Wednesday, April 03, 2013

The Last Three Books I Read

Something embarrassing has happened: I've been reading a ton of new fiction (circa 2013!) and neglecting one of the best parts of my job, which is sharing my recommendations on this blog.  Granted, I've written a few Goodreads reviews, but now that The Juggernaut That Shall Not Be Named has acquired the site, many of us in the Indie book world are reconsidering our relationships with Goodreads.  (Here's a summary of what went down.  Those of you active on Goodreads: do you plan on remaining a member?  How will this development change your activity?  Tell us in the comments!)
This blog, right here, is a free and open place to talk about books, and sometimes I get so busy that I forget how much I have to say.  So let's break it down!

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine
by Teddy Wayne
It's impossible to talk about this book without bringing up Justin Beiber.  Ironically, true Beiber fans will probably never read this book, and people who read this book may never attend a J.B. concert or buy one of his albums.  But somehow that teenage millionaire makes his presence known even in places like the office of an independent bookstore, as evidenced today when I overheard a few of my coworkers discussing a recent news story about Beiber's new pet monkey.  Comparisons were drawn to Michael Jackson and Bubbles (did you guys know that Bubbles is still alive?!), and there was an implicit, tragi-comic consensus that for a celebrity, owning a primate somehow signals the beginning of the end.  After reading Teddy Wayne's novel about a Beiber-esque prepubescent pop star, my reactions to conversations like these are twofold: first, I feel an intense need to put The Love Song of Jonny Valentine into everyone's hands.  Second, I realize that many people don't value the deep analysis of pop culture icons like I do.  Maybe the discovery of what lies beneath a manufactured fa├žade (corruption, superficiality, greed) doesn't have the same thrill for you as it has for me.  But there's more to this novel than the pulling back of a big glittery curtain.  It can be read as a parable of choice: what it means to be a parent and choose to put your child in the machinery of fame; what it means to emerge from childhood already a superstar, with a personal identity inextricable from a lucrative brand, and realize that there may be other ways to live.  This novel is sensitive and well-written, but it's also brutally honest about the world we live in.  It will make you reconsider the inner lives behind those faces on the tabloid covers, and that action is one that requires a worthwhile empathy.


The Rosie Project
by Graeme Simsion
This one's not out until October, sadly.  It would make the most fantastic vacation read!  I loved this as much as Bridget Jones' Diary, and it has a similar tone-- an incredibly awkward protagonist (how refreshing to finally have a romantic comedy from the male point of view!), a non-American locale (Melbourne, Australia) and a kind of slapstick humor that I think is probably very difficult to pull off for most writers.  With his debut novel, Graeme Simsion achieved a truly amazing feat: he wrote a book about relationships and gender dynamics without relying on gender stereotypes.  In fact, just about everything that happens in this story subtly challenges the old and tedious tropes of heterosexuality, without ever resorting to preachiness.  It's just very real-seeming people figuring out what they want.  I'm hesitant to reveal any more about the plot; you should really just grab a copy when it comes out and discover these unique and hilarious characters for yourself.  I found this novel to be a wonderful, optimistic surprise.

Wool 
by Hugh Howey
Aaaaaand I read some Sci-Fi!  How did that happen?!?  Ok, this one's really more Post-Apocalyptic (can we shorten that already?  Po-Ap?  You read it here first, folks!) but it's becoming apparent with the raging success of this new series that no matter what your genre, a page-turner is a page-turner.  For me, Wool was one of those reading experiences that made me want to watch the movie adaptation IMMEDIATELY.  That reaction can have its pros and cons, but ultimately, Wool is a book I recommend, if mostly on the merits of an extremely original premise and some fascinating worldbuilding.  Howey imagines a future where all of humanity has been distilled into a few thousand, all living underground in a massive silo.  Their only means of travel inside the silo is a giant spiral staircase connecting hundreds of levels.  This image affected me more than anything else in the book, and I liked the idea of many generations living in a confined space, so much time passing that eventually the human perception of the universe becomes limited to a vertical tube.  I found the metaphors to be a bit simplistic (when the world is shrunk down into a literal microcosm, sometimes there's equally little to engage with on a more abstract level.) but the characters are well-drawn and sympathetic, and I was constantly skipping ahead to see what would happen next.  This is an adult novel, but I think teenagers will love it, too.




Now I'm reading a book called Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee (out in June), and I'm revelling in the delicious, familiar realm of literary fiction (PoMo!).  I'm nearly finished, and I can't wait to tell you about it.  But I'll save that for the next post!
Happy Reading!

--Seija







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