Monday, December 31, 2007

December Books Bought and Read

It's No-Frills Month here at the blog - no lengthy discussions, pictures or links, just what I bought, what I read. (Check out the previous post for Best of 2007, some of which were read in December.)


Hamlet - William Shakespeare (new B&N cheap-o trade paperback edition)

Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love (NF, Elvis biography) - Peter Guralnick

Farthing - Jo Walton

The Kragen - Jack Vance


The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz

Territory - Emma Bull

A Poetry Handbook (NF) - Mary Oliver

Zeroville - Steve Erickson

The Grey King (YA) - Susan Cooper

Treasure Island (YA) - Robert Louis Stevenson

Till We Have Faces - C.S. Lewis

The Best American Short Stories 2007 - Stephen King, ed.

The Golden Compass (YA) - Philip Pullman

Happy New Year! Be safe!

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Best of 2007: Fiction

2007 was a pretty good year. I thought I'd have a Top 10, but I found a dozen books published in 2007 (although at least one of them was published in another country in 2006) that I really liked. Most of them I've written about in earlier posts, so I'll have just a word or two to say about them now. Here they are in alphabetical order by author:

The Imago Sequence and Other Stories – Laird Barron

One of my favorite new writers. Creepy and disturbing beyond belief. And his writing is so good I can't stand it.

One for Sorrow – Christopher Barzak

Another new writer to keep in your sights. A great coming-of-age story complete with ghosts.

Territory – Emma Bull

Wyatt Earp, the Clanton Gang and...magic? The sequel's out next year.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz

Not SF, but with some SF elements thrown in, Diaz's compelling tale of a Dominican geek is unforgettable.

Zeroville – Steve Erickson

Hands-down my favorite read of 2007. Erickson is an amazing writer.

A Good and Happy Child – Justin Evans

Creeped out by your childhood? You ain't seen nothin'. Check out Justin Evans.

Saffron and Brimstone: Strange Stories – Elizabeth Hand*

Looking for New Year's Resolutions? Read as much Elizabeth Hand as you can.

What the Dead Know – Laura Lippman

Lippman is consistently the best mystery writer out there.

Softspoken – Lucius Shepard

For about the first 50 pages I thought this was light-weight Lucius Shepard....then it suddenly kicked in. Wow.

The Terror – Dan Simmons

Simmons has still got it. This one leaves no doubt.

The Arrival (Graphic Novel) – Shaun Tan

Yeah, it's a graphic novel (and a wordless one at that), but one filled with beauty, power and awe. Don't miss it.

Best American Fantasy – Jeff VanderMeer, Ann VanderMeer, eds.

A welcome venture into avenues of fantasy you may not have been aware of. Didn't like all of 'em, but many really lit me up.

Other works not necessarily published in 2007 that I enjoyed and highly recommend:

The Cement Garden (1978) – Ian McEwan

The Gambler (1866) – Fyodor Dostoevsky (trans. Garrett)

The Complete Stories (1971) – Flannery O'Connor

Everyman (2006) – Philip Roth

The Keyhole Opera (collection 2005) – Bruce Holland Rogers

Fledgling (2005) – Octavia E. Butler

The Silent Speaker (1946) – Rex Stout

Lisey's Story (2006) – Stephen King

The Speed of Dark (2002) – Elizabeth Moon

The Black Echo (1992) – Michael Connelly

Reasons to Live (collection 1985) – Amy Hempel

A Passage to India (1924) – E.M. Forster

In the Palace of Repose (2005) – Holly Phillips

Lolita (1954) – Vladimir Nabokov

The Keeper (2006) – Sarah Langan

Fahrenheit 451 (1953) – Ray Bradbury

Three Days to Never (2006) – Tim Powers

The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Graphic Novel 2007) – Brian Selznick

The Privilege of the Sword (2006) – Ellen Kushner

The Sun Also Rises (1926) – Ernest Hemingway

Parable of the Sower (1993) – Octavia E. Butler

Aegypt (retitled The Solitudes) (1987) – John Crowley

The Resurrection Man's Legacy and Other Stories (2003) – Dale Bailey

I Am Legend (1954) – Richard Matheson

* I just discovered this one actually came out late in 2006. Oops.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Looking Ahead

While I'm compiling my Best Fiction of 2007, I thought I'd post the books I'm most looking forward to reading in 2008. These are books I already own, but simply haven't gotten to yet.

Generation Loss (2007) - Elizabeth Hand

Elizabeth Hand just rocks. Plus I got a signed copy of this one.

A History of the Ancient World (NF 1991) - Chester G. Starr

Because I know so little about it...

The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov (1996)

I read Lolita this year and couldn't get over Nabokov's writing. Incredible.

The Brothers Karamazov (1880/1991) translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

I think it's written down somewhere that you have to read this one.

I Led 3 Lives (NF 1952) - Herbert Philbrick

My father-in-law asked for this last Christmas and I found him a copy. Then I found another for myself. Looks like an interesting read.

Ill Met In Lankhmar (1968?) - Fritz Leiber

Another that everyone except me seems to have read...

Eternity and Other Stories (2005) - Lucius Shepard

Because I can't afford Dagger Key and Other Stories.

Mythology (1942) - Edith Hamilton

Because I know so little of it...

Hurt: Inside the World of Today's Teenagers (NF 2004) - Chap Clark

Because I care.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I'm Not There

Did you read the title? Not my title, the movie's title (although they're the same). Read it again.

That's the point.

Probably the most important information in the film occurs in the opening credits:

"Inspired by the music and many lives of Bob Dylan."

Inspired by. Not a word-for-word Dylan biography from A to Z.
No doubt many people are walking in to I'm Not There expecting to see another Walk the Line or Ray, typical Hollywood biopics told from beginning to end in a more-or-less linear fashion.

That's not going to work with Dylan.

Director Todd Haynes wasn't trying to confuse audiences by portraying "Dylan" with six different actors. He was just very smart in realizing that one actor couldn't do it all and even if he could, how silly would it look onscreen? The Dylan faithful know and understand that Bob is, to put it mildly, a complex individual. Just be glad Haynes stopped at six incarnations. He could easily have done sixteen.

But he chose six. Six different actors to play "characters inspired by" Dylan:

An 11-year-old African-American boy named "Woody Guthrie" (Marcus Carl Franklin), complete with a guitar case with the painted-on words "This Machine Kills Fascists." (One of the greatest scenes in the film includes "Woody" singing "Tombstone Blues" with Richie Havens.)

An actor named Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger)

A coffee house folk singer called Jack Rollins (Christian Bale)

Rocker Jude Quinn (played by Cate Blanchett, who looks and acts so much like Dylan it's a little creepy)

Poet Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw)

Billy the Kid (Richard Gere) wandering around the Old West in a town called Riddle

Haynes throws all of these incarnations at you with no preparation, no road map, and no apologies. He's not going to lead you by the hand and show you a chronological "This is how Dylan got to be Dylan" narrative. These six stories intertwine, slip in and out of each other, coming at you from every direction. Sort of like a Dylan song. (For what it's worth, I found the Billy the Kid/Richard Gere scenes the most baffling, loaded with symbols and images that just moved too fast for me to process. Repeated viewings, repeated viewings...)

The film also contains endless references (with the names changed, of course) to Dylan events, places, songs, albums, films, literature, personas and much more. Half of the fun of the film (which, of course, demands repeated viewings) is in trying to make your own mental footnotes of everything you see in the movie. (For non-Dylanologists, just sit back and let it wash over you. Don't think twice, it's all right.)

And the music. It's pretty much non-stop, consisting of Dylan singing his own music and others covering him. (Dylan allowed Haynes full access to the use of his recordings.) Sometimes you'll hear a song from an era that does NOT match the era that's onscreen. That song is probably there for a purpose, which is also fun to try to figure out.

Now let's clear up a couple of misconceptions:

You think you've got Dylan figured out? You don't. You probably never will. I probably never will either. That's what makes Dylan Dylan. Every time you think you've got him figured out, every place you think he's going to be, he's not. (Thus the title.)

You think you're going to see the movie and learn some insights into Dylan? Forget it. For the Dylan uninitiated, seeing I'm Not There is sort of like taking a graduate level seminar without attending the prerequisite seminars. You'll recognize a few things here and there, but when it's over you're probably going to walk out of the theatre blinking rapidly, saying things like "What? What? What just happened?" Could be something is happening and you don't know what it is....

(One possible insight occurs early on. I won't tell you what it is, but it happens during one of the "Woody Guthrie" episodes as he's talking to an African-American woman about the songs he sings. It's so simple, but it's central to everything.)

So how about a straight answer? Is the movie any good?

I think so.

Is it great?

Don't know. As I said, it demands repeated viewings.

So come on, what's the movie about?

Read the title again.


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Non-Fiction Reading 2007

I've got several friends who only read non-fiction. Some of them say they've tried, but just can't get into fiction for one reason or another. I stopped trying to convert them long ago and instead tried to pick up some good non-fiction suggestions. Some of those suggestions are reflected here, but most of them are subjects I just have (or had) a passing interest in reading.

The best non-fiction I read this year:


Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy (2002) – Jane Leavy

Jayson Stark called Koufax the most overrated left-handed pitcher of all time. Either he hasn't read this book or he's got a screw loose.

Mississippi Sissy (2007) – Kevin Sessums

A frank, unflinching look at growing up gay in Forest, Mississippi (which also happens to be my hometown). Excellent writing.

Einstein: His Life and Universe (2007) – Walter Isaacson

A highly readable, very enjoyable volume on Einstein's life, beliefs and work.


Engaging the Soul of Youth Culture (2006) – Walt Mueller

This book showed me some of what I'd missed from not being around Youth Culture for seven years.

The Ragamuffin Gospel (1990) – Brennan Manning

Manning shows us that Jesus embraced "the bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt-out." And still does.

Velvet Elvis (2005) – Rob Bell

New theology or the basic tenets of the Christian faith? See what you think.

Don't Waste Your Life (2003) – John Piper

My least favorite title of the year, but Piper gets to the heart of the matter expertly.


About Writing (2005) – Samuel R. Delany

Not an easy read, but essential for serious writers.

Art & Fear (1993) – David Bayles and Ted Orland

How art (of all kinds) does and doesn't get made. A thin but important book by artists for artists.


The Looming Tower (2006) – Lawrence Wright

Essential reading for those (like me) with a limited understanding of Al Qaeda and the terrorist mind.

All the President's Men (1974) – Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward

If you've seen the movie, you only know half the story.


Countdown: The Race for Beautiful Solutions at the International Mathematical Olympiad (2004) – Steve Olson

Not only an honest look at contests and competition, but also an examination of genius, talent and hard work.

Other Non-Fiction Books I Read and Enjoyed:

Housekeeping vs. The Dirt: Fourteen Months of Massively Witty Adventures in Reading (2006) – Nick Hornby

Understanding Flannery O'Connor (1995) – Margaret Earley Whitt

A Short History of Nearly Everything (2003) – Bill Bryson

Seven Money Mantras for a Richer Life (2004) – Michelle Singletary

Zodiac (1986) – Robert Graysmith (at least the third time I've read it)

The Truth is Out There: The Christian Faith in Classic Science Fiction TV (2006) – Thomas Bertonneau and Kim Paffenroth

Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality (2007) - Rob Bell

Step Across This Line (2002) – Salman Rushdie

Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture (2007) – William D. Romanowski

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Remembering David

David LoPiccolo and his Mom

Last night we had a memorial service for David LoPiccolo at our church. I was honored to be asked to read David's eulogy (written by David's dad Joseph). Towards the end it got really difficult to read without losing it, especially with David's family right in front of me, but I made it. So many people shared so many great David memories but when David's brother Brian sang Keith Green's "Rushing Wind," I think we all came close to losing it.

There was supposed to be a video called "Remembering David" near the beginning of the service, but due to some technical difficulties, it couldn't be shown at that time. If they had shown it then, I know I wouldn't have been able to read. The video was working by the end of the service and I (and probably many others) just lost it. It was a powerfully emotional, yet very fitting end to the service.

I was so honored to meet David's parents Joseph and Lynette and share a few stories of my friendship with David. They also shared many memories of David. What wonderful people. My prayers continue to be with them as well as Brian and his family.

I hope you were pleased with the service, David. We all miss you and love you. Enjoy the presence of the Lord, my friend. I hope to see you again someday and pick up where we left off.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

YA Reading 2007

I never really intended to start reading YA, but when I worked in a bookstore, I realized (1)I knew nothing about it and (2) I should probably try to learn a little. Reading just a few YA books helped me make more informed recommendations to customers, which is always a good thing. I'm finding a knowledge of YA is even more in demand in a library setting. Sure, there are databases we can refer to, but there's nothing like being able to tell a patron, "Here's a book I think your son will like. I read it myself."

It takes about 10 seconds of scanning the YA/Teen section of any bookstore to figure out that most of it is written for girls. (Probably because girls are generally, especially at that age, reading more than boys.) Recommending books for boys is a little easier than it used to be, but the guys could still use more titles. That's one of the reasons I wrote my YA novel (still in revision) Fortress - I wanted something a teenage guy would enjoy reading. (Of course I hope some girls will enjoy it too.)

I don't know if I'll write another YA, but I think it's going to be important for me to read YA for quite some time, especially in the job I have. Having said all that, here are some of the better YA titles I read this year:

The Chocolate War (1974) - Robert Cormier

In some ways, this tale of a lone rebel at a boys' academy (think Lord of the Flies in a school setting) hasn't aged well, but I still think it's effective.

The Green Glass Sea (2006) - Ellen Klages

Two girls whose parents are working on a "secret project" in 1943 Los Alamos strike up an unlikely friendship. A powerful story by an excellent writer, Ellen Klages.

The Dark is Rising Sequence (five books, starting with Over Sea, Under Stone) - Susan Cooper

It's a shame that many of the Harry Potter fans I've talked to haven't read this series. Although the tone of each book is a slightly different and some volumes less compelling than others (Oddly enough, I thought the Newbery-winning The Grey King the least interesting of the books), these books are well worth your consideration, combining myth, folklore, and that all-important struggle between Good and Evil.

The Ear, the Eye and the Arm (1994) - Nancy Farmer

Farmer is a writer that, in my opinion, doesn't get discussed nearly enough. A couple of years ago I read and was very impressed with her novel The House of the Scorpion. I still prefer it to The Ear, but her adventure of three siblings in 2094 Zimbabwe is both fun and engaging.

Speak (1999) - Laurie Halse Anderson

I actually saw the film version of Speak before I read the book. Both versions recount the pressures of school, family and a terrible secret that haunts Melinda, a high school freshman. I wish you could combine the best elements of the book and film versions, but each on their own are quite effective.

Finally, the best YA novel I read this year was M.T. Anderson's superb The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party (2006). You can read the description for yourself in the link. I'll just say that nobody else (that I know of) is writing such highly intelligent, engaging work for YA. I hope that many adult readers will discover Anderson through this title. He's a treasure.

Next time: Non-Fiction

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Viewing Habits 2007

It would be nice to have a "Best of 2007" list for movies and television shows, but I only saw three movies in the theatres: INLAND EMPIRE (actually a late 2006 release), Sicko and Zodiac (twice). There were many, many more that I wanted (and still hope) to see, but due to time and money, it's getting harder and harder to get to the theatres these days. But they'll be out on DVD before you know it.

Other than keeping up with Lost, I rarely watch television. When someone recommends something, I'll usually check it out on DVD. This year I watched Season Two of Battlestar Galactica (mostly good, but 2.0 was better than 2.5), Season One of Deadwood (very good) and Seasons Three, Four and Five of the highly addictive and sometimes pretty good 24.

I also watched the first two seasons (and am currently watching the third) of The Sopranos, quite possibly the best television show I've ever seen*. Yeah, I know that statement will offend some people. I know it's rated F and all that, but I can't think of a show that's consistently written, acted and produced at such a high level.

*I say some people will be offended at that statement. I've had discussions with several fellow Christians in and out of church as to what constitutes "good" entertainment. I'll talk about this more in the future, but I think you have to look at what's good in the arts (and yes, television can be art) regardless of the content. But if it offends, don't watch. Again, much more on this later.

I revisited some movies I hadn't seen in years, movies that were actually better than I'd remembered them:

All the President's Men (1976)

Network (1976)

Passion Fish (1992)

And some excellent foreign films:

Ikiru (1954)

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

My Life to Live (1962)

Spirit of the Beehive (1973)

Next year? I hope to get to the theaters at least once every two months. That is, if there's anything to see.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Reading Habits 2007

With a little over three weeks to go in the year and 99 books read so far, it seems a safe bet that I'll meet my annual goal of 100. That's not a huge amount, but it's not too bad either. Anyway, before I post my Best of the Year lists, I thought I'd examine a few stats.

Of the 100 books I've read (or will read), the breakdown is as follows:

Fiction = 67
Non-Fiction = 33 (up from 25 last year)

I didn't break down the non-fiction, but I did place the fiction into categories. This is somewhat arbitrary, since some books could belong in multiple categories. For instance Laird Barron's The Imago Sequence could be labeled "collection" or "horror." In such cases, I've labeled the book by its function (if a book can "function" as something) rather than its genre, so Barron's book will fall into the "collection" category. (My list, my rules.)

So here's the fiction breakdown:

YA – 13
Collections – 11
Mystery – 9
Fantasy – 8
Horror - 8
Science Fiction – 6
Classics – 6
Literature (modern) – 5
Anthologies – 1

First of all, I think I'd like to keep my non-fiction reading at about 30% of all reading, maybe even up to 40%. Some of my NF reading is for research purposes but most of it is for pleasure, to learn new things. One of my goals for 2008 is to read more history, especially ancient history. And more literary criticism.

As far as fiction goes, I'd like to see the Literature and Classics numbers go up. I've always got a real battle going on over what I should read – to become a more intelligent reader and a better writer – and what I enjoy reading. I think the nine mysteries I read this year were all by either Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman or Rex Stout. I'll probably keep reading those authors – they're very enjoyable – but nine in a year seems a little high.

I was really surprised I read six science fiction novels! I figured I'd read three or four at most. And fantasy and horror came in with eight each. You mean I read more mystery than fantasy? More mystery than horror? Hmmmm. Wonder how that happened.

It could be that most of the fantasy and horror I really enjoy (and study) is in the short form. I mean eleven collections out of 100 books isn't too bad (and most of those were fantasy or horror collections), but I look for those numbers to increase next year.

I'd like to read a little less YA in 2008, but from what I've heard from other librarians working at the Information Desk, it's very likely I could end up reading even more YA (and children's books). We shall see.

Best of the Year lists will appear soon. In the meantime, go read something.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Steve Erickson's Zeroville

Steve Erickson's new novel Zeroville is one of those rare novels that, in the words of Stephen King, "pushes my dials all the way to 10."

Vikar - bald, with a tattoo of Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor on his head - arrives in Los Angeles in 1969 on the same day as the Charles Manson murders, his head (no pun intended) full of film. Now let me stop right here and point out that if you don't know who Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor are, you probably won't enjoy this book. If you're not a fan of classic films, you probably won't enjoy this book. If you say, "But wait, I do enjoy classic films! I think Adam Sandler and Ben Affleck are great!" you definitely won't enjoy this book.

But back to the story...

At first the reader isn't sure if Vikar is a movie-savant, an out-of-control weirdo, or just a guy trying to break into film production. He's obviously brought a lot of emotional baggage with him: he's a seminary drop-out, has really strange dreams and believes God hates children.

Oddly enough, one of the first people Vikar meets in L.A. is a small child, one he emotionally adopts while trying to find his place in Hollywood. Vikar's climb up the movie industry ladder is both bizarre and believable. At times Vikar seems like a cross between Forrest Gump and Travis Bickle (Robert de Niro's character in Taxi Driver), a movie genius who can kick your butt up and down Rodeo Drive if you confuse Montgomery Clift with James Dean.

Vikar soon becomes obsessed with an obscure French novel he wants to film, then his obsession moves into a recurring dream he can't quite understand. Both of these obsessions lead Vikar to discover something about film and himself that will change his life forever.

Zeroville is hilarious and tragic, crazy and logical, spellbinding and addictive. I read it in two days, which is lightning speed for me. Highly recommended.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Commercial for Your Next Novel...Plus Upcoming Books

Yesterday I took my mom to have cataract surgery on her left eye (the right eye was done awhile back). While I was in the waiting room, reading the excellent new Steve Erickson novel Zeroville, I heard " new novel..." coming from the TV that had previously been showing radar images of the approaching snow. I looked up to see this commercial featuring Dean Koontz and his dogs.

Wow, I thought, Bantam must've shelled out some serious cash for a TV commercial for a novel. Sure, you've seen commercials for novels before, but they're usually 10-15 second spots with some girl (usually in heels) running down the streets of some city at night with a maniac's shadow closing in. "Buy the new novel from Dipp Stick, available wherever the usual garbage is sold."

But the Koontz commercial was longer and way more professionally done. I wondered how much of Koontz's advance was eaten up by that commercial? It must've cost a boatload of $$$. Wouldn't it be cool to see a commercial with Jeff Ford knocking back a few, promoting The Shadow Year? Wouldn't that be cool?

Speaking of new books, here are a few that I'm looking forward to checking out in the months ahead:

Red Spikes (collection) - Margo Langan

Inferno: New Tales of Terror and the Supernatural - Ellen Datlow, ed.

Love & Sleep (reprint) - John Crowley

Pump Six and Other Stories - Paolo Bacigalupi

Tides from the New Worlds (collection) - Tobias S. Buckell

The New Weird (anthology) - Jeff VanderMeer, Ann VanderMeer, eds.

MARCH 2008
The Shadow Year - Jeffrey Ford

The Man on the Ceiling - Steve Rasnic Tem (w/Melanie Tem)

APRIL 2008
Wit's End (YA?) - Karen Joy Fowler

The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories - John Kessel

MAY 2008
The Del Rey Anthology of Speculative Fiction - Ellen Datlow, ed.

Nano Comes to Clifford Falls and Other Stories - Nancy Kress

The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Fantasy (NF) - David Pringle

JUNE 2008
Not a thing, at least so far.

JULY 2008
Dogs - Nancy Kress

Philip K. Dick: Five Novels of the 1960's and 70's (second volume from Library of America)

Best American Fantasy 2 - Jeff VanderMeer, Ann VanderMeer, eds.

Wreck of the Godspeed and Other Stories - James Patrick Kelly

The Ant King and Other Stories - Benjamin Rosenbaum

The Night Whiskey (collection) - Jeffrey Ford

The Wrong Grave and Other Stories (YA) - Kelly Link

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume II: The Kingdom of the Waves (YA) - M.T. Anderson

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Three Recent Reads

Mary Oliver's A Poetry Handbook is a short (122 pp.) book, but useful to someone like me that hasn't really spent much time in poetry lately (or maybe ever). I picked it up to brush up on some poetry fundamentals for my writing forum and found it to be quite helpful, covering topics such as sound and its devices, form, the line, free verse, imagery, diction, tone, voice, and much more. My only complaint - not enough examples, especially in a book that seeks to cover the basic fundamentals.

Emma Bull's Territory was a nice surprise. It's somewhat a re-telling (or alternate history, if you will) of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, AZ, mixing fact with fantasy.

Drifter Jesse Fox and widow Mildred Benjamin discover that some strange (possibly magical) force seems to be dictating the goings-on in Tombstone, affecting Doc Holliday, the Earps, the Clantons, and themselves. In lesser hands, Territory could have been excruciatingly bad, but Bull is an excellent writer with a solid historical background. Plus she knows how to tell a great story. I should warn you, however, if you're expecting the O.K. Corral showdown, you'll have to wait until the sequel. I haven't heard when it comes out, but when it does, sign me up.

My first contact with Junot Diaz was in person. He and Ursula K. Le Guin were receiving an award (I think it was one of the PEN awards.) in Washington D.C. I thought Diaz's behavior (as well as the story he read) was flippant, vulgar and completely inappropriate. But when my good friend Kelly recommended the book, I thought I'd give it a try.

I guess you could safely say my opinion of Diaz has changed. This is an outstanding novel of humor, pain, loneliness, history, culture, hope and redemption. Oscar is Dominican, overweight, and an SF nerd who's written a four-volume SF saga. (Think of it as E.E. Doc Smith meets Tolkien.) He's also crazy about every woman he meets. The problem is he's repulsive to every female on the planet.

Diaz begins his tale with Oscar, then gives us a complete history of why Oscar is the way he is, touching on Dominican history, curses, politics, culture and much more. Each section reveals more and more of Oscar's ancestry and Dominican culture. There's a sense of fatalism, or maybe a predetermined curse, or maybe just bad luck surrounding Oscar. However you look at it, Oscar Wao is a great read.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

November Books Read

Not as many books as I would've like to have read, but nevertheless, here's what happened in November:


Altmann's Tongue: Stories and a Novella (2002) - Brian Evenson

I wrote about this one here a few weeks ago. Interesting book.

Sanctuary (1931) - William Faulkner

I Am Legend (1954) - Richard Matheson

Again, I wrote briefly about both the Faulkner and Matheson here.

Catalyst: A Novel of Alien Contact (2006) - Nina Kiriki Hoffman

Catalyst is something of a head-scratcher for me. It has all the characteristics of a YA novel - length, language, teen protagonist... only there are too many sex scenes for it to be considered YA. Yet it works as YA better than it does as an adult novel. You be the judge.

Greenwitch (YA 1974) - Susan Cooper

Greenwitch is the third entry in the five-volume The Dark is Rising Sequence which combines Celtic folklore with the legend of the Holy Grail. As the middle book, Greenwitch seems a bit lightweight compared to the first too books, Over Sea, Under Stone and The Dark is Rising, yet still delivers a good read.

All the President's Men (NF 1974) - Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward

I've seen the movie version of All the President's Men at least three times and have enjoyed it every time, but the film is literally half the story at best. Sure, I knew the basic story, I knew the outcome, I even knew several of the details, yet I was still riveted by Woodward and Bernstein's account. And don't make the mistake of thinking a book about 1970's politics has nothing to do with the here and now.

Eyes Wide Open: Looking for God in Popular Culture (NF 2007) - William D. Romanowski

I recommend this one even though much of the book is unnecessarily muddied in "textbook-ese" and tends to focus far more on film than the other arts. Yet the information is good, as Romanowski challenges Christians to "applaud those fine works of art that honestly explore the human experience even while representing a different view of life."

That's it! Go read something.