Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Off the Bookshelf

  • The Shakespeare Curse by Jennifer Lee Carrell - I loved the literature and history references in this book--from Holinshed's Chronicles to Beerbohm Tree to Bandirran Stone Circle; I loved the way ancient mystic powers intermingled in modern-day events. I loved the characters--well most of them--Eircheart, Lady Nairn, and Lily. I loved the setting, amidst ancient Scottish castles and Woods and lochs. The story involves an attempt to mount the Scottish Play, as we theatre denizens refer to it, with original props, while nefarious forces attempt to use magic powers contained in the props, and a secret version of the play itself, to bring down those connected with it. There is, as I see it, one or two coincidences too many, three or four incredible connections too many, for me to sustain my willing suspension of disbelief. Though the author's notes make a good try to convince me, I'd skip it.
  • Tangerine by Edward Bloor - The town of Tangerine (which can't be far from the central Florida locale where I grew up) is more than the backdrop for this young adult tale of a middle school soccer player trying to figure out his life, and some dark secret he can't quite recall, it is a character in the story. Paul Fisher is a young teen who sees and understands more than others give him credit for--mostly because of the thick glasses he wears, supposedly because he stared at a solar eclipse too long. He doesn't remember that, but soon events will trigger his memory, and lead to a tragic, but satisfying, denoument. I recommend this novel for those who enjoy quirky, intelligent young adult stuff!
  • Zeitoun by Dave Eggers - The story of Zeitoun--Abdulrahman Zeitoun--and his wife Kathy and their four children, personalizes the natural disaster of Hurrican Katrina in New Orleans, and the policy disasters of the Bush administration's FEMA and the global war on terror, in a unique and imminently readable fashion. Zeitoun, an able-bodied painter and contractor well-known in the city, stays behind after the floods to look after his various properties and help out however he can, but becomes ensnarled in a FEMA/Homeland Security nightmare when he is picked up for "looting" and imprisoned without charge, without evidence, without even a phone call to his worry-sickened family for weeks. While one wants to blame the cops, the District Attourney, the FEMA head, it becomes clear that it's not the individuals who are to blame, mostly--but the system itself. For a proud American like myself, Eggers' 2009 non-fiction tale is a sad but necessary reality check.
  • Neither Here Nor There by Bill Bryson - Subtitled "Travels in Europe", this volume chronicles three of Bryson's trips through the Continent, the first two during the halcyon days of tender youth, the last nearly two decades later as he attempted to retrace those earlier trails. It says something, though I'm not sure what, that I was in chapter 5 or so before I realized I had read this book before--it was probably the first Bill Bryson book I ever read. He was still formulating his style at this point, so the book lacks some of the meticulous backgrounding he provides in later works, and less attention to the locals.

    One thing that struck me is Bryson's chastisement of the Austrians for their anti-Semitism and the "Waldheim Affair"--Austrian President Kurt Waldheim was re-elected to his position even after his dubious role in WWII war crimes as an officer in the Wehrmacht, and his long record of lies about it, was detailed. Austria has never paid war reparations. Bryson goes so far as to show polls demonstrating the high level of anti-Semitism in modern Austria, even though there are practically no remaining Austrian Jews. But the Waldheim Affair was twenty years ago--come to think of it, so was Bryson's trip to Europe.

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