Sunday, January 31, 2010

january reading

The Dud Avocado
by: Elaine Dundy

I found this novel both horribly charming and horribly irritating at once -- charming because Sally Jay, the heroine, is one of those wild, eccentric, unabashedly passionate young people who can't help but charm; and irritating because she is mostly passionate about being passionate, without having any conviction about the object of her enthusiasm. Maybe it's just because I've been wavering lately, casting about for the right direction, whatever that is, and falling down a rabbit hole of flighty bohemianism is too close for comfort.

How To Be Good

by: Nick Hornby

Oddly, this book reminded me, very much of McEwan's Amsterdam, which I read last month. Not because they were similar, at all, on a plot level, but because of the way they beat me to the punch, anticipating all the ungenerous, ungracious feelings that flashed through my mind while I was standing in their characters' shoes. Then they luxuriated in them, blew them up to force examination. These are the thoughts that you would be embarrassed to admit thinking, even to yourself. Hornby and McEwan hold them out to you on a plate and say, "Here you are, now why don't you eat them, slowly, and consider them because, really, they're yours."

What I like about Hornby is that he can be quite stark, but he's not bleak. There is humor everywhere. Some parts of this book are so funny that they warrant reading aloud to whoever is unfortunate enough to be within earshot. It's about divorce and virtue and falling out of love with somebody, and it's terribly, terribly funny.

The Swan Thieves
by: Elizabeth Kostova

The ARC of this book arrived at the bookstore in a shiny, blue chiffon drawstring bag. It looked very much like something that belonged in a lingerie store. It also has a gold spine. Not a golden, sort of metallic, but really not spine. Actual shiny gold that also looks like it might belong in a (rather more exciting perhaps) lingerie store.

Of course I had to read it.

Unfortunately, I didn't like it at all. It ticks off many of my pet obsessions: art (French Impressionism in this case), memory, deception, and a plasticity of time; but I found it incredibly dull. The narrative switches between five main strands, and every time I got to the end of one section, I was relieved to be moving on to something else. People were getting their hearts broken and going mad, having illicit affairs, pursuing art... And I did not care in the least. The entire novel revolves around the obsession one character harbors for another, and it tries to create mystery and suspense around the true nature of that obsession, but when I finally, finally got to the end, the attempt to withold information just felt like a flimsy excuse to string me along. There was no satisfaction to make the long slog (nearly 600 pages) worth it.

The Poison Eaters

by: Holly Black

This is an upcoming short story collection for young adults. It was immense fun, of the creepy and unsettling sort. The stories manage to be at once the kind of smooth, quickly consumed pieces that you read in one sitting, and prickly enough that you keep thinking about them for some time after the book is finished.

My favourites were "Paper Cuts Scissors" and "The Poison Eaters." The first story made me feel happy, giddy, and light. The second one disturbed me and infected me with a faint resignation.

Violent Cases
by: Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

I really enjoyed this. Mr. Punch is still my favourite of Neil's graphic pieces, but this dances to a similar kind of music, sliding between what may have happened and what must have happened and what might have happened, but couldn't. Except maybe it should have.

It was scary and tasted dark.

The Bird Room

by: Chris Killen

Didn't like this one. Except for Corinne. I already complained about it here though.

The Perfect Scent

by: Chandler Burr

My friend, Kat, and I have conversations every now and then about the novel we are going to write together someday. It's going to be about perfume, among other things. This someday novel is my excuse for collecting books about scent and perfume and layman friendly neurology in a desultory way.

I don't have an especially keen sense of smell, but smells fascinate me. It disturbs me when I catch a whiff of something that hits me between the eyes with familiarity, but is somehow unplaceable. It makes me sad when I can't remember the smell of a friend, or of a building where I spent happy hours.

Chandler Burr writes brilliantly about a sense that is difficult to write about (Diane Ackerman says that we have such a limited vocabulary for the description of scent that we are forced to rob the words of other senses just to approximate smell with metaphor). He makes me imagine smells so solidly and precisely that I'm confident the perfume is there in my head, even if my imagined Shalimar is nothing like the real thing.

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