Townhouse Books

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Special Topics in Calamity Physics: Marissa Pessl

It's been a while since I've read a 500+ page book in a day. I even resorted to using a flashlight to read while riding in a car at night. Special Topics in Calamity Physics is the story of Blue van Meer, a freshman at Harvard who is driven to write an account of her senior year of high school. Blue's life is not ordinary to begin with; she lives a nomadic life with her widowed father, a radical political science professor who accepts only semester-long assignments at backwater colleges across the country. But her senior year is stranger still, with a bizarre cast of characters and plenty of intrigue.

Gareth van Meer, Blue's father, is a mouthpiece for the author's most intellectually snobbish inner thoughts, the sort of things you might think but never dare say. On the subject of memoirs, he tells his daughter that "unless your name is something along the lines of Mozart, Matisse, Churchill, Che Guevara or Bond -- James Bond -- you best spend your free time finger painting or playing shuffleboard, for no one, with the exception of your flabby-armed mother .... will want to hear the particulars of your pitiable existence, which doubtlessly will end as it began -- with a wheeze."

Some people might get tired of Pessl's style -- Blue includes lengthy quotes and academic citations in her narration -- but I bought into it as part of the character. The event that Blue considers her "magnificent reason" for writing down her story is a truly tantalizing mystery, laid out for the reader in the introduction and becoming more mysterious with every passing chapter. Oh, what fun!

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Love and Other Near-Death Experiences: Mil Millington (2)

Anna's original review here:

I adored this book, despite his flaws. Editorial errors didn't bother me for once, and in fact found some sentences laugh out loud funny. When I had to put the book down to go to work, I couldn't wait to get back to it. What I struggled with to some extent was the plot. Anna summed up well more or less what happens, but there is a big plot point that mid-way through comes completely out of left field and is ... just silly. But I enjoyed the read so much I don't care. I'm looking forward to the "Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About."


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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Coming up for me - three familiar authors

I fell out of reading a bit for the past few weeks, barely finishing New Yorkers and never bothering to follow a jump in the newspaper. But I'm feeling it again now and stopped by the library last night. (And I have 2 plane rides to and from NY coming up, so plenty of reading time).

I started last night Anna's recommmendation Love and Other Near-Death Experiences by Mil Millington. Has anyone read his other books? I'm on pg. 3, but am looking forward to getting back to it.

Then, Ghostwritten by David Mitchell. Jason and I posted reviews of his Cloud Atlas. (Anna, did you read another one of Mitchell's too about a little boy?)

Then, The Accidental by Ali Smith, who wrote Hotel World, which I posted about. I liked and disliked Hotel World, liking some of her ideas and her language and then disliking and skimming when it got too experimental toward the end. This one looks interesting and is about a family whose lives are interrupted when a woman arrives at their door and talks her way in to the house, to dinner, and then to stay. Jonathan Safran Foer called it "thrilling."

I'll keep you posted.


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