Friday, July 23, 2010

Insignificant Others, by Stephen McCauley

I could have read this book quite happily for the rest of the summer. The pace is really nice; things keep happening, but not at breakneck speed, and the characters and situations evolve in a way that seems natural. In short, this novel seems legitimately like a slice of life. In fact it wasn't until I'd finished it that I realized how profoundly the protagonist's life had changed during the course of the novel. Which is also, I think, like real life - it takes a little time and distance to see the changes time and experience have wrought.

Where I heard about this book: My friend (and talented author) Nina introduced me to Stephen McCauley 20-some years ago, and reminded me about him just recently.

What I thought of this book
: Excellent. Not only a good read, but relaxing and reassuring in a way I can't quite put my finger on.

What this book is about: A middle-aged man gay man living in Boston. This is one of those books in which the protagonist is living a comfortable life, and is managing quite nicely to overlook the things that might make it seem less than ideal. Like the fact that his "insignificant other" is a man with whom he feels more of a connection than the guy he's been living with for the past 8 years. Or that his exercise addiction is more than a little unhealthy. Or, well, the list goes on. Luckily for the reader, events conspire which knock him out of his comfortable rut. The result is very entertaining, though not comedic. In short, a perfectly dramatic book in which nothing unbelievable or over the top happens. Hooray!

I really, really covet this blue chair and Stephen McCauley's ability to be so handsome and photogenic.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Nuclear Age, by Tim O'Brien

Damn. I promised myself that I would not finish any book that I didn't love. Or at least really like. And yet I read this book until the bitter, bitter end, probably because I have loved the other books I've read by this very talented author.

Where I heard about this book: Browsing at the library.

What I thought of this book: Painfully frustrating.

What this book is about: A guy who is deathly afraid of worldwide annihilation via nuclear warhead. It moves back and forth between the present, in which he is digging a bomb shelter, and the past, spanning his childhood and early to mid-adulthood. The protagonist is best described as a passive activist. As a college student at the dawn of the Vietnam war, William makes a stab at goading his oblivious classmates into sharing his terror of the bomb. He is drawn into a group of anti-war activists, who more or less babysit him as he hides out from the draft. The message of this book seemed to me to be this: if you do absolutely nothing in your life, you will get the girl, be richly rewarded financially, and have the complicated aspects of your life seen to by other people. This flies in the face of my experiences thus far!

Reasons I finished this book despite not liking it much
: I really, really like the other books I have read by Tim O'Brien, and I was compelled to find out what happened in the end.

Monday, July 12, 2010

This Is Where We Live, by Janelle Brown

A friend gave me the first of Janelle Brown's books, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, this past winter. I was skeptical, as it was clearly being marketed as chick lit. This is a genre I really want to like; these novels generally have all the components of great, fun literature: quirky heroines, on-the-edge-of-believable situations, lots of drinking. Unfortunately, most of the ladies' lit I've read starts with mediocre writing and devolves into predictable and annoying plotlines. But luck was with me this time, as I had discovered my new favorite ladie's lit author. Having completed this second of Janelle Brown's books, I am slightly depressed at the realization that she probably won't have another ready for my consumption for a couple of years. So, Janelle: get plenty of rest, exercise regularly, and don't get caught up in any needless charity work, because I'm counting on you to be prolific.

Where I heard about this book: Having really enjoyed her first novel, I looked her up on the always helpful Multnomah County Library website. I think I was the first to borrow this book - it was pristine! And still is, mostly. I did warp a few pages while reading it poolside...

What I thought of this book: Hooray! Perfect fun.

What this book is about
: Claudia and Jeremy are a mid-thirties almost-power couple. You'd think an up and coming movie director and a minor rock star would be able to buy a $600,000 house in the Hollywood hills and live happily ever after, right? The earthquake that rattles their foundation is as nothing when compared to the real estate crash that follows. The ensuing panic sends each of them back to their roots: Claudia the Midwesterner makes to-do lists and compromises, Jeremy the nomad itches to cut their losses and flee. Add an exotic ex-girlfriend, odd roommate, visiting in-laws...

This novel has a great, indeterminate ending. I hate it when all the loose ends are tied up and nothing is left to the imagination.

are Janelle's five top picks for novels about/set in California. And for good measure, here are her next five.