Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Summer Blonde, by Adrian Tomine

Here’s a collection of short stories in graphic format. Stylistically, they owe a great deal to Dan Clowes, of “Ghost World” fame. There are no gimmicks or superheroes here; just four short pieces that demand to be taken seriously as literature. Tomine’s tales are rooted in loneliness and angst, and work well in the comics format.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Ringside: A Treasury of Boxing Reportage

It’s strange, but in the world of journalism, one of the hardest beats to work is the sports section. Writers not only have to accurately describe events in an interesting way, but they also have to know what they’re talking about. They can’t get away with asking sources for information like their colleagues in the news section (“Coach, can you describe why you’re trying to make a touchdown?” just wouldn’t come off right).
Budd Schulberg is one of a select few masters of ringside reporting. Well-versed in the long and colorful history of boxing, he also had a keen eye that looked deeper than the surface layer of a match. His writing offers insight not just into the storied world of boxing, but also into human experience.

I Killed: True Stories of the Road from America’s Top Comics

Two working comedians, Rich Shydner and Mark Schiff, collected these stories from their colleagues. The results teeter between funny and tragic, are sometimes poignant, and nearly always offer unique insight into the life of a comic. Stand-up comedy is a strange craft, existing in dark nightclubs and seedy bars. Only the lucky few wind up in Hollywood, and usually only after long years spent driving for hours to make gigs that barely cover gas money. For most, it’s not the kind of job that will ever lead to fortune or glory. It does, however, provide some great stories.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone

We’ve all heard that iconic line, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.” This book by Martin Dugard tells the fascinating story behind that famous meeting of Henry Stanley and David Livingstone. It was the 1870s, and perhaps the last great geographic mystery left to the world was the question of where the Nile River originates. Theories abounded, and several explorers met premature ends searching for the source of the river. By far the greatest explorer involved in the quest was Dr. Livingstone, a superstar for his adventures in the then largely unknown continent of Africa, who set off in search of the source in 1866. Time passed, with no word from the explorer. As the years ticked by, rumors swirled about his fate. British bureaucracy and inertia derailed all but a couple of half-hearted attempts at locating him.
Finally, around 1871, an American newspaper that was on the ropes and eager to grab readers launched its own clandestine rescue operation. Reporter Henry Stanley was tasked not only with finding Livingstone, but keeping his expedition’s goal from the British, who would likely try to beat him to the stranded explorer and in the process ruin the news story.
What unfolded in the heart of Africa is a fascinating story of human endurance, the miseries of racial exploitation, and the bonds people form.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Tulle Little, Tulle Late

I am a big reader of "chick lit." These novels tend to be slightly formulaic, but they're usually funny and escapist. This one threw me for a loop. The author, Kimberly Llewellyn, has a sharp, satiric voice, and the main character, Nina, is extremely likable. Some of Nina's actions are a bit shocking and unbelievable, and I almost put the book down midway through. The beginning hooked me right away, but during the middle chapters I wasn't sure where the author was going with the story. I'm glad I stuck with it, though, because the ending wrapped everything up neatly. Overall, this book was like cotton candy--while it had the potential to make me sick, in small doses, it was fluffy and pleasant.

The Sweet Edge

I picked up The Sweet Edge by Alison Pick by browsing. It was on the new shelf in the library, and the summary on the back looked interesting--I had never heard of it, but I thought I'd give it a try. The story is about Ellen and Adam, a couple on the rocks who decide to take a break. Adam goes to take a trip riding the rapids in Alaska, alone, and Ellen stays in Toronto. Each character is finely drawn, despite the omniscent narration, and the language used is exquisite. Pick, a Canadian author, is also a poet, so I'm not surprised that she has an ear for a well-crafted sentence. The only drawback is that Pick doesn't change tenses when she moves to a flashback scene (the entire novel is in present tense) so it can be a little confusing to follow the timeline of the story. Still, it's moving, and kept me hooked to the end.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

He who Fears the Wolf by Karin Fossum

This book is translated from Norwegian. It's a mystery but definitely a notch up from the average whodunnit. It is beautifully written with great character development and I never saw the ending coming. I don't want to give the plot away but I'll just say there's a murder, a bank robbery, an insane asylum and a boy from a delinquent home.