First, a bit of housekeeping. Because this blog is an attempt to monitor a variety of different aspects of my life-activism, self improvement, my illustrious career as a doorman-I think it will help (you, me) to order the blog a bit better and what I’m publishing when. So, from now on:
Sundays will be the day when I will publish book/film reviews from the past week (and announce, if possible what I will be reading/watching for the coming week.
Tuesdays will be the day when I will write about being a doorman/other worthwhile NYC living experiences.
Thursdays will be the day when I write about the “Living Deliberately experiment” and write about my activism.
If need be, I will write other entries, but for the most part, it will be a Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday deal.
The book review ( a selection of what I’ve read recently because of this being the first review.
To explain: I will try to offer short reviews of why I enjoyed/did not enjoy a book, highlight themes that I think are worth highlighting in case you should think to take my word for it.
I will not rate books with anything that involves letter grades, stars, or thumbs. I will mildly suggest whether to read a book or not, for in the end, there are only two kinds of books: those that are worth reading and those that aren’t.
I will publish every Sunday.
Motherless Brooklyn-Jonathan Lethem. Lethem takes the unusual but very novelistic step of writing a version of the crime noir with a narrator who has Tourrette’s syndrome. The plot is tight, the characters intricately and enjoyably one-dimensional. Overall, the writing is fast-paced and fits together well with the novel’s overall aesthetic. The bursts of tourette’s allows Lethem to have fun with the words, along with the freedom for the odd excerpt that really stands out with a powerful beauty (see opening passage), and off-hand insights that are equally clear and gripping.
A great summer read, worthwhile both for the story and for the writing itself.
Cloudsplitter-Russell Banks. Banks fictionalizes the story of idealist and political terrorist/martyr John Brown, and from the perspective of John Brown’s son Owen, weaves together characters both real and fictional to create a convincing tapestry of the political environment and the sorts of issues that were forcing American society to question itself as it headed towards the Civil War (many of the same questions we are currently asking ourselves).
Banks brilliantly textures the novel with an insightful exploration of father-son relationships, and the angry path from idealist to radical. The most potent theme is a very modern exploration of race relations and the issue of unearned privileged-incredibly relevant themes grafted on to a different period of cultural, ethnic, and racial unrest. A hauntingly heart-wrenching story.
White Teeth-Zadie Smith. This novel tells the story of two families (more or less) in 1970s England. One family is mixed race, the other Bengali immigrants. The story focuses primarily on the children of these two families.
This novel is admittedly ambitious in terms of themes and cast of characters. While Smith has a wonderful ear for dialogue and is occasionally brilliant in her elucidation of the preoccupations of immigrants and disadvantaged ethnic groups, the sprawling plot gets the better of her. She frequently switches point of view, and abruptly drops or introduces characters haphazardly. Her introduction of an upper class Jewish family of scientists is particularly tone deaf and borders dangerously on caricature. The end seems drawn out, and instead of conclusions, Smith substitutes vague, overwrought and dubious psychology where at the beginning she had pithy insight on assimilation, religion, majority culture, and being “second-generation.”
Her other novel, On Beauty is a far stronger, far more focused effort.