Monday, December 27, 2010

Now Reading: Tinkers by Paul Harding

This is the second book I'm reading on my new Nook. For all you avid readers out there: check out the Nook or any of the other eReader devices. One of the nice features is being able to buy a book without leaving your home and the thing that I like even more, since I am a penny-pincher, is the ability to borrow books from the library online and read on the Nook instantly. Very cool!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Review: Man in the Woods by Scott Spencer

Scott Spencer’s Man in the Woods is an interesting look at different ways guilt affects us over time, especially as our past insurrections disappear into the darkness of the past. The irony is that our past casts long shadows well into our futures. How does one forget serious crimes or the ultimate betrayals when our minds constantly weave a web of connections, series of events that prevent us from pushing things into the past when they insist on being addressed?

The story’s protagonist, Paul, is a large, burly man with a sensitivity that endures him to everyone. Spencer seems to choose the name Paul to have the reader recall a Paul Bunyan image, yet this Paul would have not only an ax in one hand but a bouquet of flowers in the other. He is a man who has fallen into a good situation after a lifetime of wandering the country as a handyman. His girlfriend, Kate, has recently become a modern patroness of the fallen woman who failed balancing marriage, child, and career by falling into alcoholism. Her recovery becomes an inspiring story, one that she recounts in a book, public appearances, and even a radio show. Her recovery and success seems to be the strength that Paul is looking for to survive his past.

While trying to clear his mind of financial concerns, Paul goes to a park to clear his mind. While there he encounters a man who brutalizes a dog. When Paul cannot resist coming to the dog’s defense, a struggle ensues and Paul ends up regretting his decision. What follows is the story of Paul contending with a crime he knows he has committed but cannot come to grips with whether or not it was justified. As an investigation begins, the reader witnesses how dots are connected eventually bringing Paul and Kate to face their pasts and make decisions that will determine their individual and collective fates.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Review Numb: a Novel by Sean Ferrell

I would hesitate before recommending this book to the avid reader of literary fiction. It is full of symbolism, metaphor, and a character-driven narrative. Overall, I think the novel is heavy-handed in terms of exploring the theme of beauty being in the eye of the beholder. The protagonist is a canvas of disaster. His body is mutilated for public enjoyment and the more destroyed it becomes, the more he is adored. His blind girlfriend was a bit too much for me. She seemed to serve no greater purpose than to further highlight the "love is blind" theme. The supermodel who seduces the protagonist is a sterotypical character as well.

All in all, the literary qualities of the novel are admirable, but the narrative is so far detached from reality, that it would require greater literary acumen to get the average reader to suspend disbelief in this story.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Now Reading...

Numb: a Novel by Sean Ferrell
A man with no memory who feels no pain, Numb (that's the main character's name) travels to New York City after a short stint with the circus, following the one and only clue he holds to his hidden history: a brittle, bloodstained business card.
Review to follow soon...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

The Art of Racing in the Rain is a book about overcoming obstacles. Denny Swift, an emerging race car driver, has a tight bond with his philosophical dog, Enzo. Enzo has become well trained in the art of race car driving by listening to Denny's wisdom and because when Enzo is left alone at home, Denny leaves the TV on for him to learn even more about race cars and human life. You see, Enzo believes in his next life he will return as a human and so his “dog life” is a dress rehearsal for human life when he returns.

By the way, the dog, Enzo, is the story's narrator.

Denny's life is on course. He has married a woman he loves, Eve, and they have a precious little girl, Zoe. The whole family dotes on the little girl, especially Enzo who fills in for Denny whenever he is not around. Eve becomes ill and her parents convince Denny that it would be in Zoe's best interest if Zoe lived with her grandparents as Eve has become permanently bed ridden and Denny is busy pursuing his race car driving career. This is when the story becomes focused on obstacles and how sacrifices, however difficult at the time, are the truest test of our character and often times out greatest sense of pride in the long run.

Without giving away too many of the details, the story becomes centered around who should take custody of Zoe when Eve succumbs to her illness. Zoe's grandparents use their great wealth and power to overwhelm Denny who must use his wisdom gained from driving a race car, especially the fine art of racing in the rain, in order to successfully contend with Zoe's grandparents. All the while, Enzo is there for Denny, guiding him the best a way he can, though limited in human communication. Some of the most endearing parts of the story occur when Enzo has observed something that Denny should know but cannot tell him. It is in these moments that Enzo takes notes for his future life as a human as he will file these experiences away and become a human full of wisdom in the ways of the world. In the meantime, he is forced to watch Denny stumble through traps, and Enzo—ever the faithful companion—is always there for him to lean on and talk to.

One of the endearing things about this story is the narrative structure. Enzo gives the reader periodic, short chapters about past racing greats and how they overcame their obstacles. Then, Enzo leads (or reminds) Denny about what it takes to succeed in the face of challenges.

Loose grips on the steering wheel, taking what the car will give you, and remembering that the car goes where the eyes go help Denny stay on course in racing and in life.

A good, fast read, highly recommended to all.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Now Reading: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

A story about an up-and-coming race car driver, Denny Swift, and his philosophical dog, Enzo. Review coming soon.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Review: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

We all remember our parents telling us not to play with our food. Imagine if your food played with you. Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake is a slightly magical story about Grace, a young girl who possesses a special power. Every time she eats, the feelings of the person who made the food comes across in her taste buds. Sometimes happy, more often sad, Grace's food dominates her every thought.

Grace comes from a simple, average family living in Los Angeles, California. As we get to know the people, however, unique quirks emerge. Grace's mother prepares Grace a lemon cake for her ninth birthday and when she tastes it, Grace learns of her powers for the first time. The cake is full of depression. Grace can hardly swallow and certainly cannot digest what is happening to her. After visiting school nurses and hospitals for wanting to “remove her lips,” Grace slowly accepts her ability and begins to form a diet full of processed foods in which the makers' feelings are hidden and suppressed by factories.

Grace's brother, Joseph, is a loner who constantly demands his own private space. This demand for privacy only draws Grace closer to her brother as she desperately wants to be part of his life. To Grace;s disappointment, though, the more effort Grace puts into connecting with her brother, the more he disappears from her. A gifted mathematician and potential scientist, he spends most of his free time locked away in room studying physics with his best friend George. George turns out to be the only one who believes Grace and her powers and sets off to study her ability through a set of hilarious experiments. His faith in Grace endures and forms a close bond that Grace cherishes forever.

Grace's father is an aloof man. A dedicated lawyer who keeps rigorous schedules but never brings work home has oddities of his own. He will not enter hospitals. Through births of his children, illnesses and injuries, he always camped outside the hospital and waited eagerly for news to come to him about how his children were. Grace's mother has secrets of her own, at least ones she believes are private until they start coming across her food and into Grace's perceptions. These secrets dominate Grace as she wonders what it could do to her family and her albeit tenuous happiness.

Bender's narratives are compact and vivid. You connect with her characters because they are grounded in a reality that we can all recognize even if her characters are learning about special gifts that seem magical. I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a bit of magical realism, quirky characters, and food. Who can deny the last one?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Review: Jon Clinch's Kings of the Earth

Set in the upper east coast, Jon Clinch's Kings of the Earth meanders through the years and lives of the Proctor family and their close neighbor Preston Poole. Though not a play, I can't help but think about The Death of a Salesman and Wily Loman's predestined fate preventing him from ever realizing his dreams. Clinch does not take that romantic of a view of the agrarian life; rather, he shows just how difficult farming is and how the modern world seems to advance right around farms the way freeways will snake around, under and over towns.

If you prefer character driven novels, then this is for you. Clinch weaves between past and present, near and far recollections to tell the story of how the oldest of three brothers dies in his sleep and how his two brothers are implicated in his death. The Proctor family lived a simple life at the turn of the twentieth century and progressed very little when the approached the turn of the twenty-first century. One might call this novel the one hundred year struggle.

The primary plot line is that of the investigation into the death of Vernon Proctor, the eldest brother, and how his brothers Creed and Audie were involved, if at all. Clinch draws parallels between characters of the past and present, primarily focusing on their late drunken father, Lester, and weakened mother, Ruth, who serve as touchstones for the family as few go very far in their lives past their parents' agrarian struggle. Except for Donna. She is the boys' only sister and is the only one who makes it off the farm.

Clinch narrates with an eye toward physical atmosphere, symbolic images, and irony. Each passage, all averaging about 1,000 words, many of them even shorter, paint vivid pictures of poor farm life, close family life, and loyal bonds between neighbors. Take the Proctor's names for instance. Vernon comes from the root “Vern” which means alder, like the tree. Vernon is like a towering tree for his family: strong, safe, secure, giving. Creed, is like its meaning, believable. The most “ordinary” of his brothers. The one who goes off to fight in the Korean War and who is the only one who pursues a love interest. Audie, the most sympathetic of all the characters, is the middle brother and is born with disabilities in speech and general intelligence. But he “hears” every audible sound from the whining of the wind to the strained breathing of his ill brother, Vernon.

This is a book for patient readers. For those who are willing to invest time in the slow development of characters and in the careful characterization of setting. The sub plots of a Donna's son Tom, a low-level drug dealer, adds to the novel rather than detract from it as some sub plots will do. I'd recommend this book for a long car ride, a leisurely vacation, or any other time when you can invest lots of time reading as each of the small passages are best enjoyed in large chunks at a time.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Now reading Kings of the Earth

I'm reading Jon Clinch's novel Kings of the Earth. He previously wrote the highly acclaimed novel Finn. Very promising thus far and a review to follow soon...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Review: The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

I am a big fan of Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi, and I decided to read The Cellist of Sarajevo when Yann mentioned it as one of his favorites in an interview he once did. I think I see why Yann would have been attracted to this story as it does have some parallels to his works, especially Life of Pi.

In Cellist, Galloway is exploring the the thought processes of citizens who try to understand what it is like to live in a country that was once yours but now belongs to no one. Yann's Piscine went through a similar self-exploration as he tried to find who he was after losing everything he knew except for a few zoo animals. In Pi, a man is adrift at sea. In Cellist, citizens are adrift at war.

Galloway was inspired by the story of a Cellist, Vedron Smailovic, who played his cello for twenty-two days in dangerous grounds to honor the twenty-two people he saw massacred during the actual siege of Sarajevo. The story Cellist, follows three fictional characters: Kenan, Dragan, and Arrow. They are all native Sarajevans who survive the siege in disparate ways. Kenan is a young man who must go on a long hike every four days to get water for his family; Dragan, an older man whose family has fled to Italy, works at a bakery which the citizens depend on for survival; and Arrow, a female sniper whose skills are superior to anyone else and is sought out to do other people's dirty work. All three characters find themselves drawn to hear the the cellist play for the same root reason: he is a symbol of hope that Sarajevo will return once again just as he returns to play day after day despite the risks he may face.

While I enjoyed reading this story, I found myself primarily motivated to see how the characters would each be connected to the cellist in the end, as that is the purpose of the story I inferred as I read. I was most intrigued by Arrow who seemed to go through the most transformation throughout the story from cold-blooded killer to repented fugitive. The characters' connections to the cellist were mostly figurative as the three characters all called on his image as a source of strength to persevere their respective circumstances. The reader learns that no one has any real connection to the cellist. He just simply comes and goes like clock work.

I would recommend reading this book as it is a quick read and gives you an idea of what a country under siege is like--the longest a country has ever under siege in modern history--and how thankful we all can be for our freedoms and perhaps a respect for just how fragile they truly are.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Be the change you want to see.

I think it was Ghandi who said this. Stephen Covey said it when he advised people to be proactive as a highly successful habit of thinking. So, I am here to be the change that I want to see in the world: men who read, talk about reading, and be just as proud of what's on our bookshelves as the length of our drives down the fairway.

I will review new (and sometimes not so new but NEWsworthy) books and tell you why I liked them. I am not here only to encourage men to read (that would be nice) but to also be a common guy telling you what he reads and why you might like to, too.