Sunday, December 30, 2007

Gods Behaving Badly

Quickie recap: The Greek gods of Olympus have relocated. They've spent the past several centuries in a crumbling old house in England, watching their powers slip away as the people around them cease to believe in them. Artemis, goddess of hunting and chastity, finds little use for either of these things in 2007. She has taken up dog walking. Aphrodite, goddess of beauty, puts her skills to use as a sex phone operator. It seems that perhaps immortality has an expiration date - until their house cleaner and her beau, mere mortals, have the chance to become heroes and save them (and us) all.
Quickie review: This is my 142nd (and last) book this year, and I can honestly say that Gods Behaving Badly was one of the best enjoyed. It was fun. It was really fun. It was a retelling, a modernized myth, a story for the ages. As soon as I finished I thought - who else has read this? - surely there must be someone who will pour me some tea and have a good hearty chat about it! I want to praise this book for its originality, but at the same time, it was its familiarity, its recounting of the same old story that the Greek gods have always been known for, that made it such a goddamned delight to read. So if not original, I will call it unique. And I will call it lovely, and meaty, and dreamy, and extremely, exquisitely readable.
Quickie recommendation: By the power of Zeus, yes.

Friday, December 28, 2007

What is the What

Quickie recap: In the age of James Frey, this has been classified a 'novel' but is truthfully the autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, a Lost Boy who was displaced from his home in Sudan when civic war breaks out. He walks with other boys who have lost their families to Ethiopia and dreams of salvation and risks death - and while he narrowly misses death, salvation doesn't even come close. Next he is relocated to Kenya, where a refugee camp becomes his only home for the next decade, until he emigrates to the U.S., where thousands of Lost Boys struggle to find themselves, to make sense of what has happened, and what continues to happen in the Darfur region today.
Quickie review: I think we all fell in love with Eggers in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and were suitably twitter-pated over his good McSweeney's work. But when you crack open the spine of this baby, you find that you're not in familiar Eggers' territory anymore. Well, that's not entirely true. His blend of truth and style is there. Even some of his humour remains, a trademark discovery that surprised me amidst such dark and difficult material. I know there has been some controversy as to whether Eggers has perhaps overstepped the role of author here, and supplanted Deng's identity with one that at times resembles his own persona, but I feel that rather he has helped to give a voice to a young man who has bravely struggled toward this very thing. It must be daunting to tell another man's story, but I think the story in this case actually benefits from the slight removal. Eggers can tell the story plainer than Deng could have done. Working together, they produce a document that is not just culturally relevant, but a good piece of writing too.
Quickie recommendation: I needed to read this book. The accounts of Darfur that we hear today are brief and isolated. You can't really understand the significance of the place, of the series of events, until you string them all together and see what they have meant to one person, one soul that is not at all unlike yours. To me, he is the face of Sudan, and the new ache in my heart.
***Quickie reward: Dave Eggers has diverted all of the author's proceeds to the Valentino Achak Deng Foundation.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Door

by Margaret Atwood.

Quickie recap: The Door is a slim volume of poetry that packs so much punch per square inch it'll leave your brain just bursting with imagery and snippets so vibrant and raw they'll haunt you for days.

Quickie review: Truthfully, I feel ill-equipped to talk about poetry. Perhaps talking about poetry is like dancing about architecture. Perhaps it's just best left up to the more lyrically-minded. Prose is my comfort zone. But when I hit the poetic sweet-spot, I feel energized and inspired, like the words are thrumming some strings inside me that usually lay dormant. And so because this is a rare and intense thing for me, I confess, I've had this little book on or about my person for months now, and I've taken my time with it. I've savoured. I've read and reread. I've paused and come back. I've sat and digested. I've thought and fell to pieces. 'My Mother Dwindles' has left me heartsick and awed. 'Boat Song' is eerily evocative. 'At Brute Point', though, has captivated me and tortured me the most. How is it sweet and funny and pathetic at the same time? It's not sad, she tells us, or rather, assures herself, and I wonder if it took her breath away to write as it did for me to read.

Quickie recommendation: This is not a case of like or not like. This is a case of being struck, being arrested by small black letters on a creamy, off-white page. Of having dreams of weeds that grow almost audibly (almost audibly!). Of encountering mortality and vitality within the same volume, and feeling optimistic and melancholy in my same heart. Of being reduced to horribly ungrammatic sentence fragments because after spending quality time with such brave, bold words, you just aren't capable of measuring up and now you know it unequivocally. And so with a breath that verges on a sigh, you say to others: open The Door.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Lost Highway

by David Adams Richards.

Quickie recap: Alex Chapman should have prayed for patience, and to be less greedy. He didn't. Instead, when he learned that his uncle had in his possession a lottery ticket worth $13 million, he got some naughty thoughts. And then the novel asks Alex, and us, just how far we're prepared to bend our morals, and at what cost.
Quickie review: This novel is juicy in a question-of-ethics, cast-the-first-stone, point-the-finger-at-yourself kind of way. 13 million dollars is a lot of money. How many of us could stay honest? I bow to you, author, for writing about betrayal so deftly, and for not flinching, not even once.
Quickie recommendation: Oui.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Jean Chretien: My Years as Prime Minister

by Jean Chretien.

Quickie recap: For ten years, Chretien served as Canada's Prime Minister and led us into an undeniable period of growth and prosperity, but not without his share of scandal. In this book he sets the record straight, and offers no apologies.

Quickie review: This memoir is rarely personal - he sticks to his years as Prime Minister, and aside from attributing his success to his lovely wife Aline, he doesn't often stray into more intimate territory. However, he does tackle some meaty political issues - his regrets about the referendum, how he melds his Catholicism with his liberal views on gay marriage, his anger toward his successor Paul Martin, his "discovery" of Stephane Dion, and whatever the hell happened with the sponsorship scandal. Personally, I was excited to crack open this book. I liked him from the day he was elected, and missed him from the day he retired. I love that he's not afraid to boast on the pages of this book. Sure he's arrogant, but he did a lot for our country, and he's not afraid to remind us of that. He takes credit where he feels credit is due. He is surprisingly soft on Castro, a bit cheeky about Clinton (ribbing the younger but chubbier former President), and delightfully caustic when it comes to Paul Martin. It kind of makes you wish that Chretien days were here again.

Quickie Recommendation: You get the sense that Chretien knows that history will give him the respect he deserves, so in this book he indulges himself, sets the record straight on the things that mattered to him. It's always fascinating to hear the other side of the story.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Child In Time

Quickie recap: Stephen loses his daughter in a supermarket. He and his wife separate in their grief. He is haunted by his missing child - looks for her in the faces of passing kids, is constantly surrounded by teases of other childhoods and can never really let go.
Quickie review: McEwan is the man. He wrote this one sentence about a dog taking a shit and I swear to god, you could fall in love with him just like that. He's so facile. He should write all the books!
Okay. Maybe not. Poor guy needs a break. And it's great to hear other voices. But he really is that good.
Quickie recommendation: Yes yes yes.

Look At Me

by Jennifer Egan.

Quickie recap: What makes a person visible? Your face? Your identity? Seeing yourself through others? Leaving a mark? How do you become invisible?

Wow. This is cryptic.

Quickie review: Good stuff. Surprisingly good, probably because more than one character is going through an existential crisis, but they connect in vague but interesting ways. I liked this book. I felt a connection to the characters, and not just because of the pseudo-blog component. It was engaging and thinky. I like thinky.

Quickie recommendation: Yeehaw.

**Check it out at the Book Lounge!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Main Street

by Sinclair Lewis.

Quickie recap: Carol is a big-city girl who marries a small-town doctor. She is gung-ho to take on his backwards town and revolutionize it but the citizens repel her so she has to go outside her social class to even find friends.

Quickie review: It's kind of funny how the same archetypes exist even a hundred years later. Actually, it's not kind of funny - it IS a funny, satirical, sometimes biting book - surprisingly funny, at times. And if you've ever lived in a small town, you recognize the shops, the citizens, the complaints. It's all very familiar and very wisely put.

Quickie recommendation: Props to my man Sinclair.