Thank you, Evan Dara, for being.... um... you?

Flee - Evan Dara

I love that there is such a person in the world as Evan Dara - or at least someone pretending to be Evan Dara - for the sake of challenging what we believe to be literature. I love the ideas in Flee, at least the ones I could pick up, better than the execution, which is somewhat different from The Lost Scrapbook, in which the execution was absolutely mesmerizing. But then again, why bother having an actual opinion of an Evan Dara novel after reading it only once? Until or perhaps upon the event of such a re-read, I would be embarrassed to have given this less than perfect adoration. Meanwhile, -- what is the population of your town? -- are you paying attention?

Commercial Fiction, Literally!

Commercial Fiction - Dave Housley

These are wonderful.   Thanks to Outpost 19 for posting the commercials, and of course Hobart Literary for keeping all the fiction online!  Favorites include: Lexus, Miller Lite, Wrangler, Cialis.  Come to think of it, without these four, the collection is just "very neat."  With them, it rises to almost greatness.

Range Rover has me very confused, though: Jenny Lind was born in 1820, but the supposed wreck of the Ship Epoque was in 1801, so why is there a Jenny Lind statue on the prow.  Was this changed in the published final version? 

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz

Hard to add anything to the thousands upon thousands of reviews of this book it seems everyone read before me, except this: why no comparisons to the exile/diaspora writing of Milan Kundera in The Joke or in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting? While less multi-leveled than Kundera's writing, the presence of the authorial alter-ego and the central narrative role played by violent political histories as borne out in the lives and loves of ordinary extraordinary people seem to me, anyway, to be cut from the same cloth. I've often wanted to revisit Kundera's early books, which had a profound effect on me in my early 20s, as I'm sure TBWLOOW has had on so many others.

Don't miss the audiobook reading, if you like that sort of thing. It is terrific, and as a nice bonus, also has Drown appended, a nice surprise which now goes on my to-read/to-listen list.

Not quite everything, actually.

Everything Matters! - Ron Currie Jr.

Nearing the end of Everything Matters!, I went to the bookstore and bought a copy of Great Jones Street. Books like Everything Matters! (and other recent "breakthroughs" like Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, Swamplandia!, and The Night Circus) make me wonder whether I should really bother trying to stay current with smart, quirky, off-beat novels, or whether I should spend my time just reading and re-reading Delillo, where every word is crafted, where the plotting and movement are impeccable, where the cognitive challenges are satisfying, and the wit and insight leave you forever changed.

MaddAddam - Margaret Atwood The apparent exhaustion of the story prior to its conclusion was pretty disappointing. It is not the predictability and unbelievability of the denouement(s) that bothers me, but the listlessness and humorlessness with which they are offered. I was surprised by the increasing excitement with which I picked up the book after the first hundred or so pages, as Atwood developed a marvelous rhythm, to be broken by the pregnancies, the account of the battle, the inane deaths of Zeb and Toby, not to mention Adam and Jimmy, the half-Craker babies, and Blackbeard's succession to the Red Sox conch.

Still, the series is done. I enjoyed each of the books, though none made me especially pine for its sequel. I appreciated Atwood's ability to make me laugh through the end of civilization/human beings (this is not [b:The Road|6288|The Road|Cormac McCarthy||3355573]!), and even more so to laugh through the awful preliminaries to our destruction. Zeb is a memorable character, an adventurer with a heart of gold. But I will never understand why Atwood felt that Crake's project had to fail: that is, why there needed to be a beach scene at the end of [b:Oryx and Crake|46756|Oryx and Crake (MaddAddam Trilogy, #1)|Margaret Atwood||3143431] at all.
Tenth of December - George Saunders I feel a little bad that I wasn't more taken with this collection. Saunders' amazing talent is on display, but I thought the interest generated in each story was mixed, and some didn't really wow me at all, including the title story. The world that is imaginatively reworked in [b:In Persuasion Nation|28746|In Persuasion Nation|George Saunders||1128238] was much more compelling, though evoked in a few stories here, such as the amazing "Escape from Spiderhead" and "The Semplica Girl Diaries." The latter, sadly, is near-fatally marred by the awkward and unnecessary sentence structures.

I wonder whether there was a doesn't-fare-well-on-audiobook problem here, except that the reader was absolutely perfect in capturing the voice of the various narrators, so I thought. This is especially obvious in stories like "Al Roosten" and "My Chivalric Fiasco," but even in one of the most subtle and interesting of all, I thought: "Home."
A Hologram for the King - Dave Eggers I agree with both positive and negative reviews of the book, with the exception that I am ok with the quick conclusion. (It is the only thing that comes to a finale for Alan, anyway, if you know what I mean.) I like the metaphor of impotence for the aging American salesman that goes hand in hand with the impotence of the American model for international commerce. Is the "promise" of more successful coitus for Alan a moral of the story, so that if America learns from its international competitors and shucks its special self-identity, it will be more complete, a western-Arab-Chinese hybrid? Does the near-assassination of the Saudi youth represent the current, poorly aimed, American self? But if so, why does Alan get off so easily? I mean, escape consequences, not "get off."
Skippy Dies - Paul Murray This book is far better crafted than it appeared to be halfway through. It deftly handles a difficult topic (avoid spoilers, if you can), and manages startlingly incisive comments on finding meaning in life. I do wish there had been a little less tin foil antics and speechifying from the Acting Principal, and a little richer portrayal of the secondary characters. (This about how the various secondary characters are handled in Infinite Jest, for instance - each is very finely drawn. But in Skippy, they are not at all significant, from Janine to Dennis to Farley to Halley, etc.)
Imperial Bedrooms - Bret Easton Ellis It was a good idea to read this immediately after Less Than Zero. It helps make what works about the earlier novel come into focus, while at the same time letting you laugh about how this one is way too "cutesy". Yes, not a word that one would normally associate with such a nasty bit of writing, but everything from the voice, to the characters, to the plot, to the scenes, is watered down and derivative. Yet, for all that, it is still not a terrible book. Of course we wonder what happened to Clay, Blair, Rip, and Julian, and we should be primed enough to see through Clay's unreliability, though we could have done so without every other page someone telling him to "just do as I ask" and "you don't understand."

And, for the audiobook listeners, don't expect the magnificent performance of the Less Than Zero narrator. I really missed him in this one.
Less Than Zero - Bret Easton Ellis I re-read this as a prelude to reading Imperial Bedrooms, wanting to remember the characters a bit better in order to see how they are later re-imagined. There is so much to praise in Less Than Zero, though Ellis' youth in the end limits the sophistication of the pared down language. He is so adept at dialogue, though, and moves so well between different events - really a startling young talent, and deserving of whatever fame came much too early to him for him to manage effectively. (He would have been better off with years of empty dullness, like Michel Houellebecq, to protect him from his fame, though perhaps Houellebecq is not such a good example!) Kudos, too, to the audiobook reader, who captured so many voices and just nailed the boredom and irritability.
Butterfly Stories - William T. Vollmann Sigh. How do you rate a book like this? At best, it reminds me of Vonnegut's "Breakfast of Champions," in which I constantly said to myself (or maybe it was aloud), "Wtf, is this really a book, or is it actually the total corruption of a human soul drawn on the pages of a book?" The drawings by Vollman make the comparison more than a little obvious, I guess. Anybody out there have one of the color versions?
Of additional, and amazing worth-mentioning-ness, is the 1993 version of AIDS, in which the idea of taking AZT filled me with dread (only twenty years ago, that was!), but was compensated for by the satisfaction the butterfly boy/journalist/husband took in his destruction. The analogy between the Khmer Rouge regime and HIV is interesting, though things have not turned out exactly the way the book imagines, at least in San Francisco. Yeah, the language. The images. How utterly and magnificently horrible. Nobody should read this book. You should read this book.
Jesus' Son - Denis Johnson Having just finished this on audiobook (compelled to do so by the recent New Yorker podcast reading and discussion of it), I am ready to start again at the beginning and listen again. So many great lines just dropped on you when you least expect it. Images I won't forget for a while - I hope.
Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace - D.T. Max I like how hated this book is in the reviews, at least most of the first dozen or so. It probably deserves most of the criticism. Still, I enjoyed reading it. I would have appreciated a bit more specifics about when certain stories were written or drafted, and of course all of the horrid, unfulfilled allusions about his problematic relationship with his parents really weakens the bio.

As someone who has always tried not to read too much personal life into Wallace's magnificent works, I guess I kind of learned more than I wanted to know. I had no idea, for instance, about his toying with revenge fiction. But the fact that he felt so awkward about his Mom reading about Avril, well, that is a little uncomfortable to me.

Disappointingly, so far as I can tell, the goodreads reviewers have not yet indicated who should play DFW in the bio-pic that this biography makes possible.
Zone One: A Novel - Colson Whitehead I think the book jacket or some review said something like, "if you read only one zombie book this year, this is the one to read." I discovered that I have no need to read a zombie book this year at all, nor next year, nor the prior year. Cute book? Sure. But not especially challenging or even that entertaining. Ok for others, your mileage may vary and all that.

Owner's Share (Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, #6)

Owner's Share (Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, #6) - Nathan Lowell The stunning conclusion to the best-read series I've heard...
Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell - Pat Murphy A finely-crafted science-fiction adventure story about writing a science-fiction adventure story, in which a recently divorced librarian take a cross-Atlantic cruise and sheds her inner good girl, with some help from her best friend "Pat Murphy," a sci-fi writer named Max Merriwell, and the dreamt up authors of his own novels, Mary Maxwell and Weldon Merrimax. All this, with a healthy dose of (easily comprehended) quantum physics, multiple possibilities made co-present through the imagination, UFOs, giant squids, and other monsters.

Actually, this novel follows on the heels of two others written by Pat Murphy, There and Back Again (by Max Merriwell) and Wild Angel (by Mary Maxwell by Max Merriwell), both of which are read by librarian Susan while on board the cruise ship. This is a wonderful, through-the-looking-glass type sequence of "who is dreaming this book?' questions. Not having read these earlier books, I was at no loss for both enjoyment and understanding, and now look forward to reading those as well.

Adventures in Time and Space is fun and never truly scary, even with storms and monsters, but it nevertheless tackles some important themes. How does a life-long "good girl" begin to imagine herself anew? How does she confront the real monsters of her past, whether the sadistic violence that strikes like lightning or the passive violence of a mother who prefers her daughter to be a doll rather than a kid? How does a writer go about, not only the craft of writing, but the task of reimagining the self in such a way that the imagined self is "realer" or "more true" than what began?

I should note that Murphy's book is not specifically a science-fiction book in content, although it is clearly written by a science-fiction author and one which is attempting to investigate the creative process involved in science fiction. This should neither dissuade or attract readers - I recommend this because it is smart, and funny, and will make you think and laugh and read it all the way through without stopping.

Currently reading

Great Jones Street.
The Art of Fielding: A Novel
Chad Harbach