Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Anathem by Neal Stephenson opens with:
Note to the Reader
If you are accustomed to reading works of speculative fiction and enjoy puzzling things out on your own, skip this Note. Otherwise, know that the scene in which this book is set is not Earth, but a planet called Arbre that is similar to Earth in many ways.
I am accustomed to reading working of speculative fiction (AKA science fiction), but I read the note anyway. Regretfully, the note (which goes on for a few pages) was insufficient to clarify the slow moving story that still spent most of its time introducing the world that is similar to Earth in many ways. In the end, though still at the beginning of this 900 page tome, I was still drowning in the tedium of the complex allegory spanning the history of western civilization.

As I kept falling asleep, I was reminded of the following:
...boredom is a mask frustration wears.
On a more cheery note, I am encouraged for the future of the country when such a book can be so widely read. Our school must be doing something right.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Hollywood Station by Joseph Wambaugh

Hollywood Station by Joseph Wambaugh is another novel of LAPD. This one set in Hollywood against a background of the movie industry and the seedy residents such as meth addicts and the Russian Mafia. While the story depends heavily on the characters, especially the police officers - men and women - young probationary cops to old should-have-retired-already ones - the various vignette's introduce enough action and to keep the story moving. The author's genius ties everything together and brings the entire chronicle to an exciting and satisfying climax reminiscent of Dickens.

An excellent read and a tender, though dramatized, story of the LAPD.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Catsitters by James Wolcott

Catsitters by James Wolcott is a book of the fashion and feelings genre, unusually written by a male writer. The plot centers around a bachelor Johnny Downs and a single girl friend Darlene Ryder who gives him advice about his unsuccessful love life. I made it about 30% through the book before giving up.

Aside from the lack of compelling characters, the writer seems to have a checklist requiring some silly simile every third page, or even several on the same like a high school composition student.
After my shift, the hours lay like brisks.
When I read, my mind bounced of the page like a fly off a windscreen.
She was like Zorro with those highlighters, zip, zip, zip.
... her words clicking in my ears like dominos.
It was like entering a mineshaft, or an abandoned railroad car.
If you love similes, this is the book for you.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Obama's election predicted in 1971

The Drifters by James Michener chronicles the lives of six teenagers in the late 1960s. This group includes a girl who worked on Eugene McCarthy's presidential bid, a boy who fought in the 6-day war for Israel, a black militant, and a draft dodger from California. The first six chapters (about half the book) introduce these characters and offer an interesting view of the time period. I can highly recommend this part.

It was here that Barack Obama's election is predicted. After a discussion of the various failings of the black community, they are compared to the Irish.
The protestants had all sorts of jokes about the Irish, and they were true, but they were also irrelevant. Because in time the Irish learned. They began to elect honest politicians. And they learned to hire honest clerks. And after a couple of generations, America found itself with Jack Kennedy. The patience paid off.
Once the characters are introduced the tale bogs down into talking heads philosophizing about youth, age, truth, and politics. The first word I considered as I slogged through the second half of the book was "boring," but "silly" also came to mind. The book is also obsessed with Black Muslims.
[Mohamadism] spoke directly to the problems of the black man, in that it was above all else a religion that made revenge respectable.
Within ten years Muslims all over the world will be talking about a holy war to rescue their brothers in America.
These predictions, along with much pompous pontification, make the story seem dated and foolish. The lack of action leaves the reader struggling to stay awake for the second half of the book. However, if you have the discipline to stop reading after the initial character sketches - certainly long enough to be a novel in their own right - the book will be a most enjoyable (re)visit into the 1960s.

LGBT Book Watch: The book discusses that one option to avoid the Vietnam draft is to convince your draft board that you're a homosexual. This is done by taking a photograph of yourself naked kneeling in front of naked man.
"But don't you realize a photograph like that could ruin your life?"
"With whom? ... Maybe years from now a photo like that dated 1970 will be a badge of honor."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The New Year's Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini

Do you have fond memories of European agrarian traditions? Are your days occupied reliving your family relationships and those of your parents, grandparents, and siblings? Are you so old that your time is mostly occupied with recollections and reminiscences?

If you are at that quiet time in your life, you'll love The New Year's Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini. The plot line (a conflict between an adult daughter and her elder father on his choice to remarry) takes up so little of the story, it can be completely ignored and just seen as an excuse to wax poetic on quilts, quilting, and life. A charming, sentimental volume.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

I found Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert on a list of 100 greatest novels or something of the sort. Another book on the list was Anna Karenia by Leo Tolstoy. While they are both 19th century novels - a century that started with Jane Austen and gave English literature Mark Twain and Charles Dickens - and both tell the story of women who lead miserable lives, I felt Anna Karenina was the far superior novel.

While Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina is a sympathetic character, Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary is a vain and self-obsessed. In the end Madame Bovary reads like a cautionary tale warning men about the dangers of love and marriage:
the perennial bogey of respectable families - that ill-defined, baleful female, that siren, that fantastic monster forever lurking in the abysses of love.
Given the choice, I'd recommend Tolstoy, though Jane Austen and the Bonte sisters might be better choices for someone looking for literature with women protagonists.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

What can I say about the Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald?

A pleasant short novel about the rich during the roaring 20s. Great literature that doesn't disappoint 80 years after publication.

I didn't realize that F Scott Fitzgerald was from Minnesota or that the book's narrator finally abandons life in New York City to return to the Midwest. If you didn't read it in high school, I'd recommend it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Shooters by W.E.B. Griffin

In The Shooters by W.E.B. Griffin the President of the United States orders Delta Force officer Charley Castillo to rescue a DEA agent kidnapped by drug dealer in South America. In spite of the characters (special forces operatives AKA shooters) and the plot (snatch-and-grab rescue in the jungle), the book was devoid of action. The actual rescue is accomplished in a few pages at the end of the book. The remainder of the tale entailed talking heads, political infighting, conspiracy theories, and macho dialogue.
"What kind of supplies?" Richardson asked.
"The kind that need someplace secure to store them," Castillo said, pointedly avoiding details.
"I wouldn't do that," Sergeant Mullroney said, more than a little righteously. "Junior's my brother-in-law, for Christ sakes. My wife's brother."
"I've always wondered what a brother-in-law was," Castillo said.
However, if you like a world where the President orders macho guys to perform jungle rescues, where the men talk tough and drink, and where the women serve food and look pretty, this is the book for you. However with a 400 page back story leading up to a four page action scene, one of the characters in the story expressed my opinion:
"Can't we get to the point of this?"