Dec 2, 2012

Larry's Suggestions for February

Below are the proposed titles for February (with January reserved for snow sports):

(1) Strength in What Remains - Tracy Kidder -- 277 pages

Why An Option -- I offer this as a juxtaposition to the Thunderbolt Kid.  After reading about growing up in rural America in the 1950s, I thought I would offer the story of a young man growing up and then escaping war-torn Burundi (to New York City) in the late 1980s. The book meets MBC requirements as Tracy Kidder won the Pulitzer for “Soul of a New Machine”  (BTW -  a good read about the “art “required to build a new computer/technology). The NY Times review below is a bit of an oversell in my opinion, but Kidder does have a writing style that brings the reader into the very narrative of the story.

Mini-Review -- NY Times 2009 -- “That 63-year-old Tracy Kidder may have just written his finest work — indeed, one of the truly stunning books I’ve read this year — is proof that the secret to memorable nonfiction is so often the writer’s readiness to be ­surprised. . . . .  .Kidder has become a high priest of the narrative arts by diving deep into an improbable subject or character with little more than a hunch as to what he might eventually find.”

(2) The Signal and the Noise -- Nate Silver -- 534 pages (but we have 2 mos to finish)

Why An Option -- I’m curious to know what if anything is behind all the “noise” around media hype that surrounded Silver’s NY Times Blog site -- 538 -- before and right after the presidential election.  An example is this snippet from Reuters:
“After correctly predicting the results in 49 of the 50 states that have been called in the U.S. election (Florida remains too close to call), Nate Silver, the statistician behind the popular FiveThirtyEight blog, woke on Wednesday to find himself the poster child of what is sure to be a new data-driven approach to politics.  While Obama was declared the winner of the election, Silver won the polling race. Television anchors from Rachel Maddow on the left-leaning MSNBC, to Bret Baier on the right-leaning Fox News, praised his accuracy. A comedian on Twitter called him "The Emperor of Math." Silver's publicist said he had been so inundated with requests she had been unable to reach him.”

So no Pulitzer here (yet) but I thought it would be insightful to read his book (particularly after reading the final paragraph of the LA Times review that follows).

Mini-Review  -- LA Times 9-30-2012 --  . . . . . . . . The people who follow Silver for his political work — or for his insights on baseball — may be disappointed to see that there's not all that much of either in "The Signal and the Noise." But a book about politics is only about politics. Silver's aiming for something bigger here: He wants to change how we think about predictions in every aspect of our lives. (In one memorable section, he demonstrates how an algebraic equation used to determine probability can be employed to determine the likelihood that a woman's partner is cheating on her if she comes home to find another woman's underwear in his drawer.

(3) Middlesex -- Jeffrey Eugenides -- 529 pages  (Hey 2 months -- that is less than 10 pages a day).

Why An Option -- This continues on my theme of well regarded new authors -- e.g. Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Jonathan Franzen’s  Freedom.  Eugenides book has a little something for everyone as is described in the NY Times review below.  Eugenides won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2003 for this book.  I would have suggested another young (now dead) author -- David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest -- but with a page count of about 1,000, felt is was a streeeeeech for all of us, even in 2 months.

Mini-Review -- NY Times 9-15-2002 '' . . . .  .Middlesex'' is also a coming-of-age story, albeit an exceptionally fraught one, as it gradually dawns on the adolescent Callie that there's something seriously odd about her body -- and that she's besotted with a female classmate. There's a bit of road novel as well, when, enlightened as to the actual state of his chromosomes, Cal hitchhikes to -- where else? -- San Francisco. And, finally, there's the sliver of a love story, as the now 41-year-old Cal, ensconced in a safely nomadic State Department career, gingerly courts a Japanese-American photographer, wondering if he can trust her with the surprise between his legs.”   

I’ll stop the review there as I don’t think I need to go further for this crowd.

(4) Zone One -- Colson Whitehead -- 259 pages

Why An Option -- Zombies!  Need I say more.  Well OK,  while not a Pulitzer Prize winner -- although his book “John Henry Days” was on the Pulitzer short list in 2002 -- Whitehead is a MacArthur fellow (and apparently as I have only started the book in audio format, writes like one).   Whitehead is one of those young authors I have been meaning to read -- John Henry Days and Sag Harbor -- but never quite did.  So finally he comes out with a book about zombies in New York City after a plague.  I couldn’t not (double negative) try that one.  

Mini-Review -- NY Times   October 28, 2011    “A literary novelist writing a genre novel is like an intellectual dating a porn star. It invites forgivable prurience: What is that relationship like? Granted the intellectual’s hit hanky-panky pay dirt, but what’s in it for the porn star? Conversation? Ideas? Deconstruction?  .. . . . . . Colson Whitehead is a literary novelist, but his latest book, “Zone One,” features zombies, which means horror fans and gore gourmands will soon have him on their radar. He has my sympathy. I can see the disgruntled reviews on Amazon already: “I don’t get it. This book’s supposed to be about zombies, but the author spends pages and pages talking about all this other stuff I’m not interested in.” Broad-spectrum marketing will attract readers for whom having to look up “cathected” or “brisant” isn’t just an irritant but a moral affront. These readers will huff and writhe and swear their way through (if they make it through) and feel betrayed and outraged and migrained. But unless they’re entirely beyond the beguilements of art they will also feel fruitfully disturbed, because “Zone One” will have forced them, whether they signed up for it or not, to see the strangeness of the familiar and the familiarity of the strange.”  

So, as my Chicago friends say, vote early and vote often.  See you Tuesday -- Larry.