Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Little Birds by Anais Nin

And so totally the inspiration for Mistral's Daughter by Judith Krantz.

Monday, February 27, 2006

A Taxonomy of Barnacles by Galt Niederhoffer

[did not finish]

I guess the first question you have to ask yourself when deciding whether to keep reading this book is:
Do you think that having every character's name start with the letter B is fun, or annoying?
Because it comes up.

We have:

and then, to emphasize his outsider status, there is poor Christopher, called "Trot", who is Bridget's boyfriend (or is it Bell's?) but of course she's really in love with Billy, or possibly Blaine, whichever one was the Red Sox fan.

And then there's this whole thing about how the father [there are six sisters] wants them each to try and make the family name famous, and whoever is most successful will get a bunch of money...but I skipped ahead to the end to make sure that I wasn't missing some great ending, and it turns out to be a total anticlimax anyway.

Despite the really excellent cover with its convenient diagram of the main characters and their names and ages [which must be referred to approximately twice a sentence], this book just kind of made me want to put a pillow over my head and scream.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Luzhin Defense by Vladimir Nabokov

I wanted to like this book a lot since I loved Lolita, but I thought it was kind of lackluster, I think because it was translated. I always find myself wondering what they really said when I read something in translation.

Basically, there's this guy who is a chess prodigy, and he grows up to be a weird unpleasant man (there is much dwelling on how fat he is, like that makes him a bad person) and for some reason a girl falls in love with him, or at least she marries him whether or not she loves him, and he goes crazy from the chess and has a nervous breakdown.

I like reading books about people who are obsessive game players, like The Queen's Gambit or Word Freaks, but this was less about the chess playing and more about the descent into madness, and it wasn't even very interesting madness.

Next time I think I'll read one of the other ones he wrote in English.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

Since it's Awards Season for juvenile literature, I've been trying to read some of the winners. I Am the Messenger was a Printz Award honor book, and I have to say I liked it better than the winner, Looking For Alaska. (I thought LFA was a bit too preachy, and suffered from that "It's a YA novel so there has to be some kind of tragedy" syndrome.)

I Am the Messenger was sweet without being too sentimental, and takes place in Australia, which makes a nice change. It was definitely a page-turner, and despite taking a weird, unnecessary metafictional detour at the end, the plot was fun and unusual.
I thought the writing was a bit overwrought in places, but all in all it was a good read and a worthy use of a few hours.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

[did not finish]

This book got a lot of good reviews, and won awards, so I read the first few chapters, and well, it's a very sweet little story about four sisters (ages about five to thirteen, I think) who rent a summer cottage with their father, and there's a mean lady, and a nice boy, and a cute gardener, and I'm sure I would have enjoyed reading it if a) I was ten years old or b) I was in a doctor's office with only The Economist to read instead.

But since my books-to-read list is just getting longer and longer, I have to ask myself the hard questions. Do I really care what happens to these nice little girls and their garden and the boy?

The answer, sadly, is no.

Temeraire by Naomi Novik

The American title of this book is His Majesty's Dragon, but I think Temeraire is much better. I don't know why everyone thinks Americans are too stupid to understand the original titles of books, really I don't.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone?
What is that, some book about existentialism? Too hard for us!
Northern Lights?
Sounds Canadian or something. We're Americans!

Whatever you call it, Temeraire is a really excellent debut novel that sort of combines Patrick O'Brian and Anne McCaffrey into something that ends up being more satisfying than either, a classic sea story (but with dragons instead of ships) that treats the dragons as completely normal and not fantastical. Great characters, great action, great plot. Plus, Novik has two sequels due out this spring, and the only thing better than a good book is a good book with two sequels!