Friday, October 31, 2008

81. "Operation Shylock" - Philip Roth

To be blunt, I don't know what to do with Philip Roth.

He's self-effacing, he's charming, he's ego-centric, he's annoying. And that's just the author, Philip Roth.

In Operation Shylock, Philip Roth meets Philip Roth, a mirrored twin down to the part in his hair. The other Roth, called Moishe Popik ("Moses Bellybutton" - Jewish saying), wants to usher the Jews out of Israel and back to Europe, reversing the damage Hitler created during World War II.

Written as non-fiction but marketed as fiction (along with the standard, "any of this material in real life is coincidental"), Roth continues to state that it is actually non-fiction. He was there in Jerusalem, he was recruited by a Mossad operative, he wrote the book for them. Yet, Roth also states that he writes for the serious reader. I consider myself one of those, so I took the book with a tablespoon of salt and believe that Roth wrote this as part of a post-breakdown, post-Halcion addiction bender.

Should you read it? Again, I'm confused. Do you want to read 20 pages of ranting about the Holocaust? Then again, can you afford to miss a true education on the state of Jews (circa 1993, however)?

2.5 (split decision equals split in vote) out of 5.0 Great Pumpkin Patches.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

80. "Zipporah: Wife of Moses" - Marek Halter

I'll admit that my expectations were low. I bought this in the 99 cent bin (along with several other Jane Austen hardcovers - can you believe that?). She looks like a sassy vixen. If Fabio had been on the back cover, I wouldn't have been surprised.

However, I found myself engaged in the environment of Midian and sympathetic to Zipporah, a Cushite adopted by the leader, Jethro. The cover shows a woman with a summer tan, but the book describes a powerful, intense woman whose skin could not be seen at night. Moses, freshly sprung from Egypt and in hiding, loves her, but she refuses to marry him until he returns and frees his people.

I liked how the author gave depth to a character who has only been on the fringes of Biblical history, as well as his dedication to the details of the time. Still, it has been slipped out with other books for days, and I am having trouble remembering much more about it.

2.4 out of 5.0 Smashing Pumpkins.

Connect the dots: 79 to 80 (Moses led the Hebrews) to 81 (Operation Shylock - the next to read, where Moses is the "reverse nemesis" of Philip Roth), then to 82 (A Thread of Grace - how Italy helped the Jews during WWII), to 83 (a book about the Italian mafia). So, yes, I do need a bit of a plan, though I'm not sure where or if the dots will connect after that.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

“War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” ~ Ambrose Pierce

The White Tiger won the 2008 Man Booker Prize for fiction.

Meh. It was a decent read, so I'll clap the back of my hand like at a posh golf match.

Yet my vote still goes to A Case of Exploding Mangoes.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

79. "When We Were Bad" - Charlotte Mendelson

Perhaps the title should be: When We Were Naughty, Naughty Adults. Though "naughty" adds more spice where there is only blandness, like marzipan.

Four adult children of the famed rabbi, actress, broadcaster, and author, Claudia Rubin, will do anything to make mama happy. At their house, the term, "When mama ain't happy, nobody's happy," has a disturbing bend. For example, her husband, when finding out that his book will be published a mere two weeks after her book, keeps it a secret because he fears that Claudia has the power to shut down the presses.

Still, all children must rebel, and at the age of 33 (?) and 28, Frances and Leo (respectively) begin to rage against the mama machine. They are "bad" because they are choosing to live their own lives, rather than the one that Claudia has created for them. "With this family, you are for us or against us," she says. Well, okay, at least we know the stakes.

At turns desperately depressing and sardonic (at one point, the father sees one of those gloomy, cat-loving women that make him nervous, then realizes it's his daughter, Frances), the entire novel reaches for more than it can deliver. There are hints at outrageous past lives, mental illness, and incomplete characterization (the two youngest children - in their 20s - are considered artistic, so they are not expected to work, yet live at home, toking up and stealing checks). The experience left me saying, "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?" (WTF, for those of you who aren't exposed to college students and the latest lingo.)

2.0 out of 5.0 Gin Sours.


For my personal quest (connecting the dots), this was a tough one. I could re-read the Torah, but I do have a copy of a book about one of Moses's wives. "Along with God, it is the figure of Moses (Moshe) who dominates the Torah." Hey, I admitted that I might stretch things, didn't I? I just didn't admit that it may be thinner than the vein of an angel's wing.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

XX. "The Monk" - Matthew Lewis

Ah, the first book of the new reading boundaries, and I receive a "major fail," as my students would say.

Written in the late 1770s, this gothic romance has plenty of horror in it, but also a heap of melodrama. I took issue with the latter, and while I didn't throw the book, I did toss it aside.

Perhaps I'm just not ready to read it. This is a disappointment because there were a lot of "connect the dot" possibilities from this book. However, I am not a cheater, so I will simply XX this one off (for now - in a decade I'll have a year devoted to XX books).

Friday, October 03, 2008

“Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan.” - Tom Landry

I've read 298 books since I began this blog in 2006, 150 of which were read that first year (I still have no idea how I did that). Each year, I've set a goal, and I usually achieve it.

After picking up Blood Meridian, I read five pages, then thought, "I know this story." Checked the archives - sure enough, I read it in 2006. I started Going After Cacciato. Same thing. I've read broadly and deeply and now it is time to make a change.

My experience with reading new authors has been invigorating, but often one of the books will reference something in the past that interests me and I have to ignore the impulse to explore deeper. After all, there are books in the "fridge" and on my desk and the library is calling to tell me more have come in. Now that my time is heart-wrenchingly limited, I've decided to bump up my 2009 goal to an early October start.

I'm going to play a game called connect-the-dots. Remember those pages from kindergarten? You could see what the figure would end up being (a sailboat or the letter B), but you still dragged your pencil from 1 to 2 to 3. If I read a book that references another book, I'm going to read that other book. If I read a book that is amazing, I'm going to go straight to the author's other titles. If my pencil hits the last number in the dot connection, I'll tell you and start from scratch.

You won't be able to see what I'm about to read because *I* don't know what I'm about to read. I just want to see how long I can stretch things out; for example, the Man Booker prize nominees. That was a fun ride.

This may drive me crazy. I love getting stacks of books from the library or knowing that I have something to clutch after turning the last page of another novel. But, in the same way, it's an adventure. The naked reader, stripped of all expectations other than the book in my hand and what it may whisper into my consciousness.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

78. "Shakespeare's Kitchen" - Lore Segal

This is art imitating life - real conversations, true to the ear reflections about others, and flawed characters. While shopped as a book of short stories about the same characters, it contains the arc of a dramatic moment without all of the answers and resolutions.

Ilka is the heroine of the majority of the stories. Asked to work for a Connecticut group ("think tank" comes to mind), she struggles to make friends and acquaintances among the best in writing and reading. She finds companionship with the Shakespeares who open their arms to bring her into the circle.

However, Ilka still retains her sense of amazement, of curiosity and honesty. She is a pain in the ass, a snoop, an exhausted mom, a brilliant scholar (though "what" she does is never told), and a sensualist. She would be my friend because I would love her questions.

A runner-up for the 2008 Pulitzer, this is a book to read if you are enamored by sparse description, but lovely, spare sentences that completely reveal a person's character.

3.75 out of 5.0 Bourbon Crushers.