Saturday, September 27, 2008

XX. "War Trash" and "Clear Light of Day"

I know that Clear Light of Day is one of Stefania's favorites, so it pains me to say that I had to put it aside... at least for now. I'm not sure if it's my mindset or the fact that I'm working and writing much more, but it's been hard to lose myself in a book lately.

So, I'm going to finish up with the books that I've already received from the library, then reevaluate. My super fantastic awesome reading plan for 2009 may get bumped up... or, I may just wait. NaNoWriMo is coming up (is that the right name... I'm blanking out), so I *know* I will be grading, teaching, and writing... with the help of River Rock's coffee and Diet Mountain Dew. Anyone else participating?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

"If it keeps up, man will atrophy all his limbs but the push-button finger." - Frank Lloyd Wright

The Kindle - the latest in e-book readers, but also the most user-friendly. Some say it is the iPod of reading. Without any computer source, a Kindle owner can download anywhere (in the U.S. - and not in portions of Montana and Alaska). There are more than 190,000 titles available.

Is this the future? I am a believer in the paperless society. Let's use computers to send mail, keep notes in class, learn through an online university (props to my own employer, South University). Let's bank online and buy online and meet online. Let's learn more about the world because we have 24/7 access to it.

But let's keep books. Let's keep libraries that allow anyone the opportunity to check out books about every topic imaginable... for free! Let's pile books on desks and in corners and use them to prop open the door when they aren't nestled beautifully on shelves and dressers and cabinets.

As I read the information about the Kindle, I'll admit that I was intrigued. I would love to click on a word and have a pop-up dictionary tell me its meaning. If I finished a book and needed another one, I could have it downloaded in one minute. As I age and find that I move my reading materials back and forth to find the crispest vision spot, I'd like to be able to increase the font size. And, out of courtesy to my children, I'd like to not be the reason why their backs are curved like the letter C when they bring my books to the car, loaded down like pack mules.

Still, I adore books. While others pencil in the margins, I believe that books are too sacred for our markings. I quit dog-earing pages when I noticed how much I hated it when others did it to books before me (was this an especially good page? what did I miss?). As I have often said on this blog, I love the smell of books, whether fresh from a local bookstore - the scent of new paper, which always reminds me of September and the beginning of school - or from the library, smoky, yellowed, mildewed or perfumed. And is there a more selfish, secret sound than the rustle made when turning a page?

77. "My Sister, My Love" - Joyce Carol Oates

According to 19-year-old Skylar Rampike, you may or may not want to know who killed his 6-year-old sister, Bliss. But he may or may not tell you, anyway.

In typical Oates fashion, the book presents a stereotypical mommy/daddy/son/daughter family with grins and Gap t-shirts and gregarious lifestyles. Of course, this hides the inner nastiness that fills the empty spaces like caulk. This book is particularly awful, reminding the reader of Jon Benet Ramsey from the first few pages.

Bliss is a skating wonder-kind, a girl who, it is predicted, will someday be an Olympian. She won her first crown at the age of 4, then became over-coached and over-mothered in an attempt to create the perfect life - special shoes, special tutors, and special medications. Skylar, medicated to the brim himself, watches from the sidelines with love - no jealousy! honest! let me repeat it! - and the desire to make his parents proud of him, too, even after Bliss is found murdered in their basement.

While the comparison to the Jon Benet Ramsey case is obvious (little girl made up to be a living doll), the ironic pinch is the knocks at today's society - cell phones, ADHD (and all of its partner psychological disorders), and kid-meds are all thrown under the bus. Still, it was an obvious Oates playing Skylar - the voice neither teenager nor child, just cruel and ambitious.

3.5 out of 5.0 Blue Skies.

76. "Purple Hibiscus" - Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie

Kambili and her brother, Jaja, live a pious life. Father, the wealthiest man in this Nigerian community, creates a daily schedule for sleeping, eating, communicating with family, and studying. She does not speak unless spoken to and follows all of the rules presented by her father and her father's church.

Then, she and Jaja get to stay with her aunt, Ifeoma, a lecturer at the university. Kambili sees student coups and learns to cook, then begins to learn to think separately from her father.

The first book by Adichie, this is a beautiful, lyrical novel about Nigerian culture. However, her more recent book, Half of a Yellow Sun, is so much fuller in its presentation. Still, if you can read both, do. I can't wait to see what else this author can bring to the world of literature.

4.0 out of 5.0 Purple Bikini Martini.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

75. "The Enchantress of Florence" - Salman Rushdie

Rushdie has said that this is his best work, as well as his most researched novel. While the Man Booker folks disagree, this was the first Salman Rushdie novel that didn't feel like a forced-for-schoolwork read.

If you have the patience for long-winded narrative and descriptions of several different names and historical events, you will enjoy this fantasy/fairy tale. From Queen Elizabeth I (the Virgin Queen) to the de Medici family (whom I'd recently researched), the story blends the magical with the impossible. To fully enjoy the novel, however, you need to have some basic idea of the history of the time period (early to mid 1500s).

Akbar the Great is the leader of the East, emperor of the Mughal empire. One day, a long-haired blond man wearing a multi-colored leather coat approaches Akbar's city. He says he has a story to tell the emperor, and eventually his tale of the enchantress of Florence endears the man (who goes by several aliases, so I'll call him Mugar dell'Amore) to not only the emperor but the entire town as they wish to know the empress so completely as to bring her to life through memories.

It's a playful side of Rushdie's writing that I've not seen. He writes less about politics and more about religion and sex, which I found refreshing. Catching the end of an NPR interview, I heard the host call this "a book of two cities." I disagree - it's a book of two cultures who end up being quite alike. A positive note on the cusp of the United States presidential election.

3.5 out of 5.0 Blue Motorcycles.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

2008 Man Booker Shortlist

If I were the self-centered wretch that many believe, I would think that the Man Booker shortlist judges read my blog, then chose the opposite. Bah. What I truly believe is that I need to try these other books... someday.

Aravind Adiga The White Tiger (Atlantic)
Sebastian Barry The Secret Scripture (Faber and Faber)
Amitav Ghosh Sea of Poppies (John Murray)
Linda Grant The Clothes on Their Backs (Virago)
Philip Hensher The Northern Clemency (Fourth Estate)
Steve Toltz A Fraction of the Whole (Hamish Hamilton)

I will take A Fraction of the Whole for $200. Others?

Sunday, September 07, 2008

74. "Before Green Gables" - Budge Wilson

Although not the original author of the famous "Anne of Green Gables" series (which I read until the pages were dog-eared and ripped), Budge Wilson tries to explain why Anne Shirley is the scrawny orphan with such big words when Matthew picks her up at the train station.

I raced through this book searching for that carrot-haired girl of my memory, and while I think the author did a decent job, it didn't have the flow and wonder of the original books. But is that reasonable to expect? Did anyone ever read Scarlett?

Some facts seem thrown in for effect; for example, a beloved teacher pulls out ipecac syrup and tells Anne how to administer it. Of course, we fans of Green Gables know that she saves Diana's sister with that knowledge. But there was no other reason to have that scene in the book at that time.

As much as I wanted it to, this didn't hit the spot, though I'm going to search through my old boxes to find my original collection (in 2009 when I have more time).

2.25 out of 5.0 Peachberry Shakes.

XX. "The Lost Dog"

I couldn't push myself into these choppy, short paragraphs long enough to care about the characters. It almost seemed like the writing style was purposeful in its attempt to alienate the reader.

If it makes the finals for the Booker, I may revisit. For now, meh.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

73. "Half of a Yellow Sun" - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I'm only 20 pages from the end of this book, but I don't want to read it. I don't want to leave this beautiful, strange, lush spiral of a world. Adichie has an enviable talent of turning rose petals into words. Just read it. Period.

4.9 out of 5.0 Freelancers.

72. "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" - Michael Chabon

First, this is no Kavalier and Clay. But, it is another unique turn for prolific writer, Michael Chabon.

A historical-alternative world-mystery-detective novel, it begins with the founder of the self-proclaimed Yiddish Policemen's Union, Meyer Landsman. Drunk and depressed, he is living his post-divorce life in a dump of a hotel in downtown Sitka, Alaska, a place where all of the (just pretend now, class) displaced Jews from WWII were, well, placed. Everyone speaks Yiddish, but some also speak "American."

The death of a heroin-addict/messiah/chess player in his hotel sparks Landsman into the murder mystery of his career, spinning him back into the clutches of a hipster ex-wife (now his boss).

The plot is difficult because of all the changes in history (there is a "Polish Free State" and the Soviets lost WWII), as well as several intertwining, impossibly connected families. There is a shocker of an ending, partly due to the red herring writing style of the detective genre.

Still, it's got fantastic, snappy dialogue, which is probably why the Coen brothers are already set to direct the movie. Personally, I think this is the second time in my life where I'll prefer the flick to the book.

2.0 out of 5.0 Holy Fucks.