Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Summary Judgments: Book Report

Spotted in the Third Grade
I spied this in Laura's classroom.

Read any good books lately? I've polished off a couple of the books I got for my birthday last month, so I ran right over to tell you guys, naturally.

The new Stephen King book, Under the Dome: you know, I really got into this, all thousand pages of it. I liked the premise--one day an invisible, impenetrable dome appears, trapping a small town--and I liked that there were eleventy hundred characters, though you know that a book might be a tad too long when the list of dramatis personae in the front includes "Dogs of Note." Even though it was super long, that sucker moved. The style did not get in the way, for the most part. And there was very little of that weird crazy-person-thinking-in-italics shit that you get in his stuff. I mean, we know that King is not Cormac McCarthy, right? There were a few clunkers, but mostly he just told the story, which is what I like.

After I turned the last page, I thought, you know, in my lifetime I have gotten hundreds of hours of entertainment from Stephen King, even though I never think about him and wouldn't list him among my favorite authors. I think I read The Shining when I was in the 6th grade--way to monitor my reading, Mom and Dad--and many, many of his books since then. Here are the props I haven't been giving you, Stephen King. So, as fifth-graders say at the end of book reports, if you wanna know what happens to the small town and what the deal with the dome is, you'll have to read the book. Or email me and I'll tell you everything.

The Glass Room by Simon Mawer: This was a finalist for the Booker prize last year. It tells the story of a married couple in the new Czechoslovakia in the 1920's. She's very refined, he's a rich Jewish industrialist, and they commission a great architect to build them a modern house with a stunning, glass-walled pavilion. So, Central Europe, the 1920's and 30's, there's not a cloud in the sky, right? I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

It's a very good book. If you like Alan Furst or other fiction set in this time and place, you'll be into this. I am always wary (and weary) when I start reading a book and feel like I've stepped into a huge pile of metaphor (José Saramago's Blindness, anyone?) and I was a little worried that The Glass Room would go that way, with a whole, like, "there's this room and it's made of glass so everyone can see inside, but somehow the human heart is still mysterious" thing.

But it is way better than that. The characters and their entanglements are gripping even without the dramatic historical backdrop. And I don't know if the story of what modernism in art and architecture meant in this period has been told better than this--the way these people had just emerged from a nightmare of empire and then war, hoping to finally build things that were new and unencumbered by the past, only to run smack into a new, nightmarish present. It's worth reading for the portrait of their sensibilities alone. Also there is some hanky panky. And Nazis.

And then there's the book everybody has been chattering about, and I just saw that it's the #1 seller on Amazon, Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. I read an excerpt of this in New York Magazine--go here to read it if you are interested in what a total scuzz John Edwards really is--and then I clicked over and ordered it faster than you can say OMG JUICY. And that's what it is, a juicy picture of all the personalities involved in the presidential campaign. I am halfway through it, and so far everyone, really everyone except Mr. and Mrs. 44, comes off as borderline-mentally ill. Interesting and a TOTAL BEACH READ, fo' sho'.

Ooh, and have you read The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova? It's from several years back. I read it twice and recommended it to everyone I know. It is a mystery, and a historical novel, and a Dracula story. It's edu-thrilling. If you haven't read it, and you like stuff that's awesome, go get it. Then come back and listen to this news: her new novel just came out last week, The Swan Thieves. I didn't even know about it until today, but I'm looking forward to reading it, even though I'm afraid I'll be disappointed. Historian is that good.

Anybody wanna weigh in on these? There are a few other books but I'll save them for a future post. This is probably an overdose of my opinions as it is. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, if you actually buy one of these books after clicking on one of my links, Amazon will give me, I believe, a nickel. Which I will probably put towards purchasing a boxed cake mix, or some Corona Light. So please think carefully about whether you want to subsidize that kind of behavior.


Jane said...

Edu-thrilling: A wonderful word.

Becky said...

Jane, as a writer, give us your opinion: IS conflict what makes you turn the page???

Elle said...

Please be assured that I have long been propping S. King for two. He is not he greatest writer in the world, but he delivers what he promises. He says, I am going lure you in & then scare the shit out of you & then guess what? Perfect. No one is better than he.

Veronica said...

Thanks for the recommendations, I'll check some of those out--I suddenly have all this time when I'm sitting around in a chair, breastfeeding, and I thought once in a while I ought to turn off Oprah and do something edumacational. Or edu-thrilling.

I am almost done with _Outliers_ by Malcolm Gladwell, which I totally recommend, and at my other chair I'm just starting _The Help_, by I forget who, which I hear is awesome. The first 2 pages were good, but so far I don't really have any developed opinions on that one.

Anonymous said...

Alright, you have convinced me. I will check out The Historian. Perfect timing since I just got my new Nook and I'm looking for crap to load on it. I hope it's available as an eBook!

Becky said...

Remarkaby Domestic Beth, you will love it. It's a long book, so that's a lot of nooking.

V, I've been exactly where you are, and for your situation I recommend Game Change, since it's easy to pick up and put down. I love how you are reading different things in different chairs! I so totally know.

Lisa Lilienthal said...

Becky I enjoy your blog so much I'd buy you a whole beer. So there.

Jane said...

Is conflict what makes you turn the page? Short answer, yeah.

Keely said...

I really wish I had your blog at hand when I was in the bookstore. I need a new book really badly, but am too wishy-washy to make a decision on my own.

Historian. Got it.

Rick Dakan said...

I liked Under The Dome but thought the ending was a lame cop out that would've worked on a 22 minute Twilight Zone episode but not on a 1000 page book. Still, the journey's fun.

I'm deeply disappointed that you gave Mark Halperin a single dime, as he's an awful human being who's done nothing but coarsen and trivialize political discourse. I once saw him standing by a CSPAN bus in New York City outside The Strand book shop and was barely able to constrain myself from spitting on him.

Becky said...

Sorry Rick! I don't even know who he is. Only his name was familiar.

And Under the Dome, yeah, I agree about the ending, but now that I think about it, the ending is really not much more important to me than any other part of the book. Depends on the genre, too, I guess.

Rick Dakan said...

Halperin is the worst kind of pundit. Someone who revels in sleaze and innuendo and yet hides behind a reputation as a serious thinker. If he was straight forward with it, I might not mind, but he's so stuck up about, well, everything. That haughty, knowing, politics as blood sport and who cares that it actually has something to do with people's lives attitude.

I'm not sure what a good ending to Under the Dome might have been. I think it's entirely possible there couldn't have been one. I'd have preferred that the cause (preferably a different one) was stated much earlier in the book. Then I wouldn't mind that the build up of its mystery never paid off. I enjoyed the book a lot, but the explanation felt tacked on.

A Lawyer Mom's Musings said...

Oh, I wish I could weigh, but can't until I read these. Ordered Game Changer a few weeks ago (econo-paper-back version so it's not here yet). But the others sound great.

Stephen King is first on my list -- I've never read him, never thought to, but "The Dome" sounds good.

I read a book this summer authored by a guy in NC about the world shutting down because of an electromagnetic pulse (his forward and aft were complete with CIA guys saying, "yeah this could really happen"). Can't remember the name of it right now.

It described how the townspeople dealt with no tv, internet, transportation, medicine, money, liquor, etc., and how fast the social constructs deteriorated and were rebuilt. This S King book sounds similar and much better.


I'm off to Amazon now for a few used pick-ups; if no luck there, I will head to the library with my list in hand.

Sara said...

" 'there's this room and it's made of glass so everyone can see inside, but somehow the human heart is still mysterious' thing "
lmao! I needed that.

I'm waiting for Under The Dome to get cheaper and telling myself to get back into the library book habit.

If only I could keep up with your recommends! Wah!