A Plethora of Books

Maybe I should be out shopping for apartment necessities like a real bed, a desk, a microwave, and so on, but instead here I am thinking I need to update my blog. The hiatus is over! I’ve found a place to live and now have internet, so the blog is back. Posts may be a little sporadic until I get all of the aforementioned necessities, but I’ll get posting again.

So, over the last week I’ve had a lot of time to read. My commute on the subway is quite long now, and when I’ve come back to the apartment I haven’t been able to do much else being internet and TV-less. I’ve basically read almost four books just this week. One of them was a book published by my company and I’ve decided that it is best I don’t talk about Penguin books on the blog. All others are fair game though.

That being said, I still have four books to talk about. Long post ahead, but without further ado:

Are You My Mother? Story and art by Alison Bechdel. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

First up is Alison Bechdel‘s Are You My Mother. I read her previous book, Fun Home, in a non-fiction literature course as an undergrad and loved it. So when I saw this while browsing Forbidden Planet, I only slightly hesitated to pick it up. Perhaps I should have hesitated more. Where Fun Home was a wonderful, humorous, emotionally charged story of Bechdel’s difficult relationship with her father modeled by the myth of IcarusAre You My Mother? is a chore by comparison. As one might guess from the title, this graphic memoir is about Bechdel’s relationship with her mother, and Bechdel spends most of the book trying to understand this relationship and the emotional effects it has had on her life. That’s all fine and good, but where Fun Home succeeded with the Icarus myth, Are You My Mother? falls flat because Bechdel replaces Icarus with psychoanalytic theory. Great for those familiar with knowledge of psychoanalytic literary criticism, but not so great for readers to trace the emotional nuances of a mother/daughter relationship. Everytime there was a truly great emotional breakthrough, Bechdel started talking about theory and stifled the impact of that breakthrough for readers. Are You My Mother? isn’t completely without merit though. Despite the tedious, page-after-page discussion of theory, Bechdel’s art is just as charming as it was in Fun Home and, really, who in their right mind can fully comprehend one’s relationship with their mother? Yea, it’s hard.

I don’t recommend Are You My Mother? for any but the most studious of English majors. Any other reader, and probably a lot of the English majors, will most likely tire of it very quickly.

Gold, by Chris Cleave. Published by Simon & Schuster

We were given a copy of Gold, by Chris Cleave, during the NYU Summer Publishing Institute. Gold is the story of two Olympic level female cyclists, Kate and Zoe, who are best friends while also being fierce rivals. Kate  has been “cheated” out of Olympic Gold on two occasions, first after the birth of her daughter, and again when that daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. Now Kate is thirty-two years old, and has one last chance for those Olympic gold medals at the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games. But with the resurgence of her daughter’s cancer, fate seems to continue to conspire against Kate’s chances. Meanwhile, Zoe, also thirty-two is going through personal crises of her own. She has lived her entire life for cycling and that life is about to come crashing down with the end of the Olympics. She has won Gold before, but the uncertainty of her life post-racing forces old, heartbreaking memories to rise threatening her concentration and resolve. Then, the IOC decides only one of the two women can compete in the 2012 games, so Kate and Zoe must fight to overcome their personal struggles for their last shot at Gold.

I enjoyed Gold. Chris Cleave is an extremely capable author who can write about tragedy without beating his readers over the head, and then turn around on the next page and write some laugh-out-loud humor. The characterizations are also very, very good. Zoe, Kate’s husband, Jack, and their daughter Sophie are all depicted wonderfully. Sophie may be a bit static, but that is okay because her imagination is vivid and she’s such a little (Storm)trooper. Unfortunately, Kate, who you’d think is the protagonist after reading the first few sections, takes a backseat to her husband and Zoe, and remains there for most of the book. The story takes some surprising, and perhaps laughably unbelievable twists in the book’s latter half, but it was hard not to stay engrossed with the characters through the conclusion.

I still can’t recommend Gold for everyone. The sections featuring Sophie are cute, but may be very difficult reading for those who’ve ever known a sick kid. Also, Cleave uses the f-word far more liberally than I was comfortable with. I mean, I know the guy is British, but seriously. Still, if none of the above bothers you it is worth a read.

Fifty-to-One, by Charles Ardai. Published by Hard Case Crime.

I raved about Hard Case Crime in a previous post about Dead Street by Mickey Spillane. I wanted to read another, but not really knowing where to start I picked up Fifty-to-One by the man behind the Hard Case Crime imprint, Charles ArdaiFifty-to-One was written to celebrate the publication of Hard Case Crime’s fiftieth book, but it is written under the premise that Hard Case Crime was founded 50 years prior in the 1950s by a ne’er do well hoping to get rich off the popularity of pulp crime novels. Charley Borden, the fictional publisher at Hard Case Crime, is looking for a big hit. Something that will put Hard Case Crime, an obviously small imprint, on par with bigger pulp publishers. He asks Tricia (aka Trixie), a young club dancer who came to New York from her home in Aberdeen, South Dakota with dreams of writing for The New Yorker, to get the scoop on a real-life mob story. Tricia tries to get a non-fiction story, but can’t make it work, so she comes up with a humdinger about a fictional low level mobster stealing 3 million dollars from the real, and very dangerous mob boss, Sal Niccolazzo. By pure coincidence, the totally untrue story penned by Tricia bears a striking resemblance to an actual theft, and Uncle Nick (Niccolazzo), wanting to know who robbed him, sends some boys to knock on Hard Case Crime’s door.

Fifty-to-One is a fun romp through 1950s New York. What I liked most is that Fifty-to-One is an ode to the pulp crime novel. Most of the conventions are there even as it breaks the mold with its female protagonist and non-detective/police characters. All of the characters are fun, and their depictions are spot-on. Just don’t go into it expecting the next Charles Dickens, because literary it is not, but who needs that stuffy stuff when you have a fun crime novel? Not me. The only complaint I have about Fifty-to-One is that it deviates from the regular, 200-220 page pulp crime novel and is instead a meaty 330 pages long. That additional length creates the need for even more twists and turns and I found myself thinking, when I was around page 280, that the book could’ve been much better had it been 100 pages shorter. Aside from that, it s a great, light read.

Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers. Published by Vintage. Originally published by McSweeney’s Books.

This is another free book I received as part of the NYU program. I had to choose one book from many options in this case, and when my fellow students snatched all the copies of my first choice, I had to go with something else. I was intrigued by the cover, and so I chose Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers. I’m actually really happy I ended up with Zeitoun, otherwise I probably never would have read it.

Zeitoun is the true story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian born Muslim living in New Orleans when it was struck by Katrina in 2005. Zeitoun, a hardworking, down-to-earth man, doesn’t think the hurricane will be as bad as the press makes it out to be. On top of that, he has many responsibilities in New Orleans as the boss of his own contracting company and as a landlord. With all these responsibilities demanding his nearly perpetual attention, he stays in New Orleans while his wife and children flee to Baton Rouge. He spends the week following the storm living in a tent on the roof of his garage and paddling around the flooded city in a secondhand canoe he purchased from a former client. Zeitoun helps those in need by offering what assistance he can, and chooses to stay in the city despite the urgings of his friends and family, who he is able to contact through a miraculously working landline at one of his rental properties, to leave. Zeitoun witnesses many things during that week both horrible and hopeful. But not even a flooded New Orleans can prepare him when he, his friends Nasser and Todd, and a stranger named Ronnie are arrested as terrorist suspects. Now Zeitoun, an honest, industrious man, must unjust imprisonment if he hopes to ever see his family again.

Zeitoun is easily the best of the books I’ve read over the last week, and probably this summer. While it is non-fiction, Dave Eggers deftly makes the book read far more like a novel than most novels. Zeitoun and his wife Kathy are depicted with all the care of a good novelist, and they leap off the page to capture the hearts and minds of the reader as they endure their unbelievable trials. Some of the reviews quoted in the front of the book say things like, “Zeitoun is a story about the Bush administration’s two most egregious policy disasters…” Maybe that is the case, but the real story here is about a faithful man and his family struggling against overwhelming adversity.

Though there are some truly horrific events that happen in Zeitoun, this one I can’t recommend enough. It is powerful, thought-provoking, and completely engrossing. And it’s hard to deny the pure visceral pleasure of gliding over flooded streets in a small canoe with Zeitoun.

Unfortunately, it appears Zeitoun himself has become another person in the last few years and was recently arrested for beating Kathy, now his ex-wife, earlier this summer. On top of that, he’s now facing murder solicitation charges for plotting to have Kathy, her son from a previous marriage, and another man killed. All who know Zeitoun are dumbstruck that he would commit such atrocities, but perhaps he was changed more deeply and irrevocably by the horrors he faced post-Katrina than anyone anticipated. A sad twist in a powerful story.

Well, that did turn out to be a long post, but I’m glad to have it out of the way. I think I have mostly Penguin books waiting on the backburner, so I may not talk about books for a while. In the meantime, I’ll find something else to talk about.

Advertisements
Previous Post
Leave a comment

1 Comment

  1. Another Plethora of Books « Jimmy's Pop Culture Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Twitter

  • Goodreads

  • RSS Follow my blog!

    • The Wheel of Time – Series Review Conclusion May 24, 2016
      Well, here we are. I’ve reviewed all of the books in The Wheel of Time series individually in the previous for posts. I’d like to conclude with a review of the series as a whole to wrap things up. Also, I’ve included a tl;dr below for any who don’t want to read five long blog […]
      Jimmy
    • The Wheel of Time – Series Review Part 4 May 23, 2016
      This post will cover books eleven through fourteen. I have one more post in the works in which I’ll review the series as a whole. For now, time to roll the dice: Book 11 – Knife of Dreams Rand al’Thor senses that The Last Battle is very near, but he doesn’t risk fighting the Dark One’s […]
      Jimmy
    • The Wheel of Time – Series Review Part 3 May 20, 2016
      Phew. Just one more post after this one and my series review will be finished. Without further ado: Book 8 – The Path of Daggers After being repelled by Rand al’Thor’s forces in The Great Hunt, the Seanchan return to continue their invasion. Nynaeve and Elayne, having completed their mission, escape Ebou Dar just as the Seanchan […]
      Jimmy
    • The Wheel of Time – Series Review Part 2 May 19, 2016
      Picking up where I left off in the previous post. This post will review books four through seven. Book 4 – The Shadow Rising Rand al’Thor has again pushed back the forces of The Dark One and has acquired the legendary sword that is not a sword, Callandor. If that is not enough, the mysterious yet […]
      Jimmy
    • The Wheel of Time – Series Review Part 1 May 18, 2016
      A little less than two-and-a-half years ago, I was wanting read fantasy again. It had been a really long time since I’d cracked open a fantasy novel, and I wasn’t sure where to begin. I knew I wanted something epic, and that led me to three options to consider: The Wheel of Time, A Song of […]
      Jimmy
%d bloggers like this: