Saturday, October 27, 2007

Brokeback Mountain

I read this story recently for class. It's actually the second time I've read it; I also read it before seeing the movie. I couldn't stand E. Annie Proulx's The Shipping News, so I was completely surprised at how perfect this story is. It is stripped down so bare and compact. Twenty years pass by in twenty pages. I did really like the movie, also, but the story expressed even better the horrible dilemma these characters face and how much it weighs on them. It's sad and beautiful and there's not a word out of place.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Harry Potter Update

So, as you've no doubt heard, Albus Dumbledore is gay. What do you think of Rowling's decision to keep revealing more and more tidbits about her characters after the release of the final book?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Thread of Grace

Since my last post was about The Wedding Officer I thought I would talk about this book, which is another look at World War II Italy. This book focuses on the last years of the war when Germany was no longer Italy's ally and Germans and Allied forces were both at the proverbial gate. The features several Jewish families on the run, as well as the people who helped shelter them and an SS doctor who when separated from his unit must come to terms with the blood on his hands for his role in the concentration camps. Reading this book, I learned the Italy had highest Jewish survival rate in Europe, which the author seems to partly attribute to the Italian suspicion of centralized orders and government as well as the greater integration of Jews into the culture as a whole. The book also shows how fascism grew in response the pressure the war put on Italian society.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Into The Wild

Hello folks. Sorry you didn't hear from me last Sunday; it was the end of a bachelor party weekend and well I was not in much of a literary mood. I shall spare you the details. But don't worry ladies, the celebration was not in my honor.
Today's selection has just been made into a major motion picture so I figure it is somewhat topical. "Into The Wild" is the true story of a young man who decides to ditch society and live alone in the Alaska wilderness. The ending is no big secret, let's say its similar to the end of "Grizzly Man", without the bear attack.
But the story poses big questions. What made Chris McCandless, a 24 year old young man of means and intelligence decide to spurn all human contact and association? Was he searching for something meaningful in his life; an honorable communion with nature? Or was a thrill seeker who got in way way over his head? Anyway, it is a really enjoyable read and I would certainly recommend it. See you next time.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Intuitionist

I can honestly say, this is the best book about elevator inspectors I've ever read. This debut novel by Colson Whitehead follows Lila Mae Watson, the first African American female elevator inspector, in an unnamed time and place (probably 1950's or 1960's New York). Elevator inspection is very prestigious and Lila Mae takes her job seriously. She comes from the Intuitionist school of thought--she can "feel" what's wrong with the elevator. She's very good at it, too, until an elevator she recently inspected crashes in a total freefall. Lila Mae suspects sabotage and must figure out who did it. Along the way, she uncovers new information about her mentor and founder of the Intuitionists, Fulton. The whole novel is an allegory about race--the cover blurbs compare it to Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. I liked the novel a lot, even if it tried to do too much in a couple of places. There's some dark humor and I really enjoyed Whitehead's writing style.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Wedding Officer

This is another book club pick. Set in World War II era Italy, the book centers around Captain James Gould a British Officer assigned the duty of making sure that British solders did not marry Italian women of "poor reputation", specifically prostitutes. However wartime shortages and extreme poverty ensure that almost all of them have slept with a solider for cash and he approves almost no marriages. He also attempts to crackdown on the black market with little or no success. Then Livia Pertini, a widow from the Italian countryside becomes the cook for Gould and the other officers. Gradually Gould begins to fall in love with her, the food she cooks, and Italy itself and see the world as more than black and white. The story takes a few turns towards the far fetched, but the book was still a worthwhile read.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Books You May Have Missed

I forgot to post yesterday, but here's a bonus post I came across while cleaning out some bookmarks. I love book lists of any kind, and this list has books I've mostly never heard of (the only one I've read is Any Human Heart by William Boyd). I have read many of the contributors, though, and may have to check out some of their selections. Has anyone read Elizabeth Taylor? Those stuck out for me as books I want to try out.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

National Book Award nominees announced

Our very own Anstrat has read and reviewed Now We Come to the End but otherwise we seem to have made it through another year without reading any of the best books. Very sad. I guess we have until November 14 to get the rest read. If anyone has read any of the other nominated books, be sure to post about it in the comments.

Doris Lessing wins Nobel for Literature

What does everyone think of this choice? I've recently read The Sweetest Dream and wasn't terribly impressed. I tried to read The Golden Notebook in college and it never grabbed me. Post your thoughts on Ms. Lessing or other Nobel literature choices.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Running With Scissors

Augusten Burroughs has had the weirdest life of all time, if half of this memoir is true. (which it may not be as I think he recently settled a defamation lawsuit, part of the terms being he would no longer refer to it as memoir.) Born to a distant alcoholic dad and a manic depressive mother, Augusten lives in his imagination, pretending to be a talk show host and cleaning and polishing things. Then his parents separate and he is sent to live with his mother's therapist and his family who are crazy themselves. The children play with an electroshock set kept under the stairs, the mom eats dog snacks and no one cares about housework or school or the fact that 13 year old Augusten is having sex with the family's other surrogate son, a man in his 20s. The book is shocking, engrossing and darkly humorous. I listened to this on audio, which was great except when ever I had to pay the parking garage attendant the book was always in the middle of something sexual or a string of profanity. Recommended for people who aren't easily shocked.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Ultimates 2 Vol 2: Grand Theft America

The Ultimates, written by Mark Millar and and drawn by Bryan Hitch, is a reboot of the traditional and somewhat stodgy Marvel Comics Avengers series. Millar take on the Ultimates is far more adult and politically grounded than the original Avengers series. Inspired very much by the modern American culture of paranoia concerning terrorism and WMDs, this more realistic (for superhero comics that is ;-) ) series has the U.S. Government creating their own super-powered team, the Ultimates, in response to the increasing dangerous world they found themselves in.

The Ultimates, between finding themselves dealing with the occasional alien invasion and and superpowered acts of terrorism (Hulk Smash!), find themselves being used to invade and disarm a middle eastern country developing WMDs. In the collection Grand Theft America, rogue elements from several countries are concerned that they may find themselves a target of the U.S. government sponsored super-beings. In response to this threat, they secretly develop super-powered team of their own and decide to pre-emptively invade the U.S. to head off any attack on their own homelands. What ensues is a very entertaining knockdown, drag out fight between the invading super-team the Liberators and the Ultimates.

Aside from the fantastic action in the series, Millar managed to create what feel like fleshed out, fully 3-dimensional characters. Beyond the outlandish comic-book powers and action, most of the characters come off as real people who have with very real problems, and I really felt for them when bad things happen to them. Millar is one of my favorite comic book writers these days, and the Ultimates series is a good example of why that is.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


The Lucky Bones, a book club favorite, is Alice Sebold's best known book, but I found this to be more affecting. A memoir of the rape Sebold suffers as a college freshman and the aftermath both short and long term, Lucky is a book the pulls you in until the last page. The title refers to Sebold's being told by a police officer that she was lucky, as another girl had been murdered in a similar attack. Luck is clearly relative, as Sebold's world is turned upside down and her friends and family feel the after effects. She suffers from post traumatic stress and and engages in destructive behavior including drug use and years after the attack is still trying to regain her equilibrium. A moving, well written book and Sebold's strength is inspirational.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

I Sailed With Magellan

Hello all. I figured a book by one of my favorite authors would be appropriate considering Stuart Dybek has been in the news this past week. Dybek is a Chicago native who is currently in residence at Northwestern University. He was in the papers because he received one of those MacArthur "Genius" Grants. Basically, for being a talented and awesome writer he gets $500,000 with no strings attached. Where do I sign up?

Dybek is far from prolific. "Magellan" is only his third collection of short stories. His first two, "Childhood And Other Neighborhoods", and "Coast of Chicago" were both excellent but I think "Magellan" is his best. The primary character in the stories is Perry Katzek, a Polish-American boy growing up on Chicago's south side. The tales are populated by the colorful members of Perry's family as well as local gangsters, drunks and others that make these stories breezy and compelling reads. Its definitely worth a read at the very least to satisfy your curiosity at just what the $500K fuss is about.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Bridge of Sighs

Loyal Dailybookbuddy readers may remember the ridiculous level of anticipation I had for this book. While I did enjoy and highly recommend it, I'm afraid it didn't quite live up to my impossibly high expectations for a Richard Russo book. After winning the Pulitzer for Empire Falls, it appears that Russo felt the need to write a Very Important Book. Bridge of Sighs tackles lots of issues of class, race, what it means to be an American, how much choice we have over our life's direction. I wouldn't characterize Russo as a subtle writer anyway, but his characters are constantly asking themselves series of rhetorical questions about the Big Issues. To Russo's credit, he never supplies the reader with easy answers. The story basically revolves around two boys--Lucy Lynch, the likable optimist who is content to live in Thomaston all his life and his counterpart, Bobby Noonan, who leaves Thomaston and never looks back, eventually settling in as a famous painter in Venice. Lucy's wife, Sarah, loved them both but chooses Lucy in the end. The three lives threaten to converge once more when the Lynches plan a trip to Venice thirty years later. The story is primarily told in Lucy's memoir of his childhood and adolescence, and this conceit is sometimes a bit awkward. If you're new to Russo, I wouldn't start with this book (I'd go with The Risk Pool or Straight Man). But it's still filled with great writing and vivid characters (this book probably has his best-written female characters). It may not be quite as funny or seamless as some of his previous work, but I still don't think I've read a better book this year.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Book Of Illusions

This book was a public library book club choice. The protagonist David Zimmer is a college professor whose wife and two sons die in a plane crash. Struggling to find something to help him reconnect to the world the living, he spots a silent film clip on late night tv. Surprised to find himself actually laughing he seeks out information on the clip's actor and learns he is Hector Mann a silent film star who disappeared completely just as sound entered movies. Zimmer seeks out prints of his movies which have been appearing anonymously in the mail in various film archives and writes a book about Mann's art. Zimmer is shocked by first letters and then a late night visitor who claim Mann is still alive. He travels to New Mexico and learns the story of Mann's disappearance. The book takes a turn for the strange at several points but serves as an interesting study of how survivor's guilt can manifest itself.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

A Heckuva Job:more of the Bush Administration in Rhyme

Every week Calvin Trillin's political poetry appears in The Nation. Works such as "George W. Bush's Approval Rating Sinks to 34 Percent", "A Member of Congress tries to Recall Jack Abramhoff" and "Watching Dick Cheney in Debate" (I must say this, in studying Dick Cheney:/ The man betrays no impulse to be zany,/ Resembling in his scowl and condescendence/ The stern vice principal who takes attendance.) Trillin skewers Washington and the White House house in particular. This is the third volume of his political poetry, following Deadline Poet, and Obliviously On he Sails: The Bush Administration in Rhyme.