Third Quarter, I

Four months ago, I entered here in Brick for the record a list of books I read or started to read, or heard or started to hear, for the entire year 2010, to date. You can stop here, this is just for me. There will be mini-reviews, though, for reference later.

I am not creating hyperlinks. In this sort of post, there’d be too much underlining. Want to know more? Select key phrases and Bing, Google it.

Book List through August 2010

July 2010

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene (book on CD). Wonderful, even if a little predictable, even if too many characters are too flat. A Brick with detail.

The Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern. Didn’t finish. Is it Yiddish or pidgen Yiddish with American puns? I see where it has to be authentic, and the research, but sometimes it’s baloney. And no sympathetic or believable characters in the first 30 pages. Next!

Apparitions & Late Fictions: A Novella and Stories by Thomas Lynch. Didn’t actually start. I like Lynch and will get this out from the library some other time.

The Real Wizard of Oz: The Life and Times of L. Frank Baum by Rebecca Loncraine. Didn’t finish. How not to write a biography these days. Want to learn about someone important? Go online and skip the guessing, hypothetical scene-setting. slapdash historical background and worst of all, amateur psychoanalysis. Loncraine didn’t commit all of these sins, but why so flowery?

August 2010

Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives by Michael Specter. Skimmed through. Many other books cover the same ground. Denialism interestingly is a real term, not a coinage by Specter. I’d like to find a book that explains without patronizing why human beings seem to crave conspiracies and other easy answers.

Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene. Didn’t finish. It had charms but, well, I got impatient.

Star Island, by Carl Hiaasen. Carl’s done it again, moved a little downstream to very young pop stars partying in Miami — and the people who control them. Funny, biting and authoritative.

The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson (book on CD). Popular at the library, I had to wait weeks to check it out again and complete it. I’d have read the book but it has even more “holds.” Thrilling, even when the adventures of the troubled young woman and grizzled, kindly reporter become a little too fantastic. Hey, is that Stephen King saluting? Sweden’s as cold, lively and deadly as Maine.

A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron. This is the first published novel by the renown humor columnist. Brick has a write-up. A charming story that is more sophisticated that it first appears.

Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens. Skimmed through. By the time it became available at the library I had read online lots of reviews and excerpts, and seen the ailing Hitchens on several interview programs. A joke that should be in the book: “What the serpent did say to Eve, ‘If your faith can’t take a little ribbing, lady, it’s not very strong.'”

Common As Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership by Lewis Hyde. A history and book-length persuasive essay that I intend to buy. It is at least as important as Hyde’s earlier The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. Commerce in the arts and sciences, and writing, is not always about money. The varied senses of the “commons” is not just the “free” and new world of the Internet but a longstanding, worldwide phenomenon.

A Blog’s Purpose

Book Report: A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron.

The novel A Dog’s Purpose is the best book written by a dog I have ever read. No, that’s not quite true. The book actually is written by the spirit of a dog. It’s the best book I’ve ever read by an ethereal being, outside of writings by Moses, the Buddha and guys like that.

That makes humor columnist W. Bruce Cameron the apostle of the nameless dog presence, seen corporeally through the bodies of Toby the mutt, Bailey the golden retriever, Ellie the German shepherd and Buddy the black Labrador retriever.

Because Bruce is known as a humorist, the requisite apostle’s halo might be a tricky fit. This is Bruce’s first published novel. I’ve heard him say that he has several unpublished novels and fiction has been his longtime dream. That sounds like I know him.

At this point I should note as a responsible journalist that this is a biased review because not only do I know Bruce but can call him a friend of several years. I know Bruce is my friend because he replies to my e-mails.

So read this review knowing it has opinions in it. As all critiques have bias by definition, there should be no surprises.

A Dog’s Purpose charmed me. It’s an unconventional novel, which these days means too many things. Unconventional might well mean something appealing to Creative Writing departments: Metafiction, deconstructionism, nonfiction in narrative form. Students and faculty might sniff at this book and turn tail. It wasn’t written for them; time to call a spay a spay.

What does a dog think? It takes a brave writer to sell that, and to adults, Continue reading

Finally, a Book List

This is a list, a record, an accounting. Dull in some lights, if not pretentious, condescending and childish: Look at what I’ve been reading, Mommy! But in recent years, I’ve heard of more people keeping lists of books they’ve read. I’ve enjoyed looking at them. Nick Hornby’s is a feature in The Believer magazine. Of course, that’s the spectacular writer Hornby.

After years of false starts, like New Year’s resolutions that fizzle in six weeks, I started this list in January. It really was a resolution, and I never keep those. So far, I am.

This blog entry is for the archives. No need to read it. Tomorrow’s Brick should be funny.

Book List through June 2010

January

(Honestly? December’s) Air Guitar by Dave Hickey — masterly essays.

Prior Convictions by Dave Hickey — good short stories, but I see why he didn’t stay in fiction.

The Choiring of the Trees by Donald Harington — Didn’t finish. Continue reading

Positive Positions Perhaps

“Think, men, think.” — Prof. Harold Hill, The Music Man

New Year’s Resolution No. 1 for 2010 is modest: Keep a book list. Then in a year there’ll be a better best books Brick.

One could say that if the books I read were memorable then I’d remember ’em. It’s not as if I read that much, a couple of ink volumes a month at best, and about 1.5 recorded books a month heard while commuting. Quantity though measurable is relative. So this isn’t very many compared to either of my late parents, who read two or three novels or mysteries a week. All from the library, like me.

My Beloved prefers books on faith and spirituality — serious ones not glib pop — while I tend toward comic novels or Stephen King. It may mean I’m not deep anymore, but I’d rather claim that my mystical curiosity is on sabbatical because my set of live-by philosophies is working right now.

So when called upon to recall my favorite volumes of 2009 — and I’m the only one who’s asking — I recall King’s Duma Key (fun with great craftsmanship) and Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked for its wit and character development. Those were absorbed via audio; I read Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter because of good reviews. I’m hard on comic novels and this one did succeed but it still was on the frothy side. Hornby’s still the contemporary writer to beat on making a reader giggle and think.

Some nonfiction titles hit me so strongly that this roundup is really about them.

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers, is A micro look at Hurricane Katrina, featuring a paint contractor, residential but some commercial, and his family and friends. Its twist is that the fellow is Syrian so the post-Katrina Keystone Kops operation naturally takes him for al Qaida. Zeitoun brings home how the leadership high in Washington is interpreted and made gospel on the ground. Turns out the Bill of Rights can be a luxury when it should be obvious how it’s most needed in crisis. The founding fathers knew this (Franklin: “Those who sacrifice liberty for freedom deserve neither.”) Long-form journalism is tricky, but Eggers paddles smoothly between all obstacles. This book should be required reading in high school.

Mainly, though I want to shout out Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson, read in the summer, and Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich. Continue reading

Audio Stunts Your Growth

The Web site of the town stacks, Fayetteville Public Library, offers to e-mail patrons about new arrivals. A couple of months ago I signed up for the non-musical recordings notification to help me grab new book-on-CD titles. The shelves increasingly are picked over every time I stop by, at least for volumes I’d want. Have I really read/heard all that interests me?

No. The library is not buying many. But it’s not necessarily a cost of our Good Depression. The library is acquiring a number recorded books, but they’re mostly in the juvenile section. The FPL emails one to three notices a week, generally each containing five titles and synopses of a couple dozen words. Until this week, roughly one in 10 is for the main stack and the other nine are “YA’s,” for Young Adult. (Ten adult titles were announced this week, finally.) How to tell? If you click on their links you see the online card entry stating YA, yet that initial listing often mentions either teenagers or vampires.

Sometimes teenage vampires.

Who am I to begrudge the education of young people? It seems — though it may just be appearances — that fewer kids read anything outside of class. Duffs like me can worry when the kids can’t be bothered with what’s given us enlightened pleasure, books. But does listening to CD recordings or MP3 files constitute reading? This might be a case of “Audio books are OK for me, a grown-up, who has to commute and has less time than ever to sit with a paper-and-ink book. I bet though that both youngsters and their parents would say that the youth is busier these days as well. Nah: Those newfangled i-Mod clocks of theirs have 13 hours in them.

What’s lost when a book is digested through the ears and Continue reading

Two for the Show

What a thoughtful movie. It’s about this middle-aged man who’s in a real interesting career, been at it his whole adult life. But the guy is on its far side, losing it. What he’s doing — or selling, depending on the degree of jaundice in your opinion of work — well, maybe it’s best as a young man’s game or maybe his edge is dulling from having done it so long. But from what the multiplex audience is shown, our hero is still pretty damned good.

Is it just a loner-guy monologue, or a buddy-barracks movie? No. Though he is single but previously married, there is a woman in the picture. While somewhat younger, she is in a comparably vulnerable spot of aging, loneliness and dwindling options. The man is irresponsible, but does he realize that he is then feel guilty? Yes, and to demonstrate that we have the long-abandoned daughter, and boy is she still sore.

Maybe 2008 had a hundred movies like this that we missed, but last weekend I saw two (regular towns get the Oscar-contending and small movies in late winter). Wanna guess?

OK, Last Chance Harvey. Dustin Hoffman’s Harvey Shine has spent essentially his entire working life composing commercial jingles. Emma Thompson is the sad but hopeful love interest. The estranged adult daughter stays in the background, but her few lines are key.

Well-read or well-movied folks should have thought I meant The Wrestler. Indeed, that was the other flick. Mickey Rourke plays Randy “the Ram” Robinson. Marisa Tomei is the sad but hopeful love interest. The estranged adult daughter has maybe three significant scenes.

Sure, the reviews are spot-on. The Wrestler is remarkable. Last Chance Harvey should have gone straight to video. My Beloved though enjoyed the latter and won’t go near a movie like Rourke’s. I don’t mean to slight the differences. Hoffman’s jingle writing is sketched in, and Rourke’s rope-a-dope is as authentic and thorough as any documentary could hope to be. Thompson is a market researcher, not that we focus much on that. Tomei is a stripper and we get to hang around the club Continue reading