Friday, November 02, 2012

Ragtime (by E.L. Doctorow)

Ragtime! I saw the musical years ago, but really don't have much recollection of it at all, so I wasn't sure what to expect from the book. But it's so terrific! It's very easy to read, but so complex. It's relatively short (336 pages) but it's incredibly broad in scope, covering turn-of-the-century America from immigrants in tenements to J.P. Morgan in his fancy Manhattan mansion. And it's just enjoyable to read. I mean, it's funny and sometimes bawdy and full of crazy details.

Doctorow writes about three families. One comprises characters known only as Father, Mother, Mother's Younger Brother, etc.; the second is a the family of a man named Coalhouse Walker, Jr. whose fate touches on the black experience in America; the third is a family of Jewish immigrants in the slums. Their fates intertwine with a cast of historical characters whose plotlines are taken from history, but they are brought so vividly to life. (Did you know J.P. Morgan thought he was a reincarnated Egyptian god and spent a night in one of the Great Pyramids? Because I sure didn't.) Emma Goldman, Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, Robert Peary, Henry Ford, and tons of others. The three families meet and interact with these characters and each other, and ultimately they come to represent the melting pot of America. (But not in a boring, homeworky way.)

I feel like this would be an amazing novel to teach. And not to get all four-days-before-the-election political or anything, but there is so much in here about the poor being exploited by the wealthy that reminded me of the importance of unions and the evils of certain rich people who only care about the rich getting richer and about business success, and not about making the American dream accessible to everyone. Relevant, fun, entertaining, amazing. A true classic. Read it.

Exactly six minutes after the car had rolled down the ramp an identical car appeared at the top of the ramp, stood for a moment pointed at the cold early morning sun, then rolled down and crashed into the rear of the first one. Henry Ford had once been an ordinary automobile manufacturer. Now he experienced an ecstasy greater and more intense than that vouchsafed to any American before him, not excepting Thomas Jefferson. He had caused a machine to replicate itself endlessly. His executives and managers and assistants crowded around him to shake his hand. Tears were in their eyes. He allotted sixty seconds on his pocket watch for a display of sentiment. Then he sent everyone back to work.


Thursday, November 01, 2012

Gone Girl (by Gillian Flynn)

Entertainment Weekly's incessant raves for this book, along with my friend Sony's endorsement that this was a good airplane read, finally wore me down. I got this on my Kindle for reading on vacation, and I spent a day when the power was out basically just reading it.

The plot: Nick's wife Amy disappears. Did he kill her? When we read Amy's diary, do we learn Important Things? Told in alternating Nick/Amy point of view, and the various plot strands and points of view do a nice job intersecting.

The good: a page-turner! Is nicely ambiguous. Features a pair of possibly unreliable narrators. Was hard to put down. The voices of Nick and Amy are well delineated and you can tell them apart for sure. Well written, definitely.

The less good: The ending. I will hide this to be super safe with spoilers, because you should avoid them and then just go read it. { It isn't that it's ambiguous, because I like ambiguity, it just seems to peter out somewhat and the final resolution seems super, super implausible. }

I will say if you like literary crime stuff along the lines of The Lovely Bones or suspense stuff like the non-boring middle part of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, you will probably like this book. So read it and then tell me what you think of the ending.

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The Boy Book, The Treasure Map of Boys, and Real Live Boyfriends (by E. Lockhart)

I finished these at various points in my vacation, but I will lump them all together because I don't have a ton to say about them individually. This is a very fun "quartet" of books about Ruby Oliver, and although it does end up being a little predictable as far as the end-game developments go, it still is enjoyably complex about female friendship and imperfect parents and panic attacks and other real-life issues.

For example, I was glad that (spoiler for The Princess Diaries too): Ruby never made up with her heinously bitchy friend Kim, even though they used to be best friends. Lily in The Princess Diaries I am looking at you.  

There are a few slang words that are annoying (who says "Ag" instead of "Ugh," anyway? "Ag"?) and a little cutesy, but as far as YA goes, this was fun. Can you tell yet that I don't have much to say about these books? THEY ARE CUTE READ THEM OKAY THE END.

I promise my review of Ragtime will be marginally more interesting.