Saturday, April 24, 2010

South of Broad

Good grief this book was awful. I'm trying to figure out if Conroy has become a bad writer or I've become a cynical reader. The answer is probably in between, but really, this is the worst thing of Conroy's I've ever read.

This book actually has some beautiful parts. The paper route description could rank up there as one of the great piece of writings. But unfortunately you forget that after having to read some of the most tortured, cliched and saccharine dialogue in the history of the written or spoken word. And the fact the editors and all the readers listed in the acknowledgment failed to find two misuses of I instead of me, the first occurring in the prologue for goodness sake, further un-endeared this book to me.

The big problem though was the characters and their idealized interactions. It was like reading through rose-colored glasses or watching an Andy Hardy movie, but with economically and racially diverse kids putting on a show. And despite being "historical" at least in terms of the book taking place in the past, no one bothered to get the details of time and place right. When the lives of the characters at the end of the book intersected with one more historic event, I could not get through the last sixty pages fast enough. Needless to say, I'm not waiting to see if Mr. Conroy produces any more works. I wouldn't mind re-reading Lords of Discipline though.


And so the story ends for Maureen O'Donnell. And it ends satisfactorily with ends tied up, but not in a predictable, saccharine way, but rather with the twists and turns and danger and excitement a Novel of Crime should include. I'll miss Maureen and her Glasgow, but I'm looking forward to seeing what else Denise Mina has come up with.

Monday, April 12, 2010

His Excellency

First in war, First in Peace, First in the hearts of our country and last in terms of really knowing anything about the man.

Following our trip to Washington D.C. on Spring Break, I decided it was time to read some history, and where better to start than with George Washington himself. Thinking back on what I'd learned about him in school (that cherry tree story was a lie by the way) I determined I knew basically nothing about him -- Not how he got to be the leader of the Continental Army (that's where the title His Excellency comes from), not how he got drafted into being President, not why he decided to stop after two terms, not even how he ended up at Mount Vernon. But I do now.

Ellis' book does a very good job of blending the historical record, primarily many letters written by and about Washington, with a readable narrative. Washington was a man of good fortune, often in the right place at the right time and with the good sense to keep his mouth shut more than open. He had an amazing ability to surround himself with the best and brightest, and despite his lack of formal education used incredible judgement to sort through competing points of view. Especially interesting was the break between Washington (and Hamilton) from Jefferson and Madison. It's very reminiscent of the extreme partisanship we are once again experiencing today. And that gives me hope. If a group of people who against all odds could preserve the union in the nascent stages, hopefully we will be able to as well.

Monday, April 5, 2010


I picked up this book because I have the author's first book on a list of things I want to read. The library didn't have it, but it had this and the picture of Chaplin on the front was intriguing. Unfortunately, for me, this book did not live up to its cover. I think LOST has ruined me for a certain type of story-telling. At this point divergent stories that diverge (or converge) just don't intrigue me that much, at least not where the majority of the characters aren't compelling or worse like PFC Hugo Black just down right unlikable. And that was the main problem with this novel. In a way it's an interesting take on the WWI world and the beginnings of Hollywood and America and Americans finding their place in the broader world. But none of the storylines or characters gripped me, and so with only 100 pages left I still felt like I could walk away from the book and be just as satisfied as if I finished it. Unfortunately I was right.