February 7, 2006

On Books: January '06

It should come as no surprise (especially if you've been reading my other site) that I read a lot. January was no exception. Here's the recap!

I kicked off the year with Inside Out by Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason. This "personal history" of the band was fantastic. It was well-written and the text was augmented by personal photos and some of the great artwork fans have come to expect from the band. This really is a must for fans of The Floyd. Also in the must category, with a dreamy feel reminiscent of past Floyd music (how'd you like that segue?), is William Nicholson's The Society of Others. I never really put too much stock in the blurbs found on the backs of novels but one really proved true here - it is indeed like a bizarre cross between Salinger and Kafka. I was completely and utterly beside myself when I turned the final page. In a good way, not like if I ever find the author I'm going to beat him senseless with his novel and inflict a thousand horrible papercuts with his dustjacket...or something.

On the flip side, Terence Green's Blue Limbo just left me bummed. Bummed that I'd wasted my time on it. Granted, it was short so the commitment was minimal. Green turned in the fine Shadows of Ashland several years ago so my hopes were up. Sadly, it was just crap. I was similarly deceived by The Town That Forgot How To Breathe. I really wanted to like it. I'd scoped it out in stores and finally bought the hardcover. I was positive, from the description, that I was going to adore it. Sadly it was like Elaine dancing in that episode of Seinfeld. You know, you have every reason to think she can dance okay but when she starts twitching and gyrating, its astoundingly bad. Kenneth Harvey really screwed this one up (yet admittedly, the guy could probably write and dance circles around Elaine). I know what he was trying to do. I'm not dense. It was a proverb, an allegory. But is proverbial eyes were bigger than his allegorical stomach. The novel never lived up to its potential.

Next up were two novels, both of which took place in Japan. Coincidentally, both featured a half-Japanese half-American protagonist. (Huh. I hadn't realized that before.) Nevertheless, they were very different. Barry Eisler's Hard Rain was the second volume in the Rain series, featuring hit man and jazz enthusiast John Rain (could I say "rain" one more time in this sentence? Oh...apparently). Eisler's experience living in Japan pays off. The novel is packed with detail and paints a very lush, noir-like portrait of modern-day Tokyo. Similarly, Zen Attitude by Sujata Massey, despite its silly title, portrays crime in the big city of Tokyo. It is, however, a little less gritty. Like Eisler, Massey spends a great amount of time educating her readers and, like the Rain series, it's fascinating. Where Massey falls short is her dialogue and plot development. Zen Attitude is clearly the work of a young writer who isn't quite comfortable with her, dare I say it, craft.

Last but not least is Cell by the great Stephen King. I say great somewhat sarcastically because I've never been the biggest King fan. I think it's time for me to admit that the guy can write. He proved it with Cell - a brilliant and utterly disturbing tale. I'd say something cliche like you'll never look at your cellphone the same way again but that's crap. It was horror. You want to read something a little brutal and a little scary, this is your thing.

Posted by Chris at February 7, 2006 4:56 PM

Have you ever read the Never Ending Story Chris? It's about a story that almost never ends, which I almost quit reading, because I didn't want to die reading it, but then I finished it, so it's safe for you to read.

The only problem is that you will forget what it was about for some reason, or maybe because I got hit by a car, but I'm not sure.

Posted by: Rockchild at February 7, 2006 5:53 PM

I'm going to be reading Cell next, based on your recommendation. I've never read one of his horror books, and it's about time I did. If your in the mood for another scary one, read The Church of Dead Girls by Stephen Dobyns. I picked this one up because I had never read a scary book, and there's a quote on the front from Stephen King calling it "very rich, very scary, very satisfying."

Posted by: kim at February 7, 2006 6:18 PM

Thanks for keeping up the good literary work, Chris! I usually paste at least 3 of the titles you suggest directly into my Amazon wishlist. I can't remember - did you recommend Goodbye Goodness? Anyway, I just finished that. Good stuff.

Posted by: Vaguely Urban at February 7, 2006 6:33 PM

I read Cell when it first came out. I mean that. Three hours, done. Because I am the crazy. I did like the book, and I was happy he wrote a novel and not an epic. However, I was irritated that his comments about the book were so self-congratulatory that he doesn't have a cell phone. Gee, I guess you don't know how prospective employers expect to have your every number and expect you to answer at that minute. Must be nice, Stevie.

Posted by: alektra at February 7, 2006 6:53 PM

I read Cell when it first came out. I mean that. Three hours, done. Because I am the crazy. I did like the book, and I was happy he wrote a novel and not an epic. However, I was irritated that his comments about the book were so self-congratulatory that he doesn't have a cell phone. Gee, I guess you don't know how prospective employers expect to have your every number and expect you to answer at that minute. Must be nice, Stevie.

Posted by: alektra at February 7, 2006 6:54 PM

PLEASE put "A Changed Man" by Francine Prose on your to-read list. I just finished it for book group next week -- and LOVED it.

Posted by: Karen at February 7, 2006 7:52 PM

Great reviews! I've heard mixed reviews of Cell, and they've been pretty passionate on both sides. Of course now I'm even more anxious to read it so I can decide for myself. :)

Posted by: Tania at February 7, 2006 8:19 PM

I have a question for you. In all of your very well-read and experienced opinion, what can you recommend for the honey for Valentine's Day. He really likes Ken Keasey (did I spell that right?) He says he likes the dark things Keasey writes about, how he keeps the plot fairly simple but focuses alot on character development. He's reading "One flew over the Coockoo's Nest" now is enjoying it alot. He really liked an incredibly bizarre book by Tom Robbins awhile back. Can't remember the title off hand. He used to like Tom Wolfe but A Man in Full turned him off completely. I don't know if that helps any?

If you have some ideas, I'm all ears. :-)

Posted by: Lisa B at February 7, 2006 11:30 PM

SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT: It's hard for me to say this, because I am a big King fan, but I was a little disappointed with Cell. At first, I really loved it... it reminded me of The Stand (which is my all-time favorite King book). But the end was disappointing... I wanted more info on who did the programming and how the boy turned out! I felt like HE came and left me hanging! (Sorry for the sex analogy, but it's true.)

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