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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mini book reviews (the reviews are mini, the books vary in size)

As noted earlier, I read a stack of books in Mexico. I even ran out of books at one point, and worried that I'd be left to read the contents of my wallet or newspapers that I couldn't understand. Not reading is not an option. I need it to go to sleep, to relax, to be on the beach, to eat alone, even for some acts of biological necessity. Some of you will understand. Then I found a little room with English books for sale - a charity store, open a few hours at a time. For very few pesos I had Franny and Zooey (Salinger), a Borges novel and one noted below (the Llosa).

Here are some samples, briefly reviewed:

Something Serious Fiction: The World Without US by Alan Weisman

As mentioned in an earlier post, Susan gave me this book. Weisman offers a new way to think about our impact on the planet - by envisioning earth without us. From the floods in New York's subways (day 1) to how cities and homes will crumble to what will happen to the poor cockroach, which contrary to popular wisdom will perish without us - to examining places already devoid of humans, he covers it all. This is done drawing on the expertise of an interesting array of experts, religious leaders and oddballs. It's a highly readable roller coaster of information and insight, which ends with unpredictable suggestions for avoiding this demise (I won't tell).

Something Serious Non-Fiction: Blindness by Jose Saramago

Not one to sink into depression through thinking about human stupidity, greed, ignorance and struggle (see above book) - I plowed on to read a fictional tale, by a Nobel prize winner, with the themes of human stupidity, greed, ignorance and struggle. (I also danced salsa that day.)

Saramago describes a city hit by an epidemic of 'white blindness' which seems to spare no one. The early victims are confined in an empty mental hospital and left isolated, struggling to create a society that works. It doesn't. There is a woman who has her sight, but keeps it a secret. See how well this is set up as a metaphor for all human nature? It's a compelling, stark story and certainly has touches of love, humanity and hope, as well as some rather bleak looks into our souls and behaviour. It's coming out this year as a film apparently. I couldn't let it go - I still carry it in my mind day to day.

Something Fiction and Canadian: Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay

This book won the Giller Prize in Canada last year (prestigious prize and comes with dough - these things matter here in the cold white north). It's a good read, set in the far north in Yellowknife. It revolves around the lives of some very quirky characters who work at the radio station. Is it a character piece? Is it a romantic story? Is it a tragedy, with massive foreshadowing? Is it a woman's book? Is it a call to the wild? Is it for everyone? Yes X 6.

Something Not Serious and Originally Written in Spanish: Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa

This is a novel with terrific energy, alarming creativity, innumerable characters (with Spanish names of course) and it put a smile on my face many times. I chortled, chuckled and laughed loudly in public places. The story takes place in Lima and follows Mario, an 18 year old law student and radio news-editor, who falls in love with Aunt Julia, the 32 year old divorced wife of a cousin.

Their affair is progressively nutso and the telling of their story is interspersed with episodes from a series of radio soap operas written by his eccentric Bolivian friend Pedro. I have read more serious novels by Llosa and was surprised and delighted to be taken on a ride like this. I read some chapters by candlelight, a few feet from the surf, while sipping tequila in a closed cafe...

There are other books too, but you now have a taste of my reading meals while on vacation. If anyone wants to borrow one of these books, just ask.

"acts of biological necessity"

Does that mean what I think it means? But hey, you don't have to answer that because I'll blush if you ask me what I'm thinking.

But anyways. You have a great writing style. Clean. Easy to follow. Maybe next vacation, try to write that novel that lives in the back of your mind.
Thanks for the vote of confidence Sera (on my writing). I'm tempted to leave the biological necessities phrase vague (now you've got me blushing), but I'll clear it up. I'm talking about what, in my house, we always referred to as a visit to the throne.

But what are you thinking?
Great reviews. I've noted the titles.
I've read Blindness - disturbing but excellent.
Pleased to see you were able to pick up Franny and Zooey in Mexico!
I just read 'The Braindead Megaphone' by George Saunders - the title piece worth the price of the book. Unfortunately, I can't find the whole essay anywhere on line but it's good. Then, there's Chalmers Johnson's final book, 'Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic' staring at me accusingly from it's perch on the coffee table. I read for a bit and have to do something else - anything else. Perhaps reading it in a cafe on a beach would make it easier.

Overall, the Llosa book sounds like a good bet for the weekend trip to Powell's.
Thanks Beth... and there's book a lovely blogger from Toronto gave me too - it's reaching the top of the stack next...

Great recommendations Susan.
I had an image of you reading with one hand, something sexy you weren't telling us about in your mini-reviews.
See what happens when you are intentionally vague?
Yes, being vague does allow for imagination Sera...the power of writing.
Hi Gary~ sitting in front of me is a book gift from my daughter, The World without US by Alan Weisman. I am looking forward to reading it!
Best wishes
I do not come here to read about biological necessities. I'm come here to hide from Suzie so I don't have to hear about her biological necessities. ;)

They all sound very good. Another Canadian woman, eh? It's something in the water?
Gary, the first two books you mentioned are now officially on my must-read list. I don't read fiction anymore, so these two books look fabulous!

Thank you.

And welcome home. :-)
I'm just about to read Late Nights on air...so that's good to know! thanks!
Hi Gary,

I am here! Thank you for inviting us! I have to catch up with reading since you had this since 2005? Got my own blog also at msn...have only shared it with few people but I might be bold enough to share it with you. Writing a blog, or our opinions are liberating, is it not?


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