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Habeas Blogus

Book reviews, more for my memory than anything else.

Location: Austin, Texas, United States

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Poet, A Hero of Our Time, White Noise, Saturday, Waiting for Birdy, and Interpreter of Maladies

The Poet, by Michael Connelly

What the hell was that book about, anyway? I read it two months ago!

Ah yes... a zinger of a first line:

"Death is my beat."

Good stuff. All I can remember about the novel past that first line is that it's like a lot of others that I've read, with perhaps a notch higher prose styling. I didn't buy the love story and consider that more of an artifact of when the book was written (mid-90s) than a knock against Michael Connelly.

And that was book #26 for 2006... I did it!! YEA!!!

I don't think I read anything in the last half of December. Instead I had the most complicated, annoying series of days-that-felt-like-months surrounding Christmas... between Dec 23 and Jan 2, I had 8 (EIGHT!!!) family gift-giving celebrations. That's not to say I don't love my family. It's not to say I don't feel like the luckiest guy in the world that I have so much family.

But let me ask you: what would someone in any culture say about a kid who receives close to FIFTY presents for Christmas?


We counted.

He was opening presents, sometimes for 3-hour stretches, one after the other, barely able to appreciate or understand the one he just opened before handed the next shiny box. His squeals of delight only lasted a day or so. By the eighth day he was more like "aw, mama, do I hafta open ANOTHER present??!! Can't I go out and play?!" "No, Alex, this one is from your father's real father's mother (not your father's stepfather's mother, who is no longer with us but bought you a gift before she passed away). She wants to see your face as you open a Christmas tree ornament we won't let you play with because it's glass!"

By the end of the West Texas Tour of Grandmothers, we were exhausted past any ability to do things like read, or eat, or breathe. We just wanted the four of us to sit at home and stare mindlessly at the fire. We're still waiting, btw.

Starting in January, I took Meredith's long-standing recommendation and read...

A Hero of Our Time, by Mikhail Lermontov

A lot of it went past me. A lot of it was me trying to figure out "what is great about this?". After reading all sorts of online information about it, I finally decided I needed to let it cool for a while, then read it again in a few years. It's definitely interesting and funny and sad and structurally intriguing. Truthfully I don't even know enough about it to discuss it intelligently, because just after I finished it I started...

White Noise, by Don DeLillo

... and that was an awesome book to read when you've got 2 children and live in suburbia, wondering in the back of your mind whether your whole life is a series of carefully orchestrated purchases, planned by someone else, rotting out whatever soul you once had from the inside. It seemed like an exercise in calculated literary spontaneity... like Rushdie's work, you marvel at the chaotic nature of the prose and of the story itself, and in the end you can't help but come to the conclusion that every move was precisely mapped out. The spontaneity is a ruse: it takes a lot of hard work to appear to carefree. It was brilliant.

I flew to Boston the day after I finished White Noise, and on the plane I started ...

Saturday, by Ian McEwan

...and I still think McEwan has to be one of the best writers working today. It's his subject matter, his characters, his locations, and my god the prose. Once in a while you feel like you're being hit with a research bomb, but for the most part his stuff is pure pleasure. This one deals with McEwan's seeming favorite topic: the long-term repercussions of a decision made very quickly, and usually under a lot of stress. It's fascinating how he's able to pick apart the minutiae of human relationships in this little petri dish called London... between family members, between friends, and between strangers, hostile and friendly. One imagines that he's not only captured a bit of our modern society, but that he is telling us: this is the nature of civilization, and it likely hasn't changed in millennia.

After Saturday, my wife wanted me to read...

Waiting for Birdy, by Catherine Newman

...which I was glad to do. She's an awesome writer. She can fling metaphors like few writers I've encountered. It's difficult to write about the love you feel for a child... it's like, you can't put it into words, yet you want to write and write... and nobody ever seems to get it right. Well, Newman comes pretty damn close. It was a great read, and something I'd recommend to anyone who wants kids. It gets a lot of stuff right where normal parenting books get it wrong: there isn't always a solution for everything. You cannot, in fact, always keep things straight and organized. You will absolutely feel love and dejection and comfort and terror, all at the same time. She has ways of putting all of this into words through examples, and it's as close as I've come to seeing my own emotions in print.

Around the time I was finishing up Birdy, I found out that I'm going to India in March. Instantly I rearranged all the books in my stack so that I could start reading things by Indian writers, hopefully without buying anything new, and hopefully something instructive, not about how to travel or how to behave, but about the people themselves.

Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri

...was a great start on this. It's a collection of short stories, each of which at least involves an Indian character in a major capacity. Some stories are told from American points of view, some are Indian, and they're set in India (usually Calcutta), America (usually Boston), or the UK (usually London). Most involve students who are on a long-term assignment.

I can't pretend to know whether she gets it right or not, and I don't know whether her stories are close enough to the Continent or not, given that most of the stories are about immigrants to America or the UK. All that said, I'm inclined to believe her. Even if she's wrong on some accounts (I like to pretend that the boorish depictions of most Americans was wrong, but at heart I know they weren't), the stories are lovely and very well written. I've considered picking up her follow-up novel, The Namesake, but I'm going to see first whether there are any Indian writers, preferably from the state of Karnataka, who are both writing in English and writing about Indian people living in India. What are my odds? If anyone has suggestions, I'm all eyes.

So, 6 books in one post, none of them quite done justice. Well, here's hoping the next few months slow down a little bit so I can frickin' breathe, because this is getting too crazy. What's the point of all this running around if I can't take the time to appreciate it properly?

Book #6 will be The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie (another Indian-born writer who doesn't live there anymore... sigh...he's still a bloody genius)



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shashi Deshpande? In Bangalore, writing in English and about Indian people.

Wed Feb 21, 11:50:00 PM  
Blogger incandragon said...

That's a good start to 2007!

It'll be interesting, reading about other countries and cultures -- and SEEING other countries and cultures -- when you're living in the heart of the beast, here.

Sat Feb 24, 05:11:00 AM  

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