Wednesday, October 25, 2006

No Time to Read?!

Things have been crazy busy at work (so long, weekends...), but things should be slowing down soon, giving me time to read & post.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Elizabeth Wurtzel: Prozac Nation


Elizabeth Wurtzel's Prozac Nation was at one point hailed as Generation X's The Bell Jar.This is plausable because a.) it chronicles a young depressed woman's experiences and b.) said account is updated with many, many references to pop culture. It's a narrative of pain, but it's also ironic and self-aware. Although Wurtzel does a good job or conveying the emptiness and confusion of depression, any pity I felt was marred by the "I'm so awesome" list of her accomplishments. Private school, scholorship, Harvard, accolades for her writing, numerous trips... I understand that Wurtzel is demonstrating that attaining the success our culture covets doesn't equate happiness, but the shouts of "look how fabulous I am" are distracting and, ultimately, detracting.

The title really doesn't have anything to do with the subject matter. The book smacks of a vanity project more than anything else. If the author hadn't achieved so much while young, I'm guessing this book would not have been published. All in all, Prozac Nation is most effective as a lurid tell-all. It almost feels escapist, except it's not uplifting. It's an enjoyable read in a morbid, voyeuristic way. I could identify with some of what Wurtzel is saying, and I hope that she was able to find some healthy way of getting the attention she so desperately needed (needs?). It's difficult being young and gifted, especially if one of those talents is alienating everyone around you.

Incidentally, we haven't heard too much from Wurtzel lately, but Wikipedia tells me she's attending law school at Yale. Rock 'n' roll.

B-

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Kate Chynoweth: The Risks of Sunbathing Topless: And Other Funny Stories from the Road


It's been a year since I've taken a trip to anywhere that's not Pennsylvania (except for a 2-day stint in Chicago's suburbs), and it's been twice that since I've been out of the country. It's understandable, then, that I've been thinking of travel in idealistic terms. I forget about incidents past, such as having my face jumped on in Denmark and running out of gas in the middle of nowhere in the good old U.S.A. Come to think of it, why do I want to leave my apartment after reading all this? Because the mishaps make travel stories worth telling, as The Risks of Sunbathing Topless so eloquently proves.

Kate Chynoweth has assembled a collection of travel nightmares from the pens of some seriously funny women. You'll laugh, you'll gasp, and you'll be really glad you didn't have to experience what the authors went through (although you'll be very glad they did and returned to tell the tale). Pick this up and read it! I wouldn't recommend reading it during a trip or just before one, though. You might jinx yourself. Although... said jinxing could give you a fabulous travel nightmare of your very own to share!

A

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Bill Fitzhugh: Pest Control


Bill Fitzhugh certainly has a flair for the ludicrous - and the hilarious. In Pest Control, his debut novel, Fitzhugh successfully creates a hybrid of thriller and comedy that is justthisclose to going over the edge from “that’s so crazy I can see it happening” to “I’m not willing to suspend disbelief on this level."

Our stalwart hero, Bob Dillon (pronounced the same but spelled differently), is a newly minted freelance exterminator who sees an opportunity to perfect his environmentally friendly pest control method – cross-bred assassin bugs. Events during a drunken night at a bar put Bob’s name on the list of international killers for hire, a career change that Bob remains blissfully unaware of. As Bob works towards perfecting his assassin bug strains and tries to keep his relationship with his wife Mary intact, he (unwittingly) becomes a major player in the shadowy world of international intrigue.

The supporting characters are fabulous, especially Klaus, the world’s top ranked assassin who suffers from bouts of existential despair. Bob’s family, the worlds best killers, a CIA agent who distrusts technology, and a surly landlord round out the regulars. All have quirks that are sure to make readers snicker at the very least.

This book, despite a few awkward phrases, is wonderful (It wouldn't be me if I didn't insert a touch of what I think of as "constructive criticism," would it?). I couldn’t even put it down to walk two blocks to the CVS. I had to bring it with me. It was hard to stop long enough to cross the street, even. I lost the greater part of a day I should have spent searching for jobs. I should also note that this is probably the fifth time I have read this book. It has lost none of its power to amuse and educate. This time around I identified with Bob a great deal due to his unemployment and dubious financial situation. I’d love to be able to pursue my dream as Bob did, except I’m not really sure what my dream is at this point.

This is highly recommended for those who are looking for a good read with plenty of laughs. The reader should come away from Pest Control feeling satisfied, with aching abdominal muscles, and with new knowledge of insect lore. I am totally serious about that last one, too. Fitzhugh should feel proud of this achievement. I hear a movie is in the works - I'll be all over that if it's true.

A.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Joan Didion: The White Album


Here are a few things I learned from Joan Didion's collection of essays, The White Album:

1. The Sixties were cah-razy!

2. The Sixties were especially nuts in California.

3. Joan Didion gets migraines. Poor Joan Didion.

4. It sucks to go ALL THE WAY to a recording studio to watch The Doors record an album only to find out Jim Morrison is too stoned to sing. Man, doesn't that suck? I mean, HOW DISAPPOINTING!

5. I must not "get" Joan Didion. I don't find what's so appealing about a rich Californian drop names ("I was invited to a civil rights meeting over at Sammy Davis, Jr.'s house and I hear William Styron and Ossie Davis arguing..."), write boring essays about water-treatment plants, and discuss movies that no one remembers. Maybe I'm jaded and maybe I expected something as brilliant as The Year of Magical Thinking, but it didn't deliver, and I was really disappointed.

C.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

NEW REVIEWS SOON!

I apologize for the unannounced hiatus. Multiple major events have occurred in the past few months, severely limiting my reading time (and leaving me with even less time to write). The good news is I'm halfway through a new book and plan to post about it by the end of the week.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Nicholson Baker: The Mezzanine


Who would have thought that a 133-page book that seems to be about a trip up an escalator could be so engaging? The unique and engaging aspect of Baker's novel is the attention his protagonist (he does have a name, but it is only mentioned once and is not important to the book) pays to the minutae of life - the effects of shoelace wear, the sound a button makes as it is fastened, the contagious nature of whistling. The whole book is one long tangent, filled with footnotes and observations that are all interrelated. Baker has taken the time to detail thoughts that most of us have probably had from time to time. This makes reading these small details feel very familiar.

The number of footnotes Baker includes is unusual (he adds tangents to tangents!), but this, again, is no ordinary piece of writing. It is more of a combination of fiction, philosophy, and diary than a novel. There is no real story except for the trip up the escalator. The only complaint is that, when describing a pose, Baker describes it as being "the pose of George Washington crossing the Potomac." I'm a stickler for accuracy, and this gnaws at me. Other than that, though, this is a wonderful book.

A.