Thursday, March 30, 2006

Last night I read Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, which comes out in May. Claire told me about it initially and then miraculously found an advance copy for sale at a used bookstore. She let me borrow it and I eagerly devoured it last night. Cohn and Levithan alternate writing chapters from the perspectives of Norah and Nick, respectively, who are teenagers in New York City looking for a way out of heartbreak and possibly into something new with each other. The whole book takes place during one night as they go from club to club and wander around the city seeing punk bands and drag shows and running into friends and exes and random strangers. I loved it so much that I almost wanted to stay home and read it instead of going to the Britt Daniel show. And if you know how much I love Spoon, you'll realize just how much I enjoyed this book. How could I not when it contains eminently quotable phrases like "swing down boy-boy alley" or "honest to Godspeed You Black Emperor"? Both of which I'm incorporating into my vocabulary immediately. Anyway. I took it with me and read it between bands, finishing up the last 50 pages at midnight last night because I couldn't bear to go to bed without knowing how it would end. I'm so buying this when it comes out.


Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Last night I read Avalon High by Meg Cabot, which was very cute and I enjoyed a lot. It's a YA novel about Ellie (actually Elaine, named after the Lady of Shallot) whose parents are medieval scholars on sabbatical for a year in Maryland. As she begins to make friends at the new school, she starts to notice strange parallels between the legend of King Arthur and her new classmates. There's Will, the quarterback and most popular guy in school, his girlfriend Jennifer, and Will's best friend Lance all involved in a love triangle. Not to mention Will's stepbrother Marco, who resents him. And what is Ellie's part in it and why does it all feel so familiar to her? This book could have been unbearably twee and precious, but it was actually sharp and funny and even had a surprise twist or two I didn't see coming. Ellie is a great narrator and I loved her honesty about what was going on around her. I've never read any of Cabot's other books, but I definitely will after reading this one.


Monday, March 27, 2006

I've been reading a lot of noir lately, which seems like a big bad boys club so I thought I'd check out a chick's take on the genre with Dope by Sara Gran. It's set in the early 1950s and features a former junkie, Josephine, who is hired by a wealthy couple to find their daughter Nadine. She started using, dropped out of college, and spiraled down quickly from there. Josephine uses her connections to the drug world to follow Nadine's trail from student to taxi dancer to worse, along the way getting herself implicated in a murder. I didn't love it, but I did enjoy it a lot. And it even made me forget the first rule of noir: never trust the femme fatale.


Thursday, March 23, 2006

And then this week I read Everything I'm Cracked Up To Be: A Rock And Roll Fairy Tale by Jen Trynin, a musician I've been a fan of for over ten years. I bought Cockamamie back in college and her last album Gun Shy Trigger Happy was the soundtrack to my summer of 1997. So when I heard she was writing a book about her experience in the music business I was very interested to read it. She was the subject of a huge bidding war and was pegged as the next big thing, but had the misfortune to be eclipsed by the Alanis Morrisette juggernaut "You Outta Know". I didn't follow music as closely back then and had no idea about all that, so it was interesting to find out about it now. The tour portion of the book reminded me a little of Radiohead's Meeting People Is Easy with its sense of disconnect and utter exhaustion combined with Trynin's frustration as she slowly realizes her record company has lost faith in her and is planning on cutting their losses. It's a shame because I think she made two very good records. But in a business where even Liz Phair ends up singing backup for Sheryl Crow, I guess there wasn't room for her.

I was off work for a week and had a lot of time to read. Here's the roundup:

Walk Me To The Distance by Percival Everett
This is about a Vietnam veteran who winds up in a small town out west, staying with a rancher and her mentally handicapped adult son. It's is one of his earlier works and it's missing the humor that lightens his later novels. It's still very good, though.

The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque by Jeffrey Ford
I was excited to read this one after loving The Girl In The Glass. The synopsis sounded very interesting - a painter is commissioned to paint a portrait but he can't view the subject, only ask her questions about her life and if he paints an accurate likeness he will receive a large payment. Somehow, though, it just didn't leave me satisfied. I felt echoes of The Ghost Writer at times, but I think it wasn't as strong as that book.

The Lady In The Lake by Raymond Chandler
I loved this one. It was one of those books where I just knew the major plot twist right from the beginning, but didn't even mind because of how much I enjoyed the way it slowly played out. Phillip Marlowe, a Los Angeles private investigator, is hired to find a prominent businessman's missing wife, but gets caught up in another mystery when the body of a woman is found in the lake by the businessman's vacation home.

Watershed by Percival Everett
I like how Everett throws in so much to make you think (in this case Indian rights and the lingering effects of the civil rights struggle), but at the same time tells an exciting story without letting either take over or get too heavy-handed.

Tell No One and The Innocent by Harlan Coben
Two more quality thrillers from Coben. I preferred The Innocent because its plot was a little less typical of him. Tell No One was a little too like Gone For Good, although it was still able to surprise me a couple of times.

American Desert by Percival Everett
This one was great. Surreal, funny, and thought-provoking. Ted Street, a literature professor, is beheaded in a horrible car accident. Three days later, during his funeral, he sits up and no one can figure out if he's dead or alive. He just wants to resume his life but he becomes subject to powerful figures who want to use him for their own ends.

Areas Of My Expertise by John Hodgeman
A silly and very funny almanac of entirely made up facts about, among other things, hobos, lycanthropy, omens and portents for the future, and the five central struggles in literature (man v man, man v self, man v nature, man v society, man v cyborg).

I also skimmed through 13 Ways Of Looking At The Novel by Jane Smiley, from which I got a few more titles for my list of books to read.

So before I took off work for a while, I finished The New Gay Teenager by Ritch C. Savin-Williams, a critical study of research done on gay teenagers since the 1970s. Savin-Williams argues convincingly that a researcher needs to understand homoerotic development within the larger framework of adolescence instead of isolating it and that studies should separate sexual orientation, sexual identification, and sexual behavior because while the first may not change, the other two tend to remain fluid and fluxuate frequently, especially during adolescence. He discuses previous studies and how they were shaped by cultural assumptions and fundamentally flawed by the methodology, as most samples were those of self-identified gay youths. "If one wants to know about female development, one does not sample only self-identified feminists." He makes a good point when he says that perhaps those who self identify as gay in adolescence are forced out or came out because they needed the support of the gay community. The early researchers were well-meaning, wanting to get services and money to help what they saw as an at-risk population. But now Savin-Williams has found in his research that there is a greater range of behavior and identification among teens and that they are reluctant to assign labels because of societal pressures, stereotypes, the fluidity of identification and behavior, and because they just don't feel that any of the labels fit them. Ultimately they convey the idea that their sexual identity is only one facet of them and doesn't define them and Savin-Williams argues that in order to get an accurate picture of gay teens, researchers need to acknowlege this and adjust their methodology accordingly.


Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Friday I finished Erasure by Percival Everett, which was really, really funny. It's about a well-respected and willfully obscure black author who writes dense articles and books deconstructing other works. Monk (using a pseudonym) writes a parody of a successful novel (included in its entirety) the country hails as an authentic example of African American literature which, to his chagrin, is published to great acclaim and earns him a ridiculous amount of well-needed money. The irony is that no one realizes his book is a vicious work of satire. Everyone buys into it: the publisher, the big time producer who buys the movie rights, even his fellow judges on the National Book Award committee (who hilariously chide him for not endorsing the book - "I would think you'd be happy to have the story of your people so vividly portrayed"). Along the way he ruminates on the state of race relations in this country and in his own experience, uncovers some family secrets, and discovers some uncomfortable truths about himself.

Saturday I read Shattering Glass by Gail Giles, a nice, creepy young adult book about a group of popular guys who decide to make the class loser popular. Each chapter begins with short interview responses from several years in the future, commenting on the tragic event that closes the book, which gradually is revealed to have irrevocably changed each of them. It's no Project X, but it's pretty well done.

Then Sunday I read Gone For Good by Harlan Coben, which I will admit totally got me. Pretty much every single twist came as a complete shock. In a good way. I love that I've found another thriller author who can surprise me. Anyway. This book is about a guy whose older brother disappeared eleven years ago after being accused of rape and murder. At the funeral of his mother, he discovers proof that his brother is still alive and he begins looking for him, setting in motion a series of dangerous events.


Thursday, March 02, 2006

I actually finished None Of Your Business by Valerie Block on Monday, but the book I'm reading now made me forget all about it. NOYB was a light, amusing take on a traditional crime novel, but was ultimately fairly inconsequential. I enjoyed it while I was reading it, but now, in the middle of another Percival Everett novel, it just absolutely pales in comparison.


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