Oh my.

Did anyone bring the finger sandwiches?  Let’s begin.

Two by Sarah Vowell

Assassination Vacation
The Wordy Shipmates

I admire Sarah Vowell’s wit and storytelling skill.  I don’t listen to her This American Life stuff because I think that’s NPR and NPR is for the Commies, but I enjoy her writing quite a bit.  Assassination Vacation is part history, part travelogue, where she documents her pilgrimage(s) to sites of and related to the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley.  The Wordy Shipmates, about the Puritans who settled Boston, is a similar tome, although it is somewhat heavier on the history, not to mention the partisan political asides.

I preferred Assassination to Shipmates, but my opinion may have been unduly colored by the fact that I read most of Shipmates within a period of a couple hours, late at night, the eve before my book group meeting at JaneAnne‘s house.  I’m not unknown to devour books in a short period of time, but this was more like a forced feeding–not because Vowell isn’t engaging enough, but because I was just so freaking tired and didn’t have as much patience for the Pequot War as I might have under ordinary circumstances.  In any case, I can vouch for Assassination Vacation‘s readability.  I’ve read better histories of Lincoln, but this may mark the first time Garfield and McKinley have been rendered interesting.  That by itself is worth a little look, a little see.

The Starter Wife by Gigi Levangie Grazer

I picked up this book because I was looking for something light and trashy.  It was a mistake.  This book bored me to tears.  I wouldn’t want any of the rest of you to waste your time reading it (or trying to), so I’ll summarize it for you here.  Chapter 1:  Rich and famous people are so shallow.  Chapter 2:  I married a rich and famous person even though I should have seen that he was shallow, and I turned into a shallow person myself.  And now this shallow person is divorcing me.  Rich and famous people are so shallow.  Chapters 3-8:  Rich and famous people are seriously SO SHALLOW.  Chapter 9:  Look, I’ve moved into my friend’s house in Malibu while she and her husband are vacationing in Europe.  People in Malibu suck.  They are probably all rich and famous because they are all so shallow.  Chapter 10:  There’s this hot guy on the beach.  Maybe he’s not shallow because, you know, he’s so hot.  I’m assuming he’s rich, though, so why shouldn’t he be shallow?  But he’s hot, so maybe not.  Chapter 11:  Hi, hot guy here.  Yeah, I know it’s weird to switch points of view just randomly like this, but I just wanted you to know that I’m actually homeless and I didn’t mean to mislead the shallow, pissed-off lady narrating this book, but, you know, whatever.  Chapter 12:  Hi, it’s me again, shallow, pissed-off lady.  My ex-husband’s boss just faked his death so he could attend his own funeral and find out what people really think of him, and I’m the only one who knows it’s all fake because he confided in me right before he did it and this is so awkward.  Chapters 13-end of book:  WHO THE FREAK CARES???

The Manchurian Candidate by Richard Condon

Do you like political conspiracy books that are lurid and pulpy?  This one’s a winner.  Sgt. Raymond Shaw, prisoner of war and Medal of Honor winner, was brainwashed in Korea by the Commies and has come home to the States PROGRAMMED TO KILL.  Communist plots and tragedy ensue.  A page turner.  Worth a read even if you’ve already seen the awesome 1962 movie.  Especially if you’ve only seen the stupid remake with Denzel Washington, which I haven’t seen but which I know is stupid because, hello, where’s Sinatra?

Certain Girls by Jennifer Weiner

Another book I picked up because I wanted something light and fluffy.  It’s a sequel to Weiner’s Good in Bed, set twelve years later.  Cannie, our fat-girl heroine, is happily married but having a devil of a time with her teenage daughter, Joy, who, unbeknownst to Cannie, has found and read her mother’s trashy and (everyone presumes) autobiographical novel that she wrote in the wake of being dumped by Joy’s father.  Oy, it’s a problem.  This is all standard Weiner fare and it’s fine until the last 50 pages or so, when something tragic happens and the reader (me) gets unduly depressed and resents having her emotions manipulated by a stupid chick lit book.  I mean…gosh…I guess I should have been touched or moved, because it’s a very sensitively-told tale, but unfortunately I didn’t feel invested enough in the characters to really give a crap, you know?  It’s a problem.

Three by Nick Hornby

A Long Way Down
About a Boy
High Fidelity

This was my first time reading Nick Hornby.  I started with A Long Way Down, which is about four people from extremely different walks of life who come together because they all happen to be up on the same rooftop on New Year’s Eve because they’ve all independently decided to commit suicide.  Talk about your meet-cute.  Anyway, the book is about how they make a pact to postpone killing themselves and how that all goes.  It’s pretty humorous for a book about people whose lives are so depressing that they want to off themselves.  I liked it.

About a Boy I loved.  Loved it so much, talk like Yoda I will.  You’ve probably all seen the movie with Hugh Grant.  (That is, the movie has Hugh Grant in it.  Presumably, Hugh Grant did not accompany you to the cinema or visit you in your home whilst you played the DVD.  But I don’t know.  Maybe he did.  Most of your lives are a mystery to me.)  The movie is great.  The book is better, for all the reasons that books are (almost) always better.  For those of you who haven’t seen the movie or read the book already, it’s about a really shallow dude who inadvertently befriends a troubled pre-adolescent boy and discovers new depths within himself.  (Don’t worry, they’re not too deep.  Just deep enough to be human.)  Very funny and touching and all that jazz.

I suppose Hornby is one of those writers you either love or think is too precious for his own good.  Personally, I enjoy him, but by the time I got to High Fidelity, I had sort of lost my patience with the thirty-something guy with no ambition and drowning in superficiality.  That’s a character he’s pretty much done to death, and that sort of thing can only be charming for so long, which is why I didn’t like the main character of High Fidelity and didn’t care if he lost the girl or if he got her back or what happened to him because even if he did end up getting a life, wouldn’t it be about effing time, mate?  Which is not to say that the writing wasn’t clever, or that you wouldn’t like this book.  Just that I can’t tolerate a constant diet of shallow, immature dudes.  I’m a grown-a** woman.

Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella

Yet another book I picked up for a quick, light read, and this time I was not disappointed.  Kinsella’s books are pretty ridiculous and as close to romance novels as I care to get.  They’re like wacky rom coms starring B-list actors that get released in the off-season and reviewers tend to give two stars but us mortal ladies will give an extra half-star to because we were in the right mood at the right time and one might imagine that the male lead looks like Nathan Fillion, which doesn’t hurt.  Do you really need to know the premise?  Okay.  The young lady is afraid of flying, so she has a few too many cocktails on the airplane, and when they experience some turbulence, she thinks she’s going to die, so she blurts out every one of her deep dark secrets to this perfect stranger sitting next to her, whom she never expects to see again, except that when she goes back to work on Monday, IT’S HER NEW BOSS.  Comment embarrassant! While her books may be predictable and formulaic, Kinsella is genuinely witty, which makes her worthy of a Nathan Fillion appearance, in my humble opinion.

March by Geraldine Brooks

Ever read Little Women and wonder what Mr. March was up to while his daughters were gallivanting with the Lawrence boy and getting scarlet fever?  Yeah, me either, but Geraldine Brooks’s imagined account of Mr. March’s war experiences held my interest anyway.  He joins the army as an idealistic abolitionist, but he is helpless and hopeless in the face of the violence, devastation and all-around horror of war.  As he lies close to death in an army hospital, the narrative switches to (his wife) Marmee’s point of view, which is an unconventional choice, but in this case it served the point of the story, rather than just annoying me.  It is through Marmee’s perspective that you see the real tragedy of March’s life, which is–well, I won’t tell you because you should read it for yourself, but let’s just say that March is the story of how an adult man finally grows up.  Brooks based March’s character primarily on Bronson Alcott (who was technically too old at the time to have served in the war, but was indeed an idealistic abolitionist/philosopher dude), and the book is well-researched and beautifully written.

Two by Karin Slaughter


It was actually quite some time ago that I read these two books, having officially given up on Slaughter’s Grant County series but not on Slaughter herself, who writes really good serial killer books with well-drawn characters.  Triptych introduces the character of Will Trent, a dyslexic special agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (yeah, I know, but it’s fiction) with a tragic past (orphaned and abused, very sad), but the story is told from three points of view–hence, Triptych!–but again, this did not annoy me because it was not random.  (What a difference a motivation other than authorial incompetence makes.)  Trent is looking for a killer whose MO seems to fit that of a convicted murderer who was put away years ago but was recently paroled.  He starts out working with a homicide detective and it’s that detective’s point of view that you get first; I thought he was kind of a jerk, and I almost didn’t keep reading the book because I thought, “I can’t sympathize with this cat, as crappy as his life is; he just rubs me the wrong way.”  But then it switched to the convicted murderer/parolee’s point of view, and I was like, “Whew.”  It’s that kind of book.  Lots of plot twists and junk, and a somewhat unrealistic but satisfying ending.  Also, a very sad commentary on our prison system, but that’s beside the point.

Will Trent returns in Fractured, in which he is searching for yet another killer and also for a missing teenage girl.  And he is partnered with yet another homicide detective, only this time it’s a chick and she doesn’t like him so well because it seems like he doesn’t trust her–but the thing is, Will can’t trust anyone.  You wouldn’t trust anyone either, if you were desperately trying to hide your dyslexia and your tragic past.  Plus, trying to find a killer/kidnapper?  There’s really no time or energy for intimacy, dig?  I’m glad Slaughter continued with the Will Trent character because I like him very much, but unfortunately I can’t read the third book he’s featured in because it intersects with the Grant County series, which I am never touching again for reasons that I mustn’t explain here, but hopefully Slaughter will write a fourth book with him in it that doesn’t require me to have read the third one.

When next we meet,  we will discuss a few of the myriad of books I’ve resolved to read in 2010–including, I hope, the three that I borrowed from my friend in 2005 or thereabouts.  Well, I don’t know.  Maybe at least one of them.  In the meantime, if anyone can recommend a good serial killer book, I seem to be running short of those these days.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine