Monday, June 13, 2016

Recent Reads

I've made it though quite a few books since Jan 1. Here are some I've read, both the good ones and not-so-good.

I'd heard the name Saul Bellow in discussion about Nobel Prize winners and how you should never ever compare your work to theirs in a query letter. Herzog about a middle-aged Jewish man who's just come out of a nasty second divorce. His sanity is questionable, but not completely gone. Fair enough premise. The writing, meanwhile, is dense. Herzog writes imaginary letters to people in order to stay stable. The text jumps from three different POVs: the narrator, Herzog in first person, and Herzog's letters. The second half of the novel isn't quite as littered with italic text as the first, but its not an easy book to read. Therefore, I honestly didn't enjoy it much.

From confusing to downright depressing! This book tells of a trouble Navajo girl in a women's prison and the male doctor who is charged with her care. Published in the 1970s, this book is about as anti-white as it gets. It's a dark story about a corrupt and broken justice system. It's written in the form of a long diary from said doctor. There are no chapter breaks, which really drives home the theme of loneliness and isolation. The book has a genuine feel of progress every time the two main characters connect, but it also has the WORST ENDING I've read in a long long time. I'll spare you the trouble. Hatter Fox gets run over by a bus, although she was expertly dodging traffic the day before. I don't always want a classic "happy" ending, but this just felt like a cop-out to me.

I love Michener's work, but who'd have thought he would write a short book? The MC is going to testify before Congress on his role in the Iran-Contra affair. His defense lawyer plans to use his family's "legacy" (Get it? Get it? See what he did there? The title is important!) to convince everyone that he's a patriot. Each member of the family plays an important role in America's critical moments: the Revolution, writing the Constitution, the Civil War, the women's suffrage movement, and civil rights. It was ok, I guess. The book doesn't have time for character development and it didn't catch me with a sense of the other epic sagas he's written, like Centennial. The story ends abruptly without telling us how the MC fairs on trial. Only Michener could have written this and then made money on it. A descent idea, but I think it's a little short and underdeveloped. 

Hands down, this is one of the best novels I've ever picked out from a used book store. Herman Wouk has been called the American Tolstoy, and I can see why after reading all 600 pages of MM. The story is about a young Jewish girl growing up in NYC in the 1930s with dreams of becoming an actress. While pursuing her studies and dating a number of boys, she enters the cutthroat world of Broadway. One Amazon reviewer said, "It's rare to find a book where the daily life of the MC is so well documented." Yes, well-documented and interesting! And no, there's hardly any mention of Hitler and WWII in the whole text.

A neat find at an antique store. Haven't finished it yet, but thus far, the stories are surprisingly inventive and entertaining.

A great collection with an even better introduction about the art of the short story and how the industry changed after 1968.

A neat thought experiment on how mankind might have started a relationship with canines. You'll enjoy the book so long as you keep that in mind. This is not an anthropologist story. Only problem I had is that the dog doesn't join with man until the very very end.

I saved this on for last, because it is probably my favorite on this entire list of books. Leopards tells the story of a writer who is desperate to succeed. He's got talent, but he's also a compulsive liar and a shameless thief. He seems unable to compose work unless he rips incidents out of real life or other people's work. The MC reinvents himself so many times, that by the end of the book, everything from the characters' names to the history of his circle of friends, has changed (but therein is the main conflict, the MC can only change so much). Only the barest threads remain to remind the reader who's who and what's what. The book breaks all of the rules about format, tense, pacing, and POV to show this and it works. This is an example of experimental fiction that hits the mark and show you just what can be done with a novel. It has lots of exotic locations, provocative thoughts, and there's typewriters! Lots of references to typewriters (though Remington gets the only brand-name mention).

That's all for now. I get out of the splint on Friday!

I'll never take my dominant hand for granted again.

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