who seek to acquire the souls, which would give them the power to manifest above ground and sweep the world into darkness. And Sophie can apparently kill something by pointing at it and saying “Kitty.” Trouble is brewing.

What surprised me most about A Dirty Job wasn’t that it was heartfelt, but that the heartfelt sequences actually worked. Moore never seems satisfied just writing a silly book, and for better or worse he tries to construct touching moments within his batshit hurricane. I’ve wondered if there’s a serious literary novelist in Moore trying to get out, and only after reading A Dirty Job do I think there is. But this is a book that’s rooted in loss and grieving, not just regarding the deaths of those around Charlie, but Charlie of course, who is himself a widower struggling to let go of Rachel while his life goes bananas. To even attempt sincere sentimentality in the same book that has Frankenstein animals scurrying around in period costumes is… audacious. But Moore earns it.

I don’t have many complaints with this book besides it being a tad overlong, and that the soul object rules, which are supposedly Buddhist-based, aren’t terribly coherent. This dampens the tension as the story goes on: the demons are steadily gaining strength, but nobody ever knows what’s going wrong or who’s dropping the ball. The novel spends significant time hashing out rules that by and large don’t seem to matter.

Great Moore Lines With No Context Whatsoever

  • “Mrs. Ling couldn’t help but do a quick appraisal of the monetary value of the slippery red dogwoods currently pummeling her landlord’s oxford-cloth shirt like piston-driven leviathan lipsticks.”
  • “The image of a well-dressed older woman macking on a goopish spoonful of artificial boob spooge was running across the lobes of his brain like a stuttering nightmare.”
  • “He checked the toast, not trusting the pop-up mechanism because the toaster people sometimes just liked to fuck with you.”

If you’re looking for a “funny” novel, I can’t point you to a better place. It’s packed with a smorgasbord of likable characters (the San Francisco setting enables Moore to believably assemble an absurdly diverse cast), and the jokes are consistently great.

Even the parts that “aren’t funny” are so thoughtfully written, you could imagine them in a decent literary novel about mourning. Yet these can be followed by a scene where the main character gets humped by two 400-pound hellhounds named Alvin and Mohammed, and it’s still okay.

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

In most people’s idea of fantasy, you practically run into elves at the post office. Oh, yeah, that’s a dragon over there. We’re up to the eyeballs with the bloody things– they’re like pigeons nowadays.

Because I'm not getting the HBO tie-in cover. Even if it means buying one with some generic sword on it.

But George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series establishes a world that’s historically recognizable yet with the potential for the fantastical. A few surrealities are apparent early on, like the walking dead and the summers and winters that last for years. But the bulk of the story is grounded dirt-deep in bloody, petty, gritty politics, so to see a dragon here would be an actual “holy shit” moment.

In this sense, I feel like A Game of Thrones is the start of maybe the perfect fantasy series for me to read. Many friends of mine have figured as much, but also recommended it to me based on the idea it’s really freakin’ good.

And yes, it is. Where do I sign up for the club, and how much are dues?

(Is the HBO series faithful to the books? If I had HBO and saw more than the pilot episode, I could tell you more from experience. As far as I know, the TV adaptation’s most drastic deviation from the books is dropping the “A” in the title.)

(Spoilerish Fun Fact: I wonder how many fans of the show are pissed that Sean Bean’s presence in the series has just been… truncated.)

The story centers around House Stark of Winterfell, a castle that guards the frosty northern fringe of the Seven Kingdoms. Lord Eddard Stark, who is basically Atticus Finch with a greatsword, is selected by his old friend the King to become his new second-in-command (The Hand of the King). “The King eats, they say, and the Hand takes the shit,” says King Robert Baratheon with a laugh. Lord Stark reluctantly agrees to leave his icy outpost and take half his family to King’s Landing. The problem is that the position was recently vacated upon the death of the previous Hand of the King, and perhaps by not-so natural causes. And the court of King’s Landing, we find, is a nest of vipers that tests Stark’s moral fortitude.

The chapters alternate their focus among a handful of characters, all of them members of House Stark with a couple exceptions. Daenerys is a thirteen-year-old heiress to an all-but-destroyed dynasty who is wedded into a Mongolian-like army of nomads. You get to watch this waifish ingenue grow into the matriarch of the barbarians.

Whenever I see a Tyrion chapter, I become happy. He is a vertically-challenged heir to House Lannister, which opposes the Starks in the ensuing war, but you never quite know where his allegiances lie. Lacking any physical potency in this brutal world, Tyrion survives by his cunning, and he gets all the best lines as this story’s Falstaff. (When Tyrion is arrested at an inn, the innkeeper shouts to the captors, “Don’t kill him here!” and Tyrion shouts, “Don’t kill him anywhere!”)

The perspective shifting is about the only way I can picture writing this story: it allows Martin to dig into the intense intimacy of the characters while maintaining the grand sweep of the narrative, as these characters are strewn about two continents as a war begins to tear them apart.

Winter is Coming

Martin cultivates the sense of dread that, while you don’t know exactly how or when, disaster is coming and on many fronts. Example: for 8,000 years a 700-hundred-foot-high wall spanning an isthmus stands to protect the known world from… from what? What’s on the other side of that wall? Very bad things, given the Prologue that opens the book like a medieval horror tale. This is just one of maybe seventeen powder kegs set afuse in AGoT, and you can hear them hissing through almost every chapter.

I think Martin writes very well if lacking editorial oversight. He belabors the obvious as if it’s been months since you read the last couple chapters, and he has the unfortunate knack for singling out the stupidest phrase a character utters and assigning it as their motto to be repeated until you reach for a claw hammer to pry your eyes out. And when it comes to Tyrion being a dwarf, Jon being a bastard, or Varys being a eunuch, Martin beats a dead horse like Taylor Hawkins wailing out a drum solo. Thumpa-thumpa-thumpa-he’s-a-bastard-bastard-bastard-thumpa-thumpa-thumpity-kisssh!

I counted six instances where characters actually said the phrase “game of thrones,” and that shit is unacceptable. The next book had better not subject me to Robb saying, “This next battle will truly be A CLASH OF KINGS!” or  Catelyn complaining, “These men are never satisfied until they’ve had A CLASH OF KINGS!”

And I will read the next book. I don’t usually do that– on the account that life is too short and packed with too many wonderful authors to continue down a single vein for very long. But this series is something else. You don’t have be a fan of the genre to enjoy it (the success of the HBO series is no surprise). I imagine you can be the avid reader of this fantasy series without necessarily jeopardizing your sex life. That it happens to be great makes it all the more special.