by E.L. Doctorow

this book suffered mightily from me having previously read Caleb Carr’s excellent novel The Alienist. These two books hearken back to roughly the same time and place, and even share a plot structure of a newspaperman’s recollection of a mystery long since solved, but Carr’s story is so much more finely crafted, engaging, and dramatic that The Waterworks fares pretty poorly in comparison.
The disappearance of a freelance writer occasions little notice apart from his editor who embarks on the trail to discover his fate. this leads him through a strange warren of crackpot medicine, social darwinsim, and the quest for eternal youth.
The mystery lacks a certain momentum and urgency. i felt myself skimming pages and still feeling totally capable of grasping exactly what was happening later on. no great surprises in store at the end, and the resolution seemed to linger longer than it needed to.
for all of that Doctorow seems to be a capable enough storyteller with a decent command of language. while i cannot recommend it outright, i think its a fine quick read for someone less picky than myself.
( )

by Louise Erdrich

somehow, with this book, i felt the setting most particularly a character. the spare and arid emotional lives of these people are played out in a setting that is flat and lonesome and empty, yet still sustains life.

our main character Delphine is a woman out of her place, yet contented there in strange and compelling ways. whip smart, driven, and capable, she inhabits a world where these traits seem few and far between. her emotional life is complex and rich, but seems only to reveal an inherent longing that is clearly unquenchable.

an absorbing character study as well as a reflection on the cultural evolution between the two world wars, this novel had much to offer in its depiction of a simple life with extraordinary moments scattered throughout. beautiful evocative language, lovely altogether.

recommended.
Harper Perennial (2005), Paperback, 416 pages

By Jonathan Coe

this book is one of the loveliest i have come across in a good long while. i mean this not only in the sense that it contains a moving sweet and poignant story, but in the physical manifestation of of its book-ness. i went on about this at length last week when i first picked it up, at random, in the library. so, my sometimes spastic decision making process for book selection, in this case, bore fruit.

i was intoxicated by the premise of this novel. being vaguely obsessed, as i am, with the seeing of things. i have proper vision in only one eye, and so stories about how we see the world other than with our eyes are always resonate for me. in this case the bulk of this story is conveyed through the lens of hearing a memoir recorded to audio tape. this is done because the intended listener would not be able to read a written account, for she is blind. more, the format of this recollection is guided by the teller of the tale describing her life through a series of photographs.

the way this weaves left me breathless. photographs hold a special fascination for me, though i am incapable of taking a decent one… it is an art form for which i have the highest respect. my friend lyza has created some of the most breathtaking images i have ever seen in my life and it is in many ways, the only medium through which i am truly able to see things in their fullest reality, frozen in a discrete moment. i believe there is something inherently magical about photography and its ability to capture a singular moment in time and translate it into an enduring thing.

and this is at the core of this book. capturing a moment, holding it just so, and then attempting to translate the image into words that are also images for someone who has no eyesight,, but can still be made to see; to be transported to a place in and of time in picture and word, by image paired with sound.

the story itself was engaging enough, and well written, but i’ll admit to being so swept away by the very notion of this way of storytelling that i’m not sure it would have mattered. i’ll need to read other works by this author to really decide how i feel about his writing.

recommended

Tuesday Thingers

Today’s topic: Recommendations. Do you use LT’s recommendations feature? Have you found any good books by using it? Do you use the anti-recommendations, or the “special sauce” recommendations? How do you find out about books you want to read?
i will say, i wanted this to be a feature i would get a lot of use out of. i liked the idea that i could access this list at the library and pick up things i might not otherwise know about. i alternate between knowing exactly what i’m looking for when selecting books, or being totally paralizyed by indecision and overwhelm.
but despite this, i’ve not yet gotten anything on the list of recommendations. i think i tried to find some that looked interesting based on the critera they listed for mentioning it; “Why this is recommended” but the ones i was primarily intrigued by weren’t available at my library at the time.
also, lately i’ve been toying with various book-selection methods that are almost a psychological experement of sorts. i’m interested in what makes me want to read a particular book. so far i’ve tried:
  • jacket/cover art- i don’t read any of the reviews or synopsis, just let the title and the cover art speak for the book.
  • taking out random books and reading the first chapter.
  • going to the shelf where my favorite books are and turning 180 degrees and taking something from the shelf opposite
  • selecting subjects at which i am terrible and trying to find a humanizing book about it.

my results have been hit or miss, but to some extent i find the time spelunking in the library as much a worthwhile pursuit as the payoff of an excellent read. and i have found a few gems this way…

i have it. bad.

this was reinforced last night when i picked up my latest random acquisition from the library; a book called The Rain Before it Falls by Jonathan Coe. this book is not only enjoyable to read, with a breathtakingly lovely premise and resonant singing prose, but it is a pleasure to touch and feel and hold in my hands. i am a great lover of the tactile merits of books, and this one is a beauty. a hardback from the library, i can’t strip it of its cover like i am wont to do left to my own devices, c’est la vie. it is otherwise delightful. taller and narrower than a typical hardback, the pages are an ever-so-slightly thicker than usual weight of paper finished in an uneven pseudo hand hewn edging that is a true delight to take hold of when the time comes to turn the page; soft and fringe-y. there are no heading numbers on the chapters, and i find this attractive for its spareness. the overall physical presence of this book is as lovely as what is unfolding in its pages, and that is a rare treat indeed.

and i realize this is something i haven’t thought about very much, but that i have definite opinions about. i like the variety of surfaces a hardback can offer; some are smooth and satiny in their paperstock, others have a more clothlike exterior with a nubbly texture that provides a satisfying grip. in terms of bed-friendliness (i must read myself to sleep at night or not get there at all) i prefer a stiff cardstock cover paperback of the type that are becoming more popular. they are larger and more enjoyable to hold than the standard paperback novel (though these cant be beat for one-handed-splayed-fingers reading while doing something else). they are also nicer to look at on the shelf; which i will admit has caused me more than a few times to spend extra money on the edition with the nicer spine and cover. silly, but a powerful motivator for me nonetheless.

listening to NPR the other day they were discussing the merits of various electronic reading devices and that same inner librarian i was mentioning yesterday shuddered at the notion of giving up a paper book to be held in hand. the weight of the text in my fingers, smell of ink and paper, the sound of the page as i turn through from one to the next; all these add in small but crucial ways to the pleasure i take in  discovering a book in full. i suppose one could say i want to know a book. in the biblical sense.



Today’s topic: Book-swapping. Do you do it? What site(s) do you use? How did you find out about them? What do you think of them? Do you use LT’s book-swapping column feature for information on what to swap? Do you participate in any of the LT communities that discuss bookswapping, like the Bookmooch group for example?

Oh my god. My inner librarian is quivering in terror at the very prospect. i am a HOARDER of books, and only RARELY a lender of same. and usually only to particularly trusted fellow book lovers. not getting books back upsets me immensely.

on the other hand, i tend to be hard on books myself; i’m a spine breaker, a spiller of food, a taker of books into the bathtub and poolside, a ditcher of cover flaps. so i’m pretty reluctant to borrow books either since it requires me to be more careful than i want to.

i like the idea and see it as a good thing to do, but i feel about it much the way i do about public transportation: i’m in favor of the idea for everyone else, but only resort to it myself in desperation.

🙂

Since we’re past the Fourth of July and the summer season has officially started, what are your plans for the summer? Vacations, trips? Trips that involve reading? Reading plans? If you’re going somewhere, do you do any reading to prepare? Do you read local literature as part of your trip? Have you thought about using the LT Local feature to help plan your book-buying?
i am going on a road trip, by myself, for 6 days through southeastern Oregon, northern California, and northwest Nevada to see my very favorite singer in all the land Neko Case i am excited about this to a sort of ridiculous degree. i will have never been to ANY of the places i am going, and i am deliberately avoiding the interstates. as such, atlases and guidebooks are going to be crucial. moreover, there will be approximately 30-35 hours of driving all told during this trip, so i am planning to lay in a supply of audio books for the road as well. i’m thinking the theme will be: transformation classics. coming-of-age, travel tales, books which contain scenes of desert revelation. oh, yes.
cant fricken wait. only 6 1/2 more weeks to go….

i went to the library on monday and picked out like 8 books. so far, all of them have sucked.

admittedly, some of my reasoning wasn’t fabulous in terms of selection criteria; i put far too much weight on the cover of a book sometimes, but i usually have a better record than this. i just can’t seem to get excited about anything i picked up.

The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr Hoffman i grabbed after seeing the title on a Librarything group list and thinking: huh, that sounds cool. unfortunately it just made me go into super skim mode. never a good sign. the writing was incredibly pretentious and cumbersome (something i usually like, actually) but the diffuse and necessarily vague nature of the action in the story just made my brain snort in disdain.

The New York Trilogy i grabbed along with 2 other titles by Paul Auster because he is an author i KNOW i like having been a huge fan of other works of his. this is a trio of short stories about writing and detectives. eh. worst of all, he writes himself into the first of the three tales. i am NOT for that. ever. haven’t cracked the other two yet, just haven’t been able to muster the enthusiasm after the first flop.

The Sot-Weed Factor i actually enjoyed the first chapter of, but now cannot find. whoops.

The Heretic is just necessarily going to require more effort. i really enjoy historical fiction, and am fascinated by all things theologica, but there’s nothing harder than sitting poolside and trying to drag oneself through a novel about the Spanish inquisition (which, nobody expects). the cognative dissonance was too much for me so i put it down in favor of more tanning oil. i’ll try taking this one to bed, see if that goes better. nothing else interesting happening there, that’s for sure.

i haven’t looked at the others in more than a passing way since i got them. for some reason i have the notion Willa Cather might be a downer, and the other one, i just haven’t gotten around to yet.