Townhouse Books

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Black Swan Green: David Mitchell

Black Swan Green was a good book, but not my cup of tea. The jacket blurbs compare the novel to Catcher in the Rye and the narrator to Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn -- these are not positive recommendations to me. But if you're looking for a coming-of-age novel, this is a great one.

The narrator is Jason Taylor, a 13-year old boy who lives in an affluent new neighborhood outside a British village called Black Swan Green. His main concern in life is fitting in with the other boys at his school. One of the things I think Mitchell does well in this book is show how this primary objective influences every decision Jason makes -- sometimes he deliberately does things that his parents or teachers see as stupid or rash or irresponsible, when in fact it's a logical course of action.

This all takes place in the Thatcher 80s, and one thing that threw me out of the story was the (to me, at least) clumsy addition of historical detail to a timeless plot. It's still very absorbing and intense, though. The narrative style is so strong that you can feel the anxiety the narrator experiences over every decision he makes. He's a stammerer, so he literally chooses every word he speaks carefully. Girls come into the plot only briefly, and are a mystery to Jason and his friends. I can immediately think back to middle school and identify what's going on within the packs of teenage girls he encounters, but the insight into the rules governing the lives of 13-year old boys was pretty interesting.


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Sunday, April 23, 2006

What We're Reading Now

Jason: See what's on my bookshelf

Anna: Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. Yup. From the Scientific Revolution to WWII -- two periods in history that I have little to no interest in. And yet I read on -- damn you, Neal Stephenson!



Emily: Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley [4-23-06]

Brian: The Languages of Japan by Masayoshi Shibatani - An survey of Japanese and Ainu.

Also, if you need recommendations on what to read and you're not down with Amazon's recommendations, you might try Enter an author's name and the name of one of their books and you're golden.


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Seabiscuit: An American Legend: by Laura Hillenbrand

This has been on my shelf for a while and I finally grabbed it for plane reading ... and I loved it. I enjoyed the movie too, but this was better for what you learn about the techniques and history of horse racing. It made me so happy when I was reading it. I highly recommend.


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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Cloud Atlas: David Mitchell

I have to give this guy credit for pushing the limits of the expected and usual novel form and making it work, more or less. This book consists of six loosely related stories spanning centuries. The book starts with a New Zealand explorer in the 1800s and ends with the world in post-industrial collapse and a narrator whose god is a female clone who had once worked the counter at a McDonald's type place called Papa Song (the futuristic story #5). Two of the stories especially (the clone world and a snarky classical musician in the early 1900s were fantastic. Only one I found patently weak.

Frustration alert: Five of the six stories end abruptly and unresolved in the first half of the book, until they are picked up again in the latter half. And this usually happens at the most critical point when you've just really gotten into the story. If you can stomach that, then I definitely recommend this book.


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Sunday, April 09, 2006

The System of the World: Neal Stephenson

This was a satisfying read. This is not a true review, just a quick message to those who have already started reading the Baroque Cycle. For the rest of you, I won't get into characters or plot, because this has been unfolding over 3,000 pages in 3 volumes. But if you're worried about investing time and eyestrain in this series, it's worth it.


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