October 07, 2005

On Books: September

You know how I always write about all the books I read the previous month? Remember how I'm usually well into the next month before it actually appears? Check this out - we're still in single digits in October and I whipped this bad boy right out. The book reviews, I mean. I whipped the book reviews out.

Daniel Hecht: Skull Session
I read a lot. And I think the more you read, the fewer of those Iíve gotta get someplace where I can read more of this book moments you have. Reading is, therefore, like binge drinking. The more I read, the harder it is to impress me. The more creepy books I read, the creepier the story has to be to achieve creepification. Follow me? Anyway, Hecht manage to hook me almost immediately with Skull Session and, despite the fact that its no horror or ghost story, he creeped me out in the process. I donít like to recount plots. You can go to Amazon for that. I will say that Hecht writes a compelling, intense story peopled with well-rounded, well-drawn characters. And somehow, throughout all 400+ pages of the novel, Hecht keeps an underlying tension, a sense of unease which forces you to read on yet become slightly afraid of what you might find when you turn the page.

David Schickler: Sweet and Vicious
Schicklerís debut was a collection of subtly intertwined stories called Kissing in Manhattan. It was a good effort and I remember recommending it to a few people at the time. Let me put it this way, bottom-line it for you Ė I eagerly awaited Sweet and Vicious but I wasnít about to pay for the hardback version. And Iím glad I didnít. It was utterly forgettable. As a matter of fact, Iím sitting here having a really hard time remembering exactly what it was about. There was a guy, a girl, some diamonds and some bad guys chasing them across the country. But thatís it. Like I said Ė completely and utterly forgettable. On the plus side, its short with big type and doesnít take long to get through. Man, I bet every author loves to hear that. Hey, your book was short and had big type Ė loved it!

Al Franken: LiesÖ
Last month I expressed supreme disappointment with Michael Mooreís Dude, Whereís My Country. The karmic gods of political snarkyness heard me and rewarded me in the form of Al Franken. Not Al Franken personally. That would have been strange. Anyhoo, Lies is wonderful. Where Moore is occasionally obnoxious and spiteful, Franken is incisive and witty. The book is well researched (which will come from having a team of Harvard students working from you) and pulls no punches.

Ken Bruen: The Guards
Crime fiction gets a bad rap. Lots of people scoff and maintain that its not literature, that its pulp, a guilty pleasure. Sometimes, those people are correct. Lee Child, John Sanford, Jeffrey Deaver Ė theyíre all fine authors but theyíre no Hemingways. Ken Bruen, on the other hand, proves those doubters wrong. The Guards is written in brutally spare prose. Itís rhythmic, almost poetic. The story becomes less about a crime and more about the narrator, someone youíre not sure you like but find yourself pulling for nonetheless. Like Sweet and Vicious, this is a short book with reasonably large type. And yet it packs hundreds of times more story and emotion than Sweet and Vicious.

Carl Hiaasen: Skin Tight and Skinny Dip
Carl Hiaasenís novels remind me of Elmore LeonardísÖwith the key difference being that Hiaasenís are actually good. Both of these novels revolve around the same main character yet, like all of Hiaasenís work, the star is Florida. These are gonzo novels Ė the characters are all tragically or comically flawed, stereotypes abound, wackiness ensues. Theyíre entertaining. They do, however, reveal an odd personality quirk Ė stuff like this doesnít make me laugh. Sure, give me David Sedaris or another Al Franken book and Iíll be cracking up. But, as much as youíd think Iíd laugh out loud at something like this, I donít. I find books like this amusing. I chuckle a little. But thatís it.

Thomas Beller: How To Be A Man
A few years ago, I picked up Bellerís The Pickup Artist. I didnít like it all that much. But I saw How To Be A Man on a table of new releases and it promised to be good. A collection of non-fiction, it said hey, look, Iím struggling with being a guy and getting a little older so I might know where youíre coming fromÖpick me up. So I did. And I started reading. Now, I donít go for fratboy, guyhood shit which says you have to watch football and crush beer cans on your forehead at Hooters on Sunday afternoons to be a man. Thatís bullshit. And Beller, thankfully, didnít extol the virtues of any such behavior. Of course, as I saw it, he was off-topic most of the time anyway. Beller cleverly collected essays that were previously published in various magazines. Then, in a stroke of genius, he put the age at which he wrote each piece under the titles of each piece, labeled the collection ďScenes from a Protracted BoyhoodĒ and shipped it off to publishers. Itís like being sold a case of imported lager only to discover its comprised solely of various brands of cheap light beer. Heís an okay writer although he takes himself a little seriously and its apparent, at times, heís labored over a particular sentence to make it sound as literary as possible. I read a book by Rachel Cusk a couple years ago that had the same effect on me - made me feel like I was being belittled while reading. Both Cusk and Beller seem to try so hard to prove how good they are that they sacrifice something genuine in the process.

I donít know. Maybe Iím over-thinking things. But I feel like I was promised something I didnít get. Settle down with a good Nick Hornby or Jonathan Tropper novel instead. Theyíre funnier and, oddly, more insightful.

Charlie Huston: Caught Stealing
This is, truly, one of the most brutal books Iíve read in a long, long time. It is intense, often disorienting and really quite good. It's what being at the wrong place at the wrong time is all about. This really isn't for the faint of heart. It is, however, for someone who wants something a bit different, something original.

Posted by Chris at October 7, 2005 06:20 PM

excellent job, as always. I might have to check Skull Session out. I like the creepy.

Posted by: jodi at October 7, 2005 06:40 PM

I think I'll pick up the last one. I read way too many books, and now I am difficult to please.

Posted by: Theresa at October 7, 2005 06:43 PM

I always look Hiaasen books, but then put them back. I'm not sure why - I'm an absolute cover whore, I guess I should just take the plunge.

Posted by: C at October 7, 2005 06:50 PM

The only book I've read on your list was Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen. When I finished it, I went straight to the library and got another book that he wrote.

He's great. And I just loved the book.

Now I'm reading the Emperors of Chocolate - Hershey and Mars, but I'm not sure that I would recommend it. I'm having a hard time picking it up. And I really expected to like it. A bit of a disappointment

Posted by: cassie-b at October 7, 2005 08:02 PM

What I want to know is how in the name of anything do you have time to read with a job, and a wife and a brand new baby? :)

Thanks for the good tips!

Posted by: laura at October 7, 2005 08:09 PM

(Laura, I decided even before Mia was born that this man is some kind of other-wordly phenomenon who's got time-management skills which would rival the genius of Einstein and a horde of Mensa members. Don't know how he does it. And on so little sleep! Ah, maybe that's the trick!)

Posted by: Juju's Mom at October 7, 2005 09:33 PM

Thanks! I add two of those to my library hold list :-) YAY for books and reading.

Posted by: Jessica at October 7, 2005 10:42 PM

I liked that Al Franken book too. There were times I actually laughed out loud, but there were also plenty of cold hard facts in there too. I haven't read any of these others though. Perhaps I will check some of them out.

Posted by: bad penguin at October 9, 2005 04:28 PM

I really enjoyed reading Lies. I loved that is was funny, honest, and factual. I also read his book, "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot ", and I enjoyed that one as well. He also has a new book coming out October 25th "The Truth (with jokes)".

Posted by: Mary Jo at October 10, 2005 01:13 PM

Just finished Sedaris' Dress Your Family... What amazes me was he makes it looks so simple! I was thinking, heck I can write this stuff! Reading "Choke" right now. I have to stick with paperback on the train Hardback Mr. Norrell (still trying to read it...sigh) is just too damn big, and even Chronicles of Narnia on paperback is too huge.

Ahh...the joy of literary on the run...

Posted by: Oakley at October 10, 2005 01:14 PM

You have time to read books with the new baby? How do you do it? I answered a great meme yesterday and I am passing it to you. What are the last 7 books that you bought and HAVEN'T read yet??

Posted by: bd at October 10, 2005 02:04 PM

I love it when you review books! I was badly in need of some leads to check out - I've been on a binge and I've exausted all of my pileup.

Posted by: Sabine at October 10, 2005 02:06 PM


Posted by: Chris at October 11, 2005 10:20 AM