Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Miami: The Book Reviews (still haven't uploaded photos)

While we wait (patiently) for my editing and uploading, I can still talk about the lovely several days we spent in Miami. Sort of. I'll confess, we didn't do much. I mean devoted partner did quite a bit as he was there for work and so was working for two days but I not so much. The two places I had meant to go to? Not so much. What I did do for two days was tan and read (possibly a little too much sun, but it is now a perfect shade of bronze so no one's the wiser). Since I became over-infatuated with the knitting, my 100-meter dash reading habit has suffered. Also I've been kind of disappointed with nearly everything I've been reading. But I packed six books for the trip and thank god we didn't spend Saturday on the beach or I would have run out. As summer is on our doorstep and many of you might similarly take to the beach with a book, I thought I might give you my opinions.

Life After Yes. Aidan's book arrived prior to the cab to the airport meaning I was able to open her book bright and early Wednesday morning in my chaise. By 10:45am, Aidan's book was done (honestly, would it have killed you to have written another 300 pages? :smiles:). I will admit, rather shamefacedly, that I was anticipating more girlishness in the book than there was. And while I enjoyed the day at the beach those years ago when I read Bridget Jones' Diary, I don't traditionally pick those books off the shelf. Aidan's book was touching and feminine without trying too hard to land the chick-lit vote, which for someone who doesn't vote that way, was terrific. Her protagonist was aware of her flaws and her lapses toward cliche and that made her so much more human and easy to relate to, even as she was rich and pretty. The story traces a relationship through the unexpectedly rocky times post-engagement as the protagonist, Quinn, wonders if she's making the right decisions about anything. Woven throughout the story are memories of her father who died in the Twin Towers but the book doesn't seek to capitalize on boo-hoo 9/11 hokum like SO MANY OTHER BOOKS DID (I'm looking at you, Don DeLillo). So I now feel confident, nepotismessness aside, in recommending Life After Yes as excellent summer reading that even snobbish bitches like me who look at the girlbook table with disdain can guiltlessly enjoy.

Rough Music: Blair, Bombs, Baghdad, London, Terror. And of course, one must follow any enjoyable fiction with a short tome on British politics. I'll be honest: unless you're REALLY interested in British politics, you might want to skip this. As much as it pains me to say (and you have no idea how it pains me), this book, for me, suffered as Umberto Eco's "Turning Back the Clock" did (which was a lot about Italian and European politics). Interesting? Yes. But completely time-specific and, frankly, if you ever glance at a foreign newspaper or political blog, you're pretty much already familiar with what's happening. I call this a pass.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I think I'm pretty much the last one on the bus here, so forgive me if you read this book when it first came out. It had been on my list and I just hadn't gotten around to it. Quite pleased, however, that I finally did. Ostensibly merely the story of a lonely Dominican kid in New Jersey, Diaz does a rather brilliant job of capturing the legacy of the Dominican Republic in the 20th century while peppering his prose with more old school sci-fi references than I am comfortable admitting I understood. While I got the feeling that Diaz is no Mario Vargas Llosa fan, I would offer a double feature that starts withThe Feast of the Goat: A Novel. But then again, I'm a fan of double features (as anyone who has ever caught me doing a Poseidon Adventure/Towering Inferno thing will doubtless vouch). I found the character development in the book, and not just that of the protagonist, to be the highlight, and reminded myself how frequently I am disappointed reading half-formed characters, but the story, as pedestrian as it could have been (oh, right, coming of age story blah blah) was fast-paced and polytropeic (I have made up this word).

A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table. I have been reading Molly Wizenberg's blog, Orangette (see sidebar) for many years, and when I started subscribing to Bon Appetit, I was happy to see she was gainfully employed writing a column. I owe a debt of gratitude to so many of the food bloggers who made the internet a far tastier place and so I have frequently "thanked" them by buying their books. This one was different, though. In the place of a glossy picture book of recipes, this was a reading book. Each recipe boasted a story at times sweet, at other times a trifle forced, but the formers outweighed the latters (and have compelled me, at least theoretically, to a pledge of more salads this summer). The stories follow Molly from her Oklahoma home to her Seattle adulthood and along the way she loses her father to cancer and finds a husband while spending a jealousy-inducing amount of time in Paris. The recipes are from the heart and simple enough for timid cooks and I estimate that at least 50% of them will be made by me sooner rather than later.

Atmospheric Disturbances: A Novel. More often than not, a book will show up in my Amazon box and I have no idea how it got there. Sure, I remember ordering it, I just don't remember how I decided to order it. This was one of those books. When I read the back cover (man's wife comes home and is decidedly a double of his real wife and he must launch a search to find her aided by a psychotic who thinks he controls the weather) I was intrigued. I was thinking Operation Shylock meets something. Sadly, by chapter 6 or 7 (and these are those short 2-3 page chapters) I knew how it was going to end and the getting to the ending part was neither particularly interesting, nor particularly facile writing. This was an author trying too hard. I would also say that a 34-year old woman author writing a 50-something male protagonist was something that was mostly unsuccessful. The protagonist was far more unintentional Philip Roth satire than I'm sure was intended. I think it's very difficult to write from the perspective of the opposite sex and few (frankly I can think of none at the moment, but I'm giving the benefit of the doubt) examples that have worked. You may feel free to skip this one.

So that's what I read on my mini-break. If you have read anything of even relative merit recently, please let me know - we leave for Nicaragua in less than three weeks!

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