Archive for the ‘Setting: California’ Category

69. “Across A Hundred Mountains,” Reyna Grande

October 30, 2010 1 comment

Juana and Adelina are two young Mexican women, one who grew up in Mexico, the other in El Otro Lado. Both are struggling to escape their difficult pasts, while trying to reunite with the fathers who left them for another country.

I read this for my class about ghosts in US literature and there is definitely something very haunting about this book. One night before her father gets home from working in the fields, Juana’s cabin begins to flood. Her mother leaves Juana’s baby sister with her and goes to look for Juana’s father. The two huddle all night on a table in their flooded home, but their parents do not return. Finally, Juana drifts off to sleep, only to be awakened by her mother’s screams. Her sister fell from her grasp in the night and drowned.

In order to pay for the funeral, Juana’s father must look for a job in the US. He leaves Juana and her mother on Juana’s twelfth birthday. Mourning for her lost child and absent husband, Juana’s mother slips into despair and the family, further into poverty. The longer her husband is gone, the worst she gets until finally Juana decides she must leave to bring her father back.

Page count: 255
Total pages: 20,634


58. “The Pleasure of my Company,” Steve Martin

August 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Daniel Pecan Cambridge is torn between four women: his neighbor Rachel, whom he has been secretly drugging with doctored smoothies meant to calm the actress’s nerves before auditions; his social worker (or is it is therapist?) Clarissa, who visits Daniel in his home twice a week, providing the structure around which he builds his time; Zandy, the friendly pharmacist who fills his prescriptions and his beloved Rite-Aid; and Elizabeth, a fakey, bleach-blonde real estate agent trying to sell units in the over-priced condo across the street from Daniel’s home.

I came across this title on a disabilities book list, which described Daniel as having OCD. Reading expecting that, I was confused, as he reminded me more of Daniel Tammet in his memoir “Born on a Blue Day.” Assuming that the Publisher’s Weekly review is correct and Daniel has both OCD and autism (or Asperger’s), this book is subtley crafted. If Daniel’s meant to have just OCD, I’d suggest that Martin do a bit more research, as Daniel is heavy on obsessive “quirks” like requiring the combined wattage of the light bulbs in his home to add up to 1,125, but lacking in the tension that necessitates these obsessions be carried out.

Daniel makes for an irreverent, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants narrator, aware when he’s doing “abnormal” things, but not caring or feeling the need to explain why. Just when it starts to get old, Daniel starts to find his routine challenged by new opportunities opening up for him– opportunities that stem directly from some choices that he has made for himself.

(Yes, that Steve Martin.)

Page count: 164
Page total: 15,781

29. “Those Who Walk in Darkness,” John Ridley

May 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Page count: 310
Page total: 7,273

23. “The Man Who Loved Books Too Much,” Allison Hoover Bartlett

April 17, 2010 Leave a comment

The problem with these book-stealing books is that for a day or two after I read them, stealing books starts to seem like a pretty good idea. The authors get so excited about the pleasures of knowing that a culturally and financially valuable books is yours alone that, as far as crimes go, it starts to sound pretty poetic. I’ve noticed lately that I like reading books more than owning them, though, so I’ll stick with keeping library books a week or so past their due dates when I need to create a bibliographic crime.

Page count: 274
Page total: 5,662

14. “Airframe,” Michael Crichton

March 14, 2010 Leave a comment

I don’t know if I had read this before. It is after the later fashion of Crichton’s work (think “Next”), where a few days are broken down to four hundred pages. This one follows a VP for an airplaine manufacturer trying desperately to prove that her plane is not to blame for a commercial airline crash.

Intrigue, of course, follows.

Page count: 393

Page total: 3,540

9. “A Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius,” Dave Eggers

January 6, 2010 1 comment

Remember all those times I said I liked Dave Eggers?

I was badly mistaken.

Listen, friend, I have a lot of paranoid fantasies, too, but funny as I think they are, I don’t write four-hundred-page “memoirs” populated almost entirely with anecdotes that didn’t happen and maddeningly self-conscious (and repetitive!) monologues.

So this (purported) memoir is begins with both of Eggers’ parents dying of different forms of cancer a few weeks apart. Eggers, at twenty-two, agrees to take over raising his eight-year-old brother Toph and Eggers, Toph, and their older siblings Beth and Bill all move from the Chicago suburb where they grew up to California.

This book mostly follows Eggers adventures in raising Toph while attempting to have a normal social life, not be turned in to CPS, and creating a magazine (Might– “power and potential”), in, as I said, some incredibly self-conscious prose. Several times Eggers, inside of dialogue he is “quoting” will start reflecting on how if course this didn’t happen like that, but this makes for a better metaphor or symbolism or is better-paced this way.

All of this basically has the effect of making me constantly flip back to the front cover and wonder if the bit of text proclaiming that the book was short-listed for a Pulitzer is as tongue-in-cheek as the title itself. (By the way, I kept forgetting the title of this and my latest mangling is “A Heart-Stopping Work of Unstopable Whatever.”)

The first half sort of bothered me, but when I got to page 200 and Eggers says in one of those dialogues that didn’t happen that the second half of the book is even more self-conscious, it was all I could do not to shout “more self-conscious than this!” on the train. Because the book started with “Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of This Book.” Which would have been funny. If it were not thirty-five pages long.

My recommendation: skip anything where Eggers pretends to be himself (he can’t possibly actually be this awful) and stick with the short stories, which are often pretty lovely.

Page count: 472
Page total: 2,075

PS, Dave:

“Stop Being So Religious”
by Hafiz

Do sad people have in

It seems
They have all built a shrine
To the past

And often go there
And do a strange wail and

What is the beginning of

It is to stop being
So religious



5. “The White Boy Shuffle,” Paul Beatty

December 17, 2009 Leave a comment

I didn’t know how to explain this to anyone when I was reading it, so the summary might be sort of disjointed.

This book is highly sarcastic/parodic story following Gunnar Kaufmann, a black teenager raised in an affluent suburb of Santa Monica whose mother decides that he is not getting the authentic black experience and moves the family to the ghetto. Which should give you an idea about the tone this book takes– it’s a witty, scathing critique of racial politics in the US told as a Bildungsroman, much of its criticism predicated around the idea of the “authentic” black experience.

Gunnar is a poet, writing his observations about Black street life on the walls of his neighborhood. The first time he plays basketball, at the age of twelve, he discovers that he can dunk. He doesn’t know enough about the sport to know that this is a feat, but everyone else does. Rapidly, he is pushed into a life of basketball stardom that eventually carries him to BU, which has recently bought its way into the Ivy League. With his new wife, a mail-order bride bought for him by a friend, Psycho Loco, from Japan, he moves into a small Boston apartment. His classmates and professor worship him in his first poetry class. All have read his chapbooks and so overwhelm him with praise that he simply walks home, stripping off his clothes on the street and laying naked with his pregnant wife while his entire class asks him questions about his process.

More when I have the book with me.

Page count: 226
Page total: 961