Wednesday, April 27, 2005

R is for Richochet (by Sue Grafton)

I wait two years for these books to come out in paperback, and then I read them in a day! Same thing with the Stephanie Plum series. (I haven't found any other "girl detective" series that is as much fun as either of these. Oh well.)

There was a time when I'd go back and re-read the series periodically. But I don't think I've re-read any of them since K is for Killer. I can always go back and do that if I am in the mood for more Kinsey Millhone.

(Did you know that Sue Grafton always gives characters in the book the same initials as the book title? This book centers around a girl named Reba, for example. But she always throws in some totally irritating non-names. Reba's father is named Nord Lafferty, of all things. Nord.)

I feel like this one is better than the last few (not that I remember the last few all that well). I remember liking all the ones up to K, and liking M, and being vaguely disapointed by the rest. But it's basically a book for fans of the series. If you want to know which one I'd suggest as the best, it's G is for Gumshoe. That one is my favorite.

On a side note, I like reading the bad reviews of books on Amazon, and I noticed that there's invariably a bunch of people who complain that the book contains gratuitous sex. This is pretty much applicable to any book with sex in it.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Winesburg, Ohio (by Sherwood Anderson)

I have a suspicion that Winesburg, Ohio is important less as a work in itself, and more in the way it influenced writers like Faulkner, Steinbeck and Hemingway. Not that it is in any way bad, just that it doesn't knock me down with revelation.

I was interested in picking up this book to gain insight into a movie character (Matteo in The Best of Youth) and it did give me that. This book is a series of short, mostly unconnected vignettes. The introduction talks about an old man who is writing a series of "grotesques"--characters who try to incorporate a great truth into their lives, and are warped by that truth. The reader is left to discern the "great truths" in question for herself.

The main themes of the book are futility and alienation. Most actions taken by the characters are futile, and they are uniformly isolated from each other. Lost loves, estranged parents, unhappy marriages, an inability to communicate even in the most intimate relationships. I think Anderson's aim is a sort of social realism: even in an outwardly bucolic setting, a lovely small town in Ohio, people are hidden behind their own private pain.

Sound depressing? It kind of is! I mean, not Thomas Hardy-level depressing, or anything. Not tragic and dramatic. Just melancholy, and embedded with little nuggets of truth. (Which, ironically, you can't look at too closely--or you are in danger of becoming one of his grotesques yourself.)

"If you are to become a writer you'll have to stop fooling with words," she explained. "It would be better to give up the notion of writing until you are better prepared. Now it's time to be living. I don't want to frighten you, but I would like to make you understand the import of what you think of attempting. You must not become a mere peddler of words. The thing to learn is to know what people are thinking about, not what they say." (Page 98)

The Time Traveler's Wife (by Audrey Niffenegger)

I started listening to this book on audio, and I was enjoying it, even the creepy thing about how the guy who reads Henry's half is the same guy who reads the Alexander Hamilton biography that I had been listening to earlier that day. (Thank god he doesn't over-emote that book the way he does TTTW because it would drive me bonkers.) But then I went over to a friend's house, and I picked up the book on her nightstand, and I flipped it open and said, "Huh, I don't remember this part." And then flipped a few more pages. "I don't remember this, either." More pages. "Or this." More pages. "Or... this."

So caveat emptor, because the audio version of this book isn't just abridged, it's brutally abridged. And it made me angry, because they cut out things that add real depth to the book (Clare's speech about how she never chose Henry, and Henry never chose her either, which is a neat idea); and important incidents and plot lines (Clare's near-rape, and she and Henry's revenge); things that clarify parts of the book (Henry's haircut, Henry's reluctance to see the Violent Femmes), and even whole characters (Ben, who appears out of nowhere in the audio version, because we never meet him, see him making Henry the drugs, or anything of that nature).

I can understand some minor incidents being excised from the book, but I think they really gutted the audio version of this book, much to its detriment. So I cast aside the audio once I had this all figured out, and just read the physical book. And it's a great book, and it made me weep, and made me ponder the nature of time and love, and broke my heart. It's far above and beyond your average "book with the word 'wife' in the title." Really, truly worth reading.

Monday, April 18, 2005

The Final Solution (by Michael Chabon)

It's the story of a boy and his bird, so you know I'm a sucker for it. I think this novella is lovely, melancholy and haunting. I love the title (which I suspect may have come before plot or character, because it's almost too apt) and the clever way the identity of the detective is left to the reader's discernment. And anything else I could think of to say would give too much away.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Ella Enchanted (by Gail Carson Levine)

I saw this movie a while back and thought it was quite cute, but everyone said "the book is better!" There was room for improvement, so I didn't doubt that verdict. But honestly I thought the book, while also quite cute, wasn't better. I mean granted, it didn't have a lame-ass dance sequence at the end, But other than that, I liked the choices made by the filmmakers.

I thought the movie handled the romance better (more of a sparring between the two main characters which lets you really see why they like each other--I know it's a cliché, but there's a reason the cliché works), handled the curse better (when she has to end a friendship in the book, it's practically sidestepped and has no consequences; in the film, it carries real emotional weight), and handled the ending better (although both endings are slightly silly, the "all of a sudden her love was strong enough" thing is more of a cop out).

I probably spent way too much time thinking about this, but that's because I read it on an airplane. It was either think about the book, or think about the airplane food.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Motherless Brooklyn (by Jonathan Lethem)

I read this one on the plane ride back from Amsterdam. I'd heard it was his best novel, so I expected I'd like it more than gun, with occasional music but it didn't quite blow me away as much. It wasn't quite as inventive, or not exactly as cohesive... something.

The tone (and protagonist) reminded me quite a bit of The Pleasure of My Company, which isn't surprising considering they are both first-person stories told by someone who is somewhat mentally ill. (Both with obsessive-compulsive components.) Steve Martin's novella seemed very of a piece when I was done; with Brooklyn I was left wanting more: more character or more resolution or maybe a little more plot.

Clearly I need to ponder this one a bit more before I can put my finger on it. I'll get back to you. But overall, I did enjoy the book. And if you liked it, I recommend The Pleasure of My Company for a similar--yet different!--reading experience.