May 11, 2010

Paul's Book Suggestions for June

I’m departing a bit from the usual “here is the long review of each book from some famous source” and distilling this (or dropping this down to) a level that makes it easier to decide. I’ve included what I think are the two key decision points for this group – identifying each books’ level of misogynism, and outlining the likely dinner for the evening. After all, if you’d known you’d be eating gonads, would you have voted for Power of the Dog?

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, 541 pages

Review quotes: “Brilliant and hugely ambitious…it’s the kind of book that can be life changing” (New York Times) “Thought provoking, life-affirming, triumphant, and tragic” (The Guardian)

My take: While we’re just coming out of a reading of another one of Stan’s depression and claustrophobia inducing books, Zusak’s view of Nazi Germany in the early years of the war through both the eyes of Death and a young girl is intriguing and thought provoking. It also addresses the Jewish persecution in a slightly different way. OK, it’s a bit north of 500 pages, but many of those pages are short ones with “Death” commentary, and it’s a decidedly different view of the war. The pages turn quickly.

Level of Misogynism: Moderate.

Dinner: I ain’t cooking German because it’s not my thing, but I’ll take some liberties with this and say I can choose any country they conquered during the first couple years of the war. I’m thinking a big Greek party meal on the patio with a view of the bay.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, 480 pages

Review quotes: “Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets Umberto Eco meets Jorge Luis Borges for a sprawling magic show” (NY Times) “Anyone who enjoys novels that are scary, erotic, touching, tragic, and thrilling should rush right out to the nearest bookstore and pick up Shadow of the Wind” (Washington Post)

My take: Totally biased, given what I did last summer (that would be my vacation to Spain, not those other things you’re not supposed to mention). This book is set in Barcelona over the years following WWII, as a young boy is growing up and dealing with love, evil characters, mystery, and especially, books. He works in his father’s antiquarian bookstore, makes friends with odd and fascinating people, faces danger and women (sometimes both at once) and tries to reconcile the present with the past. The story is good. The writing is great. I found myself frequently stopping and reading quotes to anyone around me; I found it that well written.

Level of Misogynism: Moderate.

Dinner: Think Spain. Sangria, homemade gazpacho, tapas, various meats, a wonderful spread of tastes and good Rioja.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, 321 pages

Review quotes: “Joyful in its language, creative in its narration, and affecting in its story, this is a terrific book” (Seattle Times) “…had me riveted to its pages until the book was finished…just read it” (Peter Egan, Road & Track)

My take: This isn’t a book with massive gravitas, but if you want an enjoyable, fast-paced summer read, this is the book of the bunch to plump for. The story is told through the eyes of Enzo, a dog, who is probably smarter than humans but of course can’t actually talk. His “owner” is an amateur race car driver. We see a life story (of the human) as seen from Enzo’s perspective. Sort of a more adult Marley and Me, but don’t let that put you off. It’s not a book that will score at the top of our ratings because it’s not some serious, dark novel. But who cares? You don’t have to like racing to like this book, but if you do, bonus. And, if you don’t like racing, you’re not a real man (remember, Hemingway said “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.”)

Level of Misogynism:  N/A

Dinner: A bit of a wild card. Then again, as Enzo and his human love watching Formula One Grands Prix, I can probably pick any track’s country for the dinner. Let’s see…there is a Spanish Grand Prix…

Women by Charles Bukowski, 290 pages

Review quotes: Doesn’t matter. It’s Bukowski.

My take: OK, let’s get past the fact that I can love this book simply for the fact that its title seems anathema to our club, yet it’s written by one of the crustiest misogynists who ever lived. What fun. It is raw, direct, and foul. The level of sex and drinking in this makes Tropic of Cancer look minor league by comparison. What’s not to like about a book that starts out “I was 50 years old and hadn’t been to bed with a woman for four years”, then has our (protagonist? AntiChrist? whatever) go berserk with women. He becomes a famous poet, “reveling in his sudden rock star life, running three hundred hangovers a year, and maintaining a sex life that would cripple Casanova”. You won’t vote for this as best book of the year, but it doesn’t matter. Just don’t let your kids pick it up.

Level of Misogynism: High.

Dinner: Whisky. Beer. Wine. Hard liquor drinks. More whisky. And something to eat to keep it all down.

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