Monday, July 9, 2012

Joe Jones

I like author Anne Lamott. A lot. Sometimes I dream that she arrives on my doorstep with her dreadlocks, best-friend-the-priest, and a book of poems by Rumi and announces that she is my long lost Aunt who has come to drink coffee and talk about life until the wee hours of the morning. Sometimes, in my dreams, we listen to Dawes together and smoke on the porch. Sometimes we go to church together and bake the blackberry cobbler of my youth.
Suffice to say, I follow her on twitter and buy her novels when I see them because I want her to feel loved so she keeps on writing.
This was the case with Joe Jones, which I dutifully read, cover to cover.
Even though I really only like her nonfiction.
Even though the first few pages of dialogue were so confusing that I finally had to stop trying to figure out who was saying what because I knew if I didn't I'd have some kind of mind-melt-down.

The Hunger Games

I don't like bandwagon reading. I wasn't part of the Harry Potter craze, I don't know the order of the Twilight series and certainly won't be part of the crush of women making 50 Shades of Grey account for 20% of all book sales.

However, a good book is a good book and I don't like to miss out. With The Hunger Games movie already out, I figured I could now safely read Suzanne Collins' novel without feeling like I would have to discuss it with every third person on the lightrail.

I am assuming most of you don't have the same strong feelings about popular fiction and have already read it - [ so good, right?!] - negating the need for this review. For those out there like me, however - here are the things I wish I had known before cracking it open:

Monday, April 30, 2012

Little Bee

The film will create connection where the book could not.

I so wanted to love this book. I wanted so bad to love what I was sure would be subtle political commentary. I wanted to learn more about the global economy and to suffer along with characters who try in vain to buck a system of racism and dictatorship.

And I tried. I really did. I re-read paragraphs I didn't like. I put off reviewing the novel so that I could really ruminate on it. I forced my bookclub to talk about it for a good hour longer than usual.

Despite the premise and timeliness of the subject, the cited research and constant presence on the wall of Employee Recommendations at my favorite indie bookstore, I just could not bring myself to care about any of the characters. At first I was sure that the lack of connection I felt to the writing had to do with the British stoicism that must, must be a characteristic of all UK writers. The uninspired dialogue must have been intended to be hyper-realistic. I tried to see the essence of innocence, femininity, and strength that embody the cover art between the lines of text. The problem I think, is that with such sensitive subject matter - the impact of war on individuals and separation between first- and third-world priorities - we as everyday first-world readers need our writers to lead us through the muck and mire. I'm not saying I want my every opinion shaped by left-leaning citizen journalists, but I do need a clearer picture of the emotions that true globalism and transparency will inevitably bring to the surface.

Hector and the Search for Happiness

Hector and the Search for Happiness is a pretty big title for such a little book. In another writers hands, the subject could be grossly over-written. (Is this a thing? Over-written? I'm going for a book equivalent to over-acted...ridiculously tiresome. I'd love to hear your thoughts.)

In general, I liked it. The writing style was an interesting change from what I normally read - childlike, but not childish. "It was Sunday, but Edouard was at the office because he had to finish a piece of work for the following day. He was going to show a very important man how to carry out a merger, and he wanted to do this ahead of another Edouard from another bank who wanted to show the same very important man how to do the same thing. And this very important man in turn wanted to carry out the merger ahead of another very important many who wanted to do the same thing. Hector had understood that in business everything was always a bit of a race whereas in psychiatry it wasn't really like that, you just had to be careful not to let your patients talk too much, otherwise you'd be late for the next ones, and they wouldn't like it." [page 41]

Also I like lists, and in Hector's quest, as he goes along he simply lists the 23 lessons in happiness he learns. It makes them easy to remember, and I suppose, to put them into practice.

What I don't like, is being reminded that for many men (although in this case it might just be a cultural difference since author Francois Lelord is from France and practices psychiatry there) infidelity is not a big deal, and as long as it doesn't make you feel TOO bad, you should just keep your indiscretions discreet and you can have your cake and it too.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Graduate

I found this musty copy of Charles Webb's The Graduate in the basement of my grandparents house, in a pile of old National Geographics and issues of Cosmo from 1974. Jackpot! With a hand-drawn silhouette of a woman's leg across the cover and commendations by the Chigago Tribune and the New York Times promising a "Brilliant...Sardonic, Ludicrously Funny" novel, I was so excited for a campy, sexy, comedy-of-errors to read on the plane back to Arizona.

I'm not exactly sure what passed for sexy or funny in 1963, but if this was it - we've come a long way, baby.

The Graduate is the story of a college-educated, son of a lawyer who returns home after four years of schooling to loll around his parents house, depressed, bored, and suffering an existential crisis. He's ornery, lazy, and entitled, but despite an ill conceived affair with the morality-challenged wife of his father's business partner, his cannot quite fight the strong inner drive to seek out the white bread path of least resistance that has been set before him from birth.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Me Talk Pretty One Day

Sometime between attempting to capture a pigeon for the $750 reward and Ira Glass waving a magic, fame-inducing public radio microphone under David Sedaris' chin, the brother of the equally famous Amy Sedaris - more about her here, interviewed on the Sound of Young America - wrote a little collection of essays called Me Talk Pretty One Day. 

Recalling with a dry wit the funniest moments of his youth in North Carolina, multiple "art school" phases, and life on the French countryside, Sedaris' could have been trained in an Ivy League MFA if not for his constant usage of "Xerox" in place of "copy." Well that, and then also, there was The One About the Turd.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

East of Eden

Giving John Steinbeck's East of Eden 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads seems harsh I know.

After all, it is an epic, and I liked the other epics I read. It spans a multi-generational family history, a sweeping geographical history, and an inherent Biblical metaphor. Steinbeck himself wrote of the novel: "I don't see how it can be popular. I am inventing method and form and tone and context." (Intro, pg vii) Anti-mainstream, drenched in self pity, fatalist, and if you turn a blind eye to the blatant (albeit at the time, culturally accepted) racism and sexism, the novel practically begs for a feverish cult status among the hipster crowd. It was even part of Oprah's book club.

It's true the writing is sublime, nuanced, honest and subtle - "Tom started to call after him, and then he leaned wearily down and picked up the telegram. He sat in the sun on the bench outside the forge, holding the telegram in his hand. And he looked at the hills and at the old house, as though to save something, before he tore open the envelope and read the inevitable four words, the person, the event and the time." (page 310)