20. Begun 21 July 2011
19. Begun 17 July 2011
A small time reporter turned prodigal son returns to his hated hometown after a series of real-world failures in order to embark on research for a novel on boxing. He quickly lands a position with the local paper and latches on to recent reports of a “Thing” running wild through the town at night. Set partially in the new-to-me world of the Plain Folk of Pennsylvania and partially in the city surrounding it, this novel hopped back forth between a set of main characters including our faithful reporter, the mysterious owner of the boxing gym he works out in, a band of Amish youth going through Rumspringa, and the town caught in a whirlwind of vandalism and unexplained violence. Part monster movie and part coming-of-age story, this novel makes interesting life in a small town and ends as you’d never have imagined. I was engrossed and will be searching out the author’s other works soon. A.
18. Begun 16 July 2011
Many of the novels I’ve been reading lately have been dynamite in concept and jacket, but have fallen short in some way. As I picked this out of my stack, I saw it had been blurbed by one of my favorite authors and I hoped for a better turnout, but it wasn’t to be. A boy is raised until he is 7 by his rich and eccentric grandmother who gained custody from his outlaw, activist parents in the 60s. He is kept from all knowledge of them until one day, on a woman arrives at their apartment in NYC and, after a trip to Bloomingdales with the grandmother and boy, absconds with him down into the subway system. He is lured to submission by promises of a surprise and the action unfolds from NYC, to Philadelphia to the west coast to Australia where the boy and his abductor (who he begins by assuming is his mother) land in a hippy commune in the middle of nowhere. Unfolding in an odd sort of flashback format, the true nature of things is revealed to the reader piece-meal but not in a good way. New characters are introduced haphazardly, mentioned only in passing and not explained until tens of pages later. There were a number of times, thinking I’d missed something, that I’d go back and re-read, only to find that nope, the author hadn’t yet explained himself. The reader is asked to feel the importance of certain situations without any explanation until much later of their bearing on the story. This was a disjointed read, and again, I was left feeling that with a little more work, it could have been something spectacular, but fell instead, just short. B
17. Begun 15 July 2011
This little novela kept me busy for an afternoon. I picked it up because of it’s interesting and unique main structure: an adolescent ‘nerd’ takes to writing and posting letters to a random recipient that he chooses out of a phone book. Each letter is like a little diary entry, exposing us to the inner-monologue of an awkward teen trying to make his way in the world. He’s not popular and is socially inept, but manages to find beauty and functionality in the world that normally eludes him. Incredibly smart, the poignancy is found in the fact that the boy knows himself to be odd, but still makes huge efforts to “participate” in life and the milestones of his age-group. I wasn’t wowed by this, and the end revelation wasn’t a surprise, but the author’s device was compelling and I enjoyed the read anyway. B
16. Begun 14 July 2011
I was skeptical when I picked this one up, but pleasantly surprised once I finished. A young lady in her mid-twenties, plagued by Asperger’s, finds her routine suddenly jarred by the unexpected and tragic death of her parents. Caught between her meticulous, harried, yet well-meaning sister and her need to keep some semblance of her own order on her life, she makes her way, stumblingly through the months immediately following her loss. Her Asperger’s has manifested in an almost manic need to cook, and it is with visions and textures of food that she self-calms and relates to the world around her. With a strange, supernatural twist, she begins to re-order her life without her parents. This was a quick and pleasurable read. I was totally rapt in the author’s idea and enthusiastic to see where she’d take it. I enjoyed it, but was still plagued by the vaguest of notions that it could have been more grand in scale had the author spent just a bit more time with it. I was left wanting more….more of the main character, more of the twist, more of her interactions with the world around her—smaller print, longer book. It didn’t do all that it could have, but was lovely just the same. B+/A-
15. Begun sometime in May
The author of this novel has a brilliant story himself, and it was that story that drew me in as well as the recommendation of a friend. The main character escapes from Australian prison and flees to the overcrowded, dirty and mysterious streets of Bombay. He is lucky enough, upon first arriving, to encounter a jovial and trustworthy guide who he begins by paying and eventually befriends. This guide introduces him to the inner-workings of the city, and the protagonist is immediately enthralled. As the days pass, he becomes a local himself, and over the course of the novel he starts a free-clinic in an illegal slum, joins a band of local mafia members and even finds himself inexplicably arrested, beaten, and then half-starved in a local prison. Quite grand in scale, this novel boasts colorful and well-developed characters surviving through friendship and illegal activity in the crazy and lawless backdrop of the third world. I wanted to love this novel, but there was something that kept me from being totally engrossed. Prone to tangents and offshoots of storyline that sometimes went absolutely nowhere, the author seemed to want to cram everything in, even if it didn’t fit. There were certain stilted parts of the novel that would have benefitted from the editing eye of a red pen, and I was quite disappointed with the simultaneously dangling and abrupt end. A good read, but something is missing. B+
14. Begun 1 May 2011
In all my years, I’d inexplicably never read this book. I remember it sitting in a spinning rack in my elementary school library and also running across it a number of times over my lifespan, but never picked it up. I’m incredibly glad that I finally did. I was hooked by the third paragraph. Warned by premonitions of a coming tragedy, a band of rabbits flees their warren in search of a safer, permanent home. This novel outlines their adventures and downfalls, successes and misses. All their actions are based on true rabbit nature and behaviour, but each one is personified in a glorious and engulfing way. I was moved to tears more than once and often found myself holding my breath as the author’s masterful grasp of suspenseful devices unfolded. Highly recommend. A+
13. Begun in April:
I was immediately absorbed by the prose in this novel. The narrator used a colloquial Spanglish that I could picture being spoken and I was immediately engrossed. A few things that might be a turn off to some readers, but that can be overlooked by those not in the know: 1. No translations for the Spanish. Most can be understood through context, but it’s oh so much better when you know the actual meanings. 2. Lots of sci-fi and fantasy references. The Watchmen, The Lord of the Rings, The Stand, Akira, various anime, roll-play etc. You don’t need to know what each is, but it helps. 3. Latin American culture. There are certain mannerisms, such as machismo, that could be a turn off to gringo/a readers. Reading this, one must remember the difference in culture and the roots of Dominican culture. Here, the author does a fantastic job of giving a clear (though biased) history of the DR and its people and castes. I really got into this book and finished it in about a day. I was disappointed with the ending, although I couldn’t tell exactly why. I was moved by each character and the story kept me interested. A-.
12. Begun in April:
I bought this book in a local used bookstore for $3. I’d seen and loved the movie and the price is what encouraged me to pick up the book. I struggled in the beginning to create my own images of the characters, but the writing itself made it so I didn’t labor too long. It’s apparently all based on actual people and true events, and that makes it even more delicious. An enclave city, remote from the rest of the state, country world (BY CHOICE!) and ruled by a set of unwritten laws and a strict sense of manners and propriety. Behind closed doors, any number of perversions may dance, but it’s impolite and distasteful to speak of them out loud. Colorful characters perform trespass after trespass yet each, due to something they provide their neighbors, are forgiven in time. Scandal spreads through whisper and rank in society is based on invitation or not to specific parties. Loved this. Totally engrossed me. A-
11. Begun sometime after I put down Catch-22
I enjoyed reading this. B+. The characters were well-developed and stayed true to themselves. There were a number of times when I wondered where the story was going, but kept with it because of the relationship of the sisters. There was an incestuous undertone to the whole thing which makes the reader uncomfortable…the evil is implied for 3/4 of the book until suspicions are confirmed toward the end. This is a great summer read.
10. Begun 17 March 2011
I regret to say that I had to put this down. Opinions of this book fall into two categories and rarely in between. The first are people who loved the book, found it uproariously funny and will praise it highly. The second are people who don’t like it, find it boring and repetitive. I fall into the latter category. I gave it a go. But I couldn’t force myself to continue. The narrator’s use of snark and sarcasm and play-on-words was repetitive and irksome and I just couldn’t get into it. I sold it to Powell’s so that they could find a more appreciative owner.
9. Begun 9 March 2011
An 80+ year old Vonnegut waves at us from the back cover of this latest compilation of his works. Focusing a finer lens on his experiences in Dresden, this mixture includes short stories, essays and public addresses. As with every other piece crafted by Vonnegut, it was a pleasure to read. Of special note was a short story titled “Spoils”. It was heart-rending and uncomfortable and showed Vonnegut at his best, expertly leading his reader through uncomfortable truths in his exploration of morality. So good.
8. Begun 4 March 2011
This was another of my $1 finds at HPB. I’ve never seen the movie, and frankly, won’t because I can’t see Meryl Streep in the lead role. As far as the novel itself is concerned, I give it a solid B-. There were many points in its narration where it became tedious. The author was continually using a flashback device which many times interrupted the narration rather than continuing it. The effect was such that I’d be on a role in my reading, engrossed and absorbed, and then totally derailed and putoff by the rapid change in course. Sophie’s actual choice was indeed, awful, but the buildup in the narration made it feel anticlimactic when you finally read it. Further, the narrator’s preoccupation with sex just didn’t seem to fit into the novel as a whole. I might perhaps be missing some of the wider implications, but in general, I feel that the book just missed the mark. Could have been great, but wasn’t.
7. Begun 3 March 2011
This might be the only time you’ll ever hear me say this: The movie was better. I don’t know if the translation was bad or if it was simply just mediocre, but I wasn’t as enthralled by the book as I was the movie. The character development was thin and the main character’s revelation was reduced to one sentence, glossed over and then moved past. It wasn’t the worst I’ve read, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
6. Begun 27 February 2011
I picked this and another couple of Haruf’s books up at HPB after reading Plainsong a couple of years ago. (Plainsong, by the way, is an absolute masterpiece. If you haven’t read it, you simply MUST….it has an aching beauty to it that really can’t be described.) I was not disappointed here. Haruf reminds me a bit of Steinbeck in that he has a way of describing the common man so that his light shines. This is the story of a small town, it’s scandal, and it’s odd system of checks and balances. Well wrought, readable, relatable; a little gem of a novel.
5. Begun 21 February 2011
As delightful as I anticipated. I’ve been a fan of McCann’s for a number of years and was excited to find this on the shelf of the local used bookstore. It’s a fictionalized account of the life of Rudolph Nureyev. It was executed through the use of personal accounts, diaries and articles. Really good.
4. Begun 21 February 2011
This was a quick little read that I’d had on my shelf for ages. It was a pretty stark narrative of an early 30s gay man figuring shit out. It wasn’t the most splendidly written, but I as enthralled nonetheless. I was peeing my pants reading the bit about the Chelsea Boys. Truer words were never spoken. Completely worth the time.
3. Begun February 13, 2011
I finished this piece this morning. It was pretty quick-reading and engaging. It’s the struggle of a young man who’s been swindled out of a birth right. It had enormous potential when I began it, but left me a bit disappointed at the end. Some parts had me totally engrossed, but others had me scratching my head and wishing they’d been less hastily constructed. On the ups: the main character is complex and it took me more than half the novel to decide that I wanted him to win out–a conflicted protagonist–loved it. On the downs: A rushed climax that seemed more like an afterthought. Worth the read if you have spare time and this at your fingertips.
2. Begun January 22, 2011
This one took FOREVER to get through. The concept? Funny and intriguing. Potential? Loads. Follow-through? None at all. I kept reading because that’s what I do, I’ve never put something down after I started it. This novel was tedious and tiresome, and I’m glad it’s over. I’ll be returning it to HPB for a half buck gladly. That said, I must also tell you something good about it: The wordplay. The author has a way with phrasing that is rather ingenious and fun to read. He’ll use a word with multiple meanings, multiple times in a sentence, utilizing every meaning. He pays with homonyms masterfully and knows how to craft a spectacularly tongue-twisting sentence. Read the first 30 pages to experience at least that, and then put it down, you’ll have absorbed the gist of what I’m trying to tell you.
1. Begun January 9, 2011: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
This was recommended to me by a friend of a friend. I actually really liked it. I would not go so far as to say that it was one of my favorites, but it was a very good book. What keeps it from shooting to the upper parts of my list is this: There were parts of it that sped along where I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, and then BAM!, the narrative would hit a wall and move at a much slower pace. Further, I couldn’t understand why Sammy Clay was listed as being one of the main characters when it seemed to me that he was neglected by the author. That said, it was funny, and heartbreaking and lovely in general, and I would recommend it to you. It will retain a space on my bookshelf.