Llew's Reviews

Archive for January, 2005

Book #7: The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time

Tuesday, January 25th, 2005 by Miss Laura

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time was written by Mark Haddon and published in 2002. It has 226 pages. It was the Whitbread Book of the year and a national bestseller. Myla Goldberg, the author of Bee Season, said that it “brims with imagination, empathy, and vision – plus it’s a lot of fun to read.” I like quoting Myla Goldberg because she’s cute, even if it’s in a “I’ve Listened To Too Much Bright Eyes” sort of a way. The narrator shows no emotion when detailing the story. He would get along with my grandmother.

Book #6 Final Solution by Michael Chabon

Saturday, January 22nd, 2005 by Miss Laura

“Long life wore away everything that was not essential. Some old men finished their lives as little more than the sum total of their memories, others as nothing a pair of grasping pincers, or a set of bitter axioms proven. It would please him well enough to amount to no more in the end than a single great organ of detection, reaching into blankness for a clue.” — Final Solution, page 83

Things I Liked About The Final Solution:

* It centers around a parrot. (Although, sadly, there are no pirates involved.)
* The word “cuckoldry” is used, and used IN PASSING. How fantastic is that?
* One of the character’s suffers from “gephyrophobia” which is the morbid fear of crossing bridges.

Things I Didn’t Like About The Final Solution:
* The cover design.
* The illustrations. It was as if they were mocking the story, and that’s just not my inner schizophrenic speaking either.

I’m usually either thinking about the last book I read, the last movie I saw, or the last boy I kissed. Since the first item of that list was leaving quite the sour taste, I decided it was time to move on with a quick novel that would put my bad memories to rest. (This reminds me of something I read once about “refreshing one’s palate” by kissing a new boy as soon as possible after a breakup.) I chose Final Solution because I’ve heard so many favorable things about Chabon’s writing style. They were all well warranted. Although the plot of this one wasn’t anything to rave about, I quite loved Chabon’s way with words (hubba hubba) so hopefully this shall be the first of many of his books.

Book #5 Case Studies by Kate Atkinson

Friday, January 21st, 2005 by Miss Laura

“One difference between genre crime fiction and literary fiction is that the first kind of book is usually concerned with what happens to the people who commit crimes while the second cares more about the people they hurt. Although Kate Atkinson’s addictive “Case Histories” has three murders and a detective in it, it’s really an exploration of the loss, grief and misplaced guilt that torment three clients who hire Jackson Brodie, an irresistibly grumpy divorced father working as a private investigator in Cambridge, England.” -Salon

That’s it! I am not reading another STINKING book on Salon’s Top Ten list no matter how much they try to draw me in by comparing it to something Lorrie Moore might write. Honestly, I thought such untruthful comparisons were outlawed by the Supreme Court in the 1980s. Every time I read the back of a book to see some reviewer touting the author as some aborted love child of James Thurber, Dorothy Parker and the crumbs from lunch on Alexander Woolcott’s face I want to wretch. I’m being disenfranchised here!

Salon was right on one thing: Case Histories is addictive. The first three chapters is about a different heartbreaking story which dramatically changes everyone who is in involved. Then, in the fourth chapter a private investigator, who is eventually given these three cases (although some have taken place decades before the current time), is introduced. By the middle of the novel, I was HOOKED. So hooked that I didn’t notice that it was slowly going downhill until it just hit me with an incident that reminded me of the bad detective Advance Reader’s Copy which my father would give me to read when I was in high school to keep me from my back seat
torturing of my sister during long family roadtrips. (Ahh, hot vinyl and the dirty hippie – it makes my fingers convulsively pinch just thinking about it.)

There are these three mysteries which were all extensively investigated by the police and heavily touted in the media. Yet, here comes a private investigator- the kind who has slept with most of his women clients by the time the book is finished – who is able to solve all of them without much work or intuitive insight. All the pieces just easily slide in together. The way that the elements of some cases tie into others proved to be way too convenient to be believable.

In the end, it wasn’t just a matter of it being a book I disliked. The first half enraptured me and had such promise. I felt cheated and disappointed by the end. I want my money and my time back! Heaven knows I missed some ebay auction of a darling cloche which would complete my life so much more than a miserable book would.

Book #4: Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby

Wednesday, January 19th, 2005 by Miss Laura

“Anyway, I’m sorry for the bum steer, and readers of this column insane enough to have run down to their nearest bookstore as a result of my advice should write to the Believer, enclosing a receipt, and we will refund your $14. It has to say No Name on the receipt though, because we weren’t born yesterday, and we’re not stumping up for your Patricia Cornwell novels. You can pay for them yourselves.”

Nick Hornby is like Ernest Hemingway in that the only way I like to read a book of his is when it’s non-fiction conversational babble. With Hemingway this was Movable Feast, and with Hornby it’s Polysyllabic Spree which is a collection of his columns from the Believer. At the beginning of each chapter, he lists all of the books which he bought that month (a very substantial quanitity which makes me wish he was a regular at my bookshop) and the books which he read. The column then proceeds to explicate on the books he read and what he thought of them. Thoughts which are usually humorous enough that I found myself reading them outloud to whoever the poor chump who happened to be beside me at the time.

My favorite excerpt from the book is from the beginning where Hornby is telling of how when you write books you can’t resist looking around the hotel swimming pool to see if anyone happens to be reading your novel.

“I was cured of this particular fantasy a couple of years ago, when I spent a week watching a woman on the other side of the pool reading my first novel, High Fidelity. Unfortunately, however, I was on holiday with my sister and brother-in-law, and my brother-in-law provided a gleeful and frankly unfraternal running commentary. “Look! Her lips are moving.” “Ho! She’s fallen asleep! Again!” “I talked to her in the bar last night. Not a bright woman, I’m afraid.” At one point, alarmingly, she dropped the book and ran off, “She’s gone to put out her eyes!” my brother-in-law yelled trimphantly.”

Book #3 Dry by Augusten Burroughs

Sunday, January 16th, 2005 by Miss Laura

Shortly after “Running With Scissors” came out in paperback, I met Augusten Burroughs at the national booksellers’ convention where he was incredibly rude. He wore a trucker’s hat. Since he was neither slim nor otherwise hip looking it just made him look like a redneck. I wanted to throw his book back in face while shouting, “The only reason you’ve been compared to David Sedaris is that you’re GAY not because you’re FUNNY!” Howver, I restrained myself. Not because I have any decorum, but even I don’t muck around with free books.

Several years later, at another booksellers’convention, I noticed a paperback copy of “Dry” sitting on a table at one of the booths. I had just read an advanced reader’s copy of his latest, “Magical Thinking” which I enjoyed. Thus, I had Dry on order but it hadn’t come in to the store yet. There I am flipping through the copy of Dry wondering if there was any way that I could sweet talk the publisher lackey there into giving me the copy of it when this pretentious looking girl in her young twenties shuffled up beside me. She sniffed and barked, “That’s a really good book. You should read it. It’s really good.” Geez, maybe I should take some handselling tips from her. The bookshop world would be blown away by such eloquence and persuasive power.

Is this how it’s going to be? I’m going to end up spluttering on about why I read the book or it’s design (I know it’s “in” to love Chip Kidd but the paperback edition of this title just makes me tingle it’s so wonderful). Will I ever even get around to the content of the book? It’s about Burroughs quitting drinking. There? Is that enough? No?

In Dry, Mr Burroughs mentions this waiter at the Time Cafe who had a coke addiction who he had a brief love affair with. If Brian, who I know who has read this book, hasn’t sifted through all the clues to narrow down who it was then all my faith in his stalking abilities will be shattered. How is that for incorporating books into my life in a real and meaningful way?

Book #2 Happy Baby by Stephen Elliott

Saturday, January 15th, 2005 by Miss Laura

“Most fiction about petty criminals, lowlifes, drug users and sexual deviants is so pleased with itself for depicting such people that it never gets around to saying anything interesting about them. Stephen Elliott’s “Happy Baby” brings a rare degree of intelligence and literary accomplishment to the story of Theo, a veteran of brutal Chicago group homes, hopelessly mangled relationships and random violence.”

The above is from the Salon’s Top Ten Book Of 2004 which is what motivated me to pick up “Happy Baby.” Throughout reading it, I kept stopping to admire its binding which differs from other books in ways that I don’t know the technical words to describe. I don’t think any author sits back in their chair in the deep hours of the night hoping that one day they’ll produce a book with such fantastic binding that people are continually in awe of it. However, someone somewhere does have a career where that’s the goal and whoever that someone is – job well done!

I guess my problem with books like this is that they don’t *grab* me, because I can’t believe them. The main character is raped by one of the guards at the juvenile dentention hall he is in. When he becomes an adult, he stumbles upon him and starts to stalk him. When he thinks of the conversation he wants to have with him, he wants to talk to him about the girl problems he’s having. The guard ordered a bigger kid to protect the main character so that nothing happened to him, but he still raped him throughout his detainment at the detention hall. I just can’t believe that anyone – even if they’re from Chicago* – is so messed up that they’d want to talk to their rapist about girl problems.

*hee hee.

A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Tuesday, January 11th, 2005 by Miss Laura

“The reading of Dawn is a strain upon many parts, but the worst wear and tear fall on the forearms. After holding the massive volume for the half-day necessary to its perusal (well, look at that, would you? “massive volume” and “perusal,” one right after the other! You see how contagious Mr. D’s manner is?), my arms ached with a slow, mean persistence beyond the services of aspirin or of liniment. I must file this distress, I suppose under the head of ‘Occupational Diseases….” Dorothy Parker’s Review of Theodore Dreiser’s Dawn

My favorite Theodore Dreiser novel (which as the Parker quote would indicate that isn’t saying much) is An American Tragedy which is based on the true story of Grace Brown who was found dead in Big Moose Lake in the Adirondack Mountains in 1906. The boat she had been in with her companion, who rented the boat under the name of Carl Graham, had capsized. It was thought that Graham had also drowned until they searched the rooms of the hotel they were staying at and found letters which indicated that Grace was pregnant with Graham’s (real name Chester Gillette)child, neither of which Graham wanted. Thus, he had plotted to kill her with her unborn child so he could scamper away to continue sewing his wild oats. Only, because of the letters, he was caught and convicted. Reaping a whirlwind indeed.

This plot is set as the backdrop in Donnelly’s “A Northern Light” by having Grace Brown give the letters to Mattie (the main character) to burn. Several of Brown’s letters are used throughout the novel and tie in with Mattie’s story of being the eldest girl in a large struggling family who has just lost their mother. This is one of those books where I just hate to talk about the plot or anything else in fear that I will make it seem any less than it is. It really is a fantastically told story and one I wish I had read before Christmas so I could have hand sold it more.

Plus, the girl on the cover makes me weak in the knees.

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