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Saturday, February 10, 2007

Books read in January

  • Better Living Through Bad Movies - Sheri Zollinger and Scott Clevenger

    Borrowed? No.

    All I can say is, don't take this book to some public place where you expect to behave with decorum. I laughed out loud in the worst way, those snorts and thigh-thumping hoots and bellows and grunts that you make when something strikes you as really, really, unexpectedly, even shockingly, funny. Unfortunately, I tend to read at meals, so there was much dislodging of rice grains from mucous membranes to be performed. Not to mention the scandalized glares of fellow diners to contend with. Or the pleading of the occasional friend or partner for a read-out-loud, as in, "Whaaat?" "Whadya mean what?" "Well, you laughed." "Yes? And?" "Well, aren't you going to share?" Okay, more whining than pleading, but you get my drift.

    This is a thoroughly fun and enjoyable book, witty, devastating, delivering smackdowns on the most beloved of bad movies, in the best way. If you don't buy - and read - it, you'll probly die of regret. And no, you may not borrow my copy. I'm not letting it out of my sight.

    On the other hand if you want me to get you one as a prezzie, let me know, and I will.

    Recommended? Hell, yeah!

    Reread? Weekly.

  • Dinosaur in a Haystack - Steven Jay Gould

    Borrowed? Briiii-yannnnnn!

    It took me the better part of three weeks to read this book. Actually, one might more accurately say it took me several months. I had started it twice previously, and put it down each time partway through because I couldn't bear to continue. I love good writing on any topic, and I love reading about science, especially biology and paleontology. So it caused me a great deal of distress that it took me so long to get through this book. I finally came to the conclusion that the writer's ego stood between the reader and the work. Really, given that Gould is writing about stuff I mostly drool over, it was most annoying to spend so much time on a single book. Furthermore, the book would have been greatly improved by omitting all the baseball yaya and the deity yaya and the biblical quotes. Dr. Gould is not a writer, but someone apparently successfully convinced him that he was. Informative book, if you don't mind digging through a lot of dirt for a few precious nuggets.

    Recommended? Are you a hardcore paleontology geek? With oodles of free time? If you answered no to either of these questions, move on, cher, move on.

    Reread? Good gawd, once is enough. I'm not even sure if I ever want to read anything by him ever again, although the topics are fascinating and the information, when you've dug down to it, is likewise.

  • Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad

    Borrowed? No.

    I've owned this book for many decades. I think I first read it in my teens. I was shocked at some of the bald observations Conrad made (quite the shrinking violet in those days, or perhaps unaccustomed to the uglier side of colonialism - either interpretation works). Its generous use of words and terms that were considered racist rather inspired me to put the book down, and I did not pick it up again until my twenties, after my first viewing of Apocalypse Now. Rereading it, I felt as if I understood the writer better, but it was still a wrenching experience.

    In my thirties, I read Robert Silverberg's Downward to the Earth and found myself rereading Heart of Darkness, for comparison's sake, or something. And lately, the war in Iraq has forced me to view several movies about war, to crack open history books, to purchase for the first time books on the history of the Middle East, of Islam, of the role of women in Islam, of the coexistence of Islam and other religions - even my very own copy of the Qur'an. And, of course, to reread Conrad yet again. Each decade seems to bring an improved perspective. He was a brilliant and very talented writer. Imagine being born and raised in one culture, speaking one language, and achieving fame as a writer writing in a completely different culture and language. It's enough to incite a tiny flutter of xenophobia. Which, in a way, is what the book is about. Otherness. Lately, the more insane, virulent loons in this world have been repeating their favorite catchphrase - "Kill 'em all, let God sort them out." Conrad is the antidote. And it is good medicine, because ultimately bitter.

    Recommended? No shrinking violets, goddammit. Highly recommended to all and sundry; students of Africa, colonialism, history, racism, and fiction writing at its best. Hold your nose, if you must, but read it anyway.

    Reread? Next decade, without a doubt.

  • Moving Targets - Women, Murder, and Representation - Helen Birch, Ed.

    Borrowed? Don't think so. It looks like the kind of thing I'd buy myself as a gift.

    An excellent analysis of women's role in the criminal justice system both as criminals and as victims. A number of women contributed to this thought-provoking collection.

    Recommended? Highly readable and a MUST read for men, women, and little furry creatures of the reading variety. Also highly recommended for students of gender studies, criminology, psychology, writers, journalists, and true-crime aficionados.

    Reread? Maybe, but not for quite a while.

  • My Life in France - Julia Child

    Borrowed? Smoke.

    Smoke handed me this with the terse warning "Fluffy." To be honest, it was a quick read but I found it far from fluffdom. Possibly because I love food, Julia's descriptions of her cooking lessons in France, and her exploration of French cuisine, are simply - delectable. Interestingly, Julia and her husband Paul Child were fairly left of center for their time, and this book is extremely revealing of how the political landscape has changed since Ms. Julia Child was a young woman. She sounds like a terrific person, smart, determined, and very clear about what she wanted out of life. I wish I'd had a chance to meet her, but reading her book was an enjoyable way of making her acquaintance and seeing through her eyes the beauty of La Belle France.

    Recommended? For anyone who loves food, cooking, wine, politics, gender studies, biographies.

    Reread? No. It was fun while it lasted, I wouldn't want to tarnish it by rereading. I still maintain, though, that it is NOT fluff.

  • Republican Like Me - Harmon Leon

    Borrowed? No.

    The writer is clearly one of the people that, if you knew them as kids, was the class troublemaker. He was the kid who put chewing gum in other kids' hair, or stuffed tadpoles and worms down their shirts, or lit firecrackers in the back of the class. He is, apparently, a well-known reporter and standup comedian in the SF Bay Area. And he's good. He's an interesting writer, he's hella funny in an edgy, nervous-making kinda way, and in some ways he's brilliant. But you sure as fuck would not want to be hangin' with him when he pulls some of the stunts he writes about in this book. I mean, what kinda scrawny Jewish kid joins an antisemitic White power hate group for a lark? He's lucky to be alive, assuming, of course, that he still is. The book was a fun read, though.

    Recommended? Enthusiastically, assuming you're not on medication for your anxiety issues.

    Reread? Nah. It was fun while it lasted, but.

  • The Early Stories (1883-1888) - Anton Chekhov

    Borrowed? No.

    Someone gave me this book a long time ago. I never got around to reading it because I had grown up reading the Russian writers - Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Tolstoy - in my misspent youf. I figured it would be more like rereading, and decided to save the book for a day and time when I had finished reading every other unread book on my shelves. Now that there are books piled up on every available surface (to say nothing of shelves), the time, I judged, was right to clear a path between bed and door, at least, if nothing else. Short stories are better for interruptive bouts of reading, and with five cats, one certifiably psycho, reading at Casa Los Gatos is nothing if not interruptive. So I put this book on the (most recent) pile.

    And I'm glad I did. Chekhov has a certain mastery of the short story form that I greatly admire. I think my short stories are my best work, also, though I'd be hard put to say why because I never work on them. They always come as lightning flashes of the Muse, a continuation of a conversation in my head that suddenly spills over onto paper, and afterwards I'm left feeling vaguely uneasy, as if I were speaking to a forgotten friend from a long time ago - looks familiar, but where do I know this person from? The story and I share the same intimacy. I recognize some things of me in there, but I have no idea how it got to be. Reading this collection - it's from his most prolific period, when he was churning out many little works, each a gem - gave me some ideas about the creative process. Chekhov's style is not mine, but his ability to capture a feel for the things he saw and heard, and encapsulate in a tiny space the atmosphere that must have existed around these incidents and people, is nothing short of magic.

    Recommended? Joyously. Cheerfully. Wickedly and unrestrainedly. With a warning that Chekhov's humour was often quite cruel, so this book should be avoided by shrinking violets.

    Reread? Someday.

  • The Image - Isaac Bashevis Singer

    Borrowed? Nope.

    Isaac Bashevis Singer is, like Chekhov, a master of the short-story form. This book is a collection of his stories, some set in the Old World, some in the New. The stories have a transitional feel to them, but his ability to span decades and generations in a work five pages long is impressive. As is the keenness of his observations. Remarkably sexist, but perhaps appropriate for its era.

    Recommended? For those interested in Judaica, history, anthropology, fiction, good writing, and to students of the written word everywhere.

    Reread? Yes, but when?

  • The Secret Sharer - Joseph Conrad

    Borrowed? No.

    My what a creepy story. What can I say? All through it I felt as if I were the protagonist and the antagonist. Conrad is a writer of rare skill and talent. This is a story of great psychological power, and one of his that I have never read or heard of before.

    Recommended? For the not-so-faint-at-heart; and for those who love reading and good writing.

    Reread? Oh, my, yes.

  • Where Oceans Meet - Bhargavi Mandava

    Borrowed? No.

    What on earth possessed me to read this? I won't say it was shite - the writer has the ability to tell a tale. But not, in my opinion, very well. I read most of the book, to my great dismay. Why? Because I kept thinking, surely it's got to get better! It can't really be so bad. I mean, good lord, the writer was in residence at some hoity-toity writing programme. Surely they wouldn't have offered such a fine opportunity to some loser - which this writer is getting perilously close to being. Bah, humbug. At what point do you just force yourself to put the damn book down and move on? I must try to be better about this. And you know what? I got sucked into the cultural aspects of the book. Feh, I say. Never again.

    Recommended? Oh, no, absolutely not.

    Reread? I got rid of it already.

    In progress:

  • The World of the Shining Prince - Ivan Morris partly read
  • Sometimes A Great Notion - Ken Kesey partly read
  • Nonsense - Robert J. Gula partly read
  • A House in Gross Disorder - Herrup partly read
  • A Spy's Revenge partly read
  • Extraordinary Popular Delusions - Mackay partly read
  • On the Beach - Nevil Shute partly read
  • The Ginger Man - J.P. Donleavy partly read
  • The Hollowing - Robert Holdstock partly read
  • Rosie - Anne Lamott reread
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius - Dave Eggers partly read
  • Foreign Land - Jonathan Raban partly read
  • Passions of the Cut Sleevepartly read
  • Porphyrys' Letter to His Wife partly read
  • Syonan, My Story reread
  • Rehearsal For War reread
  • Singapore, The Pregnable Fortress reread

    I guess it's pretty clear from the list and the reviews that I am not finishing everything that I start. And there's a lot of "rereads" on the list. Explanation: the rereads are mostly for the Book Writing Project. But I vow to be better over the coming months. Keeping a list like this, and a public one, at that, does force me to be more linear in my reading habits, which is not a bad thing. Especially when one considers the 500 or so books that I must read for the Writing Project.

    In any event, I have decided to remove some of the books from the list and add some of the Writing Project books to the list, which is now down to 50 books. Hopefully, by the end of February, it'll be down to 40 or fewer. I think the books to read in February must include some of those In Progress. How else am I going to get the buggers off the list? Plus, I plan to read all those that Smoke lent me. Then I can get them out of the house and actually have walking space again.

    Wish me well, fellas. Did anyone take my bet?

    Will post an updated list by next week. Also, Smoke's reading lists. I have till July 1 to finish all the books not related to The Writing Project. From July 1 to December 31, I will only read books that relate to The Writing Project.

    Encouragement is gratefully expected, I mean, accepted.

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