“Geek Love”

February 27, 2009 at 4:17 pm | Posted in Fiction | 9 Comments

Last night my book group met to discuss Geek Love, by Katherine Dunn.  It was a record turnout – we’ve picked up two new members.  Opinions ranged from “loved it” to “quit halfway through because it gave me nightmares.”  So you should know that this isn’t necessarily a book for everyone.  I was on the “loved it” end of the spectrum.

What’s amazing about this book is that it was published in 1983, yet it’s still fresh.  Often experimental or groundbreaking books fade somewhat over time.  Our group didn’t realize that this wasn’t a new book.

Geek Love is about a couple who decide to breed mutant children for their traveling carnival.  It’s dark and icky and challenges every social taboo – and I do mean every – and glitteringly beautiful and original.  I read it in amazement that at no point was I able to predict what was coming next.

We agreed that the first chapter was compelling, but the story fell off for a few chapters, and it was around the first hundred pages that the plot starts to sweep you away.  The characters tend to have multiple nicknames, which can make it hard for the reader to keep track of who’s who.

Probably the most startling thing for us was that we were able to draw comparisons between Geek Love, We Need to Talk about Kevin, and Stones from the River, all previous choices.  We somehow managed to stumble across two books in the same year with a narrator who was a female dwarf.

We could only be thankful for Octo-Mom, whose exploits overlapped so neatly with our choice of a book about parents who use science to have children according to their own desires, without concern for the future health and quality of life of those children.  Strange convergences all around.

“Disposable People”

February 26, 2009 at 11:00 pm | Posted in Nonfiction | 3 Comments

It wasn’t until a few months ago, when I read Nobodies, that I realized slavery was still an issue.  This is strange, because I’ve always taken an interest in social justice, I knew about sweatshop labor, and I even wrote a college paper comparing prison labor to slavery.  Where is this subject in the news?  Disposable People got under my skin in a bad way, because Kevin Bales does not offer any kind of checklist of places or products to boycott.  First you’re going to tell me about slavery, and then you’re going to tell me there are no easy ways to get rid of it?

Americans learn in grade school that we fought the Civil War to end slavery, just like we fought World War II to end fascism.  I think most of us were satisfied with that.  Gee, slavery really sucked – thank goodness that’s all over.  Hand me another Coke.

The disturbing picture that appears in Disposable People is that slavery has existed continuously for at least a few thousand years.  Those of us who are free have been blithely going along, minding our own business.  If it’s not right under our noses, we don’t see it.  Abraham Lincoln said, “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.”  I’m sure someone else at some point also said what I think, which is that we are all in big trouble if anyone is a slave anywhere.  I think free people are required to know about this.

So, here is a link to the website of Free the Slaves, an organization that works to fight global slavery.  I will offer to buy a copy of Disposable People for any reader who sends me proof of membership in Free the Slaves or another anti-slavery organization.


February 24, 2009 at 3:56 pm | Posted in Fiction | 3 Comments

Usually it takes 30-40 pages to warm up to a book, to adjust to the setting and get to know the characters.  Serena is not such a book.  I was sucked in by the middle of page 2.  Ron Rash has created a heroine of Shakespearean dimensions, and a story with the force of Greek myth.

It’s easy to make assumptions about the title of a book.  I saw the name Serena and instantly thought this would be a romantic tale about a limpid-eyed beauty with a poetic nature and pages worth of fine wardrobe.  Let me reassure you that this is definitely not that kind of book.

Serena probably won’t be the female lead you admire most.  But she is likely to be the female lead you remember best at the end of the year.

“i like big fat lady naked”

February 23, 2009 at 5:23 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 5 Comments

This is one of the search terms someone apparently used to find my blog the other day.

I’m not sure how to feel about this.  Evidently this search term was sufficient to lead someone here.  Is this just a reminder that many people who use the internet are not looking for book reviews?  Or is it a sign of hope that, given enough time, anyone can be led to literature?

This reminds me of the old saw that enough monkeys with enough typewriters could eventually produce the works of Shakespeare through random keystrokes.

Rebirth of an Indie Bookstore

February 23, 2009 at 5:17 pm | Posted in Book Blather | 5 Comments

Reports of its demise were premature.  The little bookstore in Cloverdale that I covered in an earlier post did not, it turns out, actually close.  It just relocated.  No wonder we didn’t see any signs or close-out sales!  I am equal parts embarrassed and relieved.

Not only did the small town bookstore not close, the reason it moved was to find a storefront with more floor space.

In light of this, some of the statistics look a little different.  It seems that it only takes a population of 8,100, where only 3/4 adults have a high school diploma or higher, to keep a small independent bookstore running.  Suddenly what I thought was bad news turns out to be good news.  Whaddaya think of that?

Naturally I’m going to check out the new space this very weekend.  Maybe I’ll even buy something.

“The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death”

February 20, 2009 at 4:07 pm | Posted in Fiction | 1 Comment

I reserved The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death without realizing it was by Charlie Huston.  When I saw the cover, I broke into a grin, because I had enjoyed The Shotgun Rule so much I knew I was in for a treat.  Huston has an unparalleled ability to write about grim subjects and hardcore violence with real humor.

Can you really call it noir when it cracks you up?  I think Huston definitely comes from a noir tradition, but he’s carved his own niche.

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death refers to the profession of cleaning buildings after someone has died in them.  Be warned that there are some – whew! – incredibly graphic scenes in this book.  CSI fans will adore it, though.  Another original, almost sinfully enjoyable novel by Charlie Huston, it will leave you more than ready for his next.

“We Are Now Beginning Our Descent”

February 19, 2009 at 3:53 pm | Posted in Fiction | Leave a comment

I was mesmerized by We Are Now Beginning Our Descent.  It’s a very intense, potent book, three parts sharp observation to two parts breathtakingly nasty conversation to one part dead-on humor.  For some reason, parts of it reminded me of Iris Murdoch.

There’s a one-page anecdote about a cat that had me cracking up laughing off and on all night.

I want to share a quote that is not necessarily typical of the book, but stood out for me:

‘Everybody’s full of darkness,’ said M’Gurgan.  ‘Like everybody’s full of blood.  You need it and it needs to stay on the inside.’

Mainly, the plot will keep you hooked.  It’s one thing after another.  Does Adam Kellas just have the rottenest luck, or has he done it to himself?  You find yourself feeling sympathy for an unsympathetic character.

What Meek does so masterfully is to tell a political story through very human moments.  His ear for the differences in national characters is impeccable.  We are made to see how the ramifications of personal and world events are twined together.

I really loved this book.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see James Meek pop up on the Booker list one of these days.


February 18, 2009 at 3:59 pm | Posted in Nonfiction | 1 Comment

Art books are a somewhat unusual area for me, but I had to share this one.  Andrew Zuckerman’s Creature is astoundingly gorgeous.

It’s not just that the animals are beautiful, or that the detail of the photographs is so incredible.  What’s amazing about this book is that the animals actually seem to be sitting portraits.  Their expressions are so calm and relaxed.  If you’ve ever spent much time with animals, you’ll know how hard it is to get them to sit still, especially to have a picture taken.  Yet Zuckerman actually has many of his subjects looking directly into the camera, eyes focused.  I was rapt trying to figure out how he did it.  There is a real gift here.

This book would be wonderful for anyone, but I imagine it would be particularly good for someone with kids.  This is the sort of massive coffee table book that you would actually find yourself looking through – over and over again.


February 17, 2009 at 5:37 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

If anyone was wondering what I’ve been up to all week, I had a little mini-vacation.  My man Rocket Scientist went out of town, and my brother and his fabulous girlfriend came to visit me.

On Saturday we went to Alcatraz, and it just so happened that a historian was on site doing a book signing.  I tell you, I can find a book anywhere I go!  Afterward we stopped for a read-and-run at the San Francisco library, so I could finally pick up The Midlander by Booth Tarkington.  I’ll skip the part about how hard it was for me to get ahold of that book, for now anyway.  Then we raced to San Jose to see the Winchester Mystery House, and managed to get there with six minutes to spare before the last tour of the day.  Great fun.

It was my brother’s birthday on Monday, so naturally I got him books.  It seemed funny to pair 1,000 Places to See Before You Die and Peter Greenberg’s Don’t Go There.  My brother’s main goal in life is to sky dive in all 50 states, and most of the time we spend together these days is while on vacation.

Sadly, my guests had to leave at 3AM on Monday.  I got over the loss fairly quickly, though, because it meant I had all day Monday to read.

“Nine Kinds of Naked”

February 17, 2009 at 5:09 pm | Posted in Fiction | 1 Comment

Not only am I going to say that Nine Kinds of Naked is my favorite book of the year, but it’s also going on my Crazy Love list.  I just hope Tony Vigorito writes fast!

If you’d handed me this book with the author’s name blanked out, I would have felt quite confident in identifying it as a new book by Tom Robbins.  This is terribly exciting for me, because Tom Robbins is only publishing his tenth book in nearly 40 years.  I get impatient.

Nine Kinds of Naked is full of magical realism, wordplay, hijincks, metaphysics, wild characters, and random factoids.  I couldn’t put it down.  I’m planning to read his first book, Just a Couple of Days, as soon as I can get my hands on it.

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