Sunday, April 25, 2010

Week 16: The Family Man - Elinor Lipman (320 pages)

"The Family Man" is a fun book that delves into issues that seem particularly relevant in the 21st century. The plot involves a gay man that was married to a socialite, her child, now an adult, his love life and the coming together of all parties. It is a fun ride and I must say that I had an enjoyable time following the characters on this journey. 

Henry Archer, a retired lawyer, is surprisingly reunited with his step-daughter from a marriage that ended 25 years prior. Though he was gay - he married Denise Krouch, a socialite in NYC. I found it interesting that the marriage didn't end because he was gay - it ended because Denise was having an affair! In a nasty custody battle - Henry gave up his adoptive rights to his step daughter, Thalia, and moved out of her life. 

Circumstances crop up, as they tend to in some novels and television movies, that put Henry in direct contact with his long lost daughter, Thalia. She is an out of work actress trying to make it and when they are reunited she is on the outs with her mother following an unthinkable outburst at Denise's husband's funeral.

Plots twist and collide, comic events come to pass, misunderstandings place characters in peril and are corrected by the end of the novel. Sometimes the book was wholly predictable, but there were a few surprises as well. I would say this is a good beach/summer read. The first of Ms. Lipman's novels that I have read - good enough to make me want to explore the author's other offerings.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Week 15: Speak - Laurie Halse Anderson (198 Pages)

TThis book was suggested to me by my mother. She is a 7th/8th grade teacher and this is a book that her students have really enjoyed. I took her up on her suggestion, and I found that I liked the book. It is an intense read and I found it hard to put down - I actually read it in 2 days time.

This book opens on Melinda, our protagonist, the summer before her freshman high school year. She has been shunned by her group of friends, because she called the cops at a party that happened over the summer. Lots of kids got in trouble - and all of the kids blame Melinda for landing them in hot water. The reason that she called the cops is slowly revealed throughout the story and is told mostly through narration in Melinda's head. Since the party and the negative reaction from her peers - she has stopped speaking. 

The author tells a provocative story with all of the pathos and humor that you would expect from a coming of age story. Melinda goes through the motions of high school, barely passing and living as an invisible member of high school society. She finds some refuge in her Art Class where her teacher gives the assignment of a "tree". She must define what a tree is, give the tree emotion, etc. Through this assignment - she begins to put into words the thing that has happened to her. She finds the voice to speak. 

So as not to spoil the story - I won't really go much further, but I do suggest that you read this compelling novel. YA is a genre that sometimes we adults dismiss, but I will say that I have found some true gems out there. This is another in that group.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Week 14: Eating The Dinosaur - Chuck Klosterman (256 pages)

This was my first introduction to Chuck Klosterman and his exciting style of writing. A dear friend of mine, Eric, let me know that he was reading and enjoying this book and after struggling through my original book for this week (The Help) - I decided to give this book a try. It is hard to fully describe this book, but basically it is several essays comparing what seem to be disparate subjects. 

Mr. Klosterman is essentially writing a philosophy book - there were times that my head was swimming with information and comparisons and thoughts that I clearly had never thought of before. This is definitely a thinking person's book. That being said - it was very easy to read, and I found most of the essays engaging. Reading about why Weezer fans are generally disappointed with Weezer albums, made me wonder if I was a true fan - since I have not been disappointed with any of their releases. He discusses Twitter, ABBA, David Koresh, Kurt Cobain and the Unabomber amongst many other topics. 

One of my favorite sections of the book was the section about football. Shocking, I know - but Mr. Klosterman was great about making the intricacies easy to understand and then, he did the best thing ever - he broke the fourth wall and gave me, the reader, permission to skip the section all together. Trust me my friends...I skipped ahead to read about ABBA. 

There were many times that I agreed with the author and many times that I thought he was a bit nuts. I really enjoyed the essays on Nirvana and The Branch Davidians, Ralph Sampson, and ABBA. I was intrigued by the others. I had some problems with the weird interview interstitials. Who who was being interviewed, what did those interviews have to do with what I had just finished reading? Outside of that bit of weirdness, this was really a great book.

Thanks to Eric for suggesting it to me. 

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Week 13: The Solitude of Prime Numbers – Paolo Giordano (288 pages)

I really enjoyed this book and it is kind of hard to put my finger on why. In this debut novel – Giordano tells the story of Alice and Mattia, each tragic in their own ways. Using each chapter to tell the story from each of the character’s point of view was genius. Alice and Mattia – children growing up in Italy - have terrible burdens to bear and are each very lonely and isolated people. Giordano is quite good at letting us into their brains to see why it is they do what they do.

The book is a lovely and at times dark coming of age story – starting in 1983 and closing in 2007. Alice is pushed by her dad (quite overbearing) to become a skiing superstar. A tragic skiing accident leaves her scarred and with a limp. Of course she wants to fit in – but children being how children can be – she is taunted and teased and ridiculed.

Mattia is a twin. His sister, Michaela, is developmentally disabled and he is a genius. Strangely (to my American eyes) he and his sister are placed in the same classes at school – as he seems to be the only person that can control her “fits”. His parents insist that he take Michaela with him everywhere that he goes. He is embarrassed and is barely liked and the “burden” of his sister does nothing to improve his standing. While heading to a birthday party, something tragic happens to Michaela and Mattia turns even further into himself.

By chance, they cross paths in high school and an odd friendship grows. Each still withdraws into them self– but they also allow each other to be a part of their lives. They are prime number – numbers only divisible by themselves – but in their solitude they form a bond.  
This was a great debut novel and the fact that it was originally written in Italian is even more astounding. 27-year-old author, Paolo Girodano is a physicist by trade – he makes math fascinating and exceedingly readable. The English version is wonderful and loses nothing in translation. Lonely is lonely in any language.