Tuesday, July 26, 2005

I'm not quite sure I have my thoughts in order with regards to Number9Dream by David Mitchell. Gut reaction: loved it more than Ghostwritten but not as much as Cloud Atlas. On the surface it is the story of a young man named Eiji who leaves his rural home for Tokyo to find out who is father is. He hasn't spoken to his mother in years and is still mourning the loss of his twin sister who drowned nine years before. I loved the writing and the recurring images and the intimate moments with Ai and Eiji and even the crazy/scary yakuza adventures (which made me understand the William Gibson comparisons). But. I just have this feeling there was more going on there than I grasped the first time and I think I need to read it again and again to decide if I think each chapter is yet another dream, the first chapter on a larger scale, or if it all actually happened. I was upset with the ending only because I wanted it to continue and I was left wondering how dreams and the recurring number nine all fit into the meaning and why the last pages are blank and what that means for Ai and Eiji and everyone else that I grew to love. Is the thunder god still exacting his payment or did Eiji never actually leave that stupid cafe?


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Harry Potter la, la, la.

Right, like I'm saying anything to spoil it. Not like certain NY Times reviewers, I might add.

ETA: Guess who reviewed it for Entertainment Weekly? Christopher Paolini. That's right - they got the author of the most cliched, derivative, badly written work of fantasy I've ever read (that would be Eragon, with book two due next month) to review the new Harry Potter. And it was as bad a review as you would expect. Oh, he gave it an A-, but there was no critical analysis, no exploration of character, no talk about writing style or the substance of the plot. It was an amateurish, gushing fan's review and did not deserve placement in a national magazine. Of course, I don't think he deserved a book deal either, let alone a planned trilogy, movie deal, etc.


Monday, July 18, 2005

I had two reasons for reading Oh The Glory Of It All by Sean Wilsey. First, of course, was the McSweeney's connection (he is an editor for the quarterly). But mostly it was the connection with San Francisco. Sean Wilsey's mother and father were fixtures in the society pages, never more so than when they divorced and his father married Sean's mother's best friend, who comes off like a cross between Eve Harrington in All About Eve and the wicked stepmother from Cinderella (he compares her frequently to Wormtongue in Lord of the Rings). Dirt is definitely dished (his father had an affair with Danielle Steel! Who then married his stepmother's ex-husband!) and reading these parts of the book are like watching Dynasty with a sarcastic friend providing the commentary. While reading about his exploits, I had quite a few "aw, poor little rich boy" cynical responses, but then he would relate something like the suicide pact his mother tried to get him to make with her, or talk about the crazy, random rules his stepmother would impose and some of that went away because I could see how profoundly that could screw someone up.

The book is packed full of characters way to weird to be anything but real and they are described lovingly, with all eccentricities on full display. There are also beautiful lines describing San Francisco like, "The day was classic San Francisco - a cloudy day full of small sunny days - and as we blasted off Nob Hill, skirted Chinatown, took Jackson to Polk, Polk to the Tenderloin, weaved a pattern around California, we moved from yellow to gray to yellow to gray, making a lot of noise." Isn't that perfect?

The book started to lag toward the end when Sean got sent to Italy to go to an experimental school. The school he attended worked for him but reading about it made me uncomfortable - it seemed too much like the brainwashing he insisted it wasn't. After reading about one of the "propheets" they had I actually said out loud "That totally sounds like Girl's Camp" and lo and behold on the next page I read, "An attempt to dress from the soul and the heart would follow - an attempt to look good and pure and clean and radiant at all times. There was something Latter Day Saint-ish about it." Hee. What would religion be without a little brainwashing, right? Anyway. After Sean returns from Italy he seems to come to terms with his parents as individuals and with his own history. The book ends with his father's death and a rather anti-climactic battle over his father's will, in which his stepmother Dede is as victorious as always (although I did cheer a little bit when Sean finally told her to shut up). It's still definitely worth reading. Wilsey is a talented writer and the stories and people he describes are compelling - kinda like how you have to look at an accident on the freeway as you pass.


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

I heard about The Torn Skirt by Rebecca Godfrey at Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind. It's a short but intense book about a sixteen year old girl named Sara whose father takes off leaving her to fend for herself. When she sees a girl with a torn skirt she is immediately fascinated by her and Justine becomes the catalyst for Sara's spiral out of control. Sara is a fascinating character - she grew up in a cult until her father took her and left it (and her mother) behind. She is so controlled (her nickname is The Ice Queen) but also wild and searching for security all at the same time. The writing is beautiful and poetic but not overwrought (although Justine's black dress and Sara's white dress was a little much). It looks like her second book is coming out this fall and I will definitely be keeping an eye out for it.


Monday, July 11, 2005

I was in the mood for something non-challenging yesterday, so I grabbed Beautiful Child by Torey Hayden. It was her usual - messed up kids, abusive parents, and lots of scenes in the classroom. I found Torey's conflict with her aide very interesting though and she was reminiscent of some of the parents I encounter when babysitting. Man, those are always the worst kids. They usually discover pretty quickly that I'm not as easily manipulated as their parents.

I began Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner before I went on vacation, but just got around to finishing it this weekend. It's apparently the book of the moment because I was way down on the wait list (which is still 100+ here several months after its release). Essentially, it uses economics to answer social questions like: why do drug dealers live with their moms, do sumo wrestlers cheat, and what really caused the crime drop in the 1990s? They even touch on the nature vs nurture debate. Or, as they put it, "if morality represents an ideal world, then economics represents the actual world." As the proud holder of uh, a very useful degree in sociology, I found the book really interesting. Regression analysis, causality vs correlation... I loved all that stuff in college and this book is full of it. It's written in an easily accessible manner, the questions posed are interesting, and the answers somewhat surprising. It's definitely thought provoking and Lord knows we need more of that in these days of hollow moral posturing and shallow, trite analysis.


Wednesday, July 06, 2005

What little time I had to read in Toronto I devoted to Ghostwritten by David Mitchell. I inherited this book from a previous roommate who hadn't liked it very much and it's been sitting in my to-be-read bookcase for years. I've picked it up a few times but have always put it down after only reading the back cover and the reviews page. But ever since reading and absolutely loving Mitchell's Cloud Atlas I've been looking for a good opportunity to give it a try. It's somewhat similar to that book in that each chapter is almost a short story in and of itself, but where the connections in Cloud Atlas were brief and tenuous, propelling us forward in time and through genres, those in Ghostwritten become ever more intricate and dependent on the actions of the characters in the preceding chapters. In one chapter the main character is a non-corporeal spirit who moves from mind to mind which is pretty close to what we as readers do in each chapter, each switch moving us closer and closer to the final ending. When I finished the book in the middle of my flight home I couldn't settle on anything else. I tried bits and pieces of the books I had in my bag under the seat but nothing felt right coming after it. What I really wanted was to immediately start his second book but I hadn't brought it with me. I hate not having the book I want immediately at my fingertips.

I took the red-eye to Buffalo and since I can't sleep on planes (even when I'm exhausted) I needed a book that wasn't too demanding but still interesting enough to keep me entertained. Torey Hayden's Just Another Kid was perfect plane reading. You've got your usual mix of autistic or otherwise damaged kids but with the added bonus of a total soap opera family.


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