Sunday, May 10, 2009

April-May reading include new works by Robert Sawyer and Denis Johnson

Here's the list of my reading for the end of April and first of May:

55. Scat, Carl Hiaasen. Fiction

56. The First Person, Ali Smith. Stories

57. Life Sentences, Laura Lippman. Fiction

58. The Believers, Zoe Heller. Fiction

59. Wake, Robert J. Sawyer. Science Fiction

60. Taft, Ann Patchett. Fiction

61. The Northern Clemency, Philip Hensher. Fiction

62. Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, Wells Tower. Stories

63. Nobody Move, Denis Johnson. Fiction

64. A Jury of Her Peers, American Women Writers from Anne

Bradstreet to Annie Proulx, Elaine Showalter. Non-Fiction

65. Bloodbrothers, Richard Price. Fiction

66. Alphabet Juice, Roy Blount Jr. Words

Let's start with thegood stuff.

I loved Carl Hiaasen's Scat, his third young adult novel. Many of the ingredients that make his grown-up novels so much fun appear in these books, including his wicked sense of humor. I especially appreciate Hiassen's young adult novels

because he doesn't back away from difficult issues, like father's returning from the war in the Middle East missing their right arm. Forget the young adult category and do yourself favor and pick up all three titles -- Hoot, Flush and Scat.

I don't read much science fiction any longer, but I don't let a new book by Robert Sawyer or Charles Stross pass by. Wake is Sawyer's newest effort and the first in a trilogy on the Internet's emerging consciousness. Let me throw this to the American Idol judges. Yep, Randy says it's "Da Bomb." And i

t is. I won't say this is Sawyer's best work -- that covers to much ground -- but it is one of his finest. A thoroughly intriguing, thoroughly captivating read.

What is it about Ann Patchett's early novels? I love them. Taft is wonderful.

There is an underlying suggestion of menace is every short story by Wells Tower in his terrific collection Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. I can't think of anyone writing stories quite like these. They are edgy and brilliant, and leave me wanting more.

I didn't much like Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson. I can make it up to you now Denis, I thought your new work, Nobody Move, was fantastic. It's a pulp yarn, a bit of noir, that is best read in a single day.

Philip Hensher's The Northern Clemency was long-listed for the Booker Prize. It took me a while to warm up to this tale of English surburbia. Hensher's prose can be dense at times, but he tells a powerful story. Ultimately, it is the narrative that secures this novel's status as a fine read.

The only non-fiction in the lot is Elaine Showalter's A Jury of Her Peers, American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx. Bravo, Elaine. This long overdue survey of women writers in America is as thorough as it is engrossing.

Modest disappointments: Life Sentences by Laura Lippman (it was a Peggy Lee); The First Person, a collection of short stories by Ali Smith; The Believers by Zoe Heller (I know Heller specializes in unappetizing people, but is it too much to ask for one person -- just one -- that you could care about?); Bloodbrothers, Richard Price's second novel showed glimpses of the talent on full display in Clockers, but glimpses aren't enough; and, finally, Alphabet Juice, Roy Blount Jr.'s glossographia (I expected to like it more than I did, but . . . I just didn't).

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