Monday, November 13, 2006

recent reading: november

Some new capsule book reviews of things I've read in the last couple of months:

Y: The Last Man Vol. 1: Unmanned by Brian K. Vaughn & co.
Q: In a near-future where only one man survives, will there still be stereotypical man-hating feminists? A: Oh my yes. Promising premise (first pitched by Mary Shelly in 1826) degrades quickly into garden-variety gynophobia.

Twilight of the Superheroes by Deborah Eisenberg
Short stories. The title story is a killer, one of the best I've read in recent years.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Autistic boy attempts to solve neighborhood crime. A promising premise, one which the book dutifully carries out, and then memorably transcends. Recommended.

Lives on the Boundary: A Moving Account of the Struggles and Achievements of America's Educationally Underprepared by Mike Rose
When a book defines itself as "moving" in its own subtitle, approach with caution... and, indeed, this memoir-ish book is not without its soft-focus moments. It does manage, however, to amply convey that peculiar love that a teacher feels for even (especially?) his or her worst students. But its episodic nature and unwillingness to follow through on its argument(s) grows wearying by the end.

Venusia by Mark von Schlegell
Delirious piece of writing growing out of that verdant patch where the tributaries of science fiction, psychedelia, and abstract critical theory all drain into one another. Equal parts William Burroughs and Edgar Rice Burroughs, this book features sentient plants, unstable psychic landscapes, drug-induced reptile hallucinations, and pulp-grade sex: what's not to like?

Uncommon Carriers by John McPhee
Take a topic which is inherently fascinating (the inner workings of America's transportation industry), and then hand it over to "writer's writer" John McPhee, with his unerring eye for illuminating detail, and his unerring ear for unusual turns of phrase, and the result is absolute delight. Steering a barge, braking a locomotive, getting a package through UPS: McPhee handles them all with great elan, rendering them accessible to the mind of the reader without sacrificing an iota of their boggling complexity. Highly recommended.

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace
Polymath whiz David Foster Wallace on John McCain, pornography, grammar, 9/11, sports memoirs, conservative talk radio, and, yes, lobster. And yet from the welter of topics a coherent theme emerges: how to communicate in a world so thick with irony and spin that genuine, sincere communication is automatically considered suspect. An important book, highly recommended.

The Question of Bruno by Aleksandar Hemon
Short stories by Bosnian-turned-Chicagoan Aleksandar Hemon. Hemon, like Nabokov, is an ESL writer who puts most native speakers and writers of English to shame: the language-acquistion process seems to generate linguistic strangeness (or at least a total liberation from cliche). Hit or miss overall, but certain sentences here are as good as they come.

I've also begun to maintain a LibraryThing page, for those of you who would rather go there than dig around in the Raccoon Books directory... expect old reviews from 2005 and 2004 to be appearing over there sometime soon(ish). And if you have a LibraryThing profile, dear reader, don't hesitate to post a link to it (or your username) in the comments box, so that I can add you to my watchlist.

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