Sunday, August 26, 2007

Cabin Pressure by Josh Wolk

This is one of those books where a 30-something, realizing he is now a "grown-up", has a panic attack and tries to relive his childhood. In this case, writer Josh Wolk, is getting married and entering the grown-up world at last. He decides that he wants to go back and be a camp counselor at his beloved childhood summer camp once before embarking on the adventure of being a grown-up. Being a writer, he has the flexiblity to take the summer and sign on as a camp counselor and so he goes back and does just that.

Josh is one of those kids who never quite fit in as a child. He was exceptionally tall, a little too smart and gawky in a way that did not make him shine in sports. This camp, a non-competitive, boys only camp, lived in his memory as a place where he came into his own and even shone. Going back, he relives both the good and bad parts of his camp days. This was funny book (I particularly enjoyed his phone conversations with his wedding-stressed fiance) and made a nice change from exploring 9/11 angst.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Falling Man by Don DeLillo

Over the past few years (now that the initial shock has passed) books about 9/11 have started to make an appearance. This one is probably going to top the list. It took me awhile to pick this one up off the giant stack of books in my house because of the subject matter. Even though time has passed, the emotional impact of that day on everyone who remembers it is still relatively fresh. Also, adding to that his books aren't easy reading. I will say though, that his best novels are worth the extra effort and this is one of his best.

Keith Neudecker shows up at his estranged wife's door on September 11th, bloody and confused, having just walked out of one of the Towers. For most of the book they (and various family members) struggle to find some way of dealing with the event and moving forward with their lives. DeLillo also explores the life of Hammad, one of the terrorists, who wonders if "a man has to kill himself in order to accomplish something in the world?"

This is DeLillo's best work, tender, heart wrenching and as always with DeLillo, unique and different.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris

A very funny book about an office at the end of the era (the 80's) that gets more disfunctional as the inevitible budget cuts, loss of benefits and finally, layoffs start to occur. What is surprising about this novel is that it has depth, it isn't turning into another slapstick office comedy. Very, very good.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

You Don't Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem

You Don't Love Me Yet is the story of a dysfunctional band, or perhaps, more precisely, a dysfunctional couple and a band. This is one of the contemporary, cutting edge novels that would have worked much better if I actually cared what happened to any of the people in the novel. The utter ineptness of their existence and the strange situations in which the characters found themselves felt more like a slapstick comedy than a serious novel.

An odd novel with none of the depth of some of my other recent reads.

Gertrude Bell: Queen Of The Desert, Shaper Of Nations by Georgina Howell

I am reading currently reading Gertrude Bell: Queen Of The Desert, Shaper Of Nations by Georgina Howell. I want to be Gertrude when I grow up, except I don't really want to move to another country and lead an Islamic nation to become an independent and democratic nation. Known as the female "Lawrence of Arabia", Gertrude Bell was instrumental in the creation of Iraq. One of the most dynamic, accomplished women of her times (first woman to ever earn a first at Oxford) she was a true renaissance woman. She was in turn, a spy, archaeologist, poet, photographer, mountain climber and advisor to kings. It was due to her influence that Iraq enjoyed many years as a democratic state, an amazing accomplishment during a time when women were looked at as an decorative accessory instead of capable and intelligent people.

Outstanding and compelling biography. I highly recommended picking up a copy if you get a chance.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Stumbling On Happiness by Daniel Gilbert

Stumbling On Happiness and is my current rebellion book. (It isn't on my assigned reading list.) and it is a fascinating book. The author explores our perception of happiness and why we consistantly guess wrong about what will make us happy. How, once a moment has passed, it is impossible for the individual who experienced the moment to accurately rate how happy that moment made us because, our subsequent experiences change how we view that experience. How convinced we as Americans are that are happiness will always increase, that something better is always going to be happening in the next experience and how we neglect our best resource (other people) to predict which experiences will make us happiest because of our compelling need to be unique (even though it has been proven that people are more alike than different.)

Very interesting stuff to ponder.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Killing Jar by Nicola Monaghan

The Killing Jar is the story of a young girl, who grows up in house filled with drugs, violence and addiction. Her slow transformation from young girl who still believes in a different life, into the life of a psychotic addict is mesmerizing and disturbing. Perhaps the most effective element of this novel is her utter likability, even as she commits a series of increasingly violent crimes as she tries to escape the lifestyle.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan's Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws' Bloody Reign

Empire of Blue Water: Captain Morgan's Great Pirate Army, the Epic Battle for the Americas, and the Catastrophe That Ended the Outlaws' Bloody Reign by Stephan Talty. I had high hopes for this one. After all, what could be better than a pirate story. While the story was interesting, it wasn't as compelling as some of the other biographies I have read recently. Captain Morgan was a pirate for the British Empire and while the book did a good job depicting the politics of the time, the author didn't add enough personal touches about the man (at least until his pirate days were past him). Interesting and a good pirate story but not a manditory read.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Maytrees by Annie Dillard

The Maytrees by Annie Dillard is a stunning work of fiction, following a couple through their life, both together and apart. I like these kind of novels, where quiet, profound moments lead toward something greater than it's parts.

The author's use of language takes your breath away. She is a truly gifted novel who packs a whole lot of impact into a tiny novel. The sheer depth of this novel is astounding. Absolutely lovely novel.