Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I spent the weekend finishing Season 2 of Dexter, the story of the serial killer of serial killers. I really enjoy this show. Season 1 in particular had a wonderful over-arching plot. The strength of the show is the acting. All the actors, leads and supporting roles do a fantastic job of making you want to watch what is basically a bunch of very unappealing people -- a soulless killer, a neurotic, foul-mouthed cop still trying to win her dead father's approval, a power-hungry media-hungry boss, a woman who can't choose a good man just to name a few.

Now this show is not for everyone. It airs on Showtime and therefore has nudity, profanity, and a lot of scenes of the aftermath of violence. But I really like Dexter, and I look forward to Season 3 ending and being put on DVD so I can watch it.

The Plot Against America

The notion of this book which drew me in was the alternate history of Charles Lindburgh running for the Presidency against FDR in 1940, winning and keeping us out of World War II by making deals with Hitler. But in reality this book is a young Jewish boy's memoir, but a fictional memoir shaped by a more overt anti-Semitism than that which actually existed in the early 1940s. So what I was hoping was going to be a historical thriller was more of a revisionist character study. A worthwhile read, especially in these incredibly divisive political times, but not really the book I was hoping for.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Wishbones

The Wedding Singer set in the 90s instead of the 80s. Tom Perotta takes the reader to suburban New Jersey where a small-town boy who wishes he were the next Bruce Springsteen has to finally face the choice of whether to grow up or take the leap he should have taken 10 years earlier. Is there a genre like Chick Lit where the main character is male? If so, The Wishbones would be a defining member of that class. You want to root for Dave even when he's probably making a mistake. A fun character to follow through the defining summer of his life.

The Quality of Life Report

Meghan Daum's charming story of fleeing Manhattan for the real world of a midwest college town takes chick lit to a new level. Instead of focusing on what our heroine is wearing, eating, or not eating Daum focuses more on what it takes to adjust your expectations and your attitude when it comes to living where most of us live. Lots of LOL moments, but the most touching moments comes when Lucinda realizes the level of self-deception she'll sink to in order to survive. That depth is what sets this book apart from most "girl in the city/country" stories.

The Sister

Talk about an unreliable narrator! The Sister takes place in the Dorset countryside and alternates between the present day and remembrances of times past. Only problem, the sister doing the remembering is at best socially awkward and at worst an English Forrest Gump though her running is moths. So while the story moves on it's hard to say what did take place and whether or not it did indeed take place that way. The author does a good job of manipulating the reader's sympathies between family members as well. While overdoing the details of the lives of moths, all in all The Sister is a satisfying story of life in an eccentric English family complete with mysterious injuries and even deaths.

The Wordy Shipmates

Full disclosure time first. 6 months ago I read Nathan Philbrick's book Mayflower. So perhaps more than most people I'm somewhat familiar with this period of American History, 1630-1692 that Sarah Vowell is tackling in this new offering. And what's more, I'm a Calvinist; an active member of a conservative Presbyterian church where I've studied Calvinism and can name the 5 points (TULIP) and where we regularly use the Puritan Valley of Vision for our confessions. I've also read the entire Bible three times and engage in regular Bible study. So again more than most people I have a working knowledge of the modern successor of the religious views of the day. In sum, this wasn't a totally new topic for me.

I really wanted to like this book, and at times I did, but mostly I didn't because, boy this book was an organizational mess. I could never understand what Ms. Vowell was going for. I never understood what drew her to the topic of the Puritans in the first place, what exactly she wanted to impart to us, nor how she intended to get from point A to point B. Vowell's witty commentary on the Puritans was funny when it happened, but organizationally this book was like a hurricane. John Winthrop sat in the center and others swirled around him, but there was no overarching narrative in this book and I found that very, very distracting. Rather than read this book, I'd recommend you stream the story about Thanksgiving, Happy Days and The Brady Bunch from This American Life's website. That 10 minutes is pretty much the highlight of this subject.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Night Watch

This is a book that I read entirely because of the cover. The eerie, foggy cityscape sucked me in first. Then the fact that the book was up for The Booker Prize intrigued me. And finally the buzzword reviews like "captivating" and "masterful" convinced me to put the book on my list. And while I would not go as far as either of those reviewers, and who knows, they might not have gone that far either, the book was interesting.

The most interesting aspect of it was that it was told in reverse chronological order. Well sort of. The book starts in 1947 and moves forward for a week or two. Then it resets to 1944 and again goes forward a week or two. And finally it ends in 1941 and goes forward again. In the end we see are able to understand what turned out to be the evolution of the characters as we see after the fact the events that brought them to the point where we first meet them.

But I do have one big complaint. I object after the fact to the lack of explanation for Viv's relationship in 1947. There's a gap that is never filled in, and I'll leave it at that for fear of spoilage.

While these are not my favorite characters of all time, Waters does an excellent job of describing them and their lives. I wish that after the 1941 section she had actually moved forward back to 1947 so that we could learn what happened next. But then again, in this character driven novel, it's more who than what.