A novel about four very different suicidal people who meet by chance on the top of a building they were all planning to throw themselves off of.
I do aA novel about four very different suicidal people who meet by chance on the top of a building they were all planning to throw themselves off of.
I do a lot of long drives, and audiobooks are expensive, so whenever I'm visitng my parents in Tucson, Arizona, I go to Bookman's, the local used bookstore chain, where my mom always has vast amounts of credit, and try to find a few new audiobooks. Usually the pickings are slim - few books are even published in CD format, mostly bestselling fiction and boring-looking nonfiction, and even fewer end up at the used bookstore. But I picked out this one because the author name was familiar - I'd been meaning to read some Nick Hornby at some point. But the premise sounded deeply unpromising and I was pretty sure it'd be a boring, depressing, overly literary listen, so I stuck it somewhere in the middle of a 3-foot-tall stack of unread books in my apartment, and there it sat for months. Until I unearthed it right before another car trip, having run out of other things to listen to, and resignedly put it into my car CD player.
Happily, it turned out to be a new favorite book. It was funny, heartwrenching, entertaining, full of sharp, hard truths at every turn, suspenseful, wise, and compassionate, took a lot of courageous risks, and yet didn't take itself too seriously. The ending was satisfying, believable, and uplifting without being expected or cliche or neat or sentimental. I want to say it was close to perfection, but then it occurs to me I can't say that, because it was too humbly written to be trying for perfection. It's a flawed book in the way that a very loveable, brave, funny person is flawed, that is, forgivably, delightfully, and unpredictably.
This was my first Nick Hornby book, if you hadn't gathered, although I had seen the movie version of About a Boy, which I liked and which made me want to read the book. So apparently, I am very late to the Nick Hornby party. Anyway, I'm in love. The best authors make you fall a little in love with them, and the best writing, I think, is an act of charm and seduction. So that's another piece of evidence that this book is up there with the best.
I was surprised to see so many negative reviews, and reading through them, my sense is that many of the bad reviews come either from (1) people who felt that the book was not highbrow or "literary" enough, and (2), those who have read a bunch of other Nick Hornby books and felt that this one didn't measure up to the quality of the others. For the first group, I think that their failing to appreciate this book is possibly a sad personal failing that amounts to little more than snobbery. But then, I'm a literary pragmatist, rather than a literary essentialist: If a book works for me, I consider it good. I don't have some pre-conceived ideal in mind of what a good book should be, which I measure the books that I read against. As for the second group, I guess I can see how, set against a backdrop of fantastic writing, anything that falls short of the best Hornby you've read might pale by comparison. But heck, it just makes me happy that there's a lot more Hornby out there still for me to read, if people think the others are even better!...more
The story of Jesus as you've never heard it before, from the viewpoint of Christ's best bud, Levi who is called Biff. I was really skeptical going intThe story of Jesus as you've never heard it before, from the viewpoint of Christ's best bud, Levi who is called Biff. I was really skeptical going into this whether I would like it - it looked just plain silly and ridiculous - but I'm so glad I gave it a shot, because it has now earned a spot on my top-favorites shelf. LAMB is far from being just goofy humor, but tells a serious story that weaves in a fantastic amount of interesting historical detail along with plenty of smart, sharp comedy. Another cool thing about the book is that it manages somehow to be simultaneously totally irreverent and yet surprisingly respectful to both Christianity and Judaism, not to mention Zen Buddhism ... though the ancient Hindu goddess Kali isn't portrayed quite so flatteringly ... Believers and unbelievers can both enjoy this equally, I would think - and it's thought-provoking as well as fun. Just an all-around awesome achievement as a book.
Religiously conservative readers be cautioned though - there is some swearing and PG-13 sexual content....more
This is a very dark look at a fictional gang uprising in a horrible big-city housing project. The author does an impressive job of humanizing the charThis is a very dark look at a fictional gang uprising in a horrible big-city housing project. The author does an impressive job of humanizing the characters and making them seem realistic, paradoxically by keeeping them at arm's length as the story is told in the style of a documentary film. There are moments of beauty and soulful wisdom here that make this well worth a read despite the depressing subject matter - on the whole, a challenging book by a solid writer....more
This is a zombie novel, but a very original twist on the genre. The narration is film-documentary style, switching back and forth between the differenThis is a zombie novel, but a very original twist on the genre. The narration is film-documentary style, switching back and forth between the different characters. The characters are group of seemingly incongruous friends: A waiter and his artist girlfriend, the 17-year-old daughter of their neighbors, an AWOL military guy, and a 60-something bearded professor. In the aftermath of a zombie uprising that has disturbed the country and shut down the economy 9/11-style, they wander through the Eastern US. Strangely, the zombies are totally harmless and defenseless for the most part ... until one day, they're not.
I got hooked on the story pretty early on, when I realized some parts of the book were actually funny, and it's such a different thing from any other zombie story imaginable....more
Oh my gosh, this was so much fun to read. It's an alternate history crime story - set in an England in the mid 1980s where literature is taken *very*Oh my gosh, this was so much fun to read. It's an alternate history crime story - set in an England in the mid 1980s where literature is taken *very* seriously and there are fights in the street about who really authored Shakespeare's plays. An evil villain kidnaps Jane Eyre right out of the pages of Bronte's novel, and our fearless heroine, Miss Thursday Next, has to save the day.
Just totally brilliant, hilarious, and fun for anyone who loves literature. Perfect light reading.
(Also: safe reading for my conservative religious reader friends.)...more
The story of a Parisian ingenue in the second half of the 19th century, who rises from gutter-dwelling prostitute to famous actress to millionaire-impThe story of a Parisian ingenue in the second half of the 19th century, who rises from gutter-dwelling prostitute to famous actress to millionaire-impoverishing courtesan.
Wonderfully, surprisingly racy for a 19th century book. Funny in parts, and I really enjoyed the characters despite how sleazy and dumb most of them were. The ending was strange, though, and didn't totally seem to fit with the rest, since Zola suddenly gets very heavy-handedly moralistic, even though he clearly is no big fan of religious piety. It was a little incongruous that he could tell the story of Nana and her companions with so much zest and humor but express so much bile and disgust for them at the end.
A historical novel set in Ancient Egypt, depicting events leading up to the ascension of a (real, historical) female Pharaoh to the throne. This was wA historical novel set in Ancient Egypt, depicting events leading up to the ascension of a (real, historical) female Pharaoh to the throne. This was wonderfully well done. The prose is ambitious, the devotion to historical realism is palpable, the characters are complex and engaging, and the plot is gripping. For me the prose was actually a little too ambitious - my personal preference is for a slightly more streamlined style, and I believe loading up your paragraphs with too many juicy metaphors and similes and poetic word choices can actually get in the way of the flow of the story (I had the same problem with Shannon Hale's The Goose Girl). But fans of that sort of juicy prose will find everything to love here, and no shortage of exciting plot either.
The most interesting thing to me is how deeply the narrator seems to enter into the religious/mythological worldview of her main character - things that a modern reader would find ridiculous and superstitious, or suspect of being self-serving claptrap rather than sincere beliefs, are treated with such seriousness that by the end I wanted to call this a work of magical realism. I wasn't sure if I entirely liked that aspect of the book, but it was fascinating, and I really felt like I'd been given a glimpse into a truly alien mindset.
Really enjoyed this. Reminded me very much of Laurie Colwin's wonderfully written tales of sympathetic infidelity, set in the freewheeling seventies.Really enjoyed this. Reminded me very much of Laurie Colwin's wonderfully written tales of sympathetic infidelity, set in the freewheeling seventies. It really was a different time. Funny to think America has grown so much more conservative in the last couple of decades. Like Colwin's books, this one combines intricate and intimate realism with bucketloads of charm - though Duberstein is more charming, and definitely funnier....more
The National Museum of Romance in Tristia, New Jersey, is closing its doors and auctioning off its holdings. A mysterious bidder arrives, willing to rThe National Museum of Romance in Tristia, New Jersey, is closing its doors and auctioning off its holdings. A mysterious bidder arrives, willing to risk everything he has to acquire Lot 30, a small golden key. Interspersed with the bidder's story are smaller, flash-fiction type short pieces describing the histories of individual love mementos in the museum.
Particularly for a self-pubbed book, this is very well written. There is a lot to love here: There's a wonderful undertow of dark humor and irony throughout. The portrait of the bidder's desperation and loneliness is intelligent and infused with a kind of energy that makes it almost weirdly uplifting to read. In the end the book breaks your heart, though, because it ends up withholding too much. The bidder's story remains too shadowed, and the whole thing fails to cohere and become greater than the sum of its parts.
The "parts" taken as themselves, however, are genuinely great. This is definitely one of those books that will haunt you and follow you around for years afterward....more
I received this through a first-reads book giveaway. It's a novel in verse about three women in their late thirties/early forties who are all friendsI received this through a first-reads book giveaway. It's a novel in verse about three women in their late thirties/early forties who are all friends and mothers. One is married to a decent guy but craves erotic adventure, another is a divorced single mother, and a third is married to a largely absent husband who is totally unhelpful as she struggles to care for a disabled toddler daughter and gay teenage son.
This was an absorbing, if sometimes soap-operatic story, and the verse format didn't make it any less gripping. In fact, I never imagined I could enjoy a novel in the form of poems this much. I was often so oblivious to the fact that I was reading poetry that it's difficult for me even to tell whether I thought the poetry was good poetry or not. For that very reason, I don't think it could count as great poetry for the ages. However, I found myself in awe of the author's ambitiousness in choosing this form for her novel and how well she pulled it off. When I did notice the poetry, I was often impressed with the author's interesting word choices and verse structures.
As a single mom to a pre-schooler and woman of a certain age, I definitely felt like the storylines in the book were ones I could relate to. The portions dealing with the disabled child were especially heartrending. One of the characters reconnects with her spirituality in part of the book, but to my relief it was mostly presented in a literary way, as one possible choice a person could make for her life among many others, rather than as covert sermonizing.
Some parts of the book get fairly steamy, so that it reads a bit like a Harlequin romanice in spots. (It amused me because one characters joins a writing group and, wow, I'll just say, her writing group is whole lot more interesting than any I've ever gone to ...) I also found some of the steamy parts unrealistic (e.g., (view spoiler)[there's a scene where a character goes to a sex club and engages in some kinky stuff there ... I've never been to a sex club myself, but I've heard enough first-hand accounts to be fairly certain that they tend to involve a lot more old, fat, funny-looking people then the book's idealized scene would lead you to believe (hide spoiler)]).
(Content warning for my LDS reader friends: besides the aforementioned steaminess, there is also a (view spoiler)[girl-on-girl sex scene (hide spoiler)]!)
On the whole, it was a worthwhile and enjoyable read, and something new and out of the ordinary as well....more
In a dystopian near-future United States, criminals are no longer incarcerated, but instead publically shamed by having their skin color altered to shIn a dystopian near-future United States, criminals are no longer incarcerated, but instead publically shamed by having their skin color altered to shades like red (murderers), blue (child molesters), or yellow (felons). Religious conservatism has grown into a far more powerful political and social force, Roe vs. Wade has been overturned, and many states treat abortion as murder. Against this background, the author reimagines the story of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter, as an evangelical Christian young women found guilty of having an abortion wakes up to find her entire body is now scarlet.
This was very well-done and an enjoyable read. I liked the writing, and the characters' actions and attitudes were mostly believable. The author is great at keeping the tension and suspense high, making this a page-turner. In the course of the story, we get some musings on the nature of faith, fundamentalism, social repression and rebellion, liberalism, and God, and I felt like these musings for the most part were interesting, often insightful, and not too heavy-handed. I did have a hard time swallowing the main character's sudden jump into actions very foreign to her original belief system, which seemed like they would have required a longer psychological transition in reality ((view spoiler)[FYI, for those who are bothered by such things, there's a lesbian love scene, though as I recall it wasn't explicit and was tastefully done - personally as I say I was bothered just on believability grounds (hide spoiler)]). I'm not sure she needed to hew quite as closely to Nathaniel Hawthorne's story as she did, e.g., with the character names being so similar. But I loved the creativity of the high-concept plot....more