Friday, December 28, 2007

Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass

Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass. Wonderful - I can't wait to read the next two. Bredon recommended this to me, and when I saw a friend reading it before a class it looked absolutely tantalizing. The Golden Compass lived up to and surpassed my anticipation. Lyra was a perfect champion worthy to at least hobnob with Lucy Pevensie and Frodo Baggins. One of those books (maybe for children -mostly for everybody) that's not just a great adventure or fantasy but is a great novel without qualification. But best of all was the universe surrounding Lyra. Oxford was Dickensian and baroque and wonderful, and the passing reference to the historical pope John Calvin made my day! I haven't enjoyed a story like that for the first time since I can remember. And although I shouldn't criticize a book that I have another 600 pages to slog through, Thomas Pynchon has a thing or two to learn from Pullman about embedding actual characters into a fantasy world (the comparison springs to mind, because Against the Day contains a roughly analogous Verne-esque airship north pole aurora hollow earth clump of plots). Anyway - read this book, enjoy it, share it, and read it aloud.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Richard Russo, Straight Man

Richard Russo, Straight Man. This was hilarious. Better than Empire Falls (which struck me as a little bit cute - or at least the dirty old man Max was too much), even it doesn't have the same American Novel seriousness. Once again though, the main characters are disaffected acerbic middle aged men. The protagonist, Hank, is a jerk, but you have to enjoy him and identify with him (unless you are ALL sweetness and light, I suppose). He's a decaying second-rate academic at a second rate public university with one novel "favorably reviewed by the New York Times" to his credit. He likes to view himself as an outsider, an unpredictable "loose cannon", and ends up holding a duck (no, a goose) hostage over university politics. It's an academic satire as funny as Moo, and the situational and verbal comedy impossibly escalates as the plot unfolds.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Alice Hoffman, Here on Earth

Alice Hoffman, Here on Earth. Eh. Oprah's book club selections are always at the goodwill and so I end up inadvertently reading lots of them. I don't know how there can be so many fantastic books (which become so popular that I can swoop them up for fifty cents, for which I am grateful) and so many sort of blah books in the same list. I mean, Kaye Gibbons, Jonathan Franzen, García Márquez, and Tolstoy (for goodness sake! who puts Tolstoy in a BOOK CLUB?) right along with such trash as Chris Bohjalian. Oh well, I shouldn't complain about something that gives me a wealth of cheap good used paperbacks. This book certainly wasn't bad, anyway, it just wasn't good. March returns to her home town with her teenage daughter Gwen (now her, I like, but she didn't really pan out)for a funeral after leaving with a broken heart 20 years earlier. She rekindles her affair with her lost love (and sort of step brother) and disastrous consequences ensue, as he turns out to be your standard psycho boyfriend. I don't know, the story started out with such promise: beautiful descriptions, March had depth, there was the potential for a really great love story or reconciliation. But as the plot got moving, the characters sort of fell out of the book and turned into stereotypes. If the book had skipped the last half and taken up after the last page, it might have been more interesting. March's husband had the most potential for a really nuanced player, and all he got was a cameo. The horse was just silly, as was the back story for Hollis (the dangerous lover). And I HATE spunky friends.

John Mortimer, The Second Rumpole Omnibus

John Mortimer, The Second Rumpole Omnibus. During the school year, I read a lot of things like this - short story collections that I can dip in to for a few minutes at a time or leave alone for weeks. The Rumpole stories have the advantage of being funny and forgettable - perfect bathtub reading. I don't mean to be insulting, I'm getting affectionate toward Rumpole, and I always have a need for "light" mystery stories (you could easily slot these in for Agatha Christie or Rex Stout, for example). My favorite thing about the stories is that Rumpole is a defending barrister, so they are mostly about getting people off, instead of convicting people. I especially like the large family of inept small time crooks he is always defending (and rescuing from false implications by a less inept competing criminal family). I wonder how the first omnibus was, because I got a lot of small parcels of relaxation from this one.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Alice Walker, By The Light of My Father's Smile

Alice Walker, By The Light of My Father's Smile. Oh dear, I don't know what happened to Walker - I loved The Color Purple. But some authors have only a few ideas, and these can be recycled only so many times before their books become stale and disgusting. No amount of sex, pseudo-anthropology, ghosts, or moralizing could save this from being a trashy boring book with recycled characters.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Deborah Schupack, The Boy on the Bus

Deborah Schupack, The Boy on the Bus. This story reminded me of a book I read when I was a little girl - I can't remember the name of it or the details, but it was about a girl who switched places with another child in the past (or future?) and no one really noticed, because no one expected her to be different. In this novel, a boy arrives home from school and his mother Meg is nearly certain it is not her child (almost, but not quite). I think the metaphors and Meg's emotional conflicts were drawn to thickly. The idea was fascinating and the first few chapters were intriguing, but it didn't quite maintain enough depth or complexity to allow the conceit to work. An interesting failure? Now I want to dig up that childhood book and see if it was any good.

Marcia Angell, The Truth About Drug Companies

Marcia Angell, The Truth About Drug Companies. Well, I have a bit of a backlog of books to post due to finals and procrastination - I read this one for a sociology class. Anyway, this was a book with a compelling argument, but it was too little information stretched into too much book, and seemed repetitive. I recommend the summary from the New York Review of Books - it's almost all of the information and much more concise. But Angell (who was once the editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, and so is definitely what you might consider an insider in the world of medical research) gives a wonderful critique of big pharma and squashes the myths about direct to consumer advertising, drug development, and financial conflicts of interest with researchers and doctors.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Karen Cushman, Catherine Called Birdy

Karen Cushman, Catherine Called Birdy. Oh, this was delightful. A very stubborn young girl keeps a diary in 1290. God's thumbs! I don't know how I missed this in grade school (oh, it was written in 1994 - I am old!) because the fleas alone would have been fascinating. The home medical remedies were vile, but from what I remember of medieval medical history, Birdy's patients were probably pretty well off. Well, I needed a respite from writing a very horrible term paper for Ethical Theory and this was perfect.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Ernest J. Gaines, A Lesson before Dying

Ernest J. Gaines, A Lesson before Dying. Moving. Like a blunt instrument to the skull.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Christopher Moore, Coyote Blue

Christopher Moore, Coyote Blue. Coyote, the trickster, comes to life and causes chaos in a respectable insurance broker's life. Slapstick funny, charming, easy to read in a sitting. It was a little like eating a whole box of marshmallow peeps, though. It's fun and sweet, but afterwards you have a headache and you are vaguely disgusted with yourself.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Jane Maienschein, Whose View of Life?

Jane Maienschein, Whose View of Life? If you are looking for a passionately argued viewpoint on when life begins and how research should be conducted, you won't find it here. Jane doesn't present a picture of bad guys and good guys. Instead this book is a careful analysis of the history and research of embryos, cloning, and stem cells. I found the history of embryology fascinating, as well as the earlier (1970's) history of molecular biology - I loved learning about developmental biology.I didn't enjoy the latter sections of the book (on cloning and stem cells) that had a greater focus on policy, but that probably reflects my own preferences. This book is pretty rare, in that it presents carefully researched science, detailed history, as well as a balanced look at how science policy is made while still being readable. I have to make a disclaimer that it's by my favorite teacher, so how could I not enjoy it?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Kim Edwards, The Memory Keeper's Daughter

Kim Edwards, The Memory Keeper's Daughter. I had the pleasure of reading this during a weekend spent comfortably on the couch reading companionably alongside an old and dear friend. This rosy scenario probably contributed to my enjoyment of the story. A doctor delivering his own unexpected twins made a snap decision to secretly send away a daughter with Down's syndrome and raise only the healthy son. When he told his sedated wife about their daughter, he inexplicably said she was stillborn. It was one of those deceptions that has unfathomable repercussions and is very hard to back out of. The novel traces both the doctor's family and the life of the daughter who was mercifully kidnapped and raised by the attending nurse. Now that I recall the story, it seems contrived and and the twists of the plot slightly predictable, but nevertheless, it was pleasant.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma

Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma. I don't know what to say other than you absolutely must read this! I had more than the usual urges to look for people to read out loud to, and I was caught several times regaling panicking bystanders with the latest morsel about ruminants or fungi. I have about six people I want to force my copy upon. It is a delicious story. It's too rare that a nonfiction book of with such relevant subject matter is so beautifully written. I have been reading all sorts of horrendously boring and dense material lately, so this was refreshing - I'm so glad that my class assigned this as a text so that I could read it in good conscience.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ian and Jennifer Glynn, The Life and Death of Smallpox

Ian and Jennifer Glynn, The Life and Death of Smallpox. A fantastic biography of a nasty and still wily disease. It's the only infectious disease we've ever purposely eradicated, and that only happened by the skin of our teeth. We still aren't free and clear because of post-cold war fears of bad actors and weaponization. The history of the disease is particularly rich because the unmistakable symptoms make it easy to track in historical accounts across cultures. The story of vaccination is fascinating, and much less straightforward than I had always thought. It replaced the fairly ancient process of variolation - a home-brew inoculation using regular smallpox (rather than vaccinia or cowpox) that protected the individual but was still contagious and so was epidemiologically problematic. Just the stories about the choices people had to make about vaccinating/variolating their children were incredibly compelling. Do you expose your child to a known (though smaller) risk, or play the roulette wheel that they won't contract the severe disease? It makes our qualms about the side effects of modern vaccines seem almost petty.

The story of the virus itself is fascinating, as we can trace different evolutions of smallpox strains and related animal viruses, even in modern times. Did you know, that actually nobody knows where the strains we use for vaccines come from? The original was supposed to have come from the famous cow, but it doesn't appear to be related to any known cowpox. It may be the cow was infected with horsepox (now extinct, and so we can't check), or along the way the vaccine strain got contaminated with another pox virus.

I also thought this was really interesting because they do work on vaccinia and monkeypox at ASU - I had had no idea of the continuing usefulness of vaccinia to make vaccinations against other diseases! I read this book as part of a project I'm doing with a group in my Biology and Society class on infectious diseases in human history.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Roddy Doyle, A Star Called Henry

Roddy Doyle, A Star Called Henry. Doyle is one of my new favorites. Tender and cynical, he gets tone perfectly. Henry Smart, hero, warrior, urchin, and lover, is our immensely entertaining narrator. We get a hyper-Dickensian view of squalid and desperate Dublin, a dark view of the Irish Rebellion, and plenty of words, blood and love. I'm probably the only person, though, who didn't prefer this massive, ambitious, and bloody epic to the comic story The Van. I sometimes like the smaller, more perfect books instead of huge masterpieces.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Gwyn Hyman Rubio, Icy Sparks

Gwyn Hyman Rubio, Icy Sparks. One of those southern novels about a child growing up in Appalachia. Actually wonderful - Icy was a grand heroine, one I really sympathized with. She had Tourette's which made rural school life difficult for her and also made the book screamingly funny. I actually cried in fury for her a few times (I hate schoolyard injustices and can barely tolerate reading about them). Icy as narrator was both convincing and absorbing. The ending was a little too easy, though - the epilogue was the weakest part of the book and the fabric of the story got frayed at the finish.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Terry Jones, Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic

Terry Jones, Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic. Well, Terry Jones is no Douglas Adams, but he IS Terry Jones and so is still pretty uproarious. I actually played that video game with my brother Bredon (which was Adams's and great) and loved it, but I never got too far. I wouldn't mind resurrecting it now. I borrowed the book from my sister to read on the way to the airport and I stole it to read on the plane - it was perfect for that purpose - silly and undemanding.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient. Gorgeous - a lush and beautiful novel.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Alexander McCall Smith, Tears of the Giraffe

Alexander McCall Smith, Tears of the Giraffe. I enjoy these stories, even if they are maybe overly sweet. This follows The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and is a similar simple and compelling book that is not so much mystery as short interlude in Precious Ramotswe's life. Portuguese Irregular Verbs (a collection of short stories by Smith) was absolutely hilarious and you get touches of the same absurdist humor in this series. I do think there is a little too much philosophizing and moral reflection going on - I read these books because I enjoy the humor - not particularly because I want to be touched by Mma Ramatswe's unique perspective every other page.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Isaac Asimov, The Foundation Trilogy.

Isaac Asimov, The Foundation Trilogy. Shut up! I've been stressed out, ok? This is my Star Wars. I love the first one (Foundation), but I always hated the Mule, so I don't like the last two as much. Darn psychohistorians, anyway - I always thought it was a way to sneak predestination arguments into science fiction.

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. There are so few books that reduce me to my inner 10-year old. I gulped this down (didn't everybody? I heard from several people they thought there might be some spell causing the book to bind to their fingers untill finished), but I kept getting too stressed out and had to walk around the house flapping my hands before I could stand to read anymore. I cried through the last few chapters, just because it was over....(Neal Stephenson is the only other living author who does that to me). I won't say much, but I did see a strong reflection of the Lord of the Rings in the last two books.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Gary Shteyngart, Absurdistan

Gary Shteyngart, Absurdistan. Hilarious. Hopeless. Bilious. Shamefully funny and bitter. Misha Vainburg is so disgustingly self-indulgent, wallowing, and worthless that you can't help but love him even when you want to kick him. This book is almost like a tragic marriage of Candide and Borat - but even more skewed than that sounds. The best book I've read in a long time.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Matt Ridley, The Red Queen

Matt Ridley, The Red Queen: sex and the evolution of human nature. I love natural history books for the general public. They lack some of the passion of the partisan (think Stephen Jay Gould)- and I do enjoy the enthusiasm of scientists - but outsiders usually add interpretation and synthesis to make a larger picture cohesive. This was a pretty fun discussion of the evolutionary aspects of sex, well written and argued. Ridley gets a little more controversial, interesting, and tenuous when he ventures into the shaping of "human nature" by sexual selection - but that correlates pretty well with the current state of affairs in the field. The arguments he's collected are so diverse that at times they don't support each other: there are so many examples that eventually you feel that any theory can be supported by some animal model. The near-infinite number of reproductive strategies in the world make it difficult to prove any particular system by analogy. But I loved the way he traced through all the competing theories, and all the animal examples were the best part of the book, whether or not they detracted from the argument. Who doesn't love to read about the sex lives of chimps, lions, minnows, woodpeckers, snails, rotifers, and grackles?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Susan Tyler Hitchcock, Mad Mary Lamb

Susan Tyler Hitchcock, Mad Mary Lamb. I loved the Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare when I was a child and was always fascinated by the thumbnail biography of murder and insanity in the introduction. Hitchcock has retold the complete story of Mary and Charles' life together after Mary stabbed their mother in a fit of insanity. They lived together in happy domesticity although both suffered from periodic bouts of mental illness and instability. They began to have an influentail circle of friends who gathered informally in the evenings to drink, smoke, and talk. Charles was an aspiring poet and they were both close friends of the Wordsworth's, Coleridge, and other writers, poets, and publishers. Mary was a quiet and gentle woman by all accounts who stayed in the backround but displayed great kindness and intelligence when she participated in discussions. While Charles was the more published and confidant, eventually the two began to collaborate on projects and jointly wrote several children's books. It's interesting that Charles regarded Mary as caring for him rather than the other way around (since Mary had semiannual confinements in madhouses).
The Lambs had an extensive and fascinating correspondence of letters with friends that Hitchcock draws on to illuminate their story. She quotes Charles Lamb's letter about his sister's reading tastes: "'She must have a story - well, ill, or indifferently told - so there be life stirring in it, and plenty of good or evil accidents.'" Which is exactly how I feel when I'm deciding whether to continue a mediocre book. This was a great story indifferently told. Actually, most of the book was engrossing (and the story of the Lambs's lives and literary circle was wonderful material), but some of the author's assertions and extrapolations were illogical, self-contradictory, or vague. At times the writing detracted from the story, mostly when she was imagining the feelings and emotions of Mary herself. The conclusion seemed also hastily tacked on like a bit of a dissertation added so that the book could be said to have a specific argument. The excerpts from letters that form the scaffolding of the book far outshine the author's own voice. Flaws and all, though, a great deal of research was well synthesized to tell the story. I really wanted to go to the brother and sister's smokey evening gatherings to argue and talk about books or at least have someone to write long letters to.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Elizabeth Strout, Amy and Isabelle

Elizabeth Strout, Amy and Isabelle. Isabelle was an an infuriating but recognizable and pitiable women. Amy was superficially likable but essentially spoiled and vacant. A somehow lackluster novel about a complicated and fraught mother-daughter relationship. I can't define on what didn't inspire me - there were funny moments, true moments- but, while the people seemed real to me, the story didn't. And the sex (and sexual feelings, frustrations, and situations) in the book were really icky, not remotely stirring or even imaginative, and even more yucky than intended. Two scenes, however, were fabulous: 1) Isabelle furiously preparing to have "company" over, and decorating her downstairs bathroom, and 2) the hair-cutting confrontation. Both were absolutely right.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hanif Kureishi, The Buddha of Suburbia

Hanif Kureishi, The Buddha of Suburbia. Shallow. Funny. I liked the main character in spite of himself (which was the point, I think). Almost everyone else was worthless. I don't even like fictional actors, I suppose. This book had more fashion in it - or at any rate it was highlighted over by a design major or clothes lover- odd. One of the reasons I like to read random used books is how you can see someone else's personality in their underlining, or even in the dog-eared pages and old receipts stuck in for bookmarks (also, reading more-or-less haphazardly picked up bargain books keeps me from getting imprisoned by my own taste).

Augusten Burroughs, Running With Scissors

Augusten Burroughs, Running With Scissors. Disgusting. Hilarious. I kept snorting as I read this. One of those memoirs that makes you look fondly back at the most traumatic moments of childhood, (such as the time you stayed up late packing to go live with the squirrels in the tree canopy because you were unjustly punished) and say: "ah, the golden moments of my cherished youth where happiness flowered!"

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Colleen McCullough, Caesar

Colleen McCullough, Caesar. This was my post-finals binge reading. I enjoyed it very much. I didn't enjoy her as much the last time I read her - too many names, not enough character or depth to make me want to keep the plot straight. But this time, I knew the characters and the rough outline of the plot, and it made this book much more fun. The descriptions of fortifications and engineering works were fascinating. McCullough was obviously deeply enamoured with Caesar, but I couldn't quite ignore the massive civilian casualties going on in the background for the benefit of his glory. I'm glad I waited until after my ancient Rome class to read it, or my image of Caesar, Cato, Pompey, Cicero and all those old boys would have been hopelessly skewed. I was sad that it ended with Pompey's death, and now I'm going to have to find the hours to read the sequel.
P.S. I also found a fun comic set in post-Augustan Rome if you like the "sword and sandals" genre: SPQR Blues

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest. It's funny how I read things in unintended sequence. After reading The Age of Innocence, I must have been hungering subliminally for some satire of ridiculous social structures. So I listened to a few of Wodehouse's stories from LibriVox and then randomly picked up the Oscar Wilde. After the overt Bertie and Jeeves, Algie and Jack's antics seemed tamer than they would have otherwise, so maybe I was a little jaded. But still, it was one of those plays that I put down and thought "is that it?" about - I mean, maybe the thing has to be performed to have the required zing or something.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence

Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence. A beautiful novel about unfulfilled desires, useless self-sacrifice, manners, and life in a restrictive society that could easily have been titled "Keeping up Appearances". Reading about an "atmosphere of faint implications and pale delicacies" is naturally frustrating, because the point of the book is that there is no action, no emotional climax, no "scenes" of any sort. Newland Archer's repressed rebellion doesn't seem worth pursuing anyway: the reality of a love affair with Countess Olenska would have been disappointing, and he's too lazy to have been successful in any of his imagined literary or intellectual circles. I think that his repression gave him a feeling of self-worth that an unrestricted indolent life would not have provided because he could feel himself a martyr for his wife and children while secretly contemplating his wasted alternate life. Somehow characters who don't barge on through and grab what they want always irritate me - although I suppose that includes every person in every novel of manners ever written - and if Newland had barged on through the story would have been boring and pointless.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith. Could I have found an author too emotionally high strung and overwrought for even my tastes (I enjoy Augusten Burroughs for goodness' sake)? Or maybe it's just that I don't share her conclusions and would have preferred her to dissolve into an sodden heap and remain intellectually consistent. Anyway, she seems like she would be a great person to know and talk to but she seems a little breathless and disingenuous in this book. I kept rolling my eyes at her histrionics while simultaneously enjoying and sympathizing with her (I did feel like I might know her). But it seems like she discovered faith in order to avoid utter nervous collapse, which while expedient, isn't necessarily valid.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Michael Dorris, A Yellow Raft in Blue Water

Michael Dorris, A Yellow Raft in Blue Water. I'm taking time away from writing a lab report to post this, but I've let it sit for too many days and I don't want to forget how much I enjoyed this story. I loved the relationships in this book, the shifting dialogues between the people, and how I found myself sympathetic with even the most hostile of them. It explores the complexity and intensity of mother-daughter relationships and their life-long importance no matter how estranged and distant they become. The character of Christine was amazing - the sort of person I usually unthinkingly despise or discount as trivial and stupid - and she became so compelling and far more self-aware and loving than I would have guessed. It's wonderful when the people in a book surprise you.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Monday, April 09, 2007

Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck

Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck. Somehow, I don't really love novels that focus on cultural differences or exchanges - especially between Japan and America - they seem trivial and a little clumsy, somehow, like people trying to get to know each other who aren't quite fluent in the other's language and stick to things like food and climate. But I couldn't help but like Toshi and his family and the parts dealing with his childhood were lovely. I can't catch precisely what bothered me, but his reactions to the stereotypically nutso Jane didn't really fit, for example. When I got past the first hundred pages or so and had ceased to be annoyed I liked it better because I was attached to the people. So, ok, I thought it was charming, but it didn't convince me.

Monday, April 02, 2007


I recently discovered this incredible site,LibriVox, that has tons of free audiobooks from public-domain works read by volunteers. You can download them as mp3s. We love listening to audio books on car trips, and have been driving up to Flagstaff a lot. Last week I'd listened to Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel (one of my dad's audiobooks - NOT free) in the car on the trip, and even Matthew enjoyed it, so I went on a hunt for more audiobooks. We downloaded Treasure Island, The Wind in the Willows, and Alice in Wonderland. So far the readers have been great - even doing all the pirate voices and everything! Much better than the BBC reading of The Hobbit. I have big plans to introduce my family to Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown, and P.G. Wodehouse - we just need a few dozen more road trips. The cds save me from getting carsick from reading on those mountain roads.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Thomas Mallon, Henry and Clara.

Thomas Mallon, Henry and Clara. I don't know why I keep stumbling into historical fiction; it's a genre I don't usually pursue. But this disquieting novel was one of those whose setting doesn't seem to inhibit the story and the historical characters seem to be themselves and not figures brought in from outside. It's the story of the unhappy couple who were attending the theatre with the Lincolns on the evening of the assassination. Mallon writes beautifully and his story, a tragic melodrama, is somehow nostalgic beyond the subject matter. Clara could be transported into a Henry James novel without any rearrangement.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

John Mortimer, Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders

John Mortimer, Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders. The first Rumpole story I've read. I'm a new fan of the series. I'm glad to have chanced on it; it's funny and light, the perfect thing to read with coffee and toast or in the bathtub - like the Nero Wolfe series. And all day I've been visualizing my husband someday referring to me as "She Who Must Be Obeyed" in his memoirs.

Lloyd Alexander, Time Cat

Lloyd Alexander, Time Cat. I wanted to give my brain a rest and read something cozy. Not nearly as good (not even in the same category) as the Prydain stories, but cute.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Roddy Doyle, The Van

Roddy Doyle, The Van. I loved this book - it was absolutely hilarious. Two laid-off irishmen start up a "chipper van" - fast food on wheels. It was actualy a sweet story, even filled with rancid grease and profanity.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Elizabeth Ewen, Immigrant Women in the Land of Dollars

Elizabeth Ewen, Immigrant Women in the Land of Dollars. I just wrote a horrendous paper on this book, so I'll be brief. It's an unfocused recounting of life in New York's Lower East side for Italian and Eastern European Jewish immigrant women. Bogged down by jargon and random contradictory assertions, above all a DULL and rambling book in the author's voice - it was saved by the voices of the women themselves. Whenever the author quoted from extensive audio interviews (from the CUNY oral history project) the book suddenly became vibrant.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Carol Shield, The Stone Diaries

Carol Shield, The Stone Diaries. The intricate story of Daisy Stone Goodwill's life. She's orphaned, emigrates from Canada to Indiana, is married twice, raises children, writes, travels, gardens, and dies in old age. She remains an evasive and enigmatic figure to her family, who see her as they see themselves. Shields highlights the inaccuracy of memory, the incompleteness of stories, the fundamental mystery of other people - how we can never really know another person, how there are always mysteries and ambiguities, how often we deliberately misinterpret and pigeonhole for the sake of simplicity. Biography, even a fictional representation of a biography is necessarily incomplete. I enjoyed the early part of the book about Daisy's parents and early life, which was beautiful and direct.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Barry Hannah, Yonder Stands Your Orphan

Barry Hannah, Yonder Stands Your Orphan. I thought it was named after the Bob Dylan song - I had no idea it would feature actual orphans with guns. A bloody, grotesquely violent story about a bunch of old geezers living around a swampy lake, heading variously toward death. Full of gore, fancy cars, whores, nudity, even sex, without a moment of sexiness or joy. No sympathetic characters, no redeeming qualities in anyone, just rotting decay leading to moldy death. The book was full of beautiful, evocative sentences, but I didn't feel it cohered into a whole that said anything as ambitious as the epic Hannah was aiming for.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Brian Moore, The Statement

Brian Moore, The Statement. A chase-story in Southern France. Pierre Brossard, a convicted war criminal sheltered by the Catholic Church, police, and government officials, has lived for over forty years hiding in plain sight. Now a new set of gendarmes are looking for him in earnest, the church is under scrutiny and investigation, and a mysterious vigilante group is trying to bring him to justice by assassination. Fun. Different people are following his trail, and we also see events unfold from the hunted point of view. A weakness or two in the plot (Brossard was too smart not to have deduced who was betraying his movements, for one), but engaging and perfectly paced. A little complexity was introduced with the religious conversion of Brossard, but on the whole he was too revolting to feel even a twinge of sympathy for.