Sunday, July 31, 2011
Friday, July 29, 2011
Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson
How does a librarian spend a vacation day? Yes, it’s true:
Before I Go to Sleep will do that to you. You can’t sleep till you’ve finished it.
Here’s the premise: Christine wakes every day with no memory of her past. So she starts writing in a journal her discoveries about her past—so the next day, she’ll have some personal history she can build on. And in the journal, she’s written “Don’t trust Ben.”
Yeah, Ben’s her husband.
And he’s one of the only people in her life. The only other person she knows is her therapist, whom she’s seeing on the sly, because Ben would not approve.
And then there are betrayals and lies—lots of lies—that emerge. And it’s completely unclear who Christine can trust.
And, given that she’s got a faulty memory, the reader may not be able to trust Christine…
Dennis Lehane blurbed the heck out of this book (“It left my nerves jangling for hours after I finished the last page”), and I can see why.
Get a copy of this book. Set aside some hours. Read.
Friday, July 22, 2011
Everyone Loves You When You’re Dead: Journeys into Fame and Madness by Neil Strauss
This is the summer of the celebrity books. Or maybe it's just my summer of such stuff. But I think it's a bigger thing -- it's even hit the news. At any rate, I've been devouring them like they're going out of business.
During the same weeks I was listening to Life by Keith Richards on audio, I was reading this book, which consists of the best parts of celebrity—mainly rock star—interviews. Pretty fascinating.
Neil Strauss has written for Rolling Stone and the New York Times, and he’s interviewed some crazy-*** people.
The way this book is structured is kind of weird, and I mean good-weird. Lots of the interviews are diced up and then scattered throughout the book, which is arranged in “Acts” that key off a theme. (e.g., “Act Three, or, Mean Guys with Long Hair”)
The result is that you read segments of interviews that flow naturally into the topic of the interview that follows; the transitions are really smooth. Which is strange and surprising, especially when you have Russell Brand following Ryan Adams. And Lionel Richie following N.W.A. (Yeah, I didn’t know who N.W.A. was till I read this.)
Lots of people come off sounding pretty darn crazy. And some (Jay Leno, Bruce Springsteen) leave you with a good feeling overall.
Some of the most interesting interviews are actually with people I’ve never heard of, or people who aren’t even famous. When Strauss talked with a roadie, interesting.
In addition to being surprisingly satisfying to read, this book also is forgiving if you decide to do a serious skim of a section or two or seven. You can just skip over the interviews that don’t grab you, and then you can dive back into the next one. No harm, no foul. The librarian says so.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
OK, guys, BAND’s on the run!
I just adore that song, and every time I see the new acronym BAND (Bloggers’ Alliance of Nonfiction Devotees), the song starts playing in my head. Here it is, so you can hear it, too.
Anyway, BAND’s offering up its first topic for discussion, and it’s a lovely one. It comes to us from Kim of Sophisticated Dorkiness:
What is one of your favorite types of nonfiction to read? OR What is one of your favorite nonfiction topics to read about?
I just think I’m not picky about nonfiction. Yeah, I read a lot of it, but a lot of it gets rejected, too. Here are two nonfiction styles that’re sure to grab me.
If there isn’t a good narrative thread, I just may not stay with it. I’ve gotten particular that way.
Some of my favorites:
All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
The Death of a President, November 20 – November 25, 1963 by William Manchester
These can be journalistic coverage of a topic, autobiographies, or memoirs. I love learning the behind-the-scenes stuff, even if it's about settings not typically considered juicy, gossipy stuff.
Some of my favorites:
First on the Moon: A Voyage with Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. by Gene Farmer and Dora Jane Hamblin
Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin
Life by Keith Richards
The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffery Toobin
Friday, July 15, 2011
Hell Is Empty by Craig Johnson
Craig Johnson, I love you, I do. But the way you put poor Walt Longmire in peril… it worries me. I swear to the heavens, I nearly did that thing where a person looks ahead to make sure everything turns out OK. (I can’t ever actually do that, so instead I just carried the book with me everywhere I could sneak in a half-page of reading at odd free moments so I could find out what happens without having to wait a moment longer than necessary.)
Usually Craig Johnson makes me crack up, because Walt and his sidekicks have that wonderfully dry humor thing going on. This book, it ain’t funny. And damn, but it still works.
Here, we got Sheriff Longmire headed into the blizzardy mountains to face his demons and to track a truly bad, bad, bad guy who’s on the loose and killing people right and left. And Walt’s solo, just like he was back in The Dark Horse (2 books ago), and I’m here to tell you: He’s wry when he’s with others, and he’s downright valiant when he’s on his own. Here he is: “That’s how I was thinking about myself of late, like a Marine mule that didn’t have enough sense to lie down and die. It wasn’t the most comforting of thoughts, but it got me up the hill.” (p. 256)
Thing is, Walt’s a former Marine, and Walt’s a sheriff who’s sworn an oath. Damn, I love Walt.
This novel has Dante’s Inferno as its basis, and Walt’s descending (yet ascending), with his guide Virgil White Buffalo, into the various circles of hell—fire and ice and the whole darn mess.
I read the Inferno in college, and I don’t hope to ever repeat that feat. But it’s one of those things where I’m glad I read it, in part because I get what’s going on with Walt and the others.
And it made this book even more perfect.
Walt’s office is in a former Carnegie library. (Love it!)
The other characters made a reading list for deputy Sancho Saizarbitoria, and it’s included in an Appendix. And the lists are just filled with good stuff: The Ox-Bow Incident (Walt), The Things They Carried (Henry), My Antonia (Ruby), The Maltese Falcon (Dorothy), and A River Runs Through It (Ferg).
One more thing—Guys, I’m poorly edumacated, and here’s more proof: It was only when Googling the title of this book that I learned that it was part of a Shakespeare quote (“Hell is empty, and all the devils are here”). Damn good quote, that. Way better than my usual phrase for such situations: “It is what it is.”
Here’s the thing, though. If I were to be stuck on a desert island, I’d be picking Craig Johnson books way before I’d be picking Shakespeare. There that is.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Chocolate Chocolate: The True Story of Two Sisters, Tons of Treats, and the Little Shop that Could by Frances Park and Ginger Park
Three things made me need to read this book:
3. my participation in a nonfiction challenge with a “food” book as a distribution requirement
It also served as a great holiday weekend read—light and pleasant, with a nice arc and just enough conflict to be interesting to read.
On their website, there’s a photo of the Chocolate Chocolate crew. The next time I’m in DC, I’m hopping off the Metro at Farragut North to buy some fancy chocolates from them. This book made me hungry!
Saturday, July 9, 2011
Friday, July 8, 2011
After having read several positive reviews, I’d begun seeing ominous headlines about this book—things like “Mixed reviews causing greater buzz.” Stuff like that. So I figured, it’s a love-it-or-hate-it kind of book. But I was wrong about that.
I read this book, and I liked it plenty. But also I was bothered by it. All at the same time.
On the positive side, I was pulled into this story from the start, and I didn’t want to put it down. Now, I must confess that “unputdownable” is a word I also would apply to The Da Vinci Code. It doesn’t mean the book is amazingly stupendously good; it simply means that I found it hard to put down.
And I had no quarrel with the characters, who were reasonably realistic and well-drawn. Sure, there’s a clear villain you love to hate, but later on, the “good” characters pull some vile moves themselves, so there’s enough ambiguity to keep it real.
And Patchett writes you right into the setting, so that was fine, too.
No, my big problem was with the plot, which seemed just way too farfetched… to the point that I told myself, “You are reading a work of speculative fiction here. Go with it.” Yeah, that didn’t work.
So yes, I am a hypocritical reader. The very same plot that kept me turning the pages with a compulsion also drove me to distraction with its oh-too-convenient twists and turns.
Basically, here’s the set-up: Anders Eckman is sent to the Amazon to check on the biomedical research progress of the intractable and incomunicada Dr. Swenson, who is working on a fertility drug. Swenson sends word that Eckman died, so his office partner, Dr. Marina Singh (who’s also the drug company CEO’s lover), heads down there to find out what happened, despite the fact that she had a horrible prior episode with Dr. Swenson. And all hell hatches.
Doggone it all.
Ann Patchett’s earlier novels—Bel Canto, which is one of my favorite book discussion books, and Run, which is simply one of my favorite books ever—set the bar frightfully high. And State of
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
If our book club were a person, it would attend kindergarten round-up this summer. (Do they still have kindergarten round-up? I remember, at age 5, thinking prob’ly we’d have to wear snap shirts, and then they’d corral and lasso us. Or something like that. Childhood is scary, ain’t it?)
Here’s what we’ve been reading in the 6 months since the last book club update.
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
I picked this one because it’s one of Citizen Reader’s favorite re-reads, and that’s a great endorsement.
The book club had a zippy little discussion of it, and I never wrote about it here. But it’s a book I think about often—which is one of my gauges of a “good book.” It’s haunting (in a good way), this book.
True Grit by Charles Portis
We all loved this book. Even so, we were able to talk about it for a good long while.
Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts by Julian Rubinstein
Yup, I already wrote about this one, too.
Bury My Heart at
Yeah, we none of us finished this one. Still discussed it.
The first in our “read a birth year book” series, in which we each choose a book linked to our year of birth. Off to a roaring start, eh?
Christy by Catherine Marshall
The second in the “read a birth year book” series. We’re showing our age(s) here, people!
I first read this book in high school and loved it. Re-reading it now, it’s still a good story, and I understand why I loved it back then.
Next up… Another birth year book: The Godfather by Mario Puzo.
Friday, July 1, 2011
Pocket-47 by Jude Hardin
While reading Pocket-47, that thing happened that only happens when a book is really, really good: I just kept smiling. I’m sure makes me look like a complete goofball, but I’m so happy I don’t even care.
So I’m announcing that this book (pub date 2011) really must become the first in a long series. Otherwise, I’m going to have a mini-tantrum that probably will involve energetic housecleaning. (Dear heavens, no! Not that.)
The main character’s voice, plus the rip-roaring plot, are the things that make this book amazing.
Nicholas Colt is a washed-up, once-famous blues guitarist who’s living in a motorhome out in the middle of nowhere. And while he dodges bill collectors, he also does the PI thing. And when a young woman asks him to find her missing teenage sister, all heck breaks loose. All kinds of seamy stuff gets dug up, and lots of people ain’t pleased about that.
And then surprising things happen.
So we got ourselves a fine plot here.
But it’s Nicholas’s voice that made me fall in love with this book. He’s got that wonderful smart-aleck thing I really adore in a detective.
I’m so, so happy to add Jude Hardin to the list of authors who write that way. I’m talking Craig Johnson, Dennis Lehane, Thomas Kaufman, Jack Fredrickson, Donald Harstad.
These people make this world a better place. That’s all I’m saying.