Thursday, August 30, 2007

65. "The Gift of Rain" - Tan Twan Eng

The first sample from the Man Booker prize long list, I almost decided to refrain from reading the other nominees because this book had such an impact on me. Like To Kill a Mockingbird, the taste of The Gift of Rain will linger for years.

Philip Hutton is half Chinese, half British, and 100 percent alone. When he meets a Japanese sensei, Endo-san, he finds his needs for love and acceptance through his work as a student of aikido, a Japanese form of fighting and mental strength.

When World War II begins, the Japanese invade Philip's island of Penang. To save his father and siblings, Philip agrees to work with the Japanese, but to mixed ends.

Rich in Chinese and Japanese culture, reading this book feeds the imagination and the soul. His descriptions are unique and beautiful, based in observations of nature. It was a four-day excursion into another world, one full of beauty, hate, regret, memory. If only all books could create such an imprint on the soul.

4.9 out of 5.0 Green Tea Vodkas.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

64. "Peony in Love" - Lisa See

I keep records of who recommends a book, whether the book won the Pulitzer or is up for the Man Booker award, perhaps something I heard about on NPR.

I have no idea how I found out about this book.

It's the only thing that irritates me because it is so beautifully written that I want to pay tribute to whomever told me about it.

Peony is a Chinese girl who is soon to be given away in an arranged marriage. For three wondrous nights, she meets a man in her family's gardens, falling in love with him so deeply that she refuses to eat while preparing for her wedding. Of course, predictably in the fairy tale style, she dies, and the man of her dreams was to be her groom.

It is her afterlife that fascinates. With nods to all of the Chinese religious days, Peony's story as a ghost is entertaining as well as informative. While not as deep as other novels (particularly The Gift of Rain, which is also about Chinese culture - to be reviewed soon), it is lovely in its detail and wistful impressions of love.

3.8 out of 5.0 China Whites.

Friday, August 24, 2007

63. "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" - Robert M. Pirsig

This is one of those book titles that sticks with you because of its marketability. How many times have you heard (or seen) of lackluster imitations: Zen and the Art of Dog Grooming or Zen and the Art of Flunking Out of School?

Perhaps, for this reason, I thought this was going to be a bit of light reading. As a zen student, I expected enlightenment (aside: all zen students seek enlightenment, while most expect it to be an easy task... so why not find it in a book?). As a storyteller, I expected his tale through his "chautauqua"

Instead, it is a book about learning, teaching, and being. His stories of being a composition instructor at a university are woefully familiar; however, he begins to "lose his shit" as he tries to tie down the definition of quality.

Pirsig tells his story in contrast to a motorcycle trip across the U.S. with his son. The "zen" aspect is at direct odds to the "motorcycle maintenance" aspect, where one is "romantic" and the other is "pragmatic." He speaks of different approaches to philosophy until my head spun.

This is the type of novel to purchase and read again. And again, but at different moments of your life... just to see how you have changed.

3.5 out of 5.0 Motor Oils.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

62. "The Turner Diaries - Andrew Macdonald (William Luther Price)

My library copy of this book had claims on the cover: "This book is the reason for the Oklahoma City bombings. They are trying to ban this book."

It reminded me of Abbie Hoffman's Don't Steal This Book. Guns on the cover. Outrageous claims. Let's try to drum up a publicity bandsaw.

Instead, these claims are purposeful indications of the author's personal beliefs, including white supremacy, gun rights, and, actually, base idiocy.

Timothy McVeigh was reading this book when he was caught after the Oklahoma City bombings. For a book that was only sold at gun fairs or via white supremacy groups, it met its target audience.

Basically, this follows the idea that 110 years from now, it will be a white world. No gays, no Jews, etc. After I figured out that this was a poorly written novel powered by hate, I tossed it in the "good riddance" pile. While I don't disagree with the right to free speech, I relish the right to choose what to allow into my own thoughts.

0.0 out of 5.0 Dead Nazis with Golden Tooths.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

61. "The Echo Maker" - Richard Powers

Dear Richard Powers,

Congratulations on the National Book Award for The Echo Maker. I'm sure that your use of unique language and interesting plot contributed to your win. At least, I assume so, because I never finished your book.

After reading the phrase "braided river" twenty times in less than two hundred pages, I swore to myself that if I saw it again, I would launch your book across the room. If you read my blog, you will see that I have quite the arm... the Twins could use me this season.

So, it happened. You'll be satisfied to note that I hit my dresser with your book, which shook on its legs (my floor is not level) and spilled candle wax across its surface. However, your book came out unscathed and hopefully another less compulsive will enjoy its pages.

Best wishes,

1.0 out of 5.0 Yellow Birds.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

60. "Love, Work, Children" - Cheryl Mendelson

Sometimes I have purchased just enough at to miss the free shipping by a few dollars. When that happens, I check out the reduced price books, what I envision as lonely hardcovers choking beneath the dust in the warehouses. Most of the time I draw a stinker, a book that is not worth noting on this blog. But there are times I am lucky.

Love, Work, Children is one of those times. Centered around the Frankl family - and its friends and coworkers - this novel tracks the seemingly random meetings and pairings in a small neighborhood in NYC.

Peter Frankl, in his early 60s, has suffered through an unsatisfactory marriage for the sake of his children, but watching their failures in love makes him question the success of that age-old decision of "staying together for the kids." His wife is in a car accident and remains comatose for months, giving Peter time to realize his true desires.

Add his awkward daughter who is studying to be a musicologist, his socially inept son just finishing an MBA, and their circle of friends and it's a smorgasbord of love affairs and mismatches.

Even with the plethora of characters and plot lines, I found it easy to follow simply because they were entertaining and memorable. It is a happy-ever-after story, but that doesn't seem to be cliched when I could truly care about the players. I shut the book with a satisfied sigh.

4.0 out of 5.0 Sweet Lovin's.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Joy is but the sign that creative emotion is fulfilling its purpose." - Charles du Bos

Updates from the email files:

Why aren't you aiming for a goal again? Try to top 150 books.
Me: maniacal laughter

Are you and your family/freinds (sic) ok? Ive been reading about the bridge collapse.
Me: Completely fine, though it's difficult to process. I have family near there and have driven over that bridge countless times. Could have happened anywhere, which is not a comfort.

What does the Witness Protection Program at the Effin' Ranch mean?
It's the working title of the manuscript. Can't say much more without giving away the goodies.

I have a book coming out. Will you review it?
Yes, but as you may notice, I'm not always kind. Please email for more information (see profile).

I've enjoyed reading your blog for a year now but what's up with the sudden young adult novel obsession?
I read books that people recommend. Some of them are young adult. Some are nonfiction. Since my goal was to read banned books, I'm reading a lot of young adult fiction because those are the books that are banned most often.

Why don't you read the books I recommend/why do you hate the books I recommended/why did you have the picture of the book I recommended but didn't write a review?
The past week has frustrated me. You may have noticed that over August I've changed "what's in the fridge." There have been several books that I've started, only to throw in the back-to-the-library pile. It may be my mood, it may be that I'm tired of 9/11 themes, it may be because I don't want to put the effort into a crap book just to write a negative review.

You don't know what you're talking about/you wouldn't know a good book if you tripped over it/who made you queen/you're too mean.
Snicker-snort. Stop loving me so much!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

"I have always imagined paradise as a kind of library." - Jorge Luis Borges

I'm putting this to a vote based on the vast reading experience of my wonderful readers. Two books, two heavy tomes - weighty enough to hold open my door during summer storms, two books that you are "supposed to read."

Dun-dun-dun. Shall I read:

Les Miserables

or Anna Karenina?

Monday, August 13, 2007

59. "After This" - Alice McDermott

McDermott is the scientist bent over the microscope of human behavior. She picks up on the best details and uses them to create an overlapping world full of wry wit and deflected misery.

Each chapter is like a short story, all connected to the Keane family. John Keane is a WWII vet, and in a strange twist of fate, his son, named for one of John's killed comrades, is called up to serve in the Vietnam war.

McDermott plants descriptions and characters into each story, so later you read about someone who was first introduced in the second chapter. This encourages the sense of everyone connected by such a fragile spider's web and creates more intensity without over-writing. Lovely work.

4.0 out of 5.0 Afterglows.

Friday, August 10, 2007

58. "How I Live Now" - Meg Rosoff

Daisy is sent by her wicked stepmother and father to live with cousins in England. She soon finds they are unique and magical, a bubble of freshness on the farm for this unloved, anorexic teen.

As she is falling in love with her cousin, Edmond, a terrorist act kills many in London, shutting down the world and reaching even to their small farm. Soldiers take over and Daisy is sent away with her cousin, Piper.

There is so much heavy material - war, death, love (incestual? you be the judge), eating disorder, violence. How Rosoff could combine all of it is miraculous, but even the change in Daisy's voice toward the end of the novel is beautifully mastered.

I'd say this is the young adult version of The Road, with a couple scenes that even gave me pause. Would I let my son read it? Not now. It gave me nightmares. Powerful work. Thanks to Jen for the recommendation.

4.5 out of 5.0 Graveyard Spirits.

57. "On Chesil Beach" - Ian McEwan

Two virgins in the early 1960s wait until they're married before the wedding night that makes up the bulk of this novella. Edward and Florence have retreated to the honeymoon suite of an inn on Chesil Beach, each with fears for the deflowering, but such drastic differences that it is a horrifying experience.

Painstakingly detailed, readers find out about each newlyweds background and hangups, all relating back to that fateful night.

McEwan makes this night so vivid it's painful to read. A bit of a letdown at the end, seemingly autobiographical (which the author squashes by specifically saying in the intro that this is a work of fiction).

2.75 out of 5.0 Sex on the Beach on the Rocks.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

56. "The Higher Power of Lucky" - Susan Patron

Thanks to Dewey for this recommendation...

Lucky Trimble spends her time in a small California desert town listening to a hole in the wall while blank-anonymous meetings are held. She wants to discover her own Higher Power, especially since her mother died and she's not sure if her guardian is going to stick around.

Well written, it captures the heart of a ten-year-old. And it's already stirring up some controversy because of the word "scrotum." You know, sometimes I wonder if some parents, librarians, and teachers have forgotten the language of children. I could list the word choices that would make this "worse," at least to those wanting to ban this book based on that word.

3.5 out of 5.0 Peachberry Shakes.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

55. "19 Minutes" - Jodi Picoult

I've been urged to read this book all summer. However, everyone who has recommended it has prefaced their advice with, "Now, it's not literary" or "It may not be what you ordinarily read." People. Attention, please. This is the chica that stood giddily in line (fourth) counting down the minutes to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with her son's classmate.

But, I realize why people would say that. At first glance, one immediately thinks chick lit. I've even read reviews that dismiss it, listing all the things you can do instead of reading this book for 19 minutes.

This novel follows the whys and how comes and whos of a school shooting. Picoult has an agenda - she repeatedly references or promotes left-wing causes - and seems to gloss over character development with the passage of time. However, she also brings up difficult questions, like how much of our children's self is from our parenting skills? Why don't teachers/parents/teenagers hold bullies accountable for their actions?

Too much is tidily swept away or snuck into the end. Still, I think it took a brave person to write it and I'd consider it a great beach or, as I call it, chocolate martini read.

2.5 out of 5.0 Vile Green Stuffs.

54. "Zoology" - Ben Dolnick

This book makes me want to sit my writer-friends and have them explain the difference between young adult novels and books that are about young adults. Simply, what makes it a young adult novel? The lack of sexual language or action?

If that's the case, then Zoology should be considered young adult fiction, but with a little sticker on the cover that says "May Contain Sexual Language, Innuendo, or Imagery." (My kids love reading those warnings on DVDs, but pronounce it "in-oon-do" and give it a proper "ooooo.").

Henry Elinsky drops out of college with a whine and a sniffle. He stays in NYC with his brother (uber successful... you can see this coming, right?) and his brother's girlfriend. Henry gets a job at the Children's Zoo and makes friends with a goat. No, the sexual parts don't begin there, you filthy-minded readers.

Henry just wants to be loved, but the object of his affections does not return that emotion. It seems that no one loves him, no one wants him, he may as well eat worms.

And that's the end.

This has been compared to the "modern day Holden Caulfield," which I find insulting. Dolnick, a young author, has written about what he knows. Sometimes, as I've told students, that's not the best idea.

If not for the unique language choices, this would be a total wash.

1.5 out of 5.0 Kicks in the Nuts.