Sunday, August 01, 2010

June, 2010 Reviews and Comments

I'm trying not to get too far behind on my reviews like I did last year. Only 6 for June, but really high-quality, engrossing reads:

1. Ella Minnow Pea - Mark Dunn. A cute-but-deep epistolary novel about letters being banished from the alphabet on a small island in the United States. As the book progresses, the correspondence gets a little stranger and more convoluted because use of the outlawed letter carries harsh punishment. Dunn gives readers plenty to think about in the areas of superstition and censorship. Thanks to Shanna for passing this one on to me.

2. Fever Pitch - Nick Hornby. Who better to get me ready for World Cup than my beloved Nick? I'm pretty familiar with Nick the booklover, and Nick the soccer fanatic has many of the same qualities. Hornby details his obsession with the fortunes of London Arsenal since he was 11 year old. He's really interesting when he gets into fan mentality. Highly recommended.

3. Love and Hate in Jamestown - David A. Price. According to Peggy Lee, "Captain Smith and Pocahontas had a very mad affair". Except they didn't. John Smith was in his late 20s when he sailed from England to Virginia to establish a settlement at Jamestown. Unfortunately, he was with a bunch of losers who had been hanging on their family trees like so much rotten fruit till their fathers dispatched them to the New World. Even then, the wastrels thought that they'd never have to work because they'd be tripping over huge chunks of gold every time they went to the privy.

Only Smith (not noble born like the rest) seemed to have an understanding about the amount of work needed and the diplomatic skills to manage the delicate situation between the colony and the various Native American tribes living around Jamestown. When Smith wasn't around or wasn't in charge, things got ghastly very quickly. The Starving Time chapter makes for horrendous reading.

Meanwhile, there was Pocahontas. She saved Smith from her father Powhatan's edict of execution, but she was a child of 10 or 11 years old. She and Smith crossed paths once or twice more, but only fleetingly. Pocahontas ended up marrying an Englishman, John Rolfe, having a son, being presented at court then dying very young.

Price is an excellent writer who describes things very keenly and keeps the prose moving swiftly while still rolling out the facts. Now that I've read this book, I'd like to go back and watch the 2005 Terrence Malick film. My only complaint about L&HIJ that there were no pictures with the text.

4. The Black Pearl - Scott O'Dell. When Ramon finds the pearl of the title, also known as The Pearl of Heaven, he believes that his fortune has been made, but an ancient fisherman warns him that he's only succeeded in incurring the wrath of the sea monster living in their area. Kind of like Steinbeck's The Pearl for the elementary school set.

5. How Soccer Explains The World - Franklin Foer. Most countries feel strongly about soccer, but their culture plays a big part in how they express that love....or ambivalence, in the case of the United States. Standout chapters include a look at hooligan fans in the United Kingdom, an in-depth look at Foer's personal favorite team, Barcelona, Female Iranian fans protesting being banned by clerics from seeing matches and the fish-out-of-water story of how a player from Nigeria came to play for the Ukraine. Foer was so effective in communicating his love for Barca that I was really pleased to subsequently see Spain win the World Cup.

6. Interpreter of Maladies-Jhumpa Lahiri. All 9 of these stories are brilliant, but the title story is the showstopper. I'm smiting my forehead because I took so long to get around to reading this 2000 Pulitzer prizewinner. Jhumpa Lahiri is on the same level as Chekhov or Carver or Mansfield. Did I already say brilliant? I'll definitely be reading more of her writing.


Kathy said...

I read Ella Minnow Pea several years ago and have rarely been able to convince anyone else to read it - sounds "too weird", they say. It's one of my favorites, though - a cautionary tale beautifully and uniquely crafted. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Heather J. said...

I was also really moved by Lahiri's book, though my favorite story was The Third and Final Continent. ALL the stories were amazing though. I remember getting a kick out of the one with the young couple who find all the Christian trinkets in their house. :)

Eva said...

Yay! I enjoyed Fever Pitch and loved Interpreter of Maladies too. :D I know I read How Soccer Explains the World pre-blogging, but I can't remember a thing about it. Eek!

nat @book, line, and sinker said...

i picked up 'fever pitch' a while ago and never got around to reading it. i recently donated it to a local hospital where i hope someone there enjoys it as much as you did!

Brenna said...

"How Soccer Explains the World" sounds really interesting. That would have been a good read during the World Cup (which is probably when you read it).

Carrie #K said...

Is that what Ella Minnow Pea is about? I might have to read it after all.

Love & Hate in Jamestown looks interesting. I'd love to go back there, now that they actually HAVE somewhere to look at.

Care said...

ALL of these look great and I very much enjoyed your little summaries and comments on each.

Susan said...

Fever Pitch was the first book by *Nick* that I read! The Arsenal link, you know :-) I enjoyed your review of How Soccer Explains the World so much that I've put it on my husband's Christmas list. We both want to read this one!!