Recent Reading

11 03 2009

inhobokenFirst up is the Christian Bauman novel In Hoboken.  It’s the story of Thatcher, a young folk singer recently discharged from the army, who moves in with his friend James in Hoboken (of course).  The book chronicles Thatcher and the people he meets, including members of the music community and Orris, a mental patient who at times feels like the most real character.

Overall, I found the book well written and enjoyable, but the plot ambles along never really going anywhere.  It ends kind of flat, failing to wrap up or even address some of the issues in the characters’ lives.  

The second thing I’ve been reading is Marvel’s title, Secret Warriors.  

secretwarriors_01_cover1

Nick Fury has discovered that the only person he can trust is himself and it’s kind of crazy awesome.  So far we’ve had a new team of young heroes, Skrulls, and Hydra.  I like how this book is trolling the back alleys of Marvel’s Dark Reign. I’m hoping to see this book cross over into the rest of the Marvel universe (and vice versa).  It would be great to see Captain America and others all show up.  

Well, off to the pile of comic books and books remaining.

I almost forgot to mention, I recently also finished Stewart O’Nan’s a Prayer for the Dying.  A beautiful but heartbreaking book that can be difficult to read.  Essentially it’s a tale of a small town after the U.S. Civil War that experiences a diphtheria outbreak and is threatened by wildfires.  Written in the second person, the book grapples with the moral implications of what must be done and then often asks, how do you live with it?

prayer_for_the_dying1Overall, this is one of the best books I’ve read in the past year or so.  That being said, there were times I had to put it down.  What happens throughout the story is sometimes depressing and disheartening.  Not only do you feel for Jacob, the main character, but you cringe as you feel the novel’s world sliding slowly out of control.  

That being said, I’m starting to really admire O’Nan and his writing.  He can change voice, style, and subject so easily from book to book, yet still manages to produce great work.

Advertisements




Review: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

7 02 2009

oscar-waoI just finished  The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and I have to say I was quite impressed.  The novel is the rambling story of Oscar and the DeLeons, a Dominican family with a rough history.  Originally appearing in pieces in the New Yorker, the story follows not only Oscar, but his mother Beli, his sister Lola, his grandmother La Inca, and his reluctant but best friend Yunior.

The story weaves its way in and out of Patterson, NJ and the DR.  Moving through time to show the parallels between three generations of a family obsessed with the Fuku.  

The narrator is largely Yunior, speaking as though he were Uatu thexmen8a1 Watcher, helpless to prevent the story from unfolding.  He tells much of the story using sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book metaphors comparing Beli (Oscar’s mother) to Unus the Untouchable of X-Men fame.  Using almost the omnipresence of the Watcher, Yunior moves back and forth through time, showing the troubled history of Lola, Beli, Beli’s father & La Inca, and Oscar.  Each story reveals more and more that hint at the fate of Oscar’s story.  

In the end, Yunior is much like Nick from The Great Gatsby, a part of the story and struggling against larger forces.  His life never quite turns out the way he hopes and he’s unable to stop the hand of fate and movement of the Fuku through the family.  

I can totally see why this book was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and think that so far it’s the best book I’ve read in 2009.  While it’s still early in the year, it’s going to set a high standard for the other books I read this year. 

Shannon also read this book and reviewed it here.

Up next for me, Steward O’Nan’s A Prayer for the Dying.





Book Review: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

12 01 2009

mystpittscvr1I recently finished Michael Chabon’s first novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, a tale of the summer after college.  The narrator (Art) is the son of an infamous gangster and in some ways, that’s the most pedestrian part of the book.  The rest are the crazy twists and turns of a youngman figuring out how to be an adult while forming the kinds of friendship and love that one can only form when they have no real responsibilities.  

For a first novel, the book is beautifully written.  While it starts out a little bumpy, one it gets going the writing is smooth and easy.  In the version I read, Chabon discusses how he wrote the book in a basement crawlspace, precariously balanced on a stool atop a suitcase.  

The thing I think that is most powerful in this book, is the universe Chabon creates.  Not only are the characters powerful, but there is a definite sense of nostalgia for specific places in Pittsburgh.  From the Cloud Factory to the Lost Neighborhood, you get this feeling like part of the city is hidden and just waiting to be discovered.  

While not as powerful as some of his later works suck as The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay or Wonder Boys, you can clearly see Chabon working out the themes that show up in those later books.  This is a great first novel from a great writer and definitely worth picking up.

Apparently the book was also made into a film in 2008, however the casting makes me think it might not be the best adaptation.  Additionally it appears that they’ve dropped Arthur (there is one who isn’t the narrator) and combined him with Cleveland.





Review: Indignation by Philip Roth

26 11 2008

indignationI’ll be the first to admit that I’ve started reading Philip Roth late in his career.  Despite his having written 29 books, I’ve been through a grand total of three with the third being Indignation

I’ve found lately that I’m enjoying fewer and fewer novels.  I’m having to hunt more for books that I find compelling and challenging and gripping enough for me to tear through them.  All too often I find myself slowly wading through novels lately and being happy to have finished them.  It’s not that they’re bad, they’re just uninspiring. Shannon (my wife) and I have such different reading styles and preferences that, despite her voracious appetite for books it’s rare that we can recommend and/or discuss books together.

Since I’ve discovered Roth, I’ve tried to ensure that his books enter my rotation so I bought a copy of Indigation the last time I was at the bookstore.  I was very impressed with this bookand really enjoyed it.  I tore through it at a pace that I rarely read at any more.

It’s a story of fear and breaking away.  Marcus finds that when he enters college his father’s fear for his well being is so irrational and so disruptive that he must leave New Jersey and go to rural Ohio.  With the Korean War hanging over his head, Marcus struggles with roommates, falls in love, struggles with authority figures and makes choices that ultimately guide him along his path in life.  

I don’t want to give anything away but this book and Roth’s writing were powerful.  The thing that amazes me about Roth is that his writing is so straightforward, so simple, yet so eloquent and powerful at the same time.  He seems to so easily generate fear, dispair, love, desire, power through his writing. He’s one of the few authors I’ve found lately that makes me feel deeply and strongly while reading.

Indigation is definitely worth reading.  It’s by no means a happy story, but it’s a great, thought provoking book.





The Corrections

17 06 2008

So last night I finally finished The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. I’m a little behind the curve in reading it (it was published in 2001), but it’s a big book. It sits there on the shelf and kind of dares you to make the effort to pick it up. Well I’m incredibly glad I finally did pick it up.

It’s the story of a disfunctional family, or maybe a normal family. Enid and Albert Lambert are fading (or at least Albert is) as they age and leave many of there trials and issues to their children Gary, Chip, and Denise. Of course, the children all have their own issues that make their lives a trainwreck too. When you combine dementia, unemployment, sexual identity, poor choices, and a jaunt in Lithuania you get a damn fine book.

The thing that The Corrections does that many books do not is fully capture the mess we make out of our lives without thinking it needs to go somewhere. The characters in this book work through their issues but really don’t fix everything so they can ride off into the sunset. They’re still flawed individuals that will go on making good and bad decisions until they die. The only real plot in the book is Enid’s desire to have her family together in St. Jude for one last Christmas. She can hold onto all of her illusions about life and her children until she gets that.

Honestly, this is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. I think it might crack my top ten…

Some additional reading regarding the Corrections:





Quick Book Link

17 01 2008

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but here is a great book I read late last year. Coal Black Horse is the story of a boy on a journey to find his father during the Civil War. The writing is fantastic and is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s recent work The Road. The author, Robert Olmstead has written some great stuff during his career, but this is definitely the best thing he’s done.