Sunday, June 27, 2010

e squared: a novel, by Matt Beaumont

Oh, sequels.

First, the things I really like about this follow-up to the hilarious e: Rather than telling the story purely through email messages, Matt Beaumont has added blog posts and IM messages to the mix in this second novel of ad-agency as microcosm. His take on post-modern office excesses are hilarious, featuring an extreme-sports crazed partner, a staff hairdresser, and decor that includes an isolation tank. Again, the author manages to distill the personalities of his characters merely through their electronic communications, both personal and professional. Which is still an amazing feat.

What kept me from enjoying this book as much as its predecessor is its over-the-top-and-then-some plot lines. I started rolling my eyes about a third of the way in, which impacted my ability to care much about the outcome. I did, however, read it pretty avidly right to the end; silly entertainment is one of the things I appreciate in literature. Read it if you're up for a farce and don't really care how far your suspension of disbelief is stretched.

Where I heard about this book
: I sought it out after reading e, which I loved.

What I thought of this book: Pretty good. 3 1/2 stars.

What this book is about: It's a satire of modern life, set in a London ad agency. It features several of the characters from the previous book, but adds a lot of great new ones.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

I want that job

I was just at the Multnomah County Library website, making sure that I have enough books on hold to ensure the next month's reading. I looked up The Lonely Polygamist (which, incidentally, looks like a really entertaining read) and found this in the info section:


Middle-aged men -- Fiction.
Polygamy -- Fiction.
Bereavement -- Psychological aspects -- Fiction.
Families -- Fiction.

Who, I wonder, gets to choose these subject headings for the books in the catalog? Are they provided by the publisher, or culled from reviews, or are they the result of careful study of the works? Probably the first, but I will fantasize that there is a bookworm out there who gets to spend her time reading whatever she wants, then chooses how each book should be classified.

As it turns out, these lists are searchable, sort of like labels on blogs. I would certainly have spent a chunk of time viewing all the fiction that is categorized as 'Middle-aged men'; however there were not many titles listed. (Hard to believe, surely ought to be reformed.) 'Polygamist - Fiction' looks a little meatier, and may provide some inspiration for future reading lists...

I move that a Federal Department of Categorization of Literature be formed immediately, and I humbly nominate myself as its head honcho.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld

After my last taste of YA fiction, I thought I'd stick with it for a while. This one was a really fun read, though I wouldn't rank it among the YA greats.

Where I heard about this book: My 12 year old just finished it and loved it.

What I thought of this book: Good. 3 1/2 stars

What this book is about
: Set in the future, Uglies is a combination coming-of-age/redemption story. In a bid to level the playing field among humans, the powers that be have developed a surgery that makes everyone equally gorgeous. These newly formed 'pretties' are then sent to the city to party their lives away.

Tally is still an ugly, eagerly awaiting her 16th birthday, when she will be made pretty. Enter Shay, another on-the-cusp ugly who would rather run away than submit to the operation. The girls bond over the joys of being adventurous-but-not-really-bad teens, including out-of-bounds hoverboarding; a kind of skateboarding done midair. Tally wants to be pretty, however, and has no interest in joining her friend on a perilous journey to the the countryside to live with a mythological band of rebels. She is ultimately forced (by evil authority figures) to betray her friends, and then turns around and does her best to save them.

This novel has a little bit of everything that makes YA great: adventure, best friends, romance, normal kids who act heroic, and a celebration of nonconformity. It reminded me of what I loved about literature as a child. I would spend hours imagining myself inside my favorite books, usually as an additional character I'd invented, spinning my own subplots. While reading Uglies, I started to picture myself joining in with Tally and her friends as they peformed 'tricks' and hoverboarded around the city. Much as I love grown-up books, I rarely get his feeling of wanting to be part of the action.

Uglies was intended to be the first in a trilogy. The series has now expanded to four books. The author's website describes the newest as the 'last in the series'. I wouldn't run out and get the others, but if they appear on our bookshelves I'll read them.

Elizabeth Costello, by J. M. Coetzee

I slogged through about 50 pages of this book before throwing in the towel. I kept hoping that the story would take center stage, and the long musings on literary theory would come to an end. Alas, this is a book about a writer's writing, more than about a writer's life. Turns out I'm not all that interested in the study of literature, I just like reading it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Get out your flashlight..

I almost hesitate to recommend this site, because it is sure to be blamed for hours of procrastination. But since you're going to waste those hours websurfing anyway, why not spend them here?

Flashlight worthy books has reading lists for every subject imaginable, as well as lists of favorite books by authors we admire. I love their categories - these lists are for readers of every kind of literature, not just the critically acclaimed, but they are still "best of." My current favorite is: Books That Make My Brain Melt (In a Good Way). Isn't that enticing? In fact, I want to read every book on this list. Except for the one about banking...

Wayward Women: Great Books Where Women Hit The Road is another I had to check out. After a while I started to feel like my brain might explode as I tried to calculate how many books I can read in the remainder of my lifetime. And oops, it's time to go and I never did fold that laundry.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie

Odd, the way you'll read a book and then immediately find another similarly-themed one. This is my second-in-a-row fictional autobiography that is based pretty closely on the life of the author. And I'm pleased to say that it was every bit as good as the last one. Whenever I read really great YA fiction, I wonder why I don't spend more time reading really great YA fiction. It is often so much more satisfying than grown-up lit.

Where I heard about this book: Tessa, greatest officemate ever.

What I thought of this book: Fantastic! 5 stars and many moons!

What this book is about: This is the diary of a misfit 14 year-old Indian. He's already an outcast on the rez, so it doesn't seem that things could be much worse at the area's only good high school. Except that it is populated exclusively by white kids who aren't too fond of Indians. And his fellow Indians consider his bid for a better life a betrayal. Nevertheless, Junior grabs what may be his only chance to escape a future of alcoholism and despair. This is one of those amazing books that makes you laugh even as it's breaking your heart. The hero is funny and honest and self-deprecating and extremely likable.