Saturday, August 15, 2009

An Arsonist's Guide to Guide to Writers' Homes in New England

Now with a title like this your imagination can go to all sorts of places. But essentially this is the story of a family and a boy/man and his two families, the one in which he is the son and the other in which he is the husband and secondarily the father.

Nevertheless the author also explores our relationship with books and authors, both living and dead and how they affect those of us who read. Like several characters in the novel, several times this week I didn't enjoy a book because I was afraid I was becoming the character I was reading. It raises the interesting and personal question, do we read to escape, to identify, or something else, or all of the above?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Until The Real Thing Comes Along

Okay, it's time to go home (or the book store) because I've scraped the bottom of the condo barrel. This is the kind of "women's book" I hate, namely a women's book that tries to be more in this case by making the love interest gay and by doing something to the mom that was so obvious it was painful. Okay, maybe back when it came out it was more meaningful or something. On the plus side it was less than 250 pages. I won't be seeking out any more of Ms. Berg's apparently plentiful work.

The Other Woman

More chick lit from the condo. I read one Jane Green book ages ago, but didn't like her as much as I like Sophie Kinsella, so I had not read any more. And while I liked this one more than I remember liking the other, there were things about this book -- namely the charcterizations rather than characters -- that annoyed me. None of the characters were particularly relatible or worthy of our sympathy. I know she was going for ambiguity, but it failed to pull it off in a more than skin deep level. Still, I might look for Swapping Lives at the library. Sounds intersting in that whole Trading Places sort of way.


So at the beach I ran out of reading material that I had brought, and I didn't want to go to the bookstore all greasy, so I ransacked the condo looking for something that would keep me going, and the first thing I found was Fishbowl. That little red dress on the top of the cover let me know exactly what I was getting into, chick lit through and through, but overall I enjoyed it.

The author tells the story of three 20-something Toronto "roomies" by alternating through the various roommates, switching POV with each chapter, and even resorting at times to omniscient narrator to cover all three at once. It does make me wonder which of the three is most closely the author herself. I'm guessing Jodine with a dash of Allie. While not the greatest book I ever read, the author does a fine job of keeping me entertained on the beach.

Water for Elephants

This book cover has intrigued me for quite a while. I would see it at the book store, and that shiny pink coat would catch my eye. But I had never picked it up to even see what it was about. Instead I found it on list of NPR's Summer Beach Reads and decided to bring it with me.

And boy am I glad I did. It's about the circus! Train circuses in the 1930s to be specific. What a world. Gruen does a fantastic job of painting a picture of this strange world and the people who find themselves in it. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone. It's a fast read with engaging characters and a spectacular setting. I want to continue to follow Jacob wherever he ends up.

The Prodigal God

A fleshing out of the parable of The Prodigal Son, Keller's book is especially aimed at the Elder brother's in our society, something I'm definitely guilty of being. Keller reminds us that it's not only going into the far country that separates us from our grace-filled God, but that self righteousness can be an even more insidious way to keep ourselves from the life God longs to give us. Something I need to remind myself of every single day.

Boy Meets Girl

More Meg Cabot, more emails, and memos and Instant Messages and the like. And more little girl in the big city finding her well-off soul mate while overcoming the odds of a horrible boss, a psychotic ex, and of course a constant shortage of cash. Cabot's books are predictable, but then again, I'm at the beach and that's what I want. Cabot's heroine lacks the sheer hilarity of Sophie Kinsella's and even Cabot's own Queen of Babble, but all in all, a fine quick read.

In Big Trouble

The 4th Tess Monaghan moves from Baltimore to central Texas, and Lippman does a great job inhabiting a new city. I love how poor Tess regularly bemoans her inability to instantly navigate new streets of in distinct contrast to her innate knowledge of her beloved hometown. But best of all, best, best of all, is that Crow is back. That's all I'll say because he's at the heart of the novel, but Crow is back. Yeah! I can't wait to see what happens to Tess next.

To Kill a Mockingbird

I had never read this novel despite growing up in Alabama. And after reading it with it's sensibilities mired somewhere between the 1930s and 1960 I can see why school didn't have us read it in the still not quite settled early 1980s. But boy am I glad I finally got around to it.

I grew up in a series of textile mill towns. While it's not exactly like Maycombe, I can relate easily to Maycombe and the people who inhabit it. Completely leaving aside the issues of justice, Lee does an amazing job painting a picture of Southern life in the 30s. Frankly that kind of life persisted well into the 60s and beyond.

I also like how Lee didn't sugarcoat Tom Robinson's story. I think she handled it with true realism. As for the enigmatic Boo, he reminds me of what Julia Sugarbaker once said. In the South, the question isn't do you have crazy people in your family; the question is what side are they on?

I finally get now why people are so disappointed Harper Lee never wrote another novel. Her prose was infecting, and now I too can be added to that list of many, many disappointed fans.

Revenge of the Spellmans

Oh Spellmans, you make me so happy. The 3rd book in the series is every bit as funny and engaging as the earlier editions. Everyone is acting as odd and suspicious (both acting like they're guilty and suspecting everyone else of guilt) as ever, and the trouble they get themselves into and out of is a fast-paced romp that will have you turning pages rapidly and wishing there was a fourth, fifth and sixth Spellman book already available.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Interpreter of Maladies

An earlier collection of stories by Jhumpa Lahiri, earlier than Unaccustomed Earth that is. These are more "Indian" stories than those of Unaccustomed Earth. And while they were pleasant, these stories were a little too short and a little too foreign to be relatable. Nevertheless Lahiri is an excellent painter of small stories of small people, people we are or know. I look forward to more of her work.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Gone-Away World

A blending of Catch-22 with The Wolves of Calla, The Gone-Away World started fast, drug a bit in the middle, but once the twist was revealed (granted 400 pages in), I couldn't read fast enough. Harkaway combines humor with the very real feeling possibility of what we might be doing with our world. While a fantasy, this gone-away world could and might easily exist.

I hope the writers of LOST will ignore this one because if the Island could do what Stuff does we might never sort things out. Still it's fun to speculate on what Stuff might to do oneself. In the meantime I hope Gonzo and crew will continue to hold the pencilnecks of the world at Bey. Ninjas beware!