1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz; 335 pp; Award -- Pulitzer Prize (nuff said).
NY Times Review -- Junot Díaz’s “Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” is a wondrous, not-so-brief first novel that is so original it can only be described as Mario Vargas Llosa meets “Star Trek” meets David Foster Wallace meets Kanye West.
Larry's Review -- Gabriel García Márquez meets Neal (Snowcrash) Stephenson in which it is helpful to be "hip" Dominican (as in the Republic not the local university) and have a grasp of Spanish slang. Its a great book for all you Trujillo-philes out there and a great primer for any aspiring dictators / supreme leader wannabe types (Andrew take note). While I have no idea who Mario Vargas Llosa or David Foster Wallace are and only a rudimentary recognition of Kanye West (rap?), I can tell you that I was able to recognize a brief offhand mention of Juan (high kick) Marichel.
Pros: Its a fast read if you don't stop for the footnotes. And how many times to you get to a book that uses the phrase "pity f--k". The ending is one of the best I've read.
Cons: THE Woman's Book Club just read it last month. It helps to have the Google Spanish translator available. Without getting the Spanish slang or English slang for that matter, you (I) feel left behind at some points.
2. Q and A by Vikas Swarup; 309 pp; Award -- Indirectly as the movie version (Slum Dog Millionaire) won the Oscar for Best Movie
NY Times Review (in 2005) -- When Ram Mohammad Thomas answers 12 questions correctly to win the grand prize on a TV show called ''Who Will Win a Billion?'' (rupees, that is), he is promptly arrested at the behest of the show's producers, who believe the rupeeless waiter must have cheated. ''The brain is not an organ we are authorized to use,'' as Ram says. In jail, he tells his lawyer stories that explain how he learned each fact. . . . The connections between Ram's tales and the quiz-show questions are clever, but Swarup's prose is flat. Still, Swarup, an Indian diplomat and first-time novelist, writes humorously and keeps the surprises coming. When it is turned into the movie it wants to be, ''Q & A'' will be a delight. (Boy was a nice bit of prognostication).
Larry's Review -- The India you won't read about in the Travelogues (except for the Taj Mahal) where Tiny Tim and Huck Finn meet Ghandi.
Pros: Nice story device (the game show context) to string together the protagonist's adventures.
Cons: It ends up being a series of short stories with cutesy twists but not much literary style.
3. Devil in the White City by Erik Larson 432 pps. Award National Book Award Finalist
NY Times Review -- "A Real Life Bates Motel" (The title of the review sez it all)
Larry's Review -- A fascinating read. Freddie Kruger and Jack the Ripper meet Fredrick Olmsted and Daniel Burnham.
Pros: Learn a little Worlds Fair history at the turn of the century (20th) and get a little gore thrown in. Impressive amount of historical research went into this book.
Cons: Its a long 432 pages. It helps to know the layout of Chicago. Book isn't sure if it wants to be a historical rendering or a murder novel.
4. Wolf Totem -- By Jiang Rong, Translated by Howard Goldblatt 527 pp. Award: Recipient of the first Man Asian Literary Prize, November 2007
NY Times Review -- Set during the Cultural Revolution, “Wolf Totem” describes the education of an intellectual from China’s majority Han community living with nomadic herders in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. Not much was known about the pseudonymous author on the book’s first publication in 2004; only last year was Jiang Rong revealed as Lu Jiamin, a recently retired professor at one of Beijing’s most prestigious academic institutions. It is also now clear that he was one of the former Red Guards who, following Mao’s advice that urban intellectuals re-educate themselves in the countryside, traveled to Inner Mongolia in the late 1960s.
Larry's Review -- One of my favorite reads over the last year. Jack London meets Al Gore meets Charles Darwin meets Genghis Khan at (Cormac McCarthy's) The Crossing.
Pros: Fascinating read on many levels -- as an autobiographical novel, historical fiction, political manifesto, or ecological tome. It has applicability to the history of the American West as well.
Cons: That said the book is long, repetitive, and some of the impact is lost I'm sure in the translation.
5. Crazy for the Storm -- A Memoir of Survival by Norman Ollestad, 272 pp. Award - Starbucks choice (not sure that sez more about the book or the tastes of caffeinated junkies).
NY Times Review -- “Crazy for the Storm” is a Starbucks choice, a decision that makes sense, given the short, punchy chapters and the nonstop emphasis on adrenaline-fueled excitement. This book also arrives in time for Father’s Day, so that families less adventurous than the Ollestads can marvel at the image of a father in the Pacific surf with his baby son strapped to his back. If there were a time capsule celebrating free-range hippie child-rearing styles, “Crazy for the Storm” would fit right in.
Larry's Review -- Not being a coffee drinker (and not wanting to start after seeing the condition of my wife before that first cup in the morning), I can't vouch for the Starbucks choice. In my uncaffinated state, however, the book so far (half way through) does a nice job of capturing the essence of that father-(tweener) son relationship. Leave it Beaver meets the boy and father from The Road and find that they are in Marin County in 2009.
Pros: Learn a lot of narly surf lingo and how to run a summer camp for college songleaders in the morning and still keep your day job as US Attorney under Bobby Kennedy.
Cons: Vans shoes are mentioned way too often dudes. He either had an incredible memory for a 10 year old or he filled in a few spots with a bit of artistic license.