Friday, May 31, 2013

A Fistful of Reads: May Edition

Another month is through.  We're almost halfway through the year, and I'm five more books down.  My goal was 30 books this year and I've currently read through 19 books!  You can catch the previous entries in this series here.  This was a mixed bag month.  I read through some great books and some pretty awful ones, which is a shame.  I don't like reading bad books, and yet again it breaks up the constant stream of praise for once.  

It is kind of fun to tear something apart; right?

At the bottom of the totem-pole is a early 1900's biography written by Albert Elmer Hancock.  I've found John Keats to be one of history's most interesting people for the majority of my youth and into my adulthood.  His poetry is beautiful, but it is his life and the tragedy that surrounded him that was the most compelling and continues to fascinate me.  Despite this fact, I often steer clear of biographies because they can be rather dull.  The promise of a literary biography had me excited, but the fact remains that Hancock's attempt at telling the 'story' of Keats' life reads about as dry as dirt and offers almost zero insight into the man himself.  Instead, he merely gives us his own interpretations of Keats' poems and tells us about the critical response to his work.  I'm sorry, but that is not what I signed up for!

Next we have Crichton's novel 'Disclosure'.

As a young reader, Michael Crichton was my first taste of adult fare.  I was eight when I read ‘Jurassic Park’ (or there abouts) and I went right into ‘The Andromeda Strain’ and then ‘Congo’ and then ‘Sphere’ and so on.  My father would read them ahead of me, marking out all the curse words and leaving me with hallowed out paragraphs, but it didn’t matter.  I loved reading these deeply structured science fiction novels that spouted off jargon I couldn’t understand and featured dinosaurs ripping people to pieces.  It was exciting.  In my adulthood, I’ve pretty much abandoned Crichton’s novels.  The last novel of his I read was ‘Timeline’, when I was seventeen, and I realized that what was once exciting and challenging in my youth has become somewhat cringe-worthy in my adulthood.

Crichton’s novels, while certainly not directed at young adults (what, with all the sex, violence and language) are written like they are.

My issue with ‘Disclosure’, and really most of Crichton’s work, is that he wrote in a very childish way, especially when he was mapping out sections of dialog.  These characters talk in a very ridiculous way and fail to communicate in a productive manner.  Let’s forego the fact that Crichton likes to talk circles around the reader’s head with his techno-babble.  I’m talking about the way his characters say hello to one another.  In ‘Disclosure’ we have a character named Max who speaks in such a way I wanted to punch him in the face every time he was on the page.  There is nothing wrong with giving your characters a personality.  I encourage that.  There is even place in these stories for characters who are annoying, but there is a limit.  Then we have the relationship with Tom and his wife and that ridiculous obscenity laced lunch conversation about the harassment issue.  Who talks to each other like that?  Is that normal?  I’m sorry, I fight with my wife a lot, but if we even had a scream fit like that, especially in public, I think I’d be filing for divorce.  I’m not sure if Crichton was trying to make it melodramatic or something, but it left all believability at that point.

Regardless of my problems with Crichton’s writing style itself, it shouldn’t be ignored that Crichton writes books that are easy to read.  Yes, despite the paragraphs bogged down by technical phrased and descriptions that no one understands, his books are breezy reads.  ‘Disclosure’ took me two days to read.  Once I got to page 150 or so the book just took off in my hands and I found myself pulled into the story deeper and deeper, mostly because I really wanted to see how this was going to pan out.  I was interested.  The story being told was intriguing and the twists that Crichton worked in were compelling.  I found his constant dissection of Tom’s thinking process to be annoying, if we’re going to be honest.  The fact that Michael kept TELLING US OVER AND OVER that Tom was trying so hard to think back about what he had forgotten became redundant and made Tom appear stupid in parts because it was so obvious.  I mean, how he forgot about a certain incident between he and Meredith was kind of ridiculous. 

You don’t forget something like that.

But, I regress, I think the biggest issue with a book like ‘Disclosure’ is that it ultimately comes across extremely sexist and doesn’t ever develop the themes it is trying to develop, at least not in a direct sense.  There is certain talk about equality, but it is done in such an overbearing way (I mean, it comes up in nearly EVERY conversation, which makes no sense and feels staged) that it fails to really make an impact.  The actions of the primary woman are despicable, and the actions of the men in her corner are just as despicable, making their particular stance on equality corrupt. 

It almost feels like a book against equality.

So, yeah, this isn’t very good despite being very readable, if that makes any sense.

We can escape the poor books and cross over into the better ones now!

I mentioned this earlier this month, but Scarlett Johansson is looking to make her directorial debut in the adaptation of Truman Capote's long lost 'Summer Crossing', and I mentioned in that very post that I was going to order that book and dive in.  

I did.

‘Summer Crossing’ is a slight work in that it feels unfinished.  It is brief and underdeveloped and yet rich with ambiguous backstory that feels fresh and enlightening.  Despite wanting so much more upon reading those final words (“she said, “I know.”) I was wholly satisfied with the way that Capote developed so much without saying very much at all.  The burgeoning love story purposefully pulled back into feeling nearly skeletal and allowing us to develop for ourselves the way we want to see things was astonishing, and Grady’s layering and un-layering felt so raw and emotionally stirring.

I personally cannot wait to see how this is adapted, because if offers so much room for interpretation and embellishment.

And then I'm back into Nesbo territory.  I haven't read a Nesbo novel since my very first entry, but I've been dying to go back.  He's such a tremendously talented writer who spins such intricate tales of murder and suspense.  

I wish that I had read these in order.  I started with ‘The Snowman’ and was hooked enough to plow through ‘The Leopard’ and ‘Phantom’ in one month’s time.  I just finished ‘The Redeemer’, which comes right before ‘The Snowman’ and now I’m left with answers to questions I haven’t asked yet and yet I’m still compelled to swallow up everything that came before all that I already know! 

My god, Jo Nesbo can write!

What has impressed me with all of the Harry Hole novels so far is that Nesbo has the amazing way of weaving so many plot points together that you are literally second guessing everything you think you know from beginning to end.  There are so many viable answers to the questions being asked and Nesbo articulates each reveal in the perfect way so as to keep you completely absorbed in every page.  He never gives away too much and keeps the loose ends visible so that we are contemplating all the potential answers with this intense interest.  ‘The Redeemer’ plays into this hand so well.

But the best book I read this month was not 'The Redeemer', although it was close.  The best book I read this month was a pretty breezy and quick read and yet considerably provocative (in so many ways) and like 'Summer Crossing', it was my first brush with this particular author.

I'm talking about Don DeLillo's 'Cosmopolis'.

“When he woke up, he didn’t know what he wanted.  Then he knew.  He wanted to get a haircut.”

How perfect a setup is that?  I mean, it sounds so vague and almost meaningless and yet it brilliantly captures the whole vivid meaning behind Don DeLillo’s tightly focused novel, ‘Cosmopolis’.  In taking a singular act, an act of seemingly no consequence and adding layer after layer of depth and consequence, DeLillo has sculpted for the reader a look at human society deeply rooted in self-centered apathy.

And death, a human society deeply rooted in death.

Don DeLillo is an author I’ve wanted, for years, to get into.  I’ve read wonderful things about his novels, but their girth always feels so daunting.  ‘Underworld’ in particular, which has garnered the bulk of his praise, looks so hard to get through.  After reading ‘Cosmopolis’ (one of his shorter, more concise novels), I feel as though I can break into his weightier material.  While his tone is certainly distanced, almost cold, he has a way with words that completely draw me in.  This took me two days to read, two sittings.  Now I completely understand those who say this takes longer to stomach in full, because the bleak outlining of every word can be almost overwhelming, but I found the brutal honesty so enriching, so compelling.

It also didn’t hurt that I had previously seen the film adaptation, and so as I read DeLillo’s words I was transported to a visual state where these words and actions had a more impactful meaning.

The prose simply follows a young billionaire as he ventures out in his limousine to get a haircut.  The President is in town, the roads are blocked severely by security, and his trip to the barber is an all-day event filled with routine doctor visits, speculation with employees, meaningful talks, rendezvous with lovers, meals with his wife and gunfire, mostly contained in the vicinity of his limousine.  Eric’s apathetic approach to his life, his responsibilities and those who run in his circle is apparent from the outset, but as death looms in the air (in many shapes, sizes and shades) his outlook on life and reflection on his own viewpoint is brought into a more luminous light.  By the time the story concludes, we see a true arc in this man and are given a chance for self-reflection. 

There is an honesty to the proceedings that outshine the story’s obvious outlandishness.  The whole prose is larger than life so-to-speak, and yet it is grounded in something earnest and true.  I absolutely loved this, and reading the rich dialog and reflective conversation only helped me appreciate the film all the more.  They are perfect companion pieces that I highly recommend!

So that's all for this month.  I'm thinking about taking next month's entry to grade and rank my reads for the year so far (since we love lists so much).  It will give me a chance to really take my time and savor my current read; 'Winter's Tale'.  It's a HUGE book and I don't want to feel rushed to finish it quickly.  I should have it finished by the end of the month, but who knows (busy, busy, busy).


  1. Nice month of reads. The only thing I got to was The Great Gatsby. Of course, I watched 70 films (a new personal best), and I've been watching the NBA Playoffs and the French Open. They really cut into reading time.

    1. DAYAM! I'm lucky if I get to like 10 films a month. :-(