Saturday, November 01, 2008

BooksFirst - October 2008

Books Bought

God Bless You, Mr Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

Books Read
The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett
Dogs by Nancy Kress
Who The Hell is Pansy O’Hara? by Jenny Boyd & Chris Sheedy
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

Books Heard
Naked by David Sedaris


Ostensibly the sequel to The Colour of Magic (reviewed here), it has the same characters as the earlier book and picks up at the cliff hanger ending. But that is quickly resolved and the rest of the book becomes a generic Discworld adventure. The sequel lacks a lot of the charm and structure of the earlier work. Most of the clever concepts such as the sentient suitcase and Rincewind as the world’s least competent wizard have already been explored.

The plot of the book has to do with a ladder-climbing wizard trying to master the eight spells that control the world, one of which is stuck in Rincewind’s head. Twoflower, the na├»ve tourist that provided much of the satirical filtering of the earlier book is merely along for the ride this time. Even The Luggage, which is oddly one of Pratchett’s most endearing characters, has grown in power and ability at the same rate as R2D2 between episode Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith. As a stand-alone adventure, the book has some merit, as a sequel to the Color of Magic, it pales in comparison.

Nancy Kress wrote one of the most brilliant and under-rated science fiction books of the past quarter century in Beggars In Spain. Her newest book, Dogs, is much less ambitious and a little more slickly written. It’s a short, quickly paced book with only the slimmest of science fiction premises. In a small town in western Virginia there has been a rash of vicious fatal attacks by domestic dogs that seems to be part of a possible terrorist biological attack. The plucky heroine is a former FBI agent whose dead Middle Eastern husband seems somehow connected to the outbreak.

The book is written in that fast breezy thriller style that reminds me of Michael Crichton and Dan Brown with short chapters and frequent cliff-hangers. The real appeal of the book is the Cujo-goes-viral horror factor which explores people’s relationships with their pets even when there is a risk involved. Short fast paced novels always make me think the writer is publishing a draft movie script rather than a novel. And this book would make a great direct to cable movie. It's got a lot of suspense and has a touch of commentary on our paranoid times. And dog movies always do well.

The concept behind Who The Hell is Pansy O’Hara? (which is subtitled The Fascinating Story Behind 50 of the World’s Best Loved Books) is like SparksNotes for people too busy to read those. As advertised, it takes 50 books and gives short plot synopses as well as background on the writer. The list of books is a rather standard chronological list of The Western Canon (Dickens, Austen, Fitzgerald) mixed in with more popular fiction (Peter Pan, Jaws, Harry Potter). There is also a section that covers non-fiction books as well.

Each book gets about a six to eight page section that has to cover the major plot highlights, the author’s biography which often includes tales of early struggles, and some anecdotes about the publishing history of the book. Some stories are often familiar but there are a few surprises. At the quick pace, some of the more controversial aspects of any particular book or author are glossed over, but the writers take pains to tell as much of the story behind the story as they can. The book is clearly no substitute for the originals, but I enjoyed getting a little trivia on books I had read, as well as whetting my appetite for some that I may someday.

The first volume in the graphic (meaning illustrated, not explicit) memoir of Iranian born Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood covers her childhood in Iran. The daughter of middle-class parents in a family with leftist leanings, the book covers the period of time that includes the overthrow of the Shah, the Islamic Revolution, and the Iraq-Iran War. It does so through the eyes of a strong-willed little girl that is perplexed by all the changes going on around her. The cultural differences and the historical events are well-explained easy to follow. It was very interesting to see historical events that I am only slightly aware of told from a different perspective.

The illustrations make good use of the stark black and white format. It has a bold crisp style that really pops out from the page. The book ends with her departure as a teen-ager from Iran. This book and the second volume which covers her teenage years were adapted into an animate film which I am now dying to see.

David Sedaris is an acquired taste. The audio book adaptation of Naked is abridged but read by him and I can’t imagine it any other way. So much of his droll humor is reliant upon either hearing or imagining his nasal sad-sack tone. The stories covered in this book obliquely cover his obsessive-compulsive disorder, his sexual awakening as a homosexual in the Deep South, and the death of his sardonic mother. In fact, his mother has most of the best lines in the book.

David’s sister Amy of “Strangers With Candy” fame does the voices of some of the non-maternal female characters. Her deadpan interpretation of their grandmother’s treatment of their mother haunts me. The stories are compelling and touching and perfect for medium length drives. I wouldn’t want to wallow through it all at once since the stories are rather episodic and don't relate to each other, but the audio book makes a great listening experience.

1 comment:

Katarina Whimsy said...

Oh man, yes see Persepolis! I unfortunately did it in the wrong order --saw the movie, then read the books-- but I was still pretty pleased with both, the movie stays reasonably faithful, and because it's animated, has the same gorgeous style.