Monthly Archives: December 2009

Winner of the National Book Award: A Novel of Fame, Honor and Really Bad Weather

So this book was billed, by no less than Augusten Burroughs, as a laugh-til-your-stomach-hurts novel, and the tweedy fellow I spotted with it was laughing out loud.  But I never once laughed reading this book.

Sure, the characters were amusingly larger than life, but I felt the core conflict, between fraternal twin sisters and the coolly cruel man who marries one while in love with the other, had too much emotional weight for the ridiculous situations to be funny rather than poignant.  The novel, with its twins, one a nymphomaniac, the other secularly celibate, reminded me of Half-Life, by Shelley Jackson*, which I really loved.  Half-Life is narrated by one of a pair of conjoined twins, in a world in which such pairings are increasingly common due to nuclear fallout, and the desire to be separated and finally live alone.  The narrator of National Book Award Winner has a similarly love-hate relationship with her twin, who completes her and yet imprisons her in their yin-yang dynamic.

An enjoyable read, but it doesn’t live up to its billing (though it does have really bad weather, so maybe a good pick for the next big snow).  My next Subway Book Club pick, The Collector, is waiting for me at the library when I return from my holiday vacation.  In the meantime, I’ll do a little personally selected reading, starting with Byron in Love: A Short, Daring Life.

*You may recognize her name from her Skin project, in which she enlisted 2095 volunteers to each have a word from her short story tattooed on his/her body without knowing what the whole story was in advance.

Latest Book

The latest book is The Collector by John Fowles.  When I first spotted it on the R Train platform Monday morning, I was concerned that all I had was “The Collector” and a butterfly on the cover.  I figured, that’s probably a pretty common title and who knew if the butterfly thing would help.  This morning, I spotted The 19th Wife and figured I had it in reserve, but Amazon is awesome with all the cover shots of all the different editions and the correct book turned up second in a search for “the collector”.  No idea what it’s about, but hope it shows up before I head off for my holiday travels.

Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain and America by Jonathan Gould

Can’t Buy Me Love, like Brothers (about the Kennedys) was a chance for me to catch up with the cultural touchstones of my parents’ generation.  I grew up listening to the Beatles and aware of Beatlemania in a general sense, but appreciated this chance to learn more.

Gould takes an interesting tack in examining the Beatles phenomenon – combining a decently thorough biography of each Beatle with detailed descriptions of their music.  This was my first significant exposure to music criticism and the vocabulary was occasionally beyond me.  Because I have the One album on my iPod, I was able to listen to the songs while reading their descriptions and learned a bit.  For example, I had never noticed the double-tracking of the vocals on many songs, and I am used to listening to them as Greatest Hits, divorced from their original context, so I learned a lot about the structure of each album.

The biographical material, however, was probably excessive.  For one, Ringo didn’t do much interesting musically or otherwise and he throws off the attempt to balance all four Beatles;  George takes quite awhile to establish himself as a musician, so coverage of him is also weak until he starts writing songs and learning the sitar.  As the group started falling apart in 1968 and 1969, 500 pages in, I just ran out of interest.  I knew enough about each’s post-Beatles performing life that I felt I knew how the story was going to end.  A die-hard Beatles fan would probably know most of this already and for a newcomer to Beatles writing, it was a bit too much.