Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Killer's Wife

I attended a library conference last October where a publisher's representative touted this as one of the new hot books of the spring, so I was looking forward to it. The main character is Leigh Wren, the wife of a man who had killed a number of people around the country when he was on business trips. Since then, she has changed her name and moved away, trying to restart her life with her son, but now, a copycat killer has appeared, and her identity is revealed to her new hometown. At first I had a hard time getting into the story, but I quickly warmed to Leigh's voice (written by Bill Floyd, a man, which is always a small feat). This title was a suspenseful page-turner with a satisfying ending. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes thrillers with well-developed characters.

Quiet, Please: Dispatches from a Public Librarian

Scott Douglas is a librarian, a writer, and a member of my generation. Out of jealousy, I figured I'd be overly critical of this book from the start. I did enjoy it, though, especially the use of footnotes throughout, and I loved the acknowledgments page. Douglas has an easy-to-read voice and did some interesting, humorous things with his memoir. I enjoyed the Dewey numbers marking each chapter (and thought it was ironic that the number assigned to the book on the cover was different than the one our cataloger assigned to it). Although I felt Douglas was a little negative about the profession sometimes, he was realistic, which is good. I also think, after reading both this and another memoir by Don Borchert, that libraries in California are very different from libraries in Ohio, at least the ones I have worked in. I'm lucky we have the funding and resources we do here in this state. Maybe I'll be a copycat and write a librarian memoir next.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Comdey at the Edge: How Stand-Up in the 1970s Changed America

The best stand-up comics make their audiences completely forget that there's a staggering amount of work that goes into crafting an act. Through the 1950s, comedy was dominated by the so-called "borscht belt" comedians - the one-liners that traveled venues in upstate New York with their stale, relatively safe fare. It took a generation of comics like Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor to craft the biting social commentary and interactive, experimental performances we see today.
This book, by Richard Zoglin, takes us through that process. It's a little gushy at times, but offers up a who's who of the notables, even those who weren't necessarily famous. It should be of interest to fans of stand-up.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Me Talk Pretty One Day

By David Sedaris (Audiobook)

Sedaris' autobiography is a mishmash of personal anecdotes, starting with his enrollment in speech therapy as a child, which only succeeded in teaching him how to communicate without using words containing the letter 'S'. When he grows up, he moves to Paris with his boyfriend Hugh. His vocabulary, starting out, consisted of the words "bottleneck" and "ashtray", which didn't prove to be very useful. Although his vocabulary improved somewhat after taking a French class, most of his words and phrases were not useful either - like "funeral procession". He relates his experiences as an American living in Paris, which is hilarious. Tourists mistake him for a French native, speaking outloud in English that he smelled and looked like a pickpocket. Doctors, dentists, and his eye doctor think he is a moron, as he tries in his broken French to communicate, as in "Could you remove the angry red spot living on my face".

Though the book is not really a story, of sorts, seeming more like six hours of stand-up comedy, I thoroughly enjoyed it and am looking forward to reading more by this author.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Ruins, by Scott Smith

My wife picked this book up in part because it was just released as a movie. As it turns out, it's an excellent novel, and not just within its horror genre. Sure it's creepy and has all the requisite elements for its genre. It's also an extremely well crafted and written book, though. The characters are touching, believable and deep, which, in the end, makes the book that much more frightening.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Anansi Boys

Anansi Boys By Neil Gaiman (Audiobook)
Performed by Lenny Henry

Although I am a huge fan of Stardust, another one of Gaiman's novels, it took me awhile to finally pick up a copy of Anansi Boys. Once I got started, though, I couldn't stop. What starts out as an ordinary story about a young man, Charlie, who has an unremarkable job in an accounting firm and also dislikes his fiance's mother and whose father repeatedly embarrassed him as a child, turns out to be a fantastical tale with a father who is a god, a long-lost brother who can talk to spiders, old women with magical powers, other worlds with animal gods, and much more.

Gaiman's ability to interweave fantasy, folklore, humor, and the ordinary make him, in my opinion, one of the most talented and creative writers of our time. No other writer I have read has been able to accomplish this task so seamlessly. Through the book, I found myself laughing out loud with tears streaming down my cheeks, clutching the steering wheel in anticipation, and chuckling at the parallels of human character in my own life.

Lenny Henry does an amazing job narrating this book! The individual personalities of each character shines through as he narrates for the Fat Charlie and his brother, smooth and charming Spider; his father, jolly and happy-go-lucky Anansi; the crazy old Jamaican women friends of his father's; Tiger, the god; the bird woman; and the snide irritating cliches of Fat Charlie's boss, Graham Coats.

It was an amazing book, and I highly recommend listening to the audio version!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Barefoot Gen: The Day After

This is the second volume of a manga series based on the memories of Hiroshima bombing survivor Keiji Nakazawa. While not exactly enjoyable, it is a powerful story. The format lends itself to the portrayal of the atomic bomb's devastation as seen through a child's eyes. Popular for decades in Japan, the series is now being translated into other languages and enjoying a global audience.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Wonder Woman: Love and Murder

Popular novelist Jodi Picoult was recruited by DC Comics to write for the venerable Wonder Woman series. The result is engaging if imperfect. Picoult takes us through a storyline featuring battles between mother and daughter, and the identity crisis that results, sexism, and empowerment. The effort is only slightly marred by Picoult's evident self-consciousness regarding the genre and the heroine. Quips about the uniform feel stale and trite in the comics world; we all know a woman wouldn't wear a bustier to fight crime as Picoult points out more than once, for example, but sensible fashion has never been the point to superheroes. Still, it's a strong story arc with themes that are likely to appeal to Picoult's fans.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Dreamers of the Day

Local author Mary Doria Russell has built up quite a following since her tremendous debut with The Sparrow. I was eager to read her newest, but once again was disappointed. Even though the heroine American Agnes Shanklin is over 40 as the novel opens, this is the story of her (delayed) coming-of-age on a trip to Egypt in 1921 with her dachshund Rosie, at the precise moment of the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference. Agnes arrives at her hotel just as Lawrence of Arabia, Winston Churchill and Gertrude Bell have gathered in the lobby, and the luminaries (especially the men) pick her out and include her on their tours, parties and official meetings for the next several weeks. During this time, Agnes moves from a dowdy maiden teacher to "experienced" lady of fashion, from abused mama's girl to an independent and outspoken woman who throws convention to the wind, and from a wobbly Christian to scoffing skeptic. This book brings to mind a cross between Bridges of Madison County and A Brief History of the Dead: Agnes is long dead as she relates her tale. If one makes it through Dreamers of the Day, he will pick up a fair amount of interesting history, but may have to hold his nose a few times along the way.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The View from the Seventh Layer

I wish I could write like Kevin Brockmeier. The author of the celebrated Brief History of the Dead has just written a new short story collection, and I was floored by the quality of the writing and the sharp, short plots of each story. The range Brockmeier shows is admirable as well; after a "choose your own adventure" story where every choice leads to a scintillating and beautiful death scene, he follows with a thinly veiled Star Trek fan fiction story, "The Lady with the Pet Tribble." As a Star Trek fan, I was delighted by it--and the quality of the writing remained strong, which isn't always the case in fan fiction! With both humor and poignancy, Brockmeier has written a book of stories that are certain to affect readers of many different genres.

Do You: 12 laws to access the power in you to achieve happiness and success by Russell Simmons

I listened to the audio version of this self-help book. The reason I chose this book was because a colleague heard Simmons speak at an awards dinner and said he was very down-to-earth. Simmons is a hip-hop producer and has various other ventures. He is wildly successful and extremely wealthy. He is also a vegetarian and practices yoga and meditation. I like to listen to self help books on my commute to work because even though they can be common sense, they help to keep me focused, both professionally and personally. I liked Simmons' book very much. He is someone who is very focused, has a strong work ethic and takes care of his health. He also has a strong committment to charity.