December 01, 2004

On Books: November

November has passed and, while it seemed to fly by, I managed to cram a lot of reading into those thirty days. Here’s what I read and what I thought.

Around Halloween, I got in the mood for something a little scary, so I picked up Peter Straub’s Lost Boy Lost Girl. Having not read Straub before, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised by what the book offered. Part mystery, part thriller, Lost Boy Lost Girl offered a nice amount of creepiness balanced with decent writing and great characters. I find it hard to get freaked out by anything I read, no matter how scary, and this was no exception. That said, its got its chilling moments. Do I recommend it? I’ll put it to you this way – Straub has just released a new novel starring the same main character. I’ll read it but only after it comes out in mass market paperback.

Thisbee Nissen’s The Good People of New York had been of interest to me since it came out in 2001. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a new copy for $5 in, of all places, New York this fall. Nissen proves talented, accomplishing in 288 pages what few writers could with twice the paper. It’s a family saga without the whole saga-part. Instead Nissen provides readers with sequential snapshots of life yet somehow makes the whole story flow and work. Its funny, well-written and (without trying to sound like a hack for People magazine) moving.

A few months back, I read Sarah Vowell’s Take the Cannoli. I finally found Partly Cloudy Patriot at the local bookstore and decided to take it for a spin. Especially since November made me feel mostly cloudy in the patriotic sense. Its not strictly political, mind you. In addition to tackling subjects such as the popularity of invoking Rosa Parks metaphors and the life of Abraham Lincoln, she also writes about Tom Cruise’s breakout performance in Magnolia (I agree), Tom Landry as an existentialist, and German cinema. Really, its good, I swear!

Paul Auster’s Ghosts, the second book from his New York Trilogy, proved to be a lowlight of the month. Auster essentially found himself repeating the first volume of the trilogy. While I like Auster’s style and wholeheartedly recommend most anything he’s written, I think Ghosts is for die-hard fans only. When you’ve run out of good Auster material, pick this one up. Reach for The Book of Illusions or Leviathan first.

Los Angeles Diaries by James Brown (no, not that James Brown) has to be one of the toughest memoirs I’ve ever read. Jumping around in time from the 1960s through the 1990s, Brown lays out the simple, unflattering facts about his life, his career (as a screenwriter) and addict. The picture painted from the compilation of all these pieces is singularly abhorrent and Brown makes no excuses for that. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a wonderfully written and well-executed memoir worthy of a read. If nothing else it’ll prop you up a bit. The fact that Brown has gone though as much as he has and survived intact enough to write about it will surely make some of your own problems seem inconsequential.

Bond. James Bond. I’ve loved the Bond movies since I was a kid but its only been over the course of the last year and a half that the original Bond novels by Ian Fleming were reprinted. Curious, I picked one up and have been reading them on and off for a while. This month I chose Moonraker. If you hadn’t guessed, the folks that wrote the movies took a lot of liberties with both Fleming’s stories and the Bond character. Moonraker was no exception. Slightly more plausible than the cheesy and unrealistic movie version, this one proves to be a good, fun read worthy of picking up.

Possibly the most disappointing read of the month (besides the Auster debacle) was Deprivers by Steven-Elliot Altman. Be wary of any man with a hyphenated first name. The concept was decent in a speculative-fiction, sci-fi kinda way. The execution just wasn’t all that hot. The writing was simplistic and the characters weren’t well developed at all. On the plus side? The writing was so simplistic that it took no time to make it through the book's 350 pages. It coulda been better…but then again, so could this review.

In the grand tradition of magicians and, well, reviewers, I saved the best for last. Adam Thirlwell’s Politics is an unusual yet brilliant first novel. It is not, repeat not, about politics in the traditional sense. Instead, its about sex, relationships, theater, Bollywood, etiquette and, well, sex. Sound unique? It is. But a word of warning – if you’re easily offended, read something else. Its graphic, yet not for the sake of being graphic. Call it honest. And frankly what we all need is a good, honest piece of fiction every now and then, no matter how much of a contradiction that seems to be.

Posted by Chris at December 1, 2004 03:19 PM

OH my Christ, when do you have time to breath? I read 1-1.5 novels a month and think I'm doing well on most days.

Posted by: wn at December 1, 2004 03:34 PM

" Be wary of any man with a hyphenated first name"

This kills me. LOL So true!!!

You read like I do. It is not unusual for me to devour 2 books in a weekend. I often sit down a night or two before book club to START the book and finish in plenty of time.

Posted by: amy at December 1, 2004 03:54 PM

Will we ever read the same books?
I read a lot, but my list is always different from yours.

Posted by: cassie-b at December 1, 2004 04:08 PM

HOLY CRAP NUGGETS!!! How in Goddess'name do you read so many books? You understand, I am totally and completely jealous. Most of the time, I feel good if I can get through a chapter in a month!

Posted by: Nicole at December 1, 2004 06:54 PM

See, I probably read more than you, but in my case it's usually utter and complete crap. Good ol' escapism. ;) (For now, thinking books are for school.)

Posted by: Heather at December 1, 2004 08:42 PM

Well, since you read THREE books over Thanksgiving weekend, this month actually was slow for you, wasn't it?

I honestly wish I could read that much. Do you ever sleep?

Posted by: DeAnn at December 2, 2004 01:18 AM

WAY too literate. I blame my reading-loath on too much schooling...but YOU still read. of us needs a new excuse.

Posted by: lily at December 2, 2004 01:00 PM