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March 12, 2009

round one: an unfinished dew breaker

An Unfinished Season

An Unfinished Season: A Novel by Ward Just

When I first read the title, I thought the season unfinished would refer to some sport or other; my bet was on basketball. Bad guess. Let's call it an unfinished novel instead. Once again, true to form for the modern novel, a strong start peters out into a weak, pointless finish. Why can't authors bring their A game to the end or just quit while they are ahead.

The Dew Breaker

The Dew Breaker By Edwidge Danticat

Points of interest: Edwidge Danticat is female and was born in Haiti. This book is actually a collection of stories about, or told by, a group of semi-related characters including a former Hatian torturer--the dew breaker of the title. I would have preferred if one or two of the stories had been more fleshed out and some of the more tangential stories left for greater exploration elsewhere.

Neither of these books was particularly good or bad.  Neither would be likely to make it out of the next round anyway, so I'll flip a coin.

Winner: An Unfished Season

05:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 05, 2009

round one: the cloud school

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas: A Novel by David Mitchell

This book has a unique and maddening structure: there are six loosely related stories representing six genres successively wrapped within one another so that for the first half of the book you are starting and leaving the beginnings of things. After reading the central story at one go, you are back a the end of story five, then four, and so on. This structure did not endear this book to me; I resented constantly being interrupted. Moreover, it didn't help my experience as a reader that the book was in such high demand from the library that I could never renew it, but had to keep returning it and then waiting sometimes several weeks to be able to check it out again. That just made the bifurcated stories feel even more disconnected. 

This is the book that won the 2005 tournament. Some people really liked it. I would not discourage you from giving it a chance, but I'm not making any promises.

The Finishing School

The Finishing School by Muriel Spark

This is actually more of a long short story or a novelette than a novel. Unlike the protracted ordeal of Cloud Atlas, I read this book comfortably in an afternoon. It's a lark; but don't pay much, if anything, to read it--it will be done all too quickly.  Perhaps it should packaged in a volume together with Spark's better known work of teachers and students, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Annoyance almost made The Finishing School the winner, but after cooling off, I reconsidered.

Winner: Cloud Atlas

05:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

February 26, 2009

round one: heir to the glimmering human capital

Heir to the Glimmering World

Heir to the Glimmering World : A Novel by Cynthia Ozick

A young woman becomes a factotum for a refugee German Jewish scholar and his family. Many quirky types are introduced.

My memory of this book is fading. I guess it didn't make much on an impression on me. 

Human Capital

Human Capital: A Novel by Stephen Amidon

I didn't finish this book; I got bored and skipped to the last chapter. Teenaged delinquents (hot and cold varieties), middle-aged suburban housewives, desperate investment types (the future foretold?), and real estate speculation.

Even though I can barely remember HttGW, I do remember finishing the book.

Winner:Heir to the Glimmering World

05:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

February 19, 2009

round one: jonathan strange & the rope eater

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel by Susanna Clarke

I would describe this book as Harry Potter for adults, except that Harry Potter isn't not for adults, so that doesn't quite capture it. This is also a book about magic, but not boy wizards, rather, gentleman magicians.

I enjoyed this book almost completely. It's long--more than a thousand pages as a paperback--but Clarke was able to keep the story moving and changing in a way that compelled me and I finished it rather quickly. Also, unlike my common complaint about modern fiction, there was a satisfying, if not completely pat, conclusion to the whole enterprise.


The Rope Eater

The Rope Eater by Ben Jones

A Union soldier deserts and ends up on an exploration ship bound for the arctic. What do the explorers seek? What will they find? Entertaining, if a bit flaky near the end.

I read this book during the summer when arctic ice floes and frost-bitten digits were almost unimaginable. Don't read this book in the winter.

Up against three of the previous competitors (maybe even The Plot Against America), The Rope Eater would have been victorious. Too bad; I was completely captivated by JS & Mr. N.

Winner: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

05:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

February 04, 2009

round one: the news from the inner circle

The News from Paraguay

The News from Paraguay: A Novel by Lily Tuck

This book starts off well enough as the story of European woman involved with a Paraguayan general, but devolves into nonstop debauchery, pestilence, and gruesome death. On the upside, during the time I was reading this book, I attended a classical guitar recital. Some of the selections were by the Paraguayan guitarist Agustin Barrios, which I enjoyed very much and paid closer attention to as a result of the Paraguay connection. Look into Barrios; pass on this novel.


The Inner Circle

The Inner Circle by T.C. Boyle

Before reading this novel--a fictionalized account of the research conducted by Alfred Kinsey--my entire awareness of Kinsey came from the lyrics of the Cole Porter tune Too Darn Hot.
 
According to the Kinsey report
ev'ry average man you know
much prefers to play his favorite sport
when the temperature is low

After reading this novel and watching a PBS special and the Kinsey biopic starring Liam Neeson, I probably know more than I want to about the ground-breaking researcher and his work.
 
As you may imagine there is copius coupling depicted. The most of the names and some of the details have been changed. [This is why I did the additional research--to see how much things were changed].
 
Sex, pestilence, and death versus sex, sex, and sex.

Winner: The Inner Circle

05:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

January 04, 2009

round one: the plot against the bad boy's wife

I am not a literary critic, nor a book reviewer in any formal or 'official' sense; I am a reader. I used to read quite a bit and belonged to multiple book clubs. Eventually, however, graduate school happened and I was reading all day for work, and knitting and computer games happened and I found other ways to pass the time, and frankly, I became fatigued by contemporary literature. For years, when I did read for fun, I read classics and mystery novels because, for the most part, they did not annoy. I have an entire rant against authors who are only able to think up the beginnings of books and the editors who let them get away with it (apparently it's now acceptable to only seriously write the first two thirds of a book and then just fill up the last third with whatever random nonsense you come up with just to get the damn thing out the door), but I won't bore you with that.

So,my reviews will not be deep analyses or anything. I will try and keep them short and honest with a minimum of pretense.

The Plot Against America

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

With World War II on the horizon, what if Charles Lindbergh, and not FDR, were elected President of the United States? What would change? Specifically, what would change for a Jewish boy named Philip Roth and his family? Easy to read for the quality of the writing; difficult to read for the scenes of Antisemitism and the growing sense of dread and panic as a child's safe, familiar world starts to dissolve.

The Bad Boy's Wife

The Bad Boy's Wife by Karen Shepard

This was an unpleasant book full of unpleasant characters. The character in whom I was most interested spent much of the book in a coma. I did not like this book. I do not recommend that you read it.

It's no secret that Plot made it to the final round of the tournament. It is well-written and feels like an 'important' book. Few books can stand against it, but Bad Boy's Wife is a particularly unworthy competitor.

Winner: The Plot Against America

05:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)