Monday, May 19, 2008

April Reading and Reviews

It's old and damn near crusty news by now, but I read 7 books in April. I was pleased and surprised, but my Tough & Cool Inner Bookworm isn't satisfied. She wants 10 a month, and an even dozen would be better. When I speak to her of things like a balanced life, she curls her lip. I just feel a little sad that fiction beat non-fiction again this month. I always want non-fiction to win or at least tie.

The Oxford Murders - Guillermo Martinez - [I don't like mysteries and have despised math since the days of 1 + 1 = 2, but I enjoyed this short mystery of two mathematicians on the trail of a serial killer in Oxford, trying to solve the case using principles of mathematics.]

A Summons To Memphis - Peter Taylor. [I read this for this 1986 Pulitzer winner for the challenge of the same name. There's not much action and what there is seems to be curiously foreshortened and muted. The writing style is impeccable, but A Summons To Memphis is so static that it makes Gilead look like an action thriller. At barely 200 pages, it feels as if this is really a short story uncomfortably straining to be a novel.]

What Is The What? -Dave Eggers. [An autobiographical novel about Valentino Achak Deng, one of the "Lost Boys" of Sudan. The novel starts when Achak is being mugged in his apartment in Atlanta, and while he's waiting to be freed, he tells his difficult (what an understatement) life story. Kudos to all involved with this book to have the intelligence to market it as a novel so that it couldn't be picked over by jackal-like critics for scraps of discrepancy, then held up as completely and utterly bogus.]

An Appointment With My Brother - Yi Mun-Yol. [The author's father defected to North Korea when he was a child. This is the author's imagined meeting with the eldest son of his father's second family. Inevitably, the subject of whether the two Koreas can ever reunite came up in the novel, and I enjoyed the frank and complex discussion in the novel between two of the characters. Also helpful to a foreign reader, but striking a slightly false and overly pedantic note was an explanation of how families assign names to their children from generation to generation in Korea. That's my only quibble concerning a short but moving novel (which is very well-translated from Korean) about how two families struggled and suffered because of a father's long-ago idealistic actions.]

Cash - Editors of Rolling Stone. [I got this tribute book about Johnny Cash from my brother and his family for Merry Birthday last year. It's chock-full of terrific pictures of The Man In Black, as well as many excellent essays. Three standouts are the foreword, written by Cash's daughter, Rosanne; a long and thoughtful look at Cash's career by journalist Mikal Gilmore, who ties in what Cash's music meant to his infamous brother Gary as well as a phone call between the two men in which Johnny Cash begged Gary Gilmore to rethink what he was doing regarding his own execution; and a strange and ironic little essay about a listless and pain-ridden late 80s-early 90s Johnny Cash, who has decided that his creative years are behind him, and he that he and June might as well build a theatre in Branson and settle there. No one could've guessed it at that point, but Johnny Cash was only a year or so away from meeting Rick Rubin and doing the "American Recordings" series and enjoying a creative renaissance that lasted right up until his death in 2003. After reading this book, I still miss someone.]

Is There A Doctor In The Zoo? - David Taylor. [Yikes! I almost gave this book away unread because I didn't think it would be my cuppa joe. Thanks to Jeane's mentioning the author's name with great admiration, I pulled it back out of the swap pile and enjoyed David Taylor's adventures as he works to move from being a vet to farm animals to one that works with more exotic specimens. By saying "Wow!" and reading aloud every page or so, I made Mr. Bybee experience this book as well, whether he wanted to or not. I'm on the lookout for more of David Taylor's books. Speaking of Jeane, you should head over to Dog Ear Diary and read her much-better review of this book.]

The Known World - Edward P. Jones. [Another one off the Pulitzer list, and also a selection for book group. Although it wasn't an overly common practice, the idea of former slaves going on to be slave owners themselves was completely mind-boggling. It was also interesting to see the different levels of comfort with this practice -- there was a white couple in the book who wasn't comfortable owning a slave that had been given to them as a wedding gift, and at the other end of the oddness spectrum, there was a black slave owner who took to being master with almost no difficulty from either a business or moral perspective. Stylistically speaking, I really got a kick out of the extreme gusto Jones put into fulfilling his omniscient narrator duties.]

In keeping with the Weekly Geeks #2 theme, if I've reviewed a book here that you've also read and reviewed, let's lock arms and sing "Kumbyah"...I mean, let's link to each other's blogs.


kookie said...

"A Summons To Memphis is so static that it makes Gilead look like an action thriller."


Sam said...

It's strange but the first time I read "A Summons to Memphis" I thought it was one of the best books I read that whole year. Than a few years later I read it again and wondered what in the world I was thinking the first time around.

Almost like two completely different books...

Rashmi said...

Lots to add to my TBR list!

I came across your blog when I was searching for Canadian Book Blogs. I'm giving away 4 Autographed books to readers across the globe and was hoping you'd spread the word among readers of your blog.

Link -


Jeane said...

So glad you enjoyed Is There a Doctor in the Zoo. Thanks for including the link to my blog! What a nice compliment.

Bookfool said...

You are such a nut. There were at least three places I had to stop to laugh, while reading this post -- Kookie mentioned one of them. The locking arms and singing Kumbayah was another.

GFS3 said...

You are doing so much better than I am this year. I generally average about 5-6 books a month, but lately I've been lucky to read three. I blame work and long hours.

It's making me bitter -- and jealous of you.

Bybee said...

Funny, but true.

I was wondering if you've read this book...I wonder if 1986-87 was a crap year for literature?

Thanks for the heads-up. Happy to spread the word.

I like Dog Ear Diary so much because you don't just talk about what's current. I want everyone to read your blog.

Oh, like you haven't made ME laugh and spit coffee all over MY keyboard a time or two?

You're just an excitable boy...

Anonymous said...

I like both math and mysteries and I thought Oxford was a bit plodding. I blamed the translation.

Gilead isn't an action thriller?

Susan said...

Tell your Tough and Cool Inner Bookworm that you read great books! She can stop uncurling her lip at you and come sneer at my pitiful list since I NEVER Get to 8 books a month! 10.....*sigh*.....I would love too....would anyone notice if I never slept again?? And, to further annoy your T&CIB, tell her I only want to read the first book on your list, and we must be related, because I hate math more than you and can barely do it!!! but I'm fascinated by people who see the world in math terms as in, "they are really insane, aren't' they?"???

Susan said...

PS Jeane's review WAS really good, I read it too when she posted it.