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>Eighth Month, Nine Books

>I only read nine books this month, instead of the cool dozen that always dances in my book dreams. Although I’m only working on #71, (Persuasion, for book group) 100 still seems doable for 2008. Even if I don’t get to that longed-for number, I’m sure I’ll get close enough to it to give it something catchy. Here are my mostly enjoyable reads for August:

A Confederacy Of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole. One of the funniest books I’ve ever read; it’s a crying shame that this comic masterpiece was rejected during the author’s lifetime. Clearly, poor Mr. Toole had no Maxwell Perkins in his corner. Raidergirl3 described the book beautifully and succinctly when she commented that Ignatius was like a cross between George and Kramer from Seinfeld, and that his adventures were like a long episode of that show. For me, Ignatius (as well as the other characters who populate his world) springs off the page like Cervantes, Swift and Dickens all got together for a huge and roaring “Fiction Slam”.

Good Omens – Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. This was a good book to segue to after A Confederacy Of Dunces. Pratchett and Gaiman tell the story of Armageddon approaching, and an angel and demon who form an uneasy alliance to keep the world going, by determinedly tracking down the spawn of Satan, who was misplaced in a baby mix-up 11 years before, and trying to figure out the nearly incomprehensible prophecies of Agnes Nutter, a witch who was burned centuries earlier. I was reminded of the Airplane! movies — some of the jokes are hilarious and some only so-so, but they keep flying at the reader with great energy and impunity. Kamsahmnida to Amber and Matt from book group for loaning me this one!

My Detachment – Tracy Kidder. A short memoir about Kidder’s year in Vietnam, when he was just out of college. Freshly armed with a degree in English, and dangerously full of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, he enlisted rather than waiting to be drafted, and ended up in Vietnam doing intelligence work as a lieutenant for a detachment far from the heavy fighting. Most of the time, his job was boring and incomprehensible, and seemed totally unrelated to the war. Upon arriving home after this duty, he wrote a Vietnam novel that was never published. He uses this novel to compare and contrast his actual experiences. The younger Kidder comes off as slightly cringeworthy at times. This memoir is the anti-Tim O’Brien.

Native Speaker – Chang-Rae Lee. Henry Park, a first-generation Korean-American, works as a corporate spy and is also struggling to come to terms with his young son’s death and his failing marriage. Much of the novel contains vignettes of Henry’s growing up and often finding both cultures bewildering. He has also been assigned to spy on an older Korean man, a councilman who came to the United States as a young man after the Korean War. The corporate spy plot line was boring, and Henry’s boss and one of his co-workers were too similar for me to keep straight. Only Henry’s wife and the Koreans in the novel seemed to have authentic voices; Lee truly shines as a novelist when he’s examining the Korean/American connection.

Freakonomics – Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner. Levitt, an economist, compares some of the strangest pairs of things, cases that seem so dissimilar when you first look at them. Also interesting was the “names” chapter in which he shows how fashions in names originate in the upper class and make their way down the class ladder over the years. He also cites some bizarre name choices: The father who named his two boys “Winner” and “Loser” and they turned out to have opposite destinies from their names. In addition, I’ll never forgot the little baby girl who was named Shithead, but her family bristles at that, insisting that it’s pronounced just a little differently. Finally, the Shangri-La Diet made me go “hmmm…” A fun, fast read. Thanks to Mitzi from book group for loaning it to me.

Anne Of The Island – L.M. Montgomery. Anne and some of her friends head for Nova Scotia and four years of college, but college is very much in the background as Montgomery introduces readers to some of Anne’s new friends, Gilbert and Anne ricochet up and down the romance scale, and Anne gets her feet wet as a published author. I was shocked about Ruby Gillis. She was so lively, and usually in Green Gables Land, things have a way of turning around for the best.

Ex Libris – Anne Fadiman. Lately, this jewel of a book has been busily casting some of its magic in South Korea. I reread this book mostly because I needed a book small enough to fit in my purse and read on the train. Mitzi saw it and asked to borrow it, then ended up buying copies for her mother and her sister, as well as insisting that it MUST be a contender for a future book group. Veronica then borrowed it, then asked me if I wanted it back. Uh, well…yes.

The Hungry Ocean – Linda Greenlaw. Greenlaw, a fishing boat captain with almost 20 years of experience, writes about a particular month-long voyage to the Great Banks in search of swordfish, and discusses and explains clearly and lucidly all the work that a trip like that entails, as well as asides about other journeys and how she first got into the business. Very entertaining reading, and the book was finished before I knew it. I was left feeling hungry for more of Greenlaw’s adventures. I hope to find her book about being the captain of a lobster boat.

Great Expectations – Charles Dickens. What I thought would never happen has happened; I now have an affinity for Charles Dickens. I won’t say that I love him, but I am looking forward to reading more of his novels. I’m particularly dazzled at the way he was able to weave so many secondary characters into the novel, and they all have distinct personalities. My edition had the original ending, so I also enjoyed comparing both endings. The original one is a more logical ending, but it’s easy to see why readers wouldn’t have gone for it. Dickens sort of had his way, and the second ending is nicely ambiguous; you can draw your own conclusions about Pip and Estella. Did anyone besides me think that Joe Gargery was kind of…hot?

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