Thursday, December 16, 2004

Books I've Read Since September 2004

This started as a list of books that I have read since I came to France in September 2004. Eventually I started rating them and writing mini reviews, which in turn became long reviews. I know the format of this page stinks, in time I'll work something better out. Until then scroll down for the reviews.

31 Songs by Nick Hornby
Bridget Jones Diary by Helen Feilding
The Shipping News by E Annie Proulx
The Corrections by John Franzen
Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler
The High Window by Raymond Chandler
Fox Fire by Joyce Carol Oates
All Around this Town by Mary Higgins Clark
Glass Key by Dashielle Hammett
Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
The Idiot Girl's Action Adventure Club by Laurie Notaro
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Me and Mr. Albert by Michael Paterniti
Girl with the Pearl Earing by Tracy Chevalier
Trance State by John Case

Read in 2005
Playback by Raymond Chandler
Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle ***
Peter Mayles account of his first year in the South of France. It is filled with humerous accounts of the locals, rebuilding his house and delicious meals. He describes the French cuisine like art. Nearly every page leaves your belly rumbling and mouth watering.

Forrest Gump by Winston Groom **
A few months back I watched the movie again and was well underwhelmed by my memory of how magical it was. The book didn't do much to bolster my opinion. The plot is similar even if it differs in many places. Forrest is very much the idiot sevant, but his adventures are mostly different. The book is funny in many places, and several times I laughed out loud. However, it fell short in trying to make me care about the characters or in its attempt at satire.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris ****
This was my second time reading this book. If anything it has proven even funnier the second time. Sedaris has an eye for detail and a way of finding humor and insight in the sordid details of his life. It is so hard to distinguish where his reality ends and fantasy begins. And surely there is some fantasy for some the stories he tells are so bizarre they have to be made up. Having now spent 4 months in France and dealt with trying to understand the culture and the language, I found the essays on France to be the most interesting. There are pages of texts where I laughed out loud, read again with tears rolling down my cheeks, then sought out my wife so I could read them to her and laugh all over again.

Animal Farm by George Orwell ****
This was kind of a reverse 'negative utopia,' for animals. That is to say, here the characters begin their story by creating a real utopia, but in true Orwell fashion, that utopia is slowly destroyed and a darker, crueler world arises. Not nearly as good as 1984, this is never-the-less classic stuff. I can't help but root for the characters in Orwells writing knowing full well that it won't turn out good for them. This, still manages to crush my spirits by books end.

Rabbit Redux by John Updike ***
3/4ths of this is very good. It sinks somewhere in the middle with a lot of dialogue about race issues. I understand that the characters need to undergo change. But do you have to give me 40 odd pages of dialogue for me to understand that change? The rest of the novel is pure Updike. Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom is back 10 years after the events of Rabbit, Run. He is still the American everyman. And still very much without a clue about his life. Choosing to allow life to happen to him, rather than make a choice. There is a social commentary weaved into the commentary, this time pinned into the fabric at the tumultous end of the 60s. It's weaved a little too thick here, in some places, so that it feels more like a treatice than the background for a good story.

The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon ****
I started reading this book in February or March of 2003. For one reason or another I was only a couple of hundred pages into it when it was due back to the library. As is usual with me, I decided to give up reading it and turn it in, rather than recheck it. This is not a comment on the quality of the read, but rather a quirk in my own existense. I was fairly busy at the time and I figured that if I only made it through 200 pages in the first three weeks, another three weeks wouldn't get me to the end of this 636 paged tome. Finding it in the library here, I decided to pick it back up. I'm glad I did, and grateful I managed to finnish it this time.

Chabon has created a magical book. Slightly based on the history of the comic book, and partly a fictional account of a small group of Jews during the atrocities of Hitler. Though, as Chabon admits, he chooses to ignore facts and history as it suits his story. It is the story of the friendship between Joe Kavalier and Sam Clay. The story begins with Joe having fled Nazi run Prague for the comforts of his cousin, Sam's comfortable apartment in Brooklyn. They quickly become great friends and enter into the burgeoning comic book world.

Chabon writes beautifully crafted sentence that course forwards and bacwards through time to tell a multi-faceted story. His pen pauses in moments of time during the present and pulls the reader into a back story of Prague, the Kavaliers and comic books. Joe Kavalier's story is beautifully told, encompassing a stint as a magician and escape artists before travling from Prague to New York by way of Asia and California. The story of how Joe traveled to New York by way of a golem filled box is hilarious, frightening and poignant. For the first 2/3s of the book, Chabon's pen doesn't let the reader down from it's magnificent begining.

Yet it is about 2/3s of the way in, that the story begins to faulter. In an effort to tell a grand, epic story, Chabon treads beyond the beautifully told past, and magnificent present, into a less than glorious future. Seeing his characters rise from humble, troubled beginings to a stellar, triumphant present, only to have them fall again was a mistake. It's not so much the fall that hurts the story but the rushed way it is told. The novel moves at a slow pace, giving many sumpuous details and never minding to slip into the past for a revealing story. Yet, when it moves to the future it seems to force things along. You can feel the writer telling his story to point towards his final concluding point, rather than just allow the story to unfold. To really flesh out the future section he would have needed another few hundred pages. I would have preferred him to wrap up the story leaving out the future scenes. He does manage to salvage the conclusion and bring his characters into fully realized beings.

Double Indemnity by James M Cain ****
Of the great trinity of American crime fiction (Dashiel Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Cain) James M Cain is the only one who told his story from the perspective of the criminal rather than the detective. Just as you know in a detective novel that the detective is going to catch the crook, here you know Cain's criminals are going to be caught. But that doesn't make you root for them any less. They are sad, pathetic, often cruel and yet strangely sympathetic. Double Indemnity's lonely insurance man is a schmuck, but there is an everyman charm in his guillibility. Cain writes it as if anybody; your neighbor, brother, or even yourself is just a sly woman away from committing murder and fraud. Tough, gritty and beautiful.

Diary by Chuck Palahniuk * 1/2
Serenade by James M Cain **
How to Be Good by Nick Hornby * 1/2
Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux *** 1/2
The Hound of The Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ***
Nightmare Town by Dashiell Hammett **1/2
Jane Eyre by Chalotte Bronte ****1/2
The Little Sisterby Raymond Chandler ****
I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe ***1/2
Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr *****
Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer ***1/2

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway *****

American Tabloid by James Elroy ***1/2

The African Queen by CS Forester **

The Simpsons One Step Beyond Forever: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family...Continued Again

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