Friday, November 18, 2011

The Wonder Boys

Wonder BoysWonder Boys by Michael Chabon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have a sort of literary crush on Michael Chabon. The first novel I read of his was Kavalier and Clay and loved it. Then I read most of this subsequent novels and thought he was amazing. But stepping back in time...well, let's just say this novel hints at the great writer Chabon is about to become--you can even see the evolution of ideas for his future novels--but he's not quite there yet. His main characters are interesting, but not likeable. The plot is far fetched but entertaining. And in the end his main character learns...that he should not smoke so much pot. The thing I really missed was the way Chabon commands the English language to tell a story that is entirely its own universe. That gift is only nascent here. I did like the observations about authors, how they have doppelgangers that give them something to write about but are their own worst enemy, and how authors go through their life and nights sleepwalking, living out the stories in their heads.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011


GileadGilead by Marilynne Robinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As I was carrying this book around forever trying to finish it, I told everyone it was eh, ok. It was a story without much of a plot, just a lot of ruminations about religion, faith, forgiveness, and it was murder to get through. But then I finished it and I thought there were a few good quotes that I wanted to re-read, and I ended up reading the whole thing again. The whole thing. It isn't a book that excites you, it definitely is not a page turner, but the letter by a dying priest to his young son born in his old age is full of gems of wisdom. The themes of the prodigal son resonate throughout--what it means to be a son in need of forgiveness, what it means to be a loving father, what it means to be the righteous son feeling unjustly looked over. In the end, it culminates into a beautiful story of what it means to love and to live. If you can barely get through it the first time, read it again.

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a great telling of the story of Henrietta Lacks, who went to Johns Hopkins for cervical cancer treatment and while there had her cells biopsied. Her cancer cells became a perpetually growing medium, a boon to medical research forever after. Skloot explains how her cells became immortal, how they helped science, and the story behind the woman who died while her cells lived on. There are a hundred issues that the story raises, questions of black rights, of rights of patients over their own tissues, of how experiementing on humans became regulated. Skloot touches on all these, but I wish she could have devlved in even deeper. Toward the end, Skloot inserts herself too much for my taste and talks about her relationship with Deborah, Henrietta's daughter. That material is for Skloots memoir--give us more of those fascinating cells!

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Peace Like a River

Peace Like a RiverPeace Like a River by Leif Enger

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was a book club read, and although I wouldn't have chosen it I didn't hate it. I liked that it reminded me of all the miracles that happen all around us, we just have to take notice of them. I even liked that though the father could heal his enemies and walk on air and even greater miracles, he could not make his son, Davy, think like he did. That the ability of choice is so sacred not even the most holy among us can bend our will to theirs. I did not like that the father found his spirituality and then promptly stopped going to college to become a doctor and instead became a janitor--why do "good" people feel like they must be poor? Wouldn't he have been more useful as a dr.? I didn't like that the father's headaches were never addressed. Did the miracles have a physical effect or was it just to show that he wouldn't/couldn't use the power on himself? And I didn't like the way it ended, that Davy went from being a great older brother to a fugitive that wouldn't turn himself in, that the climax fell flat, and that Rueben ended up marrying his "sister". Sorry, but that was wierd.

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