Thursday, August 26, 2010

August Book List

Some hits and misses in this month's crop of books harvested here in the Seoul Patch for your edification. No one pays me for my opinion of the books I read, so in a market economy, these reviews are worthless. Or is that invaluable?
  • The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios and Other Stories by Yann Martel - This is a collection of four stories (well, three stories and a novella) originally published in 1993, eight years before Life of Pi. The title story is the most interesting, and most powerful, but even it is a 98-lb weakling compared to the Charles Atlas of Pi. This book is mainly interesting as a case study in a writer's development of craft. I'd skip it.

  • Bee Season by Myla Goldberg - A truly amazing first novel (it would be no less amazing as a twentieth novel, really), the voice of this story is rich yet authentic, as it details the breakdown of a modern American family. It sounds depressing, I know, but it's really darkly comic, mostly hopeful, and stunningly written. Over and over, the author's turns of phrase, so original but so true, make compelling prose that's almost poetry. The plot concerns a fifth grade girl who surprises everyone by winning not just the school spelling bee, but the Greater Philly one as well, advancing to the National Bee in Washington, DC.

  • The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld - Visiting turn of the century New York City, the infancy of skyscrapers and subways, Dr Sigmund Freud and his associates are drawn into what appears to be a series of sadistic, psychosexual murders. Subtly plotted, the twists in this story kept me guessing--even though we know who the culprit is, the exact nature of the crimes and those involved is still a surprise. Good read!

  • Changes in Latitudes by Will Hobbs - Whether the students did or not is kind of a moot point, but I really liked doing the Book Club thing during camp, and I have been scouting suitable juvenilia for a repeat. Alas, this book isn't it, though it is slim (only 35,500 words) and accessible for my target audience, as the narrator is a 16-year-old boy, on vacation with his family (minus the father) in Mexico. In between trying to make time with vacationing beauties too old for him, disaffected Travis patronizes his nine-year-old brother Teddy's attempts to save endangered turtles from an unscrupulous businessman. That the tale ends with tragedy was expected, but the nature of the tragedy, so random, made me really dislike this book.

  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor - I'm pretty sure I read this as a young yoot, but I'm glad I read it again. It won't do for my Seoul high school boys, as the narrator is a ten-year-old Negro girl lving in the Jim Crow South, but it would open their eyes a bit to the unquestioning classism/racism around all of us each day. The characters in this story--mainly black sharecroppers and their 'white trash' overlords--are so carefully drawn that I think I know them: those I don't admire, I mourn for; those I don't side with, I pity; not all black folks are good, and not all whites are racist miscreants in this Newberry Award winner. Life is difficult and complicated, as Cassie Logan learns when her Mama is fired from being a schoolteacher in the 'nigra' school, her Pa laid up with a broken leg, and her older brother's best friend mixed up in a murder. How can this divided community be brought together?


      Sandra said...

      Have you checked out Sherman Alexie's young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian? I think it might be a good one for your students.

      Tuttle said...

      No, I haven't, Sandra. Thanks for the tip, I'll see if I can find it.

      Chris said...

      Speaking of book on Pi, I'm more familiar with Petr Beckmann's work "The History of Pi" from the 70's. After that, I read "e: The Story of a Number" (remember logarithms?) and then "The Golden Ratio: The Story of PHI". But, that's why I'm a geek and you're a scholar...