Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Of Fat, Fault and Blame

I had hoped to post about these books individually and at length but time is running out before our trip and I don't want to wait until we return.

Overweight Sensation: The Life and Comedy of Allan Sherman by Mark Cohen
I have been a fan of Allan Sherman since I was wee. Like most people, I'm sure Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh (A Letter from Camp) was the first tune I heard but unlike most people my age, I had the albums and I learned the songs by heart and marveled at the wordplay and melodies. I have happy memories of listening to these records with my Father as we laughed and laughed together and I was thrilled that a much overdue biography was to be published. 

Author Mark Cohen gets all the facts down on paper--Sherman's musical success was truly meteoric. He went from performing these ditties at friends' parties to having three LPs selling millions in the span of about 18 months. His appetites were enormous and enormously self-destructive. He died at 48. His talent couldn't save him. 

However, I think Cohen goes overboard with many of his theories and his analysis of Sherman's mental state and upbringing. As early as the introduction, Cohen's prose seemed more like hero worship than objective biography. He succeeds in providing a portrait of a talented man whose career has faded into obscurity. Sherman deserves the recognition, if not the theorizing.
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers 

A big bestseller and award-winner, this one is already out in paperback but it's worthy of your time even if I have come to it late. Don't shun it because it's a book about war. I know people who can watch NCIS and other grisly initialed TV melodramas but somehow can't bear to watch a war movie because "the violence is too real". Really? Grow up. Buck up. Shut up and fer chrissakes stop encouraging Dick Wolf! 

Author Kevin Powers served as a machine gunner in Iraq in some of the actual places where the book is set. The narrative, which jumps back and forth from post-war to pre-war to during the war, follows two soldiers, Privates Bartle and Murphy. Murphy is a few years younger and Bartle is charged with looking out for him during their time in service.  

The Yellow Birds is bleak and brutal as war novels should be. Powers is a very gifted writer whose descriptions of the barren, war-torn landscapes reminded me of Stephen Crane, especially when he evoked color. His characters are memorable and doomed but they are ordinary and that makes them recognizable to us. This work is a valuable gem and a window into the Iraq wars. 

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

I don't tend to read YA novels but I'm so glad I read this tale of love, cancer, death, and life (Notice I didn't say teen love, cancer, death and life). John Green is immensely talented and makes the story universal. 

This touching tale centers around Hazel and her ongoing struggles with cancer and Augustus, whom she meets at a teen support group meeting. They cautiously fall in love and find something deep and meaningful aside from their respective maladies and histories. The characters are not just wisecracking adolescents but smart, endearing, very real and very funny.  

The Fault In Our Stars was thoroughly absorbing.  This post hardly does it justice but I was touched by it and, of course, cried throughout this fine novel. 

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