Sunday, August 31, 2008

Eighth Month, Nine Books

I only read nine books this month, instead of the cool dozen that always dances in my book dreams. Although I'm only working on #71, (Persuasion, for book group) 100 still seems doable for 2008. Even if I don't get to that longed-for number, I'm sure I'll get close enough to it to give it something catchy. Here are my mostly enjoyable reads for August:

A Confederacy Of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole. One of the funniest books I've ever read; it's a crying shame that this comic masterpiece was rejected during the author's lifetime. Clearly, poor Mr. Toole had no Maxwell Perkins in his corner. Raidergirl3 described the book beautifully and succinctly when she commented that Ignatius was like a cross between George and Kramer from Seinfeld, and that his adventures were like a long episode of that show. For me, Ignatius (as well as the other characters who populate his world) springs off the page like Cervantes, Swift and Dickens all got together for a huge and roaring "Fiction Slam".

Good Omens - Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. This was a good book to segue to after A Confederacy Of Dunces. Pratchett and Gaiman tell the story of Armageddon approaching, and an angel and demon who form an uneasy alliance to keep the world going, by determinedly tracking down the spawn of Satan, who was misplaced in a baby mix-up 11 years before, and trying to figure out the nearly incomprehensible prophecies of Agnes Nutter, a witch who was burned centuries earlier. I was reminded of the Airplane! movies -- some of the jokes are hilarious and some only so-so, but they keep flying at the reader with great energy and impunity. Kamsahmnida to Amber and Matt from book group for loaning me this one!

My Detachment - Tracy Kidder. A short memoir about Kidder's year in Vietnam, when he was just out of college. Freshly armed with a degree in English, and dangerously full of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, he enlisted rather than waiting to be drafted, and ended up in Vietnam doing intelligence work as a lieutenant for a detachment far from the heavy fighting. Most of the time, his job was boring and incomprehensible, and seemed totally unrelated to the war. Upon arriving home after this duty, he wrote a Vietnam novel that was never published. He uses this novel to compare and contrast his actual experiences. The younger Kidder comes off as slightly cringeworthy at times. This memoir is the anti-Tim O'Brien.

Native Speaker - Chang-Rae Lee. Henry Park, a first-generation Korean-American, works as a corporate spy and is also struggling to come to terms with his young son's death and his failing marriage. Much of the novel contains vignettes of Henry's growing up and often finding both cultures bewildering. He has also been assigned to spy on an older Korean man, a councilman who came to the United States as a young man after the Korean War. The corporate spy plot line was boring, and Henry's boss and one of his co-workers were too similar for me to keep straight. Only Henry's wife and the Koreans in the novel seemed to have authentic voices; Lee truly shines as a novelist when he's examining the Korean/American connection.

Freakonomics - Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Levitt, an economist, compares some of the strangest pairs of things, cases that seem so dissimilar when you first look at them. Also interesting was the "names" chapter in which he shows how fashions in names originate in the upper class and make their way down the class ladder over the years. He also cites some bizarre name choices: The father who named his two boys "Winner" and "Loser" and they turned out to have opposite destinies from their names. In addition, I'll never forgot the little baby girl who was named Shithead, but her family bristles at that, insisting that it's pronounced just a little differently. Finally, the Shangri-La Diet made me go "hmmm..." A fun, fast read. Thanks to Mitzi from book group for loaning it to me.

Anne Of The Island - L.M. Montgomery. Anne and some of her friends head for Nova Scotia and four years of college, but college is very much in the background as Montgomery introduces readers to some of Anne's new friends, Gilbert and Anne ricochet up and down the romance scale, and Anne gets her feet wet as a published author. I was shocked about Ruby Gillis. She was so lively, and usually in Green Gables Land, things have a way of turning around for the best.

Ex Libris - Anne Fadiman. Lately, this jewel of a book has been busily casting some of its magic in South Korea. I reread this book mostly because I needed a book small enough to fit in my purse and read on the train. Mitzi saw it and asked to borrow it, then ended up buying copies for her mother and her sister, as well as insisting that it MUST be a contender for a future book group. Veronica then borrowed it, then asked me if I wanted it back. Uh, well...yes.

The Hungry Ocean - Linda Greenlaw. Greenlaw, a fishing boat captain with almost 20 years of experience, writes about a particular month-long voyage to the Great Banks in search of swordfish, and discusses and explains clearly and lucidly all the work that a trip like that entails, as well as asides about other journeys and how she first got into the business. Very entertaining reading, and the book was finished before I knew it. I was left feeling hungry for more of Greenlaw's adventures. I hope to find her book about being the captain of a lobster boat.

Great Expectations - Charles Dickens. What I thought would never happen has happened; I now have an affinity for Charles Dickens. I won't say that I love him, but I am looking forward to reading more of his novels. I'm particularly dazzled at the way he was able to weave so many secondary characters into the novel, and they all have distinct personalities. My edition had the original ending, so I also enjoyed comparing both endings. The original one is a more logical ending, but it's easy to see why readers wouldn't have gone for it. Dickens sort of had his way, and the second ending is nicely ambiguous; you can draw your own conclusions about Pip and Estella. Did anyone besides me think that Joe Gargery was kind


raidergirl3 said...

You'll make 100, I have faith. If nothing else, you can go on a tear in December, reading all kinds of uder 200 page books.

Great list of books. That was the second good review of Freakanomics I read today! Freaky.

Anne and Gilbert, sigh. In two weeks I am going to see a musical about them that chronicles their love story. I can't wait. We have everything Anne here on PEI.
Good Omens, Dunces, fun month.

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

This is a great list of reads. I love the Anne books and I have Freaknomics on my tbr pile. The only book that I really couldn't get with is Confederacy of Dunces. I tried to read it with a friend and I was just so repulsed by the main character that I couldn't finish. I agree that what I read was funny in places and it ws definitely well written, but my frustration level was high. I wonder what was going on back then with me and if I would be able to read it now.

Jeane said...

I want to read some of those, too! Confederacy of Dunces, Freakonomics, Ex Libris... I have read both of the Greenlaw books. The Lobster Chronicles is not really about her being a lobster boat captain. It's about life on the island where she does lobster fishing, but the lobster stuff is not center stage. I liked it, but not nearly as much as The Hungry Ocean.

Tara said...

My husband read Freakanomics and loved it - in fact he read so much to me from it I feel as though I've read it myself. Good for you on your 100 books! I hope you make it. I am hoping to break 80 myself.

Anonymous said...

I abolutely loathed Confederacy of Dunces. My brother, sil and BF praised the thing to high heaven so I tried. Not my cup of tea.

Love Ex Libris, Good Omens and Dickens though. Sounds like you had a good month.

Anonymous said...

I love your mini-reviews and I need to figure out how to do it - I've been reading more than reviewing, it seems. I so love the variety you read...

Bookfool said...

I know! I thought Dickens was going to hurt my brain and I loved Great Expectations. What a shock, eh?

Say, Bybee, have you read Douglas Coupland? Because, I'm reading Eleanor Rigby and there is kind of a Nick Hornby-ish vibe to this book so every time I pick it up (actually, both times -- I'm only on page 38), I think of you. It's possible you really need to read this book. If you haven't already, that is.

J.L. Danger said...

I love confederacy of Dunces! And you are right, I cant imagine seeing your book flop only to become important after you die.

Ex Libris is on my TBR list. I have heard great things about it.

Great Expectations- an all time fave

Anonymous said...

Woo-hoo! Welcome to the Charles Dickens Club. Now go get yourself a copy of Bleak House, and set aside the next few months for reading.

Bybee said...

I would love to see the musical about Anne and Gilbert.

I didn't mention this in my review, but I got bogged down with it way back when -- shortly after it won the Pulitzer...but I finally got back to it and loved it!

Thanks for the synopsis of The Lobster Chronicles.

My son talked a lot about Freakonomics as well.

It was a wonderful month of reading...I wish they could all be like that...good books, my amiable mood and many pockets of free time.

Care,'re so nice. Actually, it's kind of difficult to boil a book down to a mini-review sometimes. If I loved the book, I often feel as if I haven't said enough...or too much.

Eleanor Rigby is on my Canadian Challenge 2 list...Raych loved it, so I stuck it on at the last moment. Glad to hear there's a whiff of my beloved Nick in there somewhere.

J. Danger,
Run, don't walk towards Ex Libris. Really, No kidding.

I confess to being a little intimidated by Bleak House. Seriously, is that the best follow up to GE?

Bookfool said...

Oh, good! I'm reading Eleanor Rigby for the 2nd, too!

And, btw, yes I thought Joe Gargery was hot.

Susan said...

Good books read for the month, Susan! I'm with Raidergirl, two good reviews of Freakonomics, I'm going to have to try this book now!! freaky indeed....I started Ex Libris last year and didnt' quite finish it - I liked it, it just somehow got put back on the shelf and not finished. can't answer to the hot character since I haven't read it yet. Here is my September confession: I have never read a Charles dickens book! Yikes! Did your Tough and Cool Inner Bookworm just hit me???! I keep meaning to, and then i open up and read the first paragraph - of any book by him - and start to fall asleep. I think he falls into the category of 10 most boring authors to read, kind of like the 10 most boring books Thursday Next has to read before she dies....that's my author, Charles dickens. So, you can have this hot guy character!! he's all yours!

Bybee said...

I'm OK with your Charles Dickens confession, but my T&CIB needs to be restrained.
I read David Copperfield first and it felt like death during life. GE was pretty good, but the middle part was a little slow, I had to muscle through it, then the shocker at the end of part 2 made it worthwhile & part 3 left me feeling fine.
I'm in danger of becoming a Janeite, because I just reread and loved (this time) Persuasion!

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad that you've had a Dickens breakthrough! I used to dislike him but I think I just had to grow up a bit before I could enjoy the novels. David Copperfield did it for me and Great Expectations is on my list for the year.

Freakonomics was FUN. I read it on a backpacking trip.

Keep up hope. 100 is definitely in sight!

A Library Girl said...

You write wonderful short reviews - I think I'm going to add a few of those books to my To Be Read list. Of all the ones you reviewed, I've only read Good Omens, Freakonomics, and maybe Great Expectations.

Unknown said...

If you like Confederacy of Dunces and having a growing appreciation for Dickens, then you should try The Pickwick Papers. It's very close in spirit and humor to Confederac of Dunces. Maybe a bit on the long side, but very funny and rollicking like CoD was.

Kathy said...

I believe you'll make 100. I love Good Omens (my first introduction to Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett) and I also love Ex Libris. They are both books I have reread and will reread again.

And of course, Dickens. I loved Great Expectations. I need to read Bleak House.

Clare - The Super Mommy Club said...

Bybee - I just finished up Great Expectations and thought I'd invite you and your readers to discuss it with me over in my Virtual Book Club - here's the link