Thursday, May 31, 2007

Special Topics in Calamity Physics (by Marisha Pessl)

Here are my notes again. Easier than writing a book review!

Stays w/you--ending is haunting.
At first seems overly mannered but I think it may be deliberate choice-says a lot about Blue (narrator). Will see w/Pessl's next book.
Likeable protagonist (though Amazon reviewers disagree)
Hard to put down once it gets going (ending is better than beginning)
Some chapter titles have more resonance than others (and not just the books one has read vs. the ones one has not)
Reserve judgement on author herself but suspect she's more Michael Chabon than Dave Eggers (aka the real deal). Could be wrong though.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Accidental (by Ali Smith)

One of those prizewinning first novels. Features five different voices in a compelling stream-of-consciousness style. The core four are a woman, her son, her daughter, and her husband (the stepfather of the kids). The fifth one is a mysterious stranger who comes along and changes their lives.

Here are my notes about it:

Voices not convincingly distinct (e.g. Cloud Atlas)
erudite, amazing (one chapter plays with the sonnet with seemingly effortless technical efficiency)
ending "ambiguous" except I didn't think so
profound observations re: life (e.g. honesty/sex and ADOLESCENCE)
p. 138, "Astrid isn't totally broken yet. But if a window could throw a brick at itself to test itself that's what she'll do, Magnus thinks, then she'll test how sharp she is by using her own broken pieces on herself."
Poetry--effortless. Wow.

So there you have it. My somewhat repetitive and garbled notes. Definitely I recommend it, it was an interesting and compelling read. But I do wish the voices had been more distinct from each other. Which I said already. Okay then.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Mother Night (by Kurt Vonnegut)

I know, how can I proclaim my love for Vonnegut without having read Mother Night? It is very incorrect. But at least now I have read it and can continue my love proclamations with impunity. (Wow, why am I writing these weirdo sentences? It's not Vonnegut's fault, that's for sure.)

Deceptively simple next to something like Slaughterhouse-Five. Actually, all of Vonnegut can be a little deceptively simple. He's easy to read, he's witty. But beneath it all he has real stuff to say. This one is about an American who becomes a Nazi propaganda broadcaster, but is secretly a spy. But is he more spy, or more Nazi? And what's the difference? Vonnegut claims the moral is "you are what you pretend to be, so be careful what you pretend to be." Pretty good damned moral.

Asks real and interesting questions about reality, moral ambiguity, love, and humanity. And is frighteningly topical.

"There are plenty of good reasons for fighting, but no good reason ever to hate without reservation, to imagine that God almighty Himself hates with you, too. Where's evil? It's that large part of every man that wants to hate without limit, that wants to hate with God on its side."

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Master and Margarita (by Mikhail Bulgakov)

I read this for book club, finally, though my friends have been urging it on me for years. I know it can be read on many levels but I enjoyed it most (not knowing much about Soviet bureaucracy) as a farce. Then again, the story of Ha-Nostri was lovely and touching. So I guess half as a farce, the other half as a deeply profound and moving story. Which somehow reconciles itself in the end, which I suppose is the genius of the thing.

More once I've thought about it more!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Last Colony (by John Scalzi)

An excellent end to the trilogy that began with Old Man's War; I liked it a lot more than The Ghost Brigades. Because this one focuses on the John and Jane relationship much more than either of the other books, and because Zoe is in the picture, and because John Perry talks about his kickass wife in much the same way John Scalzi talks about his kickass wife, it felt very personal.

I'm trying to find a way to distinguish that from the whole "Mary Sue" thing, because I don't think it's a Mary Sue situation. Maybe it's because the characters in The Last Colony still feel real and their reactons are in service of the story. Whereas I've read other books that borrow elements from the authors' lives, and it feels like those authors just being lazy or showing a lack of creativity. Even more, sometimes those characters don't make a lot of sense or don't seem to hang together, or just plain aren't likeable. Maybe it's a question of the author's skill. Some authors can use elements of their own relationships and use them to create characters, and other authors can't distance themselves enough to know if the characters work beyond the "this is me and my friends!" setup.

Well, that was a digression. My point is, this book felt more personal, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. I loved the end game, even though I wonder how probable the whole thing would be. And I also kind of found John Perry less likeable in this book than he has been in previous ones. Less vulnerable, maybe. Less fallible. Something. But overall, I loved the book. And the resolution to the characters' being backed into a seemingly impossible corner was genius.