Friday, May 20, 2011

Vacation Reading List

Well, I had a nice two week vacation, and devoted much of my time to reading: on the subway, on the planes, on the buses, on the porch of my bungalow, on the beach, in the restaurant...

I did, therefore, a good bit of reading, and here are my brief reviews of what I read. The list is arranged sort of in order of recommendation, though I have to say I really lucked out in my selections (either that or you can judge a book by its cover), since this is a really strong collection. Room is a strong #1, but #2 through #5 are all really good, and definitely worth a gander.
  • Room by Emma Donoghue - A seriously creepy but ouststanding book! Five-year-old Jack, our narrator, lives in Room with Ma. He knows Room really well, from Bed Wall to Door Wall and back; he sleeps in Wardrobe, wrapped in Blanket, at least until Old Nick comes and goes. Eventually it becomes horrifyingly clear that Room is an eleven-by-eleven-foot high-security garden shed where Jack and Ma are kept as Nick's prisoners. There is Room, and there is TV, for Jack--one is real, and the rest is only TV. But this paradigm begins to break down as the boy realizes that Old Nick brings their food from the grocery store--how much of TV is real, Outside of Room? A leaf silhouetted on the skylight is the tipping point, and Ma realizes they must somehow escape. Harrowing and gripping, the escape scene happens about midway through the book, and had me actually pacing the floor as I read. Highly recommended!
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows - While it seems on first blush to be Chick Lit, this is a book for everyone who loves literature and believes in its power to transform lives. The novel is a collection of letters from the aftermath of WWII, among a writer and her publisher, their friends, and a group of people on the British Channel island of Guernsey. It tells the story of the island's occupation by Germany during the war, how a clandestine pig roast led to the formation of a literary society, and how a tragic love story between a German and a local leads to another love story that is not so tragic. Well, that second love story is how the novel ends, but at least we can hope that it isn't tragic.
  • Feed by MT Anderson - Teenager Titus has been reasonably not-unhappy with his life thus far in this novel of the future, allowing his "feed"--a transmitter wired directly into his brain-- do most of his thinking for him. Until he went on Spring Break trip to the moon and met a girl. Violet was different: she asked Questions; she toyed with her feed to make her consumer profile impossible for the Corporations to read; she wanted to visit Nature--real Nature, outside the city domes. When her feed begins to fail, and cause her body to fail along with it, Titus begins to examine life and love. Happily there are no pat answers in this book, but there is an ending that is uncontrived and powerful. And a Tuttle Award-winning opening line:
    We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.
  • Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer - One of the most unusual books I've read in a long time, and one of the most puissant. A character with the author's name travels to Europe to trace his roots, particularly to find the Jewish shtetl of his grandparents, which had been blasted to oblivion by the Nazis. He engages a tour guide, Alex (whose charmingly broken-English letters after the trip comprise about half the novel) and Alex's grandfather, and the search is on. The story of the little village and its ultimate fate are by turns humorous and heart-rending.
  • Your Republic is Calling You by Kim Young-ha - Ingenious and carefully crafted, the story is about a North Korean spy who has acclimated so well into Seoul society that when the order comes for his return, he can't bring himself to separate from his wife and child--or can he? The action takes place in one 24 hour period but still seems to cover the lifetimes of all involved as well as the history of the two Koreas. Kim is one of Korea's best-known writers and his wordcraft and tellingly observed detail (as translated by Kim Chi-young) go a long ways to explaining why.
  • Tourist Season by Carl Hiaasen - It's open season on tourists in south Florida just ahead of the Orange Bowl parade, and reporter-turned-gumshoe Brian Keyes has to run the the infamous terrorist group Los Noches de Diciembre (the Nights of December) to ground before they kill still more sun-seekers and the hotel reservations start drying up. A hilarious and ascerbic take on the Sunshine State's condominium lifestyle and the havoc it has wreaked on the Everglades and its wild denizens. Hiaasen is a prolific bestselling novelist and award-winning Miami Herald columnist--this was his first solo book, from 1986, but it's got all the elements that have made him so successful.
  • The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte - This book was a grand chase, but unfortunately the quarry turned out to be a dead mouse--by which I mean the ending was an enormous disappointment. Those of a keenly literary bent will enjoy the dissection of Dumas and his contemporaries, as did I, but that should be fodder for the plot rather than an end in itself, which unfortunately is what it is. The jacket blurb which led me to select this book called it a cross between Umberto Eco and Anne Rice--alas, it was the medieval historianship of Rice and the macabre fantasy of Eco.


Rod said...

Didn't you once tell me of a book you read called "Paradigms Lost?" Your "Room" review reminded me of that memory.

Where can I find that book?

Chris said...

did you need a second suitcase to carry your books? Or did you acquire and leave them on-site? That reminds me I have an interesting real story about a North Korean spy I'll give you next time...

Tuttle said...

Rod: Paradigms Lost was a series of case studies of developments in the history of science. I don't recall the author and google is not being a big help. Another great book along those lines is The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn.
Chris: I lugged the books back and forth, but only five of them--two were finished before I flew out. I carried my big and small backpack set, and my satchel, as usual.

Tanner Brown said...

For me, the first result on Google for "Paradigms Lost" (even without quotes) is the Amazon page for the book (by John Casti). It's no longer in print, but there are plenty of used copies for sale.

I don't know what kind of search re-reouting Kim Jong-il has sneaked across the Yalu into your Internet, but whatever it is he likely got it from Uncle Hu...

I'm pretty sure I borrowed and possibly stole that book from you. So chalk that up as Paradigms Lost lost. And maybe one day, found.