Sunday, May 30, 2010

Requiem, Mass. by John Dufresne

I wish I knew how to describe John Dufresne's style, because it is my favorite kind of writing. It's fast and furious, and a little disjointed, sort of like a busy Saturday morning with lots of coffee. I devoured this book, both because I loved it, and because I felt like I had to read really fast to keep up.

Where I heard about this book: I found it on the library shelves. With a name like that, who could resist?

What I thought of this book: Terrific. 4 1/2 stars.

What this book is about: Wow. Hard to distill. It's told from the point of view of a middle-aged author, who originally writes the story as fiction, then is convinced to take the plunge, admit it's a memoir, and use real names, places and events. It follows his childhood in a wildly dysfunctional but entertaining extended family. This story is interspersed with segments of the protagonist's adult life. I must admit that I considered a few of these me-as-an-adult sections to be unwelcome distractions from the more compelling story of his childhood. My only other complaint about the novel is that there were so many characters that I had trouble keeping them all straight, particularly the family whose names are all colors. Otherwise this was a thoroughly enjoyable book.

I discovered that the main character in Requiem, Mass., Johnny, bears more than a passing resemblance to John Dufresne. I love the way the author talks, in interviews, about memoir and fiction. I'm paraphrasing here, but in essence he says that memoir is always half-truth, as memory is unreliable at best, and always biased. Fiction, he maintains, is in many respects more truthful; an author knows his characters better than he can ever know himself, and events are crisply imagined, not dulled by hazy recollection.

Here is an interview transcript I really enjoyed - John Dufresne sounds like someone who is easy to talk to; a serious writer who describes his profession in terms the rest of us can understand.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Nocturnes, by Kazuo Ishiguro

Ordinarily, when I am engrossed in good fiction, the author is far from my mind. While reading Ishiguro, however, I often picture the author. I can't help thinking that he must be an interesting dinner companion; he is so well-spoken, and in photographs and interviews appears neat and relaxed, but there's a seriously whacked sensibility under that proper exterior. Then I read an interview with him in which he described his "buttoned-up unreliable narrators." Hmmm, perhaps I am confusing him with his characters. Still, I love that his writing is so elegant and simple and accessible, and yet off-beat.

Where I heard about this book: Everywhere.

What this book is about: Great. 4 stars.

What this book is about: 5 stories about evening and music. They are longish, and were conceived as a group - there is more holding them together than the shared theme of music. As per Ishiguro, they evoke a sense of melancholy. The whole is more, to me, like a jazz album than a classical one. There is the uptempo section and the slower, sadder riff. The overall impression is that humans are prone to folly, but can create a little magic while falling on their faces.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Amsterdam, by Ian McEwan

A pox on large print! I somehow ended up with the easy-to-read edition of this book, and felt shouted at the entire time I was reading it. I am trying to blame that for my huge disappointment in this novel. Which is sort of interesting, given all this Kindle debate - does the delivery system affect one's enjoyment of the product? Hard to say definitively; I've never read a book on a Kindle, and honestly I've always figured it wouldn't make much difference to me. But if I ever get a LARGE PRINT book again I will be tempted to send it back and wait for the original.

Sadly, I really don't think it would have helped to have a brand new, signed, hardbound copy. Ian McEwan is one of my favorite authors, I adore Booker Prize winners... what can I say? I figured I would love this book. Instead, it seemed contrived, predictable and silly, though amusing at times. It is interesting to me that I feel just a tiny bit guilty disliking an award-winning work by a writer I like so much. Kind of like seeing my child's artwork pinned up on the classroom wall and thinking that the lines are awkward and the colors clash.

Where I heard about this book
: Trying to catch up on all things McEwan.

What I thought of this book
: Sigh. 3, no, 2 1/2 stars. He is a good writer.

What this book is about
: A satire about two old friends who reconnect at a funeral. Over the course of subsequent weeks they make one another a promise, get angry, forgive, get angry again, and come up with a ridiculous plot for revenge. What exactly is being satirized? The press, politicians, celebrities; the usual suspects. I'm glad it was short - I probably would have made myself finish no matter the length.

is a new book website I've found. It's got review summaries, a review consensus, and a list of grades from various respected sources. Kind of like the rotten tomatoes of books. They describe their site as follows:
A selectively comprehensive, objectively opinionated survey of books old and new, trying to meet all your book review, preview, and information needs.
Which would make me obsolete, to say the least, but check them out, anyway.

This is what I found there for Amsterdam.