Monday, December 22, 2003

I haven't quite given up on Mary. I think I'll try and do a big push and finish it over my Christmas vacation. In the meantime though, I have finished The Scapegoat by Daphne Du Maurier. This is only my second of her books, after Rebecca, which I read while on vacation in Hawaii a few years ago. Yeah, I know - not your typical beach read, but I loved it. Anyway. The Scapegoat was very good. The first person point of view enhances the disorientation felt by the main character, John, by keeping the reader in his same situation - that of not knowing anything about the family or situation through which he has to bluff. He gets caught up, and the reader does too, with first the suspense of deception and then with this family and trying to make things right with them. I was pleasantly surprised by the ending, which I kept thinking was going to turn violent but never did. I guess that's all my Hollywood thinking coming out. I could just see the script notes on an adaptation: "That's really, really great and I love what you've done with the character, but I think they should struggle for the gun at the foundry. Or, better yet, John should ambush Jean at Bela's house. We need a big finish, man!" The way it's written though, is much more realistic and almost depressing. There is a glimmer of hope in that change has already been set in motion, but it's bittersweet because you know there will still be so much unhappiness for that family in the future. And right there is the mark of a good novel - one in which the characters live on after the last page.

I've begun Smilla's Sense of Snow, which I read when it first came out (10 years ago!) but am reading again for my online book club.


Friday, December 12, 2003

I didn't realize it until today, but all of these books are mysteries. Funny, I hadn't noticed before. Anyway, last Sunday I knocked out Terry Pratchett's The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents and The Wee Free Men. I've been a fan of Pratchett's since college when I randomly picked up one of his books and then neglected my homework for a week while I sat on the couch with the entire series up to that date, laughing at the Discworld and its occupants. These two titles are children's entries into the series but are stand alones, with little or no knowlege of the Discworld required. No regular characters are involved, with only Death and the witches making brief cameos. That didn't bother me at all though because the stories work so well. The Amazing Maurice is basically a retelling of The Pied Piper of Hamlin crossed with Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. It had added depth though with the rats having to develop civilization on their own, with only a children's book as a map. While both were very good, I think I enjoyed The Wee Free Men more. It reminded me a lot of Equal Rites, which was the first Pratchett I read. The heroine is strong and no-nonsense, with a definite, but nicely unromantic sense of duty to family and community. Where the book soars though, is in the depiction of the Wee Free Men themselves. They are delightful and I laughed through every scene with them. Ostensibly for children, these two are worthy entries in the Discworld series.

Next, I continue to work my way through Mary, while also reading The Scapegoat by Daphne Du Maurier.

I'm still slowly working on Mary. Meanwhile last Saturday I read two mysteries by Ayelet Waldman, Nursery Crimes and The Big Nap. They are the first two "Mommy Track" mysteries in a series of what is now four. I first picked these up a while ago at a used book store because she is the wife of one of my absolute favorite authors, Michael Chabon, and I was curious if she is any good. Well, short answer: yes, but. Yes, but she's nowhere near his level, if these are any indication. That's not to say I didn't enjoy them. They were far better than some of the themed mystery books I've read (no cats, for one) and had a few lines that made me laugh out loud. The mysteries themselves weren't terribly original or difficult to figure out (in each I spotted the killer about halfway through) and there was little action or real danger. I think what appealed to me the most was the honest internal monologue of the main character regarding her decision to be a stay-at-home mom. Now, I have a lot of experience with children and I regularly babysit for friends and family and pretty much believed I was the only person who thought playing with kids can be really boring. But the main character, Juliet, admits the same thing. She also talks about the ambivalence she feels about wanting to work, yet wanting to be with her kid(s). There were a few moments like that that felt really honest and true, thrown in there with the fairly generic murder plot. I don't know if the other two titles are any good but I'll probably check them out from the library because these two were fun and quick reads.


Wednesday, December 03, 2003

It's been a while since the first book and usually I would have 5 or so books for the list but for one reason or another it's been slow going lately. After The Thin Man I started and then took a break from Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley to read Girl with Curious Hair by David Foster Wallace. I read Infinite Jest last summer and it was such a consuming experience that it's taken me this long to feel like I can go back to read some of his other work. I'm not a huge fan of short stories though. I don't have anything specific against them, I just tend to prefer longer works of fiction. I like getting involved, lost in a world, and I find that easier with novels. Of course, I could just be reading the wrong short stories. That would seem to be the case here - not that these are the wrong short stories - far from it. Rather, they put many of the ones I've read previously to shame. There are some stellar works here, each with a different writing style on display. I am a little in awe of DFW's talent. He manages such effortlessly beautiful phrases and images, like the "heavily slender briefcase" from "Luckily the Account Representative Knew CPR" or the two children holding onto a fencepost in the first entry. The stories are compelling and populated with real celebrities like Alex Trebek and David Letterman, or LBJ, who only add to the richness of the stories by bringing along their real world backstories and baggage. These will be stories to which I will return, I think.

Next: I will eventually finish Mary, Queen of Scots...

So, The Thin Man.

I vaguely remember my mother loving The Thin Man movies and trying to get me to watch one with her and me not being interested. It wasn't until last Christmas that I watched the first, and from what I understand, the best of them and fell in love. And when I found out that it was based on a book... well, I knew I had to read it. It turns out that this is one of the best book-to-movie translations that I've seen. There are a few changes (mostly due to the cutsie shots of the dog) but overall they kept the story largely intact. The characterization of Nick in the book is a little more Sam Spade and a little less Columbo than in the movie, where William Powell (or the screenplay) played up his perpetually soused state to make him seem less intelligent and aware than he was in order to be underestimated. I want to say that the movie beefed up Nora's part from the book too, but that could just be a reflection of how much I loved Myrna Loy in the part. Either way, she's a great character, and it's a great book; fast-paced and packed with great dialogue (love the slang) and humor.


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