If I Could Just Get It On Virtual Paper

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Book 14: Honey, Baby, Sweetheart - By Deb Caletti

This young adult novel was one of the nominees for the National Book Award in that category, and although it's not quite so daring as the winner, Pete Hautman's Godless, it's a nifty little book nonetheless. Targeted far more to the teenage girl demographic, the book centers on a high school girl named Ruby who lives a pretty contented life with her mother and younger brother in a small town called Nine Mile Falls. A little excitement enters her life as she falls for a rich bad boy named Travis, and his effect on her is both exhilarating and deleterious. At the same time, our heroine is coming to know her mother's reading group, and elderly bunch known as the Casserole Queens, and finds that she is able to grow and express herself amidst them as she might never have expected. It's generally a trifle of a book, but I would certainly recommend it as a positive read for teen girls.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Book 13: Persepolis 2, by Marjane Satrapi

I wrote a few days ago about Persepolis, which I enjoyed so much I went straight to my library Web site and reserved the follow-up. The continuing memoir-in-graphic-novel-form takes up where our heroine, Marjane, left off in the first book. At that point, her parents had sent her away from Iran due to the strife in that country, intending for her to live with friends in Switzerland. It's not long before the fact that she is Iranian becomes an issue in her daily life - her classmates call her ugly, they think the worst of her because of political views that apply to her countrymen, and she's also at the very worst of her awkward teenage growth spurt. Eventually, after moving from place to place and eventually finding herself homeless and ill, she calls her family and asks to return home, where things are nothing like she remembered. Again, the drawing in the book is superlative and she details her story both with pathos and a marvelous sense of humor. Satrapi has said that she intends the story to be a four-parter, so I'm definitely anticipating the next two installments with eagerness.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Book 12: Howard Hughes - The Untold Story, by Peter Harry Brown and Pat H. Broeske

After seeing The Aviator, I became interested in learning more about the reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes. This biography wasn't a bad place to start. It went into almost excruciating detail about his (numerous) lovers, his various strides and innovations in the aviation industry, his strange and sometimes painful family life, his marriages and even his real and imagined diseases. The man apparently had more concussions in his lifetime than Troy Aikman, to which numerous psychoanalysts have attributed his many neuroses. Well, that and the lingering effects of a terrible and uncured bout of syphilis.

If nothing else, the book does a fine job of highlighting both the high and low points of the life of one of Hollywood's most intriguing and enduring celebrities. Though a strange man, there are times when it is possible to see how he was able to draw so many women to his side and also how he was able to maintain a lifelong friendship with both Cary Grant (perhaps Hughes' only true friend in life other than Katharine Hepburn).

Monday, March 28, 2005

Short Takes

More books for my ever-growing "To Be Read Pile": Julith Jedamus's top ten Japanese novels

And, the Hugo Award nominees have been announced.

Book 11: The Amateur Marriage, by Anne Tyler

As it happens, this novel felt like an appropriate read after Heir to the Glimmering World. The books aren't particularly similar (other than sharing, briefly, a similar setting and era), but both are completely character-driven novels with fascinating people who populate them.

In The Amateur Marriage, Tyler presents us with the story of the marriage of Michael and Pauline Anton. It chronicles the very beginning of their courtship, when the couple meets just as a parade for soldiers heading off to World War II breaks out, through decades of turbulence and tribulation. For you see, Michael and Pauline are not quite happy. Polar opposites in almost every way, they haven't been married more than a couple of years before they each begin to wonder individually whether their match isn't a terrible mistake. Like many marriages of people from the same time frame, they try to find common ground to keep things working - their children, a grandson whom they adopt, and a home they both love. It's a very realistic, straightforward portrayal of a life that could be that of someone you know - an uncle and aunt, perhaps, or a next-door neighbor. While the subject matter sounds somewhat dull and unlikely to be memorable, the book is really difficult to put down, almost begging the reader to sit and read the whole thing straight through.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Book Ten: Heir to the Glimmering World, by Cynthia Ozick

This is quite possibly the greatest book I have read in many years. While a number of people would probably say that Philip Roth's The Plot Against America is the best book of 2004, I give that honor to Ozick's character-driven, consistently compelling novel. Set in New York City at a time just between the Depression and WWII, the story centers on a young woman just out of her teens named Rose Meadows. After a difficult childhood with a strange father, she emerges from her home to go work for a family of German immigrants. While Rose is the book's primary narrator (Ozick switches voices from time to time), it is the characters that surround her that make the story engaging. There's a cousin named Bertram and his communist girlfriend Ninel (note that it's Lenin spelled backward), but the Mittwissers, the family to which Rose finds herself attached, may provide for the most intriguing of personalities. The family's benefactor, James, is better known to the world as the Bear Boy. Based on the real-life situation of A.A. Milnes' son Christopher Robin, James is an embittered young man who seeks to distance himself from the way that his writer father had imagined him and presented him to the world. Part of his rebellion is his decision to take the Mitwissers under his wing, which brings him into Rose's life - and that of the Mittwisser's oldest daughter, Anneliese.

Of all of the books that I have read so far in 2005, this is the one I give my highest recommendation. Ozick has mastered the use of language to create atmosphere and theme, and along with the fascinating characters, makes for a marvelous read that is nearly impossible to put down.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Book Nine: Washington's Crossing, by David Hackett Fischer

This examination of the events surrounding George Washington's crossing of the Delaware and the impact it had on the remainder of the war was not totally my cup of tea, but I found a few things about it impressive. The honest evaluation is that for the most part, I simply prefer novels to non-fiction, so I always suffer a bit when I'm trying to slug it out through something that happened long, long ago, however fascinating the incident may have been. What Washington's Crossing does particularly effectively, though, is impart how very important the notions of freedom, patriotism and independence were to Washington, and the way that he utilized such ideas to encourage his rag-tag army. It shows a general in evolution, and contrasts his command style to that of other leaders of both the U.S. military and the British military, and how the things Washington employed that worked are still effective in the military of today. Most impressive is the fact that he was consistently willing to listen to the advice of various people from out in the field - from other officers to spies to local citizens, even. It's a well-written if slow-paced book that is perfectly targeted either for devotees of military history or the Revolutionary War.

Friday, March 25, 2005


There's an excerpt up at Neil Gaiman's site from his upcoming book Anansi Boys. I'm enjoying what's out there so far.

Steve Almond reviews...Steve Almond.

Ethan Hawke just *loved* Jonathan Safron Foer's new novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I haven't read it yet, but there does seem to be a fair amount of scorn in the book reading community with regards to this young progeny.

Book Eight: Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi

Continuing the onslaught of 50 Book Challenge posts, book eight for me in 2005 was Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi. I realize that some people probably won't be so willing to count graphic novels as "real books," but I read quite a few of them provided that I see something unique that sets the books apart. In the case of Persepolis, the outstanding art is accompanied by an even more engaging story about a girl growing up in Iran in the late 1970s and early 1980s - which means that not only is she contending with the departure of the Shah and the rise of the fundamentalists, but her country also goes to war with the neighboring Iraq. Satrapi's artistic memoirs are poignant and are truly essential reading for anyone who believes they understand the situation in the Middle East. As far as I can tell, unless you've actually lived in the countries, you don't. Satrapi, who is pretty close to my age, liked many of the same things I did as a teenager, hated having to wear a veil, and didn't quite understand the concept of martyrdom. The emerging fundamentalist religion is a terrible negative association for her - while her family was muslim, the honest evalutation is that they do not appear to have been too devout. From her description, such was the case with many families in her homeland. Eventually, things get bad enough that her family sends her out of the country - an event that will lead to a sequel known as Persepolis 2: The Return. I'll cover that book at a later time.

I can't recommend Persepolis highly enough. Whether or not you enjoy graphic novels, there is much to love in this one. It's a unique, intriguing way of presenting an unexpected tale.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

50 Book Challenge...continued and continued and continued

It's been about two months since my last post, but that doesn't mean that I've stopped with the 50 Book Challenge. I've certainly made empty promises about being better about updating my blog in the past, but this time I mean it. Really! I also have some property in this lovely place called Atlantis to sell you.

When I last commented on the 50 Book Challenge, I had read through books five and six. To refresh your memory, the 50 Book Challenge is a self-test of sorts in which you aim to read 50 books in the calendar year. That's less than one book per week, but given the busy world we inhabit today, it's certainly no easy task. Once a book is complete, your assignment is to write a brief review of what you've read.

Since January, I've actually made it all the way to book 21. The great news for me is that this means I have 15 automatic easy posts for the next few weeks since I can cover one of the books each day.

I left off the challenge after having read Christine Schutt's Florida, which, you might remember, I highly recommended. Next up was book seven, Vernon God Little by D.B.C. Pierre. It's actually a bit uncomfortable to discuss the book in the aftermath of the recent school shooting in Minnesota, but that's exactly what the subject matter deals with. A teenager named Vernon is present at a horrific school shooting, and just happens to have been best friend to the person who carried out the murders. As a result, most everyone believes that Vernon has been involved as well, and the story centers around his protestations of innocence and intimations on what might become of his life as a result.

The book is interesting, and the language is definitely unique, but there was still something about it that naggingly bothered me. Mostly, it's that the character, however innocent or guilty he may be, is simply vile. Anti-heroes don't bother me, but this one didn't have any redeeming qualities at all. Are teenagers really like that these days? I'm sure that they're not, but it sure leaves the reader with a grim impression about the prospects for the future. I can't wholeheartedly recommend the book, but I can't quite dismiss it either. If you're intrigued by books that make unusual usage of language and metaphor, this is one you might want to pick up.



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