Book Report Catch-up

I’ve been lax in reporting on the books I’ve read–heck, we’ve been lax in updating the blog at all–so you’re going to get them all at once (and I apologize for the brevity). I’m going to try to remember all that I’ve read since the H.P. Lovecraft review, but I’m sure I’ve forgotten some. Without further ado:

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz

My copy of the book had a much less awesome cover.

100% A+++. This book was, in a word, awesome. I could call it a story of a nerdy Dominican boy and his attempt to get laid, but that makes it sound more like a bro comedy and less like the actually wonderful, literary, and, yes, heartfelt novel that it is. This was recommended to me years ago, and I should have taken that recommendation immediately, as should you.

Excession, Iain M. Banks

I never actually got a good idea of what all these space ships actually looked like. I don’t think it was like that, though.

Excession is somewhere in the middle of Banks’ Culture series of novels, which tell of the doings of a benevolent post-scarcity society of humans administered by machines (i.e. robocommunism). I don’t read as much science fiction as I used to, but the late Iain M. Banks is definitely my favorite sci-fi author at the moment. I think my favorite is still the non-Culture book The Algebraist, but that could be because I’ve been reading the Culture novels out of order. Though his novels usually have a few too many plot twists and hidden agendas for me, and are occasionally too clever for their own good, I’m never disappointed. Recommended for anyone who thinks she may like science fiction.

Telegraph Avenue, Michael Chabon

Despite the appearance, it is not, in fact a record.

Having grown up around Telegraph Avenue itself, I noticed the few bits of artistic license Chabon takes with Oakland geography, but I can’t fault the novel as a whole. At first it took me a while to get into the whole stream-of-consciousness-from-a-parrot interlude in the middle of the book, but by the third page I was digging it. Definitely recommended for Oakland natives, and really anyone who likes a good book.

The Far Pavilions, M. M. Kaye

I think a proper movie of it would be at least PG-13.

Apparently this is a classic of British India historical fiction, a subgenre with which I am tragically unfamiliar. Though the book was altogether too long, I was still sad to see it come to an end. I think I’d recommend it for airport reading if you have to fly from the west coast to central Europe on three planes, say. (Also, every story or novel I read set in India only mentions the caste system for the sake of mentioning it, as in “Oh yeah, there’s this caste system here.” What’s up with that?)

The Man Who Was Thursday, G. K. Chesterton

There are a wide variety of covers for this one, understandably.

I’m still not quite sure what to make of this. It starts off strong, drags a bit in the middle, then really picks up before going off the deep end on a 2001-like bender. Wikipedia says it is “sometimes referred to as a metaphysical thriller.” Well, just about everything I’ve read to do with metaphysics is bunk, but I still liked this book. I think I’d recommend this one when you’re stuck in a waiting room somewhere, so the bored and slightly anxious frame of mind engendered by the absurdity of modern society will be fresh in your mind, encouraging you to distract yourself by trying to puzzle out what the heck Chesterton was getting at with all this Christian imagery (I suspect the message isn’t really that profound anyway).

Gentlemen of the Road, Michael Chabon

Apparently this is also the name of a Mumford and Sons album. Go figure.

This far too short book hails from another area of historical fiction I am tragically unfamiliar with, that of the Khazar Kingdom, the only (?) Jewish state of the middle ages. (Though I assume I am unfamiliar with other such works because this is the only one.) It tells of the adventures of an unusual pair of vagabonds as they seek to etc. etc. This was surprisingly lighthearted given its my-family-was-horribly-murdered brand of realism, and actually had me laughing at some points, something I rarely do when reading. Highly recommended, to all. Especially if you yourself are on the road, in which case you can read it back-to-back with On the Road and compare and contrast (mostly contrast).

The Widower’s Tale, Julia Glass

This one probably wins for cover-least-successful-at-getting-across-the-point-of-the-book.

I read and thoroughly enjoyed Three Junes (also by Julia Glass) a few years back, and I think The Widower’s Tale is better. This is also quite a funny novel at times–enough so that we’ll be reading in bed and Anna (reading it on my recommendation) will suddenly burst out laughing (and jerk me awake in the process). Recommended for a lazy Sunday, or as a good bedtime novel (depending on your likelihood of laughter).

The Light of Evening, Edna O’Brien

See, don’t you really get a better idea what this one is about? (There are quite a few handwritten letters in it, for example.)

A novel about an Irish woman’s relationship with her mother, and her mother’s relationship with her mother, and various travels back and forth from America. Those of you who know my taste in literature will be surprised to hear that I liked it, though I thought it could have been a bit shorter. Recommended for those who want Amy Tan, but from Ireland.

When The Killing’s Done, T. C. Boyle

They probably did well for this cover by staying away from pictures of dead pigs.

I got about halfway through Boyle’s Tortilla Curtain before it got too depressing and I put it down. When The Killing’s Done is about the less depressing subject of the eradication of pigs from the Channel Islands off of Santa Barbara. While it certainly got bonus points for being local (I recognized the description of the Home Depot in one scene), it was a legitimately good book as well. I even ended up liking the character the reader is set up to hate. Recommended for those in a southern California frame of mind, or even those just wanting a brush with sunny Santa Barbara (though there was more rain in the novel than I am personally familiar with, having lived here for several years now).