Category: Books 2012 (page 1 of 4)

2012 Book #31 (and 32-ish): To Have and Have Not (and Mao II)

haveandhavenotBut we’re reasonably well into 2013, you (who check my Goodreads account religiously) say! And you finished To Have and Have Not weeks ago! And what’s this new mention of Mao II? How does it have anything to do with anything? What’s the deal?!?

Well, I’ve been busy. Or maybe I haven’t been busy, but I’ve been otherwise occupied. I certainly have lots of things with which to be occupied, so we’ll call that my excuse. But, anyway, here we are in a fresh new year, and I’m still wrapping up the old one, with two books I barely remember. Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but now do you see why I combined them?

First up is To Have and Have Not (don’t worry: I’m not going to talk much about either of these). As you probably know, I’m a huge Hemingway fan, and I’m slowly discovering his many (many!) books that aren’t normally assigned in college classrooms. To Have and Have Not is classic Hemingway: it’s a Manly Novel that talks about Manly Things. (Which is what this novels has in common with Mao II: all of DeLillo’s novels that I’ve read are Manly Novels. I’m not sure what to make of that, except that I seem to be in the mood for parenthetical asides today.)

It’s about Harry Morgan, a Manly Man with a fishing boat in Cuba. Or at least that’s where he starts. After a fishing trip goes south, he’s forced into shuttling black market alcohol from Key West and other unsavory activities because he has to support his family. And Things Happen. I will provide one warning: there is a bit of a sex scene that involves a “stump” where an arm used to be, and it’s GROSS. Yes. All-caps gross. Or maybe it’s just me.

I’ve only met one Hemingway novel I don’t like: The Old Man and the Sea, which, funnily enough, is the one most people have read and liked. (I have the same problem with Vonnegut‘s Slaughterhouse Five, though upon a second reading, I don’t hate it nearly as much as I used to.) What’s funny is that this novel starts with one of those long marlin-fishing scenes, but it ended eventually, so it didn’t bother me. And that’s about all I have to say about To Have and Have Not. I really liked it.

On to Mao II, which I’ve read before and posted about before. I read it sometime last year, just before I got sick, because I was working on my thesis, and the last chapter is about that novel. Then, of course, I got sick and didn’t write the chapter, and now, it’s been so long that I’ll probably have to read it again when I finally do. Ugh. That said, it’s not a bad novel, but it’s your typical DeLillo (which is what my thesis is about), and I’m certainly not going to rehash it here. The end.

2012 Book #30: Absalom, Absalom!

absalom.jpgNow, here’s a hard one to write about. It’s also my favorite book so far this year, though I’m sure this review will in no way reflect that, as I tend to make my favorite books sound like I (should) hate them. Anyway.

Along with being my favorite, Absalom, Absalom! is also the most difficult book I’ve read in a long time. I’d rank it up there with Salman Rushdie‘s The Satanic Verses or Gabriel Garcia Marquez‘s Autumn of the Patriarch – or Faulkner‘s own The Sound and the Fury, for that matter. The story is jumbled in a similar way, at least.

It’s set in Yoknapatawpha County, as most of Faulkner’s novels are. Thomas Sutpen, a man with no clear past but who is determined to make a name for himself, to make himself East Egg when he’s really a West Egger – and he doesn’t even have the money yet. (Get the reference? More on that in a minute.) He’s also determined to have a son to inherit the vast wealth he plans to accrue. Sutpen’s actions destroy his family and those of others with which he becomes involved. Which is not a spoiler because I’m pretty sure you learn all of that in the first five pages, or so, if you’re paying attention.

And this novel requires a lot of attention.

If you’re up for a battle, this is your book. It doesn’t have that much to do with Faulkner’s other novels, though most of it is narrated by Quentin Compson, who you might recognize from The Sound and the Fury. It does, though, deal with one of his favorite subjects, decaying southern families. Like the Compsons.

One of my high school teachers had a master’s degree in English. Her thesis was on the American Dream in Absalom, Absalom! and The Great Gatsby (get the earlier reference now?). Somehow, I had never read Absalom, Absalom!, but I wondered for years what a Faulkner novel could have to do with Gatsby. A few pages in, and it’s obvious: Sutpen is trying to fulfill Ye Olde American Dream, and the result is disastrous. Read both novels (if you haven’t already), and think about it.

To summarize: If you want a challenge, get a copy of Absalom, Absalom!, and settle down for a long, intense read. It’s totally worth it.

2012 Book #29: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

penumbra.jpgMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is another departure from my usual reading habits. But it’s about books! you say. Yes, but it’s also a thriller, of sorts, in a bestseller-y sort of way. And I absolutely loved it.

It’s about a bookstore clerk named Clay Jannon, who notices strange patterns as he works: people occasionally wander into the bookstore to buy books from the front. Much more often, regular patrons come in and ask for a specific text, written in code, and returning another book in exchange for it. Clay becomes curious and makes a 3D model of the store on his computer, eventually keeping track of who checks out what. Enthralled by the visual pattern, he enlists the help of a Google employee who uses their vast computer network to analyze the pattern. Then Things Get Interesting.

This novel isn’t really what I expected. In fact, when I wasn’t even halfway through, I gave a copy to a coworker. Then it got pretty technical (Google scanning, etc), and I was like, Oh noes! It’s too technical! She won’t like it! Which, according to her, wasn’t the case, but she was probably just being nice.

Which doesn’t mean that Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore isn’t awesome. ‘Cause it is. It’s just for people interested in books and technology, or at least people who like books and aren’t entirely technologically illiterate. It was definitely a fun read, and I’ll look forward to more from Robin Sloan in the future.

2012 Book #28: Who Could That Be at This Hour?

snicketwho.jpgI think I bought Who Could That Be at This Hour because I liked the cover. (In my defense, that’s worked out for me several times in the past.) Lemony Snicket‘s name on the front didn’t hurt, either, though I only got through the first couple books in A Series of Unfortunate Events. Not that they weren’t good enough – I think I was just a bit too old for them. Which is, again, the problem.

So what that boils down to is Who Could That Be at This Hour isn’t a bad children’s book. If I was a lot younger, I’d be all over this new series of four. The same would probably go for A Series of Unfortunate Events. But alas.

This one is a mystery. I guess you could probably figure that out just by looking at the cover. It’s about a kid who Lemony Snicket named after himself (okay, after his own fictional name). Said kid is an apprentice in a company that isn’t explained thoroughly, but that attempts to return stolen items to their rightful owners – or those who claim to be the rightful owners. And that’s all I’m going to say about the plot.

Because if you’re reading my blog, you’re probably not going to read Who Could That Be at This Hour because I’d put money on your being too old to enjoy it. Or, for the high school (and possibly college) students who like to try to cheat on homework and essays by gleaning information from my blog (which probably doesn’t help much, if at all), your teacher probably didn’t assign this one.

If, however, you’re a parent of a 7-10 year old kid, by all means pick up a copy. The kid will probably love it. After I finished reading it, I thought I might even be interested enough to read the rest of them to find out what happens, but I’ve already forgotten what happened in this one, which is the real reason I provided no real summary. So: get this book for your kid, but don’t try to read it yourself. The End.

2012 Book #27: Skylark

Skylark.jpgI ran across Skylark in a post on one of my favorite book blogs, Literary Trashcan. (Okay, it’s really just a Tumblr in which this guy posts books, art, etc, that he finds interesting. I guess I think it’s interesting, too.) It’s a short Hungarian novel by Desző Kosztolányi, whose name I had to copy and paste and couldn’t pronounce if my life depended on it. But that’s neither here nor there.

It’s about two older parents and their 30ish-year-old spinster daughter, Skylark, who lives with them and takes care of them. They adore her and let her run the house. A family member invites them to his house in the country, and only Skylark goes, leaving her parents to fend for themselves for a week. At first, they miss Skylark terribly and appreciate all of the things she does for them. Then, eating out instead of eating Skylark’s cooking, they begin to rejoin their social circle at restaurants. They discover that life without Skylark isn’t so bad, after all, and that they can have lives of their own that aren’t totally overrun by her world.

Oh, I loved this book. It’s another one that I enjoyed the act of reading. The translation is beautiful and readable, and it’s a good book. I don’t really have much to say about it beyond that, but you should definitely check it out. It’s well worth your time.

2012 Book #26: 12.21

1221.jpg12.21isn’t my usual kind of book: it’s the bestseller-y, Da Vinci Code type. (That said, I liked The Da Vinci Code.) I usually stick with established novels – or, at least, established authors. 12.21 kept popping up on my radar, and I’d just read Hard Times and was in the mood for something lighter. And lighter it is, though it’s not what I expected. Which was hardcore disaster fun. Like The World Is Ending! California Is Falling into the Ocean! Run! Except it’s not, and I’m not sure that I’m not just a little disappointed.

It’s about a major pandemic. Some kind of virus is going around that causes insomnia. After a few days, those affected go crazy for lack of sleep. There are all kinds of theories about how it spreads, but they finally figure out that it’s airborne. Then, to find the cause! Which ties into the whole The World Is Ending on 12/21/12! because The Mayan Calendar Is Over, and We Don’t Know What That Means! thing. So some characters head down to South America to find out what’s going on. Then, Things Continue to Happen.

I must admit that I was skeptical, simply because this is the bestseller thriller type, and I never think I’ll like those. In fact, The Da Vinci Code might be the only one I’ve read, so maybe I shouldn’t be so biased against them. Anyway, 12.21 is a good read if you’re looking for something light and fun. I read through it really quickly, as I had a really hard time putting it down. If nothing else, you’ll be entertained for a few hours.

2012 Book #25: Hard Times

hardtimes.jpgI read Hard Times for the first time when I was 15 because an English teacher I really respected recommend that I read it over the summer after my freshman year of high school. (She’s also responsible for my love of Don DeLillo and Margaret Atwood: she recommended White Noise and The Handmaid’s Tale, too.) I’d almost totally forgotten what Hard Times is about. All I remembered was that a school with a mean teacher was involved. I think I wanted to reread it precisely because I didn’t remember. And I love Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities is one of my favorite novels. (I tried reading Great Expectations, though, and didn’t even make it halfway.) In fact, that’s the first book I read after I graduated college the first time with an English degree. I decided that even though I had a piece of paper that said I had, I hadn’t read anything. So I picked up the nearest “respectable” book which happened to be A Tale of Two Cities. I don’t think I expected to like it at all – and I certainly didn’t expect to absolutely love it.

Anyway, back to Hard Times. It’s generally about utilitarianism and the old debate about nature versus nurture. Thomas Gradgrind, father of Louisa and Tom, believes that all that matters is fact. He piles his children’s heads full of facts at the expense of emotion and imagination. We follow Louisa and Tom from childhood to adulthood and see the consequences of their father’s decisions. Meanwhile, Stephen Blackpool is a working-class mill worker who is falsely accused of robbing a bank. We see what happens to him as Dickens explores class structure. The End.

That summary makes it seem like I liked Hard Times much less than I did. Maybe it’s because it’s been a few weeks since I read it, and things get fuzzy quickly. It wasn’t at all what I remembered. The school part was relatively short – I guess it was just the part that was most relevant to me at the time. I had totally forgotten about Stephen Blackpool and the bank.

So. Pick up a copy of Hard Times and read it. Not just because it’s Dickens and you should. Because it’s a really great novel and totally worth a read. And, for Dickens, it’s relatively short, which, I guess, isn’t saying much.

2012 Book #24: Light in August

LightInAugust.jpgLight in August is, hands down, the best book I’ve read so far this year. It’s really an amazing novel. Faulkner is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve read several of his best-known novels like The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Absalom, Absalom! Like the other books I’ve read, Light in August is set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, but it doesn’t deal with the declining families there. I didn’t recognize any family names common to Faulkner novels (in fact, I didn’t know it was set in Yoknapatawpha County until I looked it up on Wikipedia).

A few things are going on in this novel: First, Lena Grove is very pregnant and travels from Alabama to Jefferson looking for the runaway father of her child, Lucas Burch. Second, a man named Christmas, who is unsure of his race, arrives in Jefferson. He meets a man who calls himself Joe Brown, and they live together in a cabin outside the house of Joanna Burden, a well-respected woman from an abolitionist family. Christmas starts a sexual relationship with Burden culminating in a house fire and a charge of murder. Third, we hear the story of Reverend Gail Hightower an outsider in the community who gets involved with the other plot lines. And that’s as much of a summary as I’m offering.

I’m not sure why Light in August wasn’t on my radar earlier. It’s pretty well-known, but it’s also long for a Faulkner novel at somewhere near 500 pages. Which explains why I wasn’t assigned it in college. It’s also more focused on race than I remember his other novels being. In any case, Light in August is so worth your time. I was hooked from the very beginning and in awe of Faulkner’s writing powers. It’s now my favorite of his novels.

Check it out!

2012 Book #23: Where Things Come Back

where-things-come-backWhere Things Come Back has been on my radar since it was published because it received so much local attention. The author, John Corey Whaley, is from Springhill, a tiny town an hour or so from Shreveport. I’ve been there several times, mostly because my childhood best friend’s mother grew up there, and I was always with my best friend.

I don’t usually review local books (or read them) because most of them are a new kind of terrible. Seriously, y’all, some of this stuff might make your head implode. On example will suffice: Charlaine Harris. (Okay, I’m kidding. Everything she writes is terrible, but lots of people like her. I’m really talking about the mostly self-published crap that flies around this town.) I should note that some of it is good. Chris Jay wrote a fabulous collection of short stories, and William O. Cook wrote a great memoir called Honeysuckle, Creosote, and Trainsmoke. That said, I’m not well-versed in local writing simply because I’ve come to assume that I’ll hate it. That’s not a good attitude, but I don’t like wasting my time on bad writing, and I’ve read lots of it from around here. I won’t give names.

Anyway, back to Where Things Come Back. It’s an exception to the rule around here. It’s actually a pretty good book – I enjoyed reading it, and I think I gave it three stars on Goodreads, mainly because I think the end is kind of dumb. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil it.

Where Things Come Back is about a 17-year-old kid named Cullen Witter, whose brother, Gabriel, disappears, and how Cullen copes with that disappearance and gets through life as a teenager. It’s also about the search for the Lazarus Woodpecker (referring to the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker?), which is thought to be extinct. (Aside: When I was in fourth and fifth grade, I had a teacher who seemed a bit obsessed with this bird. She showed us John James Audubon’s painting. I still think about it sometimes.) And that’s it for my summary.

This novel is definitely worth a read. It’s a YA book, but there’s no reason an adult wouldn’t enjoy it, too. An added perk is that it’s a local (for me, anyway) book from northwest Louisiana that isn’t embarrassing. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not great literature, but it’s an enjoyable read and totally worth your time.

2012 Book #22: Lionel Asbo

lionel asbo.jpgHere’s another one I can’t review for the library. At the very beginning, we learn that our protagonist is having an affair with his very own grandmother. “WAIT,” you say, “last I heard, Martin Amis wrote this book. He’s respectable, right?” Yes, he is. The only other novel of his that I’ve read is very respectable: Time’s Arrow is a masterpiece. (You should read it: it’s written backwards, sentence by sentence, so you don’t know what started it all until the end. And the text still flows well, so you don’t end up confused.)

Lionel Asbo is awesome, too, though it’s so different. I know that all of Amis’s books aren’t the same (he’s no DeLillo!), but I wasn’t expecting such a huge departure. But I really liked it! I enjoyed the experience of reading it. Is it another Time’s Arrow? Of course not. It’s lighter and more fun. “But the incest!” you say. Yeah, just read it.

The plot is complicated, so I’ll just give the briefest of summaries. There are two main characters, Lionel Asbo and his nephew, Desmond Pepperdine. Lionel is a chronic criminal, constantly in and out of jail for fighting and generally causing trouble. Desmond, who is 15 at the novel’s beginning, lives with him. He gets by doing the opposite of what Lionel says – he’s a good kid. Except, of course, that he’s tupping his own grandmother, Lionel’s mother. Lionel has issues about his mother having sex with anyone: since her husband died, Lionel has insisted that she remain celibate. He threatens and even harms people he finds sleeping with her. She’s only 39, by the way. Anyway, Lionel goes to jail again, and while he’s there, he finds out that he’s won £240 million in the lottery. And that’s as far as I’m going with this one.

Lionel Asbo is a super-fun book. I found myself giggling a lot. It’s also very English. I missed so many cultural references, and times I had issues with the dialect (which is not, by the way, as annoying as Dickens or Lawrence can be). But that doesn’t matter. After this one, I’m definitely looking into Amis’s other books. I had no idea.

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