I've always enjoyed mystery novels, not so much for the plots, as for the characters and, particularly, the settings. A character on a mission to solv...moreI've always enjoyed mystery novels, not so much for the plots, as for the characters and, particularly, the settings. A character on a mission to solve a crime provides a great lens to explore places, and societies, that are different from the world I encounter every day. By that standard, 'The Cold Dish' is mostly a success. The likable-if-curmudgeonly narrator is a small-town sherriff in Wyoming, and he's a good observer of the complex social rules of the community.
Unfortunately, mysteries also have to have plots, and this one didn't work for me at all. I saw the resolution coming and thought 'please don't go there,' and it totally did. I have the second book in the series out from the library and I'll probably give it a shot. If Johnson keeps these characters and setting, and improves his plotting, it could be really enjoyable. (less)
I've been a David Sedaris fan for a while now, encountering his work in magazines, print anthologies, in audiobook form, and through his numerous cont...moreI've been a David Sedaris fan for a while now, encountering his work in magazines, print anthologies, in audiobook form, and through his numerous contributions to radio shows like "This American Life."
"Naked" is the first Sedaris book I've ever sat down and read from cover to cover. It's also one of his earlier books (published in 1997) so in some ways it's a different experience. The real-life characters -- family, friends, and David himself -- are the same people I already know well. But the Sedaris persona -- the balance between matter- of-fact, satirical, and self-mockingly glib with which he relates often bizarre situations -- isn't nearly as polished as it has become.
The essays in this collection don't generally show the structural genius that he had developed by the time of "Me Talk Pretty One Day". Some of the pieces here are on the rambly, repetitive side and don't amount to much but accounts of weird things the author did, and strange people he met while hitchhiking around America performing various odd jobs. After a while, there's a sameness to all of his travel stories, and to the people he encounters, which makes the reader suspect we're getting more of David's filter than of the real people.
But Sedaris' writing is always enjoyable, and the best pieces in this collection are as good, and revealing, as anything he's written. The family stories, particularly, have an emotional rawness just below (and sometimes right on) the surface that I didn't expect based on reading his more recent work. I definitely recommend this to any Sedaris fan, or anybody who's interested in a surprising -- and dark, and funny -- twist on the memoir genre. (less)
I'm not completely sure what I just read, but I didn't want to put it down, and that counts for something.
Published in 1962, 'The Man in the High Cast...moreI'm not completely sure what I just read, but I didn't want to put it down, and that counts for something.
Published in 1962, 'The Man in the High Castle' presents an alternate version of history, in which Japan and Germany won World War II and jointly control the United States. The story is told from the viewpoints of several characters whose lives intersect, but the storylines never completely converge. The lack of clear resolution to any of the stories ought to feel unsatisfying, yet there's something hypnotic about the prose. None of the characters are in control of their own fates -- and at least one of them is manifestly insane (though even this isn't clear until late in the book.) They're spun around like pinballs, making the best of bad situations. The only thing they all seem to have in common is that they're fascinated by a novel which provides its own alternate history of a world in which Germany and Japan had lost the war (though, from what we see of the book, it's not exactly the same as our real world, either).
In the course of talking about the fictional novel, Dick has a character hint at the old adage that all fiction is really about the time and world that it's written in. So if the fictional novel was commenting on TMitHC's internal 'real' world, presumably this real novel was meant to say something about Dick's perception of the real 1962. Reading this in 2008, though, it's difficult to figure out what that might have been. Something about the Cold War, American imperialism, racism, space travel? Damned if I know. Still, this was a fascinating work by an acknowledged American master, and I expect that Dick's haunting mirror universe will linger with me for a while. (less)
I am not the target audience for 'Phonogram.' That's pretty clear, because the book is largely driven -- not just in atmosphere but in plot -- by refe...moreI am not the target audience for 'Phonogram.' That's pretty clear, because the book is largely driven -- not just in atmosphere but in plot -- by references to a whole lot of bands I have never in my life heard of. These bands were apparently popular in the UK in the 1990s, a decade that I spent entirely in college towns in the Southern U.S., listening almost exclusively to jazz standards and Billy Joel albums, and attending a total of two concerts of popular music: a show by a local ska band, and a Lisa Loeb/ Sarah Maclachlan concert that my ex-boyfriend dragged me two years after we broke up. I know this description sounds like it's exaggerated for effect, but it is literally true. Those were my '90s.
And yet I enjoyed 'Phonogram.' I'm pretty sure (I hope) that series creators Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie would take that as a compliment. A note in the back of the book says: "Everything you need to know about a band is right there in the narrative, and should be able to be grasped by the context it's in." That note precedes an extensive glossary, and listening suggestions, indicating that Gillen & McKelvie hoped that some people outside their target audience would be their target audience -- which, while it really isn't necessary, is a nice touch. It's refreshing for a book that relies so heavily on allusion and cultural coding to feel like it's actually trying to include readers, instead of excluding them. A lot of writers of 'mainstream' superhero comics could learn from this approach, as those stories are all too often meaningless to people who haven't been reading about the same characters since they were 10 years old. 'Phonogram' actually fools me into thinking I know something about Britpop. It's a tricky exercise, but Gillen and McKelvie pull it off.
It's probably starting to sound like I don't actually want to talk about what happens in 'Phonogram,' and there's something to that. I'm not sure what *does* happen in this book. I just know that the central character, David Kohl, is a fascinating (and totally reprehensible) son-of-a-bitch, and that I could look at Jamie McKelvie's striking, imaginative black & white art all day.
A very odd book, and the shortage of basic exposition is the kind of thing that would usually bother me. But for whatever reason, I found it fun to (s...moreA very odd book, and the shortage of basic exposition is the kind of thing that would usually bother me. But for whatever reason, I found it fun to (sort of) put the pieces together. And the art is really nice to look at. I wasn't wild about Gabriel Ba's work on 'Casanova,' so it may be Dave Stewart's colors that make the difference. (less)
I'm not usually a fan of literary biographies, because they usually seem to concentrate on the minutiae of writers' lives that have nothing to do with...moreI'm not usually a fan of literary biographies, because they usually seem to concentrate on the minutiae of writers' lives that have nothing to do with their writing, or they attempt to find "real life" equivalents for everything that the author used in fiction. This concise biography by Carol Shields strikes a great balance. It talks about Jane Austen's life, and how it affected her fiction, in a very practical way -- connecting a drought of several years in her writing output, for instance, with living circumstances that kept her from having a quiet place of her own.
This book also gives a picture of the people in Jane's life -- mostly her large, close, but sometimes difficult family -- and how she interacted with them. Shields doesn't ignore the possible romantic interludes in Jane's life but, while some biographers seem to be obsessed with them, Shields acknowledges these men, and the possibility of marriage, as one of many things that could have affected her.
Shields devotes some time to analysis of Austen's novels, as well; this book will probably work best for people who know at least a few of the books fairly well. I didn't think the literary analysis was a strong point, and if I hadn't been listening to this on audio, I probably would have skimmed. (The audiobook reading, by the way, is very good).(less)
This is the best book I've read in years, and one that I recommend to anybody and everybody who is interested in American history, or the South, or go...moreThis is the best book I've read in years, and one that I recommend to anybody and everybody who is interested in American history, or the South, or good nonfiction, or just reading in general.(less)
It's not really fair to say, because this came out first, but "Green Arrow: Year One" reminds me of the "Iron Man" movie in a couple ways. Ollie Queen...moreIt's not really fair to say, because this came out first, but "Green Arrow: Year One" reminds me of the "Iron Man" movie in a couple ways. Ollie Queen's character arc is similar to Tony Stark's (irresponsible playboy discovers, through betrayal and adversity, that he has a greater purpose in life). Both are also retelling of potentially corny, highly implausible origins that make them feel like they could (almost) work in the real world.
In short, anyone who liked "Iron Man" would probably like this book. This was great fun to read, and the art by Jock -- who is new to me -- is not only beautiful but very dynamic, and easy to follow. The storyline is fairly predictable, but (like 'Iron Man') takes a few turns I didn't expect. I was initially put off that the only women in the story are a sadistic villainess (motivation: be evil!!!) and a saintly pregnant woman who saves Ollie's life. But by the end of the story, the second woman had a lot more dimension than I expected her to, so I mostly got over that criticism.
The only other thing I'd say about this book is that it literally took me less than 20 minutes to read. I got it from the library, so that's handy, but I don't think I would pay money for the hardcover unless I *really* wanted the art.
This is the story of Shadow, an ex-con on a road trip through the American landscape of the supernatural.
I feel like this book deserves a 5, because i...moreThis is the story of Shadow, an ex-con on a road trip through the American landscape of the supernatural.
I feel like this book deserves a 5, because it really stuck with me. On the other hand, I tried to re-read it, and I discovered I had no desire to. I didn't get anywhere in 'Anansi Boys,' either, and on paper it's exactly the kind of thing I should like.
I continue to ponder the mystery of numerical ratings systems.
And I used to have a hardcover copy but my brother had it in his house during a hurricane and it got ruined along with everything else. Either that or he dropped it in the bathtub.(less)