It wasn't until halfway through that I realized this book was more than just "charming". This book is well-crafted, with more meat than I first assumeIt wasn't until halfway through that I realized this book was more than just "charming". This book is well-crafted, with more meat than I first assumed. It is a classic coming-of-age tale written as a journal, and you can trust that the author is wiser than the narrator. There is interesting contrast between images of the pastoral/classical/pagan/simple = youth vs. urban/modernist/parochial/complex = maturity. We had an unusual opportunity to compare/contrast this work with the more contemporary The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which led to some interesting parallels and discussion of the coming-of-age form. ...more
Our man, Jack Reacher, is an ex-military cop with 13 years of bad-ass experience behind him. Sick of the grind, he’s a drifter now, no home, no addre Our man, Jack Reacher, is an ex-military cop with 13 years of bad-ass experience behind him. Sick of the grind, he’s a drifter now, no home, no address, no change of clothes, when he jumps the Greyhound in Margrave, Georgia. Half way into his eggs at the only small-town diner, he’s arrested as a murder suspect. Turns out he was witnessed walking down the county road suspiciously near the scene of a double homicide. Reacher plays it cool as he figures out the facts of the case, and is only mildly surprised to discover one of the victims is his own long-estranged only brother. Unlikely, you say? I assure you you’ll say it again before the last page is turned. But no matter, the plot keeps humming along with twists and gut-punches, and your leaps of faith are only small steps in this thrilling choreography. Reacher reasserts himself from suspect to vigilante detective/ass-kicker, and soon the town will find good reason to welcome this drifter into town limits. I read through this in a lightning flash, enjoying each chapter as I read, but feeling a bit empty inside by the end. This has frequently been my problem with reading crime thrillers -- the experience itself is an engaging adrenaline rush, but I’m left without much substance to hold on to. I appreciate the series form for this reason, and if I wasn’t such an eclectic reader, I could imagine monkey-barring from one title to the next searching for my next fix. But I guess I want more from the time I spend reading, and I just can’t live on such an empty diet. Also, Child’s writing style is a bit too shotgun choppy for my liking, loaded with incomplete sentences. Best (worst) phrase: “...as distinctive as the most distinctive thing you can think of.” Lazy much? Speaking of empty diets, I understand Reacher’s got a movie coming out, played by, wtf?, Tom Cruise. Seriously the last guy I would consider for this role. Reacher is supposed to be a big hunk of uber-male, ‘6”4, and in his 30’s. Cruise is ‘5”7 and 50 years old. That’s right, he’s 50. Mission Impossible, those days are long over. But wonders never cease. Also surprised to learn Lee Child is a Brit. His command of American landscape and vernacular is so strong I had no idea he wasn’t a native to his setting. I had a copy of this in my own collection and looked forward to reading it, as a number of bookstore customers have recommended the series to me. One guy came in and bought the entire series (ten books at the time) after staying up all night to read this first one. He was impressed by the fact that Child didn’t start writing until mid-life, after a career in British television. Turns out his first book was a smash-hit, and he hasn’t looked back. We could all be so lucky. ...more
We’ll begin our journey in 1931. Billionaire teen-playboy John Scott-Ellis has failed out of Eton College, and after frittering his time on one of hi We’ll begin our journey in 1931. Billionaire teen-playboy John Scott-Ellis has failed out of Eton College, and after frittering his time on one of his family’s farms in Kenya (one of many estates they own around the world), has been sent off to Munich for the purpose of learning a foreign language. His first act in Germany is to purchase a fiery red Fiat, which he proceeds to race all over town, with his host, Haupt. Pappenheim, tucked in the passenger seat. In the center of town he slows down a bit to make a right turn. He fails to see a man crossing the lane. There is a sudden crunch. But there is little cause for worry, as the pedestrian heaves himself from the ground and approaches the driver with a smile. A nearby policeman has failed to witness the incident, and the pedestrian acknowledges that he’s suffered no real damage. All three men shake hands and wish each other well. “I don’t suppose you know who that was?” asks Haupt. Pappenheim. “Of course I don’t, who is he?” “Well, he is a politician with a party and he talks a lot. His name is Adolph Hitler." As years progress, Scott-Ellis remembers this encounter, and later ruminates, “For a few seconds, perhaps, I held the history of Europe in my rather clumsy hands. He was only shaken up, but had I killed him, it would have changed the history of the world.” From here, Brown traces a circular path through contemporary pop history, navigating by way of arbitrary meetings between our most infamous historical icons. Next, Scott-Ellis, as a 10-year-old, spends an afternoon with Uncle Ruddy, otherwise known as Rudyard Kippling. And so on, through 100 memorable personalities of our last 100 years. The last essay brings us back to another meeting with Hitler, bringing us full circle. On top of that artful design, Brown has placed another constraint, that each essay contain exactly 1001 words, making the entire text exactly 101,101 words long. Acknowledgments, prefacing quotes, book description and author’s biography all contain exactly 101 words each. (He does skew the count by admitting plentiful footnotes when interesting asides could not be ignored).* To read this book is an exercise in flexibility, as no personality behaves as we might expect, and perhaps this is quite intentional. These incidents are delightful in their unpredictability, freeing the reading of history from a tight chronology. We are ping-ponged all over the 20th century, and view our most notable icons through a backstage peephole, as few of these meetings were staged for the public, but were documented mostly through first-hand accounts of other lucky and intimately involved witnesses. The downside is, if one is only passably acquainted with a celebrity, one might not recognize them at all without their stage-face. I’ve learned I have a deficiency in my knowledge of the Royal Family, especially pre-Princess Di, and the popular British chat shows of the ’60’s have eluded me altogether (Brown is British, and first published this to the British market.) But Americans people the work in droves, especially with leanings towards Hollywood film stars, authors, and presidents. And Brown’s bibliography covers lifetimes of provocative reading, referencing classic texts, as well as memoir and biographies of very recent vintage. I recommend reading this with internet access at hand, as you will constantly be tempted to view the artifact, hear the song, or even witness the historical meeting itself archived on YouTube. A note on genre: This title covered the requirement in my Resources for Adults class for “non-fiction,” with the full acknowledgment that non-fiction is indeed too broad a category to label as one genre, but that time did not allow for us to sample the myriad choices available under this umbrella. At the time, I had completed three works of non-fiction -- Masscult and Midcult by Dwight Macdonald, and Don’t Judge a Book by Its Lover by Lauren Leto, and this one. I chose to write on Brown’s book since I figured it had the widest appeal for a general audience. Macdonald is too philosophical and, some would say, pretentious, and certainly dated for a general audience (an awfully meta-experience suggesting Masscult to the masses), and Leto’s book fell to the other side in tone, a casual, humorous, surface appreciation of good books and the habit of reading, but lacking in meat. This one seemed to me to strike the right balance -- a history that celebrates a cultural literacy of our times, and at the same time, constructed in a whimsical fashion that allows us not to take it all too seriously. I discovered it faced-out in the history section of my bookstore, and couldn’t resist its appeal. While there are certainly weightier tomes neighboring it in the history section, I can’t think of another place in the store where it might belong. Creative non-fiction? I’m sorry D’Agata, Barnes & Noble doesn’t have such a section. Essays? Technically that follows, but essays usually read as the elaborated thoughts of one author, not as a compendium of biographies. Biography? But who’s? Yes, history is the right home for this work, and it will just have to get comfortable with being a little different from its peers.
*This review contains exactly 928 words. This counting thing is too hard. Will someone please comment exactly 72 words so this review will make the count?...more
I'm in love with Geoff Dyer right now, but I can't explain why. The more he tells me about his drug-taking, aimless, despondent life, the more I likeI'm in love with Geoff Dyer right now, but I can't explain why. The more he tells me about his drug-taking, aimless, despondent life, the more I like him. Maybe because he's more than what he tells me -- you can see it in the way he constructs a sentence, in his reverent echoes of other, greater authors, in his willingness to wear a dhoti on his pale, skinny Western frame and swim in the Ganges. If one weren't told that this book is a fiction, one might believe that Geoff Dyer really did these things in Venice and Varanasi, and if one read Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It just before this, one might know that Geoff Dyer DID, in fact, do most of these things, and maybe just called it fiction to protect the innocent. And to tweak reality just a bit. Because it's better that way. Geoff/Jeff knows that's true.
The half of the book on Venice is a banal field trip of the Biennale, pretentious and kind of revolting, but mixed with the glamour and stoicism of that romantic city. I found myself buying a bottle of Prosseco, and found it just as refreshing as Dyer claims, mixed with one part peach puree for a delicious Italian classic, the bellini.
Varanasi forces a different character, an alter-ego of Dyer's to come forward, and this character develops in a way that doesn't happen in Venice. Varanasi comes across as both the liveliest, most vital place on earth, and the most horrid and terrifying at the same time. Their honorary drink, the bhang lassi, is not a recipe I'll be mixing up anytime soon, even if I did have access to its ingredients. But the narrator (Geoff? Jeff?) learns something about himself in this crazy environment, even without willing it, and that's the takeaway that made this book an interesting read. The best kind of travel book, fictionalized, so it's not exactly true but devastatingly honest. I recommend it, especially if you intend to visit either of these places in the future. ...more
For those of us feeling lonely and despondent -- one can feel lonely and despondent anywhere in the world; it is our self that feels this way, and notFor those of us feeling lonely and despondent -- one can feel lonely and despondent anywhere in the world; it is our self that feels this way, and not the place that makes us so.
NYRB, you have never failed me. This was a book group pick, and, though it was an NYRB, I didn't think I was in the mood for this. Turns out, this wasNYRB, you have never failed me. This was a book group pick, and, though it was an NYRB, I didn't think I was in the mood for this. Turns out, this was exactly the book I needed. Hard sci-fi, yet surprisingly accessible, with a blow-you-away premise. There are a couple of issues I'm still troubling over, but I think that's a sign of a good read -- I want to figure it out, I'm engaged enough to keep puzzling with it, long after the last page. Priest's writing reminds me a lot of George R. Stewart, both in tone and how they use their main character as the tool for which the reader learns the rules of the world. And both authors keep you thinking. Love that. I'll be adding a few more Priest titles to my tbr list. ...more
I'm not falling into the it's-a-short-story-collection-no-it's-a-novel discussion. Who cares? It's a character tapestry that ostensibly centers aroundI'm not falling into the it's-a-short-story-collection-no-it's-a-novel discussion. Who cares? It's a character tapestry that ostensibly centers around a failing newspaper, but is really concerned with a group of people who want to feel a certain kind of indispensable connection to their careers, to their partners, to their families, and keep discovering themselves in a frightening void that reminds them of their self-delusions. No matter your career field, your current marital status, we've all felt this fear, this flash in the mirror we hardly recognize. I really enjoyed Rachman's repeated assault at this fear, through a dozen different eyes, and, though I don't think I learned much new about the workings of a newsroom, I feel I did learn something about character, from the top executives to the lonely freelancer, we all bear our self-delusions with the same impunity. An excellent read. One last thing -- I hate the use of the pseudo-word "topsy-turvy" in this title's synopsis blurb. Was there really no better descriptor available? Yes, the writing is casual, inviting blurbs such as "masterful stuff" and "hilarious and heart-wrenching", but it's not a sitcom, for god's sake. ...more
So goodreads friend karen just posted a beautiful review of A Visit from the Goon Squad, where she riffs on the power of nostalgia, lost youth, the seSo goodreads friend karen just posted a beautiful review of A Visit from the Goon Squad, where she riffs on the power of nostalgia, lost youth, the seeming indestructibility of our youthful bodies and worldviews, how every bad thing is the worst possible bad thing, and every good thing the most powerful good. Goon Squad most probably does all these things, and so does this memoir, at least for me. Published in 1987 and now out of print, Irvine recounts her growing up in early '70's UK and her globetrotting ramblings all over the place, searching for...you know, a vessel for all that youthful, pregnant yearning I was just going on about. If you are a female and ever felt confused with what to do with your intelligent brain, passionate heart and attractive face in a world that provides limited roles for the uses of these attributes, this could be your story. If the structures of school or 9-to-5 are too stifling, but the structure of a psych ward seem almost a relief, and you can acknowledge both the difference and the similarities of those environs, this could also be your story. But what makes this most definitely Irvine's story is her painfully honest willful inhabitance of her own body. When she stares into the sky through the branches of the Scottish highlands, she is so fully there, in that place and no other, perceiving through every sense her body owns. As she tramps alone through Western Europe, the reader momentarily forgetting she is yet only 15 years old, she is suddenly and viciously raped. Irvine recounts the scene in detail, every moment scraped deeply in her memory, and though the act is repellent, her telling of it is not, as she retains a dignity, a thoughtfulness, a respect for her body that she never retreats from, though she carries the horrid memory like an albatross. She may fade in and out of lucid thought at some points in her life, carried away by "love", fear, misplaced loyalty and assorted overheating passions, she never relinquishes ownership of her body. And any woman this aware of her own body, who uses it however is necessary to achieve her ends (and I don't mean for intercourse -- that's so banal), well, it's sexy. Lucy Irvine is so damn sexy. Obviously plenty of men in her life felt the same way, too, but she almost never seemed to notice. This is the woman who spent a year of her life on a deserted island with a complete stranger she married to conform to an antiquated cohabitation law. Running around an island in her tanned, wind-swept birthday suit, spearing fish and climbing palms, while you're off having your fantasy, she's observing the tide, praying to the sunset, feeling the sun kiss her skin. These days I understand she's living in a mudhut somewhere in the Balkans. Well, that's according to her website. You can pay her to edit your manuscript. Email only, no mailing address. I'm waiting for the next memoir -- what to do with all that unconventional, youthful passion when the body isn't quite the masterpiece it once was; when the naked native starts to show its years in the sun; when you're no longer that mysteriously beautiful, sexycrazy nymph, but an older,faded, tired woman looking for a sturdy mattress and a hot cuppa. Lucy, what came next?...more
I've been reading a lot of tales set on islands lately -- fiction, memoir, history -- this is strictly coincidence, other than perhaps a subconsciousI've been reading a lot of tales set on islands lately -- fiction, memoir, history -- this is strictly coincidence, other than perhaps a subconscious desire to isolate myself. I picked this up entirely at random, I swear, and once again I'm on an isolated South Pacific island with a strange cast of characters, an unusual (and fictional) societal structure, and a wearingly sympathetic narrator. As in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (no fault here, OBDP came first) and a couple other recent offerings, the schtick is the effect of litratoor on a naive society. I think we can be done with this shtick now for a while. In OBDP, the litratoor is Hamlet, and I like that, up until the part when the author tries to parallel events in his novel quite literally in time with events in the play -- I mean so literally that the play is actually being performed on stage while the novel's forward motion takes place in the audience. Harding is quite fond of allusions, so much so that a reader might feel battered by them. I was with him for the island life sequences, hanging on for the OCD vignettes, but completely off the bus with the 9/11 references. Even now, in 2011, including 9/11 references in fiction is tricky business. We all, as inhabitants on this earth, experienced it, but we certainly experienced it differently, and remember or memorialize it in our own ways; Harding makes a big assumption in our perception of that event in rounding out allusions in his fictional tale. The planes were crashed by suicide terrorists -- this really affects Harding, but to me, that's the least of my concerns from that event. The 9/11 bit happens well toward the end of the book, kind of where you least expect it, but after the first allusion to a clear fall morning, you know exactly where it's going and you're not completely willing to go there. Oh come on, do we have to? Well, it turns out, I don't think we did. That little dollop of moralizing on top of an already very confected conclusion was just too many calories for my taste. I really liked this book when it just stayed happily and lazily on the island; I didn't need to see New York City or our narrator's childhood. From time to time it was a nice scene break, until you enter 9/11, and you can call the whole scene broken. All in all, I like Harding's technical skill, his character development, and his imagination, but I think he's too devoted to making it all MEAN SOMETHING. I might have stopped reading on page 357 and been perfectly satisfied, but, like Harding's perception of an American (I'm a little offended) he served me more than necessary, and I'm feeling a touch of bloat. ...more
"Like a Jane Austen novel gone delirious with sun stroke." --New York Times Book Review
I don't know about the Jane Austen reference, but you're curiou"Like a Jane Austen novel gone delirious with sun stroke." --New York Times Book Review
I don't know about the Jane Austen reference, but you're curious now, right? Immediately on reading the premise, I was too curious not to read this book. In 1981 a man puts out a want-ad looking for a "wife" to join him on a deserted island just south of Papua New Guinea. It turns out the Australian government required a man and woman to marry before living together, even on a deserted island, but it seems that G, the man, really thought the marriage might become something more permanent. Who would respond to such an ad? Enter Lucy Irvine, an extraordinary woman. I say extraordinary woman, not in the jr. high book-report kind of way, but in the unusual and precious way of a truly intelligent, brave, morally strong, yet human and sensitive woman who allows nothing but her own heart to direct her. She's an early-'80's woman's libber without ever declaring herself one, simply by being wholly herself. Not only were her experiences on the island truly riveting, but her interpretations on the page magnified the experience into a larger experiment of human nature. Lucy never falls in love with G, her partner (and who can blame her; he is a food- and sex-starved Hemingway, whose pet names for her vary between "cunt" and "shithouse", but in a "loving" way, she says). But Lucy does have a glorious affair with the island itself, and her lone sessions with the sea and sun are the sexiest pages, innocent but sensual. The original intention of this experiment was that the "wife" was the accessory, and the real goal was for G to write a book of the experience. It turns out G never wrote that book, but Lucy did, and it seems she got the experience G wanted, but, by reason of his character, could never have. Lucy is not only the brave, adventurous character that drives a compelling story, but the exquisite author, as well. Here's a sample of her sensual approach as she gathers water for cooking: "Now at the edge of the far-away sea there is a gentle lapping of water as my tilted bucket fills. Whisper whisper of little waves, within, without. The growing day has nudged past a tranquil dawn. I want to swallow oceanfuls of this peace and hold it within me always." --pg. 100. ...more
Compulsively readable and character-driven. Others have compared it to The Little Stranger, and I think that's an accurate comparison, as they both deCompulsively readable and character-driven. Others have compared it to The Little Stranger, and I think that's an accurate comparison, as they both develop a spiraling storyline with a plot that gradually develops momentum, ending on oblivion, of course. The book store shelves this in mystery, but I found it at the library in general fiction. It's a hard call, since it contains elements of mystery -- murder, intrigue, small moments of criminal ugliness, but it is also a domestic drama, with thoughtful meditations on motherhood, falling in love, providing for one's family. Whatever it is, I kept turning the pages, though I had surmised the ending was inevitable, but I was pleased with the satisfaction I felt by the final page. ...more
I admit, I snatched this book up due to the blurb about "the weirdest love story since Time Traveler's Wife". Yes, well, I suppose it's weird due to iI admit, I snatched this book up due to the blurb about "the weirdest love story since Time Traveler's Wife". Yes, well, I suppose it's weird due to it's slightly gimmicky visit-a-longstanding-relationship-on-the-same-day-every-year-whose-date-becomes-singularly-distinctive-for-reasons-not-yet-disclosed. But if you're looking for truly 'weird', this isn't it. It's actually quite lovely and real and true, with multi-dimensional characters who learn and grow and maintain a stoicism, even as they make some questionable choices. Nicholls is a charming writer with a real talent for delicious dialogue; I think he should consider playwrighting, as the best movements of the story happen in his characters' conversations....more
I can't stand to read a thriller that contains nothing more than a bag of cheap tricks the author must construe a plot around, so I read mass market tI can't stand to read a thriller that contains nothing more than a bag of cheap tricks the author must construe a plot around, so I read mass market thrillers with a huge degree of trepidation. I want to be compelled, not manipulated. Hayder hits the mark; she's intelligent, does her homework, and writes with dexterity and skill. She's woven a contemporary mystery that runs sidelong with an historical atrocity, and both are compelling and thrilling. As far as I can tell, this is her only novel with an Asian setting (too bad, because she's very knowledgeable, having lived in China for a portion of her life), but I'd be confident enough in her skill to try one of her British settings, just because I like her style....more
**spoiler alert** A light, enjoyable read. Puts a spotlight on the world of celebrity and the journalists who feed off them. It's not a world I pay mu**spoiler alert** A light, enjoyable read. Puts a spotlight on the world of celebrity and the journalists who feed off them. It's not a world I pay much attention to, but fun to dip into now and then, remind yourself that glamour is all about spin, and not to waste too much time on it. Young claims to have learned that lesson, and his creds since then seem to mildly prove it. I did just a moment of research just to satisfy myself, and here's what I learned: Alex de Silva is, of course, not his rising star pal's real name. Unfortunately, this pseudonym was a poor choice, as it is the name of a once successful Hollywood choreographer from Brazil, glamorized on the tv show So You Think You Can Dance. He's since been charged on several counts of rape (2003-2009) and it looks like that career is over... Apparently, his pal's real name is Sacha Gervasi, and the two haven't spoken since the book was published. That Welsh dog grooming bit turned into the film The Big Tease. The un-named supermodel is allegedly Veronica Webb, and he's since fathered a child with ex-Spice Girl Geri Halliwell in 2006. As for Toby, looks like that romantic bit with Caroline was the real deal. They're still married and have four children. He is a comfy food critic and appears as a judge on Top Chef. Feel like maybe my career in the gossip rags has just begun!...more
An interesting story of a hopeless, homeless man in Cambridge. The narrator is sympathetic at times, but certainly not empathetic. Depressing in showiAn interesting story of a hopeless, homeless man in Cambridge. The narrator is sympathetic at times, but certainly not empathetic. Depressing in showing yet another illustration of how childhood abuse destroys entire lives, and the literary technique of telling his story backwards brings that idea to the forefront. I'm amazed that the primary blurb on the cover is "Hilarious!", as this is certainly not the one word I would choose to describe it. Amusing in moments, but, by and large, not a happy ending, or beginning, I guess you'd say. And really, really British. (What's a gaff? Is that a bad word?)...more
Though centered around a missing child, this story plays out not as a mystery, but a contemplation on crime, identity, and environment. Our ten-year-oThough centered around a missing child, this story plays out not as a mystery, but a contemplation on crime, identity, and environment. Our ten-year-old child-detective reminds me a lot of Neal Shusterman's "The Schwa Was Here", as she learns to embrace her invisibility in the generic, manufactured environment of the local gargantuan mall. Quite a shock to discover she's not as invisible as she believes. There are a few scenes thrown in of "life in the mall" which, though spread thin for relevance, are amusing little scenes that most retail drones will relate to. Loose ends are tied rather tidily, if a bit unrealistically. ...more
So I happened to read this during the Christmas season, but don't think for a minute this is a Christmas-related read. Nope, in fact it might strip alSo I happened to read this during the Christmas season, but don't think for a minute this is a Christmas-related read. Nope, in fact it might strip all your benevolent Christmas spirit away, as this is the story of coming-of-age. Well, a twenty-something coming-of-age. Sheltered, good-natured upper-middle class British boy meets the real world on his first solo trip to Paris. He is introduced to poverty, prostitution, murder, ex-cons, fascists, communists, etc. The nature of friendship is redefined, and an appreciation for art is seen through new eyes. In fact, the handful of pages describing how different classes appreciate beauty and artistic skill are dazzling. A thought-provoking and intriguing read....more
After reading some excellent reviews of The City and the City, I wanted to read Mieville right away. Of course the library copy is checked out with foAfter reading some excellent reviews of The City and the City, I wanted to read Mieville right away. Of course the library copy is checked out with four holds, so I picked up Un Lun Dun for the mean time. What a fun read! It didn't have the sophistication I was expecting in Mieville's writing, but this is a teen book, so perhaps Mieville stepped back a bit on this one and just had some fun. You can tell his influences right away -- Phantom Tollbooth, Wizard of Oz, Lord of the Rings, but he enjoys throwing genre devices on their heads. There were points where I felt maybe he was allowing the literary puns to drive the story a bit too much (unbrellas, at first a cute play on words, become a major plot-driving force), but the unrelenting adventure kept me not worrying too much about that. Deeba is a fun character, but, I have to whine a little, can she please improve her grammar?! I know that's supposed to make her more realistic -- likeably flawed -- but it really started to annoy me. Other than that, I liked it enough to buy a copy that I'll be giving my ten-year-old son for Christmas. (Don't tell...)...more