Oct 27, 2013

Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury is the kind of writer you don't read so much as soak up through your fingertips. Though he is best known for his works of science fiction, like "Fahrenheit 451," he wrote many other kinds of fiction as well, and I don't think it's exaggeration to say that his work is some of the best writing of the 20th Century. Evocative doesn't even begin to describe it; Bradbury molds language in such a way that you don't quite feel like you're reading. You smell the hot air of the Midwestern summer, hear the far off singing of the local junk man, feel the inexorable wonder of being a twelve-year-old boy. It's almost too much, in fact. "Dandelion Wine" is not a long book, but it took me a week to read because you simply cannot read it quickly. Everything has to sink in, or else it's not worth it. Bradbury was a man born to write, and we are lucky that he did so with such vigor.

Oct 20, 2013

A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome, by Alberto Angela

This was a huge bestseller a couple years ago, and since I love history I decided to give it a try. I'll admit that it sat on my shelf for a long while, though, since my experience with nonfiction (particular history books - thank you, college) leads me to assume that most of it is rather boring. Boy, was I wrong. Translated from Italian, this is more a work of archeological voyeurism than history. The reader is addressed as a tourist visiting Rome during the reign of Emperor Trajan, around 115 CE. Angela takes us from midnight to midnight, describing all the sights, smells, tastes, and noises we would have experienced there. We learn about Romans from all different walks of life, from the elite down to the lowliest slave. Monumental works we see now as degraded shades of their former selves are delectably described for our benefit. It's part history lesson, part travel guide, and Angela does a fantastic job. Granted, the translation to American English is a bit awkward at times, and there were numerous editing errors throughout, but they take little away from the whole. It's no wonder this was such a fast seller; it wonderfully brings history alive in a way anyone can enjoy.

Expiration Day, by William Campbell Powell (April 2014)

This YA science fiction novel arrived at our bookstore and had a mildly interesting blurb on the back, so I decided to read it. A mere 40 pages into the book revealed that the blurb was completely wrong, and that it is, in fact, far more interesting. "Expiration Day" takes place in a future much like the one in "Children of Men." The human birth rate has fallen precipitously, though not stopped altogether, leading to a series of world wars and a population somewhere around only 250 million. The best way to stem the violence appeared to be the creation of robotic children, exceptionally complex beings that would look, feel, think, and behave like real children. The only problem is that they cannot grow naturally, and so must be periodically upgraded. The teknoids, as they are called, are loved and accepted into society, but only up to a point. It is still considered extremely gauche to acknowledge the existence of the robots, and even more so to admit you are one. And there is one other glaring difference: all teknoids must be returned to the company that makes them by their 18th birthday.

This is exactly what has happened to Tania Deeley. She has always been told she is one of the few precious humans, but we (and she) soon find out this is not the case. The story of her struggle with her own and others' humanity is told in diary entries, and it's pretty fantastic. The book is a bit long, perhaps, and while I understand why Powell focuses so much on Shakespeare, even I got weary of reading verses and tended to skip over those parts. But otherwise the writing is great and the story is incredibly interesting. The very end is a bit confusing, and I'm rather disappointed this isn't going to be a series (or at least, it seems that way). Following Tania's work and life would be fascinating, and I'd certainly love to read more of Powell's work. This is definitely a book I'll be selling in our store.

Oct 6, 2013

Bossypants, by Tina Fey

I really like Tina Fey. I love "Mean Girls" and thoroughly enjoyed "30 Rock." I think it's awesome that a 40-something, normally shaped woman has become so popular based on her insane amount of talent. This book is not quite as awesome as Tiny Fey, but that's mostly because it wasn't what I expected. Yes, there are tons of funny bits - the chapter about her father, and really anything about her childhood - but this book is really about feminism. It's about a woman trying to do what she loves, when what she loves happens to be dominated by men. So much of the book is Fey's advice on how to feel better about yourself as a woman in the workplace and as a working mom; I liked that, and appreciate it. It just wasn't expected, and so threw me off guard for a bit.

I do also have to mention that this feels like a bit of a throwaway. Like someone said, "Hey, Tina, you're a writer, you should totally write a book!" So Tina, being a writer, and a damn good one, did just that. But it's more a series of thoughts than a coherent piece of writing, a bit like a journal. I think this is one of those situations where a more heavy-handed editor could have steered the author in a more productive direction, but because the author happens to be famous, this didn't happen. I'd actually love to see Fey write long-form fiction. I think a novel by her would be funny and moving and quite special. I think Tina Fey has a lot of staying power, and I can't wait to see the work she does, in any medium, in the future.

Oct 2, 2013

The Serpent of Venice, by Christopher Moore (April 2014)

I just about died when this Advanced Reader's Copy was sent to our bookstore; Moore is one of my favorite authors, and this novel is a sequel to the first Moore book I read and loved, "Fool." Just as that was a retelling of Shakespeare's "King Lear," this is a reworking of "Othello" and "The Merchant of Venice." Moore's work is always dark, but this novel is especially so. Pocket's beloved queen, the beautiful Cordelia, has died while Pocket is on a diplomatic mission to Venice, trying to stop an unnecessary Crusade. Pocket is himself left for dead, but is sustained by...something. Something slithery and dark and clawed. Upon realizing that he is going to live, Pocket devotes the rest of the book to revenge. Coldblooded, delicious revenge. So it's vulgar and funny and all that Moore is brilliant at (the Chorus just about killed me every time), but it's actually more serious than most of his other books. Vengeance and plotting and racism are heady subjects, and Moore does a wonderful job of emulating Shakespearean hyperbole. I found myself wondering many times whether he was quoting or paraphrasing or just being a really good writer. This is a different sort of offering from Moore, and though I wasn't sure how I felt about it while reading, I can say now that I really like it. He's a gifted storyteller, and as always, I look forward to reading more of Moore.