Saturday, November 1, 2014

What Happened in October, 2014


The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Ever since Donna Tartt won the Pulitzer, there has been an awful lot of Goldfinch bashing going on.  The prime complaints seem to fall into one of two categories, the first being that Tartt needed a more cutting editor, and the second being that Tartt's characters spent too much time talking about drugs.  I, on the other hand, am in the camp of The Goldfinch defenders, which I sort of didn't expect. 

The Goldfinch is a long book, at 771 pages, but that alone does not mean that Tartt needed a better editor.  I can't say that not a single word could be cut, but neither I could cite many examples of areas where I was bored.  For the most part, the parts where one could think that an editor was needed were times were Tartt was deliberately prolonging the story to show how time was dragging on for the main character, such as at the engagement cocktail party, or while he was alone in Amsterdam.  I loved every page, and wish for another hundred or two.  As for the drugs, if this was too much for you, please don't read Edward St. Aubyn. 

Lest you think that I entered into this book with rose colored glasses, I have never been Donna Tartt's biggest fan.  Time and time again, I tell people that if they liked Tartt's Secret History, they will love Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marissa Pessl, which is similar, but in my opinion, better.  I rarely even talk about Tartt's The Little Friend, as it was really not that great of a book, but for some reason, it is one of those books that sticks in my mind with images reappearing constantly.  In The Goldfinch, Tartt hits the mark, and earns her reputation.

The Goldfinch starts with Theo and his mother visiting a NYC museum exhibit of Dutch artists, where a girl with red hair catches Theo's eye.  Theo is drawn to the girl, who is at the museum with a man who appears to be her grandfather.  He follows them, when suddenly a bomb explodes, and Theo's life is forever changed.  Theo becomes an unwitting art thief, and spends the next 20 years  hiding his treasure.  Theo's mom is killed in the explosion, and as a result, he moves in with his wealthy friend, Andy, and his family.  As might be expected, Theo's deadbeat father reappears, and whisks him off to Las Vegas.  In Vegas, Theo meets a new friend, Boris, whose life is at least as dysfunctional as his own.

Theo is charmed in that he has amazing people in his life.  Boris, flawed as he may be, is just what Theo needs, right when he needs him, time and time again.  Hobie, who Theo meets while trying to figure out what certain things that happened at the museum meant, shapes Theo's life, and gives him all of the stability that he was missing. Andy and his family, the Barbours, give Theo the illusion of normalcy, while also giving him a place to belong, if he wants it.

I listened to The Goldfinch on audiobook.  It was read by David Pittu, who won two Audies for his performance.  He should have won even more - as many as were available.  There had to have been at least 30 characters, all of whom had distinctive voices and accents.  The voices for Hobie and Boris were my favorite.  Pittu made Hobie seem old, dignified, and somehow more affluent than the customers who shopped in his store.  He made Boris sound impulsive, risky, shady, and yet still trustworthy and loyal, all with a Russian/Austrailian/Ukranian accent. 

I loved The Goldfinch, and will happily read it again, hopefully in the near future.  I am adding it to my list of Favorites.  The Goldfinch was a NYT Notable book for 2013.

Challenges:  Audiobook Challenge

Tags:  Big Fat Books, Favorites, Pulitzer Winner, NYT Notables, Awesome Audio,

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey is the story of an ex-pat experience, as told by a husband who felt that it was a complete success, and a wife who felt miserably out of place.  George and Sabine Harwood moved to Trinidad in 1956, just as the colonial rulers are losing power.  The new Prime Minister, Eric Williams, promised to change the country and free its true citizens from the control of outsiders.  George loves Trinidad, and loves the ex pat lifestyle, so much that he never wants to leave.  Sabine sees Trinidad with more weary eyes, and is hopeful that the people will find the leader who they are hoping for in Williams, even if he scares her with his anti-establishment promises.

There are a couple of stories that are going on in White Woman.  The first is that of a revolution, as seen through the eyes of an outsider.  Sabine, the only white person at the rallies supporting Williams, is hopeful for him and his followers, and would be more than happy to leave Trinidad to them.  When he gains power, and fails to make the changes that were promised, she sees him falling into the ways of the former rulers, and is disappointed that he is letting his people down, even if she was never an intended beneficiary.  While reading this, I couldn't help thinking about Kwame Kilpatrick.  As a person who lives near but not in Detroit, I was excited for Kilpatrick to be elected.  He was young and Detroit and whole metro area was ready for someone fresh to make a change.  Instead, the Detroiters who elected him were rewarded with scandal, corruption, and outright theft.  Like Sabine, I was on the outside, looking in, but hoping that the new leader would make a difference, even if the changes wouldn't directly help me.  Also like Sabine, I was disappointed and disillusioned with the results, even if a part of me knew that I was foolish to hope for more.

Another story that unfolds through out White Woman is that of people who catch each other's eye in a crowd, and never quite let go.  One day, while she is riding her bike, Sabine and Eric Williams lock eyes.  While they don't know each other, they feel a connection.  Over the next several years, they run into each other from time to time, and fall into conversations as if they have been speaking daily, saying things to each other that no one else would say.  While it could never happen in America, Roffey makes it seem completely reasonable that the Prime Minister of Trinidad would speak freely with a woman who he has only briefly met, but who looked really cute while riding her bike.

Challenges:  Rewind

Tags:  British Stories

Yankee Broadcast Network by John F. Buckley and Martin Ott

Although I haven't done any Industry Requested Reviews in a couple of months, I still get requests every day.  One request that caught my attention was that of John Buckley and Martin Ott, who wanted me to review their book of poetry about television.  While they were really straight forward about what their book was, I guess that I was a little surprised that literally every poem related to television.  My fault - not theirs.  What disappointed me though was that while they think about television enough to want to write a book of poetry inspired by it, they seem to really hate it.

For most of us, television is a guilty pleasure, but for Buckley and Ott, the pleasure is all gone, leaving nothing but guilt, and a dash of disgust.  One of the things that caught my attention when deciding to accept the review request was their poem called "The Real Housewives of Wayne County."  Wayne County, in case you don't know, is the county where Detroit is located.  However, it's also the county where Grosse Pointe (remember "Grosse Pointe Blank" starring John Cusack?) is, which makes Wayne County an area where extreme wealth abuts complete poverty.  The poem that Buckley and Ott wrote relied only on the Detroit brand names and stereotypes, and missed the opportunity for a study in contrasts.  In fact, they could have renamed it with the name of any county, and inserted the names of products made in that county, instead of "Better Made" and paczki.

My favorite poem was "Burn'ded" which was obviously a satire of Ashton Kucher's show, "Punk'd".  In the Buckley and Ott version, there are many people playing ever escalating "pranks" ending with a home grown terrorist who eventually sees the episode in which he stars with his fellow inmates.

Yes, Yankee Broadcast Network was exactly what it promised it would be.  I just didn't like it as much as I hoped I would.

Tags:  Industry Requested Reviews

Book Group Reports

The Neighborhood Book Group met to discuss The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley.  There were 8 of us who met, and only 4 had finished the book.  2 more were not quite finished, and the other two of us (I was in this group) never picked the book up.  At the beginning of the meeting, I would have said that of the people who read it, half liked it, and half didn't.  Unfortunately, after discussing various unlikely twists and coincidences, the people who had started off saying that they liked it changed sides.  I think I won't bother trying to pick this one up. 

We chose to discuss Sweetness because we are trying to read something from various genres, and this one was chosen as a mystery.  In December we will meet again to discuss The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, which we have classified as science fiction.

The Typical Book Group met this month to discuss . . . And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer.  We picked this book as our summer Big Fat Book (BFB) in June, and delayed meeting until October to discuss it.  Even with this delay, of the 9 people at book group, only 2 had finished the book.  There were 3 more of us who had started it and were in various stages of progress, but the rest didn't even give it a try.

I talked about . . .And Ladies in my August and September wrap ups.  Basically it is an 1100+ page book about a book group that formed in the late 1800s, and the course of the lives of the original members.  As I've mentioned, I frequently fall asleep after reading only a few pages.  The two groupers who finished the book said that somewhere around page 500, the story picked up so that they could easily read 50 pages at a time, and that they thought about the book all of the time when they weren't reading it.  I'm somewhere around page 700 now, and I am not experiencing that at all, but then again, I've been putting it down for 2 or 3 weeks at a time and coming back to it, instead of immersing myself in the story.  Maybe this month I'll stick with it until I'm done.

All told, the people who finished the book liked it, and thought that it was worth reading.  I did notice though that one of them only gave the book 3 GoodReads stars.  So, while I'm now expecting something worth finishing, maybe I won't expect it to be life changing.

Next month we'll read Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson.

In Other News

The Man Booker Prize was announced on October 14.  This year's winner was The Narrow Road to the Deep North  by Richard Flannigan.  Based on the Amazon reviews, this sounds like a really good book.  The main character is an Australian surgeon in a Japanese POW camp during World War II.  I'll be keeping my eyes open for more on this one.

November Preview

People, I am burnt out on blogging, and almost even dreading it.  So, I'm not making any promises about even doing a monthly summary for November.  But in case you are interested in what I am planning to read and listen to, here you go:

In Paper Form:
. . . And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer.  Yes, I promise to finish this book in November.
Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett, if I can get it, or Bread and Butter by Michelle Wildgen, if I can't.
Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King

On Audio Book:
1Q84 by Haruki Murikami
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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