"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Book Reviews

My ankle's not healing as fast as I'd like, so there's no running to speak of on this "running" blog. So, instead, here's what I've read recently:

"Ursule Mirouet" by Honore de Balzac.

I loved "Pere Goriot" and really enjoyed "Cousin Bette" and "Eugene Grandet," so I'm forever hoping to find another Balzac work as good. He wrote a lot of hogwash. This work is second-tier Balzac. The plot requires a clairvoyant and a ghost, which are holes one can drive a truck through, but the characterization and the psychology are so good that it's possible to overlook that to some extent.

"The Shadow Line" by Joseph Conrad.

Every time I read Conrad, it makes me wish I could write as well ("Heart of Darkness," his most famous work, is actually the exception). This work is autobiographical rather than fiction and is one of his best. An ill-fated first job as a captain turns out to be harrowing and spooky.

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" by Mark Haddon.

After dozens of people told me about this book, I finally read it. It's the first work written from the point of view of an autistic teenager and it works quite well. It's surprisingly funny in parts as well. (I laughed out loud when he points out some dogs are smarter than people. "Steve needs help feeding himself and can't fetch a stick." "Don't tell his mother that." [Paraphrased])

"Surfacing" by Margaret Atwood.

This is supposed to be her best work and it is good, if forgettable. I started with "The Handmaid's Tale," which pushes feminism to man-hating, so I came to it a bit biased. Atwood has a talent for treating people like onions, tearing away one layer at a time (and if it hits you right, making you tear). The anti-American stance of the Canadians is interesting - I've seen it firsthand - especially now that so many cultures hate what they think of as American culture.

"The Book of Illusions" by Paul Auster.

I came to Auster through his New York Trilogy in an odd way: I'm a fan of 1930's locked-room murder mysteries and one of the books is entitled "The Locked Room." I really liked the unusual style of this new-to-me author. After reading several of his books, I found that he had a habit of putting the most foul disturbing thing he could think of in the middle of his books. This work is no exception. It's a very interesting story, handled deftly, but there's a section in Chapter 5 that comes out of nowhere just to shock the reader; I hoped it would tie in to the plot later, but it doesn't. Auster will always be just a cult novelist because of this tendency.

"Saturday" by Ian McEwan.

McEwan can string together sentences and paragraphs as well as anyone, but there's always a problem with his plots. His characters are full-fleshed (in this case the only two women, the main character's wife and daughter seem a bit sketchy, but the rest are well-drawn) and he has a knack for following a stream of consciousness in a character without losing focus. It's the co-incidences that are problematic; the main character, a neurosurgeon, stops his getting mugged by diagnosing the assailant with Huntington's - by gait and lack of eye movement. Later, he ends up operating on this same man, after another encounter with him that is the main focus of the book. The book is eminently readable, but it's definitely a product of its time; even a decade from now many of the references will mean little to readers.


sea legs girl said...

Sad but true: your blog is the only place I read book reviews. Or should I say the only place I take book reviews seriously. All the good book reviews are too long. And all the short ones aren't good. Thanks for this resource :). Most of these are books I am familiar with and had wondered about. I know exaclty what you mean about wanting to write like Joseph Conrad. But alas, I will only ever write like myself.

I'm sure you'll be running again in no time.

SteveQ said...

@SLG: And your blog is the only place I read about lactation.

sea legs girl said...

What about all the other very informational websites that come up when searching for "lactating tit girl"?

PiccolaPineCone said...

surfacing was my second least liked book by atwood (bodily harm is #1 least liked) though i do generally enjoy her. it would be refreshing if she could occasionally include a romantic relationship that is actually healthy and well-rounded, even if it was only a sidebar in the novel. re: your comment about canadian anti-americansim - i recommend "why i hate canadians" by will ferguson. interesting, insightful read that busts some of those "of canadians are just SO nice" myths.