Phil Rambles

Phil Rambles, Phil Price blog.

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    Mon, 19 Jan 2004

    Fiction: Notable American Women, by Ben Marcus
    This is the worst book I ever read. Previously, if I started to read any book remotely close to this bad, I would toss it aside without a second thought. Unfortunately, this was the selection of my book discussion group, so I felt obligated to read it...especially since I recently chided people for being too picky about the book selection, saying "I'll read anything. I'm going to read several thousand more books in my life, I don't really care if this one is in the top 10." So, I read the whole thing, every pretentious, ridiculous, irritating word.

    The plot, such as it is, concerns a boy raised by a sort of cult that believes that silence is blessed, that depriving the kid of emotional sustenance will make him stronger, and a bunch of other claptrap. The kid grows up completely screwed up, of course, but since he doesn't know what "normal" is, he doesn't know this. To the extent that the book has "characters", they're all hateful and unsympathetic. The book's language is at times nonsensical, at times pretentious, at times opaque, but is always irritating. Here's a sample:

    "It would be foolish to simplify the role of the skin in reading, thinking, and eating. Nearly everything that can be said about the skin can be disproved or at least convincingly denied. For the purposes of this book, once the fast is completed, the arm should be wrapped in the cloth you had stashed in your mouth."

    If you would like to read 240 pages of stuff like that, this is the book for you!

    It is only fair to acknowledge, I suppose, that lots of people absolutely love this book, and the web is strewn with reviews that claim that this book is insightful, life-changing, yada yada. This is, of course, utter nonsense.

    [/Books/Fiction] permanent link

    Mon, 08 Dec 2003

    Fiction: The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt
    A teenage girl thinks she's figured out who killed her brother years ago, and decides to take her own revenge. In the mean time, she has to deal with a non-functioning mom who never recovered from her son's death, and the departure of a valued (but mistreated) nanny/maid. The protagonist is clever and self-assured, and the book is always interesting, and sometimes touching or funny. It's a bit lightweight: like "The Rotters Club," "The Little Friend" is pleasant to read but isn't great literature.

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    Mon, 25 Aug 2003

    Fiction: "The Rotter's Club," by Jonathan Coe
    This was the first book that we read in my book club at work. It follows the prep school years of a group of chums in Birmingham, England in the mid-70's. At a superficial level, the book is about the standard problems faced by the protagonists (although some of the peripheral characters run into some very heavy problems indeed). There was plenty to keep me entertained, as the kids struggled through adolescence, dealing with irritating brothers and sisters, uncertainty about girls, and so on. The kids seemed unrealistically precocious at times, but actually that's probably just as well: reading about actual adolescents might be pretty irritating, or just boring.

    Beyond the day-to-day activities of our heroes, there are some deeper themes; notably, inter-class rivalries are apparent at school and at the jobs of the kids' parents. It's possible that the author intended these themes to be central to the book, given how many pages feature some kind of class conflict, but in fact this theme is more of a backdrop than a central element.

    On the whole, Iiked the book pretty well: I thought that a few nonstandard narrative tools worked well---like giving some news items from the school newspaper---and I liked the characters and wanted to know what was going to happen to them. Although not exactly a page-turner, I certainly had no problem maintaining my interest in the book.

    Unfortunately my liking of the book put me in the minority in the book club: Emily didn't think it was good at all, Mark didn't read it, and Buvana finished most of it but only by pushing herself at the very end of the four-week reading period. Only Jean and I seemed to enjoy it appreciably.

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    Mon, 28 Apr 2003

    Fiction: Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks.
    This very readable novel tells the story of a woman living in a plague-ridden village in central England in 1666. The village in the novel, like the real-life village of Eyam, voluntarily quarantined itself to avoid endangering its neighbors, a heroic act that was apparently unprecedented and unrepeated. The novel follows the spread of the epidemic, the townspeople's fear, anger, and search for scapegoats, and the trials and loves of the protagonist. The protagonist is perhaps unrealistically liberal and sophisticated for her era, but the book is still entertaining and, given the reasonably good research on which it appears to be based, also provides a good look at life in those times.

    [/Books/Fiction] permanent link