Monday, August 03, 2009

June's Reading and Reviews

Because of vacation and procrastination, I'm behind on my reviews, but hope to catch up by mid-week.

1. Olive Kitteridge - Elizabeth Strout. Blame it on Strout's great writing; this novel made me uneasy. The title character reminds me so much of some relatives that are rather horrifying in their obtuseness about how to treat family on a day-to-day basis, but in equal amounts possess a genius for doing the right thing at the right time with friends, acquaintances and near-strangers. Besides Olive, there are some beautifully realized 3-dimensional characters in this book. A great choice for the 2009 Pulitzer Fiction prize.

2. Girlfriend In A Coma - Douglas Coupland. After having sex for the first time with her boyfriend, Karen mysteriously falls into a coma in 1979 and wakes up with no ill effects on her brain 17 years later to find that she's the mother of a teenager and the world has really changed. I liked this one better than All Families Are Psychotic and JPod, but there's something -- a deliberate flatness, perhaps -- about Coupland's tone that never completely engages me. He always seems like he either doesn't really care or he's showing off. I wonder if maybe he's working in the wrong form. He'd kick ass as a novella or short-story writer.

3. The Cunning Man - Robertson Davies. I was glad to see some of the same characters and a recurring storyline from Murther & Walking Spirits. Coupland might be better off doing short stories, but his fellow Canadian Robertson Davies was born to spin sagas. He is devilishly entertaining and both relaxed and confident about his considerable storytelling gifts. Can an author have stage presence?

4. Three Men In A Boat (To Say Nothing Of The Dog) - Jerome K. Jerome. This book was published in 1889, the year Robert Benchley was born. I wish I could find out for sure if he read it. I'm almost positive that he did because Jerome's humor resembles his own efforts. (I also think that Mark Twain might have influenced Jerome.) Jerome and his two bachelor friends and Jerome's dog, Montmorency take a boating/camping trip up the Thames. Jerome plays up their combined incompetence at roughing it with hilarious results. The writing is breezy and playful and comes off extremely fresh to 21st century readers. If you shy away from Victorian-era writing because of the ornate and often seemingly cumbersome use of language, you'll find none of that in Three Men In A Boat.

5. The Manticore - Robertson Davies. This is the second book in The Deptford Trilogy. David Staunton, the son of the late "Boy" Staunton is angry and upset about his father's bizarre death, which occurred at the end of Fifth Business. Was is murder or suicide? What about that pink stone found in his mouth? What does Eisengrim know about all of this? David travels to Switzerland and undergoes Jungian analysis to make sense of not only the death, but his own life. David's recollections are masterfully assembled and presented by Davies, but David's self-searching gets a little wearisome at times as does his analyst's lugubrious explanations about dreams and symbols.

6. World Of Wonders - Robertson Davies. The final book in The Deptford Trilogy. Davies saved the best for last and readers finally learn why young Paul Dempster disappeared so many years ago and how he became the master illusionist Magnus Eisengrim. Superb pacing, incredible connections, and an almost absurd richness of variety in this cast of characters. Bravo to the man who probably needed a shave, but if he were here, I'd wade through that whiskery visage 20 times a day -- no problem!

7. Eat, Pray, Love - Elizabeth Gilbert. The perfect book to read just before vacation, or while on vacation. I enjoyed Gilbert's travels in Italy, India and Indonesia tremendously. I've put Italy and Bali on my must-see list. Read Sue F.'s review. She and I totally agree about this book and she says what we're thinking so very well.

8. Shortcomings - Adrian Tomine. When I saw this graphic novel at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, I had to buy it for my son. Turned out he's already read it and he says that Optic Nerve by Tomine is even better. (I'm glad I can lose the guilt I had for reading Shortcomings before I gave it to him.) Ben Tanaka resembles a Japanese-American Woody Allen, casting a sardonic eye on the people and culture around him, but awash in his own insecurities. He has a girlfriend who is also Japanese-American who (rightly) suspects him of being attracted to Caucasian women. When she goes off to New York to study, he has a couple of wryly comic misadventures. Ben's best buddy is a Korean-American lesbian named Alice Kim who doesn't hesitate to call him on his shit, uses him as a faux boyfriend to (partially) mollify her parents and advises him about his potential conquests all while working on her Ph.D and pursuing her own love affairs. When Alice isn't part of the storyline (which isn't often, fortunately) the energy level seems to drop a little. I'm eager to read more of Tomine's work because I love his clean and uncluttered style of illustration.

So that's what I read during June. On to July.


Care said...

I really liked Olive Kitteridge! AND EatPrayLove, too.

Booklogged said...

Love your reviews. You should be an author with such writing skills.

Carrie K said...

Robertson Davies is fab, I haven't read him in years.

Did you find out what your mystery book was named? Doesn't ring a bell with me either.

Bybee said...

They were both great reads!


Carrie K,
No word yet on the mystery book. sigh.
I'm hoping to find more Robertson Davies. I'm haunting the used bookstores in Seoul.