Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Review

I talk about books quite frequently on this space, gentle readers, so today I thought I'd offer a few thoughts on some of the novels I've read recently.

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. One of the best books ever? Well, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but this 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner found a place on my list of all time favorite reads even before the Pulitzer committee recognized it. Egan masterfully weaves together characters whose lives intersect over the course of about 50 years or so, and the result is delightful. The chapters could stand alone as short stories, but they also handily connect to form a cohesive narrative. If you read one book this week, this month or this year, I'd recommend Goon Squad.

The Privileges by Jonathan Dee. I seem to be on the same wave length as the Pulitzer committee this year, because The Privileges was a 2011 Pulitzer finalist. A fact completely unknown to me when I ordered this book online back in March. I mentioned in an earlier post that The Privileges is really good, so this time I'll say it's mighty fine. A reader may assume that he or she wouldn't care about about the wealthy New York City family at the center of this story, but Dee's precise writing engages you and makes you care. There is one part of the book toward the end that I didn't like, but that has nothing to do with the book and everything to do with events of my life late last year. So I don't hold that against it.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett. I can see why this book is so popular: it's an incredibly easy read. I tore through The Help's 522 pages in no time at all. I enjoyed it, but when all was said and done, I kind of felt like I'd read a comic book. Don't get me wrong, it's good, but it's also a little obvious. The heroes are obvious; the villains are obvious; and I would guess that any reader who didn't support segregation back in the early '60's obviously would feel good about themselves and their 21st Century sensibilities regarding equality. I remember reading a review of The Help when it was published, and based on that, I thought it would offer a more subtle and sophisticated take on race and class dynamics. No such luck, but that doesn't make it bad. Just a little ordinary.

Home Land by Sam Lipsyte. I've just started reading this one, and I'm not sure what I think yet. On one hand, the writing style is great, and Lipsyte has created an intriguing main character in Louis Miner. On the other, I'm having kind of a hard time getting into it. I'm only on page 28, but Home Land hasn't grabbed me yet. I have faith that it will, though, and I'll let you know how that faith works out for me.

Because I always have a queue of books waiting for me, my book shelf literally is overflowing with tomes I have yet to read. Coming up: The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, Jennifer Egan's first novel The Invisible Circus, Bel Canto by Ann Panchett, Nick Hornby's Juliet Naked, the Collected Stories of Dorothy Parker and the memoir Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim, who played Nellie Oleson on "Little House on the Prairie" (oh, that's right). And those aren't even all the books I have yet to read. If the day ever comes when I can't find stacks of new books, I will be very, very sad.

(photo courtesy of passingstrnge.tumblr.com)

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