27 February 2010


Picked up a steampunk anthology of my roommates' (ed. Ann & Jeff Vandermeer)--surprisingly, not a lemon in the bunch. Favorites? "The Steam Man of the Prairie and the Dark Rider Get Down," Joe R. Lansdale; "The Selene Gardening Society," Molly Brown; and Neal Stephenson (duh).

And I'm catching up on new paperbacks: Robert Goolrick's A Reliable Wife is more or less an erotic Ethan Frome. (For me that's a compliment. Your mileage may vary.)

25 February 2010

Two quick reads.

The Art of Eating In, Cathy Erway: I will confess that two-thirds of the way through, I just started flipping to the recipes at the end of the chapters. This is another entry in the gimmick-life-project-turned-blog-turned-book category, which is always hit-and-miss: Erway didn't eat in a restaurant in New York for two years, a pretty staggering achievement (though I would argue that hipster foodie underground supper clubs are restaurants, just illegal ones. Exchanging money for prepared food is what defines a restaurant meal, yes?). But the book is tiresomely full of predictable mid-twenties dating drama, which is only ever interesting to the people it directly involves, and maybe their friends, out of politeness--the general reading public? Not so much. And while it's admirable to cook at home, as well as much cheaper, better for the environment, good for the soul, etc., one doesn't have to then become a super-creative gourmet cook. Ain't nothing wrong with pasta and burritos.

Heart-Shaped Box, Joe Hill: Yeah, I like Horns enough that I sought out his first novel, which is even better, though more linear. And, in what I think really defines horror fiction as successful, IT IS SCARY AS HECK ZOMG.

16 February 2010

A (mostly) good run.

Blackout, Connie Willis: NEW CONNIE WILLIS NOVEL HOLY CRAP. And it's set in the time-traveling Oxford world of Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog! Of the two, it's closer to Doomsday in ominous tone, though still filled with the greatest comic incidental characters this side of Jane Austen. Both marvelous and maddening, though, is the fact that this novel is essentially setup, as three historians studying WWII through experiencing the early child evacuations, the rescue of the British Army at Dunkirk, and the London Blitz gradually realize they're stranded in the past, and have no one to turn to but each other. The "sequel," All Clear (really, it's one story; I'm guessing Spectra didn't want to publish it as one 1000-page Neal-Stephenson-size tome), comes out in August; I'm looking forward to the excuse to read Blackout again.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer: I had this impressed on me by a friend as an excellent companion to Sasa Stanisic's How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone, and there are definite similarities, especially in the narrators, children simultaneously precocious and innocent in their experience of adult tragedy (9/11 and the Serbian-Bosnian war of the early 90s, respectively). Both also err on the side of "too clever by half"--not a problem for me, as I can't stand prose that doesn't acknowledge the figurative possibilities of language--though Extremely at times veer into preciousness (I wasn't totally behind the non-text visual elements).

When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead: This year's Newbery winner (I get a kick out of having met her at WORD's author open house in December--that's three, I think, with Madeline L'Engle and Paul Fleischman), paired with having read Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book last year, really makes me think I should go back and read some more winners of recent since-I've-"grown-up" vintage, because they KICKED ASS. When You Reach Me is a gradually unfolding time-travel mystery AND a coming-of-age story AND a snapshot of Manhattan in the late 70s AND a homage to A Wrinkle in Time--I was super excited when Miranda, the heroine, gets a copy for Christmas signed "Tesser well," JUST LIKE MINE!!! The plot is precisely machined and self-contained, more so than a lot of adult science fiction. Good stuff.

Lowboy, John Wray: What I loved most about this novel, which follows a runaway schizophrenic teenager and the detective searching for him with the boy's mother through the MTA system, was its evocation of the subway itself--relentlessly corporeal in its dirt and screeching brakes and massed humanity, but somehow mystical in its ability to connect the aboveground world through its burrows. It's the subconscious of the city.

The Patience Stone, Atiq Rahimi: This won the 2008 Prix Goncourt, but I found it slight and predictable. An Afghan woman whose husband is comatose from a gunshot wound pours out her frustrations and secrets to his unreacting figure, and it's meant to be a powerful portrait of oppression--I think it goes too far in giving her Shocking Revelations that make for interesting fiction but miss the mark of casting her as Everywoman. The myriad daily hurts and humiliations lose their force in the author's overplayed hand.

The Proof of the Honey, Salwa Al-Neimi: I didn't finish this one. It's unfortunate that I picked this, an erotic novel by an Arabic woman, right after the disappointment of The Patience Stone. I'd argue that the proof of an erotic novel is whether it gets the reader rarin' to go, and this just slapped an intellectual veneer over romance-novel goosh, without satisfying either. Boring.

Clumsy, Jeffrey Brown: Relationships, like war, are wholly individual and wholly universal at the same time. Brown's debut graphic novel gets this.

Horns, Joe Hill: The second novel by Stephen King's kid! A young man mourning his murdered girlfriend wakes up from a spectacular drunk with diabolical horns curving from his temples, and soon discovers they give him the unpleasant ability to draw out confessions of people's darkest desires. The flashback structure here is top-notch.
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