Tuesday, May 29, 2007

I just don't know how I feel about this


Anyone else read this? Anyone else sickened by it? I get it but I just can't justify his indictment of society by burning books. What about New Orleans libraries and schools that were so devastated by hurricanes? Could they use the books? There have to be other ways than burning them? I'd always heard good things about Prospero's but this guy is maybe just a little apeshit crazy.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

When the New Yorker ran what I later learned was an excerpt from this novel, I thought it was the best short story I'd read in years. As a full-blown novel, Krauss makes it work and established herself as something truly special. An old man, Leo Gursky (who has become one of my favorite characters in modern listerature) and a teenage girl, Alma Singer, have stories that intertwine as gracefully and as delicately as you could hope for though it isn't a light read. It can get confusing but the payoff is huge. It's the kind of book that you finish and want to start all over again in case you missed something. (You did.) You will laugh and you will ache and you will be moved. I got to meet Krauss very briefly and we spoke about the book and some of the characters and after just a few minutes, both of us were almost in tears. I doubt she'd remember it but, like the book, it has stayed with me and left a mark. And yet...(from '05 list)

Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold

Just marvelous. Chock full of history, this has everything: Early 20’s America, vaudeville, appearances by the Marx Brothers, Houdini, Warren G. Harding and Philo Farnsworth, corrupt Secret Servicemen, urban myths, revenge, resentment—what a wild ride. Gripping and informative while being entertaining. Read it. (from '05 list)

Luncheonette: A Memoir by Steven Sorrentino

­There was some real charm to this memoir of a young man barely getting his life started in NYC, who is forced to take over the family business in New Jersey after his father falls ill. However, what dragged the book down was the endless self-pity in which Sorrentino wallowed. It got tiring hearing over and over and over again how sad he was, how he never reached out to his father, how sick he was of the same routine and faces and sandwiches. It all ties up rather neatly at the book’s end but by then it was a task to get there. (from '05 list)

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon

The Yiddish Policeman's Union imagines that after WWII, Sitka, Alaska became the new Jewish homeland instead of Israel. Enter our anti-hero, Meyer Landsman, a man clearly in a downward spiral. He is divorced from the woman he still loves, his boss, Bina Gelbfish. His sister, Naomi, died in a plane crash under questionable circumstances (he still grieves for her) and in two months, the process of Reversion will take place--the U.S. will give back the Federal District of Sitka to the Tlinglit Indians and the Jews, once again, have to find a home. The rumpled detective with Sitka's finest is called to the scene of a murder at the fleabag hotel where he lives and where he tries to drink himself to death nightly. As he investigates what initially looks like the murder of a spent junkie, he learns the victim, Emanuel Lasker, was not only a chess prodigy (chess plays a large role throughout the book) but was also the son of the Verbover rabbi, the leader of a secretive, ultra-orthodox sect that lives well apart from the rest of the Yids of Sitka. Oh, and Emanuel might have been the Messiah. Nu? Chabon has never been sharper. His similes are consistently clever and evocative and the dialogue is very much in keeping with the tough talk of the hard-boiled tradition but peppered with Yiddish. (I often read this with two Yiddish dictionaries at my side--a first. I don't think it will create a problem for non-Yiddish speakers but there will be some things you miss. Sorry.) It is also laugh out loud funny and his wordplay proves over and over that he is a dangerous man with pen in hand. After winning the Pulitzer for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Chabon sold this at auction for big dough and, supposedly, all he had was a page and a half outline. Six years later, it was well worth the wait.