Monday, March 30, 2009

My Second Childhood

Having a child means getting to experience the wonderful world of children's literature all over again. I've been pleased to find out over the past few years that not only are the old standards as charming as I remembered, but plenty of great new books for little ones were written while I was busy growing up. Reading to my daughter on a daily basis allows me to revisit tales I fondly recall and discover new ones along with her. Here is a collection of books that my daughter my wife and I have found to be particularly delightful.


Wolf’s Coming - Cute twist at the end, and I'll say no more so not to spoil it for you. Wolf's Coming is like Hitchcock for toddlers who come in with expectations created by The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, and other wolf as villain tales.

Wild Baby - If you have a free spirited child who does not yet comprehend the concept of sitting still, this book will delight.

When I Was Little - Adorable. My daughter loves to reminisce about the 3 years of her life so far, making our connection to this book instantaneous.

Waking Up Wendell - A cleverly crafted book that takes children on a delightful trip down a charming street.

Tummy Girl - A joyous celebration of little girlhood.

This Jazz Man - A masterful introduction to jazz for little ones.

There’s A Cow in the Road - Lindbergh does a wonderful job building up the amusement level as you read along from a smile to a giggle to hearty laughter.

Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born - What they loved hearing the first time children want to hear again and again and again. And this is a book they will love having read to them again and again. Jamie Lee Curtis has far surpassed her solid acting career with her writing career. 

A Sound Like Someone Trying Not to Make a Sound - I'm a big fan of John Irving and loved the idea that he had written a children's book, giving my daughter a chance to become one of his fans as well at quite the young age. She typically makes it very clear which books are among her favorites. Mr. Irving and the very talented illustrator he worked with passed her test even though it is not the typical all ends on the happiest of notes children's book. My wife commented as I read it the first time that it might give our daughter nightmares. I can't say if it did or not, but when asked how her sleep time went the next morning her response was a novel and surprising - "interesting".

Sing-Along Song - So enjoyable to read/sing this book aloud.

The Runaway Pumpkin - I have just as much if not more fun reading the rumbling, tumbling prose of this book to my daughter as she does having it read to her.

The Quilt Story - A comforting, endearing read about a comforting, durable possession.

The Perfect Nest - Those like myself who enjoy coming up with a variety of different voices for the characters in read-aloud books will appreciate the material Catherine Friend provides here. Your rapt listening audience will be equally pleased.

Over the Moon - Katz' prose for children always soars over the moon and straight into the heart. Her "flip the flap" books were amongst the earliest titles we read to our daughter as an infant, and when she grew older this lovely tale awaited us.

Nighty Night, Sleep Sleeps - My daughter is a talented sleep avoider who gets a major kick out of books that feature other little ones who fight fight fight against the dying of the light. This book is the latest in that genre to tickle her funny bone, and any book that brings her such obvious delight gets major kudos from me.

My Lucky Day - Sure to be adored by all little tricksters in training.

A Mother for Choco - This book about the search for HOME & FAMILY is sweeter than syrup poured on top of honey and sugar.

Llama Llama Mad at Mama - Those who have tantrum throwing children and the kids doing the tantrum throwing will all find this book to be utterly adorable.

Little Bunny’s Sleepless Night - A natural choice for bedtime reading that is sure to become an instant favorite.

Ladybug Girl - A smile inducing book about the power of imagination and ability to entertain and define yourself that is so critical for children to develop.

Jenny Found a Penny - My daughter insisted on ownership of her very own piggy bank after this delightful book was read to her.

Jazzy Miz Mozetta - Tough to refrain from bopping your head along with the rhythm of this gem of a read.

I Like Myself! - A charming early tutorial in rhyme on the topic of self esteem.

I Feel a Foot - A puzzle, a mystery, and a lushly illustrated tale all wrapped into one. Everyone's perceptions are colored by their own personal perspective, which is an interesting concept for any book to cover, and a delightfully surprising one to be taught by a children's book. Apparently this story is a retelling of an old classic, but it was new to me so I was as charmed by it as my daughter.

The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County - Reads like soulful poetry with a playful spirit.

Charlie Cook’s Favorite Book - A delightful ode to literature with all sorts of surprises cleverly hidden throughout the pages. Each reading you'll discover something new.

The Bunnies Are Not In Their Beds - Adorable story about bed/sleep evading bunnies that is adored by my little bunny. 

Bob - A legitimate "laugh out loud with your toddler" story. This charming book was a hit from page one on.

Big Words for Little People - A winner by Jamie Lee Curtis and her collaborator geared for toddlers like my own who are almost too smart for their own good.



Find more kid book reviews at SECOND CHILDHOOD CONTINUED




"Children are made readers on the laps of their parents." — Emilie Buchwald






















































































































































Sunday, March 29, 2009

Reading in the era of the Jetsons

I’ve been hearing whispers and shouts about the forthcoming demise of printed books for quite a few years now. As one who works in the publishing industry, is a writer, and also does plenty of book reading, such news is worrisome. Yet I’ve managed not to lose much sleep over it. In part this is due to my personality, but mostly it’s because I have not taken the threat very seriously. I did not realistically envision books going away any time soon.



Innovations have made many products obsolete over the course of history (I hardly ever operate a rotary dial in a phone booth anymore), but the printed book so far has seemed impervious to the march of time. Unlike the process of listening to music, which over my lifetime has changed from being most commonly done on records to 8-tracks to cassette tapes to CD’s and currently to audio files transferred from computer to Ipod/cell phone/etc., I’ve continued to read books in the same manner from the first one I enjoyed to the one most recently completed. What little variety there has been to the experience has been relegated to minor differences such as whether I read a particular book in hardcover format, or trade paperback style, or in the form of a mass market paperback. Either way I read words printed on paper, turning physical pages with my three dimensional fingers to make the journey from front cover to back. Nothing appeared broken about this process, it appeared to be quite flawless actually, so there seemed no point to doing any fixing.



But the beat is designed by divine plan to go on, and the message of the tune is that change is inevitable. Why be satisfied with a perfectly functioning mousetrap when a better one can be built (one with all sorts of fancy bells and whistles and perhaps even lasers, a 21st century mousetrap even though mice themselves are the same as they’ve been since the first century, still suckers for a piece of cheese or some peanut butter)? People read for the same basic reasons now as they did 100 years ago, but why should they do so in the same old school manner if someone comes up with a way to make it more technologically sophisticated? If Darwin’s infamous theory makes any sense to you then so does the inevitability of the electronic reading device. And just as the computer I’m writing these words in/on makes the first computer I ever owned seem like a toy whittled in woodshop, the e-reader no doubt has a number of improvements in store for it. It already has come a long way in its brief history. In this day and age advancement is measured not in decades or years, but quarters. A device designed to make your job easier in January will make your position obsolete by December. So I was no more surprised to learn that the Kindle 2.0 is a wonderfully improved version of the original draft then I will be to learn that 3.0 can do everything 2.0 does, plus make you a great cup of coffee.



Does an e-reader contain features that make it vastly superior to what a printed book can “do”, which is to simply sit there and be read? Of course. On top of that, “go green” has become so trendy that it’s now the new black, and what could be more economically friendly in the world of publishing than eliminating the need for paper? Is the extinction of printed books therefore a foregone conclusion? In spite of some solid evidence, that’s not a bet I’d make. There are plenty of practical reasons why it’s better to have an e-reader than a library card. The same exact statement can be made in reverse with equal strength of logic. Therefore I won’t even bother to list the pros and cons. Your own personal inclinations will determine which medium makes the stronger argument for itself. I think it’s safe to say that in the future a great deal more people will own a Kindle or equivalent rival device than do today. But unlike the 8-track player I once owned, bookshelves will not go the way of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Books and electronic readers will come to peacefully co-exist. People will have their particular reading preferences largely dependent on the nature of what is being read. I personally am far more likely to consume an article such as this one (which contains the frightening sentences - The Kindle 2 signals that after a happy, 550-year union, reading and printing are getting separated. It tells us that printed books, the most important artifacts of human civilization, are going to join newspapers and magazines on the road to obsolescence.) off of a screen than I would be willing to tackle Moby Dick or War and Peace in similar space age fashion. As long as people who feel as I do on this matter continue to walk the earth, evolution will not lead to a total reading revolution. At least not in my lifetime probably, but if I was transported to the future to see my grandkids doing some light reading, I wouldn't be shocked if no paper was involved beyond the instruction manual for the reading device.



Certainly there will be ripple effects caused by improving technology. Jobs will be lost, industries redesigned, thus creating new jobs, but in the end writers will continue to create stories and readers will continue to enjoy them. And what matters most to me are the stories, not the delivery system. Had quality digital on demand printing not come along, ebooks might have had an easier time defeating the necessarily high print runs demanded by web presses, brandishing the weapon of infinite storage space. As it is, the average person who owns an e-reader probably bought it not because it made their life so much easier than back in the stone ages when they had to haul around individual books, but simply because he/she is a techie, into high tech gadgets for gadget owning sake. Those who own hundreds or even thousands of books might appreciate being able to hold all of that content in the palm of their hands. Then again, they may love the physical appearance of all those book spines they have shelved.



It’s probably possible to design a computer capable of writing a decent novel, if not today then by next week, but I’m guessing it wouldn’t be as good as the best of those to be written by flesh and blood human beings. Following this line of reason I determine that paper comes from trees, which are living things, so the person enjoying a story on paper has an organic connection to the person who created it. New age malarkey? Probably. I just wrote the words and I’m not sure I truly buy them. What I am certain of is that after posting this article and then having dinner with a glass of wine, I intend to curl up with a good book (The Name of the Rose in case you’re interested), and I just don’t believe I’d be able to duplicate the experience with Kindle 2.0. Simulate it for sure, but not duplicate.

- Roy Pickering Author of Patches of Grey (ink printed on paper) Patches of Grey (Amazon's Kindle) Patches of Grey (B&N's Nook) & Feeding the Squirrels (available exclusively in a variety of electronic formats)



The Great E-Books Vs. Print Debate

Friday, March 27, 2009

Book Giveaway



  • Giveaway Lottery for Patches of Grey


  • I will be giving away three copies of
  • Patches of Grey
  • on May 3rd to the winner of the lottery that is being conducted at GoodReads.com. Those who are not members of the GoodReads community will need to sign up in order to enter the drawing. But if you're a fan of books then you'll be a fan of this site, so I highly recommend it. Good luck and happy reading!

    - Roy

    Wednesday, March 25, 2009

    SynergEbooks new blog



    The publisher of my ebook novella
  • Feeding the Squirrels
  • has joined the world of blogging -
  • SynergEbooks Blog
  • . It includes a page dedicated to featuring articles and short stories from their roster of talented authors. I encourage everyone to stop by this
  • Short Story Selection
  • and check out a few tales, then let the authors know how much you enjoyed them. Eventually one of my own works, "Double Fault", is slated to make an appearance.

    - Roy

    Monday, March 23, 2009

    Today is my birthday







    Being that today is my birthday, it feels like I should have something profound to say about the state of the world, or at least about the state of my life. But I don't. Taking stock I can accurately claim to have the love of a good woman, a wonderful daughter, and I'm still in hot pursuit of my dreams. Some might say that true happiness would require that I had already caught them, but I'm not too sure about that. There is much to be said for the thrill of the chase, about appreciating the journey rather than being fixated on the destination at the expense of contentment of soul. Would I be in seventh heaven had I received a six (or better yet, seven) figure deal from a major publishing house for the rights to my first novel? No doubt.  Am I nevertheless greatly enjoying my efforts to create awareness of the existence of Patches of Grey? <in best Sarah Palin voice> You betcha! By being the publisher as well as the author, I am more connected to the process than I probably would have had I simply put the majority of marketing and promotional and sales responsibility into the hands of others while sitting back and waiting to collect royalties. Will this lead to me eventually sitting across from Oprah telling her and the rest of America about what inspired my prose? Not statistically likely, but I'm ruling no possibility out. Fame and fortune are not in my present and may not lie in my future, but with 4+ decades under my belt I can honestly say that things have never been better and I see nothing but blue skies ahead smiling at me.  Perhaps I should take all of this positive energy and write a second book.  Oh wait, that's already in the works.  If Patches of Grey won't do the trick then I'll close my eyes, blow out the candles and make birthday wishes that Matters of Convenience will carry me to literary stardom.  Whether those wishes come true or not, completing book # 2 can mean only one thing...getting started on book # 3.  For writers, 365 days per year, writing is the gift that keeps on giving.  So in a way every day is my birthday.

    - Roy



    Tuesday, March 17, 2009

    Luck of the Married to an Irish Woman


    "Pickering's style is fluid and crisp. There's a certain clarity to the prose that's considered and well judged - just enough to paint the picture and more than enough to drive along the narrative." - Khome (UnheardWords.com)

    Above is the first official review of Patches of Grey, arriving promptly on St. Patrick's Day. Several more reviews are pending, hopefully soon to arrive and as generous as the first.

    - Roy





    Sunday, March 8, 2009

    Pulitzer Prize Winners




    I thought I'd post this list of novels that have won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction since its inception in 1948. I've highlighted the winners I've read to date (look for the color red) and some are links to my review on GoodReads.  Putting this blog post together has given me the goal to significantly improve my percentage. Hope remains that something I write ends up on this list one day. Which of these titles have you read, and did you love them as much as the Pulitzer Prize committee did?

    ~




    ~
    1948  Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener

    ***

    1949  Guard of Honor by James Gould Cozzens

                                                                                  ***

    1950  The Way West by A.B. Guthrie

    ***

    1951  The Town by Conrad Richter

    ***

    1952 The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk

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    1953  The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

    ***

    1954 (no award)

    ***

    1955  A Fable by William Faulkner

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    1956  Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor

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    1957 (no award)

    ***

    1958  A Death in The Family by James Agee (posthumous publication)

    ***

    1959  The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters by Robert Lewis Taylor

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    1960  Advice and Consent by Allen Drury

    ***

    1961  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

                                                                                 ***

    1962  The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O’Connor

    ***

    1963  The Reivers by William Faulkner

    ***

    1964 (no award)

                                                                                  ***

    1965  The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau

                                                                                 ***

    1966  Collected Stories by Katherine Anne Porter

                                                                                 ***

    1967  The Fixer by Bernard Malamud

                                                                                 ***

    1968  The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron

                                                                                ***

    1969  House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday

                                                                               ***

    1970  Collected Stores by Jean Stafford

    ***

    1971 (no award)

    ***

    1972  Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

    ***

    1973  The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty

    ***

    1974 (no award)

    ***

    1975  The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

    ***

    1976  Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow

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    1977 (no award)

    ***

    1978  Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson

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    1979  The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever

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    1980  The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer

    ***


    ***

    1982  Rabbit is Rich by John Updike

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    1983  The Color Purple by Alice Walker

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    1984  Ironweed by William Kennedy

    ***

    1985  Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie

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    1986  Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

    ***

    1987  A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor

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    1988  Beloved by Toni Morrison

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    1989  Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

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    1990  The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos

    ***


    ***

    1992  A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley

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    1993  A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler

    ***

    1994  The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx

    ***

    1995  The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

    ***

    1996  Independence Day by Richard Ford

    ***

    1997  Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser

    ***


    ***

    1999  The Hours by Michael Cunningham

    ***

    2000  Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

    ***

    2001  The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

    ***

    2002  Empire Falls by Richard Russo

    ***

    2003  Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides


    ***

    2004  The Known World by Edward P. Jones

    ***

    2005  Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

    ***

    2006  March by Geraldine Brooks

    ***

    2007  The Road by Cormac McCarthy

                                                                                 ***

    2008  The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

                                                                                 ***

    2009  Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

    ***

    2010  Tinkers by Paul Harding

    ***

    2011  A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

                                                                                 ***

    2012 (no award)

                                                                                 ***

    2013  The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

                                                                                 ***

    2014  The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

                                                                                 ***

    2015  All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

                                                                                 ***

    2016  The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

                                                                                 ***

    2017  The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~

    NOTE: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction originated as the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel, which was awarded between 1918 and 1947. I’ve read two of those winners to date.

    · 1918: His Family by Ernest Poole
    · 1919: The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington
    · 1920: no award given
    · 1921: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
    · 1922: Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington
    · 1923: One of Ours by Willa Cather
    · 1924: The Able McLaughlins by Margaret Wilson
    · 1925: So Big by Edna Ferber
    · 1926: Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis (declined prize)
    · 1927: Early Autumn by Louis Bromfield
    · 1928: The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
    · 1929: Scarlet Sister Mary by Julia Peterkin
    · 1930: Laughing Boy by Oliver La Farge
    · 1931: Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes
    · 1932: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
    · 1933: The Store by Thomas Sigismund Stribling
    · 1934: Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller
    · 1935: Now in November by Josephine Winslow Johnson
    · 1936: Honey in the Horn by Harold L. Davis
    · 1937: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
    · 1938: The Late George Apley by John Phillips Marquand
    · 1939: The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
    · 1940: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
    · 1941: no award given
    · 1942: In This Our Life by Ellen Glasgow
    · 1943: Dragon's Teeth by Upton Sinclair
    · 1944: Journey in the Dark by Martin Flavin
    · 1945: A Bell for Adano by John Hersey
    · 1946: no award given
    · 1947: All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren

    Monday, March 2, 2009

    Book Reviews




























    Many in the blogosphere have chosen to use this venue to give birth to their inner critic. Some comment on movies, others on music, techies write about updates in technical wizardry, gamers let us know what they most like to play, and avid readers give the lowdown on books. Since I've used this blog to publicize my own writing, the least I can do to give back to the literary community is share my thoughts about the words of others. Going forward I will post a review of each new book I decide to delve into. I don't provide a great deal of detail about plots in my reviews because you can simply head over to Amazon for a synopsis of any title that piques your curiosity. Instead I comment on what chords a particular piece of prose has struck in me. Sometimes this means I pen a fair amount of text, but for the most part it only takes a few sentences to convey what I wish to say. If you are registered at GoodReads.com you can find reviews I've written and star ratings I've given to hundreds of books I've read throughout the years. In this blog entry I will simply post reviews of novels (and one memoir) that I've read over the past twelve months (give or take, a couple of these I probably read further back than that), minus star ratings. In a future posting I will share mini-reviews of favored children's books read to my daughter. Hope you enjoy and perhaps find these reviews of use if you're considering buying/borrowing any of the following works:


    An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England [Brock Clarke] - A breezy read full of observations about the human condition that seem almost wise had they been made by a child, but since the story is told from the viewpont of an adult they come off mostly as whimsical, quirky and border line idiotic, terms that aptly describe just about every character in this novel as well as its cutely odd plot. If you like a heavy dose of absurdity mixed into your mysteries, and plenty of literary references tossed in for good measue, this is the book for you. If I was the type, this would probably qualify as a single sitting read. Mild curiosity and amusement along with a dash of irritation at the narrator's inability to solve relatively simple problems in blatantly simple ways (because he is by definition a bumbler, and the author insists he must live up to this description no matter what) propels the reader forward to an ending that is not intended to take anyone by surprise, but manages to be somewhat poignant if not quite profound.

    Black Betty [Walter Mosley] - With Black Betty, Mosley delivers what you'd expect from an Easy Rawlins mystery if you came to it having already read a few others such as I had. The crime to be solved is made to seem convoluted but ultimately turns out to be relatively simple. But as with each book in this series it isn't really about the plot. It's about Easy's singular way of seeing and evaluating and dealing with the people he encounters along the way, his perspective on a period of time that seems both long ago and immediate. His character is further fleshed out with each novel, and going along for the ride with him on the particular case he's working on is always a pleasure. If you enjoy the writing of Raymond Chandler you'll probably enjoy that of Walter Mosley and vice versa, only with Mosley you get an added dose of social commentary, not to mention Easy's psychotically entertaining buddy, Mouse.

    The Castle in the Forest [Norman Mailer] - I admire Norman Mailer's mastery of the written word and appreciate the amount of research obviously involved in writing this book, not to mention the fascinating premise of his final novel. Watching Hitler from birth to adolescence through the eyes of one of Satan's minions who is helping to guide his path to pure evil sounded like a brilliant concept. But Mailer's execution fell a good bit short of my expectations. I can excuse the odd fascination this book shows with bowel movements, less than fragrant smells, and other unpleasantries. Mailer chooses to equate bad hygeine with evil as if the best way to convince readers a person is born to be bad is by making him gross. Considering that in this book he is the result of incest, something I'd never heard about Hitler before, I suppose it makes sense that he wouldn't be especially cuddly and huggable well before evil and hunger for power took full control of his actions. So I took the rampant incest and pedophilia in stride. I'm less forgiving however of the ridiculous amount of detail that is given to the raising of bees. Yes, the goings on of a beehive is intriguing. The Secret Life of Bees is a book that pays homage to this fact with just the right amount of attention. The Castle in the Forest goes on about bees well beyond what my interest in the subject was willing to tolerate. Then there is a big chunk of this book that leaves the main plot behind to follow another one about the coronation of Nicholas II. This section is connected to the rest of the novel because the narrator remains unchanged, but it has far less to do with the plot of Hitler's upbringing than the word count warrants. Mailer actually states that the reader can skip the section and resume reading 40 or so pages later if they want to, and after slogging through the section anyway I wished I had taken his advice. At least the book provides a pay-off to the reader after all the attention to bees, but I feel the Nicholas II section should have been edited way down. If I'm being overly harsh it's in part because I had such high hopes based on the rich opportunities the plot seemed to provide, and the talent of the author. The end result is not a bad book, simply an admirable effort that I found more disappointing than memorable.

    The Confessions of Max Tivoli [Andrew Sean Greer] - A fascinating read about a man who ages backwards, starting off with the body of an old man and mind of an infant and ending up in the reverse situation. Despite this science fiction type scenario, Confessions basically belongs in the category of absorbing literature anchored by an ill fated love affair. Most of us have far less dramatic reasons for things not working out with the great loves of our lives than Max Tivoli, yet ultimately our reasons are all one and the same. The timing was not quite right. This was a very enjoyable read. I was absorbed right from the start and totally connected with the doomed narrator, hoping against hope that his plight would lead to a happy ending, knowing that even when this is an impossibility it doesn't mean that one's dreams can't be fulfilled (if only temporarily) along the way. After all, life isn't all about the inescapable end, it's about the "along the way".

    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time [Mark Haddon]- This is a quirky story told from a unique point of view that leads to innumerable smiles and a good number of chuckles. I had never heard of this book when it was loaned to me, but I'm so glad it found its way into my hands. There are plenty of more ambitious books out there, and plenty of books that are more impressively written. But many of them end up being completely forgotten over the passage of time. This distinctive tale on the other hand is one I suspect I'll fondly recall for a long time.

    Disobedience [Jane Hamilton] - Jane Hamilton has a way with words, with etching characters who seem as real as your friends and neighbors, and for moving a minimalist plot along at a pleasing pace courtesy of splendid first person narration. Disobedience was a pleasure to read and I would not hesitate for an instant to pick up another of her books. What more need a novel accomplish than that?

    The Emperor of Ocean Park [Stephen L. Carter]- The fact that this book explores university politics featuring east coast black upper-middle class characters made it stand out from the pack, but once you get over this facet (which I did pretty quickly), what you're left with is a well written and fairly intriguing mystery, more memorable than some I've read, less so than others. I suppose a book like this one is an antidote to the urban/hip hop/gangsta/etc. genre of "literature", not so much because it features black characters who are articulate, educated and well to do, but because it was written by someone who fits this description. Ultimately I could care less if the narrator of a novel I'm reading is a college professor or a drug dealing pimp. I only care that the story is absorbing and the characters ring true, and this book did a decent if not quite extraordinary job of accomplishing that feat.

    Everything is Illuminated [Jonathan Safran Foer] - A modern masterpiece. These charmingly quirky characters will stick in your mind long after reading this wonderful novel. The hysterical narration has great fun with butchering the English language in inventive ways. This book reads like 2 or 3 (maybe more) great stories all rolled into one deliciously complex novel. When you're going to write about something as terrible as the Holocaust, humor is brilliant way to delicately approach it. This book blew me away. A novel written this beautifully comes along no more frequently than once per decade, if that often.

    Hidden in Havana [Jose Latour] - Not well written at all, dialogue competing with the narration to be most stilted. The rule of "show don't tell" (not that I'm a strict rule follower) is completely obliterated, and perhaps the biggest sin for a book billed as a thriller - it was not particularly suspenseful or thrilling. I somewhat reluctantly pushed my way through since it was easy enough to read (the author makes little attempt to utilize poetic prose or vocabulary anyone would need to look up in the dictionary). But if you like your reading material to be of superior quality to something you could have written yourself by 9th grade, I recommend taking a pass on this tepid tale. English is not the author's native tongue, although he has become comfortable enough with it to write a couple novels in English according to his bio. I'm not entirely sure if Hidden in Havana is one of them or if it was translated, but either way it fell short of my expectations for a work of fiction put out by a major publisher (or a minor one, or self pubbed for that matter). I learned a little about Cuba in the process of reading this book, which is cool because I'm a bit of a Cubaphile. Other than that this was a novel soon to be forgotten.

    I, Lucifer: Finally, The Other Side of the Story [Glen Duncan] - A clever, enjoyable read about demonic possession from the demon's point of view.

    Killing Time [Caleb Carr] – I read this novel because I very much enjoyed Caleb Carr’s The Alienist and its sequel. Besides belonging to a different genre than his earlier work (science fiction rather than historical fiction/mystery) it is also much less of a page turner. The title aptly describes my experience reading this book.

    The Kite Runner [Khaled Hosseini] – I read this book to see what the big fuss was about. I'd say it pretty much lived up to the hype. When all is said and done it may not end up in the cannon of classic literature, but I can certainly see why it was such a popular summer read recommendation. The author tells a compelling story that draws you in immediately and doesn't let go until the dramatic end. The characters are richly drawn and true to everyday life, even though the element of this story that brought so much attention to it in the first place is its "exotic" setting, thus proving the point that our similarities are far more striking and significant than our surface differences.

    The Last Templar [Raymond Khoury] - I'm a sucker for any knights templar related fiction. This one fit the bill nicely without shattering the earth or taxing my brain too heavily. A pleasant light read for those who gobbled up all of Dan Brown's books and are hungry for more of basically the same meal, give or take a couple appetizers.

    A Long Way Down [Nick Hornby] - I was intrigued by the premise of this book which started off strongly enough but faded greatly and ultimately left me disappointed. Hornby is a fine writer with a gift for creating distinctive, likeable characters. He also has a knack for clever plots. With this book he managed to concoct a fine beginning and decent middle but failed to deliver a clever and/or memorable ending.

    Me Talk Pretty One Day [David Sedaris] - A highly enjoyable read. The early chapters were particularly hysterical, causing me to laugh out loud numerous times as he described growing up as an effeminate boy with a frustrating lisp. I'm not a big memoir reader, particularly those of people who are most famous for writing a memoir, but word of mouth led me to give this one a shot and I'm glad it did. I didn't find the entire book quite as hysterical as the first few chapters but it did make for a pleasant read and I continue to get a kick out of the catchy title.

    The Pleasure of My Company [Steve Martin] - The greatest obtacles are those we impose upon ourselves. As for the deepest wounds, they tend to come from those who love us considerably less than by all rights they should. This wonderful little book eloquently expresses both of these points. It belongs to that popular category of fiction which is narrated in first person from the perspective of a character who is emotionally and/or mentally challenged, thus magnifying commonplace exploits to Mount Everest proportions. I'm looking for a shorter term to name this genre so that perhaps I will be given official credit. The Pleasure of My Company falls into this category, yet also rises above it in spite of its brevity. The book is not a single word longer than it needs to be yet manages to elicit an impressive number of smiles and chuckles, then closes with a flourish that tugs at the heart. Steven Martin is a fine writer indeed.

    The Polished Hoe [Austin Clarke] - The pace of the narrative mirrors that of the characters it is about - island time. If you're looking for brain candy or twists and turns every few pages that will keep you on the edge or your seat and cause you to speed through the reading process in a couple hours, this isn't the book for you. But it's pretty good if not quite great and I'd definitely recommend this novel to fans of well written literary fiction.

    Rant: An Oral Biography of Buster Casey [Chuck Palahniuk] - What a fascinating read by a ridiculously talented author. Other than being a fan of the film version of his novel "Fight Club", I didn't know a whole lot about him. Now I know that he is a writer to greatly admire and envy. It took me a few pages to adjust to the experimental form this novel is written in, but once its hooks were in me the book never let go of my rapt attention. Slowly but surely it reveals its secrets, not showing you the little man behind the Wizard of Oz in one fell swoop, but rather, exposing the method behind the madness in brilliant little increments. By the end I was left in a joyous daze. My perception of reality will never be quite the same.

    The Road [Cormac McCarthy]- I expected another good read from this Cormac McCarthy book and as usual he did not disappoint. If you're looking for optimism or to be uplifted, steer clear of this novel. If you can appreciate a masterly set tone of isolation and despair, a brilliant exploration of survival instincts, and a somber ode to parental love in an apocalytic setting, this is just the book for you.

    The Savage Detectives [Roberto Bolano] - The blurbs made it seem like this book would be the greatest thing since sliced bread (from the perspective of those who think sliced bread is spectactular, that is. I personally prefer loaves that need to be sliced, but I digress). The blurbs throw around names of authors I deeply admire such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but the only literary work I was reminded of was On the Road. Kerouac was smart enough to keep his tale of random wandering fairly brief, whereas readers have nearly 600 pages to plow through to make it to the end of The Savage Detectives. I stopped after about 150 of them when it became apparent enough that there would be no characters created with sufficient depth for me to care one way or another about, and no particular plotline to speak of. Roberto Bolano was a talented writer who apparently had little interest in writing beginning-middle-end narratives. I could see why certain people would love this novel. There is no doubt that Bolano was a gifted author, simply not my particular cup of tea.

    The Stand [Stephen King] - TGIF - Thank God I Finished. That's not meant to say I didn't enjoy this book. The Stand certainly deserves its status as a classic. But man was it long. You'd have to write a pretty teriffic book with a splendidly inventive plot and compelling characters to get me to commit to well over 1000 pages of prose. That's precisely what Stephen King accomplished, particularly with the early part of this mega-novel when the virus is doing its nasty business. Definitely no dragging going on there. But once the survivors have found each other hundreds of pages in, forming a community and establishing rules to live by in their post-Apocalytpic world, the story drags just a bit. Eventually the plot gets us to the final showdown portion which could be considered a tad anticlimatic since there was such a tremendous amount of build up to it. Anything short of the book spontaneously combusting in my hands would probably have seemed a little disappointing. But I'm no doubt being too picky here because I feel like I was reading this book for at least six months. It really is a wonderful novel, probably worth purchasing rather than borrowing from the library like I did so you don't have any pesky due date to worry about. It's been ages since I last read Stephen King. The Stand was a fine reminder of why I became such a big fan of his in the first place.

    A Thousand Splendid Suns [Khaled Hosseini ] - This was a wonderful book. I enjoyed it every bit as much as The Kite Runner. While reading it I was reminded of the style of Pat Conroy, another master of the family saga. Also brought to mind was Alice Walker's The Color Purple, another well written novel filled almost exclusively with loathsome male characters and long suffering women. Such books make a guy feel a bit guilty for having a penis, but unfortunately they are inspired by the behavior of real life A--HOLES throughout the course of history and societies that have allowed and even encouraged such abusive inhumane treatment to flourish. Khaled Hosseini does a masterful job of weaving history lessons of his homeland into dramatic tales of people with the odds stocked against them whom the reader comes to strongly feel and hope for.

    Trans-Sister Radio [Chris Bohjalian] - This was an interesting, sympathetic, insightful look at a "world" that I (and perhaps most people) knew very little about prior to picking the book up. The significant differences between people of different cultures, nationalities, religions, lifestyles, etc. only serve to shed light on how ultimately similar we homosapiens all are to each other, most especially in matters of the heart. Another lesson from this book is that having a sex change is hard damn work for everyone involved.

    The Unknown Terrorist [Richard Flanagan] - Although it is very different in tone and style and subject matter, my experience reading this book reminded me a little of how I felt reading "An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England". The narrator of that book did one stupid thing after another and the reader was supposed to accept these actions as reasonable because the character is described/definned as a bumbler. In real life of course people do not fall quite so neatly into such categories. Someone may bumble most of the time in certain areas but navigate smoothly through other sets of circumstances. As Chris Rock noted in one of his comedy routines when describing his political leanings - "I have some things that I'm conservative about, and some things that I'm liberal about". Nobody is always liberal or always conservative or always a bumbler, though it is true that some people act a certain way far more often than not. The "title" character of The Unknown Terrorist is a fairly complex one with a well fleshed out background, and the storyline is fueled by much bigger ideas than the comical Arsonist book. But I couldn't shake the feeling as I sped through its pages that the actions of pivotal characters were specifically intended to promote strong opinions held by the author and nothing but. He wanted to make certain points about politics and the media and about how easily the sheep like masses can be led to a prefabricated conclusion. If at any point one of the major characters in this reasonably but not overwhelmingly well written book behaved in a way that I personally believe would have been more realistic reactions/responses, the book would completely fall apart because little else was holding it in place. The wrongfully accused woman needs to be so paranoid from the get go (her drug use helped in this regard, I suppose) and distrustful of authority that the only thing she can think to do is run and hide even before she's really being chased. The decision makers in the media need to be so obsessed about breaking a big story that not only does truth become irrelevant, but so does having supporting evidence of any kind. The author is OBVIOUSLY cynical about our post 9/11 world, and anyone who does not have their head shoved deeply in the sand can recognize why this might be so, but I found myself torn between wanting to follow the storyline to where it was blatantly leading and wanting the characters to break free of the author's plot machinations and act in a common sense manner that would likely clear matters up within a few pages of text. Despite such frustration with plausibility, this was definitely a gripping and smooth flowing read.
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