Monday, June 13, 2011

Mudbound, Hillary Jordan

This book was great!-it succeeded on all levels. Successes of note:

1. Dialect! The dialect was smooth and seamless and crazily good. How did it get so good? Mostly through word choice, I think, plus some arrangement / grammar (“living down to Charlottesville,” etc ). Phonetics--the super-dangerous etching acid sometimes splattered disastrously all over dialogue--were used sparingly. I was so fully transported down South that after I had been reading, I came out with words I hadn't said in years.

2. Narrative structure: The story is narrated explicitly from multiple character perspectives, in chapters titled with the characters’ names. I don't know why, but I enjoy reading this device. Also, the first chapter occurs at the "end" of the story, then the story jumps back in time and proceeds forward in a linear fashion until we finally meet the scene we saw in the beginning. Despite / because of this, there is some good tension in the story.

This is Jordan's first book, and she has gotten lots of attention for it. It won the Bellwether Prize, founded by Barbara Kingsolver, for literature of social change. When She Woke, Jordan's next novel, is forthcoming this October.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Passage, Justin Cronin

The Passage was perfect to read at work. (shhh.) It kept me turning the pages, but was nice and easy to pick up and put down. However, it took a significant turn for the crappy in the last 200 pages or so. It seemed (a) like a lot of action needed to happen by the end of the book, but also (b) weirdly formulaic. Luckily I wasn’t really invested in the book’s “good”ness, so I only cared occasionally when the crappiness became obtrusive. I'll read the next one for further entertainment if it crosses my path.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pym, Mat Johnson

Mat Johnson in his own little sub-genre with Victor LaVelle: just suspend your disbelief and hang on. Pym is a sharp and funny book, the characters and dialogue are great, but I’m pretty bogged down in the Thomas Kinkaide part. I feel like it stretches credibility even a little further than the bounds I had given it...for the purpose of making clever points. Which is a buzzkill.
Pym is hibernating on my Kindle right now, but I'll probably finish the book soon.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, David Lipsky

A pretty quick read, though not a page-turner. Interesting conversations about writing, fame, Infinite Jest, entertainment, etc. Uninteresting conversations about movies, authors comparing themselves to other authors, etc. Pinpointed for me a kind of fiction I do not like: fiction purposely incorporating theoretical or self-referential postmoderny things into the "real world" of the novel, at the expense of elements like character or plot that make a body enjoy reading. (e.g. Raw Shark Texts, The End of Mr Y, Broom of the System.) These are not my favorites. On the other hand, I do enjoy the challenge and interest of these postmoderny incursions when they do not occur at the expense of my precious woobies of both character and plot (e.g. Pale Fire... surely there are others).

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, David MItchell

Compelling read. Historical novel, in the best sense, plus some kind of supernatural adventure section there in the middle too. Views of a few cultures, understated and fascinating. The characters shine--as I’m always surprised when they do in historical fiction--with insight, intelligence, loves and motives. Some of that wabi-sabi beauty-of-the-ephemeral (autumnal?) Japanese aesthetic infuses the whole book. Entirely satisfying, good on the brain. I understand Cloud Atlas by the same author is really something special; it's been on my to-read list for a while but after reading Thousand Autumns, it has shot to the top!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Stuck on You

Stuck on a book: ugh. Why do some books become such Sisyphean labors? I toil endlessly, apparently making no progress, yet unable to put the book down and call it quits. Why?? Well, between January 1 and now I've become stuck on SEVEN books--let's examine those to see what we can learn.

1. Everything That Rises Must Converge, Flannery O'Connor.

Why I keep trying: Apparently she's important and good. People like her writing; a friend recently saw a bumper sticker that proclaimed "I'd rather be reading Flannery O'Connor." (Anything that inspires a stranger to put a bumper sticker on her car has GOT to be worthwhile... right?)

Sticking point(s): Feeling of obligation, that I Ought To Have Read Flannery O'Connor. Lack of enthusiasm for the much-touted violence and horror in her work. A belief anyway that short stories are like getting kicked in the head.

2. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace

Why I keep reading: The essays are funny and interesting.

Sticking point(s): The author is dead, so I won't get any more essays from him. I don't want to waste them. Plus, though... knowing that the author committed suicide makes the anxiety, isolation, and ferocious intelligence in his work less funny / validating, and more sad / alarming. There are many good and moving essays on this exact subject so that's all I'll say about it.

3. Enslaved by Ducks, Bob Tarte

Why I keep reading: I love it! It's laugh-out-loud funny. Also, I can find out exactly what crazy people are thinking without having to talk to them.

Sticking point(s): A before-bed reread. Progress is slow because I go to sleep after a few pages.

4. Good Dogs Doing Good

Why I keep trying: Essays and true stories about dogs--right up my alley. A friend wrote one of the essays, and I have read it several times, and it is wonderful. I feel that out of loyalty I should read the entire collection.

Sticking point(s): I'm afraid the other essays will read like short stories, and/or that they will be corny. I don't like short stories (see #1).

5. The Broom of the System, David Foster Wallace

Why I keep reading: I like David Foster Wallace.

Sticking point(s): I don't really like this book. It's a little ridiculous and uninspiring, as if Pynchon and Updike had a book-baby. I'm embarrassed for it.

6. Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and some Other Things That Aren't as Scary, Maybe, Depending on How You Feel About Lost Lands, Stray Cellphones, Creatures from the Sky, Parents Who Disappear in Peru, a Man Named Lars Farf, and One Other Story We Couldn't Quite Finish, So Maybe You Could Help Us Out.

Why I keep reading: The story in here by Nick Hornby is my favorite short story. Ever. I love it. It is my exception to #1.

Sticking point(s): I haven't read any of the other stories; I just keep re-reading my favorite.

7. The Elements of Style (Illustrated), Strunk and White.

Why I keep reading: It's interesting and clears up many matters. It's got pictures.

Sticking point(s): More of a reference book than a page-turner.

CONCLUSIONS: The following book would be tailor-made for me to get stuck on: A sad or alarming book of short stories that I feel obligated to read, which I attempt to read before bed and do not enjoy.

Actually, except for the read-before-bed part, that EXACTLY describes Everything that Rises Must Converge. It will be converging with other books from the area, back where I got it at The Bookstore Where Books Are A Dollar. Hope its next owner has a different Stuckage List than my own.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Cryptonomicon- Neal Stephenson

From The Bookstore Where Books Are a Dollar, Cryptonomicon is probably my life's greatest value for money WIN! At 900+ pages, this book is giant, and every page is either hilarious, or suspenseful, or both. (Oh--or gory. Sometimes gory.) Plus, I don't think I even got full value: I know nothing about WWII, or cryptology, so whatever historical, geographical, mathematical, and political accuracies the author took pains to incorporate were lost on me. It was just good, dammit! Put-down-everything-else-and-read-for-hours good. Hours and hours. The book is so long that it would be frustrating and time-consuming to read it in short little blurps, and I recommend against doing it like that, but luckily the book practically compels you to read it in giant chunks.

The only discordant note to me was due to the Christopher Moore / Carl Hiaasen / sometimes-Tom Robbins problem. This is the problem where you are reading along, and everything is fine and normal; your disbelief is suspended just like you want it to be, and then the novel's first female character comes along. Often she is wearing shorts, which is suspiciously lucky, in that it provides an opportunity to devote some text to her legs. This character does not make sense. She is like no one you have ever met, nor do you believe that she probably exists somewhere else, unmet. She works out to be pretty awesome for our hero, but she also functions as a razor-sharp machete, hacking constantly away at the suspension of your disbelief.

Everything else was good, though. Particularly delicious to me was the twenty-page memo starting on p. 510, to write which Stephenson apparently wondered, "What if this particular character's prose style was basically that of a very reader-friendly David Foster Wallace, without the footnotes? And he was writing a memo about a jungle adventure?" (Or maybe I just have DFW on the brain? Either way it's entirely, entirely enjoyable.)