Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Fforde's The Fourth Bear is all in good fun

78. The Fourth Bear, Jasper Fforde. Fiction, 8-29, p. 383

When Goldilocks carried out her home invasion of the Bear family’s domicile, there was a fourth bear present which led to tragic consequences for the self-absorbed young woman. The identity of that fourth bear, the reason behind Goldilocks’ brutal demise and much, much more are answered in The Fourth Bear, Jasper Fforde’s hugely entertaining second Jack Spratt novel.

Other questions that are answered include why there is a campaign for the right to arm bears, the dangers of the “cuclear” bomb and whether the psychotic Gingerbreadman is a cake or a biscuit.

The pleasures of Fforde’s novel are the same as those found in the Broadway production, Wicked. The witches of Oz are so much more interesting with a back-story than in the virtual cameo appearance they’re granted in the movie, The Wizard of Oz. Just so with Jack Spratt, Punch and Judy, the Gingerbreadman and various other Persons of Dubious Reality (PDR) who appear in Fforde’s two novels featuring Spratt’s Nursery Crimes Division.

It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Fforde goes to incredible lengths to set up a lame joke, only to have the characters comment on his efforts and the lameness of the joke itself. But it’s all good fun and when he’s on, as he is much of the time, Fforde is one of the few authors capable of eliciting a true laugh out loud from his reader.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Man Booker Prize Longlist

The judging panel for the 2006 Man Booker Prize for Fiction announced on August 14 the longlist of books for this year. The longlist of 19 books was chosen from 112 entries; 95 were submitted for the prize and 17 were called in by the panel of judges.

Chair of judges, Hermione Lee said: "Judging the Man Booker Prize puts you through almost as many emotions as there are in the novels. We’ve tried to be careful and critical judges as well as being passionately involved. We have many regrets about some of the novels we’ve left off, and we could easily have had a longlist of about 30 books, but we’re delighted with the variety, the originality, the drama and craft, the human interest and the strong voices in this longlist. It’s a list in which famous established novelists rub shoulders with little known newcomers. We hope that people will leap at it for their late summer reading and make up their own shortlist.”

The judging panel for the 2006 Man Booker Prize for Fiction is: Hermione Lee (Chair); Simon Armitage, poet and novelist; Candia McWilliam, award winning novelist; critic Anthony Quinn and actor Fiona Shaw.

The 2006 shortlist will be announced on Thursday 14th September at a press conference at Man Group’s London office. The winner will be announced on Tuesday 10th October at an awards ceremony at Guildhall, London.

The longlist for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2006 is as follows:

  • Carey, Peter Theft: A Love Story (Faber & Faber)
  • Desai, Kiran The Inheritance of Loss (Hamish Hamilton)
  • Edric, Robert Gathering the Water (Doubleday)
  • Gordimer, Nadine Get a Life (Bloomsbury)
  • Grenville, Kate The Secret River (Canongate)
  • Hyland, M.J. Carry Me Down (Canongate)
  • Jacobson, Howard Kalooki Nights (Jonathan Cape)
  • Lasdun, James Seven Lies (Jonathan Cape)
  • Lawson, Mary The Other Side of the Bridge (Chatto & Windus)
  • McGregor, Jon So Many Ways to Begin (Bloomsbury)
  • Matar, Hisham In the Country of Men (Viking)
  • Messud, Claire The Emperor’s Children (Picador)
  • Mitchell, David Black Swan Green (Sceptre)
  • Murr, Naeem The Perfect Man (William Heinemann)
  • O’Hagan, Andrew Be Near Me (Faber & Faber)
  • Robertson, James The Testament of Gideon Mack (Hamish Hamilton)
  • St Aubyn, Edward Mother’s Milk (Picador)
  • Unsworth, Barry The Ruby in her Navel (Hamish Hamilton)
  • Waters, Sarah The Night Watch (Virago)

And, no, I haven't read a single one of the books on this list.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Whole World Over a terrific second book

77. The Whole World Over, Julia Glass. Fiction, 8-24, p. 509

Second books are not supposed to be this good.

Julia Glass emerged as something of a literary phenomena in 2002 when her first book, Three Junes, came out of nowhere to win the National Book Award. It was a very good book. The Whole World Over is better.

Cinematic in its construction, The Whole World Over focuses on the intersecting lives of four characters: Greenie, a talented baker and chef who leaves New York and her husband for New Mexico; Alan, Greenie’s unhappy husband; Walter, a gay restaurant owner looking for love and stability; and Saga a physically and mentally broken young women.

There’s nothing ground-breaking in the themes Glass explores – loss, love, the consequences of the choices we make and have made for us. The power of The Whole World Over is in the fondness we develop for Glass’ vivid characters, both major and minor. We’d like to sit in Walter’s restaurant, eat a slice of Greenie’s cake or sit in her kitchen in the cool morning as she bakes. Glass' success, and it is considerable, is that her characters inhabit a larger world than the pages of her book. They also inhabit our imagination.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Three blurbs on three books

I should feel bad, I know. I haven't posted to this site in weeks. And I would feel bad if I weren’t so far behind in my reading that I can’t seriously considering blogging. Vacation (three baseball games in three days in three states), a temporary re-location (from Washington to Chicago) and new work responsibilities have taken its toll. I normally read a minimum of 100 pages a day, yet when I look at my book list I finished James Lee Burke’s Pegasus Descending on August 3rd and its taken until the 24th to finish another novel. I’ll address that novel soon, but until then I have three blurbs for three books.

74. Pegasus Descending, James Lee Burke. Fiction, 8-3, p. 356

This won’t be well received, but I’m going to write it any way. I’m giving up on James Lee Burke. I think his novels have become derivative . . . of James Lee Burke. Reading his newest novel I have the distinct sense that I’ve read it all before. It seems lately that Burke takes the same characters, scenes, settings, even phrases, tosses them into the blender of his word processor and a new novel emerges. I think I’m even more disappointed that his main character, Dave Robicheaux, never changes. Dave is supposed to be a smart guy, but he keeps repeating the same mistakes from book to book to book. Dave and the novels he appears in have become tiresome, formulaic and disappointing.

75. Francis Crick Discoverer of the Genetic Code, Matt Ridley. Biography, 8-3, p. 210

HarperColllins’ Eminent Lives series – a collection of brief biographies of a diverse group of notables – is a worthy successor to the Penguin Lives series. Matt Ridley’s biography of Francis Crick is an entertaining and informative read. Crick is an interesting figure, notable, if for no other reason, in that he was brilliant without being eccentric. As with any book about science or math (at least for me), the particulars challenge my comprehension, yet it is amazing how much of DNA and its components – the double helix, the sequence of the amino acid residues in proteins, the four types of nucleotides (adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine) – are remotely familiar.

76. Positively Fifth Street, James McManus. Poker, 8-16, p. 385

James McManus’ highly entertaining Positively Fifth Street is a minor classic in the small, but fascinating genre of books devoted to poker. McManus wrote his book just before the sport(?) became a cultural phenomenon due to ESPN’s broadcast of the World Series of Poker. McManus went to Vegas to write an article for Harper’s magazine on the Ted Binion murder trial (of Binion's Horseshoe Casino fame) and the recent success of women in what had been an exclusive all-male club. A gambler at heart (“the heart of a cliff diver”), McManus blows part of his advance from Harper’s on a qualifying tournament for the WSOP. He not only qualifies for the WSOP, but reaches the final table; a stunning accomplishment for an amateur player. In addition to his coverage of the murder trial and a riveting account of his tournament play, McManus ponders his justification for a lap dance (research) and the psychological and emotional motivations of the gambler. Let’s just you can equate risk with sexual excitement, losing with sexual excitement, winning with sexual excitement and sexual excitement with, well, cards, chips and nubile, young lap dancers. Masturbation plays a role in there somewhere, too. Just read the book – it’s the nuts.

Monday, August 07, 2006

A Reading List

I’ve been “tagged” to develop a book list by responding to nine questions. So, here goes:

  1. One book that changed your life:

The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck

  1. One book that you’ve read more than once:

My Antonia, Willa Cather

  1. One book you’d want on a deserted island:

Let’s stretch one into three: Tolkien’s Rings trilogy.

  1. One book that made you laugh:

Just about any book by Bill Bryson. The same is true of Carl Hiaasen. Lucky You comes to mind.

  1. One book that made you cry (or feel really sad):

Bambi did it. More recently, Ian McEwan’s Atonement.

  1. One book that you wish had been written:

On Writing: My Life As a Novelist by Biblio Baggins.

  1. One book that you wish had never been written:

Mein Kampf, Adolph Hitler.

  1. One book you’re currently reading:

Positively Fifth Street, James McManus. The Whole World Over, Julia Glass.

  1. One book you’ve been meaning to read:

Love’s Labour’s Lost, William Shakespeare.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Talk, Talk the Peggy Lee of novels

73. Talk, Talk, T.C. Boyle. Fiction, 7-31, p. 340

T.C. Boyle’s Talk, Talk is the Peggy Lee of novels – it leaves you asking, “Is that all there is?”

It’s the ending that’s disappointing, especially because Boyle’s takes the reader on a stomach-churning ride of anxiety and anger in the first couple of hundred pages. The opening, when the novel’s protagonist, Dana Halter, is hauled to jail, is particularly squirm inducing. It is Boyle’s skill at enlisting our identification with and sympathy for Dana, who is deaf, that makes his finish feel so incomplete. Cast in today’s psychobabble: There’s resolution, but not closure.

Dana is the victim of an especially pernicious form of identity theft that includes the theft of her “base identifiers.” In effect, the thief has adopted her identity as his own. An outraged Dana and her boyfriend, Bridger, track down the thief, following him as he flees from California to New York. The thief, whose real name is Peck Wilson, is off-the-charts disgusting. A former restaurateur, he’s smooth and smart and displays genuinely good taste in food, clothes and cars. He also exudes a sense of entitlement and has very real anger management issues.

Dana and Bridger ultimately confront the wayward Peck outside his mother’s home in upstate New York. Bridger winds up hospitalized, while Peck – incensed by this violation of his privacy (I said he had an air of entitlement) – stalks Dana, determined to exact his revenge, setting up a final confrontation.

But the conclusion, which the reader has been anticipating since the early pages of the novel, is flat and unsatisfying. Boyle mails this one in. I know that he can do better (see Drop City). After I’d put down the book, I wanted to call in Carl Hiaasen to wrap this one up. No one – absolutely no one – punishes their bad guys in a more satisfying manner than Hiaasen. And to this reader, that’s what was needed here. Someone needed to put a hurting on this creep.

Guardian blogger: Reading is Hot

Sarah Crown, who blogs for the Guardian, reveals the conclusion to an Internet survey conducted for Borders: Reading is hot. According to Crown, A third of those surveyed said that they "would consider flirting with someone based on their choice of literature."

"Not just any book will do," Crown writes. "Erotic fiction, horror, self-help books and the dreaded chick-lit were all, in fact, deemed turn-offs when it came to love between the covers. The genre most likely to help you pull - the itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny yellow polka dot bikini of the books world - is the classics, followed by biography and modern literary fiction (think Zadie Smith and Sebastian Faulks, rather than Dan Brown and Martina Cole)."