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.