Sunday, September 06, 2009

what I read on my vacation

So just before school started, we spent our traditional week at Camp Mather, San Francisco Rec & Parks' rustic cabins in the Sierras, a week with no internet for anyone, plenty of bike riding and swimming in the days, and, for me, lots of reading by the poolside. Here is how I spent much of my vacation, in the order read:

"The Last Detective" by Robert Crais (2003): why if this came out in 2003 was it in the "New Acquisitions" at the Noe Valley public library? I wish it had been shelved with the regular, old collection, because then it wouldn't caught my eye and I wouldn't have wasted my time with it. Dreary detective fiction... I think the characters of Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are played out. Even Crais seems tired of Joe Pike; he crippled Pike physically and psychologically in this outing and didn't bother to tell us, the reader, that Pike is a vegan (maybe Pike took up eating meat and that was the beginning of his troubles?);

"All We Ever Wanted Was Everything" by Janelle Brown (2008): a thoroughly satisfying book about a woman whose high tech mogul husband files for divorce on the day of his IPO, running off with her best friend. She's consoled by her fucked-up daughters. This is what chick lit SHOULD be: intelligent and capturing an era. This introduced both of the themes I noticed in my reading: young, bright people running troubled magazines and a pair of siblings, one extremely academically gifted and the other not;

"Bad Things Happen" by Harry Dolan (2009): an intelligent murder story which I loved, loved, loved for the first half, but the book deteriorated towards the end, and I really just wanted it to be done. I notice this often with murder stories in particular: the author has a great concept and really works hard, polishing the prose, but then you get the feeling that the author became tired to death of writing the book and in a hurry to just get it finished. Another book featuring characters who put out a relatively unpopular magazine. I'll read Harry Dolan again and hope he can sustain the quality he reached in the first half of this book for an entire outing.

"The Wordy Shipmates" by Sarah Vowell (2008): a breezy, bestselling history of the Puritans which irritated me no end. Ms. Vowell professes to be fascinated by the Puritans, and indeed she seems to have learned a lot of interesting things about them (e.g., I never knew Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, was exiled from Massachusetts in the middle of winter and had to do the colonial equivalent of couch-surfing with friendly Indians to survive). However, the book was very short and full of annoying writing, which seemed to be Ms. Vowell's attempt to insert her personality into every page rather than focus on the personalities of her subjects, who seemed much more interesting than Ms. Vowell herself. I particularly hate it when a book has more talking-about-what-it-will-talk-about than actual substance. A huge example of this was the fascinating subject of Anne Hutchinson, an early feminist figure excommunicated from Puritan Boston for holding wildly popular Bible studies at her home. Ms. Vowell kept saying she'd write about Mrs. Hutchinson, she would write about Mrs. Hutchinson, oh the spellbinding foofaraw of Mrs. Hutchinson's alleged apostasy which would come later in the book... but then in the event, there were scant few pages given to that riveting woman. Ms. Vowell gave almost as much space in the book to her nephew, a relatively boring young child whose insights on the Puritans were NOT worth recording for history. A few pages devoted to taking her nephew around a museum were agonizingly boring;

"I'm So Happy For You" by Lucinda Rosenfeld (2009): I had to read this new release after it got a rave review in the New Yorker, and it was a great summer read, breezy and witty. It's an intelligent story of a friendship between an editor at a struggling magazine (again with the magazines...somehow at this point in time, authors seem to feel that editing a magazine is what all intellectual characters must do in a novel) and her "Sex In The City"ish best frenemy. Clever and biting, this book was a fun read. I was a bit taken aback by the author's statement in an afterword that we were meant to love both characters equally, though. One of the characters was completely loathsome to me, absolutely heinously selfish;

"The Shotgun Rule" by Charlie Huston (2007): I'm in love with Charlie Huston's noir vampire series, the "Joe Pitt Casebooks", so I decided to check out his non-vampire works. This is a gritty story about troubled adolescents in a crappy small town in central California, and I didn't like it. I think I would have liked it if I were a guy and wanted to read about the kinds of trouble rural and suburban adolescent boys get into. It featured the second recurring theme in my reading: two siblings, where one is a great and strange genius and the other is ordinary.

"Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death" by Charlie Huston (2009): unlike "The Shotgun Rule", I LOVED this book. I never wanted it to end, and I wish I'd bought it, rather than borrowing it from the library. My faith in the non-Joe Pitt work of Mr. Huston was restored by this riveting book about a young Southern Californian fuck-up who ends up working for a crime clean-up team. I loved the way Huston doled out the backstory on the characters; he doesn't pander to the reader or spoonfeed you, and his hand with dialogue is amazing. Dark, witty, and engrossing.

"Waiting for the Apocalypse" by Veronica Chater (2009): a memoir of being raised by a rabidly Catholic father who thought that Vatican II meant the End Times. I do love a gripping tale of a fucked-up childhood, and I'm fascinated by nonfiction about religious extremism (this all plays into my upbringing in a born-again Christian family where faith healing and speaking in tongues were done around the house on a daily basis). I found this book fascinating at first, but towards the end I was skimming and sick of it. Worst part: pages of dialogue between Ms. Chater and her mentally retarded brother... Hint: if you can't sustain the interest of your mentally challenged, loving sibling, you won't sustain my interest, either. I did learn a lot about Vatican II, though, and the story of the family's move to rural Portugal and back was spell-binding.

"The Enthusiast" by Charlie Haas (2009): like "I'm So Happy For You", this was a brilliant new novel which didn't get a hardback deal but instead had to put out a first edition in paperback. Feh, publishers! This deserves a hardback! I loved this charming account of a bright, directionless young man who ends up dropping out of college to work on magazines (again with the magazines), obscure magazines directed at niche markets, like crochet enthusiasts and spelunkers. This book brought together both of the themes I saw running through my reading, working on troubled magazines AND an unbelievably brilliant sibling (not the protagonist) paired with a regular sibling. Very much worth reading, this was a book I didn't want to come to an end. Bonus: Mr. Haas's suggested reading group questions at the end, which included "Who brought this salad?" and "Is someone sitting here?" I wish I were as smart and witty as Charlie Haas.

"The Devil In Dover" by Lauri Lebo (2008): a nonfiction account of the Dover, Pennsylvania's born-again Christian school board's grapples with evolution and intelligent design. Ms. Lebo has a huge brain and a huge heart, and you see both on every page. She is a small-town journalist from small-town Pennsylvania who covered this as it unfolded, arguing incoherently with her editors and railing at the problems with modern journalism as she went. I'm calling this one a must-read for every American (and for every non-American who wonders what the hell is going on with those crazy Americans and their crazy "culture wars"). I want Ms. Lebo to keep writing important books and hope she finds another big subject in Pennsylvania to occupy her formidable mind (it doesn't seem like she's going to be leaving PA). I learned a lot about evolution and the "debate" over it (incidentally evolution was never taught in the public schools I attended. Never. Not for a second).

Read, read, read!

15 comments:

Lauri said...

Dear Ms. Drunken Housewife,

Thank you so much for your terribly nice words about my book. You thoroughly made my evening.

I'm also impressed as hell with the amount of reading you got done over your summer vacation. I'm going to have to try that disconnect-from-the-internet thing, but I fear the withdrawal pains.

Thank you again,
Lauri Lebo

pie_ho said...

The SF library system must have a better novel collection than San Ho's, because I was only successful in requesting 2 of the books you liked (All we ever wanted and The enthusiast) to add to the 7 I already have checked out...currently reading Jennifer Haugh's The Condition, which I think/hope I will end up recommending.

pie_ho said...

PS Ms Lebo, yours was one of the books I wanted to read but which is not in my library system!

Anette Moore said...

Well, thank YOU for writing that book, Ms. Lebo! I got a lot out of it and have pushed my husband to pick it up as well.

Pie Ho, I can loan you "I'm So Happy For You." That one I bought, and I'm happy to lend it to you. It's a fun, quick read...

Anette Moore said...

Oops, once again I have been left logged in as my Quicker Witted Child Sidekick.

-DH

Missy said...

DH, your book reviews are worth their weight in gold.

Thanks!
Missy

pie_ho said...

Thanks! Hopefully I'll get to see you before I finish my library pile! (not just for bookishness, but because I'd like to see you) And I misspelled the name of The Condition's author, it's Haigh, also the author of Mrs. Kimball (which I have and can loan, if you'd like a trade).

Claire M. Johnson said...

Love your reviews! I felt the same way about Vowell's book. I read the thirty pages and put it down. Now off to find Huston!

Anette Moore said...

Claire, I didn't review here (because I didn't read it on my vacation and was feeling weirdly scrupulous) your second book but I will. I read that in mid-Aug. and ADORED it. Usually an author, esp. one doing a series, has a "sophomore slump", but you sure avoided that. I liked the first one a lot, but I LOVED the second one. I didn't want to put it down, which led to putting it at big risk of getting smeared as I read it while creaming butter and sugar for a cake.

Keith said...

I forgot! I meant to leave a belated thank you for some of your last recommendations.... I think you offered us Tana French and Lisa Lutz. THE WOODS and the SPELLMAN books were huge hits; I passed them around and everyone thought I was a genius for finding them. I gave you credit. (Well, I didn't quite say it out loud; but inside I was giving you credit). And as a die hard fan of urban fantasy, I just went an ordered the Joe Pitt series online. I can't believe I hadn't heard of it. Thanks DH. CHeers.......... Keith, who still hasn't taken the time to come up with his own cool Google handle...oh wait, I can't publish this anonymously...Hmm....

Keith said...

I forgot! I meant to leave a belated thank you for some of your last recommendations.... I think you offered us Tana French and Lisa Lutz. THE WOODS and the SPELLMAN books were huge hits; I passed them around and everyone thought I was a genius for finding them. I gave you credit. (Well, I didn't quite say it out loud; but inside I was giving you credit). And as a die hard fan of urban fantasy, I just went an ordered the Joe Pitt series online. I can't believe I hadn't heard of it. Thanks DH. CHeers.......... Keith, who still hasn't taken the time to come up with his own cool Google handle...oh wait, I can't publish this anonymously...Hmm....

Keith said...

I forgot! I meant to leave a belated thank you for some of your last recommendations.... I think you offered us Tana French and Lisa Lutz. THE WOODS and the SPELLMAN books were huge hits; I passed them around and everyone thought I was a genius for finding them. I gave you credit. (Well, I didn't quite say it out loud; but inside I was giving you credit). And as a die hard fan of urban fantasy, I just went an ordered the Joe Pitt series online. I can't believe I hadn't heard of it. Thanks DH. CHeers.......... Keith, who still hasn't taken the time to come up with his own cool Google handle...oh wait, I can't publish this anonymously...Hmm....

Keith said...

I forgot! I meant to leave a belated thank you for some of your last recommendations.... I think you offered us Tana French and Lisa Lutz. THE WOODS and the SPELLMAN books were huge hits; I passed them around and everyone thought I was a genius for finding them. I gave you credit. (Well, I didn't quite say it out loud; but inside I was giving you credit). And as a die hard fan of urban fantasy, I just went an ordered the Joe Pitt series online. I can't believe I hadn't heard of it. Thanks DH. CHeers.......... Keith, who still hasn't taken the time to come up with his own cool Google handle...oh wait, I can't publish this anonymously...Hmm....

Keith said...

Holy crap. I didn't mean to do that. *slinks off in shame*

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you're still holding out hope for Harry Dolan. Would you be interested in receiving an ARC of his next book, VERY BAD MEN? If so, contact me at lauren (dot) kaplan (at) us (dot) penguingroup (dot) com.