K is for Kafkaesque

One of King's excellent
non-fiction books. I
discuss King more below.
Starting, of course, with Kafka, Franz who is just weird. Okay, that's not a terribly objective literary assessment, but Franz Kafka is the perfect example of a "required" author whose required status seems to be as much about his way of writing as about the writing's content. This "K" list is rather full of that sort of thing.

On the other hand, Kaye, M.M. is a rather refreshing example of pure plot--she wrote a variety of suspense-in-exotic-locales books. Mary Stewart did the same thing better, but M.M. Kaye is a dependable writer. A very few of these types of books go a long way with me: when it comes to "thrillers," I prefer the old-fashioned murder mystery to the suspense novel--investigations versus chases. (Even amongst Christie's books, I prefer her bodies in libraries to her spies chasing each other across continents.)

Kemelman, Harry also delivered old-fashioned mysteries. I have an odd relationship with Kemelman's The Rabbi books. I've read a number and liked them. However, after awhile, I began to find some of Kemelman's "correct" attitudes a trifle stifling. One of his books includes blistering comments about Hasidic Jews (written from the perspective of a Conservative Jew). It is possible that Kemelman was referring to a specific Hasidic sect, but in the process of criticizing this sect, he produced some uncomfortably negative criticisms of mysticism for no other reason, as far as this non-Jew could tell, than that it is mysticism. I'm not a mystic myself, but I consider it an interesting factor in religious faith. I could never see his books the same way after that. 

With Kerouac, Jack, it's Kafkaesque time again! Actually, I rather appreciate a few of Kerouac's pieces, including his "Home at Christmas":
Doors slam, buses ball by, cars race motors in drifts sending blue exhaust in the blue purity—Keen. The same star shudders exploding on the roof of the church where candles flicker—There go the old ladies of the parish to their evening vespers, bundled in black coats, white faced, gray brushed-back hair, their poor little fragile hands hidden in muffs of indoor prayer ... Little narrow Sarah Avenue hasn't got a window that's not red or green or blue, not one sidewalk unmusical with shovels—That night in bed I can still see the great bulging star white as ice beating in the dark field of heaven among the lesser glittering arrays, I can see its reflection in an icicle that depends from an eave above my window, I can hear my winter apple tree cracking black limbs in frost, see the Milky Way all far and cold and cragdeep in Time—My sleep is deep in New England wintertime night.
His writing is more like poetry than straight exposition and dialog. It has its own beauty. However, a little bit goes a very long way.

Keyes, Daniel is just depressing. Yup, he wrote that other "required" book, Flowers for Algernon. Why do high school teachers assign this book? It's the kind of book that makes you want to go read Colleen McCullough's Tim as quickly as possible, and she's not that good a writer.

King, Laurie delivers mysteries! I have read about five of her Sherlock Holmes books, which start with The Beekeeper's Apprentice. I like them okay, but I dislike the way she portrays Watson: a good-hearted, even saintly, man who is, nevertheless, dumb and clueless. After Jeremy Brett's Sherlock's Watsons (David Burke and Edward Hardwicke) and Martin Freeman's Watson, it's hard to see how anyone who really loves the Sherlock Holmes stories can reduce Watson in this way.

King, Stephen: I have to tell my story about Stephen King. When I was preparing to move to Maine, friends in Washington State (who seemed to think I was moving to Canada) said two things to me: "Are you going to see a moose?" "Are you going to see Stephen King?"

Well, I moved here in 1996. I've seen Stephen King (thanks to Mike)! I haven't seen a moose.

I'm not a huge fan of horror, so I haven't read much Stephen King. What I have read, I've admired, but in all honesty, I prefer his non-fiction to his fiction. I think On Writing is one of the best books about writing ever written. And I use his essay "Why Horror?" in several of my classes.

Kinsella, W.P. wrote Shoeless Joe on which the movie Field of Dreams is based. I like the movie better.

Illustration from Stalky & Co.
Kipling, Rudyard, a fantastically good wirter, is the author of one of my favorite books Stalky & Co. He also wrote Kim, which I discuss here. He produced non-saccharine stories about boys at a time when books about young people were about to become rather incredibly saccharine. Stalky and Kim are precursors not to the moral young lads of numerous moralistic tales in the early 1900s but to smart, clever Greg Heffleys and Anastasia Krupniks.

Kleypas, Lisa is a writer of steamy* romance. She's one of the best out there, not just because she writes well, but because her books are generally well-plotted and imaginative. She has a few bad ones here and there, but her quality remains consistently high. This is not always true for writers of genre fiction who must produce constantly. Kleypas recently finished a contemporary romance series and appears to be taking a break. I admire her for this. Unlike some of her peers, she seems to like writing romance (rather than merely writing it to pay the bills/move on to something else), and I think she wants to keep her writing standards high. Good for her!

Knowles, John: And we're back in Kafkaesque territory with the most depressing "required" book of all times. Seriously. It makes Ethan Frome look like a jolly ride. A Separate Peace is just  . . . ewrrrwwwwr. Blech.

Krauss, Nicole: The book club I belong to read The History of Love at my mom's suggestion. I don't remember it, but I do remember that I liked it! (I'm getting old enough to not remember plots anymore--which means I can reread books and still be surprised!).

*I keep playing around with terms to distinguish "G" rated romances from "R" rated romances. "Erotica" is used more often but in general refers to New York Times-type sadomasochistic romances, not paperback grocery story romances. Librarians use the designation "love stories" since "romance" actually, technically, refers to a variety of medieval literature. "Harlequin" was the common term for years, but no longer works since (1) paperback romances have branched away from Harlequins in the last twenty years; (2) Harlequin is often, still, a derogatory term that refers to bad plots and bad writing. "Steamy" appears to be the acceptable terminology. So, M.M. Kaye is "mild" (maybe "spicy"--I don't really remember; Mary Stewart is "mild") and Kleypas is "steamy." Just so nobody is misled!

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