Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Disgrace* - J.M. Coetzee

http://www.powells.com/biblio/2-9780140296402-3: I've seen J.M. Coetzee's books at stores for years, but never read anything by him or heard anything about his writing. I picked this one up at Powell's in Oregon - it's a short quick read, and I enjoyed it tremendously. Set in South Africa, it's the story of a fallen professor who goes to live with his daughter in the countryside. They survive a horrible attack that strains their relationship, and introduces issues of race and gender politics. I thought the writing was very simple, yet amazingly real. I felt almost mesmerized by this book (though I warn that the main character is not likeable and the turn of events is quite frustrating/depressing). I look forward to reading more by this author.

(* - listed in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, Winner of the 1999 Man Booker Prize)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Little Children - Tom Perrotta

By the author of Joe College (I recommend) and Election (liked the movie, but haven't read the book). This book had the same feel for me as the movie "American Beauty" - privileged suburbanites frustrated with their children and bored with their spouses who are incredibly selfish and choose to ignore the potential consequences of their actions. This was a quick entertaining read. I didn't like any of the characters, but I was still interested in finding out what happened to them. I'm also curious to see how this was recently turned into a movie (which I've heard received good reviews).

Monday, February 12, 2007

Taft - Ann Patchett

http://www.powells.com/biblio/66-9781841150499-1 : In Ann Patchett's memoir Truth and Beauty - she wonders whether the limited success of this novel (compared to Bel Canto) had anything to do with its unfortunate title. I think she's probably right. While I don't believe the story in Taft is as compelling as Bel Canto or Patron Saint of Liars, it is still wonderfully written. I haven't yet read The Magician's Assistant (though it's on my shelves). This is the story of an aging black musician, John Nickel, whose wife and son have left him. His life is impacted when a young woman and his brother show up in the bar he runs, and he becomes strangely obsessed with their father (Taft) who has passed away. The book is told for the most part from the perspective of Nickel - who is often confused by his wide-ranging emotions - a very likeable and real character. I love Patchett's writing and definitely recommend this one.

The Last Girls - Lee Smith

http://www.powells.com/biblio/17-9781565124059-7 - In college, a group of girls traveled down the Mississippi River on a raft...roughly thirty years later, one of the girls has died in an accident, and the others are reunited for another trip. While the book is set in 1999, there are flashbacks to the girls' childhoods and time in college. It is very similar to the Ya-Yas - though the women haven't mantained their close friendships over time, if they ever were actually friends to begin with. While some of the characters were a bit tedious, overall I really enjoyed the different stories about their lives growing up in the South.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Sunday Philosophy Club - Alexander McCall Smith (Isabel Dalhousie Series - Book 1)

http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-9780676976892-0 - The first installment of the Isabel Dalhousie series by the author who writes the #1 Ladies Detective Agency series (which I recommend) - like his other novels, this one was relatively simple. It centers around a man who falls off an opera balcony in front of the main character - Isabel. She spends the novel searching for clues about the man and the cause of his death. But, the book is more about Isabel's character and her relationships with her maid, niece, and niece's ex-boyfriend, than about the actual mystery. Not the most riveting book ever, but a fast read - for some reason I just like this author.

Moo - Jane Smiley

http://www.powells.com/biblio/17-9780804117685-0 : This one has been sitting on my shelf for years, and I finally got around to it - I thought it was excellent - very fun and full of interesting characters. The book is set on the imaginary college campus of Moo - filled with self-centered philandering professors, nervous freshmen, and academic politics. At times it seemed like Smiley was trying to do too much, but overall this was really well written. I recommend it (along with her Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Thousand Acres)