29 March 2009

In brief.

Read recently:

The King's Rifle, Biyi Bandele: According to the cover blurbs at least, the only novel to deal with the experiences of West African troops fighting for the British in Burma during WWII. It's a tight, spare narrative that combines the universal horrors of war with the specificity of this forgotten segment of a forgotten front. It's also a coming-of-age story.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Nagaru Tanigawa: Given my fondness for Kenzaburo Oe, Haruki Murakami, and Yoko Ogawa, my boss has taken to handing me any translated-from-Japanese galleys that come in. This one's a pretty standard anime-series plot about a girl who unwittingly has the power to create and destroy universes, and whose desire to meet aliens, time travelers, and what the book keeps referring to as "espers" (psychics, I guess? or superheroes? or secret agents?) calls these folks into being. And they all join her after-school club to keep her happy. It was OK, mostly, but with some creepy fan-service-y sexuality: one girl (the time traveler) keeps getting stripped and groped against her will, and it's played for laughs even though she's clearly upset by it. Ick.

Little Klein, Anne Ylvisaker: I met the author last April at a Midwest Booksellers Association convention in Des Moines (my first and only business trip), and I'm sorry it took me this long to read this lovely middle-grade novel. A simple story about a youngest brother, his scruffy dog, and an Iowa river, it's beautifully written and doesn't talk down to its audience at all.

The Gargoyle, Andrew Davidson: The book of last summer--so many of my colleagues had read it and loved it I finally had to give in, and was largely disappointed. It's well written, certainly--Davidson pays much more attention to the sounds of his sentences than is fashionable these days--and it's hard to beat the first fifty pages, an excruciating account of the narrator's slow recovery from horrible burns. But then he meets a crazy woman who thinks they were lovers in a past life in the 1300s, and she proceeds to tell their story; the more her voice takes over, the more the narrator comes under her spell, the more it becomes a dull love-conquers-time romance, and it loses its edge.

Reading now:
The House of Wittgenstein, Alexander Waugh: An account of the philosopher's brilliant, tortured family. It's written by Evelyn's grandson! I haven't read any Wittgenstein (he comes too late in the game for the Great Books program I went through), but it's a fascinating tale of madness, familial dynamics, and the convulsions of Europe in the first half of the 20th century. And did you know ol' Ludwig went to high school with Adolf Hitler?

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