Saturday, May 26, 2012

Book 25 - Population: 485 by Michael Perry


This is a memoir, so don't be fooled. It's definitely not a novel. It's Michael Perry's collection of memories about his time as a volunteer firefighter/EMT in a small country town in Wisconsin. And it's mostly about firefighting and EMT work and NOT about small town life necessarily. As background, Michael Perry left his small community to attend college, where he got a degree in nrsing. When he returned, he elected to become a volunteer firefighter/EMT in the community where he was born and raised. It gave him a way to re-connect with the community that he had left and also, gave him a way to learn about and reintroduce himself to his former neighbors. I think that he was under the impression that people believed that he wouldn't return after leaving for college and so, he thought that this disproved them.

What I particularly loved was how Mr. Perry introduced his readers to the colorful characters that all small towns inevitably have. For instance, we meet a man that everyone affectionately calls "The Beagle" - a heavy man that chews tobacco and who has been an EMT/Firefighter since before the world was created. His descriptions were colorful and he really transports the reader to Wisconsin and to the scenes at which he attends. That being said, this memoir seems to follow a bit of a formulaic pattern: Perry strives to be authentic bt at the same time, he strives really hard to convince the reader that he's an educated writer as well, so he'll drop really big, million dollar, "College" words in order to remind s that we're reading something by someone who isn't only a bumpkin from the middle of nowhere. However, if that's the only complaint that I have, then it really isn't a complaint. The stories were interesting and wonderful and worth reading. Please enjoy!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Book 24 - Chastened by Hephzibah Anderson


I was in the library, naturally, and saw this book. It looked intriguing so I picked it up and read the book flap. Essentially, Ms. Anderson (a Cambridge educated 30 something journalist) decided to write a memoir of her year abstaining from sex and trying to withstand the temptation to have sex. She has the oh so difficult task of withstanding the numerous lovers that seem to flock to her in trendy London and this, my friends, is the premise of this book.

The premise of the book was promising, I'll grant you that. But Anderson was a horrible writer. She wasn't funny and her prose was wandering. I didn't feel like the book was organized, although the chapters seem to suggest that it was, probably because the prose was so scattered and things didn't really seem to be connected all that well. She talks about a million things in the process of trying to tell you one and it takes her like 10 pages to do the simplest things, like buy clothing. For someone that practices writing as a profession and who has done much book reviewing, she isn't very good at it. Pass on this one.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Book 23 - Anatomy of Injustice by Richard Bonner


In early 1982, an elderly widow had been found brutally beaten to death in a small town in South Carolina. The woman was white. Nearly immediately, a man named Edward Lee Elmore - a black man that was illiterate and mildly mentally retarded - was arrested. Within 90 days of his arrest, he had been tried and sentenced to seat (CRAZY!!!). Within 11 years, however, Elmore had netted a young attorney named Diana Holt, a spitfire who was convinced that Elmore was innocent and was dead set on getting him a new trial.

I am not shocked at how difficult it was to unring the bell in a capital case - but that's because of what I do. I know that the courts are very cautious in their review of lower court cases and jury trials. So that aspect of the story didn't really surprise me at all. I thought that Richard Bonner had a way with words and a really nice way of telling the story, which made the entire thing fascinating. It was obvious that he had done his homework and his research and in doing so, was able to give us a very thorough and accessible account of Elmore's trial and the appeals process. This book is a must read because it is an educational primer about the criminal justice system, the death penalty and why it could all go so wrong.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Book 22 - Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru


This book is set in the Mojave desert of Southeastern California and spans a few decades with a focus on the 60's and 70's. We are introduced to the area, most notably the three pinnacles, in 1947 when an aircraft engineer believes that the three large rocks are ideal for channelling messages to and from extraterrestrial beings. In the subsequent chapter, we are in present day (2008), and learn that a rock star has fled from LA to the same place (but is staying in a motel) and that a family has a severely autistic child, which is deemed to be a failure by the father of the family. The chapters move along in alternating fashion, with the past interspersed with chapters in 2008. It alternates about the awful story about what happens to Lisa and Jaz (the family with the autistic children) and the development of the cult created by the aerospace engineer in 1947. The common thread are the Pinnacles. Common themes also include missing children, loneliness, technology and chaos.

This book was read when I was on vacation and I found it to be entertaining and diverting. It distracted me from the stresses of work and the craziness that vacation entails when you're traveling with young children. The sub stories encompassed by each chapter were entertaining standing on their own but, when combined into a novel, they created a comprehensive story that was entertaining and wonderful. Kunzru is talented enough to connect all of the dots into a comprehensive story in a way that only authors such as Alice Munro had been able to do in the past.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Book 21 - Diary of a Public Radio Slave by Kerri Wood Thomson


When I was on vacation recently, I didn't want to bring a whole lot of paper books with me because they get heavy and are sometimes really just inconvenient to drag around. So I wanted to put some interesting looking but light books on the Kindle to read and I saw this one when I was browsing around. I love NPR and my local NPR affiliates (OK, I'm a total dork and I love listening to them all the time because I actually learn something while I'm getting my news; and those links take you to different affiliates). This one seemed to fit the bill and looked light and interesting so I borrowed it on my Kindle.

When we first meet Sloan, the protagonist of this book, she has just been fired from her job. She thinks that she can manage this because her fiancee, with whom she has just bought a home and with whom she will be marrying within a short period after receiving her pink slip, has gotten cold feet. In fact, he tells her that he's going out and will be right back and doesn't return for days on end - his mom breaks up with her for him. Afterwards, when Sloan finally manages to break herself out of her slump, she interviews and gets a position at her alma mater's public radio station (which she learned about after visiting her most favorite college professor). The position is a step down from what she was doing before - she was an announcer/journalist - but hey, this is a job and beggars can't be choosers. In fact, she's in no position to turn down any sort of paying job that carries benefits so she immediately takes the position. While working there, she meets many people - Horg, a student that is working on his British accent so that he can get a job at the BBC; Gladys, who has worked at that public radio station since the War of the Worlds was broadcasted and shows no sign of stopping; Marjorie, the resident hippie and fundraising coordinator who disappears during the interview to make herself a wheat germ smoothie made from ingredients that she grew in her own office; and their elusive manager who is absent so much that he is nicknamed a ghost).

At first, I was really wary of this book. I didn't think that I was going to like it because it seemed too fluffy. And don't get me wrong, it is fluffy and a novel that ends much more neatly then my troubled soul wants thought provoking literature to end - I want books to give me food for thought for ages after they end. I was expecting to be throughly disappointed and let down but this book was perfect for me at the time that I read it. It wasn't written so heavily that I was tired when I was done and I could easily put it down and then get back into it after dealing with the kids or jumping in the pool or putting sunscreen on. And the characters were funny, even though I felt like I was dealing with stereotypes. I found moments so perfectly clear in my mind that I occasionally would let out a random snort or a giggle.

The book also dealt mostly with day to day life at the radio station and the ups and downs of the job but didn't get into Sloan's personal life a whole lot, which I'm not sure is realistic considering that it's written in journal or diary form and what person isn't going to divulge everything about anything to their journal? On the other hand, the book kept flowing at such a rapid pace, a pace that wouldn't necessarily have been maintained if every minute detail about Sloan's life. What irked me about this book was the lack of proofreading that was readily apparent - it bugs the living bejesus out of me to see things that are not spelled correctly or commas that aren't placed in the appropriate place. At least half a dozen times, the wrong word was used (it's "descent" into the bowels not "dissent" - things like that) and that distracted me from the experience of the book.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Book 20 History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason

I read this book while I was on vacation and, because my computer was hopelessly broken (and required three days at the Apple Store to fix, but hey, it was free so no worries), I haven't been able to get around to it until now. This book is mostly about Piet Barol, a young, 20-something man living in Amsterdam in 1907. He's attractive - at least most women believe that he is - and he knows that he's attractive to most women, so he's going to capitalize on it to any extent possible. In essence, Piet wants to use this to make some money so that he can move up in the world and make a name for himself, in another country if possible. So, he takes a job as a tutor with the wealthy Vermeulen-Sickerts family; he will be tutoring their son, who suffers from such severe obsessive-compulsive disorder that he cannot leave his house without having a debilitating panic attack. Piet's role is to cure him of the OCD and the agoraphobia. As it turns out, however, the other members of the family (Mrs. Vermeulen-Sickerts in particular) also have strictures and fears that they need to be liberated from. Mason weaves into his story he 1907 stock crash and the building of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan as well as the undercurrents that are beginning to escalate into World War I. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I felt like I was truly on the canals of Amsterdam in the early part of the twentieth century. I also felt like Richard had the strict Victorian mores regarding sexuality intact, which makes the sexual tension experienced by Barol and his employers all the more salacious and just plain wonderful. I really enjoyed how Mason wrote as well - this book could easily have been tawdry and just plain awful with the sheer amount of sex that appears in it (think really bad Harlequin novel - there's a time and a place I guess but really too much of it gets really old really quickly). Instead, Mason somehow got it right - giving you just enough, just often enough and at just the right pace. So good and, because of how it ended, looks like there will be more of Piet Barol in our future and in Mason's. I can't wait.

My Education by Susan Choi

I admit it: I have a thing about academic novels.  And by that, I  mean novels that occur on campuses and are about characters that are ent...