Sunday, August 31, 2008

Panic in Level 4

Cannibals, Killer Viruses, and Other Journeys to the Edge of Science, by Richard Preston.

Quickie Recap: Who plays with Ebola? Who gives a shit about pi? What does DNA taste like? Richard Preston answers all the questions I bet no one besides him really thought of asking.

Quickie Review: This book was disjointed, it's just 6 different topics with nothing to do with each other that Preston thought worth publishing. And actually, they are. Worth publishing, I mean. It's no great literary achievement, but there are some interesting moments. I actually came away having learned something about pi, and I have to give some credit there.

Quickie Recommendation: Have you ever wondered what would compel a person to eat their own flesh? If so, this is a pretty good source.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Literary Lapses

by Stephen Leacock.

Quickie Recap: This is Leacock's first collection of comic stories, self-published according to the afterword by Robertson Davies, and full of gems, according to me.

Quickie Review: I liked best the one story that Robertson Davies did not: Number Fifty-Six. Other than that, Davies and I seem to agree largely that Leacock is a national treasure, always a funny man, and a great read besides.

Quickie Recommendation: Never a let down.

Monday, August 25, 2008


by Chuck Palahniuk.

Quickie Recap: Cassie Wright, an aging and declining porn star, makes one last grab at fame by setting out to set a world record while making her last film starring herself and 600 willing men, three of whom share their stories while waiting for their turns.

Quickie Review: I gushed after Rant. Gushed. It set the bar high, and even though I had Snuff in my closet just waiting to be read, I practiced some delayed gratification and held out. Held out to be horrifically disappointed, it seems. Didn't like it. Like, at all. Hey Chuck Palahniuk - way to WAY overuse the phrase 'pud-puller'. Totally ruined it for me. I had no sympathy for any of the characters. I found them lacking in motivation. With a title like Snuff, you have a pretty good indication that someone is going to die, and I felt myself willing it along. I wanted them all to keel over just so that I could be done. I'm pretty sure he only wrote the book so he could use those "clever" porn titles he's been saving up since he was 12. I mean, Chitty Chitty Gang Bang? Ugh.

Quickie Recommendation: Read Rant instead. This book is lame.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Say Goodbye

Quickie Recap: An expectant mother\FBI agent learns to juggle her personal life with her career, struggling between doing what's best for her unborn baby and what the urgent needs of the missing persons in her case files.

Quickie Review: Not normally my kind of book, I still enjoyed it, at least in a throw-away kind of way. Lately I find that I need some lighter fare in between angsty literature or heavy-duty non-fiction and despite the dead bodies, this, to me, is lighter fare. Brilliant? No. Frankly, a little predictable, but in a sorbet way. You know, palate-cleansing.

Quickie Recommendation: Hm. Well, if you're a lover of the "best-selling suspense" stuff, then yeah, I think this works. Is there better out there? Definitely.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Beijing Coma

Quickie Recap: Dai Wei is a student in Beijing when the events of Tienanmen Square take place in 1989. He joins the protests as an organizer and ends up with a bullet in his head. It doesn't kill him, though that would have the better way out. Instead, he ends up in a coma, unable to move or talk or stop the flood of memories from torturing his every moment.

Quickie Review: I have read everything about the massacre in Tienanmen Square that I could get my hands on. This, however, left me cold. I don't know why, but I felt no connection to this book. Could it have been lost in translation? I'll never know. All I can say is that I wasn't feeling it. There was no passion, I felt no sympathy. It's like it lost its heart.

Quickie Recommendation: I have to say no - but do read a good first-hand account instead.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ragged Company

A novel by Richard Wagamese.

Quickie Recap: Four homeless people make friends with a non-homeless person when they discover a mutual love of movies. After a stroke of crazy luck though, the friendship and their lives quickly change as they try to adjust to circumstances that don't always leave them feeling quite so lucky.

Quickie Review: Actually, I quite liked this one. Wagamese's treatment of the homeless quartet was always done in taste. This story has a social conscience. Having worked with exactly this population myself, I really appreciated the dignity with which he writes the characters. The pain is palpable, and the coping methods are not always respectable, but definitely understandable, and that's the heart of this book. It's easy to connect with these people, and it's easy to see how close we all come, how we're all just a few bad choices or unlucky events away from the lives society looks down upon.

Quickie recommendation: Good stuff.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Stuff White People Like

A Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions by Christian Lander.


Quickie Recap: Based on his uber-funny blog, Christian Lander takes the funny to a whole new level with his book. Ever sit around and wonder what white people are doing this very moment? Lander offers some likely answers: yoga, shopping organic, getting divorced...and he does it in an always eyebrow-raising, high-larious way.

Quickie Review: This book is a hoot, and I think to be enjoyed by the whites and the nonwhites alike. I mean, who doesn't like to laugh at white people? Will it actually help you understand white people any better? God, I hope not. But you should display it prominently on your bookshelf just to reassure them. :) As a white person myself, I kept an internal check list as I read along, groaning in embarrassment any time I liked any of the things my race supposedly likes - David Sedaris, for example - and feeling gloaty and condescending any time I could pashaw at an item that I in fact do not like, like outdoor performance clothes. Man, I'm telling you, you just have to read it. I think it might be genius. I mean, possibly Lander is an idiot-savant, I don't claim to know the guy, but by golly if he isn't entertaining!

Quickie Recommendation: Please buy this book IMMEDIATELY, read it cover to cover, and then email me with your 'whiteness' rating - I'm just dying to know if I beat you or not!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Exit Lines

A darkly comic novel about everything that matters, from sex to death, by Joan Barfoot.
Quickie Recap: Four people taking up residence in the same retirement home find that they have more in common than just old age, but with death looming more quickly for some than others, they find their approach to friendship is more intense and that life at the Idyll Inn isn't quite as peaceful as they'd imagined.
Quickie Review: I wasn't entirely sure what to make of this book at first, but I'm glad I kept with it because it really did make me think about what friendship means, how much we can really ask of ourselves, and of others, what a life well-spent really means, and what exactly is meant by a 'life worth living for'. It's a book that gives pause, and does so with a touch of funniness that is endearing.
Quickie Recommendation: Worth it.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Shock Doctrine

The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, by Naomi Klein.

Quickie Recap: Free markets do not get that way happily through the democratic practise that certain someones would have us believe. Behind the grubby curtains lie a much harsher reality: that bombs are dropped in order to create the chaos and sense of panic needed for a nation of people to go along with the drastic changes to their country's economic structure.

Quickie Review: This book was sickening. The first chapter was probably my favourite; it drew the link between the torture of an individual in order to extract certain information to the torture of a people, large scale terror, in order to enact certain laws. It makes it all seem so....cruel, and unnecessary.

Quickie Recommendation: Seems like an important read.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Story of A Widow

A novel by Musharraf Ali Farooqi.

Quickie Recap: A middle-aged widow living in a neighbourhood of Karachi puts the whole of her family, friends and acquaintances into an uproar when she decides to try her hand at remarriage.

Quickie Review: This was a toughie for me. I didn't much like it. Mona could have been an interesting character, but she seemed more like the cardboard cut-out of the potentially interesting character instead. Majorly disappointing. Ali Farooqi paints her as one of the most superficial characters I've ever had the displeasure of reading, and she was the one driving the story! Saying she was one-dimensional attributes just too many dimensions to her. We never get any real insight, no glimpse of her inner thought process. When she entertains this new suitor we have no idea what she sees in him and I have no idea why I wasted my time with this book.

Quickie Recommendation: Pass.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Babylon Rolling

Quickie Recap: Told from 5 different voices, Boyden explores the dynamics and interpersonal relationships, cultural, racial, sexual, of New Orleans in the year before Katrina hits.

Quickie Review: For all of its glittering potential, I disliked this book from the very first sentence of the very first chapter. Shall I tell you why?
Have you ever read I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe? I have had the unfortunate experience myself, and I hated that book for the same reason that I dislike this one. Tom Wolfe embarrassed himself by writing a black character that he voiced with an enormous amount of insulting cliches. While Boyden doesn't go quite so far, her treatment of "Fearius" is just horrendous. Reading it made me feel incredibly and constantly uncomfortable. It's so bad that at first I hoped it was a parody, that it was some joke that we were sharing. Sadly, it was just awkward and racist and reading it felt like watching someone in black face: just plain wrong.
The other stories were not nearly so distasteful, but every time Fearius came up, I got to the point where I had to skip over entire sections. I cringed my way through this book and for that reason I could not bring myself to even enjoy the bits that were okay.
Quickie Review: Skip it.