The Bookman's Tale really has me split. For starters, anything centered on books, book collecting, bibliophiles...it is going to have my instant atten...moreThe Bookman's Tale really has me split. For starters, anything centered on books, book collecting, bibliophiles...it is going to have my instant attention, as long as it gets it right. Lovett gets it right. I can tell that he has a passion for books just by the way he writes about them and understands the book-lover's mindset. For me, the best part of The Bookman's Tale is how Lovett creates his main character of Peter as the embodiment of the book-lover trapped inside of so many of us. In addition, he surrounds Peter with such a clever piece of literary history - the ongoing search for the proof of who William Shakespeare really is - that drives the plot forward. Left to just this, The Bookman's Tale would have been one of my favorite stories of the year.
So what happened? Why only three stars? Frankly, it really should be two stars and Lovett is only catching a break because of my love of any story set in the book world. For some reason, Lovett decides to drop a murder-mystery/thriller plot right in the middle of the story. Unfortunately, Lovett is not David Baldacci. The action is hackneyed and cliche. There are too many coincidences and too many convenient things falling in the characters' laps to make it feel at all realistic.
The Bookman's Tale really is two stories folded on top of each other. Unfortunately, one is very well done and one is amateurish. If it is possible to enjoy a book and by annoyed by it at the same time, this is the one that does it. I want to praise it and lambaste it at the same time. In the end, a split 4-star/2-star rating ends up with a 3-star average...but The Bookman's Tale only avoids a lower rating because of my passion for book collecting. Nothing more. (less)
The Goldfinch really is a great character study. Told from the first-person perspective of Theodore Decker from young boy to adulthood, Donna Tartt cr...moreThe Goldfinch really is a great character study. Told from the first-person perspective of Theodore Decker from young boy to adulthood, Donna Tartt creates one of the multi-dimensional characters that really sticks with you long after you finish reading. Theo is far from a heroic character, but we feel for him through his desperate attempts to simply survive a life that overflowing with trauma. What makes him so real is that some of the trauma is self-inflicted. There are many points where I cringed when I saw a choice Theo would make knowing it would turn out badly – but I could never take my eyes away from the inevitable train wrecks. Yet, we still hope from beginning to end that he will find a way to beat the odds and actually find happiness. In that vein, I think The Goldfinch’s ending serves the story so well because it doesn’t take the convenient, obvious ways out as most writers would do.
For such a dark tale of destruction (and sometimes self-destruction) The Goldfinch has a strangely uplifting quality to it. Tartt weave in information early and often that doesn’t seem to mesh with the story, only to have the plotlines intersect for a satisfying “ah ha” moment on multiple occasions. Tartt also does an exceptional job of surrounding Theo with highly interesting characters that are never one-dimensional and are unpredictable – just like real life. Nothing felt contrived or unrealistic. In fact, it might be a bit too realistic for some people to enjoy. Tartt has a way of pulling away just the right threads of society to allow us to see what is hiding underneath without throwing out the whole cover. There is a subtlety to the storytelling that allows for complex themes without overburdening the reader. A true storytelling gift.
The Goldfinch is not for everyone. It is long. It lacks continuous action. It certainly isn’t filled with happily-ever-after moments. But it is authentic and it is compelling. It is a story that will force you to see the world through different eyes and Theo is a character who you will be forced to know, even if you never really understand him. And to me that is what makes him a great character. I never truly understood him – but Theo forced me to understand myself a little better. That is the make of a great piece of literature. (less)
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is really a tale of two books for me. On the one hand, the writing is beautiful, almost lyrical. I fell in love with David...moreThe Story of Edgar Sawtelle is really a tale of two books for me. On the one hand, the writing is beautiful, almost lyrical. I fell in love with David Wroblewski ‘s writing style and the effortless way he brings his characters to life. In particular, Edgar Sawtelle is a fully realized person from beginning to end. Even the way Wroblewski brings out the personalities of the dogs is well done. The premise of Edgar’s story is also unique and creates an interesting foundation for the story. Unfortunately, that’s where the trouble begins.
While the writing is wonderful and the characters interesting, the story simply wanders around for most of the hefty 608 pages. Wroblewski apparently felt that we needed to read about every single thought that Edgar had over the course of his life. Two hundred pages could have been stripped out of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and it might still have dragged on too long.
Anton Chekhov once said that if you have a rifle hanging on the well in the first chapter, it must go off later in the story. If that’s true, then Wroblewski left a pile of unused guns all over The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. There are too many pages devoted to scenes that go absolutely nowhere and have no relevance later in the story. I literally had to force myself to keep reading several times. And my reward was an ending that made no sense and really had no relation to the rest of the story.
I really had high hopes for The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and was left very disappointed. While Wroblewski’s writing is gorgeous, the story as a whole failed to entertain me at all. Finishing it was work rather than pleasure. (less)
With Endgame, Frank Brady has penned one of the most evenhanded accounts of Bobby Fischer – the chess genius who became the only American world champi...moreWith Endgame, Frank Brady has penned one of the most evenhanded accounts of Bobby Fischer – the chess genius who became the only American world champion by staring down the Soviet chess machine at the height of the cold war. However, that is only one facet of a life filled with contradictions. While Fischer was unflappable at the chessboard, he was insecure in the rest of his life. He was a voracious reader, he self-educated himself – often times with treaties by neo-Nazis and religious charlatans.
Brady goes deep into the conditions that spawned a great champion and ultimately condemned him to paranoia and madness in later life. The book pulls no punches, but Brady never treats his subject unfairly. You won’t get a simple answer to the complicated man that was Robert Fischer. Instead, you will gain a better understanding of Fischer’s complexities and see how his unique attributes served him so well in chess and so poorly in life.
Few people knew Bobby Fischer for as long or as well as Frank Brady did. It is unlikely that anyone understood him better or could have revealed Fischer’s life as completely and expertly as Brady has with Endgame. Never dry and never cliché, Endgame is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the mystery that was Robert Fischer. (less)
Eight years before the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid, there was a miracle on the island of Iceland, played out on a wooden board with sixty-four squar...moreEight years before the Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid, there was a miracle on the island of Iceland, played out on a wooden board with sixty-four squares and thirty-two pieces. It was the chess world championships – which had been dominated throughout the 20th Century by the Soviet Union. And they were beaten by a young man from New York.
However, the Spassky vs. Fischer world championship had even more drama behind the scenes that there was on the board. Intertwined with the Cold War and Fischer’s own need for control, the match itself was in jeopardy from start to finish. Bobby Fischer Goes to War is really about the behind-the-scenes confrontations that surrounded the match. Edmonds and Eidinow leave analysis of the actual games to hundreds of other books and focus their efforts on understanding the numerous sideshows. With thirty years of distance, they put things into a proper context and provide deep analysis of these weeks in history where a chess match overshadowed Presidential election coverage and the Olympics.
The one weakness of Bobby Fischer Goes to War is that it is mostly isolated on that one tournament, so it leaves the reader a lot of questions about where these two men came from and what became of them afterwards. Still, for those who have an interest in the most infamous chess match of all time and want to know the facts from the legends, Bobby Fischer Goes to War delivers a definitive guide. (less)
Innocence is one of those books where the whole feels less than the sum of its parts. The main characters were quite interesting and the premise of th...moreInnocence is one of those books where the whole feels less than the sum of its parts. The main characters were quite interesting and the premise of the story was appealing. As a matter of fact, there really isn't anything wrong with the story other than it had far more potential than it actually realized. Koontz is a skilled writer and I feel like Innocence could have been much more than it was. But the pacing was very slow in the first half and stuffed far too many reveal in the last one hundred pages. As it stands, Innocence is an interesting story. However, I almost want Koontz to get a do-over because of what might have been.(less)
Billy Collins has a knack for taking the mundane, ordinary pieces of the world and extracting the fundamental, insightful or just plain humorous essen...moreBilly Collins has a knack for taking the mundane, ordinary pieces of the world and extracting the fundamental, insightful or just plain humorous essence of it with an economy only a poet of exceptional skill can accomplish. The Trouble with Poetry takes it even further by exploiting some of the foibles of the poet caught in a modern world. Collins offers up an accessible style of freeform poetry that anyone can appreciate. However, it isn’t simplistic at all – more often than not multiple readings are necessary to begin to penetrate the nuances of his writing. Still, The Trouble with Poetry speaks in the conversational voice of that quirky but essential neighbor who you go to when you need someone to shine a different light on the world. I completely enjoyed this short collection and my only quibble was that I wanted more when I reached the last page. I suppose that is the essence of a successful poet. A great introduction to Billy Collins.(less)
I was really looking forward to Claire of the Sea Light because I am always interested in works that bring far-off places and cultures that I will pro...moreI was really looking forward to Claire of the Sea Light because I am always interested in works that bring far-off places and cultures that I will probably never have the opportunity to visit to life. And while Danticat did provide a look inside the culture of Haiti, the constant changes of character perspectives and reversals in the timeline of the story made it difficult for me to ever connect with any of the characters. In fact, the Claire of the title may be the least important or interesting character of them all. Claire of the Sea Light felt like a collection of short stories that are stitched together with clever little ties, but ultimately I became disinterested in all of the characters and their stories. Danticat simply didn't provide anyone to root for. While there is nothing flagrantly wrong with the book, there really isn't a compelling reason to recommend it either. Frankly, I was pretty disappointed. (less)
Right from the start, I have to say that I really enjoyed Alexander Maksik’s atmospheric character story, A Marker to Measure Drift. Told from the fir...moreRight from the start, I have to say that I really enjoyed Alexander Maksik’s atmospheric character story, A Marker to Measure Drift. Told from the first-person perspective of Jacqueline, Maksik shows a deft touch juggling her physical trials with her unreliable mental state. Maksik’s writing is hypnotic and creates an authentic and unique character in Jacqueline. While the narration allows us to get a feel for what has brought Jacqueline to the edge of madness – and arguable over the edge – it isn’t until the very end that we actually confront the full horror of what has wrecked her young life and the immense courage it takes to even attempt to go on, no matter how haltingly.
I was completely absorbed by A Marker to Measure Drift. At 240 pages, it is a perfect length for the story it tells and is written with remarkable ability. I’m not going to call this the best novel I have read this year, but it is certainly one of the better ones. Some readers might have difficulty with the unreliable narrator or the lack of a clean conclusion, but for me, this was one of the best parts. A Marker to Measure Drift is certainly worth putting on your reading list. (less)