Judging by this and The Gold Bug Variations, the only other book of his I've read--as well as a couple of fascinating interviews on Fresh Air, RichardJudging by this and The Gold Bug Variations, the only other book of his I've read--as well as a couple of fascinating interviews on Fresh Air, Richard Powers is a brilliant man. His prose overflows with vocabulary that's far beyond what I'm familiar with. And in Gold Bug I didn't mind because I was as swept up in the relationships that novel described as I was in the intellectual ideas they wrestled with.
But here, the concerns of the narrator seemed at a greater distance from those of the main characters. And by the end, I was having a harder and harder time understanding even the basic facts of the plot. To be fair, I was often half falling asleep, but when one tries to read a novel in the morning, in the evening, and at night, and finds sleep more compelling than the novel under each of those conditions, then one either pushes on through incomprehension and half-reading or one just gives up on the book entirely. For better or worse, I chose the former.
So this was nominated for the National Book Award? Wow....more
I'd still recommend starting with Legler's All the Powerful Invisible Things, but this is another strong collection. I really admire the way Legler haI'd still recommend starting with Legler's All the Powerful Invisible Things, but this is another strong collection. I really admire the way Legler handles self-examination differently from other nature writers--she's more interested in autobiography than phenomenology, which is a nice wrinkle....more
I had thought this novel, about a Chicago ad agency during the dot-com boom, would have been funnier but it ended up being very touching. The first-peI had thought this novel, about a Chicago ad agency during the dot-com boom, would have been funnier but it ended up being very touching. The first-person plural narration invites the reader into the story while always seeming a little off-putting....more
Kinda lost momentum on this one about 2/3 of the way through, but that's more about me than the book. I really liked the diversity of ways to tell stoKinda lost momentum on this one about 2/3 of the way through, but that's more about me than the book. I really liked the diversity of ways to tell stories to deal with grief--and showing the successes and failures of those stories....more
Had the pleasure of finishing this Chicago-set book while actually in Chicago. I basically never read thrillers, so I can't comment on how this worksHad the pleasure of finishing this Chicago-set book while actually in Chicago. I basically never read thrillers, so I can't comment on how this works in that genre, but I liked how this cut across the thriller, near-future science fiction, and even ripped-from-the-headlines genres to create something that pokes at the questions of free will and whether we have a purpose in life. I especially liked the way the video game world worked in the narrative, and the way that the cast of characters expanded out nicely over the course of the story without giving any of them short shrift. One thing that didn't make as much sense to me was how the book didn't continue to give voice to the different characters' perspectives at the end of the book, when it had done such a nice job throughout. I especially wondered what Sam and Martha made of the events that concluded the book....more
Just as the 2009 Morning News Tournament of Books kicks into its second round, I finally got around to reading the 2008 winner. It's pretty great. TheJust as the 2009 Morning News Tournament of Books kicks into its second round, I finally got around to reading the 2008 winner. It's pretty great. The main narrator's voice is absolutely perfect: full of energy, balancing references from different cultures, and utterly unique. It's so much fun to read.
And yet, it's so good that it masks what I think is a pretty significant flaw in the book. Oscar is a great character, but I think he's less interesting than his sister and his mother. I think the narrator (and Díaz, too?) think so, also: he's all but completely absent from pages 51 to 165 and 205 to 261--about half of a 335-page book. So when the narrator comes back to Oscar's story at the end and lets the end of his story become the end of the book, everyone that's captured the reader's heart during the heart of the book feels dropped.
It would be cruel to ask Díaz to have done more with this novel, given that he describes three different periods in the history of the Dominican Republic, creates at least three or four fully sympathetic characters, and has built this incredible narrator. But I can't say that the ending didn't disappoint me.
I don't go for whodunnits so much, mostly because I have such a poor head for plot that by the time the mystery is revealed, I've long forgotten who tI don't go for whodunnits so much, mostly because I have such a poor head for plot that by the time the mystery is revealed, I've long forgotten who these people are that are now being identified as the criminals. This piece of historical fiction is no different in that regard, but the mystery of who committed the crime is only a small part of what Barnes is trying to do.
The other topics that the book tackles--changing definitions of masculinity and honor in early 20th century England, the struggles of the child of an immigrant to overcome prejudice, and the writer's life, to name three--are fascinating and handled expertly.
During the time I read this book, I saw both No Country for Old Men and, more to the point, In the Valley of Elah. Tommy Lee Jones basically plays the same kind of man in both, but I really appreciate the work he's doing to document a kind of masculinity that will probably be all but gone in 20 years. Arthur and George also handles the passing of a kind of masculinity and it's wonderful that Barnes can make that combination of loss and progress feel fresh even at a distance of 100 years....more
I guess I like it better when Ware sustains a narrative, like in Jimmy Corrigan the Smartest Kid on Earth (one of my all-time favorite books) or the "I guess I like it better when Ware sustains a narrative, like in Jimmy Corrigan the Smartest Kid on Earth (one of my all-time favorite books) or the "Building Stories" series he did for the New York Times Magazine. So this collection of works doesn't quite have the same emotional resonance for me that some of his other work has.
But that doesn't mean there isn't a ton to like here. Ware is often funny, and some of the false advertisements are laugh-out loud hilarious, if you can work your way through the tiny type. And the way he builds frames to show the passage of time or relationships in space is not only fascinating, it is also often in service of a melancholy mood....more
In a book that's all about what is concealed versus what is revealed, the restraint in the first chapter of this novel was really striking to me. I'dIn a book that's all about what is concealed versus what is revealed, the restraint in the first chapter of this novel was really striking to me. I'd read Erdrich novels before but her command of the way in which information is shared with the reader is perfect in this novel. Read as little as you can about the book before picking it up--just get it and enjoy it....more
This book could be read as an extended metaphor for reincarnation and the process of reaching a higher state of existence by learning lessons from a vThis book could be read as an extended metaphor for reincarnation and the process of reaching a higher state of existence by learning lessons from a variety of different lives. The catch, of course, is that the protagonist is a china rabbit who is incapable of *doing* anything--he can only change the way he thinks and feels. The book is well-written and seems just the right length, but ultimately the passivity of Edward keeps it from packing as much of an emotional wallop as I think was intended....more
I don't often read memoirs, and not surprisingly even a well-written one like this didn't do a whole lot for me. One thing I did really like about itI don't often read memoirs, and not surprisingly even a well-written one like this didn't do a whole lot for me. One thing I did really like about it were all the times that Karr pointed out the gaps in her memory--the principal whose suit she could remember but whose face she remembered no particular detail about, the portions of a stressful evening that are lost to her. It was a nice way to pull back from a fiction that the memoirist can remember everything and to implicitly raise the question about why certain details stick when others do not.
But in the end, it was hard for me to understand the point of the book....more
While I was reading this, I think my wife got a little tired of my little vocalizations of appreciation as well as my interruptions of her reading toWhile I was reading this, I think my wife got a little tired of my little vocalizations of appreciation as well as my interruptions of her reading to quote from various passages. I even read aloud the entirety of "The Person Who Lives".
I wonder if that says something about me that I like those kinds of endings. What's coming to mind is that I like when I get a chance to keep reading something and get more and more out of it. That's especially true when it comes to writing that's on the Web, which I so often read too quickly to get anything but the most surface information from. Something that commands my attention and makes it worth my while to slow down is great to encounter.
Which is why it's especially great to have these pieces that were originally published on the web in a zine format so you can read them differently and get something more out of them. ...more
First I say that I don't much like memoirs and then I decide to read two in a row. I've been trying for a month now to figure out how to describe theFirst I say that I don't much like memoirs and then I decide to read two in a row. I've been trying for a month now to figure out how to describe the very specific emotional state that Stop-Time put me in every time I read a chapter and I guess I'm not going to come up with it.
I first heard about this book when Conroy died, and--as advertised--he's a fantastic writer. I would read a passage and think, "Wow, what incredible writing" and then would go back through it and realize that there were no rhetorical flourishes--nothing about the passage that was drawing attention to itself. And yet the words moved me.
Because the book is about a childhood, I'm tempted to say that the emotional state the book put me in was either nostalgic or something akin to feeling like an adolescent, but I don't think either of those is right, partly because Conroy's upbringing doesn't seem to have hardly anything in common with my own.
So there you go: a nebulous, if not downright worthless review. Read this book if you like books that transport you emotionally or that are incredibly well written without being at all flashy....more
Here's what I like about Kevin Fanning: he writes inventive, brilliant stories. Here's what I love about Kevin Fanning: he wants you to write stories,Here's what I like about Kevin Fanning: he writes inventive, brilliant stories. Here's what I love about Kevin Fanning: he wants you to write stories, too. And this book combines both of these strengths; it invites you into storytelling at the same time that it tells a story far better than the one you could come up with on your own, and yet never makes you feel like it's not worth trying.
Let me take a step back.
(1) Many people here have commented about how the length and format of The Location Scout invite rereading. If these great stories were put up on the Web, we might read them once, enjoy them, and move on. If they were part of a much longer project, it might be too much to reread them. But Fanning makes it easy to pick this up again and read through it and make more connections between its nine parts. The first time I read it, I really enjoyed the variety of the parts and compared them. Seven, with its butterfly-flapping-wings-to-hurricane structure, is a particular favorite. The second time, I loved seeing the links between the parts--how they move around in time and between narrators.
(2) The fact that many of the episodes are written in second person is striking and Fanning talked about the reasons why he uses that for The Morning News newsletter. One of the things he talks about is its distancing effect, and that's definitely true, but it has a corresponding quality of inviting you into the storytelling. "You" have to make sense of what's going on. You read that and think, "Me? Well, okay, let's see...."
The combination of these two things--the way the material is structured and one of the key narrative devices--is just part of the way that Fanning invites you into the strange/familiar world of the book. On its own, that combination wouldn't be enough to recommend the book, but a killer idea that's well executed is pretty much a given in Fanning's writing so it's these other things that have occupied my thinking the last few weeks.
Okay, this all probably comes off as too much fawning but this is fifteen pages, easy and fun to read, and yet can make you think about philosophical issues and narrative issues for weeks on end. That's pretty damn impressive to me....more
I think it's probably impossible for me to appreciate how ahead of its time this book was twenty-odd years ago, but one benefit of reading it now is tI think it's probably impossible for me to appreciate how ahead of its time this book was twenty-odd years ago, but one benefit of reading it now is that the paranoia about the kinds of choices our government makes are probably more relevant now than they were during the Reagan/Thatcher era. I guess that might not be true in the UK--rock music was certainly exploding with anti-Thatcher sentiment. But the book really resonates well in the post-9/11, GWB context.
At one point, I realized that every chapter was built on one of three frameworks, each of which relied heavily on juxtaposition: either the present action vs. the pirate comic book, the present action vs. the flashback (from the same character's POV), or the present action vs. something that's happening elsewhere or in the past to another character. I'm guessing this was probably one of the more innovative things about the book in the mid-80s? But after chapter upon chapter, I thought it might be a little too much.
And then the next chapter was the one with Dr. Manhattan and Silk Spectre on Mars and there was very little juxtaposition and what came through was how clunky the dialogue was. The book is fantastically plotted but not always the best written thing. So I started rooting for the juxtapositions to come back, and when they did I was happy again.
I think The Morning News is as good as anything on the Web. So a book of essays from the site and new essays from its writers can be expected to be aI think The Morning News is as good as anything on the Web. So a book of essays from the site and new essays from its writers can be expected to be a hit with me. For example, I already knew that:
* Matthew Baldwin's piece on spoilers. I already think it's totally unfair that someone who's a good programmer can also be a great writer and this is just more evidence. * Paul Ford's "Six-Word Reviews of 763 SXSW Mp3s" held up better than I expected. I thought rereading it--especially without being able to click to the music--would be pretty hollow but it's still a lot of fun. Still, I hope they don't give over 100 pages to it in the 2009 annual, if one is printed. * Lauren Frey's "Learning to Talk," which simultaneously describes how she got into radio and how she lost her voice. It's a perfect essay, fully worth the price of the entire volume. Especially since you can't find it anywhere else....more