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.

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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.

A Good Book Day

I finally finished Can’t Buy Me Love (review coming after the holiday) and can stop lugging those 650 pages around wondering when we would get to 1969 already.  Heading out on errands after work, I spotted The Inhabited Woman by Giaconda Belli on the E Train downtown.  Those errands took me to Borders in the Financial District.  I love this time of year because I can justify buying books for other people and thus spending lots of time lurking in the stacks.  Then, on the R Train headed home, the professorial gentleman across from me was unable to stifle his laughter at Winner of the National Book Award – I thought it was a compilation of pieces by winners, but it’s actually a novel by Jincy Willett (subtitle: A Novel of Fame, Honor and Really Bad Weather).  Since it turns out The Inhabited Woman (described as a romantic suspense novel) is not available from the NYPL, I’ll be reading Willett’s book next.

Love on the Subway

Caught this on the platform at Atlantic/Pacific yesterday:

sugar mama

Apparently Craigslist wasn’t working for her.  I like that she’s the literary type – and it looks like she might have a couple interested fellows.  The notice was gone today, so I hope this wasn’t the only one she had, unless she’s adament that he be headed southward on the evening commute.

Flawed Dogs: The Novel: The Shocking Raid on Westminster by Berkeley Breathed

This was an odd book.  When I first saw it on the R Train, just after finishing A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, I only saw the bright blue of the cover in the hands of the twenty-something guy next to me.  My first thought was that it was one of those “thug-life” novels that gets advertised on the subway,  but after I saw the man flip past a full-page illustration, I realized it was something I might be willing to read.

It turns out Flawed Dogs is from the Young Readers imprint at Penguin and is based on a 2003 Berkeley Breathed cartoon collection.  Since the book came out only in September of this year, I will not spoil anything about the ending, but I was deeply disturbed by the first two chapters and I think they’re fair game.

The opening chapter: the dog shown on the cover, with 3 legs and a ladle replacing the fourth, is carried into a dog-fighting arena.  He smells blood and immediately understands what is happening.  Placed in the ring with a slavering pit bull, he lays down to die.  At this point, I think my jaw was hanging open; I could not believe this was a children’s book.

The second chapter flashes back to the dog’s memories of being owned by an orphan girl (who names him Sam the Lion) and sets up his antagonism with a prize poodle in the home of the girl’s uncle.  Much general silliness also goes on, involving mischevious dogs and society matrons.  At this point, I began to feel this might make a PG-rated Disney movie, like Lilo & Stitch, which dealt with misfit animals and orphans but toned down the emotional intensity a bit with charming visuals.  Flawed Dogs doesn’t have enough illustrations to break me out of the mental pictures the text creates, especially as the owner of two rescue cats.  I definitely do not recommend this book to sensitive types and those under 10, but if you can maintain a bit of emotional distance, it might be a fun caper in the end.

New Books

Last night, started reading Flawed Dogs by Berkeley Breathed (his first novel) on the way home from work.  I hated it (review coming next week) and about 50 pages in, started looking around for something else to read.  The N train is usually slim pickings, whereas more than half the people on the R usually have a book in hand, but I spotted Can’t Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain and America across the car.  I’ve put a hold on it at the library and, until it arrives, I’ll be sticking to The New Yorker.