Thursday, January 04, 2007

BooksFirst - December 2006

Books Bought

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
R is for Ricochet by Sue Grafton
The Executioners by John D. MacDonald

Books Read

Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen
Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
Why Things Are, Volume II: The Big Picture by Joel Achenbach


The Grafton and MacDonald books were bought at Ace Books in Culpeper, Virginia. Culpeper is an exurban town near Washington, DC that has become a trendy pastoral refuge. The town has a genteel country manor feel and the main street is lined with gourmet restaurants. Lodged over a bicycle shop, Ace Books is a sprawling chaotic used book store of the type that are increasingly hard to find. I collect first editions of both Grafton and MacDonald and while neither book was high on my must-have list, I love browsing and rarely leave a used bookstore empty handed.

I have read about every word of fiction written by Carl Hiaasen and nobody is better at bitterly showcasing the absurdity of Floridian culture and politics. For Nature Girl he has dialed back the sarcastic commentary and focused on his trademarked oddball characters. The titular nature girl is a divorced mom living in a trailer park that executes a revenge fantasy on a sleazy telemarketer. Most of the action takes place on Dismal Key, the most heavily trafficked deserted island in the Everglades. The whacky characters that make landfall include a culturally confused half-breed Seminole, a ditzy FSU co-ed, a crazed stalker, an over-sexed amazon, and the ghost of a drunken tourist.

The book disappointed me because my hopes are always so high for Hiaasen and he seems to have taken the low road. Telemarketers and Indian casinos are fodder for bad stand-up comics, not someone of Hiaasen’s caliber. I expect a deeper cut at the dysfunctional culture that is slowly choking south Florida. Still, mediocre Hiaasen is better than most everything else.

Normally, I don’t buy short story collections, but when I was at Balticon last year, Neil Gaiman read a couple of selections from this as then unpublished book. True to it's title, Fragile Things comes in a thin translucent onion skin book jacket. Gaiman has made his reputation as a dark macabre comics writer, novelist, and blogger. The stories in this book have a lighter more contemplative touch. Frequent themes include melancholic childhood memories and perplexing encounters with strangers. A Sherlock Holmes-H.P. Lovecraft mash-up deserves to be an entire novel. The last story is an American Gods follow-up that is worth the entire book by itself. I ran across a podcast interview where Gaiman talks about this book and other topics as well. His preternatural mastery of words in any medium makes me think he has powers beyond mere mortals.

The last book I read before having to give up non-fiction for NaJuReMoNo Month was a freebie from a Boodle Porching Hour meet-up of Achenblog groupies in early December. Master satirist and unofficial Achenbach liaison, bc, had scared up a case of remainders from Joel’s basement to distribute as door prizes. In his more loquacious days, Joel wrote a column called “Why Things Are”. In typical journalistic repurposing, these columns had been collected into books as a secondary revenue stream. Why Things Are, Volume II is obviously the second of these.

I love light science oriented trivia books. I cut my teeth on everything Asimov I could put my hands on and still have a hard time passing up a Stephen Jay Gould collection. In tone, Why Things Are II (and I assume Volume I as well) most closely resembles the Imponderables series (Do Penguins Have Knees?, et. al.) but has a wider ranging choice of topics. The answers are well-researched and clearly tax the Rolodex of Achenbach. Unfortunately, many answers seem to reduce down to “Because I said so.” Even better than the short answer sections are his longer “special reports” that cover interesting topics like serial killers and the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew. Now I need to hunt down Volume I. Maybe next time I’m in Culpeper I can spend more time treasure hunting at Ace Books.

I can’t promise you a free book if you show up at a Boodle Porching Hour, but the great conversation and cheap happy hour eats can’t be beat.


Anonymous said...

I just got Nature Girl for Christmas, the local library still doesn't have it, I have to read it.

The Eyre Affair is great, though it would probably have helped if I didn't have a strong aversion to Jane Eyre brought on by being forced to read it at camp while bugs took over my tent.

Anonymous said...

I love the Thursday Next books though I was never that fond of "Jayne Eyre."

I have the second in his Nursery Crimes series coming via Amazon; the first was not as good as I had hoped but I heard the second is better. :)

Anonymous said...

well my NaJuReMoNo is off to a good start: reading 'The Shadow of the Wind' by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Lucia Graves translation) and so far it is a great read.


Anonymous said...

My husband and I are both reading Nature Girl--it's saying something that Hiaasen is able to entertain both of us because the books hubby reads usually have little in common with mine.

I like the Honey Santana character, who is a stand-in for Hiaasen, to wit: "Honey had tried many doctors and many prescriptions, with imperceptible results. Eventually she came to believe that her condition was one that couldn't be treated medically; she was doomed to demand more decency and consideration from her fellow humans than they demanded of themselves."


A friend of mine is recovering from surgery and I pondered which of the Why books would be best to lend to her. I chose volume II because it starts with "The Adventures of Perceptiveman." I love that. Volumes I and III are good, too--the first one has an introduction by Dave Barry which, surprisingly, is not particularly hilarious. Nothing like, for example, Dave's intro to Gene Weingarten's book, now THAT's an introduction. Quoting from memory, "People ask me, what kind of a lunatic is this Weingarten guy; I tell them: A Genuine lunatic."

*pause while I go to Amazon and get the real quote...* ...Here we go:

"...when you read this book, at some point--a fairly early point, I am betting--you're going to say, "What kind of lunatic wrote this?"

"The answer, as I hope I've shown, is: A genuine lunatic. An honest lunatic. Ask the many people who know and love Gene Weingarten if they think he is sane, and they will say, laughingly: "No!" And then, after reflecting for a moment, they will say, seriously: "No." (The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life. And Death. p. 18)

yellojkt said...

Weingraten is a lunatic. And not just a little bit of a pompous ass.

Anonymous said...

Master satirist? Me?
Now *that's* funny.

Hey, I was just helping a friend clean out his basement (the old guy living down there wants to install a sink next to the existing latrine).