Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Recent Rereads

I went to a library book sale where everything was a quarter, and I got a bunch of kids' books that I've been reading. I also lent my boyfriend the Antastasia Krupnik series, which I had in my library, of course. But once I dug up all the books, I had to reread the ones I hadn't read in a while. So, although I don't think these should "count" towards any sort of book count, since I read them three at a time, these are the books I've read in the past week:

Anastasia At Your Service, Anastasia On Her Own, and Anastasia Absolutely by Lois Lowry.

Ramona and Her Father, Ramona and Her Mother, Ramona Forever, Ramona Quimby, Age 8 and Sister of the Bride, all by Beverly Cleary.

A Royal Pain by Ellen Conford.

For some reason, I haven't felt like listening to or reading "real" books, so I've been reading these instead.

Monday, March 07, 2005

The Virgin (by Erik Barmak)

Erik Barmak was nice enough to send me a copy of his book, The Virgin, which I finished over the weekend.

I enjoyed the concept of the book: a satire of a Bachelorette-like reality television show that is just plausible enough to be plausible. The final twist is clever, as are the machinations of the show's producers. And the writing is well-crafted. It's just the execution of the idea that suffers here.

The narrator, Joseph, is supposed to be crafting a persona in order to get on television. But over the course of the novel, neither Joseph's persona nor Joseph himself ever develops as a character, has any sort of evolution as a person, or becomes clear to the reader. And he's so self-obsessed that he can't adequately describe any of the other characters, either. He's just this vaguely disaffected guy for whom the reader has no sympathy, who can never get his shit together for either good or evil.

Another thing that bothered me was the race angle. The author describes four "Ethnic Guys" who are on the show and then explains that nobody cares about them. Sure, there's always one token Ethnic Guy and that one token guy always gets picked in the first round, so that the Bachelorette doesn't come off as a sexist, and then gets cut in round two. This is essentially what happens to Marcus, and it really could have been played for insight or laughs, but in the book, Marcus doesn't get a single line of dialogue or hint of personality, and the other guys supposedly ignore him entirely (when in real life, they'd bend over backwards to show they weren't racist, just like the Bachelorette). This isn't satire, it's borderline insulting.

Also borderline insulting was how the female lead kept being referred to as "the Virgin." I know it's supposed to be satirical, but the way it was done just bothered me for some reason. I can't quite put my finger on it. Then again, the final twist of the book (which I thought was clever and I won't spoil) mitigated it somewhat for me.

Anyway, I'm very sorry that I didn't enjoy the book more. I was happy to have a chance to read it.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Schindler's List (by Thomas Keneally)

This book is a compelling read; obviously the story of Oskar Schindler is an important and riveting one. And it's pretty well-written. But I wouldn't say it's a literary masterpiece, for two main reasons. The first is that I think it could have delved a little deeper. Maybe this is because I am reading the incredibly meticulous Alexander Hamilton right now, but with so many characters and stories to unravel, I would have liked a thicker book.

The second reason is somewhat related, because I would have liked an epilogue. There are people whose fates the reader never learns. Sure, you assume "well, then they were killed by Nazis." But it's frustrating not to know how or when, when the author certainly had that information. I am sure there are plenty of Holocaust stories of people where nobody ever know what became of them. I don't think that needs to be manufactured by sloppy reportage.

It makes me feel like a terrible person to be hard on a Holocaust book. Let me be clear that it's absolutely worth reading, and compelling, and vivid, and overall well done. It's just that I expected more, that's all.

Also, after eleven years of procrastinating, finishing the book finally gave me the guts to watch the movie. (I have rented that movie so many times, and then been unable to bring myself to watch it.) I liked the film better than the book because it moved me more, and because there were fewer loose ends. For instance, the book dropped the ball on one person who I assumed was dead, and there she was at the end of the movie, putting stones on Schindler's grave. (Oh Spielberg, you do know how to bring on the tears.)

"Even the graffiti on the walls--'KEEP THE JEWS OUT OF BRINNLITZ'--looked strangely prewar to them. They had been living in a world where their very breath was begrudged. It seemed almost endearingly naive for the people of Zwittau to begrudge them a mere location." (Page 302)

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Best Awful (by Carrie Fisher)

I think I mentioned somewhere that for some reason I am a Carrie Fisher completist, so I picked up this book, a sequel to Postcards on the Edge, which I liked. Well now I know why this book has no blurbs on the cover: it's bad. It's self-indulgent, free associative, tiresome, and obviously very personal. The personal element makes me sympathize with her (the author, not the character), but it doesn't make me like the book any better. She should have just written a juicy, gossipy memoir, instead of this thinly veiled confessional disguised as fiction.

Parts of it read like she actually wrote it while manic and on drugs. Maybe I am not giving her enough credit; maybe she is just remembering what it was like to be manic and on drugs and does a good job of conveying it to the reader through endless puns and twists of phrase. Some of the wordplay is quite clever, but know when to quit, Carrie Fisher!

Also, I don't think this book was proofread at all. There are tons of typos. Which right away is going to make me hate your book, so hire an effing proofreader already. You can even hire me for the next one. In fact, if you don't, I probably won't read it. Because I think I'm done.