Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Man Booker Long List 2008

I will be putting my other reading on hold until I've read all of these. Is anyone familiar with the titles? I have a feeling that Salman Rushdie will make the short list - he always does.

The titles are:

Aravind Adiga The White Tiger
Gaynor Arnold Girl in a Blue Dress
Sebastian Barry The Secret Scripture
John Berger From A to X
Michelle de Kretser The Lost Dog
Amitav Ghosh Sea of Poppies
Linda Grant The Clothes on Their Backs
Mohammed Hanif A Case of Exploding Mangoes
Philip Hensher The Northern Clemency
Joseph O'Neill Netherland
Salman Rushdie The Enchantress of Florence
Tom Rob Smith Child 44
Steve Toltz A Fraction of the Whole

Monday, July 28, 2008

XX. "Water Music" - T.C. Boyle

I'm an incredible Boyle fan, so it disturbed me that I wanted to kick the book after reading twenty pages. Recently, I read about these gin vs. beer cartoons (beer was depicted as hearty and healthy, while gin showed depravity and murderous insanity - gin has always done that to me, too). Boyle used nearly all of the information word for word. It made me wonder if reading widely will eventually create frustration for the addicted reader.

65. "Duchessina" - Carolyn Meyer

It's the story... of a lovely lady. Or perhaps not. History has said that Caterina de Medici (Catherine, Queen Mother) was not a beauty, but she more than made up for it in ambition and wit.

After reading Courtesan, I was interested in hearing about the other side. When Catherine married Henri II, she tried her best to be the dutiful wife. Soon, she saw his blushes when looking at the black and white clad Diane de Poitiers.

Though the reading audience of Duchessina is late teens, there is plenty of good gossipy sex, including the fascinating tidbit that Catherine drilled a hole in the floor so she could find out why her husband was so fascinated with Diane.

I liked reading about the negative aspects of Diane because Courtesan made her a nearly flawless character. Catherine, however, is quite flawed, but the author created reasoning based on historical fact for Catherine's behavior. Very good for the historical reader who wants to be exposed to all aspects of the French court.

4.0 out of 5.0 French Summers.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

64. "Saturday" - Ian McEwan

I have a disturbing relationship with Ian McEwan's books. Atonement made me react to a book in a fashion I usually reserve for ex-lovers, with a pile of used tissues to match. But The Comfort of Strangers and On Chesil Beach completely underwhelmed me.

In Saturday, McEwan takes the ordinary life of a London neurosurgeon and applies one of my favorite what-if questions of all: what if you could save someone who hurt you/your family?

The question is planted broadly throughout the short novel with a backdrop of post-9/11 freedom-mongering and thoughtful political analysis. It seems to be a time for hope, a time for doing the right thing, though, as Dr. Perowne says, "We'll know if we did the right thing [involving the Iraq war] in five years." Published in 2003, I think I'm not amiss when I say that we still aren't sure about the right things.

As far as this book, it has the positive enthusiasm that is symbolized by the miasma of Obama supporters in America. Perhaps a book can exceed its expiration date. However, chunks of lead flew as spikes from my eyes as I read the last 30 pages. If this were McEwan's intention, he succeeded.

3.5 out of 5.0 Three Stripes Cocktail.

63. "Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name" - Vendela Vida

I had to read this (relatively) new novel for three silly reasons: she's married to Dave Eggers, she's got one hell of a cool name, and she rocked the title.

Clarissa is floating along the path of normality when her father dies of a heart attack. Soon, she finds he wasn't her biological father. Oh, and her mother just up and left her when she was 14 years old. So, Clarissa leaves her fiancee and travels to the Sami tribe to find her father. All the makings of a bad drama with dun-dun-dun in the music.

But Vida doesn't go that route. She creates unlikeable characters who make despicable choices, but writes with such heart and honesty that it's next to impossible to put the book out of your mind, even when you have to put it down.

Did I like it? I don't know. I'm still thinking about it, and to me, that's almost up there with sobbing and closing the book with a happy heart.

3.75 out of 5.0 Sam-Tinis.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

62. "The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall" - Christopher Hibbert

An incredibly descriptive non-fiction account of the (obviously) rise and fall of the Medici family in Italy is a superb introduction to the history and arts created by one man's greed. With hands in the pockets of religious leaders and government officials, the Medici family built a name based on banking, but soon solidified its place with its attention to the arts. The paintings, grottoes, and architecture of Florence still bear the name of Medici.

My darling friend, Becky, visited Italy during a whirlwind Europe tour, and her tales only intensified my desire to spend a month or two in Florence, with a few side trips. When she and I make our millions off our books, I'm sure I can convince her to make a return trip.

Until then, the photos and beautiful prose - luscious descriptions of the marketplaces, houses, meals... Hibbert is wonderfully dimensional - will satisfy my Italian dreams.

4.0 out of 5.0 Italian Valium.

“When the Goddess of Distraction calls, sometimes I’ve just got to pick up the phone.” – Marcia Menter

My wonderful writing group pals were talking about "the ultimate time-sucker" (Rachael), Facebook. I'll admit that I've wasted time checking out MySpace and Facebook, but have never really understood it. It's like text messaging... okay, but not fulfilling conversations with someone you supposedly care about. The whole "ask a friend" thing is weird, too. Ask if you can be my friend. I usually say yes. I'm like a hooker that way.

Still, I have succumbed. Stuck in bed with pneumonia (yes, I know, I'm "a medical nightmare" (my husband)), I'm bored. I've read, of course, but the magical nature of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a bit mind-bending with a 102 degree fever. I've played Bejeweled and topped by previous high score of 23,000. I've trolled Barnes and Noble.com for new books to add to my list, then considered ordering a Wii Fit to help me recuperate after this illness is cleared up. I've napped, I've rested, I've gulped down tons of juice.

Like the drunk-dialing of early college mornings, I've hit a tang of desperation. Facebook. Fill me up. And it did.

So, if you receive an invitation, please be my friend. And if you know how to make it look pretty, please let me know, too. Because I'll be getting bored again soon.

Monday, July 14, 2008

61. "Independence Day" - Richard Ford

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Independence Day is an intensely detailed novel that covers four days in the life of realtor Frank Bascombe. If you are a fan of Ford, you've met Bascombe before in the book, The Sportswriter.

Bascombe is a 44-year-old optimist with multiple dates - one with potential buyers, another with his maybe-more "lady friend," and a weekender with his psychologically unbalanced son. The tale weaves in and out of everyday American life, interrupting the dialogue with beautiful descriptions. Everyone in this book seems real, which is why I can excuse this 500-page-plus monster from being an ode to a writer's favorite character.

I will admit to being disappointed with the last 50 pages or so. The whole "show a gun in the first act, fire it in the third act" rule isn't followed, so I had different expectations of the end. I'm intrigued enough to try other Ford books, though, based on the meticulous detail and perfect pitch dialogue.

4.0 out of 5.0 Star Spangled Banners.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

60. "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" - Junot Diaz

If you:

A. Speak mediocre Spanish
B. Know The Lord of the Ring trilogy in a Biblical sense
C. Remember crazy ass pop trivia...

then you will love this book.

Oscar "Wao" de Leon is not the typical Dominican "cat" (as the narrator puts it). He's fat, he's geeky, and he wants to become the Dominican Tolkien. Basically, he has no game.

He, his sister, Lola, and mother have had horrific things happen to their lives, which is blamed on the Dominican curse of fuku (accent on the last u) and the power of dictator Trujillo. All of this is told through a series of fun references (for example, someone pulls a Dana Plato robbery - which is hilarious if you remember this bit of silly trivia) and jock strap wielding, chest thumping, ball grabbing masculine cock-strut.

Winner of the 2007 Pulitzer, this is one that cannot be missed.

4.2 out of 5.0 Caribbean Punches.

59. "DeNiro's Game" - Rawi Hage

Bassam, the young narrator of DeNiro's Game, is searching for a way out of war-torn Beirut. His friend, George, offers assistance, but it is through joining the local militia.

There are good war stories and mediocre war stories. Unfortunately, I felt like this novel fit into the latter category. I enjoyed learning more about the Lebanese Civil War, but the conflict between Bassam and George was predictably depressing. Toward the end of the novel, I began to count how many times the author described Bassam smoking. I got to 16 before I gave up.

Other people have adored this book, so judge for yourself.

2.0 out of 5.0 Lulus.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

58. "PopCo" - Scarlett Thomas

This book has been raved about at the Bookslut site, and we typically share the same taste in quirky novels. While my first experience with Scarlett Thomas didn't go well, PopCo intrigued me enough to push me through.

Alice Butler is a practically orphaned girl who grew up with her mathematically-inclined, code-cracking grandparents. A special code is imprinted on a locket that she still wears, years later, as a 30-odd-year-old idea-creator for PopCo, a leading toy manufacturer.

Alice is selected to be part of the elite team at PopCo that is creating the next big thing in the teenage girl market. If you have been stuck in the academic world for the majority of your life, you won't appreciate this novel. Personally, as a former PR goody two-shoes and marketing guru, I loved this fresh take on the manipulation of minds.

Frankly, I think Thomas should have taken all of her research and gone on the road, shelling out marketing seminars for thousands of dollars a PopCo (ouch, that pun hurt). With a husband who teaches marketing, along with my own experience, I knew a lot of the examples that she gave, so I didn't enjoy that as much as others would. However, the mind-fizzing work of mathematics twisted the story enough to keep it interesting without overwhelming me into flashbacks of my hippie algebra teacher slamming his hand on my desk and shouting, "Are you an acid trip?"

The end disappointed me, but the ride was fun. I think I'm done with Scarlett Thomas novels, though, because in the end, each seems a bit preachy.

3.0 out of 5.0 Astro Pops.