The Elephant Suite compiles three fascinating, morally complicated novellas about Americans, primarily tourists, in India. Typically, the stories find...moreThe Elephant Suite compiles three fascinating, morally complicated novellas about Americans, primarily tourists, in India. Typically, the stories find the Americans wholly out of their element, devastated or seemingly destroyed by what they find. But for some there is redemption, and for fewer still a form of salvation. What makes Elephanta Suite an uncomfortable but revealing book are the strongly implied (ultimately ambiguous) parallels drawn, or suggested by appearance, between animal and human behaviors. Perhaps, within a culture that sees within animals its Gods in disguise, the parallels can be fitting, but from the Western perspective of the Americans the effect is unsettling, and suggestive of the bigotry often ascribed to Americans out in the world. Not each of the three stories satisfy equally, but taken as a whole the book is worth while, well-crafted, and affecting in its presentation of the chaos created where East and West collide.(less)
The only thing better than a well-written thriller is one that features lots of action in the Library of Congress! The book follows two seemingly unre...moreThe only thing better than a well-written thriller is one that features lots of action in the Library of Congress! The book follows two seemingly unrelated stories, one involving the death of a LOC librarian, the other detailing a breathtakingly elaborate scheme to con millions of a dollars from a casino boss. Watching when and how the stories meet up is a lot of fun, and the last section of the book is a true page-turner. (less)
On Chesil Beach is a hard novel to describe in simple terms... or rather simplification of this kind of story misses the point: there is much going on...moreOn Chesil Beach is a hard novel to describe in simple terms... or rather simplification of this kind of story misses the point: there is much going on in this short novel to admire. You can admire how McEwan contrasts the emotional strength and sexual awkwardness of two newlyweds, and their living both beyond and under the coming culture of easy gratification. You can admire the soft ending that is wrenching and re-readable and possibly the truest point on the compass here. Or you can find all the truths here for yourself: how sex and marriage interrelate, how external pressures drive private conformity, how little we understand or how intolerant we are of definitions of love that seem narrowing, unconventional, or simply a challenge greater than we can meet. On Chesil Beach is a sad but wonderful novel of quiet, reverberating honesty that - unlike so many stories that feign this level of far-reaching sincerity - everyone should read.(less)
The music of Pink Floyd gains much more meaning when placed in the context of the band’s history, and that is precisely what Schaffner does in Saucerf...moreThe music of Pink Floyd gains much more meaning when placed in the context of the band’s history, and that is precisely what Schaffner does in Saucerful of Secrets. From the early days of Syd Barrett and the underground London scene to Dark Side of the Moon and straight on through the Gilmour and Waters solo albums, the book reveals the creative processes, internal conflicts, triumphs, and tragedies of this timeless band while progressing chronologically through Pink Floyd’s albums. Don’t expect major criticisms here—Schaffner was a huge Floyd fan and his love for the band oozes through his writing—but for those seeking a good overview of the band’s history and music, this is your book.(less)
Wilco is one of the most important yet understated bands of our time. This book is a great overview of frontman Jeff Tweedy's career, starting way bac...moreWilco is one of the most important yet understated bands of our time. This book is a great overview of frontman Jeff Tweedy's career, starting way back in his junior high days, coming up through Uncle Tupelo, Loose Fur, Wilco, etc etc. You learn so much about Tweedy, from his favorite music to his lifetime struggles with migraines and depression to his personal philosophy about the creation of music. Author Greg Kot's many hats as a journalist, Wilco fan, Chicagoan, and music critic all blend together to create a great narrative that is part history of the band, part making of the albums, and part rock critic description of the music. Being extremely familiar with Wilco, this worked perfectly for me. I'm not sure how people who are looking for a typical band biography would handle this, as it references the music and even a documentary about the band (I Am Trying To Break Your Heart) extensively and makes a certain amount of assumptions about the reader's familiarity with the Wilco catalog. Still, it is possible to read this book without being a Wilco superfan; but like any book about a band, you get more out of it if you are already familiar with the music.
My one regret about this book is it ends in 2004, just after Pat Sansone and Nels Cline joined the band, just after Tweedy entered rehab, and just before A Ghost Is Born really made its mark on the world. My hope is that a few albums down the line, Kot will write an updated edition of this book. So much has happened to the band since this book left off, which gives it a very To Be Continued feel. Sky Blue Sky (2007) is already a radical departure from A Ghost Is Born, and with the way Wilco is constantly reinventing itself and its music, there remains plenty to be said and explored.(less)
Born Standing Up is Steve Martin sharing the foundations of his own kind of comedy: his preferences in performers, his attention to style, his buildin...moreBorn Standing Up is Steve Martin sharing the foundations of his own kind of comedy: his preferences in performers, his attention to style, his building of a repertoire and eventually, a name; and Born Standing Up is enjoyable because it doesn't attempt to be encyclopedic, it doesn't attempt overt analysis of Martin's psychology, it doesn't tell you every single detail of every single skit or the personal life of every one of its characters. Born Standing Up is sweet, short, funny, classy (especially in Martin's strict practice of crediting every single person that impacted and shaped his material) and occasionally brilliantly observant. I dove into this book and didn't come up until it was over. Like the best shows, you end it feeling like you've seen something irreproducible and genuine. What that really means, of course, is that Martin leaves you dying for more.(less)
I picked this up out of curiosity when I was in the grocery store and was not intending to buy it, but I had heard that it was Oprah's latest Book Clu...moreI picked this up out of curiosity when I was in the grocery store and was not intending to buy it, but I had heard that it was Oprah's latest Book Club pick. After standing there reading the first three pages, I decided I had to finish the book and purchased it on the spot. It took me less than a week to finish the book (almost a thousand pages) and I found myself drawn into the story and could not put it down.
The story takes place in 12th century England and the story revolves around the building of a great cathedral in a small town. Religion, politics, war, love, intrigue are part of the story to build this cathedral. Follet captures you right away in his depiction of the characters and takes you along on the journey to design and build this great cathedral. (less)
This first novel in the Young Adult 'Monster Blood Tattoo' series starts slowly - almost too slowly for a new series - but picks up to a nice clip a f...moreThis first novel in the Young Adult 'Monster Blood Tattoo' series starts slowly - almost too slowly for a new series - but picks up to a nice clip a few dozen pages in. By the end of it, young Rossamünd, fresh from Madam Opera's Estimable Marine Society For Foundling Boys And Girls, has made several new friends and a surprising number of enemies, all before starting his new position as a Lamplighter for the Half-Continent Empire.
Remarkable about this series premiere are the supplements offered to flesh out Cornish's created world: There is a very extensive and elaborate glossary, numerous illustrations, and about a dozen area maps. All this, found even in the paperback version of the book, is enough for the most lore-crazed fan of Lord of The Rings, and the mix of European culture, imaginary beasts, and general steampunk weirdness offer some needed originality to the Potter-heavy universe of children’s publishing. Very enjoyable, with some surprising emotional revelations for characters major and minor, and a nice take on the idea of how a little cultural demonization can make monsters of us all. (less)
Believe it or not, I have not only never read any Tolkien, but I haven't even seen any of the LOTR films. As a challenge to myself, I decided to read...moreBelieve it or not, I have not only never read any Tolkien, but I haven't even seen any of the LOTR films. As a challenge to myself, I decided to read Fellowship of the Ring, and ... challenge was definitely the right word. I was warned by several friends that Tolkien is extremely dense and slow-going, and I absolutely agree with that assessment. He is a very careful, thorough writer and has done an astonishing job creating a world filled with extensive histories, mythologies, and landscapes. That said, even the more action-packed portions of the book seemed to lag. In musical terms, I kept waiting for an accelerando or even a small crescendo, and never quite got it. I did, however, love the characters and really can't wait to watch the first film and see how Peter Jackson has brought them to life. (less)
Tahmima Anam's slow starting biographical and historical novel, the first of three, finds it voice quite suddenly, and in the same manner as does its...moreTahmima Anam's slow starting biographical and historical novel, the first of three, finds it voice quite suddenly, and in the same manner as does its characters: with the outbreak of war in East Pakistan, 1971. Occurring a few long chapters in, the war that leads to the eventual birth of Bangladesh also leads to the startling growth of Rehana Haque, a mother whose characterization avoids the ready but dangerous stereotypes of war-torn families, grieving widows, and over-reaching maternalism. Instead Anam charts the rough ground of an independence and an identity subsumed but never sacrificed, both personal and ultimately political. A Golden Age is well worth the patience its first few chapters demand.(less)
Hardball is like a big bag of popcorn for fans of American political theater. Originally written in 1988, the book has been 'revised and updated' (dat...moreHardball is like a big bag of popcorn for fans of American political theater. Originally written in 1988, the book has been 'revised and updated' (dates unspecific) to now loosely cover the Kennedy era through Bill Clinton’s second term, offering funny, stunning, smart, and cruel political anecdotes from both the Legislative and Executive branches. Rather than come at you chronologically, Hardball is organized under chapter headings that, while maybe novel in '88, seem like second nature now, perhaps in part to the book itself: "Spin," "Positioning," "Always Concede on Principle," etc.
Combined with his own experiences of running a failed House bid, and working as aide to Jimmy Carter and Tip O'Neill, among others, this book obviously led to Chris Matthews as host of his own Hardball program - which was news to someone who was a fan of Hardball-as-TV before they knew of Hardball as a post-Reagan philosophy. Hardball the book, like the television program, is entertaining stuff. Perhaps even useful as a field guild of sorts for this season’s herd of political animals. Because when you fly this far above the field - when you can see only the game and not the people whose lives are betting on it - it makes sense that politics is sport, is luxury, is something to be played. The other view, and probably the obverse, is too depressing to contemplate.(less)
Judging from various reader reviews, this book seems to polarize people. I'm firmly in the "love it" camp, even though I know perfectly well that this...moreJudging from various reader reviews, this book seems to polarize people. I'm firmly in the "love it" camp, even though I know perfectly well that this is a deeply flawed book. That said, it's also a riveting book with a deeply compelling voice. This was one of those books that I read slowly because I simply didn't want it to end. Is it wrong that I want Pessl to write a sequel? I'd love to hear more from Blue. (less)
If you read fiction to escape, then you read literature to fall in love, and with this love collect for your heart the fallible gestures of human judg...moreIf you read fiction to escape, then you read literature to fall in love, and with this love collect for your heart the fallible gestures of human judgment that mark a life as you would know it. The Cry of the Dove creates a woman easy to fall in love with because her life encompasses the most human effort: to stake and bound an identity amid conditions that are powerfully imbalanced, but quietly, lovingly, individual.
The novel is constructed with evocative language and a speech broken only out the narrator’s mouth, for Salma Ibrahim El-Musa, sometimes Sally Asher, is nothing if not honest in the cruelty of her self-image, her Bedouin roots never not on display for judgment by her adopted England. Like her speech, scenes of the narrative are spilled like a bag of stones, skipping from present to past, but orchestrated in a way to muse here on religion, here on birth, here on desire, here on loss.
I don't know what to say that would express why I think this novel is so beautiful, just as I don't know how to encapsulate a life to make it tell as well as it feels. But I am in love with this complicated Salma, as much as with what she would hope to lightly carry as with how steadily she would march toward grace.(less)
The Soul Thief begins the way all good books set in college do: with a party. And if you liked The Feast of Love, you are probably prepared (read: gr...moreThe Soul Thief begins the way all good books set in college do: with a party. And if you liked The Feast of Love, you are probably prepared (read: greedily ready), to follow Nathaniel Mason for 209 pages of nothing more than early 1970s college life: drinking too much; spontaneous, aimless road trips; and the kind of sex-by-arrangement or even sex-by-proximity arrangement that can happen when you are exploring the world of newfound adulthood and your sexual boundaries simultaneously. As common as the experiences are, Charles Baxter could make the college antics of any one of us worth that much paper, but The Soul Thief aspires higher.
More Saul and Patsy than The Feast of Love, The Soul Thief ruminates on darker themes. Identity and obsession become intertwined with the exploration and college-aged intellectualization of emotional motives — in effect, this is the academic experience of deconstruction applied, unwittingly and unwillingly, on the self, and in places the effect is chilling. What I won’t say is that I loved the ending, and this is a book where the ending makes or breaks your ultimate experience. But all of Charles Baxter's trademarks are here, especially in the introduction of his achingly unforgettable characters, and that is a trademark worth experiencing again.
There are a slew of related novels that might help triangulate this one. The Secret History and Intuition to one side, and the ridiculous Arts and Sciences on the other. Ultimately, however, nothing is going to prevent a Charles Baxter fan from reading another Charles Baxter book. Even if you don't quite think he's the best writer of thrillers in the world, or if you feel there is something you may have missed, The Soul Thief has enough substance to leave you wondering not just how thoroughly the novel's ruse was constructed, but about all the pieces of these characters' lives that you are made, so suddenly, to miss. (less)
I had to find the right moment to read this, but when I did Calvino's prose and narratives really connected. Calvino takes as his premise the explorer...moreI had to find the right moment to read this, but when I did Calvino's prose and narratives really connected. Calvino takes as his premise the explorer Marco Polo, in the service of Kublai Khan, on a mission to travel the Great Khan's empire and return with descriptions of all the cities, so that Khan might better know his kingdom. So then the book is a series of descriptions of cities, organized and book-ended by conversations between Polo and Kahn. But in addition to the stand-alone yet interlocking narratives of the cities, and the interaction between Polo and Khan, organizationally this book is a masterpiece, and suggests numerous ways to be read - both straight-through, but also following the descriptions as they connect to one another through chapter-like headings and hopscotch from section to section. Truly, a delight for the reader.(less)
I'jaam's lucid flashbacks and hallucinatory passages written during narrator Furat's Iraqi imprisonment reminds me of similar political or existential...moreI'jaam's lucid flashbacks and hallucinatory passages written during narrator Furat's Iraqi imprisonment reminds me of similar political or existential novels The Stranger and The Plague. There is even something about I'jaam to recall the less mature Stephen King novella, The Long Walk, and the more artificially constructed, e-less novel from Georges Perec, A Void. But while those books had much looser ties - if any - to a kind of truth, it is not difficult to find the reality that motives the surreality of I'jaam: the Orwellian-like regime of Saddam Hussein. As a novel, I'jaam is beautifully done: believable in its premise; effective as a written artifice; reluctant to use heavy-handedness and anger when its portrayal of soft tragedies, and a lost romance, bring Furat's imprisonment a readier display of human endurance, justification, and regret. This novel, like the era it captures, needs to be elevated into broader view. (less)
It's rather a cliche to read a book about high school and say, with deep feeling, "I identify with this SO MUCH." But you really can't help but marvel...moreIt's rather a cliche to read a book about high school and say, with deep feeling, "I identify with this SO MUCH." But you really can't help but marvel at Sittenfeld's ability to articulate the complicated inner monologue of a teenage girl. What is notable about this book is that the narrator is recounting her high school experience several years after the fact, and the author perfectly captures that mixture of nostalgia, disbelief, and mortification that most of us feel when looking back to our teenage years. (less)
As they move in and out of narrator Nick Framingham’s life, the other characters in Now You See Him possess the page with surges of the ugliest emotio...moreAs they move in and out of narrator Nick Framingham’s life, the other characters in Now You See Him possess the page with surges of the ugliest emotions: envy and contempt, open hatred, lusts both bold and rotten. Now You See Him is about puzzling out identities: Who would expect, among this small New York state crowd, a killer? Who is the best at swallowing their horrible truth? And who finds themselves soured by what their introspections peel away? All said and done, this novel, in places beautifully written, creates something like a shredded collage of identity - an image wholly manufactured, and destroyed in an explosion of faces and memories and beliefs at the deaths of writer Rob Castor and his wife.
I am surprised to find such strong things to say about these characters because while reading them they seemed as familiar, understandable, even as noble as you could hope for families never forced to confront themselves. And that may be the best thing about this literary thriller: that you come away unsettled, with a strange urge to dig out the seed of your own identity, examine it, and decide if it has grown as healthy as you thought. (less)
"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Michael Pollan's succinct dietary advice is so simple it's practically insulting, but thanks to a combination...more"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Michael Pollan's succinct dietary advice is so simple it's practically insulting, but thanks to a combination of bad science and government influence, Americans are more confused than ever about how and what to eat. Our ancestors wouldn't recognize most of the "food" we eat today, things like refined pasta fortified with omega-3s or diet soda spiked with vitamins. By refining and processing our food and trying to add the nutrients back in, the modern food industry has introduced a bevy of chronic diseases ranging from cancer to heart disease to type 2 diabetes. Pollan makes a compelling case for doing away with the Western diet and only eating foods that your great-grandmother would recognize as such. This is, quite honestly, one of the most fascinating books I've read in a long while. It's also incredibly concise, readable, and hard to put down. (less)
I picked this up because there was a lot of positive buzz on the blogs I was reading, and it was definitely all warranted. I would call it a calm book...moreI picked this up because there was a lot of positive buzz on the blogs I was reading, and it was definitely all warranted. I would call it a calm book, mostly due to the tone of the narrator, but calm shouldn't be confused with boring - it was always interesting, frequently went places I didn't anticipate, and had a really powerful sense of place and time. Loved it, and I can't wait to read more by Petterson.(less)
I'm giving this book 3 stars not because it's poorly written or badly researched, but because I desperately wanted this to be a different kind of book...moreI'm giving this book 3 stars not because it's poorly written or badly researched, but because I desperately wanted this to be a different kind of book. Oliver Sacks is an engaging writer, and his case studies are often nothing short of fascinating, but this is a book about the brain and its vast potential for neurological distress that just happens to be organized around music. In other words, music is somewhat pathologized in this book, associated with strokes and frontal lobe damage and Alzheimer's disease. Sacks spends a disappointingly small amount of time devoted to our everyday experience of music. (less)
A really great interplay of images and poems that would stand well on their own, but are incredibly interesting in their interaction and dialogue as w...moreA really great interplay of images and poems that would stand well on their own, but are incredibly interesting in their interaction and dialogue as well. So overall very good, although I think I liked it more because I already enjoyed Sebald, perhaps thinking of it more as an addendum to his body of work than a stand-alone piece.(less)
What can be said, in a couple of paragraphs, to stay or support, to any effect, the great swell of love which has buoyed Pride and Prejudice for eleve...moreWhat can be said, in a couple of paragraphs, to stay or support, to any effect, the great swell of love which has buoyed Pride and Prejudice for eleven generations worth of squealing romantics? The truth is, not much. But I did love it: the truth in character; Elizabeth Bennet’s sometimes prescient, sometimes startlingly obtuse internal compass; the letters; the day-long trips to travel thirty miles across the countryside; the novel’s celebration of hard-won, heartfelt love, sometimes seemingly undeserved but never held so aloof as to be ultimately unrewarded.
Love equalizes everything in this world: class, culture, sex, and status. Even the frivolous find something on which to keep themselves afloat. Who wants to find flaws in so simple an idea? Who wants not to believe it? (less)