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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Books

Today is the monthly meeting of the Read What You Want Book Club (not its official name!) so I need to review my recent reading and try to organize my thoughts. I missed last month - so there's a little more than usual to deal with. Here's the essense of my "report".

Fiction:

Generosity, an Enhancement - by Richard Powers. I've always considered myself to be a huge Powers fan, and will continue to read whatever he writes. Maybe my sort of lukewarm reaction to this was colored by James Wood's New Yorker piece, where he suggests that there is something a little too formulaic about his books?

Invisible - by Paul Auster. Ditto, in a way. I always THINK I love Auster while I'm in the midst of it, but at the end, it's sort of - wait! - what was that all about anyhow?

Push - by Sapphire. The book behind the movie "Precious", which I haven't yet seen. This is an astonishing read. Not to be missed.

Time Will Darken it, by William Maxwell. I didn't really discover Maxwell until the last couple of years. He would have been a contemporary of my father's, and grew up in a nearby Illinois town which he frequently writes about, as he does here. Maybe this connection is what I feel so strongly in this work? A quiet, funny, sad, insightful and wonderful book.

Leap Year, by Peter Cameron. A comedy of manners. NY yuppies in the late eighties, and a precocious 4-year old girl who has to be one of the best children in fiction ever. I wasn't familiar with Cameron - a friend recommended this. I look forward to reading more.

A Pugilist at Rest. Thom Jones. Short stories. Unusual, great writing.

Non-Fiction:

Born Round, by Frank Bruni. Hadn't really planned to read this, but it jumped into my hands from the fifty cent table at the library. Superficially it's about his lifelong battle with food addiction and fat. But wait - he's only 44 - and what a life he's had! This is also the story of a "golden boy" who had every advantage. You end up wanting to know what he'll do next.

Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers. I'd call this a must-read for everyone. The true story of a Syrian-American painting contractor and his nightmarish, Kafkaesque experience with Hurricane Katrina.

The Bolter, by Frances Osborne. A history of the author's great (great?) grandmother, Idina Sackville - outrageous, glamorous, rich, promiscuous, careless - but also, in some ways, a sympathetic character. Much of her life was spent in Kenya, in the "Happy Valley" - where her group of impossibly spoiled friends and lovers cavorted and caroused in the 1920's.

The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson. I will mention this amazing book only in passing since I think just about everyone else in the group read it several years ago. Larson juxtaposes the story of a psychopathic killer with the story of the 1892 Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Strength in What Remains, by Tracy Kidder. Remarkable story of Deogratias, a medical student who flees the horrific civil war in his native Burundi and arrives in New York with $200 and not a word of English, or any human contacts.

Mountains Beyond Mountains, by Tracy Kidder. This is the story of the incredible Boston physician and anthropologist, Paul Farmer, and his humanitarian work in Haiti and Peru and elsewhere. There is a tie to the previous book (Deogratias ultimately asks for his help in Burundi) and it's an unfinished story. Farmer's work continues.

Cancer Vixen, by Marisa Acocella Silvetti. Slim, fashionista, successful New Yorker cartoonist about to be married to the guy of her dreams is diagnosed with breast cancer. And she has no insurance! This is a graphic novel about her experience - sparing no detail.

How Not to Act Old, by Pamela Satran. A quickie - and an ongoing blog. Hilarious.

Current:

Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer. The case for vegetarianism, and against factory farming. I'll perhaps speak about this later, when I've finished it.