Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Plot Against America

by Philip Roth.

Quickie recap: Roth imagines what life would have been like for himself and his family had Charles A. Lindbergh, the Nazi-loving pilot, been elected President during WW2.

Quickie review: Powerfully inventive, once my mind stopped screaming about the historical inaccuracies (which was my fault for not fully understanding the 'speculative' nature of the novel), I really enjoyed this, not just for the superb writing, but for the craftsmanship and story-telling.

Quickie recommendation: It's not light reading, but it's great reading.

Killing Yourself to Live

by Chuck Klosterman.

Quickie recap: Chuck, a writer for Spin magazine, drives cross country on an assignment to check out the places were rock stars were killed or killed themselves. On the trip he muses about his failed romantic relationships, and tries to make connections between them all.

Quickie review: Heartless and flat, this book struck me as mildly amusing in some places, and painfully self-indulgent in others. Mostly it was just unnecessary. At one point he tells the reader that his friend Lucy called this book "dubious" and quotes her as saying "Just don't complain to me when all those idiot bloggers write things like 'Ultimately, the author should have listened to his friend Lucy Chance.'" And here I am, saying, well, he should have listened to Lucy.

Quickie recommendation: Sorry, no dice.

The Waste Land

by T.S. Eliot.

Quickie recap: Impossible to say what a poem is "about" - but it makes you ache with despair.

Quickie review: Despite the bleak imagery, the words are beautiful. I always find myself reading and rereading it, because once is never enough. Everything is connected, and disconnected.

Quickie recommendation: Again and again.

The Death of the Heart

by Elizabeth Bowen.

Quickie recap: Orphaned, Portia goes to live with her half-brother Thomas and her sister-in-law Anna, who are less than thrilled to receive her. Portia has few friends, but when she does make them, they get her into more trouble than they're worth.

Quickie review: I surprised myself by liking this one as much as I did. Innocence and corruption are played against each other expertly.

Quickie recommendation: Give the girl a chance!


An Essay on the Material and Spiritual Universe, by Edgar Allan Poe.

Quickie recap: Actually, the title says it all.

Quickie review: Although Poe postulated these scientific theories purely from "instinct", many of them astounded scientists by proving true - in fact, he predated the big bang theory by 80 years. Because Poe operated by intuition, he considered this masterpiece to be a work of art, a "prose poem" rather than a scientific paper. No matter what you call it, it provides fascinating insight into the mind of the man who came up with so many top-notch macabre stories.

Quickie recommendation: For those with a morbid fascination of Poe.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Sebastopol Sketches

by Leo Tolstoy.

Quickie recap: Tolstoy fought in the Crimean war, 1855, and recounts his experiences - from the battles to the decadent soldiering life (eating, drinking, gambling, whoring, VD).

Quickie review: Tolstoy balances his patriotism with "truth" and ends up depicting some very fine battle scenes.

Quickie recommendation: Not my cup of tea, and not my favourite Tolstoy, but bears the marks of a fine writer.

In Persuasion Nation

by George Saunders.

Quickie recap: Collection of short stories, including: the despondency of characters forced to shill products in commercials, where TV characters go to die, how death saves religious fanatics from themselves.

Quickie review: Almost any collection will struggle to remain consistent, and this was no different, but I was drawn in by the first story and was impressed by the high caliber of writing, page after page. These stories were compelling and fresh; truly I don't think I've read anything so different but still worthy in a long while.

Quickie recommendation: Yuppers.

Field Notes from a Catastrophe

by Elizabeth Kolbert.

Quickie recap: Global warming is a bitch.

Quickie review: It was a good book, gave great examples and was informative. However, I felt let down - the title seemed so promising, but the book really lacked the energy to follow through on its promise. Where was the urgency?

Quickie recommendation: Al Gore is more dynamic\passionate on the topic. Enough said.

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs

A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman.

Quickie recap: A collection of essays written by and for Generation X, including but not limited to such topics as: how John Cusack made it impossible to love, why soccer is for ninnies, how the fuck Saved By the Bell stayed on the air for several seasons, the Greatness of Billy Joel, and why life can be boiled down to Lakers vs. Celts.

Quickie review: Some of this stuff is really dated, and to be honest, his ramblings about The Real World, and The Sims lost me. But he writes with such humour and tongue-in-cheekness that I find it irresistable. He writes the way my friends discuss philosophy after 7 margaritas. Some of the biggest farts come when he thinks he's being really deep, but then when you're not looking, you get gold.

Quickie recommendation: I think he states his target audience as those born between 1965-1977, and that's probably fair. He's being hip about things that came and went at least 10 years ago, but it's awfully endearing and I quite enjoyed myself.

Eleanor Rigby

by Douglas Coupland.

Quickie recap: Liz Dunn imagines herself to be boring on the brink of invisible, and she is, that is, until her long-lost son from a teenage pregnancy that nobody knows about shows up and puts her life on a different path where she suddenly realizes that loneliness is not the only way.

Quickie review: Coupland is hit or miss for me, but this one was a pretty big hit. He actually seemed to be writing at a comfortable maturity level. It was touching and sweet while still retaining the detachment that Coupland's style is famous for. And for a book about profound loneliness, it manages to be funny and sarcastic and light.

Quickie recommendation: I hate that I liked it, but I did, and I think it's a pretty safe bet.

Friday, June 8, 2007


by William Gibson.

Quickie recap: Case is an unemployed "cowboy" (he works in the matrix) who gets involved in a mysterious and dangerous operation .

Quickie review: Oof. I had trouble getting into this one. While I applaud Gibson for not pussy-footing around and just plopping the reader right into this strange world, it was a lot to swallow at once and I struggled to make sense of what I was reading. It was involving and creative, and ultimately enjoyable, although the characters were at times difficult to differentiate and I felt it wasn't very "average reader" friendly.

Quickie recommendation: I didn't hate it. Whether you do or not depends a lot on how intimidated you are by the sci-finess. It's not unbelievable, just a little advanced.

Winesburg, Ohio

by Sherwood Anderson.

Quickie recap: A bunch of people live in the smallish town of Winesburg, Ohio.

Quickie review: Plotless, this book contained a series of character sketches, some interconnected, some not, of the people who lived in Winesburg. At the outset, I enjoyed the rich detail, but I found that an entire book's worth just felt tedious after a while. As a collection of short stories, I felt it unsatisfying and uneven. Without a doubt, Anderson is a master, but I quickly fell out of love with this book - it lost steam and I lost the will to keep reading.

Quickie recommendation: I was left disappointed.

A Family Daughter

by Maile Meloy.

Quickie recap: This one is hard to summarize. Hmm. A girl named Abby grows up in a fucked up family, writes a thinly-veiled novel about them, which inevitably bites her in the ass.

Quickie review: Melodramatic but not altogether improbable, I zipped right through it but was left feeling empty at the end.

Quickie recommedation: I enjoyed it, but wasn't blown away by it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The Double Helix

A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA, by James Watson.

Quickie recap: The race to discover the structure of DNA was run not only between scientists, but between labs and between countries. In the end, 5 people shared the Nobel prize with smiles and grace, but Watson remembers that it wasn't always so polite.

Quickie review: It's not particularly well-written. It's not particularly interesting. I didn't learn anything I didn't know about DNA itself, and while I would have liked to know a little more about the personalities beyond the double helix, Watson painted a portrait that was at once unflattering and yet bare of much detail.

Quickie recommendation: I can't really think of who the target audience for this book is; no, I don't really recommend it.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Made to Break

Technology and Obsolescence in America, by Giles Slade.

Quickie recap: Obsolescence, or rendering something obsolete, comes in two forms: technology (you replace an item with something better, faster, stronger), or style (you replace an item with a prettier item that does the same thing). Either way, our addiction to electronics has led to massive obsolescence, which means our dumps are overflowing with dangerous, leeching products that are thrown out before they're worn out. A waste to be sure, but why are we doing it? Apparently because companies tell us to.

Quickie review: It dragged in a few places (Slade adores his history, I think), but overall I found the book informative and fascinating, and in some parts, alarming. It's a thinker for sure, and it has made me look around my home with disapproving eyes.

Quickie recommendation: I hope this book is read by many, and discussed by many.

Beautiful Lies

by Lisa Unger.

Quickie recap: Ridley Jones saves a life, and the ensuing media frenzy identifying her as a "hero" prods a man identifying himself as her father to come forward: The catch: until that very moment, Ridley didn't know she was adopted. The other catch: the mob is somehow involved in her so-called "adoption." Run, Ridley, Run.

Quickie review: I have no idea how this book came to be in my possession - "thrillers" are not necessarily my cup of tea. And while it probably won't be winning any literary merit, I found myself enjoying it. A lot. It was fun, and I don't get to say that about very many of the books I read. Clearly, Unger has a sense of humour, and a sense of adventure, and Ridley happens to be an endearing driving force that propels you through the book at record-breaking speeds.

Quickie recommendation: As a bit of a book snob, I'll be the first to admit that this probably isn't for everyone. But I also feel compelled to say that I, for one, enjoyed it, and not only that, I find myself putting the next book in the series on my to-read list.

The Children of Men

by P. D. James.

Quickie recap: By 2021, no one in the world has had a baby for about 25 years. Society reflects the hopeless desperation of living in a world that has no future. A small group seeks to change this, but no amount of dissent will work - only a new baby can give new life.

Quickie review: Unfortunately, I'd already seen the movie. Not that the movie is bad, just that the only thing it really has in common with the book is its title, and the complete absence of other commonalities was at first distracting to me. But once I decided to let the book stand on its own (as it should), I realized what a great story I was reading, not just because it was well-written but because it was well-conceived, well-thought-out...and all the more chilling because of it.

Quickie recommendation: If possible, read it before you watch the unrelated movie - but do read it.