Posts tagged: Books

I Am Charlotte Simmons – Tom Wolfe

By , January 22, 2005

Tom Wolfe has done it again. His third novel is fantastic. Perhaps not quite on par with The Bonfire of the Vanities, or A Man in Full, but as those are two of my favorite novels of the modern era, I’ll cut him some slack. And really, I Am Charlotte Simmons is probably a 9.5 out of 10. It’s a dead-on, absolutely accurate portrayal of the modern-day college lifestyle, and ought to be required reading for every incoming college freshman from now on.

Wolfe must have gone undercover and attended a few dozen fraternity parties, because his descriptions of said soirees are frighteningly spot on. He has the modern-day collegiate attitude and vernacular down pat.

Like Wolfe’s previous two novels, there are several interweaving story-lines and myriad characters, and I won’t even try to summarize the book. Suffice to say that I am duly impressed, and hope Wolfe has at least a fourth novel in him, if not a dozen more.


Our Man in Havana – Graham Greene

By , May 30, 2004

The last time I wrote about a book here, the results were less than spectacular– the resultant blog was downright dismal. I shall do my best to redeem myself with this, my third blogged book report.

Graham Greene is an author whose works I’ve long meant to explore. His name is always popping up, and it sometimes seems that everything he ever wrote was turned into a really good movie. It was actually a movie that finally lead me to read one of his books. I read This Gun For Hire after seeing the film of the same name, a noir classic featuring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake (*swoon*), and was utterly enthralled by Greene’s wordcraft. Here, I said, is a man who knows how to write! Subjects, predicates, adjectives, adverbs– it was all there. I was most pleased; it had been well worth the effort of locating the book. (And believe me, it wasn’t easy to find a copy of This Gun For Hire. After about a year spent browsing the “G” section of any bookstore I happened across, I finally found a copy of the novel.)

On the plus side, the hunt allowed me to familiarize myself with Greene’s other works, for I began to recognize titles I’d seen repeatedly while vainly seeking This Gun for Hire. Of all the titles I’d seen during my quest, one leapt out at me every time I saw it: Our Man in Havana. I liked the sound of that. He’s our man in Havana– our on-the-spot spy keeping his finger on the pulse of all developments in Cuba– and decided that that would be the Greene book I next read. So I read it.

I don’t want to spoil the surprises, so I won’t say too much about the story. I’ll tell you this much– it is a farcical tale of a vacuum cleaner salesman recruited to be a spy for the British Empire in Cuba. He invents associates and plots in order to please his superiors, and earn money. He begins to do his job too well and things begin to unravel, with disastrous, albeit hilarious, results.

The style of humor in this novel is precisely the sort I adore. It builds very slowly, and is quite dry. I get the feeling that more than a few people I know could read this book and not realize that anything was meant to be funny; the wit is of an intensely intellectual nature. Which is not to say it takes a rocket scientist, or in this case perhaps a PhD in English, to get the joke. I only mean to say that this is not in-your-face Adam Sandler Humor-4-Dummiez at work. There is a subtlety to both Greene’s writing and his wit that I don’t think can be appreciated by all readers. I am trying to think of one of those “it’s like Fad Gadget meets Steely Dan” sort of descriptions, as they are very popular lately, but the best I can come up with is that Greene crafts sentences that flow with the effortlessness of Hemingway, while dappling them with the razor-sharp wit of Wodehouse; he writes really well and he makes me lol.

Greene also makes the reader privy to the peculiarities of pre-Castro Havana. While researching for this blog I found a great quote from Graham Greene himself, explaining why he chose Havana as the setting for the novel. “In the meanwhile I had visited Havana several times in the early fifties…Suddenly it struck me that here in this extraordinary city, where every vice was permissible and every trade possible, lay the true background for my comedy.” That aspect of the city definitely comes to light in this story.

Summary: I hella enjoyed this book, Graham Greene is now among my favorite writers, and I’m about to read another of his novels, Brighton Rock.


Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson

By , May 14, 2004

As a child, my favorite book was Treasure Island. I must have read it four or five times during my pre-adolescent years, and now as an adult I am beginning to realize just how much that book shaped my world view.

When Jim has been captured by the pirates, they allow him to leave the prison in order to speak to his friends after he promises to return once done. He does so, and his friends understand that even though his return to the pirates is fully voluntary, and likely means death, he must return in order to keep his word. That makes no sense by today’s standards, but honor apparently meant considerably more at that time, otherwise Stevenson would have opened himself to ridicule with that scene.

Maybe it’s because I read that several times during my formative years, but I understand the concept that one’s word ought to have meaning, and that a promise must be kept. I don’t know if I would return to a pirate-run jail and certain death just to keep a promise, but I have a hunch I would do so. Let’s just hope I never have to find out!

I’m focusing a bit much on that one moment in the novel, but it was always the part that stood out to me as a kid, and it definitely helped me develop my sense of right and wrong.

I also liked the parts where the pirates did pirate-y things. Thus ends my book report.


Hey Nostradamus! – Douglas Coupland

By , September 1, 2003

I’ve covered music, food, and cocktails. I listen to music all the time and I eat every day; paradoxically, I seldom drink. There is just something about the concept of cocktails, and the mixing of them, that fascinates me. And so I research them, and make them for friends, and now I write about them.

Meanwhile, I’ve yet to write about something that I do constantly– read. I think it’s safe to say that since the age of perhaps 9 or 10 years old, I’ve never not been reading a book. As soon as I finish one, I pick up another, and the cycle never breaks. I think it may be interesting to periodically share what I’m reading with you, and today I am going to do just that.

In July, Sue and I went to Douglas Coupland’s book reading in Oakland. If you’ve heard of Coupland, it is probably for writing Generation X, which was his first book. At least, that’s all I knew about him. He has written a handful of books since that one, and at the reading he read from his new book, Hey Nostradamus!

He’s an engaging speaker, and the excerpt he read was captivating, so I bought the book. It took me a few weeks, actually about a month, to get around to reading it, but at last I did. I just finished it, and I absolutely loved it.

I’m not sure how much plot detail I should go into here, as I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who decides to read it. I’ll simply give you a quick idea of the story, without ruining anything whatsoever.

The novel tells of the aftermath of a fictional high school shooting, based in some part on the Columbine shooting. Unlike the press coverage of Columbine, which focused almost exclusively on the killers, Coupland instead focuses on the victims. The story is broken up into four sections, each with a different narrator.

It’s obviously not a happy story, but there are many comedic moments that break up the otherwise grim storyline. I finished it with the sense that I need to re-read the book someday soon, as there is a significant amount of subtext and social commentary that ties the four narratives together into a one cohesive unit.

Before I re-read this book, however, I will likely find and read some of Coupland’s other works. If they are all on the level of Hey Nostradamus! then I have found a new author to add to my list of favorite writers.


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