Thursday, May 15, 2008

Recent reads

I keep lists of books I read in their entirety (if I toss a book aside partway, it doesn't count). Here are the last 5, in reverse chronological order, with commentary.

5. The Flash of Lightning Behind the Mountain: New Poems, Charles Bukowski. I've meant for a while to explore Bukowski's poetry beyond the occasional random poem or pop culture allusion. I enjoyed this collection, which covers a wide range of subjects from writing and poetry to social commentary to the women he knew to mortality. His style is very accessible and colloquial, if not a tad coarse at times. While a few poems seem to clunk along a bit, so many are filled with little gems of insight. I loved the poem "feeling fairly good tonight" for these lines:
Thou shalt not fail as a writer
because the very act of writing is the best protection
from the madness of the
4. The Girl in Hyacinth Blue, Susan Vreeland. This novel traces in reverse order the ownership of a (fictitious) Vermeer painting, all the way back the painter and his subject. Along the way, the author explores the varying attitudes toward art and its role in everyday life, as well as how radically different meanings people can ascribe to the same piece of art. The book read like a series of short stories, and I clipped through it in an evening. It was interesting, but not earth-shattering by any means. Good escapist lit.

3. Messenger, Lois Lowry. Juvenile fiction (if it has chapters, it goes on the list). The reaction I seem to get re: Lois Lowry is something along the lines of, "Yeah, I know it's children's literature, but it's good." This is usually in regards to The Giver, a frequently challenged and thought-provoking book that can be read and re-read; I readily admit that I get more out of it now than I did the first time I read it. I'm digressing a bit. Sorry. I recently re-read The Giver and its companion novel Gathering Blue, and Messenger bridges the two and ties up loose ends and questions from the first two. Unfortunately, it ties up too many loose ends and almost, almost feels contrived. I might forgive this in another author, but Lowry set the bar high with the first two. Go read them instead.

2. Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood. This was one of the most disturbing, unsettling works of sci fi I've read in a while. And I mean that in a good way. As is the way with a lot of dystopic fiction, the pursuit of progress has backfired massively. In this case, genetic manipulation and the pursuit of perpetual youth have led to an extermination of the human population as we know it, leaving behind only "Snowman" and the childlike race he watches over. There's also a bit of a love story--triangle, actually--here, but it's the rise of enigmatic Crake that holds the narrative together. I highly recommend this one.

1. Straight Man, Richard Russo. Academic satire, recommended by a former prof. English departments, apparently, are a rich source for satire. The department chaired by Hank Devereaux Jr. is dysfunctional,--to say the least--paranoid, and petty. They are expecting budget cuts and are convinced their chair somehow has compiled a list of lay-offs. Hank's inability to give a straight, serious answer, as well as his contrarian nature don't help matters any. I... didn't really like this one. It seemed to lack the bite that fellow satirist David Lodge captured, relying instead on bodily humor and one-liners. Go read Nice Work or Small World instead if you'd like to see some real overeducated twits hoisted by their petards.

Now playing: David Rovics - Anonymous / The Beggin'
via FoxyTunes

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