Thursday, September 16, 2004

Just Say No! to The Da Vinci Code!

Thought I'd try something a little different today.

For work, I usually try to keep up with the book reviews, but I got months behind. This week I caught up with the June & July Publishers Weeklies (8 issues), and I thought I'd share the highlights, the books that interested me. (You can learn the most interesting things just from reading reviews. For instance, from a review of a bio of Alice Walker by Evelyn C. White: At eight years old, "Walker was shot with a BB gun and left disfigured and blind in one eye, and her father was refused a ride to transport the injured girl into town and swindled out of $250 by a white doctor." Can you believe that? Shameful.) I'll never have time to read all these, but I hope to find time for a couple, at least.

In the Book-about-Books category (which for some reason I'm ALWAYS drawn to):

In the provocative thesis category:

  • In The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream, Jeremy Rifkin argues that the EU is pursuing a much healthier vision of human life than we Yanks are. (I keep wondering why we're stuck with the 40hr work week, little vacation time, and crappy health care, so I'm sympathetic to this argument from the start.)

  • The Jewish Century by Yuri Slezkine has a fascinating thesis: "modernization is about everyone becoming urban, mobile, literate, articulate, intellectually intricate.... Modernization, in other words, is about everyone becoming Jewish." There, you don't even need to read that one. You've got conversation fodder right there!

  • Last Chance to Eat: The Fate of Taste in a Fast Food World by Gina Mallet. Fancy, expensive restaurants turn me off, but the idea of learning to cultivate our tastebuds, of taking the time to really appreciate the finer simple things in life appeals to me more and more. Sounds like this woman knows food pleasure. Books like this seem to be on the rise, and with Fast Food Nation being such a whopping success, I think there's hope for us. (Yet another thing to follow Europe's example on--banning Frankenfoods and the like.)

Literary with a Twist (this is the kind of review that most appeals to me):

  • In The Plot against America, Philip Roth turns to alternate history! He portrays a WWII-era USA turning down the path of anti-Semitism and fascism.

  • Of The Ghost Writer by John Harwood, PW says: "Sly nods to spooky literary spinsters—Henry James's Miss Jessel and Dickens's Miss Havisham—set the tone for this confident debut, a gothic suspense novel with a metatextual spin."

  • The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates sounds like one of her most interesting books yet. Will I finally...take the plunge?

  • I was never interested in Prague, one of those books that seemed made for unimaginative book clubs, but Arthur Phillips' new book The Egyptologist sounds like great, interesting fun.

  • I've been wanting to read something by quirky, dark sf/fantasy writer China Mieville for a while, but his books are very long. Damn him! He keeps racking up great reviews! Iron Council is the latest.

  • The Nameless Day: The Crucible Book One by Sara Douglas sounds like a cool historical fantasy ("evil is afoot in medieval Christian Europe").

  • Dark Voyage by Alan Furst, apparently a specialist in WWII fiction. This one revolves around a Dutch sea captain and it sounds good. I've been wanting to read some Patrick O'Brien--maybe I'll read this after.

  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell--shortlisted for the Booker. A literary puzzle novel, and some say its narrative pieces don't cohere. I read the first few pages and thought it was fun, so maybe I'll be a sucker for the literary hype.


  • Buddy Cooper Finds a Way by Neil O'Boyle Connelly sounds refreshingly offbeat: a down-on-his-luck wrestler (paid to take falls), supernatural subplots. Could be fun!

  • John James Audubon: The Making of an American by Richard Rhodes also intrigues me. It's a beautiful book. I'm starting to get into birds, but I'm much too lazy to get up early enough for the birding tours in town. Here we get stunningly gorgeous paintings of birds, and a great life story, too.

Short Story Collections:

Negative, or, It's Gonna Take a Lot of Convincing!:

  • If the popularity of Gregory Maguire's books wasn't bad enough, now there's Madeleine Is Sleeping by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, which sounds like a pointless perversion of the classic kids' book character. The word "flatulent" is in the review. Puh-lease.

  • Then there's The Inner Circle (great cover) by T.C.Boyle, which sounds like a hit job on Kinsey, a man who moved our understanding of sexuality ahead immeasurably, in no small way paving the way for acceptance of people who love those of the same sex. Boyle tells his story from the pov of Kinsey's assistant, who is called upon to help K. "research" homosexuality, partner-swapping, etc. Boyle--an incredibly talented guy (some of his shorts are brilliant)--once again relies on the lurid to sell books. (What's up with the sudden interest in Kinsey? There's a movie coming out, too.)



Blogger Kara said...

Oooh, these all sound good, Steve! Now I'm going to have to start a second Monk-Biz inspired list of books to read! I read Bryson's The Mother Tongue years ago and enjoyed it. The Jacobs books sounds excellent, too.

Lately, for school I'm reading some great children's books and some truly fascinating stuff on children and categorization.

On the civilian front, on my nightstand awaiting some free time are Love and Other Games of Chance (I loved Lee Siegel's Love in a Dead Language and this sounds just as good) and Siddhartha (a classic it's about time I get to reading). I still can't stay away from lib stuff though. I just finished In the Stacks, the short story collection edited by Michael Cart. (The first story by Italo Calvino is the greatest!) I'm also slowly working through Library: An Unquiet History.

With all the reading I do all day long, here I am wishing I had still more time to read. Those ALA posters in school really worked on me! ;) Wish we could start a book club together!

10:12 AM  
Blogger Steve said...

I love Calvino! And I've been on a short story-reading tear (upcoming blog topic!), so I'll grab that one this week. Never heard of the Siegel, but now that I look it up it sounds so unique!

I loved Mother Tongue, too. Read it years and years ago but still mention it--in fact I was recently telling someone something from the book about Shakespeare and accents and how we sound more like the English of Shakespeare's day than today's English do.

I've had my eye on that library history book. I'll have to pick up a copy and get cracking. Looks more manageable than those tomes by Nicholas A. Basbanes.

Great to hear from you, as always. Keep reading!

10:01 AM  

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