The first in a sort of spin-off series from the Outlander books, which I have not read. Or rather, I started reading Outlander but stopped after abouThe first in a sort of spin-off series from the Outlander books, which I have not read. Or rather, I started reading Outlander but stopped after about 100 pages because I just couldn’t get into it. I had a similar problem here. This is historical fiction, set in mid-18th Century England. (A period I was pretty appalled to realize I have rather limited knowledge of; limited, I mean, to Tom Jones—and not even the book, the movie!) Lord John Grey is a fairly interesting character: he’s gay, the first man he loved died tragically, and the second is in another country and in love with someone else. The plot seems like it could be interesting too: Grey accidentally observes that the man who’s engaged to his young cousin has the pox and must find a way to break off the engagement; there’s also a murder that may or may not be connected. Right away you’ve got promise of trips into London’s underbelly, full of brothels and molly-houses. And yet…I just couldn’t get into it, man! I mean, unlike Outlander, I did manage to finish, but I just never felt engaged, never felt involved. It’s not that it was bad—although the several chapters of infodump toward the end were not my favorite thing ever; in fact, I’m sure lots of you would actually enjoy it quite a lot. I think this may just be one of those things where a certain author’s style just doesn’t work for me. I’ll recognize that something is good or at least competent, but it’s just not for me. Based more on style than on topic, which seems odd, but I guess it can happen. The synapses fail to connect. I can’t get emotionally involved, and thus I can’t really care about what I’m reading....more
This book has one of the least-promising first lines I have ever encountered: “The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.” It sounds like a BulwThis book has one of the least-promising first lines I have ever encountered: “The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.” It sounds like a Bulwer-Lytton entry; even more so when you add the second sentence, which attempts to elaborate on the first. (“Of course, Tally thought, you'd have to feed your cat only salmon-flavored cat food for a while, to get the pinks right.”) BUT, this series had been recommended to me, so I pressed on. I’m so glad I did. This is a fantastic bit of post-apocalyptic, dystopian, teen sci-fi. Tally lives in a world where scientists have figured out a way to eliminate ugliness: everyone is made pretty on their 16th birthday. Of course, prettiness comes with a price, and while yes, it is exactly what you’d think if you’ve seen a single episode of The Twilight Zone or have half a brain, that doesn’t matter. There are plenty of other surprises, and Tally is a really interesting, flawed character. There are also great questy bits, which is something that I love—the epic journey—and a surprisingly convincing romance. (Bonus: Teh Boy is named David, and really the only description of him given is that he has a crooked smile. You can guess who I pictured. *eg*) But then you get hit with a cliffhanger! D’oh! ...more
The first 100 pages or so of this book are absolutely fantastic. The Colonial Defense Forces recruit citizens of Earth on their 75th birthdays to fighThe first 100 pages or so of this book are absolutely fantastic. The Colonial Defense Forces recruit citizens of Earth on their 75th birthdays to fight with them against the various alien species threatening the series of colonies Earth needs because of population overflow, war, all the usual ways we’ve fucked up the planet. Senior citizens sign up because the CDF promises to make them young again—if they sign a contract to serve for ten years. And most of them will probably get gruesomely killed in that time. But at least they won’t die old, right?
All of this stuff is fascinating. I loved the set up, the procedure and world-building involved in John Perry, 75-year-old widower and retired ad writer, joining the army and making friends with his fellow recruits and going through pre-procedure tests and through the actual procedure (which I won’t spoil) and the boot camp stuff that comes after. Scalzi describes the actual battles which follow with no less intensity, but once John starts fighting, the sense of who he is really gets lost. (I was actually waiting for that to be revealed to be part of the point, but it wasn’t.) John just becomes A Soldier, almost instantly. Besides his sense of loyalty and his lingering feelings about his dead wife, there’s very little left to connect him to who he used to be. It’s mentioned several times that John and his wife protested the big war on Earth, but John seems almost entirely unconcerned with the unquestioning massacre of various alien species. I must admit, it started to make me a liiiiiitle uncomfortable. Scalzi has said that his inspiration for this book was Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, and this book, I think, faces a lot of the same problems I’ve heard are inherent in that one. (I haven’t actually read it, so if I’m way off base, please tell me.) Both, I believe, walk the line between criticizing war and glorifying it, and so whatever message results is kind of muddled. I got the most enjoyment out of Old Man’s War when I, well, just tried not to think about it too much. Not an attitude I usually endorse, but there you go. Still, the underlying sci-fi concepts in this book—the stuff about identity—are really interesting; I am anxious to get my hands on the sequel, even if it means I’ll have to turn off my brain for a while. Or at least the hard-working liberal guilt section....more
This book was incredibly frustrating. I stumbled across it at the library and picked it up because I’d heard that it’s being made into a movie starrinThis book was incredibly frustrating. I stumbled across it at the library and picked it up because I’d heard that it’s being made into a movie starring John Cusack. I was also somewhat intrigued by the premise, which is based on the author’s own life: a single, gay sci-fi writer decides he wants to adopt a kid, but the boy he becomes committed to is very troubled and thinks he (the boy) is a Martian. My main worry going in was that it was going to be too saccharine (favorable comparisons to Tuesdays with Morrie on the front cover are actually more likely to deter me than make me read something); it mostly wasn’t. Instead, however, it’s incredibly scattered. The book starts out at a fairly normal pace, but halfway through Gerrold abruptly changes gears and goes from describing how he tried to help his adopted son, Dennis, to adjust, to actually—though self-consciously—thinking that Dennis may really be from Mars. Then that line of thought is abruptly abandoned. Other seemingly major incidents—like a conflict with intolerant neighbors that we’re told resulted in legal action—are glossed over in a paragraph or two, while other (lame) running jokes and frankly irrelevant thoughts on the nature of storytelling are given pages of pages of time. It’s a mess. A well-intended mess, but a mess.
Oddly, I do think this could make a good movie, if whoever’s adapting it gives it some badly-needed structure. Although—guess what?—a quick check of IMDb reveals that in the film, Cusack’s character is suddenly straight. Sigh....more
Sequel to Uglies, as I suppose is semi-obvious. I don’t want to say too much about this book because it would spoil Uglies, which I think a lot of yoSequel to Uglies, as I suppose is semi-obvious. I don’t want to say too much about this book because it would spoil Uglies, which I think a lot of you would enjoy. But, like volume one, this book was incredibly exciting and compelling. It falls a little bit into that sequel trap, repeating some of the aspects of the first book; in fact, there’s something frustratingly cyclical about the narrative. However, it has several thrilling set-pieces that are unique to it, and it introduces some interesting new aspects of the world, as well as some interesting new characters. Westerfeld has moved from the Tally/David romance of the first book to something of a love triangle in this one, and it’s very well done—whatever choice Tally makes, it’ll be the right one and the wrong one, which is just the sort of structural stability a good love triangle needs. (Normally, I would propose “Threesome!” as a solution, but these characters are 16, so that’s a little icky.) But then…cliffhanger again! Dammit. This Westerfeld guy is not to be trusted. ;-)...more
Ho, boy. This is the most depressing, bleakest post-apocalyptic novel I’ve ever read. I know that sounds redundant almost, but it’s really not: most oHo, boy. This is the most depressing, bleakest post-apocalyptic novel I’ve ever read. I know that sounds redundant almost, but it’s really not: most of the other bits of apocalyptic fiction I’ve read contain some kind of hope, some chance that civilization will rebuild, that humanity will continue, that there’s something worth fighting for. This book has cannibals. And no hope, not really—which McCarthy actually deals with really well. The man and his son go on because they go on, they keep surviving for as long as they can and hope that there’s meaning even in that (though there may not be). McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic setting is beautifully described—his prose is incredible, and by itself enough to tempt me to read more of his work. He does the Terry Pratchett thing (yes, I just compared Cormac McCarthy to Terry Pratchett—how awesome is that?) of no chapter breaks, but this story is easily swallowable in one sitting (with a couple of bathroom breaks)—and I suspect it may even be better like that. There’s a wonderful flow to it, almost lulling despite the horror of much of what father and son encounter. It’s like a long, slow slide into that final sleep.
Part of me wanted something more climatic to happen at the end, but I can see a million ways that that wouldn’t have worked, so I’m all right with the conclusion. Anyway, this book is more about the experience as a whole than any one piece of it, I think.
There are a couple of interesting—although mostly irrelevant—things I’d like to mention about McCarthy’s style. I like and understand why he chooses not to use dialogue tags—I’ve done that myself, and think that it makes sense in terms of the narrative here; it preserves the horrible, frightening feeling of quiet. What I don’t get, however, is whatever argument he seems to have with apostrophes. He doesn’t use them in words like “doesnt” or “cant,” but does for things like “he’d.” I don’t understand this as a stylistic choice—I don’t see how it works with anything else at all, or has any effect but to be stubborn and confusing. (Which is obviously why the apostrophe is kept in for “he’d”—because otherwise you’d look at the word and go, “Bwah?” WHICH IS WHY WE USE APOSTROPHES IN THE FIRST PLACE.) I’m all for manipulating language if it has a narrative purpose (I kind of like the conclusion of Ulysses). But I don’t get the sort of Gertrude Steinian theory that we should shorten everything as much as possible. It doesn’t make writing easier to understand; it makes it harder. And kind of ugly. AND, if you don’t respect your friend the apostrophe, you end up with a book full of weird typos (though that may have just been bad copy editing).
However, none of that affected my enjoyment of the book at all. (Well, the grammatical mistakes kind of did, but I don’t want to blame McCarthy for that.) It was creepy and tragic and beautifully written. I’m not sure why this is considered OMG LITERATURE when it’s ground sci-fi has been covering for years, but that’s a whole other “poor abused genre fiction” rant right there. Hi, I’m tangent girl today....more
I’d heard good things about Thomas’ The End of Mr. Y, so when I saw PopCo at the library I thought I’d give it a shot. I’m glad I did, although I foI’d heard good things about Thomas’ The End of Mr. Y, so when I saw PopCo at the library I thought I’d give it a shot. I’m glad I did, although I found a lot about this book unsatisfactory. The story combines two narratives, the first about Alice, an “idea” person for a British toy company, going to a company-sponsored retreat/brainstorming session, and the second about Alice growing up with her cryptoanalyst grandfather and mathematician grandmother. There’s a lot of stuff about code breaking and making, and coolness with prime numbers, and that’s all a lot of fun. Alice’s attempts to fit in with her peers as a teen and how that relates to her obstinate uncoolness in her adult life are also explored in a really interesting way. But the underlying mystery(ies) of the book—who is sending Alice secret messages at the PopCo retreat, and why? Does it have anything to do with the famous code her grandfather claimed to have cracked but never told anyone the solution to?—have sadly dull conclusions, which also involve rather too much preaching about the virtues of vegetarianism. This was still, for the most part, a really engaging read, but the build-up was better than the follow-through....more
Another one I feel very conflicted about. The writing style is fantastic—vivid and engaging. Pessl does two incredible things, one specific to these cAnother one I feel very conflicted about. The writing style is fantastic—vivid and engaging. Pessl does two incredible things, one specific to these characters, with narrator Blue van Meer repeatedly inserting the titles of related works—real and invented—into the descriptions of her life (see Special Topics in Calamity Physics, 2006), and one which I hope is simply inherent in Pessl: constructing elaborate, beautiful similes and metaphors. Pessl really does have a unique way with language, so it’s in some ways even more disappointing that the plot of this novel feels like The Secret HistoryLite (see Donna Tartt, 1992). Still, the book is Pessl’s first—I’m really curious and excited to see what she does next....more
Like Kluger’s Last Days of Summer, this is entirely froth—but it’s cute and funny, and dude, sometimes you need that. This has the additional draw ofLike Kluger’s Last Days of Summer, this is entirely froth—but it’s cute and funny, and dude, sometimes you need that. This has the additional draw of being an all-too-rare gay romance, wherein our couple, Craig and Travis, meet in high school, fall in love, get separated by college, and then try to reunite 20 years later. The characters and situations are all suitably wacky, but Kluger does add a touch of seriousness here and there—Craig is a human rights lawyer who’s thinking of running for office. Further, Craig’s partner of 12 years is incredibly likeable, and Kluger doesn’t take the easy way out by villainizing him so he and Craig can break up and Craig and Travis can rush back into each other’s arms. (Actually, I kind of wanted the opposite to happen—for Travis to get over Craig and find somebody else; possibly Julian the librarian who plays a part early on in the book, and who yes, I kept picturing as Julian Lodge.) The ending is unfortunately a little rushed, with too many events happening “off-screen,” as it were, but hey: published fluffy gay romance! Good for what ails ya!...more
I loved the recent film version of this (which should have gotten WAY more Oscar nominations, dammit!), so of course I had to read the book, which I’dI loved the recent film version of this (which should have gotten WAY more Oscar nominations, dammit!), so of course I had to read the book, which I’d been told was very different. Is it ever! While the basic premise remains the same, many of the events—and pretty much the entire meaning of the novel—were altered for the film. While the movie is LOUD and VIOLENT, the book is quiet and desolate and lonely. The book explores themes of guilt and how men (er, mostly I mean humans here rather than males, although all the examples given in the text are male) abuse power; the film is about governmental abuse of power far more than individual abuse, and about post-apocalyptic violent desperation rather than quiet despair. It’s interesting, in light of the recent debate about the film adaptation of 300; one of the issues raised there is, Can an adaptation contain meanings not present in the original text? Watching Children of Men and then reading the P.D. James novel provides loads of evidence that the answer is yes. The novel was written in 1992 and expresses, along with universal concerns, others which are specific to its time. (After the superficial ‘greed is good’ ‘80s, have men and women stopped knowing how to love each other?) The film, made in 2006, is about things James couldn’t have dreamed of in 1992; it’s definitely an allegory for our time (as the truly frightening visual allusions to Abu Ghraib towards the end of the film make all-too-clear).
Is one better than the other? I felt the film more strongly, possibly because it is so timely. But the book is incredible in its own right, chilling in different but no less effective ways. I’ll be thinking about both for a long, long time....more
A novel about the rise and fall of a Scottish rock bank, told from the perspective of its bass player, Daniel Weir (nickname: Weird). Nothing revelatoA novel about the rise and fall of a Scottish rock bank, told from the perspective of its bass player, Daniel Weir (nickname: Weird). Nothing revelatory, but since, as some of you may know, I’m fascinated by band dynamics and performance personas, there was a lot for me to enjoy in this. Especially since Banks’ opening description of Danny states that he’s tall, with lank, greasy black hair, and a hooked nose—it’s Snape in a band! (Seriously, I could not shake this image for the entire rest of the book.) But oddly, what I think I enjoyed most was the descriptions of Danny (once he’s retired and gone into hiding, pretending to be somebody else) getting drunk and wandering around Glasgow with his buddies. The aimless drunk Scottish banter—that’s what I loved. Perhaps because it seemed the most real?...more
An epistolary novel about a 12-year-old Jewish kid from Brooklyn who becomes best friends with a star baseball player in the early 1940s. This is utteAn epistolary novel about a 12-year-old Jewish kid from Brooklyn who becomes best friends with a star baseball player in the early 1940s. This is utter pap, but…well, okay, I’m embarrassed to admit that I quite liked it. Joey is one of those impossibly clever and erudite 12-year-olds, and the premise is ridiculous—not just the becoming-best-friends-with-a-ballplayer part, but the fact that Joey and Charlie, the New York Giants’ 3rd baseman, also go on to meet President Roosevelt, Humphrey Bogart, etc. Like I said: ridiculous, and there are shades of Forrest Gump that make me gag. Yet…it’s sweet, and very funny, and Charlie is just the type of character I tend to fall for: someone who puts a lot of effort into appearing brash and tough but is a secret softie. And I have to admit that the all-too-inevitable ending made me cry....more
I loved this. I am shocked and delighted by how much I loved this. It’s an original world combined with all the pleasures of a really slashy bit of faI loved this. I am shocked and delighted by how much I loved this. It’s an original world combined with all the pleasures of a really slashy bit of fanfic. There are slavefic and wingfic elements, and demons and destiny, and it all sounds really cheesy, but like really good fic, it transcends these clichés. The relationship between Aleksander and Seyonne is beautifully developed: they begin as master and slave, and we get to see the whole process of Aleksander gaining maturity and compassion, and Seyonne regaining himself. Plus there’s a really thrilling quest-y adventure, and an intensely exciting climactic battle in which…well, it would spoil it to say, but know that I made a very loud squeeing noise. Even without actually being slash, this book is the slasher’s dream come true. I only hope the next two volumes in the trilogy are half as good....more
A beautiful and thought-provoking but very difficult read. Haslett’s short stories share themes of mental illness, suicide, alienation and grief—boy,A beautiful and thought-provoking but very difficult read. Haslett’s short stories share themes of mental illness, suicide, alienation and grief—boy, do I make this book sound fun! But these stories are striking, and Haslett’s prose is beautiful. “The Beginnings of Grief,” about the violent relationship an orphaned boy tumbles into with a brutal classmate, was especially compelling to me, as was the story about a grown up brother and sister living together, haunted by the memory of their mother’s suicide and the man they both loved. Plus, “Notes to My Biographer” has one of the most startling and effective descriptions of schizophrenia that I’ve ever encountered. These stories are stark and incredible, but not recommended reading if you’re feeling the least bit emotionally vulnerable!...more
Novel about a group of gay teens who form a secret support group for themselves under the guise of the (they think) too-boring-for-anyone-to-join GeogNovel about a group of gay teens who form a secret support group for themselves under the guise of the (they think) too-boring-for-anyone-to-join Geography Club. The best thing about this was probably the voice of the narrator, Russel, who sounds like a real teenager—just innocent enough, stupid enough, angry enough, moral enough, self-involved/confused/horny/mixed-up/self-aware enough. The plot is pretty predictable, but except for a few anvil-y moments (like when Russel explains, in parentheticals, how a self-sacrificing classmate is like Jesus, in a way), it’s well-told. I guess the biggest problem for me is that I’m too old for this book; like a lot of teen lit, it’s really about a lesson, and I already know that tolerance is important and that you can’t be someone you’re not and that high school really, really sucks. So while I don’t think it’s possible for me to really get all that much out of this book, I’m glad that it exists. When you’re a teenager—gay or straight—it’s helpful just to know that you’re not alone, that you’re not the only one who feels as fucked up as you do. (Actually, that lesson is helpful anytime.)...more
A really amusing anthropological look at the English by an Englishwoman. Fox’s sense of humor is what really makes this book; it’s a bit long and repeA really amusing anthropological look at the English by an Englishwoman. Fox’s sense of humor is what really makes this book; it’s a bit long and repetitive at parts—skewing too much toward being an academic text when what I want (need) it to be is a work of popular science—but Fox’s own innate “Oh, come off it!” reaction always pulls through in the end. Somewhat frightening: how much of Fox’s “grammar of Englishness” I find applicable to myself—social awkwardness, humor, cynicism, belief in fair play… Bloody hell! Sodding, blimey, shagging, knickers, bollocks… Oh, God! I’m English!...more
Shockingly, I hadn’t read this before. And actually, what really surprised me about it was how creepy it was. I read it right before bed and ohhh, thaShockingly, I hadn’t read this before. And actually, what really surprised me about it was how creepy it was. I read it right before bed and ohhh, that was a mistake. Other than that, I’m afraid that I don’t have anything terribly interesting to say, at least not without sounding like a bad high school English essay. Shall I talk about fate? Wordplay? Metatextuality? Um. I don’t want to. I’m tired and my analyzers are broken. This tends to be the kind of time when unfortunately I utterly fail to be deep. But at least I liked this rather a lot more than Waiting For Godot....more
I have mixed feelings about this one. I loved the first few chapters, setting up Bela’s alternate universe—our world but not (and specifically, BerkelI have mixed feelings about this one. I loved the first few chapters, setting up Bela’s alternate universe—our world but not (and specifically, Berkeley but not, which was particularly fun for me). I loved some of the insights into the different ways Bela and Paul approached math; the idea of Bela hearing equations as music was wonderful, because I’m always fascinated by the way people think. Some of the alternate universe theory was cool, too—I dug the council of alien mathematicians—but other parts of it didn’t work for me. So Bela and Co. save Earth 2 from a corrupt political machine that’s clearly based on the Bush administration (and do so through the power of rock ‘n’ roll, which was awesome), but then Bela escapes to “the best of all possible worlds”—and it’s our world? Huh? I also couldn’t get behind the ending, and couldn’t really enjoy the love-triangle-y bits, because I hated Alma; I thought she was a selfish bitch and couldn’t understand why Bela and Paul were fighting over her or why “boy gets girl” should be seen as a happy and satisfactory conclusion. (Though I did enjoy the few excuses it gave for Bela and Paul to be a bit gay for each other—check out the dream sequence where Bela reaches over to stroke Alma’s pussy and instead wakes up gasping at the imagined touch of Paul’s cock.) So really, what I liked the best were the bits about Bela’s band; I guess what I really wanted was a story about alternate universe rock ‘n’ roll. With no Alma....more
Watson’s retelling of his and Francis Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA. Really a story about academic infighting, which Watson recounts withWatson’s retelling of his and Francis Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA. Really a story about academic infighting, which Watson recounts with enough humor to make it quite amusing. The science stuff is really mostly beyond me, but the book is enjoyable if you’re interested in how human thought processes work, and in the social foibles of very smart people.
One curious thing about this book is the treatment of Rosalind Franklin, one of the rival scientists at King’s. In telling the story as it happened, Watson depicts Franklin in an often not-so-favorable light, as for a long time he did not like her, but at the end he goes out of the way to credit her and say how much he came to like her later. This seems reasonable within the context of the narrative, yet some of the reading I did afterward suggests that there is further controversy about Watson and Crick’s use of Franklin’s results, etc. I’d be curious to read a book about Franklin and see what perspectives it has to offer.
But, controversy aside, this is a great example of science as an adventure story, and I quite enjoyed it....more
Appropriately after reading Watching the English, here’s a murder mystery that revolves around queuing. I adore Tey’s The Daughter of Time, but I’dAppropriately after reading Watching the English, here’s a murder mystery that revolves around queuing. I adore Tey’s The Daughter of Time, but I’d never read any other books by her. This is her first novel (originally published under a male pseudonym; ‘Tey’ is actually a pseudonym, too) and it introduces Alan Grant, who’s the detective in Daughter of Time, too. He’s an enjoyable, if not especially vivid character to me—Time is fantastic because of its plot, which involves an investigation of whether Richard III was framed—but here, where the plot is less solid, the fact that Grant is (to make the obvious comparison) no Peter Wimsey is especially and unfortunately apparent. The ending was additionally disappointing—an unprompted confession? Lame! All in all, while this was a light, quick read, it was not an especially memorable one....more
An immensely engaging story about stories. David’s mother dies and he moves with his father and his not-so-evil stepmother to a new house in the countAn immensely engaging story about stories. David’s mother dies and he moves with his father and his not-so-evil stepmother to a new house in the country, where, after hearing books start to whisper to him (I loved the descriptions of what the different types of books sounded like) and sensing the Crooked Man watching him, he finds a way through to another, dark fairytale world. Connolly twists a lot of familiar stories, playing with gender and often switching good guys and bad, and it’s really cool. (There are gay knights. GAY KNIGHTS!) The atmosphere is also fantastic, and dark as hell—this could almost be a children’s story, except it’s really violent and at times quite scary. (The whole huntress sequence freaked me the fuck out.) The attitude is also refreshingly adult; I really liked how David’s growth was presented. In fact, all of this world-building and character development was so good that I kind of wished that it resulted in more; the end was actually kind of quiet and understated and sad—an ending that I respect, I guess, if not the one I wanted. Still, I love books about books and stories about stories, and this was an incredibly imaginative and scary and exciting and moving example of that. Plus, gay knights....more
Reading Sarah Vowell always inspires in me the same reaction as watching/listening to a really cool kid did in high school (or, okay, now): I desperaReading Sarah Vowell always inspires in me the same reaction as watching/listening to a really cool kid did in high school (or, okay, now): I desperately want to hang with her. (Especially because she's also friends with fellow essayist David Rakoff, whom I adore; one of the pieces in this collection is about the two of them going to DisneyWorld, and I had resist the temptation to leap up from my couch, waving my hand and crying: 'Ooh, take me! Take me, too!') In these essays about growing up/living in America and trying to make sense of American history and culture, Vowell captures the spirit and soul of (this often impossibly fucked up) country in a way that's remarkably close to the way I see it—remarkable, among other reasons, because Vowell's experiences are mostly based around living in Oklahoma, Montana, and Chicago, and mine around Vermont and California. It's nice to think that there are still some aspects of American life that can be seen as inclusive, red state or blue, and though Vowell (quite rightly) doesn't gloss over any of the nation's nastier aspects, she treats all her subjects with respect and humor—qualities we could certainly use more of....more
An early Coupland (his second novel), I probably didn't pick the best time to read this as a lot of it deals with money worries. In fact, there's a whAn early Coupland (his second novel), I probably didn't pick the best time to read this as a lot of it deals with money worries. In fact, there's a whole 'Down and Out in L.A.' section and—yeah. Bit close to home, that. I don't know if it's the result of my trying to subconsciously distance myself, but this book didn't reach me as much as some of his others; there were sequences I loved, like the bits about 20-year-old protagonist Tyler's trip to Paris, and his visit to Père Lachaise Cemetery (burial place of Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison, among others, and a place I visited when I was 17), but I couldn't get into it as much as some of Coupland's other books, even the insane ones. However, as is often the case with Coupland's novels, the closing scene is—almost atypically in relation to the rest of the book—beautiful, serene, and moving....more
I loved this one. As could probably be inferred by the title, this is a book about loneliness—a reoccurring theme for Coupland. The narrator, Liz DunnI loved this one. As could probably be inferred by the title, this is a book about loneliness—a reoccurring theme for Coupland. The narrator, Liz Dunn, is the type of anonymous, forgotten woman described in the Beatles' song, wonderfully fleshed out—I found her incredibly believable and moving. (Coupland in general writes women very well—in other words, like any other character, male or female.) Aside from a bit of weirdness involving some radioactive material and a German prison, this is actually an incredibly realistic, plausible narrative, which, as much as I enjoy wackiness, was much more appropriate to the subject matter (thus making the pair of weird events I mentioned above seem somewhat inappropriate and out of place, but it's a relatively small misstep, so whatever). There's a very deep undercurrent of tragedy in this book, but still hope, still wonder—Coupland does bittersweet amazingly well....more
I can't even begin to speak coherently about this book. It's an experimental novel: 253 portraits of 253 passengers on a London tube train that's abouI can't even begin to speak coherently about this book. It's an experimental novel: 253 portraits of 253 passengers on a London tube train that's about to crash. Ryman gives the reader brief insights into these ordinary people's lives, some of which are interconnected, some of which are funny, tragic, etc. Ryman himself is a passenger; so's a pigeon. And some of the people live, and some of them die. Part of the interest, one would think, would be to see who falls into which category when you reach the end, but actually I found that after absorbing so many histories in a relatively short amount of time (about a week, interspersed with other reading) I couldn't always remember who was who, who did what, said what, thought what. The deaths seemed pointless and arbitrary—which, of course, they were.
None of the above is meant to be a criticism; as an experiment, this one is, in my opinion, radically successful, as it never seems gimmicky, and is consistently fascinating. Yet one gets the feeling that it's probably not at its best in bound book form; as much as I disdain e-books in favor of something I can actually hold in my hand, can smell and feel, I think this may have been more effective as an interactive experience on the web, because then you could click back and forth between the various passengers and better experience how they're related (not to mention who lives and who dies). Luckily, it seems that the website is still operational, so you can check it out for yourselves: [http://www.ryman-novel.com/]...more
I feel weird critiquing this, as it's something O'Brian wrote when he was 12 and which was first published, under his birth name (Richard Patrick RussI feel weird critiquing this, as it's something O'Brian wrote when he was 12 and which was first published, under his birth name (Richard Patrick Russ), when he was 15. Because, wow, for a 12-year-old it's remarkably good—already you can see the smooth beauty of his prose. It's also, for a story with an animal (specifically, a panda-leopard—more on that in a minute) as its protagonist and narrator, refreshingly unsentimental and even quite brutal—Caesar's mother and siblings are quickly dispatched by various harsh acts of nature, and Caesar spends a lot of time calmly killing other creatures of the world. It also has moments of being emotionally affecting; when Caesar is captured and "tamed" by humans, I was really quite desperate for him to kill everyone and escape. Yet the tone remains flat and the narrative doesn't amount to much; it goes out on sort of a "huh" note, if you know what I mean. Plus, the aspect that I kept waiting to see explored—that Caesar is a panda-leopard, an essentially fanciful creature whose father is a panda and whose mother is a snow leopard—is never touched on at all! In the end, this is much more interesting in light of O'Brian's later work than on any merits of its own. (Though he did write remarkably well for a 12-year-old!)...more
I’ve started reading a lot of Douglas Coupland lately, all out-of-order so I’m getting a really schizophrenic view of how his writing has evolved. SoI’ve started reading a lot of Douglas Coupland lately, all out-of-order so I’m getting a really schizophrenic view of how his writing has evolved. So far, the only pattern I’ve been able to establish is: earlier stuff—told in 1st person, somewhat plausible narrative; later stuff—told in 3rd person, completely fucking insane. This book falls into the latter category and while, like a lot of Coupland’s work, it’s nutty and implausible and kind of scattered, it was a blast to read and I found it oddly touching. (Though it didn’t rock me as much as the end of Microserfs—God.) This book—which involves a one-armed astronaut, a family of middle class Canadians with AIDS, Prince William’s last letter to Diana, and a couple of Florida baby-harvesters—reflects reality while being completely divorced from it. It’s neat. *g*...more
The best thing about the Memphis airport? They sell used books. Why don’t ALL airports do this? Anyway, this was a book that I got there, because my fThe best thing about the Memphis airport? They sell used books. Why don’t ALL airports do this? Anyway, this was a book that I got there, because my flight was delayed and I needed a quick laugh. Sedaris’ opening essay, about working as a Macy’s elf at Christmas, certainly delivered—and we’re talking the usual, must-bite-lip-and-not-appear-psycho-to-strangers kind of laugh-inducement here. Unfortunately, Sedaris is a much better essayist than he is a short story writer; the pieces of fiction that share the volume were much too obvious, totally without the subtlety his non-fiction possesses. If you’re not stuck in an airport, I’d recommend reading the first essay in this volume in the store, then picking up one of Sedaris’ longer, richer, better books....more
This is a thriller that everyone was raving about a while back—Entertainment Weekly gave it an A+, etc. Maybe I’m just a cranky bitch, but I don’t seeThis is a thriller that everyone was raving about a while back—Entertainment Weekly gave it an A+, etc. Maybe I’m just a cranky bitch, but I don’t see why. Admittedly, Abrahams treatment of amnesia—a central plot point—was really well done; we fanfic writers could learn a thing or two from his descriptions of Nick Petrov’s post-accident confusion. Yet it’s frustrating, because I think we’re supposed to be as shaken as Nick is about how this has changed him, changed his personality, but we can’t be, because pre-accident Petrov is too much of a cypher. Further, the central mystery was unsatisfying to me, mainly because I knew who the villain was going to be very early on (the character has almost no other role in the narrative; ergo…), and even the exposure of that character’s motivation didn’t much interest me—it was too pat, too old hat. And then, Abrahams has to tack a “happy ending” onto the end. Or, a bittersweet one, anyway, but it was way too sudden and too neat. Oh, he gets the girl! Great, except she has almost no personality and their relationship was barely developed. Sigh.
All this makes it sound like I really hated this book; I didn’t, at least not while I was reading it—in fact I was pretty entertained. But man, those were some empty calories and now I have indigestion....more
The Inn at Lake Devine remains one of my favorite books, and Pursuit illustrates why: Lipman can really write female characters, and female character The Inn at Lake Devine remains one of my favorite books, and Pursuit illustrates why: Lipman can really write female characters, and female characters I can relate to, which is incredibly, incredibly rare. She’s got a great protagonist in Alice—smart, poor social skills, makes dumb, self-destructive mistakes of the exact kind I can (and do) see myself making. In fact, parts of this book were kind of hard to read, they hit so close to home. But in the end, I loved Alice, and I love that somewhere out there in the world of fiction, she exists.
However: why end the book just when it’s starting to get interesting? We’re told from the beginning that Ray, the man pursuing Alice, is bad news, and every single thing he does says—no, screams in bright, bold, neon letters—RAY IS BAD NEWS, and yet the book ends…with the revelation that Ray is bad news? No! I want more, much more, of how Alice moves on with her life. Lipman gives us wonderful, tantalizing hints of how she’s grown and changed, but I wanted to see them in action, dammit!...more