Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Summer Reading

Here we have reviews of some of the books I've read recently... & by recently, I mean going back to march or April. Feel free to come on up to Nicola's this evening after the Arsenal match & pick up a copy of these books... or order them used right here.

Roddy Doyle: The Van
I read this last spring in the run up to the World Cup. It's part of Doyle's series that also gave us The Commitments, & it takes place in Dublin, set against the back drop of Ireland's 1990 run in the World Cup. The 2 main characters get a "chip van" & wait outside of pubs to sell burgers & fries to the fans after the Ireland matches. It's a fun little book. Subtle & very well crafted.

Bernard Cornwell: Sharpe's Eagle
depending on how you catalogue them, this is either the 1st, 2nd or 8th book in the Sharpe series. It was the 1st written, the 8 in the chronology of the main character's life, & 2nd in the film series. When I grabbed Sharpe's Rifles last year, I didn't realize that the 1st in the films wasn't the 1st in the series. They're fun book, but they lack any real depth. The historical specificity is fantastic though.

Roberto Bolano: The Savage Detectives
This is an amazing book! Bolano is definitely the real deal. Born in Chile, he spent about 15 years in Mexico City before moving to Barcelona where he wrote his novels (most of which take place primarily in Mexico). The structure is frustrating as Hell, but it's well worth it. We get bout 150 pages of a college kid's diary, 400 pages of 3 or 4 page vignettes from about 20 different narrators, & then another 100 pages of the diary from the beginning.

Roberto Bolano: Amulet
Narrated by one of the many narrators of The Savage Detectives, this follows the "Mother of Mexican Poetry" through about 25 years of Mexican literary life... flashing between the ever changing present & the time she spends hiding from the military in a college bathroom stall. It's a much simpler read than The Savage Detectives (& much shorter), but well worth it.

Roberto Bolano: The Romantic Dogs
One of 2 collections of poetry I read this summer. Again, I can't praise Bolano enough. He started as a poet in Mexico, but refused to publish (claiming that publishing for for bougie suckers), but once he had some kids in Spain, he realized some cash wouldn't be a bad thing so we get a bunch of his stuff all @ once. The translations are only just now coming out... & they're coming fast & furiously. Read him!

Paul Beatty: Joker, Joker, Deuce
This is the other book of poetry I read this summer. Like w/ all of Beatty's novels, it's hilarious, heartbreaking, & loaded w/ pop-culture minutiae. He actually has 2 books of poetry, but they're both out of print already. His other one was going for $150 though, so I haven't had a chance to get that yet. If you're into the post-modern poets, give both of these guys a go.

Paul Beatty: Tuff
Paul Beatty provides a great example of the difference between st & 3rd person narratives. In his other 2 novels, we get 1st person narrators telling great, sarcastic stories. This one, though, is a 3rd person story about a young thug in Harlem who ends up running for city council. It's good, but had he stuck w/ the 1st person of his 1st book (he went back to it w/ his 3rd book), this would have been better. Interestingly, writing classes & writers' workshops often suggest 3rd person as an easier, more useful way to write. Here we see that, @ least as far as Beatty is concerned, that isn't always the case.

Colson Whitehead: Sag Harbor
Brand new in paperback, I'm teaching it this fall, so I gave it a go. He's not quite as pop-culture oriented as Beatty, not quite as flowingly poetic as Whitman, not quite as nostalgic as Jean Shepherd, & not quite as political as Ishmael Reed. If it wasn't for the running political commentary on race relations on Long Island during the 1980s, I'd say it would make perfect beach reading. As it stands, it'll be a good book on which to end the semester. It's nothing too weird or revolutionary, but it's fun... plus, members of UTFO make a cameo appearance!

Michael Cox: The Meaning of Night
This seems to have so much potential, but doesn't quite cut it. I struggled w/ this for months, thinking it would get better, but it never really did. I bet it'd make a fun movie though. It's narrated in flashbacks by a murderer explaining why he killed a man, but the flashbacks don't quite hold together, & the pacing is a bit slow. I'll give you the link, but I don't really recommend it.

Ishmael Reed: Barack Obama & the Jim Crow Media: The Return of the Nigger Breakers
If the title doesn't do it for you, nothing will. It's a collection of essays concerning the media treatment of Obama, comparing it to the treatment of slaves by overseers. At times, it's a bit over-the-top, but in general, it's pretty amazing.

Jean Baudrillard: Simulacra & Simulation
I'd been sitting on this for a long time, but was a little intimidated so I finally got to it recently. I was right to be intimidated, because it's a pretty tough go, but it's worth it. It's fun stuff. A great Borgesian look @ art, literature, & pop-culture.

Flann O'Brien: At Swim-Two-Birds
We started w/ an Irishman, so we'll end w/ 1 too. Close friends w/ James Joyce, O'Brien lets his post-modern flag fly in this weird-ass book. I love it. A college student in Dublin is writing a book about a guy writing a book in which his characters revolt & put him on trial because he's a shit-ass writer. It moves between the 3 different narratives running @ the same time, while lampooning Irish history & mythology. Word up!

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