Wednesday, May 24, 2006

On My Bookshelf...

On My Bookshelf...

I must be the only person among you all that reads the suspense novels. The last one I read was Up Country by DeMille. It's about a Vietnam veteran returning to Vietnam on a secret mission for his former boss at the Army Criminal Investigation Department. Not only is there suspense, intrigue and slimy bad guys, but there's romance and a lot of information about how the war affected the protagonist and others (both North and South Vietnamese).

I'm now reading In a SunBurned Country. Not sure of the author. It's about a man's travels through Australia. He's written several books - one about his travels in Britain, America, etc... Since I've been to Australia a few times, I can identify with some of his stories.

I'm also reading the third book of the Jewel in the Crown trilogy - The Division of Spoils. I have been reading this trilogy for over a year. Definitely I'm not the historical novel type! Although, the third book is finally making a lot more sense than the first two. The first book was so disjointed and skipped around to all these different characters and stories. The second was a little better. And the third is finally tying a lot of the first two books together.

Not sure what my next book will be. I may have to go to the library and check into some of the books you all recommend.

The Best Novel?

So, the New York Times Book Review decided to name the greatest novel in the past 25 years. Time Magazine has a lovely (and short) article about it here. Even better, Laura Miller, one of the judges explains here why she declined to vote.

The end result almost doesn't matter (but if you're dying to know, it's Toni Morrison's Beloved). It's a bizarre thing to do, gathering a group of judges to pick "the best" novel of any given period. Trying to distill literature into some sort of athletic contest with one "winner" is ridiculous. The picks were also nearly all by white men, though they did ultimately choose a black woman as the author of the "best" book. Overcompensating much? I love Toni Morrison, and I think Beloved is brilliant, but I also think this group of mostly old white guys choosing the best book might have been consciously trying to avoid accusations of favoring other old white guys.

I like what Time Magazine did with their list of the 100 best books since 1923 (Why 1923? Who knows?). It gives room for diversity, for a multitude of experiences and viewpoints, for authors trying to accomplish different things. The NYTBR exercise drives me nuts because literature is collective, not singular, and no one novel can represent all great novels of the last 25 years.

Hey, how'd I get on this soapbox? Can somebody help me down?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

I just finished this book. It was indescribably wonderful! Thank you, Holly, for suggesting it.

The premise: The island nation of Nollop off the U.S. coast semi-worships their most famous resident, the fictional creator of the pangram (sentence using all letters of the alphabet) "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." They have a statue of Nollop with his sentence inscribed on tiles in the center of town. One day "Z" falls down, and the council of elders determine that this is Nollop speaking from the grave, challenging them by removing "Z" from their written and spoken language. Citizens violating the new alphabet face flogging, banishment, or death. But that's not the only tile to fall. The novel is written entirely in letters between the Nollopians, sometimes letters to out-of-town relatives, sometimes notes left on the refrigerator. Only a few pages are challenging to read because of the letter omissions. The plot is delightful, the character development charming, and the wordplay just plain fun. I can see some readers finding it overly clever, and it's true that the book is built on a gimmick, but it's a gimmick that doesn't prevent endearing characters and suspense. At 200 pages, it's a fairly quick read, and a thoroughly enjoyable one. It's going on the "never throw/give away" shelf next to my Jasper Fforde.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Her Fork in the Road

There's a bookstore on the west side of LA devoted entirely to cookbooks and cooking related tomes. I bought this book--Her Fork in the Road--there several months ago and just started reading it. The book is a collection of stories celebrating gastronomic travel, all written by women who are supposedly some of the best writers in and out of the food and travel fields. The stories meld unique ethnic cuisine experiences with the food's surrounding cultural context. The book is making me hungry--for both food and adventure! It's a different sort of read, but one I'm enjoying on many sensory levels.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Curtis Sittenfeld

I read in the Sunday LA Times that Curtis Sittenfeld has a new book coming out this month called "Man of My Dreams." Did anyone else read her first book Prep? I was initially drawn to the book because the protagonist was supposed to be from my hometown of South Bend, Indiana. The book turned out, in my opinion, to be an extraordinarily well written tale of teenage angst and the desire to be accepted. I'm eager to read her latest effort as well.

Mommy Wars

I recently finished Mommy Wars by Leslie Morgan Steiner. The book is a series of essays by mothers about their choices of whether to stay at home with their children or continue their careers. As a member of a playgroup with both working and non-working moms, I was curious to read the viewpoints of mothers on both sides of the fence. It is obvious, upon reading this book, that no woman can ever be certain she made the right choice and the only way to make peace with that choice is to embrace it entirely.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

I finally finished a book! Mark this day on the calendar!

Since I've finished all my current knitting projects and waiting for my yarn for the next one to show up in the mail, I read yesterday and finished The Historian. This book is about a professor looking for his advisor who has gone missing. The advisor had become interested in researching whether Vlad Tepes (aka Dracula) really existed and is in fact undead and still walking around attacking people. The search begins all over again with the professor when he starts to look for his missing mentor. Then his daughter starts to look for him when he just takes off. The book is filled with vampire lore from a historical fiction perspective and it is fairly interesting overall. I think the middle third of the book is way too long and way too dry and I think Kostova probably loses many readers at that point, but I forged on and finished and it does end up nicely tying up all the loose ends, leaving with a sort of cliffhanger. But a good cliffhanger, not one where you're mad that the whole thing wasn't completely resolved.

I would recommend it to anyone that likes academic type fiction books or interested in where vampires originated. I think it was well written overall even if she tended to drag it out an extra 200 pages or so.

Now I'm on to lighter fluffier reads...I think I'll read the next two books in Alexander McCall Smith's Ladies Detective Agency series....